On changing our perspective

When I first watched this TED talk, I thought “yeah! we should totally change things and conserve and build windmills on our houses and stuff!”

While that’s not entirely wrong, it’s not what he was talking about. We really do need to change how we look at the world, and that call for change includes those of us who are trying to address global warming.

We are facing conditions that haven’t existed for millions of years, that our species hasn’t ever come close to experiencing, and we’ve got nothing to go on – no precedent, no experience, not tales or folklore. This is entirely uncharted territory, and that means that we must be willing to let go of any or all of our certainties about the world, if it turns out they are no longer effective.

In talking with various people about fluorescent light bulbs and electric cars, the point was made that while these may consume less energy, or produce less CO2 in their lifespan, they also introduce more toxic chemicals into the environment that are known to have debilitating effects on humans and on wildlife. Other incidents have also brought to light just how nasty various and sundry chemicals that we create as products or byproducts of our industrial lives – Bhopal, the Hungarian sludge flood, Chernobyl,  and so on. These are truly terrifying, and even more so because of the visible damage to humans it causes.

So I’ve been told we shouldn’t pursue lower carbon emissions if it means producing more chemical waste. I never really had an answer for that. I mean, I’m an environmentalist, and I’m a biologist, and I know the impacts of Atrazine, and DDT, and a myriad of other substances that are polluting our world. They’re really really bad, and their being used as an excuse to not do anything about Global Warming doesn’t mean they’re NOT bad. Generally my response would be some sort of half-hearted comment about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Here’s the thing though – with care, we can contain most of those chemicals and we know how to shield radioactive waste if we really try, but there is a chemical whose effects we have no way to stop, and the only way we can mitigate them is by reducing production of the chemical itself.

There’s a chemical out there now that has impacts that we never imagined possible. In sufficient concentrations, it has the ability to lift the curtains of reality and take us into a parallel world where our modern society will be coping with a planetary climate from around 50 million years ago – a climate that humans have never before encountered. It might almost be transporting us to a different planet altogether.

Or not.

Basically, though, that’s basically what CO2 is doing now, and the more of it we have the worse the effects will be. This is a form of chemical pollution that causes droughts and hurricanes and floods and that doesn’t even cover the dangers. There’s also the acidification of the ocean, contributing to the elimination of oceanic life, and the draining of oxygen from our seas. The additional heat will also mean the spread of diseases once confined to the tropics, and due to CO2 pollution, we may see a United States of America that has a malaria rate that resembles that of Kenya.

I could go on, but my point is this: CO2 is a far more dangerous toxin than anything we have previously encountered. It is the only thing that we have produced in enough quantity to be literally toxic to the environment. ALL of the environment. Long before it reaches sufficient concentrations to kill directly, it will kill millions, if not billions, through fire and hurricanes and heat and drought and floods and like I said – that’s only the beginning. That’s the simple stuff; the stuff that’s easy to predict. CO2 presents, potentially, as great a threat as global nuclear war, and it’s time to start treating it as such.


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