Last night I finally watched An Inconvenient Truth. Obviously, it brings into graphic clarity the effects of what we’re doing on the planet and to the planet, and the consequences to us for doing so. The thought that the undisputed and ongoing melting of the polar ice caps will result in a possible 100 million refugees from low-lying areas is truly mind-boggling. And yet amid all the obviousness of what Al Gore presents, there seems to be a somewhat misplaced message: that resolving this issue is the government’s responsibility. “Someone should do something about it” sort of thing. And while there are suggestions of contacting elected officials and lobbying them, and I do think that those are important, I feel that the greatest groundswell of change can come from the individual. I am flashing back on an article on National Geographic last summer on Swarm Theory. It basically states that in any group of animals (bees, wildebeests, salmon, migratory birds), the individual isn’t smart enough to resolve the group’s issues of survival. However, if the individual acts in the interest of the group, the group intelligence can indeed result in survival and even thriving. Perhaps we can take a page from their book and individually act in what each of us perceives to be the best for the group, and then there’s the hope that we as a species will survive. In that respect, resolving this issue isn’t a government’s responsibility (well, it is, but if the political system is controlled by other interests, it’s a much too slow and inefficient way of getting there to actually make a difference) so much as an individual responsibility. The climatecrisis.net website associated with the film does have good suggestions for individual actions, but the overall rating process of how well each person is doing in terms of making a difference is unfortunately misleading. I came out with flying colors because I don’t own a car and don’t travel very often by plane. But years ago I took a similar, though much more in-depth test, on BBCNews.com, and I didn’t really come out with such flying colors: it would take 2.2 earths to support my lifestyle if everyone lived like me. I live by myself; I live in a country that is very ineffective in its use of energy; I am not vegan; I have a hot water heater and a refrigerator that not only required lots of carbon emissions to make, but run 24 hours a day; and I have access to all the lights, computer equipment, buses that run whether there are passengers on them or not, and supermarkets that use resource-intensive packaging that can sometimes be recycled, sometimes not, and even if it is recyclable, it takes a lot of energy to do so. Not to mention that I eat frozen items and some of my food and purchased items come from thousands of miles away. So 2.2 earths indeed would be necessary to support the planet if everyone had a lifestyle like my own, a far more sobering thought than the fact that I’m far better than the national average in terms of my carbon footprint.
So, I need to start working on these things. Buying unprocessed food and cooking it is a start; and though I don’t care for the light given off by compact fluorescent bulbs, I can certainly replace half of the conventional bulbs in my house with them and supplement the quality of light with the other half of the incandescent variety. And come up with some strategy to my consumption of durable goods (all of which come from China) and see if I can get the management of the apartment building where I live to become part of Seattle’s Clean Green program so food scraps wind up being composted as opposed to mixed with inorganic matter in a landfill that gives off gases. And I suppose that living in a shared space would greatly diminish the issue of a fundamentally inefficient heater and refrigerator.
I have to say that there seems to be the belief that Americans are incapable of seeing the need for radical change in their lifestyles. “Don’t own a car; or if you must, think of every possible alternative before driving it” or “forget about setting the AC thermostat – have no AC unless you live somewhere where you’ve got desert temperatures” or “don’t buy packaged food” or “rethink your durable goods needs” would get us a lot closer to carbon neutral, but somehow there’s the belief that Americans can’t stomach these concepts or act on them.
I did like it that the film pointed out that solutions do already exist, each of which contributes to resolving the issue; and that if we implemented all of them, it would be possible to reverse the trend of global warming.