Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Facing the Inevitable

A friend forwarded me a report by a team of U.S., French, and Swiss scientists, first published last January, that concludes that global warming has reached a "point of no return," with its effects likely to linger for 1000 years even if we trim emissions back to pre-industrial levels.

Then there's my son, seven years old in less than a month, who for some reason (maybe because he's thinking about birthday presents) insisted on reading When Santa Turned Green as his bedtime book tonight. The story involves Santa's discovery of melting North Pole ice, his appeal to the world's children to address the problem of global warming, and the successful outcome of their efforts. The book's moral is deeply hopeful: "[Children] have the power to change the world." And in this book, they do.

Not being a child anymore, I'm doubtful if recycling plastic soda bottles will arrest global warming. I'm concerned lest we send the wrong message to those who bear our future, those whose own futures we've infringed upon through our habits of consumption and waste. I don't want my or anyone's children to despair--which some might be inclined to do if the effects of climate change are indeed irreversible--but neither do I want them to trivialize the problem, to imagine that there's a quick fix to the mess their parents and their parents' parents have gotten them into.

We've got to have hope--otherwise, why go on? But having hope doesn't need to mean denying, ignoring, or downplaying the realities. Having hope can mean accepting those realities and forging ahead nonetheless. (We all know we're going to die; in that sense, life is hopeless. But that needn't, and for most of us doesn't, stop us from trying to live, and to live good lives at that.) Individually, maybe even collectively, we might not be able to avert the inevitable climate effects our civilization has produced. We might have to live with those effects for a long, long time. But even if so, the choice presented to us is still a choice between living thoughtfully or living carelessly. The choice is between knowledge and ignorance. The choice is between moral and amoral, or even immoral, behavior.

Inevitability doesn't absolve us of responsibility.

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