This post is part of Blog Action Day 2009: Climate Change. Read a good, more light-hearted take on the subject over at Dane101.
The world is changing. That much is a given. But whether or not you believe that some of that change is due to human interference and is detrimental to our overall survival is an issue that has only grown more contentious as the evidence mounts in its favor.
For too many people on both sides of the debate, too, the argument has mutated into an ego contest: "I'm right, you're wrong, ie: a moron." But that isn't helpful to anyone, and certainly not our planet. This isn't about political parties or nationality. It's about the very long-term security and viability of our home: Earth.
I admit to allowing my temper to flare all too often when it comes to the topic of climate change. I've been studying the effects for as long as I can remember, and when the overwhelming majority of research and evidence points to massive disruption of the Earth's environment as the result of man-made pollutants, it's difficult to understand where those who so vigorously deny it are coming from.
It's easy to say that they just don't care, are selfish, deluded. And certainly, those people exist. But I think most folks are just confused, misled, and probably scared. Hell, I'm scared. It would be much less unsettling to just turn my head and say that everything we're seeing is merely the result of natural cycles, and that we've nothing to worry about. I would much prefer that be the truth.
But it comes down to simply not being willing or able to ignore the evidence. I've been fortunate to have had a very decent level of education in the sciences and scientific method. I've had good teachers who've explained the more complicated ins and outs of environmental science to me. Not everyone has had the luck I've had, though. And in the absence of good teachers, many people are left with politicians and the media as their source for information about climate change.
But soundbytes and talking points can't even come close to explaining what's really going on. They generally either come off sounding too preposterous and alarmist, or overly simplistic and ignorant. That's a major problem that needs to be addressed. We need far better general science education in this country, and we need people to point out the bull when they see it. We need accountability.
Americans especially also need to get over our deeply ingrained belief that the needs and desires of the individual should always trump those of the community. There's a balance to be struck. Individual rights and liberties are incredibly important, but they end when they begin to impede upon the rights and liberties of others. That's where the recognition of the importance of the greater community comes in. If enough individuals refuse to see that some of their actions cause harm to others, then we need to step up as a collective and stop them.
So you may not like littering laws, but the community needs to enforce them for the benefit of all. Interconnectedness. It's not just a hippie ideal. It's the reality on the ground of life on Earth. Our ecosystem is a delicate, finely tuned thing. And it's not as though we've only thrown a small wrench into its inner mechanics with our pollutants. We've been lobbing the equivalent of nuclear bombs at it for centuries now, and it's time to pass some serious nonproliferation laws.
Carbon dioxide is all well and good until it reaches extreme, high levels, at which point it becomes toxic. NASA scientists have already determined the the ideal maximum of CO2 in the atmosphere should be just 350ppm - but we've already outrun that, which means that it's time to make serious efforts at cutting back. Like a human body with sugar and fat intake, there's only so much CO2 the Earth can handle before things start going wrong.
And they've already started going wrong. The trick with climate change is that it isn't just about the average temperature of the planet rising bit by bit, it's also about wilder and more frequent extremes. More hurricanes. More draughts. Stronger storms. Hotter heat waves and colder cold snaps. The seasons shifting, little by little, from their usual patterns.
Right now it's all too easy for people living in better circumstances to ignore the very real problems caused by climate change. Because it's the folks who reside in poorer countries, and/or in places where there's less of a buffer between them and the environment, who feel the adverse effects first. There are even entire countries at risk of being wiped off the map because of rising ocean levels. Whole ways of life are threatened.
Short of the sky actually falling with a note attached that reads, "Due to human-caused climate change," I'm not sure what will convince some of the die-hard deniers. For some people, it's just too much to process. They argue that fighting climate change will result in unnecessary abrogation of rights and economic disaster. And they'll be right if we don't go about things with a clear head. But what they fail to see is that if we do nothing, in the long term, we'll end up with economic disaster and the dissolution of society anyway - only, on a much larger, more catastrophic scale.
We've missed our wake-up call. It's high time we got working.