The world has got to get off coal and oil and gas and biofuels and nuclear, and onto forms of energy that are truly sustainable: they renew themselves, they don’t pollute, they don’t emit greenhouse gases, and they certainly don’t leave a legacy of poison. And the good news is we already have the know-how to do this; now we just need to find the will.
This is a crucial crossroads moment with huge implications for future generations. More specifically, for whether we actually still have a planet to pass on to future generations. We could tip toward sustainability…or continue on the path to desolation.
In just 50 years, carbon levels in the atmosphere have gone from 315.59 parts per million (PPM) in December 1959 to 387.27 as of December 2009 and 392.94 PPM just five months later—passing the danger threshold of 350 PPM in 1988, heading for 410 or higher by 2020, and perhaps as bad as 770 PPM by the end of the century. Much of that increase is directly attributable to human activity. And 2000-2009 was the warmest decade on record.
What does that mean? For starters, polar melting will raise sea levels up to 1.9 meters (6 feet, three inches) by2100, causing widespread inundation of coastal cities around the world. Some entire countries, especially those on islands, will simply disappear under the waves.
Increased heat in the tropics will increase desertification and have a severe impact on food production, leading to famines, which in turn will make wars and ethnic violence a whole lot more likely.
Polar melting will also change the salt ratio of the oceans, because the ice caps are freshwater. This in turn could interfere with the Gulf Stream, making Europe a lot less habitable.
I’m old enough to remember the early 1960s: There was a lot less plastic. Most households had a maximum of one car, one television, and one telephone. There was a whole lot less traffic, and therefore a lot fewer cars spewing greenhouse cases while idling in that traffic. Air conditioning was rare. Suburban sprawl was a relatively new phenomenon, and vast acreage remained as forest or farmland that has since turned into housing and shopping and office parks. Individuals did not own computers. An 800-square-foot apartment or a 1200-square-foot house could comfortably fit a family of four or five. With all these major lifestyle shifts, it’s not surprising that humans have an impact on our planet. And I’m not suggesting that we roll back the clock on “progress.” But I am suggesting that if we want this lifestyle, we need to consume fewer resources to maintain it.
Have you perhaps noticed that major earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, and even winter storms (allowed to move out of the polar regions because global warming breaks down the natural barriers that kept them polar before) have been much more severe in the last decade or so? Our Planet Earth is apparently beginning its rebellion.
We have to move forward, and we have to do it quickly.