God, Global Warming and Non-Attachment

Despite denials, distractions and foot-dragging by Big Oil, Big Coal, and the Cheney/Bush Administration, the people of the United States have finally gotten that global warming is real. The tipping point has finally been reached–it is no longer a question of if, but by how much and when.

One doesn’t need to be a scientist to understand what we have done to our atmosphere and where this will lead us. Average global temperatures have tracked CO2 levels in lockstep over the last 650,000 years. The higher (or lower) CO2, the higher (or lower) average global temperature. Prior to the Industrial Revolution CO2 was 280 parts per million (ppm). It now stands at 380 ppm and is projected, under the most optimistic of scenarios, to peak at 450 ppm by mid-century—43% higher than any time in the last 650,000 years. Gulp.

Unfortunately there is a lag effect of decades between rising CO2 levels and the increase in temperatures they cause, which has a tendency to cause uncertainty and complacency in many of us. If the effect were immediate, we almost certainly would have gotten past the global warming debate and undertaken serious mitigation measures decades ago.

This is a slow motion global catastrophe, the order of magnitude for which man has no historical frame of reference. No one can say with certainty what a 43% increase in CO2 will do to global temperatures but it is safe to say that it is certainly much higher than the meager 2 degree C increase we hear from scientists and politicians. We must understand–they have to walk a very fine line between let’s-slow-this-thing-down hope/action mitigation and throw-in-the-towel gloom and doom hopelessness. They have to present an optimistic face.

Selfishness also plays a huge role in our response, or lack thereof, to global warming. Because of the above-mentioned lag, global warming is unlikely to have significant impacts on the lives of most middle aged or older adults currently living. I can’t tell you how many of my friends—seemingly highly evolved people—understand that global warming is a serious problem yet still drive their SUVs here in Boulder, the SUV capitol of the world. These are people, like me, with children who will very much experience the havoc caused by global warming that their parents so conveniently bequeathed to them. There is a disconnect here that is difficult to comprehend.

What kind of havoc are we talking about? The impact we hear most about is rising sea levels. Many predictions are of a meter or more of sea level rise in the next century. This is not only from melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, but from thermal expansion—water expands as it gets warmer. Low-lying coastal area such as Holland, Bangladesh, the Gulf Coast to mention only a few will eventually become uninhabitable, creating hundreds of millions of environmental refugees. Where will these people go? How will they support themselves? What happens to their net worth when their houses and businesses are no longer insurable, salable or inhabitable? Will they be welcomed with open arms by their inland neighbors, perhaps in different countries?

Our entire global agricultural system is based upon climatic conditions which bring fairly predictable levels of temperatures and precipitation. What happens when these climatic patterns change and agricultural production drops? The world generally operates on about a 90 day supply of stored food. One or two “bad years” and nine billion people (forecast by mid-century) could be hungry, starving and in a panic. Nothing causes people to panic like hunger and the prospect of starvation.

These are just two of the impacts that global warming will have on humanity. What impacts these will have on the world economy and financial markets is anyone’s guess, but it’s a safe bet to say it won’t be positive because economies and markets don’t respond well to fear. When people are fearful they pull back and become protective.

Of course these sorts of events will inevitably generate government action to try to protect the lives and interests of their citizens. When people are in fear they elect hard-line conservatives who will be more likely to take military action and, if really threatened, to push “the button.”

I recently heard a caller on talk radio say he lived in Chicago and would welcome an extra few degrees of year-round warmth. He, like many people, had no concept that his life is intricately interconnected with melting icecaps and changing climatic patterns. Da Bears.

What does all this have to do with God? Nothing. God established the universe and the laws that govern it. But it’s pretty clear from past calamities (i.e. previous mass extinctions, the Holocaust) that God doesn’t give a hoot what happens on this or any other planet. It’s all a fascinating unfolding drama and if it results in the setback or extinction of some species (in this case homo sapiens), so be it; other species better adapted to its environment (i.e. wiser) will arise to fill the new niche.

One of the laws of the universe is that of karma—cause and effect, you reap what you sow, what goes around comes around, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. We have conveniently chosen to keep our heads in the sand on the topic of global warming and now we are finally responding but in a very gradual way–too little, too late. We have chosen our lot and now we need to be adults about what this will mean for the future of our planet and our offspring.

Make no mistake—life will continue on Planet Earth including, most likely, man (unless “the button” is pushed). Many species are highly adaptable and, while there will be massive dislocation and suffering, life will go on. But it will be hardest on man because of civilization’s dependence on fixed infrastructure—namely cities and towns, many of which will become uninhabitable—and the prosperity that an ever-expanding global economy has brought to the First World. When these things fail our emotional attachments to the comforts they bring to our lives will be laid raw.

We need to prepare ourselves and our children for what lies ahead. No one can predict exactly how it will all play out or what actions we should therefore take to protect ourselves (though living along the Gulf Coast in the latter part of this century is probably not one of them). But we can cultivate in ourselves and our offspring a mindset of openness and non-attachment, so that whatever arises we are 1) not surprised by it, 2) able to quickly let go of losses and 3) able to respond in the most appropriate and effective manner.

How do we do this? First of all by example, by practicing non-attachment on a day-to-day basis. By holding things (including our very civilization) lightly in our minds, by recognizing the true importance of their role in our contentedness, by being in the world, not of it. Secondly we do this by talking about it—by bringing the concept of non-attachment into the awareness of loved ones and discussing its application on a day-to-day basis.

The coming century, especially the second half, will be unlike any man has ever experienced. Frankly, I’m glad I’m not going to be around to have to deal with it. But I do have dire concerns for my daughter an eventual grandchildren and indeed for all future generations. Our challenge is to give them the tools they will need to adapt to this rapidly changing world.

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#1 John Penberthy on 10.18.11 at 2:58 pm


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