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Global Warming February 21, 2007

Posted by Andre Vellino in Global Warming.
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It is a little ironic that my considerable preoccupation with Global Warming found some peace during my visit to the Canadian Museum of Nature the other day. The museum is in the process of being renovated and the two re-vamped exhibits I saw (Fossils and Birds) were world-class. The whole experience was quite uplifting in a paradoxical kind of way.

The Fossil exhibit (sponsored, rather ironically by Tallisman Energy) is second to none. Even though it covers only 50M years of pre-history, in contrast to the American Museum of Natural History whose fossil exhibit covers 500M years, the displays – interactive videos, skeletons, reconstructed animals – are all fabulous.

As you go through this exhibit, you can’t help but gain some perspective on geological time and our place in the history of the earth. There have been 6 complete extinction events in the past 500M years or so and it appears that the 7th one is occurring right now, even if you measure only the current rate of of species extinction.

Ever since I read Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers last February I have felt alarmed at the prospects for our planet and deeply saddened at the thought that we are at the brink of an extinction event for which human-kind is primarily responsible. One way of looking at it is that this is just the manifestation of natural laws – a species overpopulates the earth’s surface, ruthlessly exploits its resources and poisons itself and many (if not all) of its contemporary species to extinction. It’s happened before it will happen again.

If it were just a mechanistic set of causal laws that lead to this, we wouldn’t have a moral responsibility to act. But we are able to determine our fate and I feel oddly inspired by Robert Newman’s call to action in his video “A History of Oil“. He uses (some) humour (though not of the knee-slapping kind) to give alternate accounts of history (he advocates, for example, the claim that World War I was caused by to Britain’s need to protect it’s oil interest in the Middle East) but also to alert us to the sense of crisis we all need to feel to motivate us to act.

Newman points his audience to The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies by Richard Heinberg (which keeps company with Jared Diamond’s Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed and Ronald Wright’s A Short History of Progress) and this somehow led me to read about the Post Carbon Institute. One article on this site provides a good collection of counter-arguments to the claim by James Lovelock that Nuclear energy is our only hope.

My sentiments on what’s in store for us vary from day to day, but often I feel optimistic that adversity in the face of natural cataclisms beyond our immediate control will bring us together and bring out the best in us. This was my experience during the Canadian Ice Storm of1998. What I remember most vividly from that event was the support that people gave each other – help, shelter, food, heat. Perhaps we can do even better this time and mitigate the future effects of climate change by taking action now.

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