All the two billion children born after June 23, 1988, belong to Generation Hot, who are growing up with global warming increasing, according to environment writer Mark Hertsgaard.[i] That was the year when NASA scientist James Hansen warned that greenhouse gases were raising global temperatures. Even if all warming emissions were stopped now, temperatures would keep rising until about 2040, Hertsgaard points out. “Future generations will face the fallout from the mistakes of today’s decision-makers,” states the European Youth Forum.[ii] Environmental problems are like the old tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes, where only a small boy has the courage to state that the Emperor isn’t wearing clothes at all. Or like the image of the frightened ostrich hiding its head in the sand. We’re ignoring the facts about global warming and destruction of the environment that threaten our survival. The most severe impacts of climate change are experienced by vulnerable low-income people and youth who have contributed the least to global warming. In the widely seen futurist film Avatar, Jake, the hero, says earth people take what ever they want and in the process killed their mother earth, stripping her of green.
All the talk about saving the planet for our grandchildren is alarmingly outdated, reports environmental writer Bill McKibben.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.”[iii] The maximum safe level of carbon dioxide is 350 parts per million, but it’s already at 390 and headed towards 650.[iv] Global emissions of carbon dioxide increased 35% from 1990 to 2007.[v] Global warming causes less rainfall and reduces crop production, dries up rivers, melts the snowcaps, and melts glaciers along with their reservoirs of water. The ocean is warming and becoming more acidic as the water absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, destroying coral reefs and preventing shellfish from making strong shells. A youth-oriented activist group to protect the ocean is www.oceanrevolution.org. 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.
The impact of global warming on humans is, less food production, more malnutrition 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 inundate low-lying areas. Climate change hurts poor farmers—about 70% of whom are women and people in developing nations where most youths live.[vi] With climate change, many more young people have to migrate to find jobs: Read about case studies in the UNFPA report cited above. We’re running out of oil at the same time that Asian demand for oil is rising.[vii] The US uses 19.64 million barrels of oil per day and more than half is imported.[viii] We would need to reduce fossil fuel use by 20 times over the next few decades to return to 350 parts of carbon dioxide.[ix]
UNICEF reports that in 2010 the risk of hunger increased for 50 million people because of climate change, mostly hurting women and children. With the potential rise of up to 160,000 child deaths a year in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia directly resulting from climate change, the most vulnerable children suffer.[x] “As climate keeps on changing to arid, I would encourage Kenyans not to rely on rainfall but practice irrigation farming to fight food shortage,” advises a girl we surveyed in Kenya.
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, as well as the Cancun conference in 2010. 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.[xi] China is planning to increase its coal production, even though respiratory illnesses are common and China has 20 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities.[xii] “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.[xiii] Young people I surveyed are very aware of these issues and concerned about them. An Indonesian 14-year-old told me she wants to be wealthy businesswoman so she can invest money in preserving the environment (video available). A large majority of teens are very concerned about climate change and think major solutions are needed now.
The environmental movement is the fastest growing movement, as explained on the website 11thhouraction.org. The 11th Hour, a film produced by actor Leonardo Dicaprio, makes the point that our big mistake is thinking we have dominion over nature. Corporate greed is powerful. We work to consume instead of enjoying life. As developing countries like China and India follow the US model of increasing consumption, we’ll run out of oil, metals, and fresh water.[xiv] The DVD Home (2009) filmed in 54 countries shows aerial photography of environmental disasters at a time when there are more people on planet Earth than ever before. Every year 70 million babies are added to the world’s population, mostly in countries where water tables are falling and wells are going dry, forests are shrinking, soils are eroding, and the grasslands are turning into desert. Half the Earth’s forests have been destroyed, used for fuel or grazing land for cattle for hamburgers. Trees can be planted in the Groasis Waterboxx which preserves moisture in an evaporation-proof bucket (groasis.com).
Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson wrote The Creation as an appeal to Christians to save the planet, rather than thinking in terms of dominion over nature. He explained that Earth has experienced five great disturbances, the last being a giant meteorite that landed in Yucatan, Mexico, triggering volcanic eruptions, dust, and tsunamis that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The sixth disturbance now is caused in order of destructiveness: by climate change, invasive species, pollution, human overpopulation, and overharvesting.
Annie Leonard, the author of The Story of Stuff (DVD and book) compiled these facts to show how much we waste, especially in the US, although more possessions has not led to more happiness:[xv]
• The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population but consumes 30% of the world’s resources and creates 30% of the world’s waste.
• If everybody consumed at U.S. rates, we would need 3 to 5 planets.
• There are over 100,000 synthetic chemicals in commerce today, including household products, as explained in the book Slow Death by Rubber Duck.[xvi]
• The average U.S. person now consumes twice as much as they did 50 years ago.
