My that’s warm

The National Academy of Science has some news for us–the Earth is hot. Warmer, in fact, than it has been in four hundred years, and possibly in the last thousand.

Granted, weather does run in cycles, which are not fully understood. By studying ice cores and other indicators, we can get an idea of historical weather changes. But the weather is weird, and our knowledge as yet imperfect. Paleoclimatology is neat stuff. As the body of information we have amassed gets bigger, it can only increase our ability to make accurate statements. Or at least that’s the hope.

What that National Academy is willing to say for sure is that the last few decades have been extremely, dangerously hot. Graphs of the mean temperature show a sharp spike beginning around 1900–the age of industry. Temperature records are being broken every year, and in addition to threatening our quality of life, it also threatens the planet.

I’d really like to see An Inconvenient Truth, but somehow I doubt it will make it up here. As other commenters have written, it’s not as though anything in the movie is new (at least, it shouldn’t be unless you’ve had your head in the sand), but it’s a powerful thing to see all this information collected in one location. And an important thing.

There’s controversy over global warming, largely being fomented by those who have a vested interest in there being dispute over it. The argument seems to be that taking action and implementing protections now would devastate the economy and our way of life. Of course, global sea level rise could also devastate our economy and way of life, given the concentration of industry and culture on the coastlines.

I found it interesting that the day after this release, the Bay Area declared the second Spare the Air Day in a row, thanks to dangerously high smog levels (exceeding federal standards, in fact). Part of the reason for the heavy smog has been the record breaking temperatures–which may in fact be part of the cyclical nature of the earth, but may also be something more sinister.

I remember the moment I first realized in my gut that we were breaking the planet vividly. I was sitting in a psychology class and the instructor was talking about something or other, and somehow the context of global warming and the dispute over it came up. This being a hippie college, everyone believed the phenomenon to be the truth and was questioning why anyone would think otherwise. I looked outside the window and it was a lightbulb moment for me, the Pacific glittering in the near distance. Oh my god, I thought, we are totally fucking up the planet and there’s nothing I can do about it.

If we are to accept the idea that global warming is a reality, and I do, we need to accept the fact that we really ought to be doing something about it. We are already witnessing the effects–we can’t put it off to the next generation anymore. Yet, as Gore’s film points out, it is an awfully inconvenient truth. Because we as a society are going to have to make radical lifestyle changes and sacrifices in order to make any reasonable attempt at halting the progress of global warming.

We are living in the future. We were supposed to have flying cars and a colony on the moon by now. Instead we are an evergrowing species writhing in our own filth, unwilling to pull ourselves out. We need to completely retool the American way of life, which will not be easy.

We need to return to an era of urban density, where the population is concentrated in areas with a small ecological footprint, surrounded by open space (some of which, yes, should be used for farming, but it should also be used for natural forests and habitat). We need to stop building monstrous trophy houses in formerly pristine areas, we need to stop buying second homes, we need to return to a modest way of living where every inch of your house is made to count, to serve some fuction. You can build green and beautiful–I’ve seen it. I’ve already made a step in this direction personally, by choosing to live in town and locate work and shopping within walking distance of my home. I am constantly seeking ways to reduce my personal footprint, something remarkably easy to do when you are poor. I got rid of my car. I reuse grocery bags. I try not to be too much of a self righteous hippie.

We also need to implement and enforce stricter ecological protections. We cannot keep dumping stuff in the ocean, which is a giant purification system for the Earth–something around 85% of the world’s oxygen comes from the phytoplankton in the ocean. We cannot keep burying things in the Earth–we need to reduce, reuse, recycle. Packaging should be severely cut down, and biodegradeable, made from renewable resources. We should be reusing containers, making them from sturdier materials that stand up to repeated uses. It’s time to eliminate the miles of cheap plastic crap in the world. Use cloth diapers. Buy silly canvas tote bags for your groceries. Encourage your children to play in clay and wood, outdoors, instead of petrochemical products indoors. Read a book printed on recycled paper with soy based ink. We cannot keep emitting toxins into the atmosphere–we need to develop clean burning fuels, we need to force factories to comply with environmental policies. And these changes can’t just be made in the United States–they need to be made globally, as well, and it’s important that we have a body of international law governing these issues, because everything we do affects the whole world.

I see people driving everywhere alone in giant cars while the sidewalks are empty. I see people buying overprocessed heavily packaged products. I see people who are unwilling to make changes in the own lives for the better good of society, and I think that’s a great tragedy. I see people around me who understand on an intellectual level that what is happening is not good, but they haven’t had the leap of understanding that I did. Yet.

Perhaps global warming is all one giant myth, and the earth would be doing this anyway even if we weren’t here. Maybe the earth is like a giant clock and it’s just turning back to zero. But I think this is not the case. I think that our willfully destructive way of life is going to bring us to our knees. Perhaps not tomorrow, but soon.

[global warming]