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From Global Destruction to Regeneration

EarthWISE—Megan Quinn Bachman

Any honest look at the state of our planet will conjure up such headlines as “Unprecedented Global Climate Changes Threaten Survival of Modern Civilization,” “Global Oil Production Stalls Out at All-Time High and May Soon Collapse,” “Natural Resources Diminishing Faster Than They Can Be Replenished” and “Mass Extinction Event Not Seen Since Time of Dinosaurs Underway.”

And any honest assessment of the root causes of these crises identify humanity’s over-consumptive, out-of-balance, unsustainable way of life. But when it comes to solutions, how often are they of sufficient scale to turn the tide? Usually we get simple lists, such as the top ten ways to save the planet, with the endlessly repetitive recommendations to change light bulbs, properly inflate tires, and, of course, recycle various household items.

That we need massive and immediate cuts in our carbon dioxide emissions and fossil fuel use is not the message of environmental alarmists but many of the world’s governments and top scientists. At a meeting of the Group of Eight nations in July, world leaders agreed to cut emissions by 80 percent by 2050. President Obama has promised as much, adding the need to begin now by making deep reductions by 2020.

Time is running out. But we can’t say we haven’t been warned.

In 1972 the Club of Rome’s monumental study, Limits to Growth, projected population growth and resource depletion and informed us we were outstripping the earth’s carrying capacity. In 1969 Shell geologist M. King Hubbert projected that worldwide oil production would peak around the year 2000 and diminish toward exhaustion. And in 1987 the United Nation’s Brundtland Commission urged sustainable development, defining it as meeting the “needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Yet in each year since these warnings, the ability of the earth’s resources to sustain its fast-growing population has been degraded, our industrial society has continued to consume oil and other fossil fuels as if supplies were endless, and the needs of the future have been compromised for the unbridled, excessive consumption of today.

The human prospect grows dim while the planet is ravaged. But dwelling on such dismal statistics as the fact that one-quarter of all coral reefs are gone or constantly lamenting the plight of the polar bears and the more than 100 species that go extinct every day doesn’t change a thing.

As the proverb goes, the best time for planting a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. So let’s embark on a massive grass roots effort to adopt the real solutions to the huge problems we face.

These include anything that drastically curtails personal energy use such as retrofitting our homes and businesses, reduces the need for the transport of goods or people, such as relocalizing agriculture and other production, or increases the amount of time spent on low-energy, communal activities, such as community gardening or a bike ride.

These are the solutions we’ll explore in more detail in future columns. But beyond facts and figures, you’ll read stories of the eco-pioneers who are transforming their lives—and those around them. May you be inspired to transform yours too.

Together we can halt global destruction, but only if we begin global regeneration. Even if we never live to experience it, living harmlessly and harmoniously in balance with nature should be our greatest aspiration. It is our birthright. And it is our only hope.

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