America is at a crossroads

We live in interesting times, perhaps a time like no other in all of history. There is no precedent for the challenges now confronting us regarding measurable and ongoing climate change. Unlike past crises, such as World War II, when Americans stepped forward and made incalculable sacrifices, what looms on the near horizon almost defies comprehension or description. It transcends all discussions of homeland security. It's not the homeland that is at risk but our planet.

What is startling is that we are not responding as if this were an approaching worldwide catastrophe. Some scientists say we have an eight-year window of opportunity to begin cutting greenhouse gases. Others say far less.

What is indisputable is that we must begin to alter our course of rapaciously consuming the world's natural resources.

Currently we are overfishing the oceans to the point that some species are on the brink of extinction (tuna is but one example). Rain forests are cut and cleared at a rate that takes your breath away. Demographers anticipate environmental refugees could number in the millions due to rising sea levels, drought, crop failure and severe shortages of potable water. We are told that this is an emergency unlike anything mankind has ever faced. And yet the band plays on.

The reality is that nations, to include the U.S. (which consumes 25 percent of the world's resources), are taking little if any commensurate action. Consensus remains elusive if not completely out of reach, no matter the treaties signed (or walked away from). The fact is, according to Robert Socolow and Stephen Pacala of Princeton University, we need to reduce carbon emissions by 25 billion tons over the next 50 years if we are to impact climate change. And we need to reframe our approach to consumption, nationally and individually.

The fact that the world community seems incapable of taking collective action creates an interesting dilemma for every individual who has concluded that climate change and resource depletion are problems which must be confronted. If nations, to include our own, lack the will to act boldly, then what is our own moral responsibility? If we do nothing, if we wait for governments to step forward, hope for a Global Warming Manhattan Project, are we merely avoiding taking personal action? It's a crossroads unlike any before. It just doesn't feel like it.

Michael Pollan, in a recent New York Times Magazine article, "Why Bother?," asks a relevant question, framed initially by wondering what possible difference it can make if each of us changes a light bulb in one lamp, or hauls out to the curb the blue-lidded container filled with paper. Most of the world is living like there's no tomorrow. Will it really make a difference if you or I turn our lives inside out, meaning we go green well beyond remembering to turn out the lights, or worrying about our aggregate carbon footprint?

Pollan fears that there is some "carbon-foot-print doppelganger in Shanghai or Chongqing who has just bought his first car, is eager to swallow every bite of meat I forswear and who's positively itching to replace every last pound of CO2 I'm struggling no longer to emit."

What exactly would any of us have to show for our troubles? asks Pollan. Let's say we go hard-core. Decide to do more than assuage our environmental consciences. Garage the car (hybrid) unless absolutely necessary, ride a bike, wear sweaters during the cold season and leave the heater off as much as possible, resurrect the backyard clothes line and ditch the dryer, convert the house to solar, tear up the lawn and plant a garden. In other words, go so green you're almost magenta.

At this point, all things considered, will it make any difference?

Or is that asking the wrong question? Perhaps the question to ask is: how can we not? No matter the planet's prognosis. The revolution must start with each of us deciding to truly revolutionize our lives environmentally.

And what the rest of the world does is what the rest of the world does. Ignore the White House, which, when recently asked about an environmental policy, had but three rejoinders: Drill in Anwar (we can drill our way out of our energy crisis), develop nuclear energy (not to worry about nuclear waste and storage) and build more refineries.

Each of can't wait for our national leadership to formulate a coherent policy or for the U.N. to declare a global emergency; by then it will be too late.

As Pollan points out, there are already "terrifying feedback loops (which) threaten to boost the rate of change exponentially, as the shift from white ice to blue water in the Arctic absorbs more sunlight and warming soils everywhere become more biologically active, causing them to release their vast stores of carbon into the air. Have you looked into the eyes of a climate change scientist recently?" Pollan asks. "They look really scared."

But Pollan argues that though the scale of the problem is massive, what we do as individuals is critical because "the climate-change crisis is at its very bottom a crisis of lifestyle &

of character, even. The Big Problem is nothing more or less than the sum total of countless everyday choices, most of them made by us (consumer spending represents 70 percent of our economy)..."

One final thought: it may be the case that as a species we are hardwired to only make profound and life-altering changes in response to pending crises. Perhaps, with relatively few exception, we will react only when confronted directly with the fallout from climate change and resource depletion and not before. For now, the band will play on.

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