Scoop on Sustainability: Society’s growing need for a carbon diet
Published: Friday, February 22, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 22, 2013 01:02
I’m aware that the climate has been changing in cycles for as long as we have documented it. Our planet is constantly changing; mountains are rising, volcanoes erupting, plates shifting, and icebergs growing and melting. These are all perfectly natural occurrences and perfectly normal.
But “normal” has a timeline. Losing weight as you start eating healthily or exercising is normal. Lose a pound or so a week and you’ll feel and look great. Starving yourself and not sleeping, or over-exercising, may help you lose 25 pounds in two weeks, but it’s not normal. Your organs may not adjust to the weight and insulation change that fast, causing your body to be over-stressed and devoid of vital nutrients.
In this way, organisms are very relatable to the environment. Slow change over time is normal, but fast, big change will starve our environment of the time it needs to react to change.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a natural chemical in our atmosphere. CO2 is also man-made by burning fossil fuels like the gasoline in our cars. CO2 is considered a greehouse gas because it lets heat into the atmosphere but also traps it in, causing a buildup of heat and contributing to global climate change. CO2 levels have been measured back 650,000 years through ice cores. Prior to the industrial revolution, atmospheric CO2 concentrations peaked at about 300 parts per million (ppm) around 300,000, 220,000, and 110,000 years ago, respectively. Currently, levels are approaching 400 ppm, surpassing the previous highest levels that occurred around 1950.
This is fast change. This is not normal. So why was it 60 degrees Fahrenheit in early February? Possibly just an abnormal high, but average temperatures are rising rapidly. There have also been many extreme storms in New England lately. Two summers ago, Hurricane Irene took 56 lives. This past fall, Hurricane Sandy tore through the East coastline, causing 285 fatalities and leaving approximately $50 billion in damages. There hadn’t been a storm as bad as either of these in the past 30 years. So what will happen in October of 2013?
Will our houses always be tough enough?
Will heat always be bearable?
Will food always be growable?
Will ocean levels drown our low-lying cities?
Will species, even humans, always be strong enough, smart enough, and adaptable enough?
There’s only one way to find out, but that’s a grand risk to take. There’s another perfectly feasible option: change.
It’s human nature to always strive to be the best. Getting things done faster, cheaper and with less labor is the incentive for every technological advance. But we’ve made our point: we, as humans, are the most intelligent, highest-ranking members of the food chain. It’s time to stop trying to succeed as a single species; now we must challenge ourselves to succeed as part of our broader ecosystem.
We’re born into the world by nature. We grow by what nature feeds us, learn by what nature teaches us. At some age along the way, we forget that nature needs our help, too. At this age, we must change.
Abbey Tedford is a freshman at UNH majoring in biology. She is interested in environmental sustainability, film production and adventure.