• We each see more advertisements in one year than people 50 years ago saw in a lifetime.
• In the U.S. our national happiness peaked sometime in the 1950s. All our stuff can create more work and less joy.
Appendices in Leonard’s book include examples of progressive reforms, individual actions, and sample letter to manufacturers and lobbyists. She describes her ideal future.[xvii] She suggests organizing for change with a group: WiserEarth lists thousands of groups.[xviii] She lives near friends and they share and borrow and trade services. The bottom line is to consume less. We need to change the definition of a healthy economy from one that continually increases consumption to one that includes quality of life like the Happy Planet Index, the Genuine Progress Indicator, or the UN Human Development Index. The collateral costs of health hazards and environmental destruction should logically be factored in economic models.
An Indian educator and writer, Dr. Vandana Shiva states.[xix]
We’ve got to get out of the mythology of growth that keeps everyone intoxified. We need to start recognizing the knowledge and productivity of the past. We need to start listening to the voices of the small producer, the small vendor, the small retailer, the small farmer, and the small fisherman–which is a majority of the world. It’s also a majority of the women. Out of that comes the truthful resurrection of diversity that gives us the possibility of small scale, low-impact economies for the earth and extremely high impact economies for human security and the future. A large group of Indian young people that is angry. They feel they are being denied a future. For example, 300,000 young people demonstrated to prevent a Pepsi plant. It didn’t make the news.
Our fuel comes from sun light in the form of ancient fossil fuels, coal and oil. Carbon dioxide and methane trap heat in the atmosphere. Major causes of greenhouse gases are deforestation and burning fossil fuels, mainly coal (which produces electricity for our appliances) and oil. In the US, the military is the largest user of petroleum products but is exempt from curbs on greenhouse-gas emissions.[xx] Large animals like elephants release methane gas when they pass gas or eliminate, so production of cattle increases gases. One meat-eater contributes more to global warming than one person driving a car.
We’re at the tipping point where we’ll lose control. The maximum safe level of carbon dioxide is 350 and we’re over 385. [xxi] (See www.350.org to figure out your carbon footprint.[xxii]) The global temperature rises each year.[xxiii] So much greenhouse gas was generated in 2008, for example, that temperatures will raise more than 2% by the end of the century, enough to cause major changes. People wrongly think that if we stop emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that the climate would go back to normal in a few hundred years but the changes will last at least until the year 3000, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
China and the US are the two largest polluters, while the poorer countries produce less carbon dioxide. (See the DVD Shifting Nature to look at the pollution in China enabled by corruption and a lack of government regulation.”[xxiv] “Energy developments in China and India are transforming the global energy system by dint of their sheer size and their growing weight in international fossil-fuel trade,” reported the International Energy Agency (IEA) in its World Energy Outlook for 2007.[xxv] In China with its 1.3 billion people, one-third of the rivers are polluted, one-third of the land suffers from soil erosion and drought, more than three-fourths of its forests are gone, and city air is polluted. Its main energy source is coal–over two-thirds of China’s energy supply–and a new coal-fired power plant is built every week. The sulfur dioxide in burning coal contributes to global warming and acid rain that leads to about 700,000 early deaths each year, according to the World Bank. Every 30 seconds a Chinese baby is born with pollution-related birth defects. Acid rain is another health problem and the situation is worsening in some regions and cities.
These health problems inspired China to become a leader in clean energy technology, such as wind energy. In 2009, Beijing announced it would spend nearly $31 billion on the environment. It also spent $3 billion to buy hybrid–electric and fuel–vehicles to use in cities.[xxvi] China is developing solar, wind and biomass projects, but by 2020 they’ll still be a small percent of the energy use.
The average person living in a developed country produces from six to 23 tons of carbon dioxide per year. In the US, the average person generates about 15,000 pounds of carbon dioxide every year from transportation, home energy, and energy used to produce the products and services they consume.[xxvii] The US is home to 5% of the global population but we consume about one-quarter of the energy and one-third of global consumption–more than $9 trillion in 2004.[xxviii] A typical person uses almost 24 acres worth of natural resources during a lifetime if everything consumed was spread out on the ground. In contrast, the average Italian uses seven acres. Much of the trash we create ends up in the ocean. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest trash pile, about 3.5 million tons of trash and plastic bags that harm sea life. It floats between Hawaii and California and scientists estimate it’s two times bigger than Texas.[xxix]
The polar ice sheets are melting faster than predicted. If we don’t save them, the sea level will rise 39 feet, creating over 600 million rising-sea refugees who will have to leave their homes. If the sea rises only a meter, more than 65 million people in Bangladesh will be flooded out, as will people in Micronesia and parts of Europe and the US. The Arctic seas could be ice-free by 2040 or earlier. The ice in the Aortic Ocean shrank 1 million more square miles in 2008 than the average melt over 25 years, according to NASA satellite data. The Arctic is disappearing, warmer than it has been in 2,000 years with shrinking snow cover and sea ice harming the animals that depend on the ice like polar bears. The melting ice leads to a bloom of plankton sooner than usual, so when migratory animals like whales and seabirds arrive at their usual time, there is no plankton left for them to eat.
