For decades we have veiled our inaction on such pressing global issues as climate change, loss of biodiversity and water scarcity with that catchall phrase, "growing concern for the environment." Growing concern for the homeless has never built a shelter. Growing concern about AIDS has never provided life saving drugs or worked to find a cure. Growing concern about violence and hatred has never stopped a war. Growing concern about anything only serves to quiet our conscience and make us somehow feel better, safer, about the world around us.
As long as we use the term "growing concern" to try and justify our self-serving inaction, the planet will continue to degrade, the air will become increasingly difficult to breathe, climate change will continue to bring us bigger, more violent, more devastating storms and those of us who are lucky enough remain to relatively unscathed by all of this will cling to our lifeboats and mutter, "I'm really concerned."
Our concern is as insubstantial as the prayers we offer without our personal pledge to do what we can to translate those prayers into reality. Mother Teresa offered many prayers, and for every prayer she offered, she took action. We loved her for it, we’ve canonized her for it, but precious few of us would ever consider walking in her shoes for even a day, let alone a lifetime.
The problem, of course, is that we are the only species on the planet that can predict what's going to happen and so we have spent much of recorded history attempted to alter the course of the future. Procrastination simply doesn’t exist anywhere outside the human condition. We invest in RSPs, mortgages and mutual funds. We even attempt to provide security for our children by setting up registered education funds so they can have the kind of security we want to believe that we already possess.
Not so. We are one good Katrina away from living in a lifeboat, one good drought from wasting away into dust. If we somehow think that it can't happen here, it's time to think again. It doesn't matter that at least for now we are safely shuttling ourselves back and forth between our thermostatically controlled homes and offices in the mobile living rooms known as vans. It is all an illusion. We are all in the lifeboat and the only thing that going to stop her from sinking is if we all start bailing - now.
I am reminded of the life that we celebrate at this time of year - a life of desperate poverty, hardship and persecution. His life mattered because He took action, despite the consequences he knowingly faced. The Civil rights movement was born because a tired woman by the name of Rosa Parks took action by sitting down and refusing to move. The Berlin Wall came down because people took action and literally tore it down one brick at a time.
Life was never meant to be comfortable or secure. The very act of birth itself is violent and bloody - not the warm fuzzy event the media likes to portray. And so it should be. We are the only planet in the Universe that we know for sure contains life. Those are incredible odds, but what's even more incredible is that we have made ourselves so comfortable.
So how bad is it? According to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report released in preparation for the Bali meeting, eleven of the last twelve years rank among the twelve warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature. The temperature increase is widespread over the globe, and is greater at higher northern latitudes. The average sea level has risen since 1961 because of thermal expansion, melting glaciers and ice caps, and the polar ice sheets. The polar caps are melting and mountain glaciers and snow cover on average have declined in both hemispheres. In short, the lifeboat is about to get swamped. We're way past concern. Radical, meaningful and immediate action is the only course available. It's time. Get out of your comfortable chairs and take action.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s current report can be found at www.ipcc.ch.
Climate Change 101: Understanding and Responding to Global Climate Change is available at www.pewclimatechange.org.