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To Slay the Demon
Hurricane Sandy, a massive "superstorm" that devastated our eastern coast, represents the sheer terror and power of global warming: a demon of our own creation. Hurricane Sandy was compared to a leviathan in a November issue of the Times-an analogy with shocking validity. Finally, now, in the wake of the storm, we are forced to confront this sea monster, bred in the depths of human industrialization and greed.
Our existence on Earth has been merely a second compared to the vastness of geological time, yet there have been enormous changes to our surroundings, almost all detrimental and irreversible. The utter destruction and power of the late Hurricane Sandy has made us realize the acuteness of climate change and the pressing question: How are we going to prepare for the massive effects of climate change? There are many ways to prepare for the effects of a warming world, each of them effective (and not always costly); however, all of us must make a conscious effort to change. The ways by which we mitigate the effects of climate change include increasing public awareness of the huge climate change induced damages and also its anthropogenic origins, reducing carbon emissions, and adapting to the effects. We must target both the cause and the effects of global warming - reducing emissions and also adapting the temperature rise. We must also accept the fact that unless we pay for protection now, we will suffer far more in the future. Slaying this demon is mandatory: for both the sake of the current population and the generations to come.
However, before we can act effectively, we must reform one major issue: our attitude toward environmentalism. The environmental establishment has been passionately striving for years to preserve nature, to keep our remaining forests pristine, and to create islands of untouched landscape. They have succeeded to some degree. However, this approach to environmentalism is clearly inefficient. Untouched nature can no longer exist in our highly populated, modern world. According to Bill Marsh of the New York Times, "Pristine lands, by the strictest definition, no longer exist, scientists say. Atmospheric pollution has settled on every earthly surface. Human-induced climate change is affecting ecosystems across the planet. Untrammeled landscapes are fragmented and shrinking...Only 17 percent of land is virtually untouched." A new mindset toward nature is required if we are to mend our global dilemma. Instead of being completely separated from humanity, nature must coexist with civilization. It must remain nature. Both civilization and nature must meld together in order to continue progress, but also to keep both in balance. We can incorporate nature in daily living, using small steps such as growing rooftop gardens and following the example of the peregrine falcon recovery plan (acclimating fauna to cityscape). The ways to change nature’s role in our world may include further integration of things that seems completely contradictory to current environmentalism. But we can, we must, and we will change.
Recognition of climate change is perhaps the next and perhaps most important step. Almost all scientists are united in the opinion that climate change is mostly caused by human pollution in the form of carbon dioxide. Politicians must stop denying the scientific data and establish that global warming is in fact, man made. Only after climate change is established as widespread fact can we begin. In combination with larger action, the public can use small low-cost mitigations that will, eventually, add up to reduce warming (these include recycling, hybrid cars, etc.)We can no longer allow the influence of oil lobbyists on US policy to endanger the welfare of our people. According to the Center for American Progress,” The oil, gas, and coal industries have spent over $2 billion lobbying Congress since 1999” and a total of $543 million in 2009 alone. The government must fulfill its obligation to protect its people and act now.
The majority of Americans are unaware of the massive scope of climate change as well. According to the IPCC, climate change will very likely cause, in the near future, damaging effects such as: decreased crop productivity, more widespread disease, increased risk of skin cancer and ultimately resource depletion which would lead to wars. This is in addition to rising sea levels and ozone depletion. Obviously, climate change will lead to damaging effects on all aspects of both humans and nature, unless we make an effort today. Hurricane Sandy definitely improved public awareness; however, governments must further educate their people on climate change—enacting programs informing people that rising sea levels, more frequent and severe droughts, and the increased probability of huge tropical storms will be in store for our future, if we do not change with climate change. Once general awareness and approval for adaptation is created, then preparation can move ahead more effectively. The environmentalist community should no longer be a minority.
Carbon reduction will most likely have the greatest impact on slowing global warming and its eventual effects. The science is unanimous on the fact: reducing our carbon emissions would diminish the effects of warming. It would also have many benefits in the near future, slowing rising sea levels and also the spread of disease. Greenhouse-gas emissions are altering the climate and how animals live.
If we are to eliminate these main contributors to warming, we must find cost-efficient alternative energy, and thus reduce our dependence on carbon-based fuels.
Environmentalists have always fiercely opposed further entrenchment of technology into our world, but this strategy now seems one of the best ways to rescue our planet. Alternative energy, combined with a multilateralism approach, would go a long way to combat climate change. Developed countries, with more access to resources and technology and the main beneficiaries of industrialization, must aid developing nations grow into successful, industrialized nations without releasing the massive amounts of carbon emissions as they are now. For example, China and India's emissions are rising at a rapid rate as their economies grow. Developed nations, in order to protect our warming planet, must provide more environmental-friendly technologies to these developing nations in order to prevent more pollution and subsequent warming. Some nations have already realized this fact; China has begun trading green technology with Japan, as China’s economy becomes dependent on carbon-based fuels.
Many people may oppose the idea of reducing our carbon emissions, citing economic disruption as a reason to continue polluting. However, mitigation of climate change need not be expensive. Relying less on foreign oil allows us to become less dependent. We may even be able to morph the shift to alternative energy sources into an economic boom by increasing green technology exports. Improving our energy independence is beneficial for both our economy and the environment. Even if adapting and mitigating climate change is expensive, the weakness in this argument can be shown by an analogy: If we could spend a dollar to save 10 people today, or spend 100 dollars to save 1000 tomorrow, which one would be preferable? The costs today pale in comparison to the benefits tomorrow.
This is Hurricane Sandy’s “lesson: if we don’t pay now, we’ll certainly pay later.” We must put money into preparation now, if we are to protect ourselves from future climate change-induced disasters, it is imperative for us to adapt—building improved infrastructure that is more resilient to storm surges, such as burying our electrical grid and installing levees to block the water. 153 million American live in coastal areas, which are vulnerable to rising sea levels. If we do not defend ourselves from these devastating catastrophes by spending now, there will be astronomical costs to people and property.
Even with the scientific predictions of superstorms and highly destructive weather patterns, the federal government is still threatening to cut almost 900 million dollars from FEMA, the very organization that responds to such disasters. Tens of millions of people in several states were struck by the storm, indicating the necessity of a strong federal response.
All of us are vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and the absolute necessity and urgency of protection against future effects. Humans have enormous power to engineer the world, and so far have not used it responsibly. The extinctions of tens of thousands of species and stripped forests are proof of that. Yet, undoubtedly, we hold an almost omnipotent power to rescue the environment. If we wield our power wisely and change our attitude of environmentalism, targeting both the effects of warming and the cause, we may just pull the globe back from the precipice of environmental demise. Although it may be expensive, this is no excuse to not protect our citizens from the storms and rising sea levels lurking close in our future. Climate change is a demon lurking in our future and confronting us in the present. We have the weapons to slay it within our grasp—we need only to lunge.