And What We Should Do If We Truly Care About Humanity and the Environment
By increasing our burning of fossil fuels and destruction of forests, we, primarily the industrialized nations, are causing the global mean temperature of Earth to rise year after year, producing Category 5 hurricanes, extreme tornadoes, dying coral reefs, acidic oceans, death of the marine food chain, famine, drought, mass migrations, wars, diseases, wildfires, the drying up of rivers, the melting of glaciers and ice caps, rising oceans and floods. Without a major change of course by humanity, these conditions will move inexorably toward extreme states. How close they will come to those extreme states depends on how effectively those who care about Climate Change work to curtail it.
The great majority of the population of the developed nations stand by and observe, unwilling to take effective actions to avert the consequences of Climate Change, largely because they themselves are not suffering. That millions of their brothers and sisters across the globe are suffering and dying prematurely, along with nature, seems to matter little or not at all to them. Their guide is: What’s good for me here and now?
At the end of their lives, unless they change their ways, they will be compelled to admit:
“I was aware that my fellow humans were suffering and dying in great numbers from heat-caused drought, famine and disease, but neither I nor my immediate family were suffering, so I did nothing. I was aware that the oceans were rising and wiping out cities on the coastal areas of the world, especially afflicting the poor, but neither my neighborhood nor its residents were affected, so I did nothing. I was aware that millions of impoverished and dying people were being forced to seek refuge in unwelcoming countries, but the migrants caused neither me nor my friends any problems, so I did nothing. And consequently, my relatives, friends and neighbors, indeed most of the living, are now experiencing the deadly consequences of my indifference and inaction. I regret my inactivity, but there’s nothing I can do about it now.”
Not Quite Too Late but Very Close
The burning of fossil fuels and deforestation have advanced to such an extent that it is almost too late to rescue our Earth Community from unprecedented and irreversible calamities. Life began on this planet 4.5 billion years ago, and now we humans in the last several decades are intensifying our efforts to eradicate it.
After ignoring the frequent warnings of virtually all climate scientists, we now find ourselves at a stage where Climate Change is almost irreversible, due primarily to the imminent onset of tipping points (see below).
Climate Central 4/4/17: “Current levels of carbon dioxide are at unprecedented levels in human history. If fossil fuel use continues unabated, the atmosphere could revert by the middle of the 21st century to values of carbon dioxide not seen since the early Eocene (50 million years ago), a time when humans did not exist.
“The early Eocene was much warmer than today: global mean surface temperature was at least 10⁰C (18⁰F) warmer than today. There was little-to-no permanent ice. Palms and crocodiles inhabited the Canadian Arctic.
“Because carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for centuries, climate change would continue to impact the planet even if humans miraculously dropped emissions to zero after hitting that mid-century peak.
“If carbon dioxide continues to rise further into the 23rd century, then the associated large increase in radiative forcing, and how the Earth system would respond, would likely be without geological precedent in the last half a billion years.”
Although atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have varied for millennia, fluctuating largely on natural cycles, humans have added dramatically more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, raising carbon dioxide from 280 parts per million to nearly 410 parts per million, turning the thermostat up about 1.8⁰F. A striking indicator of this is the Keeling Curve, which portrays a steady rise in carbon dioxide from the middle 1
Carbon Dioxide levels now in the atmosphere were last reached 3 million years ago. But if we keep committing carbon dioxide to the atmosphere at current rates, scientists will have to look a lot deeper into the past for a similar period. The closest analog to the mid-century atmosphere we’re creating is the above-mentioned Eocene, when the world was completely different from the present due to extreme heat and oceans that covered a wide swath of currently dry land.
Heat waves are becoming more common and intense, oceans are regularly flooding cities and wildfires are burning more intensely. The rising tide of impacts today will only swell further in the future unless carbon pollution is radically cut.
If humans ignore these warnings by climate scientists, they could put the planet into a state unheard of in nearly half a billion years. Stretching current carbon dioxide emissions trends into the more distant future means the planet could hit 2,000 parts per million by 2250, a long way from today’s (2017) 410.
