Unit Overview

In these last two weeks, we take a look at some of the biggest challenges we face looking ahead to building a more just world. These are dealing with staggering levels of extreme poverty around the globe, facing the challenge of reducing or eliminating war, and develop an ethical and political system that protects the environment that we all depend on for our survival. The Steven Pinker reading and video are summaries of his book The Better Angels of Our Nature which looks at the levels of violence in the world as related to historical levels. Evidence shows that violence has declined dramatically. Pinker also attempts to look at the causes of why violence has declined.



Is Climate Change Real?

The simple graphic at the top of this page indicates just how serious global warming is. The past 10 years have literally been the 10 hottest years recorded ever! Climate change is a scientific fact as much as gravity or any other scientific fact. If that is something you are uncertain about here is a link to NASA discussing the topic.

Beyond that, climate change is very, very, basic physics. the more carbon in our atmosphere, the thicker our atmosphere, and the thicker our atmosphere the more heat it will trap. And every time we use gas, oil, or coal we add carbon to the atmosphere. It is literally not physically possible to burn as much carbon as we have been burning without creating climate change.

What’s so bad About Climate Change

The point made by the above video is that climate change isn’t new but human civilization is. Human civilization requires a stable climate. Climate change does not simply mean that the earth will get warmer. It means:

  • droughts,
  • floods,
  • wildfires,
  • famines (because of floods and droughts),
  • more frequent and more destructive hurricanes,
  • civil wars and climate refugees, which have the potential to destabilize entire regions of the globe,
  • increases in extreme poverty which causes massive amounts of human suffering and death,
  • loss of fishing habitats which billions depend on for food,
  • and economic hardships for everyone, except the super-rich who can afford to weather the calamities of climate change. 

Climate change is an “environmental issue” but more urgently it is an issue of human welfare. As the climate changes and weather patterns change human welfare, our economy and our ability to be safe from natural disasters and our ability to feed ourselves are all under assault.

And dealing with the consequences of climate change is massively expensive. Natural disasters, famines, civil wars, and massive populations of climate change refugees will cost governments around the world many trillions of dollars. The National Resources Defense Council estimates the cost of climate change, here in the US at 1.9 trillion dollars per year. 

The Green New Deal 

There is currently a proposal in the house of representatives for a Green New Deal, which would transition the US economy to 100% renewable energy over the next few decades. It would also focus on creating millions of jobs that would help transition the US. These jobs would be in industries like solar panel manufacturing and installation, and retrofitting all the buildings in the US to make them energy efficient. One objection raised to this kind of proposal is the cost, but keep in mind the cost of doing nothing (1.9 trillion a year). 


The Sixth Extinction

Something to consider, which is related to climate change but also a separate issue, is the current mass extinction of various animal species. We are currently losing species at an astounding rate. As we think about the future, if we want these animals around we are going to have to do much to reverse the loss of habitat for animals in all the different regions of the world. And while many of these animals are not required for human survival, would you want it live in a world without them? But many ecosystems do depend on other organisms, especially pollinating insects. Mass extinction and ecosystem collapse and something we need to be seriously thinking about, and reversing climate change is one piece of that puzzle. 

One simple thing you can do immediately

Aside from voting for politicians who are committed to a 100% carbon-free future as quickly as possible, the best thing you can do is to reduce your meat consumption to nothing or as close to possible as nothing. And beef production emits more greenhouse gases than the production of any other food meat. Here is a little overview.

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