It’s the Environment, Stupid!

Posted by on January 9, 2013 in Featured, Thoughts | 0 comments

The Anthropocene is upon us, and it is yet to be seen just what impacts man made changes to our environment will hold for us in the long term. But one thing is clear; Changes need to be made to the way we operate on this planet to avoid total obliteration, if it’s not already too late. This will include small scale changes in the way we operate as individuals, and also large scale changes in how we operate as societies. The challenge is immense, but as I pointed out in my previous post, the changes we can make as individuals can affect our own environments, and many small changes can equal one large change when combined.

Don’t think it’s possible for the world to all act as one to change the environment for good? Well, we’ve done it before, with the end to using CFCs in propellants and fridges, which caused a reversal in the increase of ozone holes. While this may not have been completely successful, it is an example of the world coming together to tackle a single problem and, to some degree, having a positive outcome.

The problems we now see before us are multitudinous and multifaceted, but each of the problems could be addressed by global action, and if backed by governments and encouraged through popular culture. It is unclear to me exactly what has to happen, since the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere continue to increase, and since ocean acidification seems to be inevitable (to what degree I we cannot know). But these phenomenon we see are not the cause, they are the result of our actions. And the causes themselves have causes of their own, if we drill past what we see on the surface.

We see millions of cars on our roads, and although the cars these days are much more fuel efficient than those 20 years ago, the trend in the west is (yet again) toward larger and more powerful vehicles, which use more fuel than smaller and more compact cars. These SUVs (and what could only be described as “urban assault vehicles” such as Hummers) are marketed to the middle and upper classes as “safe while still maintaining an air of social status”. The sheer size of these machines mean they burn larger amounts of fuel, take up more room, and are used as weapons on our roads. Gone are the days of the compact car, and the electric car seems more of a pipe-dream than the way of the future. Add to this the decrease in costs of cars in developing nations like India, where affordable vehicles are being manufactured so that many who never had cars previously will gleefully join in the consumption of oil, adding to pollution at a rate never seen historically. And while the stocks of oil grow ever lower, instead of investing money in alternatives to gasoline, more wells are being built, more oil is being discovered, and more money is being invested to ensure that all the crude mined and used.

This rather bleak observation of the consumer-driven need for the luxury of driving a car is eclipsed by our need for electricity, and despite having the largest generator of energy in the solar system in out skies every day, we continue to mine and burn coal for electricity. Alternative energy sources are continually flouted by those whose interests lie in the discovery and use of fossil fuels, be they government shills for the coal mining companies, or the American GOP who claim that the need for cheap electricity is more important than the needs of the planet. Money and greed drives the power industry, and they show no sign of stopping any time soon.

While fossil fuels are responsible for the speed at which our commerce now operates, they are also responsible for most of the atmospheric pollution and the massive increase in CO2 levels we are now witnessing. It has been shown that these pollutants are a major cause of the global increase in temperatures we are now experiencing. It’s our addiction to fossil fuels that is speeding us toward catastrophe.

Deforestation and urbanisation is another problem that needs addressing, and is even more difficult to tackle. Even though the world’s population growth is in the negative, it’s not evenly dispersed, so some areas are ending up with a very high population growth, while other areas are actually in decline. The areas with an increasing population are the very same areas that can least afford to do so; Third world countries and developing nations continue to grow a larger population, and therefore require more room, more resources, more food and more housing. The resulting deforestation, be it for firewood, housing or agriculture, is stripping the planet of the life-giving forests we need to survive. Without the forests we lose a valuable heat sink, and plants which lessen soil erosion. So much depends upon the plants and animals we have on this planet, and it’s not just for food either. The ecosystems of the planet are interdependent upon each other after millions of years of evolution and adaptations, and sometimes removing just one habitat for a specific bee or wasp can tip the balance for many other species. In many cases, when an animal goes extinct, others follow because a niche once filled by the extinct animal is no longer filled.

Of course, all of this is just “Climate Change 101“, and yet it is still being refuted by those who either have a vested interest in the sale and trading of energy, or those who are too scared to look our problem in the eye. And it’s a scary prospect for us to be facing. Yet it’s nothing new. Scientists have been predicting this kind of situation for decades, and yet people still make ignorant and misinformed statements about the climate, climate-change, and human impacts on the planet due to our activities. Yet all of this information is available for you to find online, and there is no shortage of peer-reviewed studies which can be read for free. So if you’re reading this article online, there’s no excuse for being ignorant about the truths of global climate change. (You can be forgiven if you have no access to the Internet, but then you wouldn’t be reading this, I guess.)

In my previous post “Anthropocene” I talked about some of the ways we can as individuals stem the immediate affects of climate change. Using the example of the microclimate of my own back yard, I showed creating habitats for native species which are not present in such abundance in neighboring properties, simply by devoting a small are of my yard to native plant species. Sure, it will never again become the open grassy forests it once was, but it benefits my back yard by lowering the temperature, reducing the winds, and allowing for a balance of predatory and non-predatory insect species. It’s the biodiversity of the yard that makes it function, and the more diverse it is, the more diverse it can become. I was not claiming that the problems we face due to human-made changes on the planet can be reversed or even fixed. But by simple application of adding to the environment rather than taking away, and this “giving back”, even on a small scale like my yard, can make a small difference, even of only to my own life. Now, take this small example and expand it to all the yards in Australia. Rather than having an area to play cricket in your back yard, save that for the local park, and add greenery; Trees, shrubs, even veggie gardens can improve the health of your local ecosystem. The difference to the heat of your back yard alone will be noticeable within 5 years. Add one yard to the next, and the net effect will be noticeable for whole streets, suburbs, and possibly cities. A small change, times a million, and you have what is called “action”.

Also in my previous post I mentioned “dominionism”, a belief that the world is here, god given, for our consumption and use right up until the “end of days”, when the believers and heathens will be sorted out and either sent to heaven or hell by god. This is a biblical literalist’s claim, one where the claimant takes the word of the bible as the only source of knowledge, and any information which refutes this is obviously false. I was not claiming that dominionists like Beisner and his Cornwall Alliance were the cause of the ongoing over-use and misuse of the world’s remaining resources. I simply use the example of dominionism to illustrate that, not only is the pressure to use and consume coming from secular business and the coal/oil industries, but that some sectors of the religious are backing this position using their scriptures as evidence for the wasteful consumption. For many Christians in America this could be seen as a call by their religious leaders to condemn environmental concerns since they don’t match the words and messages of their bible. One only need to look at the recent US elections to see how seriously many Americans take their religion, and calls like those coming from the likes of Beisner can be nothing but harmful to any movement wishing to stem the tides of over-use and over-consumption which has brought is to our current situation.

I am unwilling to say that we can fix this situation, because frankly I am not convinced we can. With our addiction to fossil fuels, the pressure is upon us to change our habits in the west, while the developing nations demand their right to enjoy the luxuries we have so long taken for granted. I mean, who are we to tell Indian citizens that they can’t have a car when we flaunt our dependency upon these luxuries ourselves?

If we accept that the Anthropocene is our current epoch, and that humans are making irrevocable changes to the environment, we can deal with the future picture of our world with some kind of focus, rather than racing to see who can drain the world of resources first, as we seem to be doing now. Small changes en masse equate to big changes. We have done this in the past, so there’s no reason we can’t do it again now, except for bull-headedness and greed. So lets start looking at the world we have created, the world of the Anthropocene, and move forward in ways that not only ensure there is an environment in the future, but also in ways that can improve upon the mess we’ve created.

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