Sunday, May 10, 2015

Shifting dynamics of individual actions on Climate Change

CCBeforeAfterSRecently, we (humanity) has just dallied past a crucial benchmark where the new normal for our atmosphere is 400ppm of C02. The last time CO2 levels reached this figure was 650,000 years ago.

“The 400 parts per million CO2 threshold was already passed at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory in 2013. But this is the first time that the global average crossed the symbolic milestone.” from (New GLOBAL Record for CO2 Concentration 400ppm Red Line Crossed in March (May 7th, 2015, UN Climate Change Newsroom.)

I mention this benchmark because recently a reader complained of my condescending attitude in my essays towards humanity’s inaction on Climate Change. She encouraged me to offer hope and solutions, instead of complaining. I’ll admit I do find humanity’s attitude towards this unprecedented crisis baffling, oftentimes wondering if we are really the brainy species we continually claim to be as we continually warm a burning planet. As for hope, what would that be based on?

Bomb trains continue to explode and yet we keep searching for ways to make that fossil fuel infrastructure work. Public transportation, one of our most effective ways of moving folks with less GHG emissions, is getting worse, not better in Rochester. Pope Francis talks of the moral imperative of making the next climate talk work while US conservatives push back. We try to increase bicycling in Rochester but we must not say why that’s important other than it’s fun. (The answer is that it can dramatically lower GHG emissions.) We attempt to update our local parks, but don’t ‘balance’ all the interests with Climate Change, which will alter all the natural elements of the park. We’re still focused on biogas (a fossil fuel), instead of composting and replenishing our soil—seemingly far happier with manmade fertilizers that aggravate water pollution, create more harmful algae blooms, and warm the planet with nitric oxide. The Arctic is warming because of Climate Change far faster than climate scientists anticipated and all we want to do is drill for more fossil fuels. Humans. Ya gotta laugh.

I have offered solutions for individuals on addressing Climate Change for almost twenty years. In my essay (an exuberant piece I wrote after my return from the People’s Climate March in September), “After the People’s Climate March, a Rochester manifesto”, I offered about 20 specific activities individuals should be doing on a level and speed that will really help address Climate Change. Granted, these actions are not the usual stuff, as they are based on what I think might actually make a difference instead of what is politically correct. Politically correct actions on Climate Change are framed as special interests; the individual is encouraged to go off someplace and do their own thing and not bother the grownups.

But treating Climate Change as a special interest, where individuals do just what that they like, hasn’t worked. As a matter of fact, because individual actions haven’t worked, the idea of what an individual can do to address Climate Change is changing rapidly.

For all practical purposes, if our government (at all levels) and businesses are not addressing Climate Change, we are not addressing climate change. You cannot fix our transportation system, our air, our water, our land, our media, our infrastructures, our environmental laws, our wildlife, or anything pertaining to Climate Change on a scale and timeframe that will matter. It’s too late. It’s not too late to address Climate Change, it’s just too late to think you and your group can adapt to and mitigate this worldwide crisis without a wholesale change to all of the above with everyone onboard.

I’m not the only one saying individual actions on Climate Change must be transformative. Despite the continual dreary facts from our climate scientists and all the ink being spilled on this subject, we are getting no closer to a solution. Paris looms in December and most individuals in Rochester don’t even know of this conference much less the climate treaty’s significance—or the argument raging about the 2C limit.

Here’s Bill McKibben (writer, activist, and creator of speaking recently:

“So, environmentalists have spent, maybe wasted, a lot of time on individual action in the last few years. It's not that they're not important. My house is covered in solar panels and I drive an electric car and eat locally and all of that. But I try not to fool myself that it's changing the outcome here. This is a structural and systemic problem, and so its answer will be structural and systemic. That means that as an individual, the most important thing you can do is not be an individual. It means we need to join with each other in movements. That's why we set up things like, to give people easy on-ramps into becoming part of this fight because it is a fight.” (Bill McKibben on Earth Day and the Power of Protest April 10, 2015) Living On Earth)

The most important thing you can do is not be an individual?

This is to say we’ve come to a point where Climate Change cannot be solved by just changing your driving, eating, washing, shopping, and all the rest of your habits. It does not mean that what you do doesn’t matter. As a matter of fact everything thing you do matters—practically and morally. But to solve Climate Change at this late date our actions must be supercharged, super-connected, and science-based. However good you may feel about what you are doing to address Climate Change, if your actions are not part of a set of worldwide actions to bring down greenhouse gas emission on a massive scale, then your actions will have no more effect than waving away air pollution with a hand-fan.

Individuals must come together on Climate Change. As Ben Franklin said, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Time passes.

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