May 20, 2013 – A collaborative bit of research headed up by Oxford and NASA has found that climate change will be a little slower in developing than previously thought. This is excellent news, no doubt about it. Assuming this report is correct, how should governments, corporations and individuals proceed? Surely the most far-reaching results in the shortest amount of time would be the most sensible goal for which to strive. If you were in charge, what three draconian steps would you take, right now, to change the world’s progress in mitigating climate change? I realize it sounds as if I were making a game out of this most serious of all problems; it’s really just a way, I hope, of helping readers to grasp the seriousness of this moment. If researchers are to be believed, we’ve been given the most precious gift of all: time. What should we do with it?It’s a question with too many answers. Or should it be phrased a different way? Perhaps we should think in terms of what not to do (the Keystone pipeline comes to mind). Certainly the evidence supports mounting suspicion that the pipeline will leave us in much worse shape – due largely to frequent, massive diluted bitumen spills – than we’re in right now. The failure of Shell and Conoco to advance their plans to drill in the Arctic, at least in Alaskan waters, would suggest that this is an ill-fated venture, no matter who attempts it. The continued loss of boreal forests in Canada and Russia exacts a terrible price from each and every one of us: unbreathable air, made so by the presence of too much carbon dioxide.
To what degree, then, can we bring to a halt the mining of fossil fuels? If we can make the decline of coal permanent, if fracked wells continue to sputter almost as soon as they become active, if the Keystone pipeline is nixed and if renewable energy is subsidized, would that make a big enough difference? If the Arctic Ocean asserts its superiority and is recognized as undrillable, in Russian as well as Alaskan waters, would that bring us a step closer to where we need to be? However the matter is approached, the goal must be no more mining of fossil fuels. The risks to human survival are just too great.Our forests can undo some of what we’ve done, but only if they are left standing. Whether we light the match or nature does, their loss costs us in so many ways. Not only do they clean the air, they sequester carbon, which is released if a tree is destroyed by fire. We also lose the ability to burn the tree for purposeful reasons, as a source of fuel. The timber is lost to us for many, many different kinds of construction, or the food which some trees provide is lost, or the shade it provides is lost, at a time when sources of cooling are becoming increasingly precious. Animals lose homes and sources of food. Planting trees is one of the most beneficial activities in which we can engage. Fast- growing kinds, consisting of soft wood, are probably going to carry the load for awhile; we simply haven’t got the time to wait on slow-growing varieties. Trees that can provide us with food are also of tremendous importance.
Finally, while carbon dioxide is toxic in large quantities, methane is even more so. Confined until recently in permafrost, methane is being found in the air we breathe in greater quantities than ever before. While occurring in the atmosphere for a period of only seven years before it breaks down, its toxicity is 20 times greater than carbon dioxide’s. Couple this unwelcome fact with methane’s plenitude. Warming oceans are releasing methane at an ever-increasing rate, and millions of farting cows and pigs are just doing what comes naturally – and I don’t mean procreating. We must slow the rate of warming any way we can in order to prevent any further release of methane into the atmosphere. No more industrial agriculture, no more cars – no more disposable diapers!
We’ve got our work cut out for us.