Often when I'm on TV, they'll ask what are the three most important things for people to do. I know they want me to say that people should change their light bulbs. I say the number one thing is to organize politically; number two, do some political organizing; number three, get together with your neighbors and organize; and then if you have energy left over from all of that, change the light bulb.
At the moment, the 4 percent of us in this country produce a quarter of the world's carbon dioxide - once you look at maps of rising sea levels and spreading mosquitoes, you realize that we've probably never figured out a way to hate our neighbors around the world much more effectively.
The models that have been constructed agree that when, as has been predicted, the level of carbon dioxide or its equivalent in other greenhouse gases doubles from pre-Industrial Revolution concentrations, the global average temperature will increase, and that the increase will be 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius or 3 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit... In Dallas, for instance, a doubled level of carbon dioxide and other gases like methane, would increase the number of days a year with temperatures above 100 degrees from 19 to 78 each year.
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All the things that we've done as a species have had a limited scope. We're talking about melting the ice caps, raising the level of the seas dramatically, changing the distribution of every other species on Earth, perhaps wiping out one-third or half of them. The changes at work are geologic in scale. The level of change required to deal with it is enormous, too. It will require change in every country. It will require a degree of global cooperation that we haven't seen before.
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In the United States, cheap fossil fuel has eroded communities. We're the first people with no real practical need for each other. Everything comes from a great distance through anonymous and invisible transactions. We've taken that to be a virtue, but it's as much a curse. Americans are not very satisfied with their lives, and the loss of community is part of that.
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TV, and the culture it anchors, masks and drowns out the subtle and vital information contact with the real world once provided. There are lessons, enormous lessons, lessons that may be crucial to the planet's persistence as a green and diverse place and also to the happiness of it's inhabitants-that nature teaches and TV can't.
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We, all of us in the First World, have participated in something of a binge, a half century of unbelievable prosperity and ease. We may have had some intuition that it was a binge and the earth couldn't support it, but aside from the easy things (biodegradable detergent, slightly smaller cars) we didn't do much. We didn't turn our lives around to prevent it. Our sadness is almost an aesthetic response - appropriate because we have marred a great, mad, profligate work of art, taken a hammer to the most perfectly proportioned of sculptures.
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Where people aren't as deeply reliant on fossil fuel as in the United States, it's far easier for them to imagine change on this scale. When you go to Europe, they're much more ready. They use half the amount of energy per capita that we use. They can imagine using less than that. They see the benefits. They're ready to go.
Human beings any one of us, and our species as a whole are not all-important, not at the center of the world. That is the one essential piece of information, the one great secret, offered by any encounter with the woods or the mountains or the ocean or any wilderness or chunk of nature or patch of night sky.
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We believe that we live in the 'age of information,' that there has been an information 'explosion,' an information 'revolution.' While in a certain narrow sense this is the case, in many important ways just the opposite is true. We also live at a moment of deep ignorance, when vital knowledge that humans have always possessed about who we are and where we live seems beyond our reach. An Unenlightenment. An age of missing information,
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I think people who don't know the woods very well sometimes imagine it as a kind of undifferentiated mass of greenery, an endless continuation of the wall of trees they see lining the road. And I think they wonder how it could hold anyone's interest for very long, being all so much the same. But in truth I have a list of a hundred places in my own town I haven't been yet. Quaking bogs to walk on; ponds I've never seen in the fall (I've seen them in the summer - but that's a different pond). That list gets longer every year, the more I learn, and doubtless it will grow until the day I die. So many glades; so little time.
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We're clearly not going to stop global warming at this point. We've already raised the temperature of the planet one degree. We've got another degree in the pipeline from carbon we've already emitted. What we're talking about now is whether we're going to have a difficult, difficult century, or an impossible one.
Fossil fuel is very seductive stuff. [John Maynard] Keynes once said that, as far as he could tell, the average standard of living from the beginning of human history to the middle of the eighteenth century had perhaps doubled. Not much had changed, and then we found coal and gas and oil and everything changed. We're reaping the result of that, both ecologically and socially.
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I am still a consumer; the consumer world was the world I emerged into, whose air I breathed for a very long time, and its assumptions still dominate my psyche""but maybe a little less each year....There are times when I can feel the spell breaking in my mind... .There are times when I can almost feel myself simply being.
