A NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION THAT COUNTS

Although our dates differ, I side with the Chinese in celebrating New Year’s as the pre-eminent holiday. The promise of a new year, with its fresh start – another chance to court good fortune through right and reasoned action – is exhilarating. (Even if the previous year, with all the good feelings and intentions that went into its arrival, did not turn out well enough to usher in its successor without fresh feelings of optimism and relief.)

The Chinese I knew in Hong Kong honored the traditional New Year by paying off their debts, sweeping out their domiciles, and donning new clothes. So for this new year, I’ve purchased a new red shirt (symbolizing Good Luck), and have been busy with the Bissell. Paying off my credit card will have to wait.

But some debts can be put off no longer. Not when the threat of foreclosure involves the entire planet.

For 2008, a single resolution tops all lists. Yup, it’s another drastic diet. Like all diets, the benefits from this one promise to far outweigh the temporary pain of withdrawal. Like some diets, failure to achieve objective measurable goals within a limited and shrinking timeframe will have fatal consequences. But like no other New Year’s resolution, if we shirk from this one –and by “we” I mean me and you, Bubba – multitudes of future finned, furry, feathered, leaved and bipedal beings will suffer our denial and sloth with lives of hardship and terror they did not invite. Followed by extinction.

And extinction, as someone famously said, is forever.

Insulated by drugs, distractions, and the mirage of consumer well-being carefully crafted by sophisticated media manipulators, many of us still do not viscerally connect with the Sixth Great Extinction Event rolling across the world beyond our blinkered Virtual Reality screens. Even with the weird, wild weather relentlessly reported on our TV and computer monitors hammering at our windows, we refuse to change unthinking habits.

It is time, right now, on the first day of 2008 to actually undertake the diet we’ve been promising ourselves with almost the same fervor with which we’ve been putting it off. I refer, of course, to the Ultimate Diet of planetary perpetuation:

“Dr.” Gore’s Low Carbon Diet

REDLINE 350
At the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco during the closing days of 2007, scientist James Hansen provided the numerical target for the world’s urgently required crash diet in carbon reduction: 350 parts per million.

Don’t forget this number.

Three – five – zero. Meaning, 350 molecules of carbon for each million molecules of atmosphere.

This “simple, straightforward and mind-blowing bottom line for the planet,” eco-author Bill McKibben wrote in the Washington Post at the end of 2007, is “the number that may define our future.” [Washington Post Dec 28/07]

Let’s put this speedometer in perspective. Before humans started shoveling mountains of coal into steam engines and furnaces harnessed to the Industrial Revolution, the concentration of carbon in Earth’s paper-thin atmosphere was roughly 275 parts per million.

But over the past five years, as our space colony’s carbon loading headed past 380 parts per million, thousands of top atmospheric scientists contributing to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reached the common sense and scientifically verified conclusion that surging global temperatures, extreme weather events, and the rapid melting of slip-sliding ice sheets were already rendering their previous carbon red-line of 450 parts per million dangerously obsolete.

“The evidence indicates we’ve aimed too high – that the safe upper limit for atmospheric CO2 is no more than 350 ppm,” Hansen said last month.

Oops!

This means that the recent Bali decisions to continue debating carbon reduction schemes with a recalcitrant and delusional White house, the recently passed U.S. congressional bill to mandate gas mileage for cars to 35 milers-per-gallon a dozen years from now, and even the European Union’s laudatory moves to slash their own carbon emissions and continue turning sharply to sources of clean renewable energy must all be sharply revisited, revised and immediately acted upon.

Thing is, McKibben summarizes, “We’re already at 383 parts per million, and it’s knocking the planet off kilter in substantial ways.”

The author of The End Of Nature, and more hopeful sequels, points to “reams of paleo-climatic data” showing “the last time the Earth warmed two or three degrees Celsius – which is what 450 parts per million implies – sea levels rose by tens of meters.”

With most of this watery world’s inhabitants living on or near a seacoast, a three-foot sea level rise would be catastrophic. The 27-foot rise predicted if the vast Greenland ice sheet slips into the sea means that life was we know it – our day-to- day assumptions and routines – ends in that splash. As for a 300-foot or higher rise in sea levels following the collapse of Antarctic ice sheets… we absolutely, Do Not Want To Go There.

