Sunday, March 29, 2009

What Matters

I am currently reading a book by David Elliot Cohen called What Matters. In it some of the world's preeminent thinkers depict essential issues of our time. All pictures and facts are from this book.

The first chapter is called Meltdown. In this visual age that we live in it is not surprising that we went 15 years knowing about global warming and doing nothing, because we had no pictures. Now the pictures have started to come, and they will not cease.

Some facts:
  1. Americans make up 4% of the population, but produce 25% of the carbon dioxide. China's emissions have caught us, but there are four times as many people there. We have been doing it for a hundred years. This one's on us.
  2. A stack of 40 billion one-dollar bills is 10,856 miles high. That is how much profit ExxonMobil made in 2006. It takes but a small fraction of that haul to buy the political juice that keeps Congress from acting responsibly.
  3. Our greatest climatologist, James Hansen, has given us eight more years to reverse the flow of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, or else soar past the red lines that guard the great ice shelves. There is 25 feet of sea level rise in the ice above Greenland alone. Can we change that fast? It is not clear we can.
  4. The next few years are a kind of final exam for the human species. Does that big brain really work or not? It gives us the power to build coal-fired power plants and SUV's, and thereby destabilize the working of the earth. But does it give us the power to back away from those sources of power, to build a world that isn't bent on destruction?
  5. At some level, the answer depends on our imaginations. We can and will dream up new technologies. Lets just hope it is in time.

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