Prologue: To the discredit of the author, this piece offers no solution to the waging of war on climate change. It is merely a reflection on the failure of all efforts to prevent what appears to be the inevitable. In a cowardly shirking of responsibility, the baton is passed to future generations for them to stem the tides of an Earth out of control. The remaining hope is that we raised our children to be smarter than us. I expect the ardent supporters of President Obama to meet my words with an ideological backlash, but don’t, give up on me just yet. Just wait until I’ve told the story.
Once upon a time, there was a wanderer named Goldilocks. She looked for a place to live. Pretty soon, she came upon our solar systems. Inside, there were three possible homes. She studied these planets carefully.
“This planet nearest the sun she named Venus is too hot!” she exclaimed.
So, she went to the furthest of the three from the sun.
“This planet she named Mars is too cold,” she said
So, she visited the middle planet.
“Ahhh, this planet she named Earth is just right,” she said happily and moved in.
Goldilocks raised a family. The family grew and prospered, until one day she looked upon her home.
“Someone’s been careless with Earth,” it’s starting to look like Venus she growled.
“Someone’s been eating Earth’s resources and they ate them all up!” she cried.
“Someone’s been playing with the air we breathe and they’ve broken it all to pieces,” she breathlessly grumbled.
“Someone’s been US and doing little about it!” exclaimed Goldilocks.
She screamed, “Help!” And she jumped in desperation for a fix. Goldilocks looked again to the planets, opened the sky, and raced to Mars. And she never returned to her home now left shamelessly in shambles.
A child’s story, perhaps! From world wars to weapons of mass destruction, the 20th and 21st century have events of major worldwide concern. Yet, the news this week about “Arctic Temperatures Reaching the Highest Levels in 44,000 Years” makes all other events pale in comparison.
Certainly, there are naysayers–so be it. The truth is all around us. It’s indisputable: atmospheric CO2 has reached levels never seen in recorded history, the earth is getting warmer and the global community is consuming more fossil fuels. The initial wounds are so deep it matters little that CO2 remains in the atmosphere for centuries. There is little one can add or detract. Vivid images tell it all – crying children left homeless from vicious tropical cyclones, massive icebergs breaking off every ice haven on earth, and drought-stricken areas competing for vanishing water supplies. No science required, no statistical proof is necessary, no debates are needed; only the ability to sense reality is required to see what no society has ever witnessed before.
The debate over the human influence on climate change is settled. There is universal agreement within the international community that humanity is the dominant cause of atmospheric and oceanic warming, diminishing amounts of snow and ice, rising global mean sea levels and skyrocketing concentrations of greenhouse gases. Adding to sobering conclusion, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated, “there is enough space in the atmosphere for about 309 billion metric tons of carbon, or about 22 years of emissions at current levels, for a chance to prevent runaway climate change.”
The concern is not what is or even what will be, but whether something can be done about it. Have we gone past the point of no return? Even if all of humankind would quantitatively stop using carbon-based fuels today, it is doubtful there would be any significant changes in the near future. Our ability to go completely off the carbon grid is without exception a virtual impossibility. We are on a runaway freight train with no practical way to bring it under control.
The rash of apocalyptic events is not recent news. In 634 BCE Romans feared the city (Rome) would come to an end on the 120th year of its founding. Even today, scientists such as Dr. James Kasting, a world renowned Harvard-educated geoscientist, predict the world will become uninhabitable in 500 million years when the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will “drop.” Drop – that a new twist! We do know of the Great Dying, which some 250 million years ago wiped out 90-95 percent of all life on earth. After that, it took 30 million years for life to recover. Then some 65 million years ago, a collision with a celestial object ended the age of the dinosaur. Interestingly, that cataclysm gave rise to mammals and of course, humanity.
Through eons of continuing destruction, the earth endures. Whether humanity survives is a more profound question. In what seems to be an esoteric waste of time, scientists are beginning to discuss ways to prevent yet another catastrophic impact with an asteroid, comet or meteoroid. In the short term, it seems more likely we will destroy ourselves by whatever means is at hand. Nevertheless, people the world over can rest assured in the knowledge that technology could come to our rescue when it comes to space rocks of mass destruction.
To our everlasting disgrace, the same technological prowess that is focusing on futuristic events of total destruction is helpless when it comes to more immediate needs like dealing with the damaging consequences of CO2 in the sky. In fairness, the technologists who giveth the tools that produce these gases are not solely responsible to taketh them away. Political, geopolitical, socioeconomic, industrial and consumer pressures far outrun scientists’ powers to affect the course of environmental degradation.
Globally, the U.S. has the world’s highest reported per capita CO2 emissions at 18 tonnes emitted per person. Meanwhile, China is reported to emit more CO2 than the US and Canada put together and India ranks as the world’s third biggest emitter of CO2. Adding to the growing problems in the developing world, some of the world’s smallest countries and islands emit the highest levels of CO2 per person with the worst offender being Gibraltar at 152 annual tonnes per person.
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