The outcome of more heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere is more frequent and extreme weather, increasing heat waves and intense rainfall or drought, as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.[xxx] Yet, US citizens elected more climate change deniers as members of Congress than ever before in 2010: Around half of the new representatives don’t think humans are responsible for global warming. The incoming House Speaker, John Boehner, said in 2009, “The idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen, that it is harmful to our environment, is almost comical.”[xxxi] A top Fox News editor ordered reporters to couple any mention of global climate change with skepticism about the data, according to Media Matters.[xxxii] As a consequence, of those who said they watched Fox News almost every day, 60% believed, unlike viewers of other news programs, that “most scientists think climate change is not occurring” or that “views are divided evenly.” Oil companies like ExxonMobil spend millions on a disinformation campaign, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Scott McNall discusses the denial campaign in Rapid Climate Change.[xxxiii] A group of scientists formed the Climate Science Rapid Response Team to answer questions in the media, similar to the American Geophysical Union’s Climate Q&A Service with PH.D. volunteers. Meanwhile, NASA’s James Hansen predicted record-high temperatures and more extreme weather.
Destruction of Lifeforms
We are killing off one-third to one-half of the earth’s species. Because of humans, almost half of the coral reef species, one-third of amphibians and one- quarter of mammals are threatened with extinction, according to a 2009 report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Nearly 17,000 species of plants and animals face extinction, due to loss of habit, pollution and climate change.[xxxiv] Environmental problems include deforestation including the rainforests, soil erosion (30% of the earth’s soil is degraded), destruction of corral and fisheries, and dead zones in polluted oceans. Forests are disappearing in Africa and South America, but being replanted in China, India, and the US. Overall, the net loss of trees over the past decade equals the size of Costa Rica, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in 2010. But deforestation is slowing; over the last decade, about 13 million hectares of forest were lost each year, compared to 16 million hectares per year in the 1990s.[xxxv] Thirty million trees have been planted in Kenya in a greenbelt movement led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, described in her autobiography Unbowed. [xxxvi] Also in Africa, the ‘green miracle” is planting millions of new trees in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, using pits to hold water during infrequent rainfalls.[xxxvii]
Water shortages are caused by using up groundwater supplies and by climate change, a problem in parts of India, China, the US, Mexico, Spain, and North Africa. In Africa, many of the 390 million people who live on less than $1.25 a day are small farmers who depend on the rain to grow their food but global warming is increasing droughts and hunger. Don Tapscott reports, “Lack of access to fresh water is a catastrophe for humanity. Some 2.8 billion (or 44%) of the world’s population already lives in high water-stress areas and the number will increase to 3.9 billion by 2030.[xxxviii] More than a billion people use water from polluted sources: A UN report called “Sick Water” estimated that two billion tons of wastewater is discharged daily.[xxxix] About 6,000 people die from water-related problems every day, most of them children, according to former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. By 2025, 40% of the worlds’ population could be living in countries with chronic water shortages, as fresh water comprises only 2.5% of the water on earth.
In India, Priya Verma, 18, is an activist to preserve underground water. She believes “child, youth and women are the builders of the nation and the environment is the most burning issue of our times.” She writes about the problem and about reforming education on her website (http://cywe.org) and researches solutions:
Keeping in view of gravity of the situation I have innovated some useful techniques of rainwater harvesting to increase the underground water resources which is useful not only to India but to the entire world. The innovative techniques/ideas given in the project “Increasing Underground Water Resources” has been recognized by the govt. of India, UNEP and organizations worldwide. The useful eco-friendly innovative techniques are Funnel System, Polythene cover System, Less Water for Plants-Growing plants in sand, gravel, liquid without adding soil, Pits/ recharge well system and other useful ideas in my project.
