Today, as I was researching for my latest article about oceans and their relationship to global warming, I was listening to a BBC radio interview and the interviewee mentioned that he often liked to pose this question to climate scientists and eco warriors alike whenever he met them. His question?
Where do you go on holidays? And overwhelmingly, the response was in favor of long-haul destinations.
Interesting. He then went on to outline their justification for being able to do the one thing that contributes more CO2 emissions into the atmosphere than anything else - they calculated that throughout the year they do quite a lot of good for the enviroment so it's acceptable that they have the 'right' to a long haul holiday (or two).
So...let's call a spade a spade. The educated scientists and conscientious eco-warriors who take these holidays have double standards. For them, the atmosphere seems to appear as some sort of huge bank account in the sky and as long as one puts more in than one takes out, there is no debt. Or rather, in the case of CO2, the less one contributes, the more one 'earns' in surplus that can be used back in the form of long-haul travel.
That kind of thinking is wrong. There is no 'surplus'. According to everything we are being told, the idea is to keep one's carbon footprint as small as possible, end of story. What makes matters much worse is when those who are enjoying a position of authority - who persist in forecasting doom and gloom scenarios - don't take their message home with them and live it. Lounging around on a beach in Thailand isn't going to give them much street cred with those who are trying to navigate their way through all the conflicting global warming information out there. Instead, this kind of behaviour invites others to do the same - further adding to the general confusion in society. People can't be blamed if they are honestly trying to do their bit by recycling and cutting back on their energy consumption, while thinking they are 'allowed' their holidays in return for their good behaviour. Especially when those they are listening to are setting the long-haul standard for them.
Most people do care about the planet. Most people do secretly worry that man is in deep trouble, and that maybe their children will be reaping some very unsavoury rewards not so long from now. Apart from a few insane bloggers out there who are more interested in causing offence than making a point, not many people are actually glorying in the polluting they are doing to the world everytime they start up their car, buy their groceries or heat their home. On the whole, people are good. People do care. But people have one huge failing: They live in denial. 'It's bad, but it's not that bad.'
Understandable. Our world feels so strong. Permanent. Unchanging. Planet Earth, a beautiful blue and white globe serenely floating in space. With her regular seasons and fixed warm countries and cold countries, it's hard to imagine her any other way. But let's interrupt that thought with a car accident. Probably most of you know someone who has been involved in a car accident, or maybe it has even happened to you. But until it happens to you, it's pretty hard to imagine the sound of the car crashing, or the violence of the momentum when contact happens, or how much the injuries can hurt. Other people can describe it to you in graphic detail, but without personal experience it can only ever be a product of the imagination at best.
And that's the trouble with getting the world's inhabitants to come to grips with the reality of climate change. Since the beginning of modern man - over six thousand years ago - no one has ever experienced it before. No one can really tell anyone for certain what will happen or how it will unfold. They can only guess. Imagine this, on our planet, in all the history of automobiles, there has never been a car accident, not one. Not even so much as a fender bender. Now imagine someone telling you that you might have one, one day and this is how it might go, based on scientific calculations. You listen and maybe you even think about it for a bit, given the amount of effort they put into their investigations. But you know that until it gets personal, it really doesn't mean anything at all. It's just words. It might never happen to you. It certainly hasn't happened to anyone else. Seems too far fetched to worry about. Now let's say they suggest you try this new idea they have, it's called a seat belt and it could save your life. This analogy might sound a little silly, but in essence it's a good indicator of how people think of climate change. It might happen, but it's not likely going to happen to me.
The world as we have known it for the last six thousand years is going to change into something new and dangerous, it will force us to live our lives differently if we wish to survive. We are the children of that exodus. In the future people might talk about how their parents and grandparents played little games with themselves, allowing themselves the right to contribute to the warming of the planet for 'good' behaviours like recycling. I wonder what it will be like for them to imagine us playing with their future that way. I wonder how it will be for them to look out on a world created by denial.
Originally published on Paradigms Bend Feb 11 2011