By George Harvey, staff
If you are aware of science and its projections about climate change, you might be more than a little frightened. The likely effects of a 2.75°C (5°F) increase in the temperature of the planet are unpleasant even to think about – including, among other things, the possible extinction of about 1,000,000 species. We are very likely going past 2.75°C, and we are altogether too close to the point where over 20% of all species could be lost by 2050.[i]
Greenhouse gasses (GHGs) propelling climate change do not increase temperatures immediately, as they are being released. It takes a long time to heat a planet, and so the effects of the GHGs we release today will gradually increase over a period of twenty years or more. It we stopped emitting GHGs altogether, right now, climate change would just continue for at least that time.[ii]
Our environments are very certainly changing, and in the short term that will not be for the better. It is too late to preserve some of the things we take for granted, even things we regard as emblems of our region. It is not just brook trout and hemlocks that are threatened. We are very likely to lose our sugar maples, our fall colors, and much more.
To deal with climate change, we will have to alter the ways we do things, from running our businesses and communities to running our individual lives. We might as well get used to the fact that gasoline, fuel oil, coal, propane, and even natural gas will need to be eliminated, and sooner than some people would like.
It might actually happen sooner than many people think. The costs of fossil fuel extraction are increasing, but the supplies are not, except on the short term. Shale oil and non-traditional extraction techniques as fracking are not producing the supplies promised, and are short-term fixes, at best.[iii] Organizations like the United Nations are taking the position that to prevent the worst effects of climate change, it will be necessary to leave 65% to 80% of our proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground.[iv] The European Investment Bank has underscored this point by announcing they will severely restrict future loans for fossil fuel production or use.[v] The bright news is that there is a lot of room for improvements that would quickly change our lives for the better.
The old paradigm had huge industries running huge power plants, based on seemingly unlimited supplies of fossil fuels that were nearly free for the taking. Constraints on burning and polluting were too few and came too late. Even today, many lives are lost as a result. Last year, the UN estimated that 6 million people die annually from the results of air pollution alone.[vi]
By contrast, a new paradigm is emerging. Small non-polluting generating facilities, powered by the sun or wind, or using local renewable fuel, can be economically distributed, cutting pollution and waste to a tiny fraction of what they have been.
The advantages of sustainable local resources relate to more than physical health. They can also include local ownership of resources, increased local employment opportunities, keeping money in the local economy, resilience of a local and less expensive power supply that can be restored quickly after a disruption, lower power prices, and reduction or elimination of pollution and waste.
We might imagine self-sustaining communities of intentional mutual reliance for production and exchange of food, goods, and services, based on sustainable resources.
These changes would, we hope, be reflected positively in society, producing a more egalitarian approach to living, a stronger sense of community for individuals, and a stronger sense of relatedness among communities. The idea that we are all in this together might be extrapolated from here to prevent or reduce conflict on the wider level, perhaps even globally.
We all should already know what to do as individuals: insulate and button up our homes; switch from fossil fuel to renewable resources for heat, such as passive solar; switch to renewable electric power, such as cow power, community solar gardens or our individually-owned solar systems; raise vegetables, whether in our own garden or a community garden, switch to electric vehicles (or plug-in hybrid, if necessary), walk or bike wherever possible, use public transportation, and so on.
But we really need to go just a bit further to get the job done. We need to get active, engaging other people. We need to reach for a new social paradigm that puts the power into the hands of the local communities and individual people. Whether it is economic, agricultural, or social, whether it involves politics, community events, or generating electricity, it will put the full power of democracy more fully into the hands of the citizens themselves.
It is a job we all need to do. At every level of world engagement, from the individual and neighborhood to global, it is an absolute requirement. We are all in this together, and we will succeed or fail together. But if we succeed, people will be able to lead healthier and happier lives than they ever have before.
It gives new meaning to an old cry, “Power to the People! Right on!”
[ii] Mitigation may be possible, but plans are still in early development stages.