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Suppleness And Going Beyond First Glance

December 8th, 2009 by Alison · 3 Comments · energy, global warming and climate change, health & well being, simplicity

It’s a frigid 18 degrees as I write here in Portland, Oregon, with the air so dry that the skin on the back of my right hand is brittle, cracking into little red lesions, despite my frequently rubbing lotion into them to keep them supple. In this same moment, Copenhagen, Denmark where the world climate talks are taking place is basking in a balmy 45 degrees (and I’ll bet the Danish womens’ hands look a lot better than mine). But wait, how can this be? Copenhagen is considerably closer to the North Pole than Portland, as in 55 degrees latitude versus 45 degrees latitude.

The takeaway: things aren’t always what we would think they’d be at first glance. Portland is colder than Copenhagen right now despite it being farther south. What seems apparent, like common sense, isn’t always true. This is especially the case with global warming, which tends to be invisible to us unless we are standing, for instance, in Glacier National Park, looking at photos of the glaciers 50 years ago in contrast to the current, shrunken versions. We also tend to confuse weather, which changes daily, with climate, which changes only over the long term and with much greater consequences than weather. Weather is like a person’s mood in this moment, while climate is comparable to the person’s overall mental health. Portland is cold right now, even though the world’s climate is the warmest it’s been in recorded human history. Again, we have to go beyond first glance to see what’s true.

Public concern about global warming has plummeted in the past two years, not just in the  U.S. but in Sweden and Australia, for example, too.  Yet, the science, already at a consensus years ago, only keeps moving in the direction of more certainty that it is real, human-caused, advancing fast, and a danger to civilization as we know it.

It’s a safe bet that the economic problems of the past two years are preoccupying people all over the world, putting money fears to the top of their mental lists, and global warming fears toward the bottom of their priorities. Yet the famously conservative Economist states that to effectively address global warming, the world needs to invest just 1% of its GDP in alternative energy. (In comparison, it’s taken 5% of the world’s GDP to save the world’s banks). The problem, the colossal challenge, is in getting rich and poor nations alike to agree on a shared path. When has that ever happened in the history of the world? On the other hand, when has the world ever before been faced with such a, well, global problem as global warming?

Looking at growing populations in many countries and growing per capita use of energy almost everywhere, we don’t just need large investments worldwide in alternative energy. We also need willingness in the developed countries to use less energy of all kinds. We tend to resist that notion vigorously, yet levels of happiness in the U.S. peaked in the late 1950′s, at a time of much less energy consumption and overall consumption than today.

We in the developed world are suffering from a notion of happiness as brittle as the skin on my hands has become in the cold weather.  Things are not always as they seem: our lives do not have to become miserable as we adjust to global warming, any more than Copenhagen does not always have to be colder than Portland, despite lying far north of it. We can indeed be happy while consuming less. It’s not just about simplicity; it’s about increased vitality, community and interconnectedness. See my most popular posts in the right column for some tips on win-wins for us and the planet that’s hosting us.

The more supple we are, the more we’re able to deal with global warming. Good-bye for now; I have to go put some more lotion on my hands.

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3 Comments so far ↓

  • Lou Grinzo

    Nicely said, as always.

    A few thoughts:

    Your comment about using less energy is right, and it points to something we’ll have to deal with more often in the future: People assuming that just because they get 100% green electricity as an extra-price option they should use all they want to pay for. Until the electricity supply is largely green, it’s still in everyone’s best interest for even the people buying 100% clean electricity to use less, since it leaves more for others and therefore makes it easier to phase out fossil fuel sources.

    After talking to some of my conservative friends and relatives about this, I think the biggest fear they have about a low-carbon future is that it will either be hideously expensive or that they’ll be “forced” to give up their car or drive something tiny and underpowered (read: wimpy) that they hate. Trying to put those fears to rest is very tough, as I’ve found out personally, and it will be an ongoing challenge.

  • Crafty Green poet

    Very good post, sorry for taking my time to get to it. The UK is likely to get colder as the earth warms as we’re likely to lose the Gulf Stream that currently keeps us relatively warm…. it’s certainly snowed much more over the past few years than it did for the couple of decades previous to that.

    It is a real challenge to help people see that a low impact life can still be one filled with joy. Too many people are wedded to consumerism to be able to understand how we can be happy without consuming ever increasing amounts of whatever it is we want to consume. Even greener consumerism isn’t sustainable. You and I and a significant number of other people know that but the majority don’t and its going to be really difficult to turn things around.

  • Alison

    Lou and Juliet: very well said. Thanks for writing.

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