Monday, August 3, 2015

Some perspective on the carbon footprint that threatens our future

Paul Hawken's book, Blessed Unrest, How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World*, puts the issue of global warming and climate change in historic perspective:
To roughly calculate the geometrical quickening of our footprint on the planet, consider that the population is 1,000 times greater today than it was 7,000 years ago. Additionally, people use 100 to 1,000 times more resources and energy than their ancestors did. In sum, the earth today withstands at least 100,000 times the impact it did in 5000 BCE. In other words, we have the same impact in five minutes than our ancestors had in one year. Expanding the equation means that we have the same impact in one year as our ancestors did in 100,000 years.(p.33-34)
And also:
Perhaps the most difficult concept to grasp about climate change is how even minute changes in CO2 levels can magnify to have such potent effects. But it is not just carbon dioxide that does damage. The large influence of small changes to our environment appears repeatedly. When tadpoles are exposed to the pesticide Atrazine at 1/30,000th of 'safe' levels, 20 percent on them become hermaphroditic and sterile adults. Infinitesimal chemical exposure during development can have a drastically different effect from that at maturity. If natural El Nino cycles of rain and drought influence annual changes in speciation in Galapagos finches, consider the myriad long-term impacts of combusting 10 trillion pounds of mercury-bearing coal every year, or overspraying farms and suburbs of California with Malathion to eliminate the Mediterranean fruit fly. The magnitude of such macro-activity creates countless micro-interactions that can't be tracked or monitored. (p.33)
It is so easy, given the headline diet to which North American citizens are exposed, to gloss over the finer details of the damage human activity is doing exponentially to our ecosystem. It is also virtually out-of-mind to bring ourselves up short with the long-term view that compares our consumption of energy and resources to our ancestors.
Perspective based on objective reliable and verifiable information is sometimes so uncomfortable and so unsettling that it cannot be digested by the public. And for every corporate lobby effort pushing back against today's announcement by President Obama that coal-fired energy producers will have to cut their toxic emissions by 32% by 2030 based on 2005 levels, grow renewable energy production by 20%, there are numerous citizen-led organizations attempting to advance the story of how the human community can change the narrative from one of potential disaster to one of credible and sustainable hope.
Quoting from William Kittredge's The Nature of Generosity** Hawken borrows the following:
A society capable of naming itself lives within its stories, inhabiting and furnishing them. We ride stories like rafts, or lay them out on the table like maps. They always, eventually, fail and have to be reinvented. The world is too complex for our forms ever to encompass for long. (p.25)
We cannot afford to permit lies and dissembling to compromise either the dimensions of our threat or the potential of our capacity to reverse that threat.
It is only through truth-telling, full disclosure and hard, courageous and repetitive confrontation with the most dangerous and threatening implications of our individual and our collective carbon footprint, based on our level of comprehension and acceptance and acknowledgement of the most penetrating details of the implications of that legacy that we will possibly see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Those in power, significantly in Canada, would prefer to keep the kind of details Hawken outlines hidden from public view, leaving that public undisturbed by a failure to take action, which is the unequivocal legacy of Harper's Conservative government for the past decade.
Unfortunately, the fact that environmental curricula for elementary and secondary students include such catch phrases as "refuse-free lunches" while admirable and worth the effort, in order to mint new generations of eco-sensitive adults, such efforts will not take hold until long after the mega-multinational corporations and governments (India and China being the two most obvious examples) have awakened to their responsibilities to clean up their acts.
For example, the International Olympic Committee's awarding the 2022 Winter Olympics to Beijing seems to turn a deaf ear, a blind eye and a hollow mind to the eco-disaster in which the athletes will have to compete. The following excerpt demonstrates that even in China, there is a growing voice of eco-sensitive activists:
Chinese environmental advocates are expressing fear that construction and snowmaking projects associated with Beijing’s successful bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics could damage one of the region’s few nature reserves, according to a new report Monday. The International Olympic Committee’s decision to select China’s bid sparked an outcry on the country’s Internet forums and social media platforms that government censors quickly silenced.
The Beijing 2022 committee’s plan for the event called for the construction of Alpine skiing courses and buildings on and near China’s Xiao Haituo Mountain in Yanqing, the proposed site of the Olympic village. Using satellite photos and IOC documents related to the proposed construction sites, critics discovered that some buildings would be placed within the Songshan National Nature Reserve, which could damage its delicate ecosystem, the South China Morning Post of Hong Kong reported. (International Business Times, August 3, 2015
It is not only the plight of refugees and the countries in which they seek to live that poses a threat to the stability of those countries or the conflicts initiated by Islamic radical extremists, or the open war between Shia and Sunni Muslims, or the potential failure of state economies facing the world. While all of these are important and starving for significant address, the upcoming UN climate conference poses an urgent deadline for world leaders to demonstrate their capacity to grapple with what we all have to frame as the greatest threat to our shared life-sustaining and global eco-system.
Are those leaders, and the people who live in their jurisdiction, up to the task?
The world is watching and putting the issue under their individual and collective scrutiny...and the political fortunes of the leaders could be at risk if they drop the ball this time, as they have done following both Kyoto and Copenhagen.

*Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest, Penguin Books, 2008
**William Kittredge, The Nature of Generosity (New York, Vintage Books) p.9

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