If we all used clotheslines, we could save 30 million tons of coal a year, or shut down 15 nuclear power plants. And you don't have to wait to start. Yours could be up by this afternoon. To be specific, buy 50 feet of clothesline and a $3 bag of clothespins and become a solar energy pioneer.
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Remember...this year has already seen more billion-dollar weather-related disasters than any year in US history. Last year was the warmest ever recorded on planet Earth. Arctic sea ice is near all-time record lows. Record floods from Pakistan to Queensland to the Mississippi basin; record drought from the steppes of Russia to the plains of Texas...This is what climate change looks like in its early stages.
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There's no huge mystery. If you dig up huge amounts of carbon, huge amounts of ancient biology, hundreds of millions of year's worth of ancient biology, and flush it into the atmosphere in a matter of decades, then it stands to reason that we're going to have enormous effects, and now we can see those effects all around us.
When you go to China and the developing world, people understand more clearly the dangers that are coming at them because they're living closer to the margin. They don't have any of the false sense of invulnerability that Americans have. People from developing countries also feel that it's their right, if you're talking in terms of justice, to use fossil fuels like we did for a hundred years to get rich. It's hard for them to give up that vision.
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If we were built, what were we built for? ... Why do we have this amazing collection of sinews, senses, and sensibilities? Were we really designed in order to recline on the couch, extending our wrists perpendicular to the floor so we can flick through the television's offerings? Were we really designed in order to shop some more so the economy can grow some more? Or were we designed to experience the great epiphanies that come from contact with each other and with the natural world?
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You think OWS is radical? You think 350.org was radical for helping organize mass civil disobedience in D.C. in August against the Keystone Pipeline? We're not radical. Radicals work for oil companies. The CEO of Exxon gets up every morning and goes to work changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere. No one has ever done anything as radical as that, not in all of human history.
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what sets wilderness apart in the modern day is not that it's dangerous (it's almost certainly safer than any town or road) or that it's solitary (you can, so they say, be alone in a crowded room) or full of exotic animals (there are more at the zoo). it's that five miles out in the woods you can't buy anything.
The seasons don't matter to most of us anymore except as spectacles. In my county and in many places around this part of the nation, the fair that once marked the harvest now takes place in late August, while tourist dollars are still in heavy circulation. Why celebrate the harvest when you harvest every week with a shopping cart?
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The religious environmental movement is potentially key to dealing with the greatest problem humans have ever faced, and it has never been captured with more breadth and force than in RENEWAL. I hope this movie is screened in church basements and synagogue social halls across the country, and that it moves many more people of faith off the fence and into action.
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Despite the array of groups and organizations working on global warming, we are still missing a key element: the movement. Along with the hard work of not-for-profit lobbyists, environmental lawyers, green economists, sustainability-minded engineers, and forward-thinking entrepreneurs, it's going to take the inspired political involvement of millions of Americans to get our country on track to solving this problem.
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Scientists are telling us that 350 parts per million [of carbon] in the atmosphere is the upper limit. We're at 387 parts per million now, and we're up in that zone where the risk of going past irrevocable tipping points is elevated. It's no different than going to a doctor and learning your cholesterol is too high, and you're at risk for a heart attack. You have to work to lower your cholesterol and hope to get there before the heart attack comes.
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... the constant flow of images undercuts the sense that there's actually something wrong with the world. How can there really be a shortage of whooping cranes when you've seen a thousand images of them - seen ten times more images than there are actually whooping cranes left in the wild?
These things are happening in large measure because of us. We in this country burn 25 percent of the world's fossil fuel, create 25 percent of the world's carbon dioxide. It is us - it is the affluent lifestyles that we lead that overwhelmingly contribute to this problem. And to call it a problem is to understate what it really is. Which is a crime. Crime against the poorest and most marginalized people on this planet. We've never figured out, though God knows we've tried, a more effective way to destroy their lives.
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We are altering the most basic forces of the planet's surface - the content of the sunlight, the temperature and aridity - and that brings out the most powerful questions about who is in charge. If you wanted to give a name to this theological problem, I think you could say that we are engaged in decreation.
The Old Testament contains in many places, but especially in the book of Job, one of the most far-reaching defenses ever written of wilderness, of nature free from the hand of man. The argument gets at the heart of what the loss of nature will mean to us....God seems to be insisting that we are not the center of the universe, that he is quite happy if it rains where there are no people - that God is quite happy with places where there are no people, a radical departure from our most ingrained notions.
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