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1.2 and Rising

Most of us did not know what was happening, but we do now. The industrial age offered to humanity comforts and conveniences never before imagined, but what we are now discovering is that the bedrock of this modern civilization is a resource that we have unwittingly and precipitously transformed into what could be the cause of our own destruction. That resource is fossil fuel, transformed into carbon dioxide, a blanket in our atmosphere that lets in the heat from our sun, but won’t let it out. For about the last million years, co2 in our atmosphere never exceeded 300 parts per million. At the latest count it was 415 ppm, and rising. Compared to pre-industrial global temperature, the planet is now 1.2 degrees C warmer and getting warmer by the day. We experience this rise in many ways: more intense storms, heat waves, drought, food and water shortages, sea level rise, and disease, to name but a few. As the warming continues, cascading effects come into play with positive feedback loops, and the rate of warming increases dramatically and exponentially. As one example, warming is melting the permafrost of northern latitudes, releasing carbon in the form of methane, a greenhouse gas 24 times more potent than co2. The increased methane, in turn, makes the earth even hotter, and the cycle spirals upward. Some projections are that Himalayan glaciers will be 40% gone in 31 years, water supply for 1.9 billion people in countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and China.

1.2 degrees does not seem like much, but it is. First of all, that’s an average increase, day and night, north and south. Some places will be much, much warmer. Secondly, a warming of 1.2 has already triggered the drastic changes that we see with our own eyes. This is because that amount of extra heat, small as it is, is all that is required to tip the balance in certain situations. As the warming continues, as it most certainly will, the impact becomes exponential rather than linear. A global warming of 5 degrees, again, not sounding like too much, would probably destroy human civilization. Business as usual will get us to that temperature.

Reaction to the dire news varies. Some reject the science. Some, especially fossil fuel interests, have undercut the science, intentionally and with regard only for their own profit and not for the future of the planet. Most of us are still asleep, just now barely waking up to the devastation around the corner. And then there are those who are becoming aware but have no clue as to how to react to a global threat of this magnitude. Does it make a difference if I put solar panels on the roof? or drive an electric vehicle? What are India, China, and Russia doing? What is our government doing? What exactly are the Democratic candidates proposing? What is the Green New Deal?

The time frame shrinks every day. We used to think that we had 10,000 years, then 1,000, then 500, 100, 12. That last, according to the UN, is the time we have left before irreparable and irreversible damage will be done. Of course, in certain regions of the world, that damage has already been done.

The good news is that there is still time. We need not head down the path of destruction, but we must act now. That involves the never ending process of educating ourselves about the science of climate change. Education, in turn, must create new power structures, wherein greed and ignorance are overcome by intelligent implementation of alternative sources of energy. And all of this in an incredibly short period of time.

The problem, of course, is that greed and ignorance are not easily overcome. Even now there are persons of power figuring out how to make money on misery. We can hope but not assume that human beings will make the right decisions. Neither should religious people assume that some divine being will dive in to save us from our own foolishness. The Jews of Roman times expected God to save them from their captors. That did not happen. Rather than praying for a salvific divine intervention, fundamentalist “christians” today probably applaud the warming as “the fire next time”. This is no time to speak of divine intervention of any sort. Nor is this a time for religious people, no matter how progressive, to invoke any kind of enlightened theology as the solution to the problem of climate change. Our focus must be on reducing greenhouse gasses, an entirely human and secular activity. It would be great if more people were spiritually woke, but first things first.

Thee are two bright notes. The first has to do with the fact that there are renewable energy sources that are currently available. Michael Bloomberg, for example, has given half a billion dollars to help localities close down coal generating plants and switch to renewables. If I were to ask myself what is the best action I could take in the immediate future, it would be to support those government persons around the world who sense the critical moment and will fight for planetary survival by shifting to totally renewable energy.

The second hopeful sign. In 2014 the Rodale Institute published a white paper that made an extraordinary claim: that a global transition to the basics of organic farming would put back into the ground more than 100% of the carbon that we take out. In other words, creating more biomass through that agricultural revolution would not only stop but also reverse global warming. The paper referred to many studies around the world that have shown this to be the case. There are currently international organizations promoting what is called regenerative agriculture.

Of equal importance, studies have also shown that in most cases, the crop yield would either equal or exceed the yield from current practices based on petroleum fertilizer, pesticide, etc. And the food would be much more nutritious.

It sounds too good to be true, and so I have a question: is anyone familiar with regenerative agriculture, who would like to share their knowledge?

Suppose we combine the switch to renewable energy sources with a switch to regenerative agriculture…and bring 1.2 back to zero…

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