YEAR END
We are already well on our way.

Recapping the year, the first month of 2007 was the world’s warmest January on record. “It was the first time since record-keeping began that the globe’s average temperature has been so far above the norm for any month of the year,” the Associated Press reported.

While the United States continued to lead the world in carbon emissions, weather stations across the country broke or tied 263 all-time high temperature records. Except, that is, during last August when U.S. weather stations recorded more than 8,000 heat records either set or tied.

Also that month, more than 60% of the United States was either abnormally dry or suffering from drastic drought. Lake Superior, the biggest and deepest of the Great Lakes, dropped to its lowest levels in history. Los Angeles was recording its driest year on record. Atlanta’s main water source, Lake Lanier, shriveled to a worrying all-time low. And south Florida’s Lake Okeechobee dropped to its lowest level, too.

Meanwhile, not so jolly ole England had experienced the warmest April in 348 years, shattering all previous records.
And deepening drought continued in Oz, turning global warming into an election issue Down Under.

Up Top, our planet’s climate-moderating Arctic icebox continued to rapidly defrost, melting “far beyond the previous melt record,” noted AP. [AP Dec 29/07]

Onboard the Starship Enterprise, so many whooping and shrieking life-support alarms would be spurring furious activity on the bridge – including the shutdown of all non-critical activities and systems. But onboard Starship Earth, on the day Al Gore rang multiple major alarms during his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, we crewmembers jumped into our cars and trucks and “lo-cost” jets, cranked up our factories and power plants – and dumped another 70 million tons of global-heating pollution into what Gore termed the “open sewer” of our ship’s recirculating atmosphere. [Seattle Times Dec 28/07]

ABANDON SHIP?
Every year is “pivotal” now.

In the closing decades of this Last Chance Century to get it right and come to terms with ourselves, each other and the planet that sustains all life, it is useful to remember that onboard a sun-orbiting space colony surrounded by the cold, irradiated vacuum of deep space – there are no lifeboats.

GLOBAL MELTDOWN, THE SEQUEL
The planet’s been here before. Earth’s last big Global Warming event happened long before people started building cars and coal-fired power plants. In fact, it occurred long before people happened, many millions of years ago. The result: massive die-off of most terrestrial and oceanic species. The most likely culprits: rampant heat-trapping volcanism, and undersea tectonic shifts that released gigatons of frozen seabed methane into the atmosphere.

Methane traps 22-times more heat than carbon dioxide.

What makes me nervous is that our carbon-burning vehicles have already released more CO2 into the atmosphere than all the volcanoes linked to that previous catastrophe. As the Siberian, Arctic and Yukon permafrost continue thawing at record paces, releasing vast stored reservoirs of melting methane, there is also evidence that those long-dormant frozen methane “clathrates” on the seafloor are also beginning to burp into the air again.

Since we are starting 2008 already past the “350” danger line… McKibben voices the question many of us are thinking: “Does this mean we’re doomed?”

Not yet, he answers. “Not any more than your doctor telling you that your cholesterol is way too high means the game is over. Much like the way your body will thin its blood if you give up cheese fries, so the Earth naturally gets rid of some of its CO2each year. We just need to stop putting more in and, over time, the number will fall, perhaps fast enough to avert the worst damage.”

That “just,” he acknowledges, is a biggie.

POWER DOWN
James Hansen, the scientist who first called the world’s attention to human-induced climate change decades ago, is now calling for an immediate ban on all new coal-fired power plants that do not capture their carbon emissions. Since the tree-replacing technology needed to safely sequester carbon is neither proven nor available, this could mean building replacement windmills and solar farms with the power plants already on-line.

But Hansen and many if not most of his scientific colleagues also want those existing coal-fired plants phased out quickly. If not sooner. They also want to see a high enough tax placed on carbon emissions to ensure that tar sands and oil shale in Canada, the USA and elsewhere are left in the ground. Returning to his medical analogy, McKibben says, “We’re not talking statins to drop your cholesterol; we’re talking huge changes in every aspect of your daily life.”
If there is not enough power to manufacture cleaner power generators and meet our anticipated needs, the only course left is the Starship Enterprise model of drastic power downs.

