Monday, April 16, 2007

The REAL Doomsday Clock

Gen. Anthony Zinni: "We will pay to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today, and we'll have to take an economic hit of some kind. Or we will pay the price later in military terms. And that will involve human lives. There will be a human toll."

That quote is a pretty good introduction to the "REAL Doomsday Clock," a new feature on this blog that will track the impending disaster that climate change will have on our world in the coming years. What most people consider the Doomsday Clock is the creation of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists at the University of Chicago for the purpose of alerting the public of the possibility of a nuclear war, one that would presumably wipe out large amounts of the world. The image of such destruction being caused by climate change is a less action-packed picture, but the end result is similarly grim.

When "An Inconvenient Truth" was released last year, many thought that Al Gore's focus on the environment and his desire to bring it into the public spotlight would fail miserably. As eager as I was to jump on the "realist/pessimist" view that the issue would get kicked aside after a few weeks, it turns out that there seems to be a mini environmentalist revival springing up everywhere. Even without millions of people marching on Capitol Hill (except for MAYBE this coming July), the world is, without the possibility of denying it, moving towards a state of increased consciousness about our planet and our role in protecting it.... THANK GOD!

My daily sweep of usually turns up a story about a symbolic turning off of lights in a major city or a new report on global warming or climate change. Those stories that would have been assigned to the smaller news tab on the side of the page are now the headline story, albeit for only a few hours.

The way in which I internalize all that is going on right now is much different than the approach we're often told to follow to start solving problems. Whether or not you agree with Al Gore on his political stances, I admire the man for his dedication to an issue that doesn't lie in the mainstream and that, at least not yet, isn't aimed at gaining him more votes. In his movie, Gore stresses an attitude of what I call "inspired action." People react to all this news of global warming and climate change in unique ways, and I think Gore's approach is a positive compromise that many of us can learn from. Essentially, most Americans fall into one of these four catagories:

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1) Global warming is the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people" (United States Senator James Inhofe (R)-OK)

2) The "I'm a conservationist, not an environmentalist" group--basically, I'm not willing to go out and buy a Prius or pressure automakers into improving car emissions standards, but I treasure my woods and rivers so I can hunt and fish. Believe me, this view isn’t perfect, but I think a lot of people are moving from the denial category into this one, and these guys (who include Senator John McCain and Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, both presidential candidates) are the demographic whose support of the environmental movement will start off the (inevitable) protests and demonstrations that will pave the way towards change.

3) Me....and, I believe, a bunch of others--I will elaborate later.

4) The heart of the environmental movement. For the sake of keeping this article focused, I won't divide this group up--doing so would create a mess and get a few people upset.

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"An Inconvenient Truth" stresses that change IS At the same time, however, there is no need for despair, for if we each do our part and shake some of our bad habits, than we can see some positive change. Sounds good to me!

In the past few months since the movie was released, I've run into a major problem. Basically, I'm really starting to get concerned. The mark that "An Inconvenient Truth" has ultimately left on my heart and mind is that we do, in fact, need change right now. Instead of looking at every positive change around me and being inspired, however, I find myself losing sleep over each instance in which someone else shows complete disregard for the environment.

One fitting example of this took place on a series of recent visits to Starbucks in and around Boston, Massachusetts. With all their culturally-conscious books, CDs, fair-trade coffee, etc., I have been completely heartbroken and, frankly, fumingly upset that after finishing my pomegranate ice teas I have no place to recycle my plastic cup. When I asked if there was a place I could responsibly dispose of my cup in the store, the employee's response was a quick and unconcerned "no." While I think a company can and should balance both environmentally-friendly operations and fair-trade practices (just an example issue), I would much rather know that the store that delivers its products to millions and millions of people around the world each day is concerned about more than just making a few more cents by slapping a "our beans our fair trade!" sticker on their products. Like BP with their green and cheery logo, should do more than hide behind a conscious-looking logo. It wouldn't take much for Starbucks purchase some recycling bins, so why don't they?

It's this kind of constant frustration that makes me often want to become an active member of an environmental group, and perhaps, sometime in the near future, you'll see me picketing in front of Starbucks HQ (but that's highly unlikely).

Also, if I had enough influence to get them all together, I'd love to have Al Gore, John McCain, and the head of a large environmental group get together and have a discussion about the environment. Even better, broadcast it on NBC, primetime. No documentaries to sleep through, no musical appearances by Melissa Etheridge, just a serious and practical discussion for everyone to see.

In closing I'd like to summarize what Senator John McCain said at a recent New Hampshire campaign stop that I attended.

-If we ignore all of those that say global warming doesn’t exist, and we don't do anything, what are we going to do in twenty years when we realize that we were wrong? But, if we decide to take steps now to fix the problems that many predict, the worst that could happen is that we leave our kids with a cleaner planet. If the scientists that say global warming does exist are right, perhaps we could avert a crisis with action now-

John McCain is not a pioneer in the field of environmentally orientated politics, but what he said inspired me in a way that I hadn't felt in a long time. Whether you experience God in a church, mosque, or temple, our planet is the largest sanctuary known to man, and it’s our responsibility to protect it.

Anybody want to picket Starbucks with me?

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