Now that Al Gore’s movie and resulting articles and TV (including a docu on Discovery Sunday) are bringing the moral imperative of the Climate Crisis into wider public awareness, it’s time to get clear on what we need to do about it.
Because there are two crises within the Climate Crisis, requiring two sets of actions. Right now people are talking about the evidence of the first crisis–the extreme weather, melting glaciers and other visible and measurable effects–but they are talking about solutions for the second crisis.
We need to do two things: fix it and stop it. Here’s what I mean:
Carl Pope, head of the Sierra Club wrote last week about the effect of an ongoing pattern right now of unaccustomed torrential rains on the city of Bombay, India:
Friends in India tell me that a strong consensus is emerging among meteorologists there that global warming has permanently intensified the monsoon pattern on India’s west-central coast, and that Bombay simply was not built for, and cannot handle, the kinds of rainfall events it can now expect routinely.
For Bombay to function properly, an entirely new underground drainage and sewer system will likely be required — a monumental challenge, as it will have to be built underneath an existing city of 18 million people. The price of such a construction project is virtually inconceivable, and in a country as poor as India, dubiously affordable. Yet all this is the result of very modest climate change. It doesn’t begin to answer the question of what happens to Bombay when the Indian Ocean rises as predicted.
The problems these rains are causing to Bombay are happening now, and are likely to happen for some years to come. They are largely the result of climate change caused by the infusion of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that has already happened. No drop in CO2 emissions due to solar panels or unplugging TV sets is going to keep Bombay from being inundated by these rains. Nor will hybrid cars rebuild New Orleans or prevent it from being devastated again.
That’s because the Climate Crisis is two crises. The first set of problems are results of greenhouse gases already affecting the atmosphere. These will cause problems for the rest of this decade and more.
The second set of problems will come as a result of greenhouse gases we send into the atmosphere now and in the future. Not only do they extend problems in time, they make them worse. And scientists worry that a tipping point will be reached–maybe in 10 years–that will make truly earth-changing effects inevitable, and may wipe the planet clean of the web of life we know.
The first result of accepting the reality of the Climate Crisis should be that we pay attention to its current consequences instead of trying to ignore them just so the oil companies don’t have to admit the Climate Crisis is real. We need to fix what needs to be fixed, and that alone is going to take focused attention as well as enormous creativity, commitment and resources.
We need to be ready for what may come, to anticipate and prepare for these problems. Mobilize creative engineers, get them working with scientists; get public health ready for new patterns of disease. Nations must come together for mutual aid, before we start fighting over water and food as well as energy sources, as climate patterns change.
And while we are fixing what we can’t stop from happening, we need to be working to stop further damage in the future, because we can do something to prevent even worse consequences down the road. That’s the saving the planet part. That’s where energy conservation and new clean energy technologies come in. We’re saving a future for our grandchildren and future generations, and for the kind of earth that has sustained us.
In other words, we need to fix Bombay’s current problems. And we need to stop future heating so the future flooding of vast areas of coast, including Bombay, doesn’t happen, or is considerably less than projected. And the apocalyptic effects that passing a tipping point would make inevitable for a century or more.
In both cases we’re fighting for civilization’s survival. People can talk blithely about how the odds are against us anyway, and some people or at least some lifeforms–some nice roundworms perhaps–will survive anything the Climate Crisis can throw at us. That’s probably true, but it doesn’t say much for us if we don’t use all we’ve learned and all this civilization has given us to keep it going, in a necessarily improved form.
I agree that the Climate Crisis is our best candidate for either pushing us into our next stage of evolution, or finishing us as a civilization. With the world as it is going, one ugly, monstrous conflict on top of another, high tech death and billions to a predatory few while the duped and the unfortunate suffer horribly, it’s not hard to conclude this civilization is not worth saving anyway. I just don’t think we’re morally true to life if we don’t do our best to reduce suffering, step up to the challenge, and take that next step.
But we’ll stop ourselves in our tracks if we don’t get it straight. We have to fix it and stop it. We have to do both, separately and simultaneously.