After 11 September 2001 the country recognized an urgent threat to its security. The debate prompted by this tragic event is still relevant even after three Presidential elections and eleven years – how much of our civil liberty do we sacrifice to mitigate this threat? Military tribunals, library records, torture, and transparency. We are still questioning compromises of justice and privacy for the end state of security. This debate will last for centuries, much like the threat.
“Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.” – Benjamin Franklin
Are we making a foolish sacrifice to mitigate the threat of climate change? Rising seas, extreme and destructive weather patterns, lives lost, property destroyed, and degraded ecosystems. Climate change is an urgent threat. The toxic cocktail of carbon and other poisons that we have already spewed into the atmosphere has created a climate that will punish us for decades, according to climate expert Bill McKibben, even if we end our emissions today.
Our solution to climate change should be pragmatic, bold, and true to our core conservation ethic. Sacrifice means we are discarding something precious. If “sacrifice” is in our climate change lexicon, it suggests we have already exhausted all other options. We have not exhausted other alternatives, and instead we are pandering to the lanes of the road marked by corporations and corrupt politics. A system in which we re-elect a President that earned the Sierra Club’s endorsement after he pandered to oil and coal companies; after his party’s convention was financed by one of the largest coal consumers in the United States. He is indeed better than his opponent, but it is our responsibility to be the flag-bearer of conservation and sustainability, not the regretful and sorrowful aide-de-camp of someone who only marginally acknowledges our cause in our time of desperation.
We all lose sleep over the events that are most representative of climate change’s destruction. Hurricane Sandy, the derecho storm that hit the East Coast, wildfires, drought, and disease outbreak. We beg for acknowledgement from the mainstream that climate change is a present and enduring threat. Climate change is a threat that demands immediate action. A swift shift to renewable energy, and the preservation of ecological treasures.
But many have proposed a solution without examining the costs. Industrial wind and solar facilities on wildlands may seem to offer the quickest solution to carbon emission reduction, but accepting this path sacrifices the very fabric of the system we seek to salvage from ourselves – our soils, plant and animal life. The industrial solution to climate change is the recycling of the very same problem of human burden on the planet upon which we depend. The loss of biodiversity, pristine landscapes, water and food. Take a portion of our country as an example. Generating enough electricity to meet California’s power demand would require well over 2,500 square miles of wind and solar facilities, and still require natural gas “peaker” plants. In California alone, we are talking about the extirpation of plant and animal species. The depletion of aquifers, and the loss of God’s “cathedrals”, as John Muir described the untouched landscapes that inspired his writings.
We are not simply in a battle to prevent the water from cresting over Battery Park in Manhattan and flooding a city’s subway system. Climate change threatens inumerable ecological processes that sustain human survival, including our water and food supply. Much of this rests on our planet’s biodiversity – a complex web of plant and animal species that have softened the blow of weather patterns. Wetlands that absorb flooding, insects that pollinate our crops, bats that consume disease-bearing insects, birds that keep rodent populations in check, pollen-bearing plants that feed insects that are consumed by reptiles create conditions beneficial to the growth of more plants. You can never recreate the web of relationships that exist in our planet’s ecosystems. Why are some climate hawks so quick to sacrifice our conservation ethic when more efficient energy alternatives exist?
Distributed solar generation – e.g. solar panels on rooftops or over parking lots – and energy efficiency improvements are not “too slow” to address climate change. From a technological and ecological standpoint, they are the only solutions we have that cut our carbon emissions while preserving our wildlands. If you find yourself advocating for the sacrifice of our wildlands to address climate change, it is because you do not value the beauty that has long sustained our existence on this planet, and you place more faith in our ability to engineer the planet’s functions than Mother Nature’s ability to prove you wrong. You are foolish if you think you can replace one nature-destroying corporation with another. You are sitting back and watching another species go extinct from the fleeting comfort of a sinking ship. You’re watching the torture of one of your fellow beings, and you’re no safer than you were before you realized the threat of climate change ever existed.
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