Caring for and Healing the Earth

Global Caretaking

Perspectives on Climate Change

Letter to the Editor, Leisureways Magazine
by Mike Pedde

April 20, 2002

Diane Tierney, Editor
Leisureways Magazine/ Formula Publications

Ms. Tierney:

I wanted to take a moment to say thank you for publishing the article on climate change in the most recent issue (April-May 2002) of Leisureways magazine. It is pretty avant garde for a magazine dedicated to motorists to publish such an article. I also wanted to take a moment to add to what you wrote, in hope that you may wish to print a second article in the not too distant future. I'm afraid I can't cite all my resources for this information, but if you would like more information on climate change I would suggest contacting the David Suzuki Foundation, Energy Revolution (<

There are two points I want to make:

1) I don't believe most, nearly all people realize what climate change means, or exactly what is happening to the earth. For an answer we need to go back in time. Way back. Several hundred million to a few billion years. When the earth was first created it was essentially a ball of gas, and over a long period of time it cooled into roughly the shape it has now. However, originally the atmosphere of the earth was very different from the 79% nitrogen, 20% oxygen, 1% argon mixture we have today. The early earth's atmosphere would be, to us, poisonous, consisting largely of gases such as methane and carbon dioxide. Without going through a long explanation of the resulting changes in topography, release of water vapours from volcanoes and the beginnings and effects of rain, let's jump ahead to the beginnings of life. For almost 2 billion years of the earth's life, the only life on earth was no bigger nor more advanced than today's bacteria. Slowly life began to modify, disseminate, grow, although only within the oceans as the oceans provided protection from the burning ultraviolet rays of the sun. At some point, two things happened, not necessarily together. One, some species of life developed ways to photosynthesize, in the way that trees and green plants do today. Essentially, these simple life forms took in carbon dioxide and water, and used the energy of sunlight to create food (glucose) for themselves and release oxygen. Two, some species began to develop hard, calcareous shells as a method of self-protection. Both of these processes began, over millions of years, to remove the excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and to begin the trend that leaves us with our atmosphere today. As life moved out onto the land, the plants of lush tropical forests continued this process of fixing carbon within themselves, freeing it from the atmosphere.

Over time, these forests came and went, became buried by new growth, the tiny ocean life died and settled to the bottom of the ocean where they became buried, and with time, heat and pressure were converted to oil, coal, products that we use today. Traditionally, about 1/3 of the earth's carbon has been locked up in the life in the oceans, about 1/3 has been locked up in the biomass on the surface and deep within the earth, and about 1/3 has been free carbon, floating around the atmosphere, allowing plants to continue to produce food for themselves and oxygen for everyone. Even plants need to breathe.

Now, what we are managing, in less than a century, is to reverse a process that took millions of years and trillions upon trillions of life forms to create. We're doing this on three fronts. First, we're polluting the oceans, with toxic spills, chemical dumps, international shipping, etc. Second, we're cutting down our forests and paving over agricultural land at a rate far beyond what is being replenished. At the same time, continued releases of toxins into the atmosphere are strangling the remaining forests and other plants. Many governments talk about carbon sinks as a way of reaching the Kyoto accord. It doesn't take much thought to consider that big trees hold more carbon than little trees, and wiping out large tracts of mature forest and replanting sporadically with seedlings does not yield a net benefit. Third, and most importantly, while we're actively restraining the earth's capabilities to fix carbon, we are at the same time releasing huge amounts of carbon back into the atmosphere (through the burning of fossil fuels) that have been locked deep in the earth for millennia.

2) The second thing it is important to consider is that nothing, without exception, nothing on this earth moves or lives without affecting everything around it. Therefore, we can't separate issues like global warming, ozone depletion, toxic precipitation (once called acid rain), acute loss of genetic diversity, much from species that haven't even been identified yet. If we're going to have any chance of saving ourselves, we must save the forces that allow us to exist. Humans are NOT, nor can they even conceivably be, separate nor above in any way from the rest of life on this planet. EVERYTHING we have, except moon rocks and the occasional meteorite fragment, everything we have from our food to our clothes to our homes, our computers, books, even our bodies, comes from the earth. With your next breath, the one you're breathing in right now, you're breathing in the same air once breathed by Shakespeare, by Plato, by our ancestors millions of years ago. The carbon in your body once made up the bodies of the dinosaurs. This planet may be some 40,000 km in diameter, but if we screw this up, we have nowhere else to go. Even if we could establish a scientific outpost on the moon, launch ourselves into space, we cannot separate ourselves physiologically
nor mentally from our 'home'. 

Now, it's easy to say I'm only one person, what can I do? There are many, many things you can do. A Buddhist would say, all is choices. You choose the life you lead and the life you leave for your descendants with every choice you make. And they don't all have to be huge, life altering choices. For example, is it really necessary to drive the two blocks to the corner store, or could you walk or take a bike, roller blades, whatever? Do you need a car, or can you live with public transportation? In terms of emissions per person per distance, a bus emits roughly 1/10th of a car and a train 1/20th. If you do need a vehicle, do you REALLY need a huge gas guzzling SUV or minivan? Two cases in point. I have a friend who has a full-sized Ford pick-up. He also has a landscaping business, and he needs to be able to move his tools to and from the
job site. His wife walks to the store, the library, the doctor's office, most of the time. I have some friends who have four children. Although they don't have one, they could arguably use a minivan. But by and large 99% of people who drive these vehicles have no real use for them. Do I blame the consumers? No, only to a point. I do blame the manufacturers and the ad agencies who in every medium possible are telling them they have to conquer nature in their new whatever, and that they can't live without this new something. New hybrid vehicles like the Toyota Prius or the Honda Insight use less than half the fuel and release half the emissions of an SUV. The Toyota Prius has been granted California's SULEV (super ultra low emission volume) status, the most stringent condition on emissions ever. Personally I'd love to own one, but I can't afford it right now. Not everyone can, but anyone who can afford the latest Lincoln/ Cadillac/ Mercedes/ GM/ Ford/ Honda/ Nissan/ Toyota/ Mazda/ etc. van or sport ute. can certainly afford to spend half that much on a smaller vehicle that will provide all they need. Keep your car tuned, yes. Avoid idling, definitely. Plan your trips ahead so you're not running back and forth all the time. Decide if you really need to drive to point X or if you can get there another way. There are a lot of things.

In addition to your vehicle, you can decide not to crank up the air conditioner like you think everyone else is doing. You can decide to buy some of your food from local growers so that it doesn't all have to be trucked or shipped or flown for thousands of miles. You can make wise choices in how and where you spend your leisure time. You can make wise choices in how you shop and what products you buy, how they're packaged, and how much energy was used to produce them. You can encourage your politicians and business leaders to make wise choices for your benefit, because if these choices benefit the individual, not the transnational corporations, they benefit everyone. Please remember that global warming is not confined to someone else's neighbourhood, that ozone depletion doesn't only affect another city, that loss of genetic diversity isn't a only a problem for some other country to worry about. All of these things, and more, affect us all, whether or not we know about them, whether or not we care, and whether or not we do anything about them. The choice that we have is how much devastation we will allow to our lives, the lives of our children and their children and.... And how much we're willing to damage the basic processes, the oxygen giving, life sustaining ways that give us our very existence. Want to know how long you can live without clean air? Breathe out, and don't breathe in again until you absolutely have to. Did you make it to 30 seconds?


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