climate change explained for idiots (like myself)

Comment on Monsieur Monbiot’s

Are We Bothered?

For years we’ve been told that people cannot afford to care about the natural world until they become rich; that only economic growth can save the biosphere, that civilisation marches towards enlightenment about our impacts on the living planet. The results suggest the opposite.


This is going to be on energy and energy conservation issues. You know how people are considering right now switching to LED lights to save some power because you use less Watts, right? You use some device which is able to project as much light as the others but using only a quarter or one tenth of the power.

For the technical-minded, have a look at this fact-sheet on LED energy efficiency.

Should we ask the question in terms of money-affordability?

If you can afford switching to LEDs, do you then do the cost analysis? Can you recoup your investment? Can you recover the money you put in? Maybe at some point, after a certain number of watt-hours. But that’s not the way, that’s not the question which should be faced because it leads us away from ourselves and into the realm of abstractions.

The question should be faced from the opposite end:

“How much power should we consume on a daily basis?”

If you live on this planet in a developed country, then you should cut down quite a lot. I would also guess you can afford switching to LEDs, but the money aspect should not be as important as the fact that we cannot continue to use as much energy (to power up LEDs, stoves, air-conditioners, etc.) as we use right now. Why is that not feasible?

Have you heard of the term sustainable development? Sustainable growth?

You have to think about this as a system, as an ecological system: If we have enough sources of energy then that organism can survive as a whole.

What happens when we dry out one source or another? We’ll probably switch, we’ll find ways.

What happens when we use up sources which are really critical? What do we mean by critical?

Consider the atmosphere. Is the atmosphere something we can afford to lose?

Can we keep putting carbon dioxide (and other stuff) in it?

We decided that aerosols are not good for this atmosphere and we managed to stop. Now we are trying to decide whether CO2 is bad also and then we discover that there are a lot of CO2 producers in the world and they’re a lot bigger, you know, volcanoes and so on. How about people? Think about the number of people who breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Do you remember that first lesson in anatomy? I hope you do. Lots of people, lots of animals.

Obviously, we cannot stop volcanoes and we cannot stop people or animals from breathing.

What else produces CO2? Burning, right? Oxygen on coal, yeah, Burning…

Where does all this CO2 go? In the atmosphere. So we’re adding some, and then more, and then some more. What happens with all this carbon dioxide? Well some of it gets sucked back in by all the plants.

The plants have been that source which has kept us alive by recovering enough of the carbon dioxide to allow us, higher life-forms, to prosper and live.

So what happens now with this large mass that has been photosynthesising, which has been refreshing our atmosphere for a couple billion years? Can we even mark how long ago this system achieved balance?

And what are we doing now? After millions of years of extended stability, starting at that point when the whole planet starts to work together like a huge living body: breathing in, breathing out.

We take in oxygen, the plants give out oxygen. We give out carbon dioxide, the plants take in carbon dioxide.

That’s Calling-the-Breath-Way. That’s how the planet has been breathing. There is a balance and we’ve been cutting down our partner, cutting at the knees, ripping off clothes.

You hear about these massive fires caused by intensive heat waves, or people who are careless with the barbecue or I don’t know what idiotic story like that. But it’s mainly up to us. It’s mainly because of us, all this burning.

Human civilization currently harvests around 100 billion megawatt hours of energy each year and dumps 36 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the planetary system, which is why the atmosphere is holding more heat and the oceans are acidifying.

You know they have this idea, in some countries, that we need to burn. The slash and burn culture is a culture which is suicidal beyond a certain point. How much more can we cut ? How much more can we burn? How much longer can we pretend that it’s just trees?

How about the ocean? The ocean also absorbs a lot. There is another partner we have. And we keep on burning.

So what should we do? We consume all this electricity and we’re wondering about the money? We should consume less power no matter what device we use because that power, that source of energy comes to you from the plants, ultimately. From the plants that we’re burning now. The plants that were there at the time of the dinosaurs have sunk into the ground in the meantime and have created massive deposits of various fossil fuels that we’re now burning.

FOSSIL fuels! Can we remember that fossil means something that was alive and breathing? And we’re burning it.

What results from burning it? Ashes and carbon dioxide.

Can we afford to lose the atmosphere? Can we afford to lose our partner?

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