The Copenhagen climate talks are behind us and the results were, shall we say, suboptimal. Despite dire warnings from the world’s brightest scientists, along with more than ample physical evidence of the need for immediate action, the world’s leaders have again, well, failed to lead. Spectacularly I might add. Copenhagen yielded no new treaty or binding agreement to address the issue of climate change. Some said it was doomed to fail; that it had a snowball’s chance in hell to create meaningful change. With leadership like that, who needs enemies?
2009 was a year like none other in the history of our species. With each breath, we took in more carbon dioxide than any other human being in history.
Our numbers continued to rise rapidly while available land became increasingly scarce due to desertification and sea level rise. Just ask someone from Tuvalu or the Maldives. Our demand for fresh water continued unabated while supplies dwindled with each lost glacier; just ask someone from Nepal (or Las Vegas). The term Peak Oil is axiomatic, but the term Peak Everything is actually more appropriate.
It is a tradition on the last day of the year to pause briefly to reflect on the last twelve months. At this crucial point in time, I suggest a longer pause to reflect on the last couple of centuries. What are we doing to our home, our children and our future? Are we really so self-absorbed that we just can’t be bothered?
Perhaps you’re one of the “non-believers” who think the idea of anthropogenic climate change is a hoax. No matter. Water, oil, food and clean air are still major issues, even when viewed through rose-colored glasses. Although there was a time when many adamantly believed otherwise, the earth has always been spherical.
Nature doesn’t negotiate. Do you think immigration is a big issue? Sea levels are rising faster than ever expected and hundreds of millions of refugees, many from Bangladesh, will soon be looking for somewhere to go. A growing chorus of countries are calling for the nations most responsible for creating the problem (the U.S. is at the top of that list) to make room for those people. Failure to act decisively to curb climate change is tantamount to sending out enough green cards to double our population.
Here’s where the reflecting part comes in handy. Looking back on 2009 reveals seeds of promise for the future of civilization. Coal plants gave way to renewable energy. Leaky homes gave way to energy efficient ones. Detroit’s behemoths gave way to a race for high-mileage plug-in hybrids. The culture of “more is better” is giving way to a culture of “just enough is best” just as sure as Bernie Madoff’s mansions gave way to a jail cell. Cheap, fast construction is giving way to a new paradigm of green, high-quality, healthy buildings.
Green living is not just a cliché. It is a path toward a world we all know is possible. It is conscious living with a good dose of responsibility and compassion thrown in.
One good thing about reaching Peak Everything is that it’s all downhill from here, but not necessarily in a negative sense. Seeds of promise need a fertile valley to grow and thrive. They can’t survive long at the peak – no one can. As we keep pushing and building momentum, we gather strength. A snowball rolling from the top of a mountain can become an avalanche of change — if we can keep it from melting.
Let us make 2010 the year of the green avalanche. This is our opportunity to be a part of a conscious shift of unprecedented and stunning magnitude that will create incalculable benefits for millions upon millions of beings, human and non-human alike, for many generations to come. If we each do our best, we’ve got much more than a snowball’s chance…
Green Living column for Thursday, December 31, 2009, published in the Las Vegas Review Journal: “Snowball of change can lead to green avalanche”