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Story: Are You An Optimist Or A Pessimist?

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3 comments, last: Dec-12-2009   Add a comment   Contributor:  Wavehunter (Dec-3-2009)
Categories: Global Warming, Philosophical & Quality of Life, Renewable Energy Sources

Is the glass half full or is the glass half empty?Are super-hurricanes destined to sweep across the Earth, banishing all but the hardiest life to the safety of the seas? Or will presidents Barack Obama and Hu Jintao lead civilisation to salvation at the Copenhagen summit? Is there nothing we can do to stop temperatures and sea levels rising dangerously? Or will technology and human ingenuity save the day?

The last few weeks have proved a rollercoaster ride for those of us concerned about avoiding catastrophic climate change. Our high hopes of progress at Copenhagen seemed dashed as governments downplayed the chances of a deal, then rose again as the United States and China announced broad agreement on how to fix things. It's left many of us feeling manipulated: by politicians, by the media, by pressure groups – by our own hopes and fears.

So what are we to make of things? How should we feel about the future? A quick trawl through recent environmental news might point us in the right direction.

There's plenty of bad news out there. We learn that the West Antarctica Ice Sheet is unstable, undermining optimistic assumptions made by bodies like the IPCC. The break up of the ice sheet could contribute to a rise in sea levels of more than 1.4 metres (55 inches) by the year 2100, inundating coastal cities and forcing millions to migrate. We learn of the atmospheric brown cloud caused by millions of cooking fires and its effect in melting glaciers and trapping CO2 – the cloud virtually guarantees temperature rises verging on the catastrophic this century. We hear emails hacked from a university environmental science department are being used to suggest academics are fooling the public and politicians about the extent of global warming, thus undermining negotiating positions ahead of Copenhagen. And we read of permafrost thawing in northern climes, releasing methane into the atmosphere.

But there's good news to counter all this negativity. The melting permafrost is making oil and gas extraction in Siberia more costly and more hazardous, meaning less fossil fuel can be burned and putting the 'peak moment' off a little. For all the huffing and puffing of climate deniers, communities are taking action to stop global warming: communities on Fox Island and the Danish island of Samso, for example. People in the cities of Sao Paulo, Ghent and Hasselt are being encouraged to go 'meat free' once a week, which will help a lot if Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang are right that 51% of greenhouse gases come from the meat industry. And in Lille there's a plan to power city buses through compost.

We hear that the oceans are an effective CO2 sink, but that the increased carbonic acid in seawater is causing shells to dissolve, causing species extinction up and down the food chain.

Which leaves us just where we started, unsure of what to make of things.

Perhaps we shouldn't get carried away with either side. Before we celebrate a new wind farm being built, we should ask when the conventional power station will be closed down. And whenever we lose hope following the latest prediction on how the world will be in 2050, we should remember the crazy predictions the experts of, say, the 1930s had for our own time. (By the way, the 'super-hurricanes' come from Johann Hari's excellent piece showing how things were on Earth the last time it warmed by 6ºC (11ºF) – a time of shellfish and pseudo-pigs.)

All in all, it leaves me not knowing what to think. Numbed by the barrage of information pointing to salvation or catastrophe, it's no wonder many people switch off.

But what about you? Are you optimistic or pessimistic? Have you switched off or are you as confused as I am?

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Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Dec-12-2009)   Web site
I cast my vote with both of you.

It may require a new generation, maybe those who are 5 years old today, to re-think the priorities dramatically enough that they affect global environment, including climate change, water, food, population, and so on. Still, by human instinct towards survival of the individual, there are powerful pressures to continue life as usual for each individual.

Until the planet pushes back so visibly and so strongly that it can no longer be ignored by the mass of individuals, the changes being made likely will not be adequate to change our path into the future.
Comment by: StevenSALMONY (Steven Earl SALMONY) (Dec-5-2009)   Web site

"They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent… Owing to past neglect, in the face of the plainest warnings, we have entered upon a period of danger. The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedience of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences…. We cannot avoid this period, we are in it now…”
- Winston Churchill, November 12, 1936
Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Dec-4-2009)   

Definitely pessimist.
The question to ask, I think, is whether basic human behavior is changing. I don't think so.
Decisions are still being made based upon economics, not needs and usefulness.
There are some beautiful things getting done by people who are working awful hard to make the world better, but they are overwhelmed by the economic System of systems and its power over the planet. Until we show nature that humans are more cooperative than competitive, that humans behave as though their future depends on their actions, or that humans become net useful to the universe instead of net consumptive, I will stay pessimistic.
Unless a few of the yeast manage to find another planet, it doesn't matter how hard they work to change things, because the majority are consuming the one they have to live on.

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About contributor Member: Wavehunter (William Coffin) Wavehunter (William Coffin)
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Member: Wavehunter (William Coffin) I lived in Britain for many years, where I studied politics and international relations and worked in the charity sector. Now I live in Mexico and juggle my time between bringing up a young son, writing science fiction, teaching English and engaging with the global community on-line. I want to learn more about the enormous changes we all face so we might make a peaceful transition to what is bound to be a very different society.

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