We know that the sea levels will rise, possibly 10 meters (30 feet) or more, and possibly within this century. (Greenland ice sheet=6.5 meters rise, west Antarctica ice sheet=8 meters, interglacial periods=20 meters rise – source: usgs), Even the early phase of this rise will have a major impact on many of the most populated cities and areas of the world.
At the same time, it seems that the implications of this is not taken seriously yet, including by investors (it will soon make much less sense to own property close to current sea levels), urban planners, insurance companies (who insures property that is more and more likely to be flooded), home owners (that great ocean front property may not be so attractive), and also politicians (having to deal with economical impacts of rising sea levels, including building dikes and rebuilding areas of cities on higher ground) and international organizations (having to deal with migrations and relocation of large number of people displaced by the rising sea levels.) And as with so many other things, it will impact those with less resources more. Wealthy countries and cities can stave off much of the impact through technology and engineering, but poorer areas do not have that option.
The top photo shows ice covering of the north pole in September 2005, which is the smallest ice cap recorded.
Manhattan if (when?) the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica melts.
I tried a simplified Ecological Footprint calculator again, and got a number that seems a little low. (From more comprehensive calculators I have used in the past, I suspect that the number may be more in the 10-15 acre range.)
How do you take small or large steps in your life to avoid unnecessarily leaving casualties in your wake?
For me, it means to look at the inner (attitude, heart) and the outer, the local and global, and then find and use approaches that appear good at all levels. The inner is my attitude and heart. The outer is my life, those close to me, my local community and ecosystem, the global social and ecological systems, and (not the least) future generations of any species. The local is the immediate results, and the global are the far reaching and long term results.
Dealing with such as complex situation, essentially embracing all of my own life and the life of the Earth as a whole, it is obviously a work in progress, subject to change with new information and new situations.
Often, it is not so hard as it may seem, and I also don’t expect anything close to perfection. Approximation is OK, along with moving in the direction of better informed and more deeply compassionate choices.
For my own inner life, I find many different ways of working with an open heart, including recognizing and integrating projections. The more I see how we are all in the same boat, the more my heart naturally opens – to myself and others. And the more I realize how profoundly interconnected all of our lives are, on many different levels, the more I am motivated to act in ways that benefit us all, including other species, ecosystems and future generations. A healthy social and ecological system, on local and global levels, is essential for my own health and well-being. My own self-interest and the interest of the larger whole are not so different.
In terms of a general guideline for choices, I have found the Ecological Footprint to be the most useful tool. What size land and sea area is needed to support my current lifestyle? The smaller my own EF, the more resources are (in theory) available for other humans, other species, and future generations. In the western industrialized world, our EF is typically four or five times larger than our fair Earth share, which is what is available to each of us if resources were divided equally among all humans, and some is left to other species.
Globally, we are currently using more resources than can be replenished by the ecosystems. In economical terms, we are living off the principal and not just the interest. This situation of overshoot seems fine for a while. After all, there are more money in the bank and we can support our lifestyle with it just fine (at least those fortunate enough to have access to the account.) But the less principal, the less interest, and the quicker the money are depleted. It is a long crash. For a while, it does not impact our life at all, or very little. But then, suddenly, it is all too obvious. And too late. As Al Gore said, we are like someone with homemade wings jumping off a cliff. For a while we are in the air and it seems that we are flying… until we hit the ground.
Back to what we can do in our own lives: there are several EF calculators out there, showing which areas of my life has the most impact on my EF. For most of us, it is air travel, and then the other usual suspects such as car use, food, and so on.
In EF terms, my guideline of finding solutions that appear good at all levels, becomes the question how can I increase my quality of life while minimizing my ecological footprint?
Some of the answers for me is to…
Try to reduce air travel as much as possible, by taking fewer trips, use train or bus whenever possible, and vacationing locally (lots of opportunities for that here in the Northwest.)
Reduce car use, by walking and biking (which gives fresh air and exercise) and use public transportation (which gives me a sense of belonging in a more real way to the community, and also an opportunity to explore projections sometimes.)
Buy used clothing (I can find high-quality and interesting clothes for far less money, the pesticides are already washed out of the fabric, and I don’t give my money to corporations that use sweatshop labor – which almost all clothing manufacturers do these days.)
Have a small house (takes up less space, less use of materials, easier to heat, less space to fill with things.) In town (so I can walk, bike, and use public transportation locally.) And share with housemates (which is often enjoyable, and also helps our personal economy.)
Eat locally produced food (supports the local economy, gives me a connection with the farmers, reduces energy needed to transport food, and provides me with me seasonal, fresh and vital food) and organic when possible (although local is more important.)
Eat mostly low on the food chain (it takes far more land and resources to produce meat than grains, fruits and vegetables.)
Try to minimize money given to large corporations, and especially those using sweatshop labor (buying used, fair trade, or make my own – such as furniture.)
All in all, these things gives me more of a real connection to my local community and ecosystems (by walking, biking, using public transportation, buying local, vacationing locally), it is good for my health (exercise, fresh seasonal food), and also gives me a sense of solidarity with people around the world, other species, and future generations. There is a sense of us all being in the same boat, on the same side – the side of supporting life.
