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Gregory Bateson

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Global Warming

Dave Ewoldt, July 2005

   One of the problems with getting ordinary people around the globe to wrap their minds around the concept of global climate change is that it's too big. When something is occurring everywhere at the same time, it's no longer the event, it's the backdrop. And this backdrop is the entire natural world that we live in and which sustains us. We live in a culture that has forgotten how to read nature's book, unless you're a farmer, and in a society with more prisoners than farmers that isn't very likely.

   Another problem is that the story in this book has too many villains--everyone with a car is a large cast of characters. We don't want to be told that we're the problem, primarily because it implies we would have to change some of our ways. In a consumer society, those habits constitute a large part of our identity, not to mention our net worth; once you've got your plasma screen installed in the rec room of your 3,500-square-foot house, this is a story you don't want to read.

   We also tend to not get too excited over global warming because the worst damage is forecast to happen in places far away, to people who are marginal to many of us in the developed world. We're already used to hearing about Ghanaians and Bangladeshis dying by the thousands. However the heat wave that killed tens of thousands in Europe in 2003 started to bring climate change home and personalize it. They had cable TV. They thought they were beyond nature's reach.

   The deaths in Europe also illustrated another crucial point. The breakdown in human community, the rise of a kind of hyper-individualism perfectly symbolized by the automobile, was both the motive and immediate cause of many of the fatalities. Old people baked to death in their apartments because the temperature got higher than it had ever gotten before (and barely cooled at night); and they baked to death in their apartments because the social structure that always protected each of us from such events had broken down. I mean, nobody was checking up on them.

   Global warming is caused by an increase in what are known as greenhouse gases. The most prevalent of this gases is carbon dioxide, emitted from factories, coal power plants, and automobile exhaust. Methane gas is another, and while it exists in much smaller quantities, is actually more damaging in trapping heat in the earth's atmosphere. This is one reason we need to be especially aware of the calls to release methane hydrates to address the looming energy crisis.

   The scientific consensus is pretty much unanimous, but the handful of industry sponsored spokesflacks keep insisting on equal time in a debate that ends up sounding like he said, she said. The public is the loser, as we get confused and think there is still an equal split in scientific opinion, a lack of evidence, or uncertainty. It is instructive to notice that out of the 928 scientific, peer-reviewed, published studies in the last ten years, none of them (that's zero) doubted the reality of global warming or its link to human causes. However, in that same ten year time span, 53% of newspaper articles published on global warming reported there was scientific uncertainty on the issue.

   When it comes to global warming, few who is aware of the systemic nature of reality are arguing that current patterns of global climate change is entirely human caused, although what we're currently seeing is most likely human precipitated, starting with the massive burning of coal in England over 300 years ago along with the almost complete deforestation of the British Isles. At the very least global warming is human exacerbated and the human component is today's main contributor. The earth does go through natural cycles of cooling and warming. But, the current trend is coming on faster, and is outside of the natural cycle.

   Humans are destroying faster than Nature can replenish or mitigate. It took 300 million years to create all the fossil fuels on the planet, and we've used up half the oil in just 150 years. Again, ice ages come and go, but normally through natural events, not because we've cut down 70% of the rainforests for cattle grazing so McDonalds and Burger King can fill their bank accounts while the rest of us become obese on grease. Also, the loss of these rainforests has removed one of Nature's carbon sinks.

   President Bush still insists on confusing the issue and misleading the public by telling people that lowering our carbon emissions would be bad for the economy and that we'd lose jobs. However, a petition has been signed by over 2000 leading economists--including the majority of the American economists who have won a Nobel Prize in economics--stating that acting intelligently to combat global warming would be a boon to the economy. We would have to import less oil and could invest in creating local smart energy industries that would have more jobs per unit of expenditure. We have numerous opportunities to save energy and move our energy needs toward cleaner and renewable sources of energy that can both benefit our economy and lower our ecological footprint. President Bush's economic plan depends on the Walmartization of an economy that will remain dependent on foreign oil, outsourcing American jobs overseas, and importing inexpensive plastic goods made from petroleum products.

   While it is a mistake for the environmental movement to try to create change by focusing on making individuals feel guilty and personally responsible for the extent of global warming today, the fact is we all do play a part in it. We can try to blame our culture, but our culture is us. We are the ones who give it legitimacy.

   True, the world itself isn't coming to an end... but the overly consumptive and wasteful American lifestyle is about to. And participating in the creation of an alternative is something we can all play a part in. And, we'll all become much healthier in the process, have more relative disposable income, and more leisure time to focus on what's really important to us.

   If you would like to schedule an introductory consultation session or arrange a presentation or workshop for your group, please contact or give Dave or Allison, co-founders of Attraction Retreat, a call at (360) 756-7998.


"You didn't come into this world. You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean. You are not a stranger here."
Alan Watts


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