A toxic brew of synthetic chemical compounds is destroying the planet. Industries process four million pounds of material to provide an average US family what it uses in a year. The Environmental Working Group, which does research and lobbying, found 287 industrial chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of babies born in US hospitals.[xl] In the US, girls are more likely than in the past to start developing breasts by age 7 or 8, because of obesity and possibly because of environmental chemicals that mimic estrogen.[xli] Mothers who live close to freeways have twice the risk of giving birth to autistic children: The rate of reported cases of autism increased by 57% from 2002 to 2006, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.[xlii] An unhealthy brown cloud of soot, smog, and toxic chemicals hovers over Asia. Shanghai families told me some days they can’t open their windows it’s so dirty. A 2008 United Nation report attributes the smog to wood burning, coal power plants, and diesel trucks. The pollution ranges from Lagos to Seoul, with 13 cities as hot spots, including Bangkok, Cairo, New Delhi, and Tehran. As well as harming lungs, the brown clouds change climate and rainfall, and harm crops. UC Berkeley and Harvard studies add to growing evidence that pesticides are linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, more so in boys than girls.[xliii]
Because of the toxic chemicals, “Across the world and across species, the male gender is in danger.[xliv]“ The CHEMTrust report, based on 250 studies from around the world, states that male fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals–including human beings–are being feminized by environmental pollution with several common chemicals. These include phthalates used in plastic food wraps, cosmetics, flame-retardants and many pesticides. Women in communities heavily polluted with such chemicals in Canada, Russia and Italy have given birth to twice as many girls as boys and men’s sperm counts are dropping.[xlv]
The head of the UN, Ban Ki Moon reminds us, “We know that those most vulnerable to climate change are poorest of the world’s poor…. A solution to poverty is also a solution for climate change: green growth. For the world’s poor, it is a key to sustainable development. For the wealthy, it is the way of the future.”[xlvi]
Traditional values revered nature, its plants and animals. Thom Hartmann calls for our modern New Culture to return to the cooperation with nature practiced by the “Old Culture” tribal groups.[xlvii] A guidebook to Hindu practices instructs readers, “While modern man often works to ‘conquer’ mother nature, ancient Indians ‘worshipped’ her. Hence, in India, we are taught to regard trees and plants as sacred. Indian scriptures tell us to plant ten trees if, for any reason, we have to cut one.”[xlviii] The new science that began with Einstein and quantum physics in the early 20th century also teaches us that we live in a “cosmos full of living interconnections.” We need to move from the belief that we should dominant the earth to understanding that we must protect it. The industrial worldview viewed life as a hierarchical pyramid, with humans at the top and the brain at the top of the human. Scientists used to think there were specific centers for language in the brain, for example, but now they know language is handled in different regions working as a system. Multi-national corporations fit the old model, concerned about making profit for the elite at the top. Hartmann believes that this process will require no longer granting corporations the rights of a person.[xlix]
The progressive model is cooperation in networks rather than domination in a hierarchical pyramid of authority like an army with generals at the top and privates at the bottom. Scientists even used to believe that animals were like machines that didn’t feel pain in lab experiments and they thought that only humans used tools. Jane Goodall (she started an environmental organization for young people[l]) was one of the first to recognize that chimps used tools to get into ant holes (as do octopi, otters, and other animals). The progressive paradigm or model is a spider web, like the Internet, permeated by conscious intelligence without a head. A practical application of this model is The Biomimicry Institute, led by Janine Benyus. The Institute “promotes learning from and then emulating natural forms, processes, and ecosystems to create more sustainable and healthier human technologies and designs.”[li] We need to head towards sustainable development, just as ecological systems adapt and change.
We need to simplify, save, and slow down to savor life (see In Praise of Slowness[lii]) in a traditional model of harmony with mother earth, a return to the balance practiced by indigenous peoples around the planet the authors state their goal is to live “unobtrusively and wholesomely off the land. We aim to take only what we need and not more.”[liii] Some proposals to finance climate protection are taxing international shipping and air travel, auctioning emission allowances, and a uniform global tax on carbon emission.[liv]
Jeremy Ben-Shalom, an Israeli environmentalist, suggests the key problem and solution:
Consumption and production is at the epitome of our unsustainable use of natural resources and its effect on our fragile climate. I am not arguing to stop consumption and production. I think that the problem is in the inequalities between its patterns in the developed and developing world. The developed world produces and consumes more than it needs and the developing world has not enough. I think that redistribution is needed, not only of goods but more importantly of power to set the terms of trade, energy, food, water, international investments, technology, etc.
Some people began to understand the need for action to stop global warming after the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans in 2005 and Vice-President Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth came out in 2006[lv] Gore’s 2009 book Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis advocated solar, wind, geothermal, nuclear energy and other renewable energies. He pointed out we emit 90 million tons of pollution into the atmosphere every day and the world’s forests are disappearing by an acre every second. He says Sweden is the best model of how to preserve the environment. College students organized stepitup07.org to participate in demonstrations in all the states and created http://www.rsky.org to lobby on the national level to implement Gore’s suggestions.
