Don’t worry, be happy. In October, famed environmental scientist James Lovelock (author of the Gaia theory) commented bluntly on the planet’s future, saying we’re so far beyond the tipping point that all the brakes in the world won’t matter:
“Our future,” Lovelock writes, “is like that of the passengers on a small pleasure boat sailing quietly above the Niagara Falls, not knowing that the engines are about to fail.” And switching to energy-efficient light bulbs won’t save us. To Lovelock, cutting greenhouse-gas pollution won’t make much difference at this point, and much of what passes for sustainable development is little more than a scam to profit off disaster. “Green,” he tells me, only half-joking, “is the color of mold and corruption.” (rolling stone)
Grim, no? And we have to hope he’s wrong. But, if there’s a key to all this, it’s not scaring the living shit out of people but rather giving them specific things they can do that matter. Even if they’re big things. A recent study found as much.
And people everywhere are making important steps towards reducing their carbon footprint. A few days back, The Times reported on a suburbanite’s struggle to decrease his carbon footprint and, more generally, how even small changes in population density can have a big impact.
Still, some of Lovelock’s argument does resonate. We all have to know in the backs of our heads that just changing lightbulbs and carpooling to work isn’t going to save the planet. Those are good short term steps to be sure, but the real solution is something far more profound and challenging to the status quo — everything from fundamentally altering how our communities are structured to breaking with the culture of consumption. That’s where we start to get major pushback from special interests and truly challenging ourselves.
Perhaps Mark Lynas put it best:
With scientists telling us we need to stabilize global emissions by 2015 in order to keep rising temperatures within relatively tolerable boundaries, there is a pressing need to shift the energy direction of the entire global economy, not tinker at the margins. Massive public pressure now needs to be put on world governments to negotiate a successor treaty to Kyoto which dramatically reduces emissions within a 20-30 year timescale. And that is something that big business still has a hard time contemplating. (adbusters)
There are many heartbreaking stories in developing countries, but one of the lessons I always come home with is one of re-use, repair, and re-invention rather than rampant consumerism. When you don’t have the means to buy buy buy, you discover clever ways to make what you have work. (See Design for the Other 90% for examples.) That’s something we desperately need to learn from. And fast.
What’s going to save the planet? Nothing short of a radical rethinking of the way we live. The challenge is convincing ourselves to see it as an opportunity, not a threat.