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Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth Day 2013

Today is Earth Day.  Forty three years ago, the modern environmental movement was born. The history of that movement, its growth, and its hard-won successes offer reason for hope for our planet - and ourselves. But of the many challenges facing our planet today, none is more daunting than mankind's fact-defying and suicidal conduct of history's largest uncontrolled chemistry experiment - the carbonization of our atmosphere.   

The link between atmospheric carbon and climate was identified a century ago, and the first warnings about climate disruption from increasing concentrations of anthropogenic CO2 came in the mid 1960's.  Indeed, in a special message to Congress in February 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson said: 

This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through . . . a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.

Then - as now - Congress didn't listen, and succeeding generations failed to change course.  Almost a half century later, hockey stick graphs, weather extremes, vanishing polar ice caps, and extinctions have yet to dislodge the political and economic hegemony of fossil fuels.  Denials of the obvious grow more hysterical and the tactics of deniers more vicious. And still, billions around the globe lack access to electricity, and their right to a better life and pursuit of it will only worsen an already existential threat. 

It's difficult, sometimes, to feel optimistic about the future. But we must. It's our only choice. We must defy the seemingly inexorable and inescapable logic of our fossil-fueled  addiction and lack of progress in kicking it.  We must imagine, in the spirit of that first Earth Day and all those since, a better, cleaner, and more just future.  Albert Einstein famously said:

Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere. 

But imagination alone is not enough. We must work to make that better, sustainable future real. John F. Kennedy wrote in Profiles in Courage:

In a democracy, every citizen, regardless of his interest in politics, “holds office”; every one of us is in a position of responsibility; and, in the final analysis, the kind of government we get depends upon how we fulfill those responsibilities. We, the people, are the boss, and we will get the kind of political leadership, be it good or bad, that we demand and deserve.

In the final analysis, the true solution to ending the global chemistry experiment, to adapting to the changes we’ve already locked in, to preventing what appear to be its unavoidable outcomes, and to building that just and sustainable world lies not in technology, but in ourselves.

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