By Carol Kuczora
Trouble with trying to turn around climate change, even to save the planetary life-support system for our children, is that it requires international cooperation, including almost everyone on Earth cooperating by changing their behavior, and they just can’t or won’t do that.
Oh, wait. We just DID that! And it cleaned the air. Our response to COVID-19 just showed us that it is possible for all earthlings to agree to change our behavior for the sake of survival, our own and our neighbors’. Of course, it helped when governments at all levels got involved. Can we get them to do that again? The fate of civilization – even the very survival of our grandchildren — depends on it.
Scientists are in the business of simply paying attention. They keep records, revealing trends. When you plot numbers on a time graph, something becomes alarmingly clear: At least three exponential curves have been swooping upwards, just in my lifetime: the amount of carbon from fossil fuels in the atmosphere, the temperature of the atmosphere, and human population. Each increase contributes to the others’ increase. At the same time, extinctions of species have been escalating. And every species depends on the others in a complex web. Each loss renders the whole more fragile, less resilient. This all means that the Earth will not be able to sustain the human population in the future. It is already not a hospitable place to bring a child into.
The scariest thing is the positive feedback loops that escalate the heating up of the Earth. Negative feedback tends to reestablish equilibria, like homeostasis of the body and the balance of nature. But the positive loops throw everything progressively more out of balance. For instance, take methane, the simplest hydrocarbon. It is trapped in permafrost and has been chemically captured at the bottom of large bodies of water. It also accumulates in lakes, reservoirs, and rice fields. As a gas in the atmosphere, it prevents solar heat from escaping the Earth just like carbon dioxide does, but at a rate many, many time that of carbon dioxide. When methane is released into the atmosphere, as by fracking, it traps solar heat. That warms the permafrost and bodies of water, releasing more methane, further heating permafrost and waters, … etc. That positive feedback loop escalates the heating, and could render the Earth uninhabitable.
All this is why it is so urgent to stop drilling and burning fossil fuels. Demand it. And phase out your own use of petroleum and its products. That includes plastic. We can DO this!
Is that enough? No. We have to act as a nation, and as a world population.
The human species is distinguished by our ability to think far ahead in time, and to care broadly about all other humans and all life. (Set aside for a moment the fact that we also get lazy and fail to think or care.) For instance, cathedrals took several generations to build. They were intended as a public benefit to people not yet born.
Now the question is, how to assure survival of future generations, and also how to achieve economic fairness by political means so that no one suffers destitution for no fault of their own. In this country, several solutions have been proposed that all depend upon putting a price on carbon. Many US federal legislators agree that the best of those is the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, House Resolution 763. HR 763 is bipartisan, and it increases the cost of petroleum products over time, while distributing the proceeds to families monthly. Almost everybody benefits immediately, and eventually the Earth’s atmosphere is spared. That means the whole world benefits. Research the Act and let your legislators know you support it.