I love and respect polar bears. I think it’s extremely sad that conservatives and Michael Crichton choose to think that the ice caps are cooling so that we can drill in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge and continue to not care what happens to the planet they are leaving for their kids.
The real news, though? The polar bears, along with that chain of islands at sea level in Polynesia and several other habitats dangling precariously on the edge of oblivion may have been doomed since before we were born. They are not the only cultures, animals and land masses at risk.
You see, unlike the ozone hole and our regulation of chlorofluorocarbons, the effects of global warming are not immediate, so neither can the cure be immediate. With CFCs, the effects on the ozone layer were alarming, rapid in growth, and undeniably disastrous. We introduced CFCs in the 1930s. By the 1970s, we knew there were serious problems, and by 1985, we knew there was an ozone hole in the Antarctic that exposed Australia during certain times of the year. People were dying of skin cancer, mostly melanoma; it is still not advisable to go outdoors in Australia without skin protection from the sun, especially during certain seasons. To make a long story short, although global warming may lessen the effects of our restrictions on CFCs, scientists freaked out, governments listened and heard what would happen if we suddenly found ourselves with no ozone layer, and we got off our collective butts and banned widespread use of CFCs. If all goes as planned*, the hole over Antarctica will close around 2050, and ozone levels will return to 1980 levels by 2068. Not great, but not bad, either. Better than every living thing on earth frying from solar radiation.
With greenhouse gases, the effect is much slower to the human eye. Industrial cities like Manchester, UK were spewing out blankets of sulphur dioxide, soot and smoke by the 1830s. The textile industry started employing machinery back in the 18th century; by 1811 the changes were so drastic that they forced weavers out of work and spawned the Luddite protestors, who tried to destroy the factories that had cost them their jobs. Health conditions in major metropolitan areas were so poor by the late 19th century that dense smog clouds of death were called pea-soupers when they settled on London. There are reports dating back as early as 1306, when King Edward briefly banned coal consumption in England, about the terrible air quality that coal burning created. In 1661, smog was so bad in London that it blackened iron, ruined clothing and sent citizens into hacking fits. Still, the damage were are experiencing today is mostly the after-effects of the unchecked excesses of the 19th century. Yes, what our great-great-great-great grandparents did has come back to haunt us. What we’re releasing into the atmosphere now won’t stop warming the planet until anywhere from 80 to 225 years into the future.
The point is: were we to shut off every car, kill every power plant and close every factory on earth – in other words, instantaneously revert back to an agrarian, pre-industrial world – the consequences of our production of carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and all the other pollutants would continue to warm the planet for another century at the very least.
Obviously, we aren’t even close to doing that. As a consequence, ocean levels will rise, enough to obliterate not just Miami and New Orleans, but large swatches of island chains and cultures as well.
That’s what it comes down to for me: my ancestral home in the Caribbean? It may be a vacation spot for you, but to me, that’s MY HISTORY. That’s where my grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents were born. They grew up there, they lived there, and they died there. They’re buried there, and the headstones still extant after the decades of hurricanes now face eradication from a rising sea.
You think losing a city is bad? Try losing an entire civilization.
People will say, “But that’s not my fault!” or worse, “I can’t do anything about it. It’s too late!” They’re wrong. You can, and you should.
I’ll tell you one way to significantly reduce your carbon footprint right now, and it has nothing to do with your car.
Ditch your gas-powered landscaping tools. That small home lawnmower emits more CO2 into the atmosphere in one hour of mowing than eight new cars driving at 55 mph on the highway for the same amount of time. Leaf-blowers and gas-guzzling hedge trimmers are even worse. What’s more, they directly contribute to ground-level smog.
Garden equipment emits high levels of carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides, producing a surprising three to five per cent of Canada’s air pollution. To a lesser extent, garden machinery also produces greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) that lead to climate change.
A typical, older 3.5 horsepower lawnmower engine can emit the same amount of VOCs in an hour as a new car driven 313 miles!
Use electric equipment; although it may cost more initially, it will save you money, because power is cheaper than gasoline. Better yet, use what gardeners have used for decades: push reel mowers, pruning shears, and a good old-fashioned rake. Your body will thank you for the exercise, our earth will thank you for cutting down on that 30 percent chunk of fossil fuel emissions from landscaping tools, and I will thank you for keeping the tides at bay.