15 May 2008

Our New Paradigm

In the May 12, 2008, UK paper The Guardian, David Adam reported that “carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached a record high…[and] climate change could begin to slide out of control.” He went on to write that scientific models assumed half of our future CO2 emissions would be reabsorbed by forests and oceans, but that these assumptions “may be too optimistic.” Of course, CO2 isn’t the only crisis in our world, but let’s set the shortcomings of scientific reductionism aside for the moment.

The fact that CO2 emissions are increasing is no surprise. Look locally. Is there a decrease of driving in your town or city? Besides the handful of folks that are walking or biking, not even high gas prices diminish driving. Couple that with the abundance of vehicles that get eight to twelve miles per gallon, and it might appear to the casual observer that there is no climate crisis or even a fuel shortage.

Do we need to drive every time we go out? Are we really too busy to walk? Is that trip to the big box store down the road necessary? Or are we too self-absorbed to recognize the way commercial interests have taught us to live? There is an irrational notion inculcated in “civilized” cultures that assumes economics and especially gadgetry (that we must buy) solves all problems. In truth, gadgetry causes harms. Our most sophisticated gadgets by far are implements of war. Are we just “boys (and girls) with toys” caring only for instant gratification?

If we are merely selfish, pursuing instant gratification, we are utterly lost. However, if we care about saving the planet and all the species that dwell upon it (including our own children), we must change the way we live. Markets will not solve our problems; they created them in the first place with deregulation, pollution, worker exploitation, manipulation of our minds through advertising, and unchecked greed.

As individuals, we must first and foremost reduce our ravenous and unnecessary consumption, reuse things rather than stuff them into landfills, and as a last resort, recycle the things we must discard. We need to stop or at least reduce driving in favor of our more “primitive” means of ambulation. Besides, it’s good for us.

Will these steps solve all the problems we’ve created? Well, no, not with economics being the sole paradigm of all decisions and actions in our “advanced” culture, but at least we could mitigate our own contributions to problems that are “slid[ing] out of control.” That way, instead of feeling that any talk of climate change is a personal attack due to our complicity in the system, we can eliminate our anger, denial, and our cynical business-as-usual attitude, and become examples of a new paradigm. We might as well learn to live more simply so we can teach our children how to do it. They need to be ready for when they have no choice in the matter. And let’s face it—that’s tomorrow.

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