Although a binding commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions probably should have been done a couple of decades ago, this is a small yet successful step in making more meaningful progress to slow down and eventually stop climate change from vastly affecting human life. Unfortunately, many scientists have determined that we have already passed a sort of tipping point in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations meaning we will continue to deal with the effects of climate change for some years yet, even should we significantly reduce our emissions immediately.
Of course, such a reduction is not going to happen and this post is not some doom-and-gloom essay seeking to chastise human populations the world over. Instead I intend to discuss another way of thinking about why we should address climate change, albeit in a slightly different tone than the current political rhetoric on the subject. And, to contextualize my perspective on climate change, I accept the natural, physical, and social science research citing human activity is increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in Earth’s atmosphere. This increase in concentration is causing the atmosphere to warm, thereby causing climatic shifts and interruptions through more erratic seasonal variations and the melting of polar ice. These types of changes affect human life through a variety of ways including changes in precipitation and temperatures and rising sea levels.
Humans are adaptable and resilient. Through long and ancient histories, we can trace human evolution and change through many geologic eras. Even in more recent centuries, we are able to develop a stronger understanding of how humans were able to cope with adverse situations. To reference a more extreme example — civilization collapse — we see that that human populations have had to adapt to changing environmental conditions resulting from their own behaviors. Climate change is another example of the need to do this, with the likely need of human adaptation, but at a potentially far grander scale and one of which we have no recorded experience.
And, while humans are so flexible, so, too, is this planet. The political rhetoric constantly centers on the need for humans to be more effective managers or stewards of the natural environment. It is a really good point, something we should not ignore, but this argument is not, unfortunately, the most compelling and it diminishes the true importance of our ecological systems. Indeed, we exist because the natural, earthly processes have allowed us to evolve to our current state. The earth will continue to exist in our long-term future, so long as it does not spontaneously explode or is smashed by some random cosmic event. Because the earth will be here for a while, mitigating the effects of climate change is not really about saving the planet: it’s about saving our ways of living.
This argument sometimes seems counterproductive because many nations have been unwilling to commit to reductions of their greenhouse gas emissions prior to Paris. It costs money — a lot of it — to make the necessary changes that result in the reduction of emissions. That is because our current economic systems value natural resource exploitation over natural resource conservation. Not only should we begin to reconsider how capitalism works in developing more sustainable communities, but its current form in the United States may not be as resilient as it needs to be to cope with climate change. Can we, or will we, create a capitalistic economy that does not thrive on the overuse of our natural resources?
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