Coupling that with increases to the sun’s energy – a natural process that’s been happening for millions of years as hydrogen is converted into helium via fusion – would push the climate outside the bounds of anything the planet has seen in 420 million years. In all likelihood, that would make the planet uninhabitable for humans and most creatures.
Of course, the planet is not going to become uninhabitable in the near future. But if we wish to slow and, if possible, halt the deterioration of the planet and its life, we cannot continue with business as usual. If everyone waits for others to take the necessary steps to avoid the consequences of Climate Change, no steps will ever be taken. Which necessitates preventing our triggering of the ‘tipping points’ as described below. Given the nearness of such triggering, immediate and effective action is absolutely imperative.
We see the same thinking in Half-Earth by E.O. Wilson, University Research Professor at Harvard: “For the first time in history, a conviction has developed among those who can actually think more than a decade ahead that we are playing a global endgame….The climate is changing in ways unfavorable to life, except for microbes, jellyfish and fungi…. Meanwhile, we thrash about, appallingly led, with no particular goal in mind other than economic growth, unfettered consumption, good health and personal happiness. The impact on the rest of the biosphere is everywhere negative, the environment becoming unstable and less pleasant, and our long-term future less certain….If in the far distant future geologists were to dig through Earth’s crusted deposits to the strata spanning the past thousand years of our time, they would say: “Those years unfortunately married swift technological progress with the worst of human nature. What a terrible time it was for people, and for the rest of life.”
Climate Science April 2017: “Of the many things that keep climate scientists awake at night, tipping points may be the scariest. To start with, these thresholds for deep, sometimes catastrophic change in the complex web of Earth’s natural forces, caused by man-made global warming, are largely invisible. You could easily cross one without noticing. And there is no turning back – at least not on a human timescale.
“There are points of no return, where, for example, a certain amount of warming triggers unstoppable collapse of glaciers off of Antarctica. Think of someone leaning back on two legs of a chair until it tips over. The tipping point is when you’re exactly in between two states. [At one point, everything is OK, but a second later, you and the chair are on the floor. The tipping point occurs when you start your rapid and unstoppable descent to the floor.]
“In the case of ice sheets, how this might happen is well understood. Thick ice shelves astride land and sea in Greenland and Antarctica act as giant bulkheads, preventing even larger inland ice masses from sliding into the ocean.
Were these ice dams – eroded by warming water (below) and air (above) – to fall away, the blocking features might not be able to re-form even after hundreds of years of cooling.
“James Hansen, former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has argued that West Antarctica could disintegrate rapidly, adding up to 7-8 feet to ocean levels this century.950s to the present time.
“Other tipping points could trigger the natural release, on a massive scale, of the same greenhouse gases that humans have spewed into the atmosphere, further destabilizing the delicate temperature balance that has made our planet so livable over the last 11,000 years.”
A second example of a tipping point involves the release of methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas, locked in the increasingly misnamed, rapidly melting permafrost of Russia, Canada and northern Europe. A third involves deforestation in the tropical South and Southeast Asia, Africa and South America. The combustion of timber for energy, the gradual decay of lumber used in construction and the massive clearing of forests for agriculture release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Currently, forests cover nearly a third of the planet, serving as ‘sinks’ which store carbon dioxide, making the potential for massive releases of carbon dioxide from forests great.
In all of these examples, human activity causes the current state to progress to the point where it ‘crosses a line’ and becomes a new state in which further change no longer depends on our activity. In the case of methane, we cause the temperature to rise; melting the permafrost, releasing enough methane to raise the temperature to a point where it is high enough to melt more permafrost without further human activities. Thus, constant temperature rise ensues.
In a nutshell, then, we are on the brink of passing several tipping points, and quite probably are passing one of them now – the melting of ice sheets. Only a few years remain until we do likewise with the others. Only a heroic effort by caring people can save life on this plant from extreme and irreparable loss. Such an effort is not now in sight.
These tipping points and their imminent arrival [10-15 years at most] constitute the crux of the Climate Change crisis. Frequently in our personal lives we act foolishly and place ourselves in situations detrimental to our well-being and/or that of others. Fortunately, we are usually able to reevaluate our choices and extricate ourselves from those situations. We have many second chances throughout our lives. But after we cross over the tipping points and intensify Earth’s then irreversible progress toward the extreme states of the calamitous conditions listed on page one, there will be no second chance for us. The question will no longer be whether the extreme states arrive, but how soon. And, most importantly, whether any of the currently ineffective actions can be transformed into effective actions in time.
