I could not sleep well and I got up in the middle of the night and I switched on both my Internet router and my computer. I did so because I felt guilty about having written a frivolous entry on the past twelve months from the viewpoint of personal memories (mostly related to running) against the background of some really far more important events having taken place across the world in 2013.
Of course, a blog is mostly a means to share personal thoughts, feelings, memories, etc with friends and strangers alike over the Internet and the topics treated are therefore most likely than not to be of a light-minded or non-serious nature unless one is writing in a professional capacity.
Leaving aside the system of mass surveillance put in place by Western governments which was revealed by Edward Snowden, the hundreds of workers to have died in factory fires in Bangladesh or the dozens on World Cup construction sites in Qatar, the thousands who were killed in Syria, Iraq or Sudan (to mention only these countries), the hundreds of thousands who are suffering because of the economic crisis and the subsequent austerity measures which have been put in place by misguided governments, I feel that the most pressing issue to have been brought to the fore this year is the dire state in which our environment is as a result of human-induced carbon dioxide emissions.
In May of this year, the 400 parts per million (ppm) threshold was passed for the first time in 2-5 million years. In 1958, when measurements were started at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii, the reading was 316 ppm and scientists believe atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide to have stood at 280 ppm at the start of the industrial revolution about two hundred years ago. The problem is that the last time the earth had seen such concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere its temperature was 3 to 4 degrees (Celsius) higher and the sea level was some 5 to 40 metres higher than it is today (source: What Does 400 ppm Look Like?).
Given the extreme weather events that took place in 2013 (there was even a tornado in Sardinia, which is very rare) and which resulted in thousands of lives lost and hundreds of thousands affected by the loss of loved ones, of their homes, of their means of economic sustenance etc, this does not bode well for humans (some fear the 1,000 ppm level could be reached by 2100).
So what can be done at a time when governments (whether left or right) in countries such as France, the UK, Spain and Poland are even keen to give the go-ahead to highly controversial practices like fracking and as (‘ Yes, he can’) Obama does not appear very inclined to veto the Keystone XL pipeline (which is intended to carry tar sands crude from Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast and which James Hansen, NASA’s ex chief scientist, has warned that it would mean ‘game over’ for the climate if this project is allowed to proceed)?
I think that first and foremost one should discuss this issue with relatives, friends and (why not?) even strangers based upon the assumption that the more people know about this critical issue, the more people will eventually try to hold their political representatives accountable for what is happening. Remember the words of the anthropologist Margaret Read:
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
Second, one should take responsibility for one’s way of life and therefore try to minimise as much as possible one’s own carbon footprint. There are some simple things one can do, for instance by eating less meat (read what the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation says about the impact of livestock farming in terms of greenhouse gas emissions), by insulating one’s home properly (and where possible using solar panels), eating local produce or growing your own vegetables (as my wife has been doing on our balcony), taking public transport (or cycling or even walking) rather than driving, prefer tap or fountain water to bottled water (although it is easier to do so here in Switzerland* than, say, in London, Mumbai or Singapore), etc. For more suggestions, try websites such as Twelve steps to help you kick the CO2 habit, 10 ways to go green and save green, 50 ways to help the planet, Five small steps to greening your home, take action or books like the following:
So to answer the question posed in the title, I guess it simply boils down to how many of us are prepared to take action, not to save the planet (because the planet does not need to be ‘saved’ by us as it will still be there in a million of years and it will bounce back, whatever the extent of the damage caused by us), but to save our own species and thousands of other species. As we say in French ‘le jeu en vaut la chandelle’ … ‘the outcome is well worth the effort’!
* The website of the municipality of Lausanne (the city where we live) claims that
Tap water is 1,000 times more environmentally friendly than bottled water
Each litre of mineral water imported into Switzerland is equivalent to 0.31 litres of petrol. Each litre of drinking water distributed through the public water distribution system is equivalent to only 0.0003 litres of petrol or about 1,000 times less energy.
- What Does 400 ppm Look Like?, The Keeling Curve (a daily record of atmospheric carbon dioxide from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego)
- Why did the 400ppm carbon milestone cause barely a ripple?, The Guardian, 30 May 2013
- Record 400ppm CO2 milestone ‘feels like we’re moving into another era’, The Guardian, 14 May 2013
- CO2 at highest level for millions of years, Financial Times, 10 May 2013
- Global carbon dioxide in atmosphere passes milestone level, The Guardian, 10 May 2013
Carbon dioxide in atmosphere at highest level for 5 million years, The Independent, 10 May 2013
- Climate milestone is a moment of symbolic significance on road of idiocy, The Guardian, 10 May 2013
- The climate change scorecard, by Dahr Jamail, TomDispatch, 17 December 2013
- 9 reasons why 2013 was not the best year in human history, Think Progress, 16 December 2013