OpEd

Story published: 11-27-2012 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Nature bats last: Avoiding a fateful collision

By Frances Lamberts

Twenty years ago this month, the Union of Concerned Scientists published a statement titled, “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity.”

Composed and signed by nearly 1,700 senior members of the world scientific community, the signers included almost all the then- living Nobel Laureates.

The Worldwatch Institute has judged the statement as one of the key global environmental milestones in the half century since 1960.

Its opening line represents the scientists’ conclusion, based on a wide range of empirical data, that “Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course.”

Through harsh and often irreversible damage humans inflict on the environment, it states, the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms are put at serious risk.

It holds that several, interlinked areas must be addressed with urgency “if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.”

A move away from fossil fuels toward environmentally benign (and inexhaustible) renewable energy sources is the first priority, from which drastic cuts in the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, and in pollution of our air and water would result.

Of 90 million tons of fossil-energy-based carbon pollution added to the atmosphere every day in 2012, Americans still contribute by far the most on a per capita basis. However, recent developments are encouraging.

In a nationally representative survey in August and September, Yale and George Mason University researchers found eight in 10 Americans affirming that renewable energy sources like solar, wind and geothermal should be used much more than they are today.

Nearly nine in 10 want the United States to work to reduce global warming, “even if it has economic costs.”

Voters also rejected the White House aspirant who, denying the reality of changing climate, had thought fit to mock the sitting president’s plan and modest accomplishments toward curbing the climate-destabilization threat.

President Obama has vowed to “take personal charge of climate change in [his] second term.”

The next highest priority consists in managing the resources crucial to human welfare more effectively. This especially concerns the use of water, minerals and energy, where huge reductions in consumption are possible through efficiency technology.

As a positive note in that regard, one might recall Sen. Lamar Alexander’s drive a few years ago — deploring that “Tennesseeans use 43 percent more electricity than the national average” — to nudge Valley citizens and their (TVA) utility to use energy less wastefully.

In 2012, mobilized through religious groups allied in Tennessee Interfaith Power and Light, citizens across the state have begun urging TVA to reduce power demand at least 1 percent annually through efficiency promotion.

These and some other fundamental problems must be dealt with, including stabilizing population, if a fateful collision with the natural world is to be avoided.

“A new ethic is required,” the statement ends, one that will convince “reluctant leaders and reluctant governments and reluctant peoples themselves to affect the needed changes.”