Thursday, January 7, 2016

2016: The Year of Living Differently?

That was nice. The last two months of the year filled with optimism, generated mostly by a new federal government. Lots of cooing and gushing about positive change.

And a cheery - albeit mild and snowless - Christmas season. I can still hear the echoes of Frank Sinatra crooning “Have yourself a merry little Christmas,” the tune that assures us that from now on our troubles will be out of sight.

Not quite. When we woke up New Year’s Day the world’s worries remained, looming tall and threatening. The largest is global warming, which should be obvious considering our scary December weather.

The Paris climate change summit last month left many people feeling more relaxed about the global warming threat. The summit of 196 countries agreed to slow the rate of global warming, although there were few specifics on how that might be done.

We have to be hopeful that the Paris agreement will set us on a path to saving  our deteriorating planet. The odds are against us, however.

To begin with, the world relies on coal and oil for roughly two-thirds of its energy needs.  There no longer is much doubt that continued uncontrolled use of both has the potential to make the earth uninhabitable.

World coal consumption declined in 2015, however many economic forecasters believe coal use will increase in coming years. Coal is abundant and far cheaper to produce power than oil or natural gas. 

In 2013, the World Resources Institute estimated that 1,200 new coal-fired power plants were being planned throughout the world. The majority were in China and India, countries where economic growth is booming and demanding more power sources.

Coal is the key fuel in these two countries, and in many developing nations, and its use is expected to increase worldwide until at least 2020.

Also, the number of motor vehicles in the world surpassed one billion in 2010. Their number today is estimated at 1.2 billion and expected to double to 2.5 billion by 2050. Ninety-eight per cent of them burn gasoline or diesel.

With 2.5 billion vehicles, average fuel efficiency will have to double just to keep carbon emissions at today’s level. However, scientists suggest that we will need to cut average carbon emissions by 80 per cent to stabilize the impacts of global warming.

Coal and oil use are not the only threats to the world environment. The greatest threat is ourselves and our production-based lifestyle.

The Christmas season just passed is an example. The U.S. energy department estimates that decorative seasonal lights consume 6.6 billion kilowatt hours of electricity every year in that country. That is more than the total annual national electrical consumption of many developing countries.

This is one small example of the runaway consumerism and overproduction that our society needs to rethink. We need to talk about how we can live more simply with less.

We have made impressive advances in trying to control our pollution. Recycling, composting, solar and wind energy, automotive pollution controls are examples. But these are controls that slow, but not stop, our environmental degradation.

What we need is a change in attitude. An attitude that helps us understand that our planet does not exist only for us. It exists for everything. Everything in the world is connected and has a purpose, and everything deserves our respect.

I see lack of respect whenever I take a walk along Highway 35. The shoulders and ditches are strewn with beer and pop cans, water bottles, paper coffee cups, juice boxes, cigarettes packs and a variety of plastic containers.

On my walks I usually find one piece of garbage every 20 steps. All this is crap tossed from vehicle windows. It’s hard to imagine how we will stop global warming when people still throw garbage from carbon-emitting vehicles that are growing at an alarming rate.

Now there is talk of populating a new planet. That I guess goes with the thinking that when you fill one garbage dump you simply find another.

I like living here and don’t want to move. So instead of booking a seat on the first populating mission to Mars, I’ll try lessening my individual impacts on the world.


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