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Global Warming

Originally Posted November 2011


Dear Friends:

A couple of weeks ago my co-workers at HPE convinced me to go to what I believed would be the snooze fest of the year: A summit sponsored by the Palm Springs Sustainability Office headlined by a guy who has written books about global warming for the last 20+ years. I was sure it would be gloom and doom and nothing new for me on the global warming front.

Well, I was right about one thing, it wasn’t the most uplifting event I have gone to. But I was sure wrong about Global Warming, and so it seems was most everyone else.

The 2-300 people in attendance listened as Bill McKibben skipped my anticipated political bashing and condemnation for our dirty fuel consumption, but instead laid out the facts on what is going on around the world and basically highlighted how wrong he and the global warming scientist had been with their modeling and climate scenarios over the past two decades.

Without one hypothetical scenario or exaggerated truth he detailed how the poor Earth is in far worse shape environmentally than anybody thought it would be just 10 years ago. In fact he concludes that the Earth as we all have known it has gone and isn’t coming back, we, as a global civilization better wake up to this fact and make the moves now needed to survive, yes survive, on the new planet that we have created. Gloom and doom yes, snore fest, hardly.

I implore you to check out his website and to read as, I just did, his new book Eaarth. But for starters if you are unfamiliar with what “350” is all about I’ll try to summarize: in 2007 James Hansen of NASA and leading climatologist determined that the Earth ecosystem, the one we count on, can only sustain life for the long term if the carbon count in the atmosphere is at or below 350 parts per million. Currently at 390 PPM, the carbon count had stayed constant at 275 PPM for the 10,000 years prior to the industrial revolution and has been rising ever since, hmmm, currently increasing roughly 2 PPM per year. The implications of the higher PPM are, you guessed it, green house effect…aka Global Temperature Rise.

There are many reasons for this increase he tracks in the book; most obvious is the burning of fossil fuels: namely in order of carbon emissions, coal, oil, and natural gas and the destruction of carbon sinks (trees) to absorb the natural emissions. Scientist had previously pegged the PPM doomsday threshold at 650, 550, and 450 PPM but what is clear is that at 390, the irreversible damage is being done, and thus we are currently witnessing the destruction of the planet’s life-sustaining ecosystem right before our eyes.

Some current events of note: The north pole, whose white snow deflects much of the suns rays during the summer months is melting witnessed by the first northern sea passage without and need of an ice breaker; glaciers are disappearing, causing ruin for millions of people who live downstream and have for thousands of years; the oceans are rising and are too acidic to support coral reefs and krill, and are warmer causing flooding and more frequent and more violent storms world wide; winters are shorter causing less snow pack to provide annual water, and causing the great forests to be more susceptible to fire and disease. Sadly there are too many to mention here. Just look at the unprecedented monsoons that caused the flooding in Pakistan for further example. The changes and effects are marked and real. Floods, drought, fires, famine, you name it and its really going on. And right now.

Where everyone got it wrong was not in predicting that global warming was going to happen, but in predicting how fast even minor global temperature change would have real effects. At 390 PPM the cat is out of the bag and we are in a real fight, right now. As McKibben said in his lecture, “this is not a problem for our grandchildren; this was a problem for our grandparents.”

Now I know that this is a bummer of a letter to send right before Thanksgiving, and there is a part of me that would really like not to send it. Just like there is a part of me that wakes up each day wishing I hadn’t gone to the damn Summit, and that this would all just go away. But sadly it isn’t.

The truth is we have had a great run as a nation and been truly blessed by Mother Nature from that first Pilgrim celebration. We have built a nation based on growth and abundance and have prevailed, and yes we have had a lot to be thankful for. But now more than ever its time for us to accept the gifts we have been given with some humility. I think its time for us to say, “Thank you for everything, but really that’s plenty. What can I do for you?”

The truth is there are a lot of people out there that are much closer to environmental disasters than we are in the US. Although the good people of Louisiana may disagree. As it stands there are countries that provide less than a fraction of the overall carbon emissions that are losing their land and water as a result of global warming. We as a nation have about 6% of the population and account for over a third of the carbon emissions. That’s even since we stopped making things so our goods we buy and ship to our shores account for even more…I guess what I am trying to say is that I hope we as Americans will stop denying our impact on the world’s ecosystem.

If we stop ignoring it or claiming it’s a problem we need to address in future generations, and instead admit it’s real and that we share significantly in its creation, we could collectively and actively all make the serious cultural and economic changes needed to make a difference. While I hate to use war analogies, this climate change is a war on humanity. It is a national threat, and an international one that needs fighting on all levels.

350 represents a number that we can strive for. From crossing the continent, to putting a man on the moon, we Americans love a goal. Look what we did in the 1940’s. We went from isolated peace to winning two wars around the globe in less than a decade. It took gumption and sacrifice and our collective American kick ass attitude. We had our targets, and our backs were against the wall, and we kicked ass. Well we have our target. 350 ppm. And our backs are certainly against the wall. What are we going to do?

We all should be extremely Thankful for the bounty we have received and pledge to show our thanks by actively pursuing and promoting more sustainable choices as individuals and as a society.

Nate Otto & David Herrlinger

P.S. please feel free to give any feedback. We are trying hard to make HPE a source of info for all of neighbors and friends. We are not about politics or pointing fingers; we are about addressing real threats and making smart choices. We want to make sure what we offer helps our everyday life.

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