Readings Erik’s post, I am also struck by how the guidelines for ethical living must change with changing times. In traditional Buddhist communities, their impact was only immediate and local. It made sense to focus on one’s immediate relations with humans and other species, because that is all there was (unless you cut down all the trees or did something else that would impact future generations.)
But today, our situation is very different. Our local and daily actions have a very real and significant impact around the world and for future generations. We can be nice to the local critters all we want, even buy fish and release them in the thousands, but it pales in comparison to the impact a large ecological footprint has on our global social and ecological systems.
Today, the global impact of our actions has to be taken into consideration.
A few days ago, a report(summary) exploring the economic impact of climate change came out, produced by Sir Nicholas Stern, former chief economist at the World Bank.
The general links between ecology and economy are pretty obvious.
First, no ecology means no economy. Without the services provided by our ecosystems, there would be no humans around, and no resources for our economy either.
Beyond that, we see that the quality and health of our ecosystems are directly linked with the quality and health of our social and economical systems, in myriads of different ways. A healthy economy requires healthy and abundant ecosystems.
The abundance from our ecosystems is what feeds us with everything we need, and what feeds our economy as well.
With climate change, there are also innumerable more specific consequences for our global and local society and economy. Here are just a few obvious ones…
Rising sea levels
Most of the human population live near or at the coast, and this goes for most of the large cities as well. It will cost massive amounts of money to build dikes for protection, to repair damage from rising sea levels and storms, and rebuild further inland.
We are likely to see desertification of large areas in the equatorial zones, which means reduced food production there, and large scale migrations. Which in turn is a huge issue, also economically. Where will they go? Who will provide food and health care for them?
The oceans absorb CO2 and gradually become more acidic. If this continues, they will become acidic enough to prevent bone formation, which means the end of fish.
The weather will generally become more extreme, which means a need for stricter building and engineering standards, and also the need for more repairs, both of which are costly.
Food production is likely to decline, through desertification and extreme weather.
There will be mass migrations of people due to rising sea levels and desertification. They will need food, health care, and a place to live, which will be expensive and a source of conflict.
Climate related conflicts will most likely take many forms and appear at many scales. Who controls resources? What about those who abuse the commons for their own narrow self-interest? Who will feed and receive climate refugees?
Benefits of turning around
At the same time, there are innumerable benefits of turning around to a more sustainable, thrivable and life-centered way of organizing our society and economy.
For one, developing and producing more sustainable technologies can give a great boost to our economy. And there are many other benefits as well, such as cleaner air, oceans, land and food, an emphasis on local communities and economies, eating locally produced seasonal food, building denser and walkable communities, shifting more to public transportation, and so on.
I am involved in organizing a local, informal, slow paced and ongoing film series, mostly focused on sustainability issues and followed by a discussion. And a friend of mine pointed me to the perfect source: The Film Connection.
They are based in Portland, Oregon, and ship DVDs to local groups for free, with the one condition that they organize a discussion following the watching of the film. A quick browse through their collection revealed a large number of movies I personally would like to see, along with some of my old favorites such as Baraka, Escape from Affluenza, Fierce Grace, Rivers and Tides, and Dersu Uzala.
The Film Connection offers a diverse and compelling film lending library intended to inform, challenge, entertain, and gather communities together in conversation. Our mission is to promote community, civic engagement, and positive social change through film and an open exchange of ideas, opinions and perspectives.
The Earth is a living system, a seamless fluid whole (of nature and culture, ecology and civilization)
Earth’s climate can shift between attractor states relatively quickly. Major changes in the climate can happen over a few decades, or even within just one.
If, or rather when, the icecaps of Greenland and Antarctica melts, sea levels will rise about 30 meter. A large portion of the world’s population, including most of the major cities, are at and close to current sea levels.
Denial is not only a river in Egypt: It is amazing to me that people still invest in property near the ocean and close to current sea levels. Only a few places has the geography and capacity to protect these through dikes and dams. At most locations, buildings near sea level will have to be abandoned to the ocean, most likely within just a few decades. Why do people still invest and build there? It is not as if we don’t know what is going to happen.
Much of the CO2 released since the beginning of the industrial revolution has been absorbed by the oceans, gradually making them less alkaline and more acidic. Bone, shell and choral formation is dependent on alkaline oceans. If it gets too acidic, it means the end of fish, shells and coral reefs, which is the end of the oceans as a supply of human food.
There are innumerable positive feedback loops at play, amplifying warming trends. The albedo is one: Current icecaps reflect light back into space. As they retreat, revealing darker land or ocean beneath them, more heat is absorbed, speeding the melting of the remaining icecaps.
The tropics are likely to get dryer, making currently fertile lands into deserts. This, and the rising sea levels, are likely to migrations of people at a scale beyond anything we have seen so far.
The global ocean currents, including the conveyor belt is likely to be disrupted, and this includes changes to the golf stream – possibly plunging Europe into a new ice age.
Global food production will be disrupted by rising sea levels (flooding land now used for food production), drought in equatorial regions, and whatever else may happen such as disruption to ocean life, European ice age, and crops destroyed by more extreme and unpredictable weather.
