EAARTH DAY (WEEK, MONTH, YEAR)!

Eaarth by Bill McKibben
Image of a large crowd on the Washington Monument Mall Storms of My Grandchildren by James Hansen Map of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline from Canada to Texas refineries Rally sign that says, "There is no Planet B!!!"

No, the extra "a" is not a typo. "Eaarth" refers to planet earth as our atmosphere heats up and changes due to a buildup of greenhouse gases (CO2). These gases are a byproduct of burning fossil fuels (gas, oil, and coal) and their effect on our planet are soberly laid out in Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet (2010).

Eaarth may be three years old but its message and forecasts sound like tornado warning sirens. By presenting myriad evidence of climate changes already underway McKibben describes the consequences of our 150+ year history of burning fossil fuels. Last year in Colorado we experienced the Waldo Canyon Fire on the edge of Colorado Springs, the High Park Fire outside of Ft. Collins, and severe drought conditions throughout much of the state. 2012 was the hottest year on the planet in human history!

What is even more horrific is what lies ahead given the "New Math" of fossil fuel reserves. In his July 24, 2012 article in Rolling Stone, McKibben talks about three numbers we need to wrap our minds around:

  • 2 Degrees Celsius - the maximum average temperature the earth's atmosphere can heat up to if we are to prevent catastrophic climate change;
  • 565 gigatons of CO2 - the maximum amount of carbon the atmosphere can absorb to prevent the average atmospheric temperature from heating up 2 degrees celsius; and
  • 2,795 gigatons of CO2 - the amount of carbon that would be dumped into the atmosphere if all fossil fuel reserves were mined/extracted and burned.

The truth of these numbers boggles the mind. It is the buried fossil fuel we are planning to burn that is the biggest problem. It contains five times more carbon (if released) than our atmosphere can handle to stay under the 2 degree celsius warming limit. On Sunday night thousands of people around the country watched a 45 minute documentary culled from last autumn's "Do the Math" Tour and discussed it with their fellow community members in homes, churches, and other gathering places.

I find it somewhat existential to be contemplating the destruction of human civilization and the ecosystem as we know it if we do not shift our energy and economic paradigms. The biggest obstacle to making those shifts appears to be the fossil fuel industry's role in perpetuating our energy reliance on coal, gas, and oil in order to extract every last drop of the reserves for profit. Perhaps that is why over 40,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C. on February 18, 2013 to demand that President Obama veto the completion of the Keystone XL pipeline. Perhaps that is why James Hansen, the recently retired premier climate scientist in the U.S. and author of Storms of my Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity, wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times last May explaining why the tar sands carbon content means game over for the climate. Maybe that is why I carpooled to Grand Island, Nebraska last week to testify at a State Department hearing regarding the construction of that pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada to the oil refineries along the coast of Texas.

So on this Eaarth Day I am pledging to focus on the issues of global warming, climate instability, and pollution. I will be writing future blogs on books, films, and other information sources in an attempt to explain the science and the politics of climate change. I will also share my personal attempts to weave new energy and economic paradigms toward sustainability into my life. It is clear to me that we human beings have to make a transition to a post carbon economy if we are to survive in the future. It would behoove us to recognize that "there is no Planet B" and that it is only through our collective actions that we can put the brakes on runaway climate change and the demise of our species and ecosystem. I am looking forward to an ongoing conversation with the Denver Public Library community about what we need to do to make that transition.

Comments

I admit, I never spend too much time thinking about these issues and realize I can't expect others to take on my part of the responsibility. I am looking forward to learning more from your continued work.

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