Should We Act, or Stand on the Sidelines and Do Nothing?
Powerful forces e.g. the major energy corporations along with other elements of Corporate America and their well-paid associates in government, create and sustain Climate Change and its adverse consequences. Their power and wealth are so great that they can be overcome only by the operation of a radically new and even more powerful force.
This new force can consist only in the majority of the world’s population, in the form of millions of informed, caring, organized and interconnected Small Social Justice Groups across the globe. The efforts of people acting alone and disconnected are inadequate. Rather, without community, their efforts will be too weak and too short-lived.
Every one of us is under a grave moral obligation to commit herself/himself to rescuing the planet and its inhabitants from the extreme states of the deadly consequences listed at the top of page 1. This is especially true now in light of the soon-to-arrive conditions which the tipping points are about to lay upon us.
There have been times e.g. World War II, when people have been called, and have responded in great numbers, to make great sacrifices for the sake of the common good. There is a clear need at this time in human history for even greater sacrifices, in the face of the threat by Climate Change. The times of our parents and grandparents, when inactivity might occasionally have been understandable due to ignorance, are gone.
Small Social Justice Groups
Participants form themselves into Small Groups which focus their efforts initially on Climate Change and secondly on nuclear weapons. As their numbers and organization grow, their power to transform society will grow, eventually eradicating all of the other major injustices which afflict humanity and the environment, such as conventional war, racism, sexism, destruction of the environment and oligarchy (rule by the few rich).
They design and implement activities which promote the growth of their core convictions and values.
They transform the political process by utilizing the traditional means to 1) elect candidates who value the common good and to 2) influence their elected representatives – letters, phone calls, visits, protests, marches, demonstrations and publicizing their representatives’ programs and policies. Genuine democracy, shaped by our basic principles and values – justice, love, truth, mercy, honesty – is a major key to rooting out today’s great injustices.
They transform the economic process by creating and pressing the federal government to fund democratically-run, worker-owned cooperatives, modeled on those in Mondragon, Spain, started in 1956 by a Catholic priest, now with over 100,000 workers, by patronizing companies that operate in an economically and politically just manner, especially favoring small, local companies, and by shunning those that don’t so operate.
They urge the federal government and local governments to allocate as much funding as possible for conservation of energy (buildings, transportation and industry) and sources of renewable energy (solar, wind, geothermal).
They make appropriate personal lifestyle changes, especially those which promote conservation of energy and sources of renewable energy.
Participants in the richer nations will allocate funds to alleviate the suffering of those in the poorer countries, and will press their governments to provide assistance to those poorer nations. For example, Africa is the continent which contributes least to Climate Change and suffers the most, from drought, migration and famine.
In each country, participants press their elected representatives in local and national governments to provide the basic necessities of life for all in need – food, shelter, health care, education, healthy environment, transportation, energy etc.
Participants make every effort to reach out to the currently uninvolved and encourage them to join in this effort.
They engage in social activities which promote their religious faith, friendship, solidarity and community, such as dinners, speakers, films, sporting events, hikes – whatever bonds them more closely together.
Come to South Central Pennsylvania
The home of the Grassroots Coalition is in south central Pennsylvania. We invite you to spend 2-3 days here with others, discussing the causes, conditions and future prospects of Climate Change and planning appropriate and effective activities, some of which are listed above. If you travel by plane, we will meet you at the Harrisburg airport.
Before coming, we invite you to receive and read our 80-page Summary of Climate Change, drawn from current books, magazines, newspapers and websites. When you are here, we will discuss that Summary and watch and discuss appropriate commentaries on Climate Change on the Internet.
The group will prepare themselves for reaching out to as many people as possible, in every possible way, in order to invite and assist them to form into Small Social Justice Groups that focus initially on Climate Change.
For more information, contact John Conner.
Grassroots Coalition 21431 Marlin Circle Shade Gap PA 17255