Best of Doug Thomas: Two Degrees of Separation

Dec. 30, 2009.


(Our Canadian columnist looks at global warming and what humanists can do about it. Originally published in the  on Aug.12, 2009.)

Environmental scientists indicate that we are two centigrade (C) degrees from irreversible global warming. That is we were two degrees away a couple of years ago. Since then the average temperature has climbed by .7 degrees C and scientists estimate that there is enough carbon dioxide stored in the oceans to add another .7 degrees as they warm up. The two degrees of separation are now something like .6 degrees.

Not much buffer is left. Most scientists predict that after that estimated two-degree increase, a cascade effect will occur. The warmed Arctic Ocean, for example, will become a net heat generator rather than a heat sink since dark water absorbs more heat than white ice.

Then the "permanently" frozen ground around it will thaw, releasing carbon dioxide and methane trapped for eons. Carbon dioxide sinks on the planet will become carbon dioxide sources causing carbon dioxide concentrations to escalate geometrically. The planet will warm even more quickly releasing more secondary carbon dioxide and methane. Think Venus.

There are skeptics, some of them oil-fired economists, but consider this: the pollutants that are driving these temperature increases also cause about twenty thousand premature lung disease deaths each year in Ontario.

Argue what you will, we humanists need to be more aggressive in lobbying for more environmental action. The time for tinkering has passed. We humanists must work on two levels, personal and governmental,  to mount the kind of change in direction that Al Gore says is possible.

Personally, we need to reduce our carbon footprint. Abandon the car for walking and cycling. Reduce consumption of animal protein. The fewer belching animals we encourage, the less methane (twenty times worse than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas) will be produced. Plant trees and shrubs. Eliminate grass. Add insulation to our homes. Turn up the air conditioning thermostat. Turn down the heat thermostat. Use public transportation, particularly surface transportation where possible. The list we keep ignoring goes on.

All of these are well known tactics to reduce the production of carbon dioxide and methane. We need to commit to them now.

Politically we need to hold our leaders' feet to the fire. Refuse to accept half measures. Demand increased funding for public transit and proper fair rebates and tax breaks on environmentally friendly vehicles. Insist on real carbon dioxide standards, not the cap and trade dodge that Europeans have demonstrated doesn't work. Insist on the same kind of effort that went into the race to the moon. I need to write my Member of Parliament. You need to write your Congressman. Our mayors and councilors need to hear from us, too.

We can do all of these things with the political will. As humanists we know that we are responsible for what happens to our species and to our fellow earth species. Keeping Earth's climate within the range we have evolved to live in is imperative. The thermometer is ticking.




Doug Thomas is an English teacher and novelist, an agnostic member of SOFREE (Society of Ontario Freethinkers), and an active member of the Humanist Association of Canada. He is also Managing Editor of Canadian Freethinker.