Last year I expanded my definition of healing to include humanity's relationship with the planet as well as our relationship with each other, and with ourselves. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, however you would like to view it. I also realized that I didn't know enough about environmentalism or climate change, even though the hippy in me is seriously annoyed when people tear down trees to build more apartment complexes. Having grown up in California during the drought years in the 80's and 90's, I am also well aware of the need to save water. Beyond that I have always had this feeling that I wasn't doing enough. And to be honest, I don't know what has to be done on a broad scale, or what we can do to help as individuals. Even if one person's actions are just a drop in the bucket, they add up.
So I took it upon myself to learn this year. My journey started with a TedTalk called Why I'm a Weekday Vegetarian, by Graham Hill. This was when I learned that animal farms have a huge impact on the planet's resources, wasting tons of the water that I was so keen to save, and using up loads of land as well. After a few failed attempts to become a weekday vegetarian, I watched Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, a documentary that spells out the cost of cheap meat in enough detail that it's hard to ignore. I also learned that animal farms are responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the transportation sector. That sounded ominous but I didn't know what it meant - why should we care?
These questions led me to another documentary that I should have watched 10 years ago. Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. It portrays a complex issue in simple terms that we can all understand. Here are some of the questions that it answered for me (a complete Climate Change newbie):
What's the big deal with Greenhouse Gases???
In an unpolluted world, the sun's rays would hit different parts of the planet during daylight hours, illuminating the sky and warming us up until nightfall. A good deal of these infrared rays would bounce back into space, taking their heat with them. Greenhouses gases are, as I understand it, the rather thick layer of gas that now sits on the outermost layer of the earth's atmosphere, trapping those infrared rays so that they are less able to escape. Infrared rays are HOT, it's what makes your skin feel warm when you are in the sun. These gases produce a greenhouse effect so that the air and water on the planet gets a little bit hotter each year.
Why Climate Change and not Global Warming?
I'm guessing this has something to do with the unpredictability of the weather. How often have we remarked on how crazy it is? For example, this year I spent Christmas in New York and New Years in San Diego. I had no need for a jacket in Manhattan on the 24th December, but I did need that and a scarf in Southern California a few days later. All of this craziness and unpredictability is happening because rising temperatures affect cold and hot currents in the air and in the oceans, altering the patterns that had been in place for years. Climate change includes a variety of conditions we see today. If we look at Kilimanjaro, the mountain get less snow than it did 20 years ago. And as An Inconvenient Truth illustrates, entire lakes have dried up, leaving nearby populations without their water supply.
Isn't temperature cyclical anyway ...?
Yes there have been Ice Ages and subsequent heatwaves that melted the ice, but I doubt any of us wants to be here to witness one of those. And this is my humble opinion, but if we see fit for NASA to monitor outer space and deflect or destroy any gigantic pieces of rock that could hit the planet causing a disaster like the one we think did away with the dinosaurs, we should probably look in the mirror too. Temperatures did rise and fall in the past but not to the extent that they are rising now, and it's our civilization that is to blame for the way we have interacted with the planet. We may have been oblivious to the consequences, but now we know better.
Why aren't we on the same page?
The documentary is an hour and a half long, and worth watching, so I won't go into more detail here (I'd rather not play telephone and distort the message, either). There was just one more issue that stood out, and that is the media's portrayal of climate change. As former vice president Al Gore points out, a survey of 1000 scientific studies leave no room for doubt, climate change is a reality. If however, we look at coverage in the media, the stories follow a 50/50 split. Based on my own time in the corporate world and in advertising I would guess PR campaigns may account for this difference. Or even ratings, as debates and a tad of confusion may engage more viewers than science. That's a shame because we are already paying the price and if nothing changes, it will only rise in the future. These documentaries explain it much better than I can - Weekday Vegetarian, Cowspiracy and An Inconvenient Truth are all on Netflix. Please check them out!