I said that if an alien came to visit, I’d be embarrassed to tell them that we fight wars to pull fossil fuels out of the ground to run our transportation. They’d be like, ‘What?’
~ Neil deGrasse Tyson
It has been said before in other times and places, but it’s worth saying again. Humans, Homo sapiens as a species, is ridiculously and absolutely self-destructive. As part of the Earth’s systems (check out the Gaia Hypothesis) we have become practically parasitic. Whilst our advances in health care mean that we should all be able to live longer and enjoy the planet that we evolved as part of, the number of us, our collective greed for money, power and shiny new things is now meaning that our planet is adjusting to re-balance the environmental scales. We’re not killing the planet, but our effects on it are accelerating an evolution of our environment which could ultimately mean that it kills us.
Don’t get me wrong, the Earth has been hotter, colder and more toxic to humans and our fellow Earthlings in the past, and it will be again. It’s evident in the ice cores we drill, trees (both living and long since dead) and in the rocks below us. Right now I am sitting typing this where there was formerly a giant freshwater lake (well, a few hundred million years ago it was, anyway). There are fish fossils and ripple marks in the rocks under my seat (geology rocks!) and I am breathing air which has molecules which have come from plants farting, the Earth getting heartburn. This air – our atmosphere – allows life (as we know it) to happen. Those gases don’t just allow us to live (we kind of need the air) but life as we know wouldn’t have evolved without the Greenhouse Effect. No doubt that may sound crazy but that blanket of gases held in place by the grip of the Earth’s gravity stops the planet being as lifeless as our wee Moon. The only problem with the Greenhouse Effect is when you mess with it, which is what hauling carbon based fossil fuels out of the ground does, and so accelerate the natural cycle of planetary climate change. We’re basically shitting in our own beds and then complaining when we have to lie next to it.
Which, after a rather long winded introduction, leads us to the crux of the point of this post. To some extent every single person who is reading this will be using fossil fuels. Beginning with the manufacturing processes for the device you are reading this on right through to the manufacture of devices which have been used to generate the power which is required to get you on to the fantastical world wide web. Even renewable energy sources can be ridiculously environmentally un-friendly (don’t get me started on wind farms!) I’m not trying to preach – I’m no angel. My efforts to kerb my impact on the planet are (so far) not extensive but I am becoming more environmentally self-aware every day and making concious decisions which allow me to (hopefully) mean the footprints I leave behind are slightly less damaging and I have no doubt most people I meet have that in the back of their minds too. I’m not expecting anyone to give up their prized fruit-related electronics e.t.c but thinking about if you really really need the latest version of that tech when you have something which does the job perfectly adequately can’t be a bad thing, surely?
So the “little people” like bees in a hive can, collectively make a difference, but the rich and powerful individuals have ways of being able to shout louder than us. That includes educating, campaigning and leading by example. The Guardian and 350.org have teamed up to petition the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the WellCome Trust to:
“…commit now to divesting from the top 200 fossil fuel companies within five years and to immediately freeze any new investments in those companies.”
The WellCome Trust has rejected this proposal thus far – one of their arguments being that the fossil fuel companies would then be under less pressure to improve their green credentials which seems fair enough, but remember that if funding was removed then those companies would probably cease to be commercially viable any more. On the one hand this would be seen as A Good Thing – no more buggers hauling fossil fuels out of the ground or having stupid wars over land and seabeds which have oil reservoirs. No more freaking over fracking (sorry, tabloid moment). There would be a very human consequence though – employment. We have to balance the balance the local social (economic and environmental) costs with the planetary environmental costs. That goes for where we put the replacement renewable energy generation equipment too (wind farms grrrr).
So with all this considered, I have signed the petition to add my name to the increasingly loud buzz of the “Keep it in the Ground” campaign as a way to try and keep this issue in the public eye and I respectfully ask you to consider doing the same. There are no easy decisions to make and some of the changes are now inevitable but the only way to keep our societies moving towards being more sympathetic to our home is to keep reminding them what they will miss if it’s gone.