After seeing Gore’s film, a 12-year-old boy named Alec Loorz created Kids vs. Global Warming for youth to learn and take action about climate change.[lvi] They organized a “million kid march” called the iMatter March on Mother’s Day 2011. An umbrella organization for US and Canadian youth-led groups is the Energy Action Coalition, “growing a generation-wide movement to stop global warming, by advocating for green jobs, stopping new coal, and making young people’s voices heard in the policy debate around global climate change.”[lvii] An earlier youth environmental organization is Yes![lviii]
Founded by teens in 1990, YES! has spoken to over 675,000 students and organized more than 100 week-long gatherings for visionary young leaders from 65+ nations. YES! brings sustainability, means-to-ends consistency, partnerships across historic divides, and intentional space for the role of love and spirit, into social change movements worldwide by convening transformational gatherings and building lasting partnerships with diverse social entrepreneurs.
A Texas girl started fund raising for an environmental center when she was 14. Eventually Sarah Jo Lambert raised $215,000 and helped build the center, developed an environmental curriculum and a Green Challenge for international Girl Scouts.[lix] She explained her motivation,
I did all of this over a course of two years because I love the outdoors and being in the midst of wildlife. I wanted kids to be able to experience the same passion and love for this beautiful world that I feel everyday. . . I believe that if we start teaching “Green” concepts at earlier ages all children will start living with the same green attitudes. Who knows, they might end up saving the planet in their own little way and every little effort makes a big difference.
Author Bill McKibben’s answer is to do more locally, smaller, and slower in the communities where we live. For example, pay shares to support local organic farmers including urban farming. Some communities have wind power and other energy cooperatives, as in Canada. In Rwanda community work is performed the last Saturday morning of each month, as by planting trees.[lx] We can eat less meat, because as much as half of global warming gases are caused by the livestock industry, more than greenhouse gasses emitted by cars.[lxi] Cows produce one pound of methane for every two pounds of their meat. Activists for these kinds of remedies can use the Internet to organize, as McKibben has. For updates, see www.350.org.
A success story of fighting corporate pollution on the local level is the “Boston Tea Party of corporate law.”[lxii] It began in 1995 when a Pennsylvania attorney, Thomas Linzey, formed the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). The Fund works with rural Pennsylvania municipalities to pass ordinances and charters to eliminate corporate rights to pollute the countryside, as by dumping hog farm sludge. Linzey realized abolitionists didn’t try to regulate slavery; they passed amendments banning it. CELDF researchers discovered midwestern states that passed state laws banning agribusiness from owning or controlling farms from 1901 on and passed similar laws recently. Democracy School workshops were set up to train local activists so that over 100 communities passed Fund-drafted ordinances.
Plan B 3.O by Lester Brown, in his book by that title, tells how to save our planet. He updates his research and is even more urgent in World on the Edge (2011) where he says “we’re one poor harvest away from chaos.” Global warming is reducing the world’s grain supply, the foundation of the food economy. His goal is to stop global warming, slow population growth, erase poverty, and restore ecosystems. His plan includes how to create better energy efficiency as with incandescent light bulbs and a plant-based diet, renewable sources of energy like wind and solar, expanding forests, and doing away with coal power plants and overpopulation. He proposes a carbon tax of $240 per ton to discourage fossil fuel use. Some examples Brown gives of renewable energy in action are 60 million Europeans get their home electricity from wind farms, nearly 40 million Chinese homes get their hot water from rooftop solar-water heaters and Iceland uses geothermal energy.[lxiii] These alternatives need to become the norm. Renewal energy could provide almost 80% of the world’s energy supply within four decades—including two billion people not connected to energy–if governments invest 1% of global GDP annually, according to a 2011 report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.[lxiv]
Model Cities, Countries: Cities are creating information networks about resources[lxv] and regions are joining together, such as a group started by former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010 called R20 to fund reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Schwarzenegger says local governments are taking action because:
We can’t afford to wait for national and international movement. I think that all great movements start on the grassroots level, so I think that we start on the local level, the state level and move up and put the pressure on national governments to get the job done. R20 will help pave the way in the transition to a green economy that will clean the environment, create green jobs and respond to the unavoidable impacts of climate change. 
Chicago is working to become “the greenest city in America,” although Portland, Oregon, makes that claim. Chicago planted over 500,000 trees and added more than two million square feet of rooftop gardens. It collects food wastes to turn into compost for city gardens. Plastic bags—“urban tumbleweeds”–were banned by the city of San Francisco, cities in India and Bangladesh, etc. People can shop with reusable cloth bags or paper bags of biodegradable materials.[lxvi] It takes 1,000 years for plastic to biodegrade: An Internet petition opposes their use.[lxvii] San Francisco also banned the use of city funds to buy bottled water because of the huge waste in plastic bottles—around the world 2.5 million water bottles are tossed each hour. The DVD Tapped shows us about water shortages and bottled water.[lxviii] When I was in Tanzania, they burned plastic bottles and other trash, polluting the air.
