Decarbonization Is Our Salvation
In Jurassic World, the latest installment in Steven Spielberg’s cloned-dinosaurs-run-amok franchise, a frantic aunt risks life and limb to save her young nephews from a pack of (what else?) rampaging, drooling dinosaurs. Back in the real world, though, too many adults seem unperturbed that another prehistoric relic, the fossil fuel industry, is literally choking our children’s windpipes. Toxic fumes from coal-fired power plants harm us all, but young lungs and little bodies are especially vulnerable.
So, on a fittingly hot and smoggy July 7th, 500 grown-ups and children from all over the country gathered in Washington, DC’s Upper Senate Park for the Moms Clean Air Force Play-In for Climate Action. The event kicked off in the morning with live music, speakers, games, puppets, and arts-and-crafts activism for the kids, followed by a march up to Capitol Hill to ask our legislators to put the health of their littlest constituents first and embrace clean energy alternatives to dirty ol’ coal.
Air pollution doesn’t just aggravate asthma and allergies. It contributes to climate change, which in turn worsens a long list of other health problems that you might not even realize are connected to global warming. Rising sea levels and an increase in the severity, frequency and duration of floods, fires, heatwaves, hurricanes, tornadoes, and droughts threaten the lives of millions of people all over the world. Victims of these disasters are often left with long term anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. Climate change can also lead to food shortages and create an environment where bacteria and disease-bearing insects like tics and mosquitos flourish.
The health care professionals who treat asthmatic children gasping for breath every day know that we’re facing the single greatest public health crisis the world has ever known. Pope Francis has called on everyone, Catholic or not, to recognize that we have a moral imperative to fight climate change. And the Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change issued a report last month calling for “a rapid phase out of coal from the global energy mix” in order to protect cardiovascular and respiratory health. The Lancet Commission advocates ‘decarbonization’ — i.e., shifting from coal to clean energy alternatives — as the fastest, most effective way to simultaneously mitigate climate change and address some of our most pressing health problems.
Just imagine, if Americans could embrace carbon-cutting with the same enthusiasm the paleos have shown for carb-cutting, we’d regain some of the ground we’ve lost through decades of dithering. As the Lancet Commission points out, “we have the tools needed to achieve emission targets to avoid catastrophic climate change.” That’s right, we already have the technologies we need. In fact, according to the Lancet Commission, we’ve known how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for at least 40 years.
We know, too, how to clean crude oil off the wings of seabirds after an oil spill — a dash of Dawn in hot water. What we haven’t figured out is how to get the oily fingerprints of the fossil fuel industry off our legislative process. As long as our energy policies and environmental regulations are being essentially dictated by the oil, coal and gas industries, it’s going to be an uphill battle to transition to alternative energy sources.
The Lancet report is written in the dispassionate, scholarly style you’d expect from one of the world’s most prestigious medical journals. A paragraph discussing the potential impacts of various climate-related events begins by saying, “Such impacts (and their interactions) are unlikely to be trivial and could be sufficient to trigger a discontinuity in the long-term progression of humanity.”
In other words, we need to turn to the sun, wind and water to keep the lights on and the engines running. If we keep digging up coal, we’ll be digging our way back to the Stone Age. Paleo diets and digital dinosaurs may be all the rage right now, but trust me, you don’t want to go there.
Let’s take the know-how we already have and marry it to the can-do spirit that once defined America. Enough with the foot dragging. Enough with the knuckle dragging. At a Toronto conference this past week, described by the Los Angeles Times as a kind of “pep rally for green-minded government officials weary of resistance to stronger action from national leaders,” California Governor Jerry Brown observed that “We have a lot of troglodytes south of the border.”
Brown’s climate change-denying colleagues are staunchly opposed to his proposed legislation to reduce gasoline use and promote greater efficiency and renewable energy. “We have to redesign our cities, our homes, our cars, our electrical generation, our grids — all those things” Brown said. “And it can be done with intelligence. We can get more value from less material.”
Yes, we can — if the cavemen in Congress don’t stop us. To paraphrase the Beach Boys, I wish they all could be California guv’s.
Photo: Ted Fink Photography