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Global Warming: Mitigate, Adapt... or Reverse?

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From Most Amazing High Definition Image of Earth - Blue Marble 2012
Most Amazing High Definition Image of Earth - Blue Marble 2012 by NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Climate Smart Southwest: Ready or Hot

A Public Health and Climate Adaptation Conference
Sponsored by Physicians for Social Responsibility, Sept. 21, 2013
Mental and Spiritual Health and Well-being working group.

Good afternoon. Since our panelist remarks are time limited, you're not going to get any stories from me today; just the facts--along with an occasional rhetorical flourish to drive a point home. My name is Dave Ewoldt, and I'm a co-founder and Sr. Analyst for Coalitions of Mutual Endeavor, a non-profit based here in Tucson that focuses on sustainability from a natural systems perspective by building multi-issue coalitions to create the critical mass necessary for systemic change. I'm a systems scientist and researcher and practitioner in eco-psychology. What I'm "about" is connecting the dots, examining the relationships, and I'm much more interested in stopping the causes of global warming than in trying to find ways to adapt to its disastrous consequences--as if that's our only or even our best alternative.

The basic ecological/geophysical science behind 6 degrees of warming makes a mockery of the forlorn hopes of adapting to a planet with no oxygen--or a climate inhospitable to providing adequate amounts of healthy food for a population in the overshoot range of planetary carrying capacity.

Let's start by getting our terminology straight. There are two important reasons to use the term global warming and not climate change--one political, and one scientific.

First, the term "climate change" was specifically added to the framing used by the global warming denialist camp and the Republican Party by strategist Frank Luntz because it sounded less harmful and threatening; it could even be spun as benign were one to blindly accept certain unfounded assumptions and ignore the preponderance of evidence showing the planet is warming, that the majority of the warming is currently due to human actions, and that the overall effects are devastating to individuals, communities, economies, and life itself.

The desire of some Democrats/liberals to use "climate change" in an effort to appease the right and demonstrate they're willing to work across the aisle and find common ground with those willing to destroy our life support system and exploit species and resources to further consolidate wealth and power in the hands of a minuscule elite is not an example of political skill or even a particularly moral stance.  Rather,  it is an example of a brain-dead weakness that is suicidal. This is not an area where capitulation is necessary, nor is it even warranted. Let's have the courage to accurately name what it is we're dealing with.

Which leads to:

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The second reason is that the climate is changing because the globe is warming. Climate change, as well as ocean acidification, are emergent attributes (symptoms) of global warming (the root cause) and depend on it as a feedback loop. People who are concerned about life-affirming change will need to address root causes rather than slap band-aids on its symptoms (mitigation), although some adaptation will be required for current and forthcoming climate changes as well as degradation and loss in ecosystem services in various bioregions. If we just focus on the climate changes, e.g. building higher seawalls, we'll just be spinning our wheels and the climate will continue changing for the worse as the world continues getting warmer.

This leads to an ongoing argument in the global warming literature concerning the best use of our activist energy: mitigation or adaptation. It's not uncommon to see mitigate used as if it's synonymous with stop or desist. But mitigate simply means to make less severe. Its synonyms are all associated with alleviating symptoms, not addressing root causes. What we actually must do is directly stop the causes, which are an interacting combination of greenhouse gases, deforestation, ocean acidification, and major changes in land use patterns--which is a code-phrase for sprawl. Once stopped, we must then mitigate the damage, begin restoration and hope we can deploy feedback loops to begin reversing the warming trend, and start adapting to the consequences of our previous actions.

These life-threatening crises are all the direct result of Industrialism. This paradigm sustains itself through infinite growth, which requires debt, enclosure of the commons (piratization, although the politically correct term is privatization), and imperialism. On a finite planet, this is why global corporatization can be very accurately referred to as economic cannibalism.

Even in regard to mitigation, right off the bat we can eliminate geoengineering, which has been referred to as crackpot capitalism. This is the attempt to save markets without doing anything about the root causes of global warming. Our current system of free-market mechanisms only benefits the few, and shows that only capitalism can turn self-extinction into a profit center.

Plus, today we're facing a number of rapidly converging global crises--not just global warming, but energy and other resource depletion, collapse of biodiversity and the food web (no food chain, no food), an increasingly toxic world which creates our increasingly toxic bodies, economic collapse, growing poverty, and other social ills such as the loss of our sense of community and connection to all that makes life worthwhile. We are not isolated, rugged individuals, and this is why activism or civic engagement is so necessary for wholeness--for personal, social and planetary health and well-being.
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The latter is what I'll concentrate on today to build a framework to effectively address the causes of global warming and begin the transition to a sustainable future.

Ecology is the study of relationships, of connecting the dots, and eco-psychology is about redefining sanity as if the whole Earth matters. After all, intentionally destroying our life support system provides a textbook case of insanity. Western culture's disconnection from the natural world and all that is naturally fulfilling also leads to a pathological sense of the other. Fortunately, we have a viable, systemic alternative to draw from.

Science shows that nature, all by itself, is healing. Recovery from surgery occurs more quickly if the patient simply has a window to look out; green space in cities reduces crime; being in nature lowers stress, depression, angst, and despair.

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Dave Ewoldt is a practitioner and researcher in the field of ecopsychology--helping people remember how to think and act the way that nature works, and the health and wisdom that can be gained by doing so. In other words, a paradigm shift coach. (more...)

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