The Cool Cities program encourages the hottest cities to paint roofs and paved surfaces white. Hashem Akbari, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, explains that white reflects the sun’s rays rather than attracting and absorbing heat. (The albedo effect keeps the poles cold as ice reflects the head. As the ice area decreases it increases warming.) The city of Berkeley passed a law in 2007 committing the city to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, down from 696,498 tons of greenhouse gases that the city generated in 2000. Solutions are to have shared vehicles and free bus passes; to require high-efficiency home appliances, solar-powered water heaters, and insulation in building walls; and to require new building to be green as by using recycled and green materials.
Models of green buildings include the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability in Vancouver, British Columbia, and the California Environmental Protection Agency’s 25-story Joe Serna Jr. Building. It used recycled ceiling tiles and has worm-composting bins, leading to savings of around $1 million a year. Ford Motor Company’s old River Rouge Complex was restored with a roof garden that collects rainwater on over 10 acres. The University of New Hampshire gets much of its energy from methane gas generated by its huge compost landfill. The 30 St. Mary Axe building in London has gardens on every sixth floor for air purification.[lxix] The UK plans to build “eco-towns” powered by wind or solar energy, not dependent on cars, and minimizing water use. As of 2016, all new homes must be carbon neutral in the UK, although skepticism abounds about achieving the goal. [lxx]
Although the US Congress resists taking action to prevent global warming, some states tried to do something. The world’s eighth-largest economy, California passed a law in 2006 called the Global Warming Solutions Act. It imposed an 80% carbon emission reduction by 2050. It set up a cap-and-trade program because Congress didn’t pass it. (“The ‘cap’ is a legal limit on the quantity of greenhouse gases that a region can emit each year and ‘trade’ means that companies may swap among themselves the permission—or permits—to emit greenhouse gases.”[lxxi]) However, the attorneys general of at least four other states sued on the grounds it interferes with the right to freely conduct interstate commerce. Renewable energy will only account for about 10% of US energy consumption by 2020,[lxxii] while the European Union is aiming for 20%.[lxxiii]
Germany is a leading European country in developing green technology; for example, its parliament building runs on green energy. The country developed 250,000 new jobs in renewable energy by mid 2009, including wind power jobs. The green-jobs creation program costs the average family $38 a year on its utility bill. The government gives people incentives to retrofit their homes, police give tickets to polluting cars that drive in emission-reduction zones, and competitions are held to see who can save the most power.[lxxiv] Spain is second in the world in wind-energy production and is a leader in solar and biofuel technologies. Sweden’s Natural Step established environmentally responsible industrial practices. In South Korea, consumers can earn “carbon points” for cash rebates when they use a “green credit card” to buy eco-friendly products or actions like taking public transport. The card is part of a government effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2020, and private companies are also offering coupons in return for conserving electricity and water.
When I was in Brazil, gas stations had both gas and sugar cane ethanol, and they can be mixed in the gas tank. An organization called Teirra América describes the struggle of Brazil’s former environment minister, the daughter of rubber tappers in the jungle who learned to read and write in her teens.
Under the leadership of Marina Silva, Brazil’s environment minister from 2003 to 2008, the country once thought to be among the worst environmental offenders in the world turned a corner.[lxxv] Today Brazil is a country that powers its cars with energy-saving ethanol, relies heavily on hydroelectric- and wind-produced energy, and legislates to protect the land rights of indigenous communities. In 2008, it soared to first place in National Geographic’s Greendex survey [India was second, US consumers were at the bottom], which ranks countries by environmentally sustainable consumption patterns. [You can get your own individual score by taking an online survey and also test your knowledge and compare with answers from individuals in other countries.[lxxvi]]
But Brazil’s environmental gains may not be long lasting. Experts predict that by 2014 Brazil will be the fifth-largest economy in the world, ahead of France and Britain. It’s these economic ambitions that threaten the country’s environmental footprint. In 2008, Marina Silva stepped down from her post at the Ministry of the Environment to return to her previous position in the Senate, citing a “growing resistance” within the Brazilian government to protecting environmental interests as her reasoning.
In 2010 Marina Silva ran on the Green Party for president. Silva used social media such as Twitter and Facebook to help spread her ideas of environmentally sustainable growth, especially to younger voters.[lxxvii] Young people started a movement on Twitter to support Marina Silva for president of Brazil, quickly attracting over 100,000 followers, but Dilma Rousseff won because of the endorsement of the previous president. Izabella Teixeira became Environment Minister, setting up a crisis center in 2011 to combat increased deforestation in the Amazon rain forest.
