Article originally published in Sanctuary Asia magazine, February 2013, by Vance G. Martin, president of The WILD Foundation
“Our climate is on steroids” is the catchy metaphor used by Dr. Gerald Meehl of the National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in my hometown of Boulder, Colorado. One of those rare scientists with a flair for communication, Dr. Meehl makes a good comparison when he likens greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to steroids in the body of a champion athlete. Steroids alone do not create the champion competitor – rather, they create an enhanced environment in which other factors such as training, diet, and attitude are better able to combine to cause the effect. Similarly, while greenhouse gases in the atmosphere do lead to a rise in temperature, they also, more importantly, create an enhanced situation in which other existing phenomena such as weather patterns like La Nina/El Nino, jet stream fluctuations, etc., can interact in varied and more extreme ways to create what is called climate change.
While this metaphor is apt, it only describes the condition we face, not the cause of it. In response, you might say that the cause of climate change is the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. That is the physical cause, yes, but of course there is something deeper that we need to address, i.e., the human activities that fuel the release of these greenhouse gases, which in turn hasten climate change. Actions such as political awareness, legislation and policy are important, but they still only address the symptoms. If we want to cure the condition, we need to address its cause.
To get to the root of this situation (and subsequently create a more effective solution), let’s shift our metaphor to one of illness and cure. The human race is addicted to growth, greed, and consumerism with a narrow outlook that regards nature simply as a supplier of materials and services expressly designed to satisfy personal wealth and pleasure. Many of us treat nature as though it exists for our benefit, period. Of course, everyone needs a measure of prosperity and a decent quality of life, but the system of assuring this cannot be one-sided, from supplier to consumer to landfill. Nature operates in cycles that physically replenish, restore, and evolve it: the perfect model for sustainable living. Humans need to recognise and value the source of the materials and services they use. Not recognising and responding practically to this real\ty results in continued, narcissistic, self-inflicted harm … the definition of addiction and a form of insanity.
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