To Whom It May Concern,
I guess I discovered the real impact of climate change in college. I was at a friends place who had gotten the new iPhone and was “surfing” around on it while I was reading for one of my classes. He was going on and on about researchers who had discovered the polar ice caps were melting at an unprecedented rate, faster than ever predicted, that anthropogenic effects (first time I had heard the phrase) were the real source of the problem. It was logical, I thought. It made sense. An excess of man made carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere erodes our already thin ozone layer, which acts as a protective shield, blocking some of the suns most powerful rays.
Walking home that night I was in deep thought. I knew it was terrible. I had a gut feeling. A gut instinct. But I didn’t understand why people weren’t talking about it. If it was so terrible, and threatened the very nature of our existence, why wasn’t it making top headlines? Why wasn’t I hearing about it on the news, in class, from some government official?
Fast forward to now: 2016. We now live in a warmer world. And science as we know it has responded. More and more literature has been published in the scientific community evaluating the undeniable consequences of climate change, of “business as usual”, the current rate of fossil fuels being emitted from countries like China, the U.S. And within the literature are smaller scaled studies that haven’t gotten as much attention, but still have gravity in the field of science.
Issues like permafrost melting, ecosystem and fishery degradation, the effects of climate change on the prevalence of heat waves, the effect of climate change on malnutrition, and the list goes on… And of course some of the most alarming cases and therefore stories tell a narrative about a future world that is so unattractive and so unbelievably degraded that it is hard to ignore. Except when we all wake up the next morning, in the comfort of our homes, and enter into the very society that has its own narrative, its own truth, that plays by its own rules.
Anyone who reads the scientific literature on climate change and its effects understands the weight of the problem. They know that pumping C02 into the atmosphere aggravates the entire biosphere. And if you don’t, consider that never before in the history of the planet has a single species had such an adverse effect on the climate, and the biodiverse ecosystems we now inhabit. On a timeline of the past 12,000 years, humans are at the tail end of the line, causing so much change in a short period of time when you consider the historical trajectory.
So really what needs to happen is a sort of enlightenment about the way we think about our climate, and how we see our relationship with the natural world.
As for right now, I think it’s fair to say that individuals, in any given society, can’t really envision what a climate looks like. Why? Because a climate is generally measured in a 30 year interval for a given region. If I can’t remember what I had for dinner last Tuesday night…you get the point.
A simpler way to illustrate this problem is with gravity. Why do we believe in gravity? An individual believes in gravity, even though it is a technically a theory, because there is a certainty that when you drop an object from chest height, it will fall to the ground. They don’t have to understand, or care about why it happens, they just have to know it will always remain a truth throughout their life. But in the same respect, climate change is much less clear. It’s hard to make a decision on something when you can’t see it, when it’s not right in front of your eyes. And on the one hand, you can see weather. You can even feel it. You can feel snow, water, you can feel the humidity in your hair, on your skin. But you can’t feel a 30 year interval of a given climate.
So the decisions we make about climate change, whether we realize it or not, have a terrible lag effect. The lag is on such an absurdly large scale that it brings people to question whether or not the facts of climate change are even real. Seeing is believing, right? Well, not exactly. I don’t know who came up with that saying and I’m sure it’s been taken out of context.
But more importantly this lag effect makes it easy to understand why people won’t change their habits, and why they will come up with their own beliefs on the issue while the clock is ticking. If you’re religious, it may be god that’s punishing us all. If you’re a realist, you might tell yourself the lag effect is so great that you’re going to continue on with your own personal habits, because life is short and there’s nothing we can do and the fact that we exist is good enough.
Human beings are entitled to their own beliefs. The ancient Egyptians believed in the afterlife so prominently they decorated the tombs of their loved ones with gold, majestic jewelry, and makeup. Ancient kings believed in the divinity of their bloodline, and so on. Why? Control. Power. A reason to carry on. A reason to live. And it feels good to have your beliefs enforced by others. Imagine the ego of a king who struts about his palace believing that God had chosen him. Someone who tells the king he is not divine, there is no god, threatens the sanctity of that practice, the security of that belief. It feels good to read about things you want to read about on the Internet, and not so good to read about complex physics. And the Internet is host to an entire ensemble of pseudo-science. Things that aren’t real. They don’t have any basis in reality, but they might look nice. They sound nice. They have nice wording, a nice font. A product for sale on ItFeelsGood.com comes with a complimentary hand lotion that you don’t know has palm oil in it because you smell the hand lotion and don’t look at the ingredients because it provides moisture to your skin and your late for work and you hope the handsome devil you sit next to in your cubicle will pick up your new illustrious scent. Is it proven to be effective by dermatologists? Fuck no. Who cares what they think.
But back to the point here— companies, institutions, they can make things up. The can skew the facts to their liking. Business as usual, whether we realize it not, depends on the lies of the corporations that run the system. And they depend on the consumer who gets what they want, whether or not they really want it, whether or not it’s good for them; for their health. In the 1980’s, a host of medicines, vitamins, and other supplements were believed to cure individuals of HIV/AIDS in the name of short term profits. This was long before scientific advances for understanding the nature of the virus had even started. It seems as though in the short term, sometimes it is natural to do what feels good. Drinking alcohol when you know it will result in a hangover the next day is a fairly straightforward example of this moral dilemma.
Because it is, in effect, an issue of morality. And as I have learned more and more about climate change, it has become a passion of mine. I can trace my steps throughout the day, and understand if what I am doing will lead to carbon emissions. And in fact my life is a lot simpler when I don’t emit so much carbon. The frivolities of life, the extra comforts are not that comforting when you already have everything you need.
I can also observe others. I can watch their blatant lack of awareness. I understand when someone has a large carbon footprint. But I won’t always tell them. What right do I have as an individual in a civil society to march into someone’s place of habitation and tell them, “No, don’t do that. You’re putting too much carbon into the atmosphere”. My feeling is that if most people understood what they were doing, and how bad this problem really is, they would immediately stop.
For I generally believe that human beings are born innocent, and for climate change’s sake, the environment under which someone is raised sets them up for a lifetime of efficiency or inefficiency. This is completely independent of good or evil, as you might have suspected. The natural world is not interested in good deeds whether or not it is a direct or indirect beneficiary of said deed. A plant does not recognize the horrors of war. But a basic ecosystem recognizes whether other species (human beings) are using the land in an efficient or inefficient manner. I always think of how efficient the Native Americans were before they were wiped out by Europeans. My favorite example that my dad always told me growing up was that when Indians killed a deer, they used every part. This always fascinated me. I always imagined, with even the bloody details, the Indians going back to the deer to make sure they hadn’t left anything to waste.
Nowadays, in our fast paced, super sophisticated, technologically advanced world, we waste the rest of the French fries on our plate because the waitress has 5 tables and asks you if she can clear the plate because she’s in a rush and you’re too polite to say, “No, don’t do that, stop.” I wonder if this was destined to happen or if we are being punished by some supernatural force. But then again, I don’t believe in God. I don’t think anyone’s ever seen [it].