Today is Blog Action Day. The organizers have chosen to highlight the environment. Here’s my contribution:

Everything Around Us

Environment. What does it mean? The word itself is derived from Middle English ‘envirounen,’ from Old French ‘environner,’ from ‘environ,’ around, with further connotations of ‘see’ and ‘circle’ (Dictionary.com). Everything we see around us. Furniture (often made from trees), appliances, sky, fields, cars, ocean, mountains, buildings. Environment can be indoors or outdoors. As Gary Synder says, however: “Cities and agricultural lands…are not ‘wild.’ Wild is a valuable word. It is a term for the free and independent process of nature. A wilderness is a place where wild process dominates and human impact is minimal. Wilderness need not be a place that was never touched by humans, but simply a place where wild process has ruled for some decades.”

Why is it so important? Because we live in it. We breathe it, touch and eat it, smell and admire it. We also hugely impact it in every way, in all its aspects. And it gets even more complex: “The old Lakota was wise. He knew that man’s heart away from nature becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans too. So he kept his youth close to its softening influence.” (Standing Bear). We hurt the environment. This ends up hurting us. Does it also foster a wider disrespect? We live here, it’s unavoidable that we have an impact. That’s why it’s called a footprint. Can we make ours smaller and keep it out of each others’ face too?

The environmental concern is multi-faceted and every facet demands attention. To build on the momentum of a major environmental validation, let’s zero in on climate change. On October 12, 2007 Al Gore and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Wangari Waathai, a former awardee said this: “When it was first announced that I would be receiving the Peace Prize in 2004, many people asked what does the environment have to do with peace? By choosing Al Gore and the IPCC for the award in 2007, the Nobel Committee have rightly brought to our attention that climate change is the single biggest threat to world peace we have ever faced.”

There’s that wider disrespect once more. Standing Bear again: “For him (Lakota), to sit or lie upon the ground is to be able to think more deeply and to feel more keenly; he can see more clearly into the mysteries of life and come closer in kinship to other lives about him….” Something is definitely going on here. Could it be that we’re in symbiosis, human to human, human to Earth, Earth to human?

We actually need greenhouse gases. A natural blanket of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere keeps the planet warm enough for life as we know it at a comfortable 15°C today. Human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases have made the blanket thicker, trapping heat and leading to a global warming. Fossil fuels are the single biggest source of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions.

The IPCC is the top authority on global warming, comprising more than 2,000 leading climate change scientists and experts. It agrees that human activity causes global warming. Here’s some data:

  • If no action is taken on greenhouse gases, the Earth’s temperature could rise by 4.50°C (8.1°F) or more.
  • The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average.
  • Changing weather patterns threaten to exacerbate desertification, drought and food insecurity.
  • Floods, sea level rise and extreme weather events.
  • Climate change will hit the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest, but it will affect everyone.

Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth website has this science (see sources there)

  • The number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes has almost doubled in the last 30 years.
  • Malaria has spread to higher altitudes in places like the Colombian Andes, 7,000 feet above sea level.
  • The flow of ice from glaciers in Greenland has more than doubled over the past decade.
  • At least 279 species of plants and animals are already responding to global warming, moving closer to the poles.

If the warming continues, we can expect catastrophic consequences.

  • Deaths from global warming will double in just 25 years — to 300,000 people a year.
  • Global sea levels could rise by more than 20 feet with the loss of shelf ice in Greenland and Antarctica, devastating coastal areas worldwide.
  • Heat waves will be more frequent and more intense.
  • Droughts and wildfires will occur more often.
  • The Arctic Ocean could be ice free in summer by 2050.
  • More than a million species worldwide could be driven to extinction by 2050.

Many greenhouse gas-emitting activities are now essential to the global economy and form a fundamental part of modern life. There too many underlying factors behind these findings, a confounding web of driving forces to list here. The one area where we have immediate influence is our own lifestyle, knowledge, willingness and worldview. “It is an extraordinary privilege to be accorded a human life, with self-reflexive consciousness that brings awareness of our own actions and the ability to make choices. It lets us choose to take part in the healing of our world.” (Joanna Macy.) Self-reflexive consciousness doesn’t leave us any wiggle room. Since we are a species that possesses such a consciousness, one that can think for and about itself, reflect, assess and learn, we have to use it and use it keenly.

Our actions and what we invest in must be informed by the highest functions of this self-reflexive thinking. We actually have to use our noggin! Having this capacity puts the burden of responsibility on humans. It’s probably unrealistic to think that everyone in the ‘burbs is going to commute via carpool, public transit, bicycle or walking. Those choices are realistic for many people, and we do have the choice about what we drive and how we drive it. Do you drive an urban assault vehicle or what used to be known as a car? Do you drive at the speed limit, or weave in and out of traffic, speed, and end up at a red light with all the vehicles you just overtook, heart beating, shoulders tense, a scowl on your face, right foot ready to do it all over again?