As well as governments, progressive businesses are going green. Sun Microsystems plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by using energy-saving technology and allowing thousand of employees to telecommute at home. In 2006 Toyota was the world’s first automaker to offer a mass-produced hybrid car, the Prius. India’s Tata Company featured the Tata Nano, the world’s cheapest car, in 2008, with a total cost of only $3,250. Indians worry about what it will do to already crowded roads and to auto emission, although it gets 47 miles to the gallon.
Dried miscanthus, a plant related to sugar cane, could be the fuel of the future. Researchers say it’s possible to convert the cellulose in this and other plants into a fuel that could replace diesel and gasoline. Researchers at the new Energy Biosciences Institute at the University of California-Berkeley are working on a recipe for this biofuel. Also in California, a new way to harness solar energy is being tested at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National [fusion] Ignition Facility.[lxxviii] The goal is to use hydrogen from ocean water to create an endless supply of clean fuel.
An expensive effort to use the sun’s energy to create nuclear fusion is underway in France.[lxxix] It’s funded by a coalition of governments as construction of the plant alone costs over $17 billion. It’s called ITER, Latin for “the way.” The process will begin in 2026, fusing hydrogen nuclei that release massive energy. “Fusion offers the prospect of thousands of years of energy supply without further [environmental] issues,” reports Mike Zarnstorff, the deputy director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in New Jersey.
The Sierra Club rates the 100 greenest colleges in the US, with Green Mountain College in Vermont as #1.[lxxx] Local schools can become green schools by growing a vegetable garden, serving local organic food, using ecological cleaning products, and educating children about the ecosystem. They can compost food wastes, use recycled paper, and LED lights.[lxxxi] Providing exercise as well as healthy food helps correct the obesity problem. Eight large US foundations, including the Gates Foundation, formed Agree to work through conflicts between conventional and alternative sustainable farming.[lxxxii] In China, Yunan Jin dreaded the sandstorms when they blew in every spring in Beijing, “a veritable hell on earth,” so when he was age 14, he got people together to plant trees in Mongolia where the storms start. Schools can encourage tree planting in their neighborhoods.
High school students in Malawi had these suggestions for conservation:[lxxxiii]
Recycle paper, plant trees, and use alternatives to burning charcoal. Students “promise not to be littering and to reuse plastics, treating sewage and making organic manure as Malawi is agriculture based.” Nellie wants to “Sensitize the community through groups and clubs” and to “recycle paper.”
The Kyoto Accord of 1997 was the first attempt by the nations of the world to slow down global warming, but expired in 2012. Only the US and Australia didn’t sign it, but among European countries, only the United Kingdom and Sweden achieved real reductions in greenhouse gases. The Montreal Protocol of 2009 was the first environmental treaty to achieve universal ratification. All the world’s governments are now legally committed to phase out ozone depleting substances (ODSs). The Montreal Protocol Multilateral Fund helps developing countries to stop using ODSs like halons. Some proposals to finance climate protection are taxing international shipping and air travel, auctioning emission allowances, and a uniform global tax on carbon emission.[lxxxiv]
A small step forward was the Copenhagen Conference in 2009 where for the first time governments agreed that global warming is a scientifically proven problem and green technology is the business of the future. The conference demonstrated a shift in global power from the West, as India, Brazil, and South Africa, brokered the agreement with the US and the EU—although without any binding specific actions. At the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico, 2010, President Felipe Calderon warned, “If we do not take immediate decisive measures, the negative effects will worsen and the economic, social and ecological consequences will be devastating.” He pointed to the year’s devastating floods in Pakistan, forest fires in Russia, and increase in Caribbean hurricanes as examples of extreme weather. However, decisive measures weren’t taken. The conference participants from over 190 countries agreed to wait for another year to decide in Durban, South Africa, if they should extend the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. They did establish a new fund to help poor countries adapt to climate change and preserve tropical forests.
To read about individuals who’ve protected the environment in their countries, read about Goldman Environmental Prize for grassroots activism winners.[lxxxv] A list of actions individuals can take is posted elsewhere on my blog.[lxxxvi]
Young people are aware they have to live with the consequence of previous generations trashing the planet. They want change, but it’s not clear if they’re willing to give up some excessive consumerism to encourage more equitable distribution of limited resources.
[ii] “International Year of Youth” report from the European Youth Forum, edited by Giuseppe Porcaro, 2010, p. 39.
[iii] Bill McKibben. Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. Times Books, 2010, p. 105.
[iv] McKibben, p. 15.
[v] United Nations, The Millennium Development Goals Report, June 15, 2010, p. 53.
