Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Earth Day Musings - Now is the time to act on climate change

Lainey Piland photo

Happy Earth Day! It's the one day each year set aside specifically for the appreciation of our home planet and for raising awareness about the multitude of environmental issues that threaten it.  Earth provides us with a livable habitat, food, water, clean air, and the other natural resources required to sustain our existence. Hmmm... seems as though it would be more appropriate for Earth Day to be every day, not just on April 22nd. And with the threats our planet currently faces as a result of destructive human activity, its isn't just a warm fuzzy suggestion that Earth Day should be every day.  It is an imperative.

Of all the threats to our planet, climate change is far and away the most pressing.  With grave consequences and widespread devastation in the form of heat waves, rising sea levels, species extinctions, acidifying oceans, drought, diminished agricultural productivity, declining water supply, increased conflict, and stronger storms, just to name a few, it is clear that the cost of inaction is too great to gamble with.

Unfortunately, after decades of dragging our feet despite countless warnings and pleas from scientists, we are well on our way to reaching the "point of no return" where human activity will have set in motion a warming of our planet that is well beyond  the 2 degrees Celsius limit that is considered "safe". Some scientists even suggest that we are beyond that point now. We are already well beyond the "safe" atmospheric carbon dioxide level of 350ppm.  Last year, we reached a sobering milestone when carbon dioxide levels reached 400ppm for the first time in human history.  And, just in time for Earth Day 2014, we have reached a new milestone as carbon dioxide levels were sustained at or above 400ppm for the past month. If allowed to continue, this trend of inaction and rising carbon dioxide levels will lead us into dangerous territory and leave not only future generations with a completely new planet, but those of us here, now, and today are already dealing with an imperiled environment which humans have never before faced.  And the worst part of it is that we could have prevented it.

And perhaps we still can, but it is going to take a lot of work. I think that we, as a collective society, are more than capable of taking on this task.  From my conversations with people from all ages, backgrounds, and political persuasions, it has been evident that we want a clean, healthy planet to live on.  We enjoy the natural scenery around us and we want to protect it.  We want clean air to breathe.  We want a reliable supply of food and water.  We want to be safe from natural disasters. We want these things to be available to our children and grandchildren.  If it were up to the people, I think that we would have a fighting chance against climate change.

Unfortunately, it is not the people, but government and corporations (namely, the fossil fuel industry whose product is largely responsible for our increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels) that are currently dictating action - or rather, inaction - on this issue. They have too much to lose, but so do we. As evidence of that fact, here are some numbers presented by Bill McKibben, founder of the climate change movement 350.org, in a July 2012 Rolling Stone article:
  • 2 - Our not-to-exceed target of global warming in degrees celsius, which will allow us to minimize the worst effects of climate change.
  • 565 - the amount of carbon (in gigatons) that can be emitted into the atmosphere by mid-century and still allow us to stay below the 2- degree target.
  • 2,795 - the amount of carbon (in gigatons) contained in the known coal, oil, and gas reserves of fossil fuel companies and countries.
I've always found math to be slightly frightening, but the numbers above are downright terrifying. These numbers are telling us that fossil fuel companies have FIVE TIMES the amount of carbon than is safe to burn.  And how much of this are they planning to burn? All of it.  Why? These fossil fuel reserves are valued at approximately $30 trillion.  It is very hard to convince a company or government to leave $30 trillion in the ground.

This is a huge obstacle to overcome, but perhaps if enough voices join the chorus, we can bring our government and the fossil fuel industry to a come-to-Jesus moment where they realize that the livability of our planet is worth infinitely more than their $30 trillion worth of fossil fuels.  That the cost of mitigating climate change now will be significantly lower than the cost of adapting to a wrecked climate in the future. That if those fossil fuels are burned, the industry will be responsible for the extinctions of countless species, and have the blood of millions of people on their hands. That we will not stand for it.

Check out the Sierra Club and 350.org for ways to get involved in the climate change fight. It is easy to feel helpless in the face of such an overwhelming issue, but every person's voice matters.  I also struggle with what to do about this issue, so I write about it, hoping that I can educate and inspire others to take action as well.

So there you have it.  I wasn't planning on writing on this issue for Earth Day, but this is what came out.  It wasn't the warm fuzzy recycle-and-save-the-planet Earth Day message that so many of us are used to hearing.  This is an urgent call to act-on-climate-change-and-save-the-planet-and-ourselves.  Don't get me wrong... recycling is good!  But that is not the only thing we should be talking about on Earth Day.

Take some time today to go outside, take a deep breath, and look at the landscape around you.  This is worth saving.

No comments:

Post a Comment