Climate Change: A Moment of Species Pride - Miller-McCune
The world is getting warmer, and we have to figure out what to do about it. By “we” I mean all of us humans: we are literally all in this together. The onset of our very own “anthropocene” geological era presents the biggest practical challenge that humanity has faced. How we respond to it will define our place in cosmic history: it is a golden opportunity.
In 2010, Miller-McCune magazine published a remarkable piece of data visualization (“Tracking Climate Change”) to try and help answer the question: who is responsible for climate change? A year on, and it’s still the main topic of the global conversation. The debate in Durban last week was at times quite heated; the negotiators at the climate summit in South Africa achieved something important though. For the first time, all the countries in the world are now bound together by the Durban agreement to work out a new protocol for reducing their emissions. But are our leaders moving fast enough?
When I first saw it, my eye was drawn to the graphic’s placement of the United States in the world order: it concludes that “The United States is no. 2 for total emissions but Americans shrink down to a respectable rank in line with other industrialized citizens.” The language is nice and positive, but in a curious way: the America that I know does not aim to be respectably in the middle of the pack! It’s also a fascinating reflection of the American people’s government stance: the U.S. refused to sign the Kyoto agreement because it didn’t hold developing countries to account. By now some of those countries have caught up with America’s total energy consumption, and will overtake it as they develop toward the quality of life afforded to the American people by their high per-capita energy consumption. And who can blame them? Lucky is the child born into a wealthy country!
The main message we should take away from the Miller-McCune carbon footprint diagram is is that climate change presents a global challenge. As our leaders finally admitted last week, we are literally all in this together. Take what you have learned from the scientists and imagine the world in a few decades from now, a few degrees warmer, with all the extreme weather, desertification, ocean acidification, mass migration, conflict over energy supplies, fresh water and so on, that have already begun, and that will only get worse the more we destabilize our climate system with greenhouse gases.
Then ask your future self two questions. Would you like to see that broken climate start to mend, or would you like to see it get still worse? And do you think the humans being born into that future will look back on their ancestors’ efforts at the start of their century with pride?