The Hamilton Spectator
Collective insanity on climate change
Our Earth, estimated to be 4.5 billion years old, has been altered in many ways, by many events, over 47 geologic time periods, averaging 96 million years each. The earliest humans have only been around for two million years, a mere blip on the geologic time scale, but our impact on our environment and the Earth’s atmosphere has been outsized, most particularly in the past 200 years.
It’s alarming to think that one species, our species, could have such a profound and destructive effect in such a short time frame, and such is hubris that we blunder on, knowing our behaviour may lead to our own extinction.
So significantly have we altered the Earth’s climate systems that some scientists are in favour of calling the geological era in which we are living the Anthropocene epoch. According to the National Geographic Society “They argue for ‘Anthropocene’ — from anthropo, for ‘man,’ and cene, for ‘new’ — because humankind has caused mass extinctions of plant and animal species, polluted the oceans and altered the atmosphere, among other lasting impacts.”
Most of us are familiar with the greenhouse effect. We have pumped the atmosphere full of greenhouse gases, trapping heat, and rapidly warming up the earth.
In the past we have collectively risen to the challenges of ozone depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) through the Montreal Protocol and acid rain using the cap-and-trade mechanism. Greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, CFCs and several more, some thousands of times more potent than CO2 and generated worldwide from multiple sources, are different animals and far more difficult to rein in.
Estimates vary but about 70 per cent of the world’s total energy demands are met with fossil fuels, the remainder from renewables. We need to reverse these numbers, and quickly. Not only are we not making progress on reducing fossil fuel use, projections are for increased consumption of coal, oil and natural gas. As with many addictions, this is a difficult one to break, it has become so entrenched. The war in Ukraine, and reluctance of some governments, mainly authoritarian, to recognize, let alone get on board with greenhouse gas reductions, has only aggravated the problem.
For those who continue to deny human induced climate change, I quote Thomas Chalkley. “There are none so blind as those who will not see. The most deluded people are those who choose to ignore what they already know.” And from Matthew Henry: “None so deaf as those that will not hear.” Too many of us have been deaf and blind to the inconvenient truth of climate change.
If insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different outcome, then, clearly, we are experiencing a collective insanity. We know the outcome of continuing to burn fossil fuels yet we continue down this dangerous path. Is it wishful thinking that by some miracle we will avoid the worst consequences of climate change?
Millions of years from now will a future civilization dig up and burn the fossil remains of our civilization, committing the same crimes against their environment, or will the fossil records inform them of our mistakes, so they will follow a different course.
We seem to be immune to the warnings and exhortations of our climate scientists as we continue to burn fossil fuels, watch greenhouse gas levels and temperatures climb, experience worsening droughts and floods, food shortages and the swelling ranks of climate refugees.
The future is in our hands, but which future will we choose?