Friday, November 10, 2006

Time travel and climate change

In reply to my last post Kyle asked:

Denny, you and I and many others know that there is nothing natural about the rate and the way in which the Earth is warming.... especially when the catastrophic affects are so scary. I was wondering how you go about convincing others who believe the warming of the Earth is a natural part of the Earth's "cycles." I only say this because there is a NASA quote in your piece that reads, "Earth's temperature could be reaching it's highest level in a million years"....therefore, it would be easy for someone to say....so the Earth got just as hot (or hotter) a million years ago. I'm just curious because whenever I get into this with someone, it always comes up....and I don't have an answer.


My reply to this specifically is that yes there natural cycles but a) the current warming is not one of them and b) just because there are natural warming and cooling cycles over the course of millions of years it's not likely that such cycles would be easy to survive, even for humans. People want to discount human caused climate change because people, especially those in western, "civilized", nations don't want to face the change it might require to their lifestyle. At least, that's my take and I think there's a good bit of truth to it. Does it really matter if the earth has been this hot before? No. What matters, at least from a very selfish human perspective, is will humans survive? We seem to think that we are special because of our ability to create technology but it is a mistake to assume that technology will save us.

The fact that the earth was warmer a million years ago should offer no comfort at all. With the exception of a small handful of scientists the vast majority of us have no clue at what this really means in terms of a livable planet. Not a damn clue. As an example, how does a warmer earth effect insect populations which in turn effect agricultural systems? That's just one small consideration and it's not small at all... the implications on human food supply are quite large. Add to that the effects of other variables that are likely to be changing such as weather patterns and it's not hard to see that we will likely be facing a food crisis never seen before. The effects of a significantly warmer earth are mind boggling.

Some still seem to think we are capable of rational thought though I'm starting to question that... we're certainly capable of rationalizing. The question regarding a warmer climate is what does it mean for our survival? That really is the question. Really. Will we survive. We're not talking about the far distant future. We are talking about 30 - 100 years. Our lifetimes, our children's lifetimes. Strange and sad that such an important question is so quickly glossed over by most people. It's easier to lie to ourselves and our children than face the inconvenient truth. Al Gore could not have picked a better title for his movie. Actually, the truth will prove to be far, far worse than inconvenient.

Something I've found at least somewhat effective in communicating the importance and the immediacy of climate change is time travel. Yes, time travel. You didn't know you could did you. No, I'm not crazy. I'm talking about our ability to think, to envision. Try this easy exercise with yourself, friend, family member or co-worker. Just sit for a minute and really allow yourself to think about today and the effects we've seen from climate change already. Retreating glaciers, melting ice caps... the list is long and is being reported in new studies every month. Now, we're ready for the time travel. Ask yourself, what will it look like in 10 years? 20 years? 30 years? Ponder that future and how the climate of that time may be affecting the planet. Now imagine yourself, in that future looking back to 2006. What would that future self ask? I think the people of the future will look back and wonder why? Why did people not act? They will wonder why we ignored the evidence, the symptoms. They will condemn not our ignorance (because we are not ignorant) but our stupidity.

We cannot time travel to the future but we can attempt to wonder what it will look like and we can create a vision that is at least somewhat likely. We cannot know exactly how the climate will look in 2036 but it seems worth the effort to ponder it. Is it the world we want for today's children? I find that folks that will take a few minutes to really ponder the future might be more inclined to deal with their own contributions to climate change today.

I've heard more than a few people say... "If only I had know I would have done something." Well, we do know. We know right now at this moment. We are not ignorant and there is no excuse. We can face the future we are creating today and we can have power over it.

One last thing. If we want to change our future we have to do it now with direct action. Individually and collectively we must take responsibility. This is not about waiting for the government to fix things. We do not need the government to force us to do what we need to do. To say that unless the government makes laws to enforce broad behavior change is lazy and it is shirking OUR responsibility. Governments have failed on this and in particular, the U.S. government, bought and paid for by the energy industry has failed. No, we cannot wait for the government. We can do this ourselves. We must lead in the way we live our lives every day. As individuals and in our communities we can create the change that needs to happen.

Turn off the devices that you don't need. Ride a bike. Carpool. Grow your own food. If you absolutely must drive accelerate slowly, coast to stops, keep it at 60 mph on the highway. Conserve in every way possible in every aspect of your life. Do it yourself and do it with others in your community. Share. Cooperate. We can do this.

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