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Monday, October 6, 2014

"Fire! Fire!"

(This is a re-post of my August 3, 2014 article.)

If someone stood up in a public space such as a theater or shopping mall and started yelling “Fire, Fire!” what do you think people would do?  From an evolutionary perspective humans are barely out of the trees and our mammalian brains are still quite primitive in the way we respond to stimuli. What we would do in this situation is look around to see if we could see any fire and then sniff the air to see if we smelled smoke. Very primitive animalistic behavior that dates back millennia.  Then we would either do nothing or possibly verbally or even physically attack the person foolish enough to have triggered a fear response - this reaction stems from an ancient fight or flight response to threat.

Climate scientists have been doing the equivalent of yelling “Fire!” for over 20 years.  James Hansen who retired from an impressive career with NASA has been speaking publicly and warning anyone who will listen that climate change is a real and serious threat to humanity since the late 1980s.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed in 1988 under the auspices of the United Nations to provide credible information about climate change to world government bodies.  This group has been collating and disseminating comprehensive reports on a frequent basis, and each one has been more and more dire with warnings about the outcome of global warming.

Unfortunately, climate change does not present itself as a clear and present danger and thus our monkey brains do not respond with a sense of immediacy.  There is no clear and present risk to life, and the concept being abstract is not acted upon in a direct way. The threat is largely conceptual until we are confronted with an extreme weather event that may or may not be directly triggered by a changing global climate. Throughout the world for the last several years there have been so many extreme weather events that it is becoming routine to hear of massive floods, droughts, heat waves, hurricanes, hailstorms, tornadoes etc. This is the new normal and still our monkey brains have not correlated these direct threats to our lives with the big picture.

Climate scientists like to tell the story of the frog in the pot. If you drop a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will jump out immediately. But, if you place the frog in cool water and then slowly raise the temperature it will never notice until it has been boiled to death. So here we are swimming around in warming waters!

But we do have highly evolved brains with the capacity to extrapolate a threat into the future.  Intellectually anyone who grasps the concept of climate change realizes that it will inevitably impact their lives in some form or other. The question is what can we do about it? For myself, I have dabbled in the world of politics and years ago I supported Dennis Kucinich in his presidential campaign because he was brave enough to speak about these issues. I have also lobbied for, and testified in front of state committees in support of renewable energy legislation.  And have also worked on committees in my municipality to try to effect change. I have been so thoroughly discouraged by these experiences that I have now pulled back and I’m choosing to operate entirely within the realm of civil society.

Mahatma Gandhi is quoted as saying “Be the change you want to see in the world”, and that is what I am doing. By investing in renewable energy systems on my property and increasing the efficiency of my home and vehicles, I am modeling the change I would like to see in the world. By writing about it in social media I am sharing the choices that I have made and sincerely hope that in some small way I will influence other people to make similar decisions.

If you feel inspired to consider taking some direct action, I encourage you to visit the Sustainable Living section of my website where you will find pragmatic solutions that may resonate for you. I talk only about things that I have personally done to decrease my carbon footprint and live more sustainably, I make every attempt to keep my text clear and simple and I use lots of thoughtfully considered images.