In April, I discussed an editorial that attempted to downplay the danger of carbon emissions, in part by pointing out that the rate of carbon release to the atmosphere had slowed down in recent years. I tried to emphasize that a reduction in the rate of increase does not mean that everything’s suddenly okay. Generally speaking, you might find that a lot of my commentary here carries the message that recent progress is wonderful, but must be ongoing, and that short-term gains should never overshadow the severity of the problems we face or the amount of work to be done.
Now, recent research reported on at Science Daily strongly reinforces the notion that recent, slight reductions in the rate of carbon emissions are practically irrelevant considering the huge numbers we are dealing with every year. That research compares information about current carbon release to geological data about the twenty-thousand year period 55.9 million years ago known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. During this period, the global temperature rose eleven degrees Fahrenheit, and the scientific evidence shows that this coincided with a vast increase in the concentrations of carbon in the atmosphere. Thus, scientists have recently been looking at the PETM period as the closest historical parallel to current global warming trends. The new analysis indicates that carbon is now being released into the atmosphere at a rate that is ten times faster than it was during the PETM.
That is a powerful statistic, and it should bring into sharp focus the extent of the challenges we are facing in the form of carbon emissions and global warming. In a time when human activity is having so profound and so unprecedented an impact on our environment, we cannot rightly take pride in our efforts to counteract it unless those efforts are reflected in our entire lifestyle. It will take nothing short of a societal transformation to bring carbon emissions back down to a reasonable level. We can start by driving fuel-efficient cars, or hybrids or electric, and can also certainly drive less or not at all. We can offset our carbon footprints by conserving at home and using energy-efficient appliances. And at the level of government and businesses and charitable organizations, we must work to plant trees, and institute bamboo agro forestry, and develop cleaner industrial processes and infrastructure, and market products that can be produced more efficiently.
Everything that we can do we must do for the sake of promoting a greener, more sustainable world. Many of those alternatives ultimately require collective action or the sort of high-profile investment the average person can’t afford. But absolutely everything begins at the level of the individual, whether by reducing your personal energy consumption, or by promoting environmental causes in your community or by putting pressure on your political representatives to take up green initiatives, or by purchasing environmentally sustainable products and supporting the most environmentally conscious businesses while boycotting the worst. By buying bamboo sheets and bamboo clothing, you make high quality green products part of a comprehensive lifestyle of environmental change, and you support a resource that can help to capture some of the copious amounts of carbon that are being rapidly poured into the atmosphere. Consider that as one of many options for working to counteract the unwitting damage done in modern times. When the situation we’re facing is worse than it’s been in 55.9 million years, it takes more than a little progress, and more than a little effort, to turn it around.