Mass migrations and disruptions to water and food supplies leads to issues of their own, including the potential for large scale violence in the form of wars and civil unrest. Even people at world-centric levels may revert to ethno- and ego-centric ways of operating.
If the shifts are at the extreme end of what is presently predicted, the main human population – vastly reduced from current numbers, may be found on Antarctica.
Due to lag effects, these changes cannot be stopped. Even if no more climate gasses were released, starting today, the effects of what has already been release will continue for 50 to 200 years into the future.
We need rapid and massive changes in how we organize our lives globally and individually to offset some of the future effects of climate gasses, going far beyond anything we see or talk about today.
We need to prepare – globally, regionally and locally, for the changes to come. What do we do if regional and global food production is disrupted? What do we do with massive migrations of people within and across continents? What do we do with epidemics due to changes in climate and moving populations?
And did I mention that phase transitions are rapid, and that all this may happen much faster than we imagine today?
And then there is peak oil, with its own issues (which, by the way, will not be the solution to climate change).
Earth talking to us
Climate chaos and peak oil are some of the ways the Earth talks to us.
We act, and there are consequences. We try an experiment, and get the data. We behave and there is feedback.
We have experimented with releasing massive amounts of climate gasses, and now reap the effects of that experiment.
We experiment with creating a civilization dependent on petroleum, and get to see what happens when the age of cheap petroleum rapidly is over.
The Earth talks to us. The question is how we listen, and what we do with what we hear.
We also know that our ancestors came from the sea, and they learned to bring this water with them when they moved up on dry land. This mobile ocean is still a part of each of us today.
Life is flow, and water supports this flow in a very concrete way.
As usual, the simplest approach is often the best. My guideline is to drink enough to maintain light colored or near-clear urine. This approach automatically takes into account many of the varying needs dependent on temperature, physical activity and so on.
I notice a significant difference between the days my water intake is lower than this, and the days where my intake is around this level. In general, there seems to be more flow, space and ease when the water intake is higher, and more of a sense of multiple-level congestion if it is not.
I notice more energy at a physical level if I am well hydrated. If I am dehydrated, everything seems to slow down and I notice that my digestive system in particular seems more clogged up.
I also notice a tendency to go on the “inside” of contractions if I am dehydrated. I identify with and get caught up in them more easily. The space to allow them to come and go on their own seems less accessible.
Adaptive water monitoring system
After doing this more conscientiously for a while, I also notice that my internal water monitoring system seems to adapt. Now, there are clear signs whenever I need to drink more water – and if I follow the signs my intake is around the 80-85 ounces recommended (see below).
Five elements view of water needs
In the Five Elements acupuncture world, they recommend drinking a lot of water.
More precisely, they recommend drinking the number of ounces that comes from taking your body weight in pounds and dividing it in half. So, a body weight of 165lb gives 82-83 ounces of water. It is of course only a rough number, and I am sure it changes with persperation, ambient temperature, humidity, activity level, age, gender, health and so on.
What is certain is that water is essential for our health and that drinking a ample amount of clean water has a wide range of health benefits.
With our increasing global population and changing patterns of rainfall (due to climate change, regional deforestation and so on), there is no wonder that access to clean fresh water is seen as a potentially significant contributor to international conflict later in this century…
Joanna Macy talks about the Great Turning from an industrial-growth society to a life-sustaining civilization.
And an aspect of this turning is the change of worldview.
Currently, we operate collectively from a fragmented and dualistic worldview. We see the world as separate objects bumping into each other, with no inherent mutual connection apart from being in approximately in the same space at the same time. This is a worldview that leads to power-over mentality, and to isolation, lack of meaning, fear, accumulation, insatiability, etc.
A collective more transdual worldview helps us see everything as aspects of a seamless fluid whole. The Universe is a holarchy of nested systems, one within another. We can make distinctions, but within the context of this fluid and seamless whole. There are no absolute boundaries. This is a worldview of flow and connections, and one that sees power as power-with. My own health and well-being is intimately connected with that of all my subsystems and all the larger systems I am part of. From this sense of connection comes a sense of deep belonging to the Earth and the Universe, a sense of meaning, a sense of trust (although not naive or blind), and a sense of fullness and richness. With this worldview, we operate in a very different way.
And we can experience this worldview through experiencing our inner wholeness – of body/psyche – awakened through for instance an integral practice. When we experience the whole that embraces this body/psyche, we also experience being an integral part of the larger whole. There are no absolute boundaries. Everything is part of a seamless fluid whole.
Footnote: An integral practice can include all our relationships – to the body, energy system, emotions, thoughts, intimate relationships, social and ecological relationships, and our relationship to Existence. Typical components may be meditation, yoga (any form), exercise, nutrition, studies of/within an integral framework, and – for instance – inquiry.
For me right now, it consists of Zen practice, Breema (bodywork and self-Breemas), Byron Katie‘s inquiry, being with/being what I am experiencing right now (Raphael Kushnir), deekshas, studies of/within the AQAL model, walking/biking/hiking, solution focused culture change engagement (initiating NWEI courses, permaculture etc.), and the Big Mind process (facilitating myself and others).
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