Our concern about the environment grows daily, but not enough for most of us to do anything about it. Typical of our human habit, we wait until the 11th hour to do something. Unfortunately, we’re long past the 11th hour, but we don’t accept that fact because the timeline for environmental damage is so long and the resolution is like turning the Titanic.
There are bright spots, such as the ozone layer. Damaged by freon and other chemicals, developed countries banned them. Now, the ozone layer is projected to recover within the next four decades, and the global phaseout of ozone-depleting chemicals is helping to avoid global warming by 0.5°C. Four decades: 2060s, if we don’t revert and do something else to damage it.
We don’t think in decades, especially in the U.S. where instant results and short-term thinking are the order of the day. We can’t deal with decades. So the saving of 0.5°C is great, but not enough to stop us from hurtling past the 2016 Paris accord goal to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels” and pursue efforts “to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.”
Dream on. We won’t do it and we’re already seeing the consequences in fires, floods, and climate mayhem.
One problem is how we’ve framed the issue. “Save the planet” is the phrase people remember, but that places the problem squarely on the planet, that the planet is somehow becoming more deficient. That’s a specious argument. The problem is that we are behaving in ways that will damage our ability to survive on earth. We’ve already seen examples of that, too. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are highly carcinogenic chemical compounds. We banned their use in industrial and consumer products in 1979 but every human being on the planet carries those compounds in his/her/eir body. And we wonder why cancer cases are increasing. PCBs are one among many reasons.
So we go on changing the environment we live in and making it less favorable for our own survival and we say we’re “damaging” the environment. But I argue that the planet doesn’t care. So what if there are PCBs. So what if there’s global warming. Earth will continue to hurtle through space with or without those conditions. It’ll change; it’ll adapt; it’ll go on until it doesn’t.
But its end is projected to be four billion years from now, when the increase in Earth’s surface temperature will cause a runaway greenhouse effect, creating conditions more extreme than present-day Venus and heating Earth’s surface enough to melt it.
By that point, all life on Earth will be extinct. Including us, if we last that long. If current behaviors continue, we won’t.