The climate is a natural boundary that seems to be approaching a tipping point.
Think of an ordinary spring. When you stretch it after pulling it, it rebounds back to its original shape. However, there’s a limit: if you pull it too much, it won’t rebound at all; you’ll have turned a spring into a piece of curly wire. There’s a natural threshold beyond which you cannot stretch the spring and then have it do the same work.
The climate, too, has a natural boundary, a tipping point. There’s a global threshold beyond which it cannot be stretched and then have it do the same work.
I’m old enough not to need the Environmental Protection Agency to tell me the climate is getting worse. I remember what winters used to be like before 1970 here in upstate New York where I live.
Just since then, the average annual temperature has increased by 2 degrees F and nearly 5 degrees F in winter. Spring comes about 8 days earlier than when I was in college. Since then, too, diseases that are typical in warmer climates such as West Nile and Lyme disease have appeared. Sea levels have risen. Intense precipitation events occur more frequently.
This year, what little ice that did form on Conesus Lake was so thin that ice fishing was impossible.
Scientists tell us that in the past 150 years atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide have risen to their highest levels in 650,000 years, which was long before our species began walking the earth.
The greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere will cause a rise of 2 or 3 more degrees F, which is ample to cause real distress to production from farms and fisheries.
There will be more flooding, too. We can’t tell how much more. Sea level will rise from 4 inches to a whopping 33 inches.
Where exactly is the tipping point for climate change?
We simply don’t know. There are five reasons for our ignorance.
There is the usual problem of inferring what will happen in the future from what happened in the past.
There is the usual problem of measuring where the natural boundary is.
There is also the problem of determining how the natural boundary for climate change relates to other variables, in particular, to what happens to the ozone layer and the acidity of the oceans. What is the tipping point beyond which the ozone layer thins too far? What is the tipping point beyond which the acidity of the oceans goes too far?
There are also other factors that may play a role in setting the natural boundary for climate change. These include human intervention in the nitrogen cycle, human intervention in the phosphate cycle, human conversion of natural areas into farms and cities, extinctions, the build-up of chemical pollutants in the environment, and the build-up of particulate pollutants in the atmosphere.
Finally, even if we understood exactly where the tipping points are for other relevant factors, there could still be a crisis with respect to climate change even if no single natural boundary was transgressed. In fact, some scientists who study the climate think that this is already happening.
These are just the conceptual problems.
The political problems may be even worse. Suppose we knew exactly what to do to slow, stop and perhaps even reverse our driving the earth towards the natural boundary for irreversible climate change. How could we possibly unite politically to bring about the educational and economic reforms required for success?
We cannot even outlaw war whose destruction is obvious.
(When I think about these problems, I myself tend to get depressed and fall into a torpor. I then am tempted to rationalize inaction by thinking that I’m old and soon will be dead. Could I really do anything valuable to help?)
There are too many ignorant people who still deny the reality of climate change and too many selfish, irresponsible people who refuse to believe that we humans are driving it.
As individuals, we can make minor adjustments in how we live that, collectively, may make some significant difference. Certainly we should reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Massively effective change, however, must begin with a change of mind, a new consciousness. Promoting that change is the most important individual action.
Promoting it is why the posts in the spiritual well-being category of this site are more important than any of the others: it’s the most important kind of change, bar none.
The good news is that spiritual change can happen quickly.
The bad news is that it is very difficult. Perhaps, though, if it were to become more popular, it would be easier for many more people at least to begin practicing.
The best way to tackle the problem of nearing the natural boundary of climate change is to tackle the pervasive problem of selfishness and the greediness that goes with it. That requires extending what might be thought of as the natural boundary of the self.
Effectively healing our planetary home requires effectively healing ourselves, which really means exploding the natural boundaries of our self concepts (ego-Is).
As always, if you know someone who might benefit from reading this, please forward it.
RELATED RESOURCE: 16-22 June 2012 edition of The Economist.