All the talk about saving the planet for our grandchildren is alarmingly outdated, reports environmental writer Bill McKibben. He warns us, “The planet on which our civilization evolved no longer exists.” Humans have already irrevocability harmed the planet so “our whole civilization stands on the edge of collapse.”[i] The maximum safe level of carbon dioxide is 350 parts per million, but it’s already at 390 and headed towards 650.[ii] Global emissions of carbon dioxide increased 35% from 1990 to 2007.[iii] Global warming causes less rainfall and reduces crop production, rivers are drying up, the ice caps and snowcaps are melting, glaciers are melting along with their reservoirs of water. The ocean is becoming warmer and more acidic as the water absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, destroying coral reefs and preventing shellfish from making strong shells. The melting frozen tundra releases methane, a heat-trapping gas, and as it gets hotter, trees and plants are less able to absorb carbon. Forests are dying and decreasing. Storms are becoming more powerful.
The outcome of global warming is more malnutrition, less food production and more food riots by hungry people, less drinkable water, battles over scarce resources, more mosquito-born diseases like dengue fever and malaria, stronger storms, and rising seas that will inundate low-lying areas. We’re running out of oil while Asian demand for oil is rising. We would need to reduce fossil fuel use 20 times over the next few decades to return to 350 parts of carbon dioxide.[iv]
Nations are not willing to promise to cut carbon emissions, as evidenced in the failure of the 2009 Copenhagen conference, which McKibben calls a “fiasco.” Giant companies like Exxon Mobil spew disinformation campaigns pretending that global warming is a natural trend and thousands of lobbyists work on Capitol Hill to prevent positive changes in US energy policies.[v] China is planning to increase its coal production, even though respiratory illnesses are already common and China has 20 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities.[vi] “New planets require new habits,” but we’re stuck in the old ones that value growth and bigness. Green energy sources, like solar, wind and biofuels produce only about 1.7% of US energy.[vii] Some proposals to finance climate protection are taxing international shipping and air travel, auctioning emission allowances, and a uniform global tax on carbon emission.[viii]
McKibben’s answer is to do more locally, smaller, and slower in the communities where we live.
[ii] Ibid.,, p. 15.
[iv] Ibid., p. 184
[v] Ibid., p. 55
[vii] Ibid., p. 53
[viii] United Nations Development Progamme, “What Will It Take to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals?–An International Assessment,” June, 2010, p. 35.