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Living lightly: the great leap to sustainability on mother earth.

How can we bring about a safe climate when inaction for too long has allowed atmospheric carbon dioxide (C[O.sub.2]) levels to rise to 390 parts per million (ppm)? If the effects of other greenhouse gases are included, the atmospheric warming potential is equivalent to 455ppm of C[O.sub.2]e (C[O.sub.2]-equivalent). We are on this dangerous path because rich, industrial countries have promoted worldwide the destructive development model that caused the problem in the first place, and refused for over a decade to lead the way out of danger. Governments have talked but the response has been too weak. Even policies they have devised to bring about sustainable development have perpetuated the unsustainable pattern in a different form. For example, "biofuels" have been harvested from 3rd world countries so the rich world can continue to travel in cars and planes, while 3rd world people suffer again from our profligate consumption (see Pacific Ecologist 17). Emission Trading Schemes proliferating around the world are another sustainability hoax. As Sharon Beder reports (p.45), they allow industry to continue to pollute at low cost, rather than speedily achieving the significant changes needed to prevent dangerous climate change.

G8 countries have recently agreed for the first time to a target to stabilise the climate at 450ppm C[O.sub.2]e, or no more than two more degrees of warming, and to work toward an 80 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Yet as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon warns, the 2050 target is too far in the future, strong cuts need to be made by 2020. Still, it's seen as a good omen for the post-2012 climate change meeting to be held in Copenhagen in December 2009. Much depends on this meeting. Delays now of only a few years in achieving real emissions reductions, as Andy Reisinger says in his article (p.38), will saddle future generations with increasing risks of catastrophic climate change and escalating mitigation costs. Sea-level rise and rainfall reduction in already dry parts of the world are irreversible over the next 1000 years, even if all C[O.sub.2] emissions stopped completely after 2100. If we achieve the 450ppm target, sea level will rise by 0.4 to 1.2m at least from thermal expansion alone, with possibly several metres more from melting glaciers and loss of parts of polar ice sheets. How many Pacific Islands and other parts of the world will vanish with this target?

There is no time to lose in cutting emissions and even the 450ppm level is far from safe. In 2008, eminent NASA climate scientist and activist James Hansen and a group of scientists wrote: "If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest C[O.sub.2] will need to be reduced from its current 385ppm to at most 350ppm. If the present overshoot of this target of C[O.sub.2] is not brief, there is a possibility of seeding irreversible catastrophic effects." 350 is therefore the target we must aim for and the 350. org movement is gaining strength around the world (and in NZ, see inside front cover and p.54).

So what can we do, if we can't rely on our governments for the fundamental changes needed to make the great leap to sustainability? Is it possible to change our way of life easily without much struggle, seeing the terrible problems it's creating? In being aware of the immense damage being done and suffering caused by the mining and scouring of the earth for metals, fuels and other resources, (p.26) and the greenhouse gases involved in this and in manufacturing and running our cars, planes, cell phones, walkmans and other conveniences, is it possible to give up these non-essential things? We can live probably much better without them. Our ancestors, the hunter gatherers, with few possessions and very low energy consumption were the original affluent society with material needs easily met in a few short hours a week (p.3). They were confident in nature's abundance because their material demands were small, whereas our demands are huge and 1 billion people suffer extreme hunger as a result. Gandhi said: "Man should rest content with what are his real needs and become self-sufficient. If he does not have this control he cannot save himself," (p.9-10). How true this is today. Our way of life is causing serious environmental problems, Ted Trainer writes and has only been possible because rich countries take far more than their fair share of the world's resources in a global economy that condemns most of the world's people to grinding poverty. He sees hope in the Transition Towns movement (p.11). We must work hard he says to make the transition in time to far simpler living standards, high levels of self-sufficiency, and a radically different culture in self-sufficient collectives.
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Article Details
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Author:Weir, Kay
Publication:Pacific Ecologist
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:Jan 1, 2009
Previous Article:24 October 2009: it a safe climate day! no more than 350 parts per million is the safe concentration of carbon dioxide in...
Next Article:Hunter-gatherers: insights from a golden affluent age.

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