The morning sun isn’t yet up but I can already feel the heat of the day coming toward me. The heat is like the sound of a distant army marching steadily closer, coming to burn all the moisture out of the day. Mist in the bay on the far shore hides in the shadows; it will be the first to go. It is hard to avoid thoughts of global warming on these hot August days.
I’ve just finished reading The Revenge of Gaia by James Lovelock – only a year late. I haven’t read anything by Lovelock since my years at university, but what strikes me is how true his earlier predictions seem to ring. I remember studying his idea of Gaia which, very basically, connects all living things in their regulatory effect on the Earth’s environment, contributing to the balance that allows life to exist.
Back then I thought Lovelock was simply incorporating the views of other, older cultures and putting his own spin on them. I took his Gaia theory and incorporated it into my own philosophy. I have always held onto ideas that have a sense of harmony and balance to them. The idea of every living thing contributing to the overall ability of life to exist on Earth makes sense. Everything contributes, all for one and one for all.
Although I took up his Gaia philosophy, I didn’t take it to heart. I suppose I didn’t truly realize the extent of the damage I was causing to the earth. I went on driving my gas-guzzling, carbon-emitting car and, for at least five years, rationalized that I was contributing to the environment by recycling and using my blue box regularly. I watched as each year the weather became more and more extreme. I listened as record-breaking heat waves hit Europe and greater numbers of major hurricanes pounded our shores. Reports of flood, drought, and famine flash over my computer screen every single day. Lovelock’s predictions of impending climate change seem to be coming true.
The environmental movement is gaining strength, as it rallies public opinion behind the science. Will it gain enough strength to cause the real cultural change needed to reverse the damage already done? I still go to work in an air-conditioned car, spend my days in an air-conditioned building. But things are changing in my life. I try now more than ever to write about the environment. I know that my next vehicle purchase will be a hybrid. I feel guilty when I leave the lights on, or use the air conditioner in my home. I usually avoid turning on the lights in my office. I tell myself that the little things count. I hope more than anything that they will.
Lovelock writes of how farming has changed over the years in order to feed the ever-growing population and of how we are stripping the earth of her bounty in order to feed ourselves. Mankind is now farming at least half of the available land on the globe, leaving very little natural world to renew the resources we deplete.
The Revenge of Gaia has a section on power generation. I’ve always been strongly anti-nuclear, but I should specify it as anti-fission. Lovelock points out the shortcomings of a lot of green power and his preference for nuclear fusion – the nuclear combustion of hydrogen. He writes about the Tokomak reactor at the Culham Science Centre in the United Kingdom and the prospects for fusion energy, which are fascinating: “Nuclear waste of a fusion reactor is the harmless non-radioactive gas helium, and there are no long-term radioactive wastes.”
He worries that although nuclear fusion energy is within reach, it might take 20 years before it takes hold because of the timelines necessary to build the fusion reactors.
Lovelock concludes that nuclear power must be supported because of how little time he believes Earth has before we go past the point of no return. He says it is a point where the globe will become too hot to support life and vast portions of it will turn to desert.
I wonder if we truly are that close to drastically screwing up the world. I don’t have enough knowledge to know. I have learned that the planet is incredibly resilient, but then mankind is incredibly destructive.
But what makes me a true supporter of the environmentalists isn’t their predictions, or the extremes of Mother Nature, it is that this whole push is forcing us to take the technology we possess and make it better.
For the last 20 years the vast majority of technology has been focused on gadgetry, with very few research and development dollars going into anything but toys. If the environmental movement can push research dollars towards real innovative breakthroughs that add to our knowledge rather than diffuse it, then I’m behind it all the way.
The thing I can’t understand is what the harm is in supporting the environmentalist movement. Why are some people so against it? If there is even a small chance that we could refocus the massive amount of time and energy spent on designing gadgetry, to instead come up with a solution for clean power generation, then paint me green and give me a tree to hug.
The sun is slowly lighting up the sky. Its light touches the tips of the tall green pines, making them look as if they are on fire. I must push away these thoughts of doom and destruction. Another hot day is coming… maybe it will rain.
Sarah Thomson can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.