There is a lot of conversation about climate change these days, thanks to Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, the drought in California, the polar vortex experiences of the past two winters, the horrific tornadoes which have devastated many communities in recent years, innumerable devastating forest fires, the melting ice caps in the Arctic, the vanishing fishing industry in the northern Atlantic, and so on. This past week, the World Health Organization reported that due to climate change, meng fever could be a threat in Europe and North America before long. The earth we love is reproaching us. Frightening report after frightening report comes out, talking about the very sober possibility that humanity could be an extinct species by the year 2100, or, at least, reduced to a few million people living in Greenland. In the face of this, there are various and sundry toothless resolutions to do a little about climate change several years from now–nothing like the radical change that is required, the survival revolution needed. Bold and creative acts of love for the earth are required of us, without compromise, and so far we really have done nothing substantial. In this entry I will briefly describe the facts beneath the surface noise, the tectonic plates of reality beneath the shifting sands of public relations and advertising and political rhetoric. Mature responsibility, stewardship, and clear-eyed love for life requires that we all keep the truth in our minds and hearts, no matter how inconvenient.
You and I, my friend, and our children and grandchildren if we are so blessed, are up against it, nose to nose with oblivion of our species. Extinction, just to point out the obvious, would mean no more Grammies or Academy Awards, March Madness or Super Bowl, Netflix original series, stock market bulls, presidential elections, NASCAR races, American Idol or The View broadcasts, network news, Meet The Press or Jimmy Fallon on Late Night, debate over the color of a dress, college graduations, soccer games, happy endings, weekends in Vegas, or private moments of ecstasy. No more family time, love stories, or quiet reveries while cuddling with babies. No more grandparents imparting their wisdom, no more cousins getting in trouble together, no more adventures. The loss would be all-encompassing, the end of all we hold dear, and I take the time to point this out because I do regularly hear “environmentalism” described as a “special interest group.” Environmentalism is dedicated not to the interests of a special few (that would be the Koch Brothers and ALEC), but to the survival of everyone and everything related to the human species. Environmentalism is also dedicated to the interests of non-human species who can’t speak or act for themselves in this sphere of concern, and who are vanishing at an alarming rate, suffocated by human activity. In order for us to survive, and thrive, environmentalism MUST succeed radically, MUST bring about change of human activity at the root, to sustain ourselves and provide a life for our offspring, for posterity.
I am about one-third through reading Naomi Klein’s book “This Changes Everything,” published late last year. Ms. Klein describes the stark situation in many ways, but two related aspects which educated me and brought me to stiff attention is what I will share below.
1. In order for humanity to survive, the earth may only increase in temperature by 2 degrees celsius. This is an internationally agreed upon figure, although the implications of even that amount of warming are under debate (some countries would be devastated by it). Anything higher than that would bring on great havoc worldwide, would melt so much arctic ice that many seaside metropolises such as San Francisco, New York, and Boston would be submerged beneath water, and the climate would be so severely twisted and deformed that agriculture would be greatly compromised. The 2 degrees celsius figure will be impossible to hit on our current course, which would take us at least twice as high unless there is a survival revolution. To quote the World Bank, quoted in Naomi Klein’s book, “We’re on track for a 4 degree celsius warmer world by century’s end, marked by extreme heat waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea-rise….There is also no certainty that adaptation to a 4 degree celsius world is possible.” Kevin Anderson, former director of England’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, says an increase in temperature of 4 degrees celsius is “incompatible with any reasonable characterization of an organized, equitable and civilized global community.”
Okay, this truth is reported in the context of 12 of the past 15 years being historically warm, globally. 2013 was the hottest year, globally, in recorded history, and then is was surpassed by 2014. So, we are on a hellbound train unless we sit up on our sofas and focus on this crisis with all our power.
2. In the midst of this situation, the fossil fuel industry is standing amongst us like a person holding a blow torch beside a gasoline tanker, and saying “this flame is no danger, and if you think it is, you are un-American.” Precisely the facts are these: in order to keep the world from warming more than 2 degrees celsius, between 2011 (when the report was written) and 2049, the amount of carbon that can be permissibly be burned without sealing our fate of collective death is 565 gigatons of oil, gas and goal. A gigaton is one billion metric tons, so the number is 565 billion metric tons. According to the Carbon Tracker Initiative, a think tank in London, the fossil fuel companies have reserve deposits of fossil fuel totaling 2795 gigatons, which is 2230 gigatons too many. These reserve deposits are already on their books, already accounted for, although still in the ground, as yet unharvested. To quote the great Bill McKibben (whose writings in the 1980s first interested me in the issue of global warming) “The thing to notice is 2795 is five times 565. It’s not even close. What those numbers mean is quite simple. The industry has announced, in filings to the SEC and in promises to shareholders, that they’re determined to burn five times more fossil fuel than the planet’s atmosphere can begin to absorb.”
Meanwhile, the fossil fuel companies act as if environmentalists, alarmed by this preposterous irresponsibility, are a “special interest group” opposed to jobs and the American way, as if facing the facts about human extinction is “liberal” and ideological. The propaganda ads are all over my television here in Milwaukee, accompanied by 4th of July fireworks and American flags waving, in support of the fracking efforts of the natural gas companies.
My blood pressure rises through the roof when I think about these facts without aid of yoga and meditation. I become nauseous and loathing of the corrupt powers that be, unless I go running and listen to some music. When I am finished with the yoga, meditation, and running, I find myself with a steely resolve to join other progressive persons and groups in service to the survival revolution. Humanity cannot survive a worldwide temperature increase of more than 2 degrees celsius, and the fossil fuel companies are committed to vaulting past that number like a hurdler in pursuit of a gold medal for unsustainability. I have committed myself to a life of loving humanity and non-human species, through environmental active concern, and need to recommit every hour.
Many who read this will be further down the road in these matters than I am, and I thank you for your patience with this late-bloomer. If you are newly discomfited by the facts I present here, and find yourself wondering what you can do, I invite you to consider involvement with 350.org and/or The Citizens Climate Lobby. They are organizations who know the facts, and are committed to saving the world, with love and action. We must be completely weaned of all fossil fuels by 2050, with a reduction of eight to ten percent each year starting yesterday. Thank you.