There are only so many resources to extract and only so much land to fill with products we no longer use. Given the pace of climate change, time is limited.
In the course of producing what we consume, we have increased the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to higher levels than ever before. This needs to stop.
According to economist E.F. Schumacher, “Anyone who thinks consumption can expand forever on a finite planet is either insane or an economist.” Schumacher knew the kinds of thinking his colleagues were comfortable with. Economics prizes rationality, yet displays so much optimism about the ability of future technologies to solve problems caused by past technologies. When will we learn that scarcity is real and manage what we have more carefully?
Scientists know greenhouse gases have increased by studying bubbles of air preserved in ice that hasn’t melted for thousands of years. By drilling deep into glaciers and pulling out long sections of these ice cores, scientists can analyze the gases trapped there over time.
Ice cores show two interesting things: First, when large-scale processing of metal began in the ancient world, two to three thousand years ago, carbon in the atmosphere increased. This suggests that our desire to create new products has resulted in consequences for longer than we thought.
Second, ice cores give us a way to compare the atmosphere of today to past points in our history. As of this year, an observatory in Hawaii found 400 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere — a higher amount than at any point in the existence of our species. Our generation is not only remarkable for the beautiful operation of our mobile devices, but also for changing the environment more than any group of people who have ever lived.
Not every record is worth celebrating. Activists, including Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, an environmental organization created to raise awareness of the climate, are concerned that we are reaching a tipping point. McKibben and others fear that if we do not decrease emissions soon, the environment may not be able to go back to the way it was.
We evolved for thousands of years with a certain range of climatic conditions. Blithely venturing into the uncharted territory of a greenhouse planet could be bad for us and for future generations alike.
The primary mechanism for global warming, greenhouse gases, trap heat in the atmosphere, like greenhouse glass traps heat for plants. Science is challenged by business and government because the cost of accepting global warming as a fact would be large. If everyone knew the costs of economic growth powered by fossils fuels, there would be far more pressure to change how we power our production.
According to Earthjustice, 90 percent of climate scientists believe that global warming is taking place due to human behaviors. Now is the time to change.
Zach Wilson is a senior studying philosophy. What are your thoughts about climate change? Email him at email@example.com.