[vi] UNFPA State of the World Population 2009 Youth Supplement, “At the Frontier: Young People and Climate Change,” p. v.
[vii] Howard Kunstler. The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century. Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005.
[viii] Paul Raubwer, “Beyond Oil: Here’s How to Get There,” Sierra Club Magazine, January, 2011, pp. 30-36.
[ix] Ibid., p. 184
UICEF UK – Climate Change, Child’s Rights and Intergenerational Justice
[xi] Ibid., p. 55
[xiii] Ibid., p. 53
[xvi] The authors discuss seven common toxins found in baby bottles, cans, plastic containers, shampoo, etc.
Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie. Slow Death by Rubber Duck. Counterpoint, 2010.
[xvii] Annie Leonard. The Story of Stuff. Free Press, 2010, pp. 247-250.
[xix] Vandana Shiva, “The Violence of Globalization,” in Neva Welton and Linda Wolf, Global Uprising: Confronting the Tryannies of the 21st Century. New Society Publishers, 2001. http://www.daughters-sisters.org/8_interviews/vandanaShiva.htm
[xx] Barry Sanders. The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism. AK Press, 2009.
[xxi] United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), June 2010, p. 55.
“State of the climate,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminsitration report on research from 48 countries states warming is unmistakable and 90% of the warming has gone into the oceans, melting glaciers and sea ice.
[xxiv] China from the Inside, PPS series of four, 2006.
[xxvi] Michael Standaert, “China Turns to Clean Tech to Stimulate Its Economy, San Francisco Chronicle. May 10, 2009, Section A.
[xxxiii] Scott McNall. Rapid Climate Change. Routledge, 2011.
[xxxiv] United Nations, The Millennium Development Goals Report, June 15, 2010. P. 53.
[xxxv] United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), June 2010, p. 54. unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/un…/unpan039616.pdf
[xxxvii] Mark Hertsgaard. Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010.
[xxxviii] “Viewpoint, “Top 10 Themes from 2010 Davos World Economic Forum,” February 2, 2010. http://www.businessweek.com/managing/content/feb2010/ca2010022_162429.htm
[xlii] Heather Vol, lead author, Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives. December, 16, 2010.
[xliii] Thomas Maugh II, “UC Study Links ADHD, Pesticides,” Los Angeles Times, May 16, 2010.
[xliv] A report released December 7, 2008, by CHEMTrust, a British organization.
[xlvi] Ban Ki Moon, “What the World Needs is a Green Deal,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 26, 2008.
[xlvii] Thom Hartmann. The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight. Three Rivers Press, 2004.
[xlviii] Swamini Vimalananda and Radhika Krishnakumar, “In Indian Culture Why Do We . . .” booklet, Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, Mumbai, 2007.
[xlix] Thom Hartmann. Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights. Rodale Press, 2002
[lii] Carl Honoré. In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed. HarperCollins, 2004.
[liii] Adama and Naomi Doumbia. The Way of the Elders: West African Spirituality and Tradition. Llewellyn Worldwide, 2004.
[liv] United Nations Development Progamme, “What Will It Take to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals?–An International Assessment,” June, 2010, p. 35.
[lv] Other green films are: FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992, animated) Wall-E (2008, animated), Silent Running (1971), Gorillas in the Mist (1988), Erin Brockovich (2000), Who Killed the Electric Car (2006, documentary), March of the Penguins (2005), and Avatar, 2009. Wall_E and Avatar are animated science fiction taking place in the future when there is no greenery left on earth due to human greed. Avatar is the best selling film of all time. Wings of Migration, Earth, Oceans, and Cats of Africa show us nature and how humans are making animals suffer. These films are made by Disneynature.
Her blog www.visionisgreen.wordpress.com
[lxi] Ibid, p. 176.
[lxiv] Fiona Harvey, “Renewable Energy Can Power the World, Says Landmark IPCC Study, Guardian, May 9, 2011.
[lxvi]“Andrew Curry, While Energy Policy Falter, Plastic Bag Laws Multiply, National Geographic, May 3, 2011 http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2011/05/110503-plastic-bags-bans-and-taxes-multiplying/
[lxxii] National Research Council and US Department of Energy 2010 Annual Energy Outlook.
[lxxiii] Christine Lins, “Going Beyond 2020,” Bridges, Vol. 27., October 2010.
[lxxiv] . “Intelligence Report,” Parade Magazine, May 24, 2009.
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=9943298 video about carbon as an energy source
[lxxxiii] Internet Discussion between Voices of Youth, high school students and UNICEF Malawi, 22t May 2009 http://www.unicef.org/voy/speakout/speakout_567.html
[lxxxiv] United Nations Development Progamme, “What Will It Take to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals?–An International Assessment,” June, 2010, p. 35.