Embrace the Change

SUBHEAD: Considering the alternatives, there really isn't that much choice.  

By Juan Wilson on 24 July 2012 for Island Breath -  

Image above: These Bhutanese monks wear brightly-colored robes, ornate headdresses and masks, and dance the Cham that is performed during Tsechu, annual religious festivals held throughout the country that draw remote villages together for communal celebration and socializing. They visited Honolulu in 2008. From (http://www.hawaiimagazine.com/blogs/hawaii_today/2008/2/27/The_Dragons_gift).

If it weren't so damn important we wouldn't keep repeating what you think is doomster porn. You might better think of it as an invitation to the rest of your life - and the lives of your progeny. But first, let's state the problem in a nutshell.
  • We humans have discovered a magic substance - fossil fuel. It has done to us, as a culture, what crack cocaine (or meth-amphetamines) do to us as individuals. It makes us hopped-up raging tweakers. We are enjoy burning the stuff so much we've spawned another six billion of ourselves to share the fun with us.
  • And don't talk to us about ending the party anytime soon. We're willing to kill anybody in our way to keep this buzz going. Just ask anybody in the Middle East.
  • What is that buzz? Some call it "progress", some call it "growth" others call it "civilization". But if you could ask the fauna and flora we share Earth with they'd call it "extinction".
All this wouldn't be so big a problem for the world if we humans had just overdosed while amped up snorting gasoline. But, no, we've survived and even flourished burning our way through about half of the easily found supply. That alone has got us to the beginning of catastrophic climate change.

Already baked into the cake is more chaotic weather, moderate ocean rise, many extinctions and harder times ahead. This is stuff we cannot avoid that will linger for a long time - certainly past the natural life of those alive today. But, unfortunately, there's enough of the fossil left to toast the planet five-times over. And it seems we are intent of smoking every last gallon. Well before we get there we will have sealed the deal on going over a cliff at the bottom of which will be many bad things that we have yet to imagine.

Bill McKibben has an article in Rolling Stone that illustrates or dilemma precisely. The Earth can take a total 565 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere and that's it before we break the bank. However, the carbon to be released in our known reserves of coal, oil and gas is 2,795 gigatons. That means we can only burn a fifth of that supply without committing suicide.
So, what to do?
Don't burn it. Or at least burn it so slowly (over centuries) so that the Earth can absorb our insults. I know, I know! Easier said than done - after all we're tweaking crystal freaks. But even a tweaker can see their face in the mirror. Some will see the rotting teeth, open sores and do something about their condition - namely stop using. What will happen if we curtail our use of fossil fuels by a factor of five? It would mean reducing world consumption to levels last seen in the 1950s. For America that would mean consumption levels of the Great Depression. Of course in those previous decades human population was a third of today's.

So on a per person level of consumption we would need to reduce fossil fuel use to levels lower than a century ago. To get there we need to anticipate a quick reduction in industrial activity and transportation use. Expect worldwide economic contraction and population reduction for decades - at least until we reach a plateau where we won't fry the planet. The sooner we embrace this idea, the more we will be able to save of our culture.

My thinking is that the longer we wait to reduce consumption the farther back we'll be driven in time. Going back a century would be a easy compared to going back a millennium. However, if we choose to "Burn baby burn!" we will either go extinct, or if we're lucky, end up as a small band of hunter/gatherers around the rim of a tropical Arctic Ocean (as James Lovelock has envisioned).  

How to cope?
Adjust your cultural preferences.That means accepting things that may have seemed below your "station" like local food, local music. It also means rejecting things once dear (like cable TV and cell phones). It also means re-evaluating the things that are close as if they were cut off from the things far away like your car and gas (or your work and the internet) Ouch!

Learn to perceive the virtues of re-using and fixing what you have. Develop an aesthetic that embraces home-made solutions to problems. Train yourself as an artisan capable of using hand tools. Practice making music with acoustic instruments.

I have made some progress in this respect. Increasingly I see the emergence of a Third World culture in my neighborhood. I am not horrified seeing a car permanently up on concrete block if I know that in a few decades it will eventually rust into the forest like a wet Oreo cookie.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Global Warming's unused reservoir 7/24/12
 Ea O Ka Aina: The Hero's Way 1/13/12


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