Proper tire inflation can improve gas mileage by more than 3%. Every gallon of gasoline saved keeps 20 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. We’re not going to ask our kids to do homework by candlelight. But, we can replace a regular incandescent light bulb with a compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL). CFLs use 60% less energy than a regular bulb. This simple switch saves about 300 pounds of carbon dioxide a year. There are lists of painless, practical actions we can take in the resources listed below. The point here is that it starts with one household using its noggin. Let’s not be naive either to think that individual action will be enough to stem current trends of more, bigger, faster, but we can start at home, in our own environment.

The Earth didn’t ask us for compensation as it went through it’s cosmic birthing pains, cooled and life began growing in its perfect environment. It doesn’t ask us today for anything when it generously produces wheat and apples, lets us build on its surface and displays the most incredible colors for our enjoyment. The Earth is still free. Humanity has a cost.

To offset this cost, we are being asked to first admit responsibility, then think responsibly, and finally go out and act in ways that reflect our understanding of the integrity that must be honored between Earth and human. Joanna Macy again: “…graced with self-reflexive consciousness, we are endowed with the capacity for choice–to take stock of what we are doing and change directions…Weaving our ever more complex neural circuits into the miracle of self-awareness, life yearned through us for the ability to know and act and speak on behalf of the larger whole. Now the time has come when by our own choice we can consciously enter the dance.”

The larger whole. Wider respect. Climate change to the degree implicit in irrefutable data now available, or even to a lesser degree simply means that society as we know it may breakdown. The already tapped irreplaceable resources of the Earth will probably be further monopolized by the few for the few, aggressively protected and distributed militarily, to which resistance will arise. Since this has happened throughout human history, even at times when resources were plentiful, it’s not a big jump that it can happen in a global crisis. This is not a doomsayer’s pessimism. Instead, it’s one way to connect the dots between global warming and global peace. Ultimately it doesn’t matter to what temperature we allow global warming to rise. We are already consuming nonrenewable resources at an alarming rate, climate patterns are affecting sustainability and species are disappearing. We need to cool it now, not wait and debate the possible end of civilization.

Traditionally peace is cultivated from the healing of hearts and minds, through forgiveness, understanding, compassion, education and active dialog. The playing field has changed. It’s no longer only the home, neighborhood, a border or region. Of the many things humans share, the planet is our most common ground literally. In bettering it, we better each other. In caring for it we care for each other. In mobilizing on its behalf we mobilize on each others’ behalf. In acting to reduce the causes of climate change we tend our own backyard, and those of total strangers in far off lands. Strangers or kin? Will my backyard stay green if yours is parched? What do we owe the Earth and ourselves, more importantly our children?

This writing ends here, but Standing Bear gives us a worthy model with which to begin: “Kinship with all creatures of the earth, sky, and water was a real and active principle…This concept of life and its relations was humanizing and gave the Lakota an abiding love. It filled his being with the joy and mystery of living; it gave him reverence for all life; it made a place for all things in the scheme of existence with equal importance to all…Everything was possessed of personality, only differing with us in form…We learned to do what only the student of nature ever learns, and that was to feel beauty…and the fact was appreciated that life was more then mere human manifestation; that it was expressed in a multitude of forms.”

 

Resources:

The Alliance for Climate Protection
Sierra Club: Global Warming & Energy
World Wildlife Fund: Climate Change
UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

© Pamir Kiciman 2007


 

Environment

15 thoughts on “Environment

  • 10/15/2007 at 5:20 PM
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    The environment lets us witness first hand cause and effect. How at time things that look like very small decisions, like diverting a stream or the full removal of an animal species, can have gigantic and lasting impacts. In life sometimes these consequences aren’t always as clear. However, I am stumped as to why this isn’t the case with climate change. Yes, there are many potential casual factors, but I am continually amazed that as a whole, people just aren’t making that many lifestyle changes to offset things. Even if our actions aren’t the cause of the climate change, it seems that just in case they are we should make appropriate changes.

    My favorite self-centered reason for the wilderness is because I can breathe out there.

  • 10/15/2007 at 10:09 PM
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    Agreed. It’s colossal denial or arrogance or laziness to think that we don’t impact in a harmful way this planet which 6 billion plus humans inhabit. And the one major difference between now & all other ages the Earth has survived is the radical impact of technology.

