Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Is Anyone Even Listening?

Over the last few months, the majority of major news outlets have been running stories on climate change and it's impacts on the environment, people, and the economy. ABC recently ran a two-hour program entitled Earth 2100 on the combined effects of climate change, a collapsing economy, and other factors we currently see going on in the world.

I had to wonder though, is anyone even listening?

Climate change is a natural occurring phenomena on this planet. We know the planet goes through periods of ice ages and thaws. One of the best-documented ice ages occurred from 850 to 630 million years ago and may have led to a permanent ice cover over the entire globe. What is thought to have ended it? The accumulation of greenhouse gases produced by volcanoes. That is all well and good for the Earth. We know she will be fine and will be here until our Sun ceases to be. It's the humans, being at the top of the food chain, we have to worry about.

Big industry cares what the government decides what will be the future of greenhouse gas emissions in this country. They paint a doomsday scenario of our economy collapsing further if such legislation is passed, a second great depression. Well what is the economic impact if we do nothing? What if we continue on our full-throttle consumption and polluting without any regard?

Other than big industry, the second group that is listening is those who do not think humans can have an impact on the earth. My question is how could we not? A good friend of mine suggested an experiment for these skeptics: turn your car on, shut the garage door, and see what the effects are to your environment. A bit drastic, but it gets the point across. Actions have consequences.

The most interesting human-impact story, thanks to Bill Bryon's A Short History of Nearly Everything, is about Mr. Clair Patterson. In the 50s, he was trying to determine the age of the Earth by determining the age of lead in meteorites. However he encountered all sorts of atmospheric lead that threw off his results. He eventually created a "clean" environment and was able to successfully determine our planet's age. He then turned his attention to all this lead in the atmosphere. Mr. Patterson collected samples of ice cores, the first person to do this, to determine the concentrations of lead over the centuries. His result? Lead concentrations had increased 1000 times from the introduction of leaded fuel in 1923. Lead, as you know, being a heavy metal has serious impacts on health and development as well as sticks around for a while. After many negative encounters with pro-leaded fuel companies, Mr. Patterson, in 1986, was able to get leaded fuel banned in this country and helped establish the Clean Air Act of 1970 Quickly lead levels in the blood of Americans dropped by 80%. Even so, today we have 625 times more lead in our blood than did people before leaded gasoline (read more here).

Did this pollution affect the Earth? Yes. But, the consequences of our actions affected and are continuing to affect the health of humans.

On ABC's Earth 2100, they use a frog in a pot of water analogy: A frog placed in a cold pot of water cannot detect the small changes in water temperature as it is being heated and never realizes that he is being cooked until it is too late.

What is it going to take for people to wake-up and realize this is going on? Will it be too late? All I can cling to is the hope that people will indeed start listening and act before it's too late.

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