Goodbye Planet Earth

The good news is that virtually everyone, including our president (who typically sticks his head in the sand), agrees that global warming is happening. Perhaps the movie An Inconvenient Truth was the final straw that convinced even the most diehard skeptics. A very vocal but very well moneyed minority (typically representing businesses that are profiting from the status quo) still thinks that humanity’s impact on global warming is minimal. They assert that since global warming is part of a natural trend there is no reason to give ourselves a guilt trip.

As a result, they argue, there is no reason for us to take any drastic actions since we cannot halt it. Moreover, even if we could succeed in taking drastic actions, they will not do any good. On this last point, I grudgingly have to agree with skeptics. I feel an urgency to start doing something concrete and dramatic about global warming. Yet I also get the feeling it is like trying to stop the tide. Humanity’s demographics are working against us. Even if we could enforce the Kyoto Protocols, all it would do is slow the rate of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere. Meanwhile, since no one can make us stop, humanity will doubtless continue to breed like bunnies. Those new people will put additional demands on the ecosystem. Today there are about 6.5 billion people on the planet. Al Gore in the movie An Inconvenient Truth shows a linear relationship between successive years and temperature. Each year the average global temperature creeps up at such a consistent and methodical rate, you can easily predict next year’s average global temperature.

Human population growth, on the other hand, is growing exponentially. Somewhere around 1830, after hundreds of millions of years of evolution, the total world population reached a billion people. By 1930, it was two billion. By 1960, it was three billion. By 1974: four billion. By 1987: five billion. By 2000: six billion. Here we are six years later and halfway to adding another billion.

“Choose life,” the pro-life people tell us. They should be cheering. Humanity is choosing life in record numbers. They tell us that every life is sacred. However, you have to wonder about our quality of life when every year more and more people are competing for the same resources. Naturally, those who live in third world countries are not too thrilled about their plight. Therefore, when they can they choose prosperity. They cross borders in search of better lives. Those of us in first world countries are choosing life too. And we are choosing to live a large life. In the process, we exacerbate global warming. We tear down the trees that can convert our excess carbon dioxide to oxygen. We drive vehicles that emit carbon dioxide. The infrastructure that gives us life’s many amenities exists largely because of the ready availability of petroleum, which, when burned it emits carbon dioxide that causes global warming. We are determined to have a better quality of life than our parents had, or die trying. We think micro, not macro. We think me not we. We try to ignore our interdependence.

Nature has been knocking on our doors. It has been trying to give us a wakeup call. For example, over the last few weeks California has experienced sustained record heat. These heat spells are not just a little hotter than things used to be, but much hotter. High temperatures passed 110 degrees in many places in California. It reached 99 degrees in San Francisco. Fortunately, brownouts were minimal. Yet in order to keep cool, Californians pushed the power system for all it was worth, driving record demand. Since most of that energy came from non-renewable energy forms like coal burning power plants, cooling ourselves to deal with global warming also exacerbated global warming.

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