  • 10/16/2007 at 8:59 AM
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    I agree that denial, arrogance and laziness are rampant. I believe it comes from the “be all you can be” paradigm. Cultivating individuality at any expense, which in turn has lead to greed rather than healthy self expression. Unfortunately, greed breeds short-sightedness. And, none of this ever seems to create teamwork or a sense of “oneness” with the environment or with one another. This is such a huge physical manifestation representative of the individual’s egoic refusal to accept responsibility for their own happiness in life. I think it’s quite ironic that man is always willing to and fully believes that he can harness/ control Mother Nature, yet man continually denies his power and ability to negatively impact the Earth or to fix it. There is no doubt in my mind that existing technology and the multitude of bright minds out there, working together, could easily reverse the deterioration of planet Earth.

  • 10/16/2007 at 9:27 AM
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    Welcome Cathy! Yes, the intelligent use of technology. I’m in Florida, a perfect place to leverage solar power. Gov Crist rejected a draft law on clean energy saying it was too weak. A good start.

    Now there’s The Florida Solar Roofs Initiative, which will generate enough zero-pollution solar energy to cut out more than 20 coal-fired power plants–the single biggest source of global-warming pollution–for at least 2% each of the state’s energy, by 2020.

    The sun’s been shining in Florida forever. How come we haven’t partnered with it? Crist and other leaders need to know what we want.

  • 10/16/2007 at 10:45 AM
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    Here is a link to the website of the photographer Chris Jordan, who depicts some statistics of modern American culture in a novel way.
    Chris Jordan’s site

    One aspect I find intriguing about it is the concept of using art as an educational tool. Does the appeal to our senses also enlighten us? Or is the grim reality of the facts shown in the photographs too much to bear without its being shown in an aesthetically pleasing way?

  • 10/16/2007 at 8:53 PM
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    Thanks for the link to Chris Jordan, Meredith. Quite chilling.

    Agree with the thoughts expressed here.

    I think more needs to be done by industry to help those who are over denial but feeling overwhelmed. In any case, that is the fastest way- e.g. why not make shower heads that require to be pressed frequently [3-minute intervals] to stay running? In Southern states, water shortage is looming right now, and it’s not escaped the govt’s attention; so perhaps there is at least the will to do something about it.

  • 10/17/2007 at 7:24 AM
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    Meredith, thanks for finding the source of the cell phone garbage pile eye-opener photo I’d seen in Sierra magazine a while ago. Consumer culture depicted with immediacy & full-frontal!

    Jordan has some fascinating work…he’s definitely seeing through an artist’s eye, they’re not journalistic photos. He finds a good balance between social commentary & aesthetics, without any sugar-coating. Really great, everyone check it out.

  • 10/17/2007 at 7:31 AM
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    Welcome Meenakshi! Corporate responsibility begins in company culture and/or from public pressure. We buy the products which means each dollar we spend is a vote.

    There is a shower head that can be turned off. It uses less water (I believe all shower heads are designed like that nowadays) & has a cut-off switch like when you’re shampooing or whatever. The major outlets do carry it.

  • 11/17/2007 at 12:17 PM
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    I have a suggestion– if you haven’t yet, consider not having children. I had a tubal ligation 5 years ago, and I don’t regret it AT ALL!!! It’s not that I don’t like kids; it’s because I didn’t feel like adding a child to an already overpopulated planet; this was something I had started to think about doing 12 years ago.
    Maybe the U.S. government should consider having a moratorium on childbirth; it sounds a little too extreme, but it may be something they could consider in the near future?

  • 11/17/2007 at 3:42 PM
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    Anonymous, population control is certainly part of the solution. I think China has tried restricting family size with uneven success. It’s a difficult area to control. In the USA it will surely get peoples’ hackles up! The solution may be education which is ongoing in places like India, African nations & others.

    It’s a biological & emotional force. While the planet is overpopulated, there are many other things that aren’t being done which are not impossible to institute.

  • 05/29/2008 at 8:39 PM
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    Very informative. I liked your blog Pamir. It first begins with us, doesn’t it. We can start doing things at home to conserve and reduce our carbon footprint. Talk about what we are doing to others and become proactive. I’m glad you are writing about it. I am too at my blog Greening of Me – a Lighthearted Blog.

    But the most important thing to remember for those of us who know how to utilize it is Reiki… we can offer energy unconditionally by:

    *doing Reiki on self… to help us know what constitutes right action.

    *doing Reiki on self… to calm our strong emotional reactions and feeling of helplessness.

    *doing Reiki on all humanity… that we may collectively gain the wisdom necessary to wisely deal with what we have created.

    *doing Reiki on the Earth… to help her heal herself.

  • 05/30/2008 at 7:57 AM
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    Welcome Bonnee! Yes, yes & yes to all the Rights: thought, speech, action. All informed from the wisdom of practice as you mention.

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