Contrary to popular belief, “little things” can’t change the world. Many scientists believe that Planet Earth could already be past the point where human activity is the prime mover of climate change. Evidence is trickling in that we are nearing the point where further change in the Earth’s climate could continue even without human activity contributing to it. In short, it is possible that even if humans were to disappear from the face of the planet today, the trajectory of change in weather patterns that humans initiated has already been set.
Consider the carbon trapped over thousands of years in permafrost across the arctic region. There is already evidence that the amount of ice that accumulates in the region during the winter months is on a downward trend. The total area covered by winter sea ice in the arctic this year is reportedly the smallest seen since measurements started in 1979. If the Earth’s climate has warmed enough and already started a sustained net thawing of permafrost in the arctic region stretching across the northern areas of Canada and the Eurasian continent, the volume of trapped carbon that will be released into the atmosphere as it bubbles out of melted ice could average one billion tons per year.
While burning fossil fuels contributes considerably more carbon, about 8.5 gigatons annually, that process can at least in theory be controlled â€“ whereas once the permafrost thaw begins, it sets up a self-reinforcing loop far from human activity and potentially difficult to stop.
This is but one of possibly many other climactic positive feedback loops or “runaway processes” that could be kicked off (or are already underway) if we continue pushing our luck. Our own carbon emissions into the atmosphere, it may turn out, could be the least of our problems. Once Nature joins the carbon emission bandwagon we got going, there’ll be no stopping her.
The whole idea of an “Earth Hour” where everyone turns off their electrical appliances for one hour in one night in every year sounds nice. But “nice” simply won’t cut it. Like the spectacle of self-flagellation during the Easter season (“Holy Week” in the Philippines), participating in “Earth Hour” gives the average schmoe a sense of having “done her part” in the overall scheme of environmental activism — kind of like clicking on a “Like” button in one of those charitable causes that pepper the “social media” scene. So think of the self-flagellant who comes out of Holy Week “penance” feeling like a million dollars in the eyes of his god, and then goes on to spend the rest of the year leading a life of “sin”. Then perhaps consider the message that “movements” like “Earth Hour” might be sending out.
Indeed, why participate in an “Earth Hour” (and miss your favourite TV show tonight) when we can all be permanent participants in an Earth Lifetime by making sustained and sensible changes in the way we live?
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