The human race has now grown
in power and size to the point when we must make peace with the earth.
200 years ago we embarked on the industrial age, powering our advances
with fossil fuels. Over this short time in our species' history, we
have used roughly half of the affordable mineral energy accumulated by
the earth over the course of millions of years and, if we don't change,
we will burn through the remainder in much less time. During this time
we have learned many wonderful things, but we still power our society
with the same dirty fuel that powered the first steam engine 200 years
ago. The pollutants thus created are literally changing the earth's
climate. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
assembled several thousand scientists from all over the world to sign a
statement saying, that to the best of their knowledge, the resulting
global warming will cause measurable harm.
The well-respected British Stern Report estimates that to fix these
problems, using current technology, will cost us up to several percent
of our current economic output. This is about what we expend on our
current war, but then we can't really afford to fight a war
indefinitely. This commission estimates that to continue to ignore this
problem will cost our society upwards of 20 percent of our economic
output. This is more than our society pays all of its workers. The cost
includes turning hundreds of millions of people into refugees, seeking
new lands to live in. Left unsaid is the likelihood that the ensuing
strife over resources and land will destroy all of the civility and
freedoms we now enjoy. In such a future, no one could ever be safe.
Step It Up is asking the US Congress to follow the lead of such cities
as London and New York, and such states as California, New York, New
Jersey, and now Pennsylvania, and such countries as Denmark and Germany
to meaningfully reduce our climate-changing carbon emissions. We're
asking our government to help us reduce these emissions very
significantly, by a factor of 5 in the next 4 decades. This will
require readily-visible changes in our cities and towns over our
children's generation, but it will likely save our grandchildren from a
fate we associate with third world countries.
Now lets get to what we must give up. From a scientific point of view,
we are asking America to reduce its carbon emissions to a level which
is still above Europe's current per person emmissions. If you've
traveled to these lands, you'd know that's not a big sacrifice. Over
the last several years, one of our organizers, trained as an engineer,
and her husband, have reduced their carbon emissions by the same amount
we are asking of our country to achieve over the next 40 years. How has
this affected them? Well, they moved back to the city from the suburbs.
And they're living much more efficiently, so over the next few years,
though they will talk about gas price increases, but they will not be
much affected by them. Still, she wants to be a leader in this area.
She would like to reduce her emissions by a factor of 20 as one of our
other organizers has done. He is the kind of guy who will take you
around his house, proudly showing you the many little improvements he's
made to reach that level. To reach that level, she fears she will have
to give up some of the hot showers she loves. One of our energy experts
chimed in with possible improvements she could make to her home to
avoid that. But the die was cast, we were now talking about what
changes we were willing to make for the good of our country and our
children. And for landlords and auto manufacturers, we're talking about
something that amounts to efficiency standards.
Global warming is not a technical issue, although it is technologically
challenging. Even now engineers are hotly debating the best
technologies to use. Nor is it a economic issue, although it is
economically challenging. World war II was much more disruptive to our
economy than what we're talking about. It is a moral and religious
issue. These are arenas we have turned our back on for a whole
generation. In the 60's we addressed a race problem we had ignored for
a 100 years. We stopped a pointless war. We traveled to the moon, and
we even set our sights on the perennial issue of poverty. But as with
all of life, there are cycles. By the 80's we were being told that
selfishness is patriotic. We were told that if we were not well off
enough to devote our lives to material accumulation, the tide of an
ever-growing economy would lift all boats until we could. Capitalism
and the free market were diverted from making American products the
best and most innovative to making the most money during the next
quarter, and making CEO bonuses unheard of since the days of the robber
barons. It is symptomatic that the current solution to auto emissions,
ethanol fuel, is far more loved by special interests for its
profitability for current industry, than by engineers for its
effectiveness or efficiency.
Global warming is an aggregate problem. It is the earth and all living
creatures, on whom we depend on for our food, water, and the air,
joining the Prophets' call for justice. We can produce electric sports
cars which use no gasoline, can out drag race any production car, and
are affordable by our affluent. But if the humble, living in HUD
housing, with an aging SUV parked in front of their poorly-insulated
apartment are not on board, the expensive savings of the few will not
amount to anything. Global warming is a problem which can only be
solved by and for all Americans, by truly lifting all boats towards a
better life for us and all creatures of the earth, or it will not work.
We will have to make changes, and make them as an entire community.
What we can't afford to do is make no decisions, continuing to do
exactly what we did last month, only slowing slowly paying more, until
we all choke in our private stubbornness. What Step It Up is really
calling for are true leaders who will take us into the future.
Andy Wright, this site's web-master and, if you couldn't guess, an engineer by training.