Right now.

Today.

The good news is that we are so wasteful of energy in Canada and the USA, making deep reductions in carbon emissions mostly means paying attention to our actions, and linking them back to the energy they consume.

DON’T BLAME CHINA
As carbon emissions in a country of more than one billion people climb toward calamitous parity with a longstanding polluter of less than one-third as many citizens, it’s convenient for we Americans to point a scolding finger at sooty China.

Just remember, those other cupped fingers point back at us.

“China is now the factory of the world. Developed countries have transferred a lot of manufacturing to China. What many Western consumers wear, live in, even eat is made in China,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang complained to reporters. “On the one hand, you want to increase this production in China. On the other hand, you want to condemn China over the issue of emissions reductions. This is unfair.” [Asia Times Dec23/05]

It’s nuts. Even as virtually the entire country acknowledges the perils of global warming, debates the costs and benefits of dirty energy, and moves toward cleaner sources – nearly one-quarter of China’s current carbon emissions are being created manufacturing goods and “knickknacks” for export to Western consumers. Some 70% of the Christmas ornaments and related holiday paraphernalia we world citizens bought this year originated in China. Eighty percent of the toys sold in the USA are Made in China. [Inter Press Service Dec 11/07]
It’s time to get real. Want to curtail coal-fired pollution in China? Stop shopping at Wal-Mart.

“THEY” AREN’T GOING TO FIX IT
At the same time, we cannot continue waiting for politicians beset by Big Oil, Big Cars, Big Banks and Big Political Parties to buck their arm-twisting paymasters in time to even acknowledge this crisis – never mind make a difference. Even with ice caps literally falling off a cliff, as Ellen Goodman writes in the Seattle Times, “The inconvenient truth of the 2008 election year is that climate change is still way down the dance card of most-talked-about topics. It’s ranked No. 12 among Democratic candidates, and No. 15 among Republicans.” [Seattle Times Dec 28/07]

Is this some kind of sick joke? While interchangeable candidates debate how many more decades American troops will remain in a ravaged country they have no business occupying in the first place, the number one security threat facing every lifeform on the planet is not even a campaign issue!

As my father, a veteran of two wars, would say: stop complaining.

And do something.

Ready for a New year’s Resolution that counts? Set a personal Low Carbon dietary goal of reducing your personal carbon-based energy use by one-third immediately.

And another one-third just as soon as you can.

DIET DELIGHTS
How?

Simple. Just take the monthly mileage for every vehicle in your household, divide by one-third – and stick to this new target. Or cut your monthly gasoline (or diesel) receipts by one-third. Then take your monthly utility bill and achieve the same money-and-Earth-saving goal by turning heaters (and air conditioners) down, turning off unneeded lights and appliances – and especially by putting all your TVs, computers, and plugging all those proliferating little black transformers into power bars and completely clicking them Off-Off when not in use.

Corporate consumption conspirators want us to fear the “lack” left by far fewer trips to the mall. But replacing our conditioning with conscious choice leads to major gains as heightened awareness of our actions and their consequences begins reconnecting us with myriad lives and wonders.

Nobody says that breaking addictions is painless. But dropping manipulations is liberating. As we simplify our lives and begin slowing down from our customary frenzy, priorities that matter most begin to emerge, while time and attention-robbing distractions – such as teevee and other nattering nabobs – fall away. Stress levels drop, while health and sleep improve. And delight in the company of family and friends more than replaces the momentary seduction of constantly calling gadgets.

Don’t like your unresponsive, rip-off government? Tired of faceless bankers calling the shots? Worried about big corporations privatizing – and profiting from – every aspect of your life?

No worries, mate. Just stop buying their propaganda and their stuff!

Help make 2008 a turn-around year.

As for those stacks of greeting cards you’ve put aside for next Christmas wishing “Peace On Earth”. Get them out now, Ellen Goodman suggests, and send them out for the New Year. After making a small correction:

“Peace With The Earth”

And good will toward all beings in 2008

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