Thursday, 5 February 2009

Exeunt without fanfare

Here’s a scary thought – well, it scares me. There will be no fanfare as we pass a global tipping point. The sky will not turn pink. No articles in the newspapers or announcement on TV will inform us: “Today, we passed a point of no return. From here on, we all swim.”

As we heat our homes in this cold snap; as we drive the kids to school or ourselves to work; as we cook our food and buy those "made in China" goods or fruit from Brazil; as we turn our PCs on, charge our phones – in short, as we lead our daily lives – we are contributing to our own and our descendants' destruction.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide is creeping up towards 400ppm. Permafrost is starting to melt, releasing the frozen methane hydrates. The ocean is acidifying, its surface slowly warming, making existence harder for marine life including one of our planet’s control mechanisms: the alga which pumps carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Sea level rise is threatening the croplands of the world.

We cannot afford to be complacent. We cannot afford to make exceptions to drastic emissions caps for our national industries, be it coal, steel or cement production.

Our present fixation on consumption is misplaced: we will never consume our way out of this; we can only consume our way deeper into trouble. If everybody on the planet consumed at the level of those of us in the so-called “First World,” it would take the resources of three to five Earths to sustain us all. Despite this, the Western consumerist ideal is marketed across the globe as "the good life," encouraging ever-increasing numbers of people to buy into the concept that possessions are the only real measure of a person’s value: a throw-away lifestyle that will binge away our planet’s resources in no time.

We need to have more equitable distribution of wealth; to separate our "needs" from our "wants;" to rethink what constitutes “value.” Those of us in the developed world need to face up and take the hit: we must reduce our consumption to acceptable levels. Maybe "contraction and convergence" as originated by Aubrey Meyer is the way to do this; it is at least a beginning. We no longer have the luxury of wait-and-see: we must act now or we will be exiting without a fanfare.

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