John Spezia: Our carbon legacy
Imagine a carbon-producing vehicle in 1850. It is not your normal vehicle with four tires and four doors. It is a vehicle that represents the entrance of the industrial age into our civilization, consuming large quantities of wood, coal, minerals, water, air and energy. It produces products and services for us, leaving behind polluted water, air, soil, human sickness and a century-long legacy of human misery yet to come.
In 1850, the carbon vehicle was producing 1/4 million metric tonnes of carbon per year (MMTC/Y). In the 1870s, we switched from wood and water to coal for energy, producing ¾ MMTC/Y, a total increase of 300%.
Next came oil, we produced 2 MMTC/Y, a total increase of 800%. After WWII, came the consumer age in 1950s. We produced 5 MMTC/Y, a total increase of 2,000%.
In the 1970s (15 MMTC/Y), we began to see the carbon-producing vehicle for what it was …. our nemesis. In the 1980s, big corporations fed misinformation that created confusion about global warming. The carbon vehicle produced 20 MMTC/Y, a total increase of 8,000%. With the onset of the electronic age in the 1990s, the carbon vehicle produced 27 MMTC/Y, a total increase of 10,800%.
Finally, the world’s nations started to meet and develop a plan, although weak and unenforceable, to deal with global warming on a voluntary basis. By 2000, the carbon vehicle produced 30 MMTC/Y, a total increase of 12,000%. The nations of the world met again in 2011 to set higher goals. Today, the carbon vehicle is producing 36 MMTC/Y, a total increase of 14,400%.
We have waited so long that it is not a question of when we act but rather how fast and how much we are going to do. So, how are we going to change the status quo that is entrenched in everybody’s economic priorities?
We know changing habits is going to require many difficult sacrifices for each of us. We have solutions that have been sitting on the shelf for decades. We know there is not going to be a technological silver bullet to allow us to continue with our lives as usual.
We know if we continue to build, consume, grow and develop more, the carbon we put in the air today will affect the world for the next 100 years. Will we change our lives now for a future that most of us will never live to see?
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