Sunday, July 08, 2007

Flat as a pannenkoek - and in trouble

Okay, now this blog post may seem to be a reaction to yesterday’s big worldwide concerts “live earth” and I guess in a way it is, but I want to set it clear that I am genuinely concerned about the issue of human-induced climate change, it’s something that I’ve grown up being concerned about and I guess I know more about it that your average pop/rock star as I did a degree in Geography, where I studied exactly the problems that yesterday was all about (apparently).

I have to say that I have a great deal of respect for what Al Gore is trying to do. His film “An inconvenient truth” is indeed the best way I’ve seen so far at trying to educate the public at large about climate change. But what drove me mad last night, while watching the concert, was the way that celebrities such as the Pussycat Dolls (arrrghghg) repeatedly referred to this problem as a “worthy cause”. It simply isn’t a “worthy cause” it’s a f***ing huge crisis that we all have to deal with. We are not fighting for the safety of a few million people that we don’t know, we are fighting for the survival of our planet – at that involves all of us and our children.

The two quotes that hit me the hardest in Al Gore's movie are the following. Please read them and accept them for the power they hold. The first quote is taken from the part of the film when Gore is talking about balancing economic development versus human induced climate change:

"We have here a scales that balances two different things. On one side, we have *gold* bars! Mmmmmm, don't they look good? I'd just like to have some of those gold bars. Mmmmm. On the other side of the scales... um... THE ENTIRE PLANET! Hmmmm... "

But this second quote is one that should haunt people of my generation:

"Future generations may well have occasion to ask themselves, "What were our parents thinking? Why didn't they wake up when they had a chance?" We have to hear that question from them, now."

I urge everyone reading my blog to watch the film. It’s not an Al Gore promotional campaign, he knows his stuff, he studied it, still studies it and is doing what he can do (which is more than the average person can) to help create a tipping point of support in fighting the causes of human-induced climate change.

Anyway, I want to bring this issue back to the theme of my blog and focus in on what climate change means for my new home country, the Netherlands.

We all know that Holland is as flat as a pancake (pannenkoek) and that a huge percentage of the country is below sea-level. The Dutch, over their entire history fought a “war with the sea” (that’s actually how they refer to it!). That war is going to getting fiercer and fiercer if generally held scientific views come to fruition. If these predictions do come true then some of the more densely populated areas of the world will be underwater within my lifetime, we are talking about Manhattan, Florida, the delta plains of Bangladesh, Shanghai, and the Netherlands.

Here’s a link to what to me is a vastly over-dramatic American trailer for the film, but it shows the impact of the sea-level rise in the areas I mention above and the implications of this:

Link to movie trailer

It is scary stuff and human beings are to blame by pumping out ever increasing levels of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide. The CO2 levels in our atmosphere are higher now than in any other point in the Earth’s long history. There are natural cycles of high and low CO2 levels, but we’ve gone way beyond those now. And the scariest thing of all is just how far we are going outside the normal levels. But what does all this extra CO2 mean? Well basically, the more CO2 in our atmosphere the hotter our planet becomes, that’s a fact. CO2 (and other greenhouse gases) basically trap the sun’s energy in the atmosphere. You can rest assured that if we keep increasing the amount of CO2 present in our delicate little atmosphere then it’s going to get a lot hotter. The heat melts the ice on the surface of our planet and the icecaps, and the less icecaps we have reflecting the sun’s energy (like mirrors) the more the sea receives this energy directly and heats up too. It’s a vicious circle which basically results in us having increasingly more water in our world than ice, and a lot more warm water, which leads to devastating events like hurricanes.

Now, this may all seem like abstract science (even though it’s all just off the top of my head as I had it drilled into me since I was eleven years old – my geography teachers were great), but I can see the changes happening all around me. I’ve seen and heard over the last four weeks more lightening and thunder storms than I’ve seen over the previous 5 years. They are happening nearly every other day. The Netherlands is a very humid place, but I never expected "tropical storms" like this. Every week our road floods, it looks like a river (or more like a typical Amsterdam canal), and this worries me. What if this river decides not to seep away through the drainage system, but the (already) high water table in Amsterdam rises? There will certainly be more mosquitoes to defend myself against, and I’m already struggling with them (they arrived in March this year). The trees in our street were in bloom with their blossom in January, and both last autumn and winter were the warmest since records began.

I’m telling you, it’s obvious to see all around us already. Everyone’s crazy about the weird, wet weather we’ve had over the last month, but is there not something behind this.

You could say I’m reading too much into it, you could ignore it, or laugh it off. But what if I’m not wrong? How would you feel in 25 years when your children ask the question I quoted above? Pretty sick I think. The most sensible thing the presenters of Live Earth said last night was to compare climate change to slavery. We now look back at the slave trade of previous centuries with sickness in our stomachs, sadness in our hearts and guilt of being cruel white men in our brains. But how will we feel in 25 years if we look back at ourselves in 2007 with the knowledge that we then could have made a difference, but now all the polar bears are extinct, our icecaps have disappeared and millions and millions of people, including many Dutch people, have been displaced from their homes.

Just think about everything you do today, and whether you can do it in a more energy conscious way. Small examples:

  • Boil just enough water to make your cup of tea (kettles use huge amounts of energy)
  • Turn of the lights, unless you really need them
  • Don’t leave things on stand-by
  • Don’t buy products in the supermarket that have had to been transported half way around the world (if no-one buys them, the supermarket won't stock them)
  • Draw your curtains at night, especially in the winter, as this helps reduce the effort of your central heating
  • Don't leave your mobile phone charger plugged-in to the wall. It uses energy even if your phone isn't attached to it. Feel the plug part of the charger, it's warm, because it's using (wasting) energy.

Here's a great website with more ideas, and it allows you to keep track too:

http://www.wearewhatwedo.org/

These are just such tiny easy actions, and there’s loads more of them. And they could make a big difference. You could make a big difference.

Enough said.

1 comment:

Pascal said...

Here is a very interesting graph from the KNMI (the Royal Dutch Meteorology Institute) about 2006 being the warmest year on record and having the warmest autumn. Take your own conclusions from the graph, but I'm exchanging my lightbulbs!

Graph: http://www.knmi.com/VinkCMS/viewimage.jsp?url=/VinkCMS/mmbase/images/35771&caption=Recordjaar+2006+%28ANP+-bron+KNMI%29&title=Recordjaar+2006+%28ANP+-bron+KNMI%29