Despite the fact that I haven’t written that much about global warming so far, it is a VERY important topic to me. Perhaps too important, hence the writer’s block. My emotions about it previously caused me to freeze up, and to avoid the topic even in my own head.
For a long time, I’ve been feeling like humanity could so utterly mess up the ecosystem that it would become uninhabitable. On a personal level, it doesn’t bother me overmuch; I have a genuine belief that when I die, I will reincarnate, and if this planet is gone I can go incarnate on another planet. (See Life After Death for the reasoning behind this belief).
But my life is dedicated to helping improve things over here as much as possible. That goal is the one and only thing that makes living on such a crazy-ass planet as this seem like any sort of a sensible idea. And the thought of Earth becoming uninhabitable really messed with my plans.
I rely a lot on the ripple effect: I know that I can only help a limited number of people in this lifetime, but they can go on to help and influence others. I figured that my impact would have a real meaning in the very long term, but if the Earth completely goes to pot in the next hundred or so years, then maybe my efforts would go to waste, at least to some extent.
For a long time, this has really scared me. It sat at the back of my mind like a bogeyman. I talked to a few friends about it, and got some reasonable viewpoints, but the fear didn’t really shift.
A few days ago, though, I had a conversation with my girlfriend. I think I kinda annoyed them*, because I suggested that small efforts to change global warming (such as they had taken part in) were futile. I said that only top-down political action could have any meaning now, so late in the game, not grassroots activism.
*This is a use of the singular “they” – I’m referring to just my girlfriend.
As I thought about this a bit later, I realised that what I really felt was that everything was futile. We had already lost. We were going to reach a tipping point and there would be runaway global warming and everything would be utterly messed up for good.
As I became a bit clearer on that thought, I realised I could probably benefit from more information on the topic. So I googled “global warming tipping point” and found some different opinions on the matter, including this rather detailed essay.
This has alleviated a lot of my fear, and stopped me feeling completely blocked on the matter. It seems there won’t be a tipping point beyond which anything we can do will be useless. Actually, I think it’s closer to say that everything we do will have an effect, and the damage which global warming causes us will be more or less in proportion to the amount we fail to act.
That’s a relief. That’s empowering. That means small protests can have their value. As well as big protests. Any sort of activism we do can and will contribute. (I still believe top-down political interventions are critical, but we’re the ones who vote for those people, so grassroots activism has an important role too).
It also means that the Earth won’t go into runaway climate change and end up uninhabitable. It might become pretty messed up (heck, it is already) but it’ll still be liveable. Long term plans aren’t all vain. Things will go on.
We should also start admitting to ourselves that we don’t just have to prevent global warming now. We have to deal with the effects of global warming. It’s not in the future anymore.
We’re getting record weather conditions all around now. In Australia, extreme heat has killed massive numbers of flying foxes. In the UK, there have been hurricanes recently leading to floods – I read somewhere that these were the worst weather conditions on record. I can believe it, because I never experienced anything that could come close to being genuinely dangerous in the 13 years I lived in the UK – I had come to believe that sort of stuff just didn’t happen around there. Somewhere else, I read that the UK government was unceremoniously suggesting a “planned retreat” from coastal areas, which were becoming harder to defend from storms since the sea levels started rising.
Global warming is happening now. We can’t hope to prevent it. We can hope to prevent much more of it.
It seems amazing that the governments are now clear enough on the fact that global warming is happening that they can make obvious plans taking it into account, yet are still not taking radical measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
But we, who have a scrap of sense in our heads, can attempt to do what we can to influence things for the better. We can start by voting: if you are the sort of person who doesn’t vote because they think it’s “all the same anyway”, or who votes for a party they don’t like because they prefer it to the other parties who have a chance to rule, try rethinking that position. Alternative parties like the Green Party and the Pirate Party generally have something resembling comparative sense, and they are strong enough that they can influence the way things go even if they aren’t a ruling party. Besides, if people only make strategic votes, when are alternative parties ever going to get close to being a ruling party? Set an example for others by voting for someone who actually half-way represents you. Abstaining from the vote may make you look hardcore, but you won’t really make a change that way.
Then there are lifestyle choices to consider. I recently looked into the comparative emissions of trains vs. planes. I first found a site paid for* by train company Eurostar which suggested that their trains are about ten times more efficient than planes in terms of carbon. However, further research showed that Eurostar is being awfully quiet about the fact that they reduce their emissions by relying on French nuclear power.
*The site was made to look like an independent opinion site, which was also pretty low.
This site seems a bit more trustworthy. Interestingly, plane flight doesn’t seem too far behind train travel, but both are roundly beaten by long-distance buses. However, future improvements to vehicle technology are expected to make future trains about twice as efficient as future planes, so supporting the advancement of that technology with your travel money might be the way to go.
You could also switch to green energy. Though I’m not the one personally paying electricity bills in my flat, and I haven’t had to deal with electricity companies directly, a look on the internet seems to suggest that switching to a green energy supplier isn’t so unaffordable as all that.
Finally, you could go vegan. The UN itself has said that the world needs to move towards this sort of diet. According to its report, 19% of all greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the production of animal foods. Other studies seem to suggest even higher figures for this, going up to 51%.
I hope for the sake of the Earth, if not for the sake of the suffering animals, that the figure is closer to 19%, because I think convincing masses of people to go vegan or almost vegan would be much harder than getting them to pay extra for green energy and energy efficient technologies. Diet is almost like a religion to some people, and they’d kick your ass if you even tried to suggest they eat less meat.
Still, realistically, that’s what we have to do. Whether it’s 19% or 51%, the figure is way too high to ignore. Incidentally, a kilo of cow meat produced requires the late cow to have eaten 7 kilos of grain. Eating instead one kilo of grain and using the 6 remaining kilos to produce biofuel would help things a lot.
We don’t all have to go strictly vegan. I guess if we reduced our meat and animal product consumption to 10% of current levels, the impact would be genuine. That would mean going from e.g. 10 meat meals a week to just 1. I suggest this option because I think it would be psychologically easier for some to manage. However, I’m not too impressed by suggestions to eat just one meat-free meal a week. Something as small as that is a token, raising awareness at best, but creating no real change otherwise. It’s comfortable because it doesn’t challenge existing structures. But we have to challenge existing structures. We have to learn to live in a different way.
What I’m most interested in right now though is spreading awareness. We need to get people informed, and get people caring. It can’t be true that significant proportions of us – 23% of Americans according to one study – still do not believe that global warming is a thing. We need to make sure everyone knows it is fact, and that it matters.
Then can come the lifestyle changes, the green votes, and the pressure on politicians to make this a serious issue.
Eventually, we need investments bringing us to 100% renewable energy – which I believe is doable if only we spent our money like we knew we needed to save the Earth. (See Desertec for a pretty reasonable sounding proposal). This also, critically, means resisting the massive influence of established interests. This is almost certainly the difficult part, not finding the money.
Simultaneously, I believe we would need to tax animal products – or actually just stop subsidising them to start with; meat would cost around 10 times more if it wasn’t subsidised. (That’s a ridiculous waste of tax money right there). Couple this with an awareness campaign to hopefully get people to realise that it is their responsibility to eat little or no animal foods, and we might actually be getting somewhere.
But start by caring. And get other people to care. Pressure your politicians. That’s what we need to do, right now.