Rich Woller: Saving planet involves tough choices

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LENOX — I attended another lecture recently on climate change by science/environmental journalist and author Elizabeth Kolbert at Williams College. The first lecture occurred about 10 years ago during a national roll-out of Al Gore's media presentation of "An Inconvenient Truth."

The data presented by Professor Kolbert are very impressive regarding the linkage between chemical changes going on in our oceans and atmosphere and climate change. This wasn't your usual boring PowerPoint presentation but rather a thoughtful banter between herself and economics professor Ralph Bradburd.

Few people can now ignore the fact of bizarre weather patterns over the last few years and that the temperature of the Earth are rising, significantly so in the last few decades. Climate change is now without doubt. So what can we do about it?

There were not many answers in this forum. There were allusions to feckless politicians having neither the intellectual capacity nor leadership to undertake a global problem of this magnitude. Politicians will deny and talk about climate change until the special interests eventually dry up and blow away and fresh vegetables become sparse in the Senate dining room. This may come down to the last banana standing.

But I'm not here to be cynical and complain. I take global citizenship seriously so I do have suggestions.

The first is that we do absolutely nothing and let the forces of natural selection work their way through the gene pool. Ninety-nine percent of the species that have ever existed on this planet are now extinct and there's no good reason to believe the same will not happen to our species. A very dark truth — but a simple fact of evolutionary history we cannot deny.

Our species is having an outsized detrimental effect on our planet which will eventually lead to our demise. It may take another 1,000 years or more, but with finite resources, population growth, global warming and warring nation states, the death of our species may be measured in millennia, rather than millions of years.

The colonization of other planets or star systems may be our only hope. In the meantime, let's live it up here on Earth as best we can and let future generations worry about failing crops, melting glaciers and rising, dead seas.

I am an optimist by nature so prefer working toward changing our manifest evolutionary pathway and do everything in our power to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stop or reverse rising global temperatures. To do so will demand that we make some very difficult decisions that will affect our lifestyles — especially those of us who are accustomed to jet-setting around the world and leaving large carbon imprints on the planet.

It also means compromise in the short term. For example, nuclear power is much cleaner than conventional power plants. Nuclear produces no greenhouse gases. With nuclear, we replace gasoline-driven trucks and automobiles with electric vehicles powered by atomic fission. Nuclear buys us time to ramp up solar, tidal and wind power plants although they will never be able to completely meet the growing demand for energy by the world's populace.

Nuclear power has significant problems concerning safety and radioactive waste disposal. However, it really all boils down to calculated risks. Do we forgo nuclear power and continue to rely on fossil fuels, the development of solar, tidal and wind power and everyone's personal commitment to lessening their carbon footprint on our planet? I'm doubtful we can make that happen in the time frame necessary. The risks are too high and changing personal behaviors too difficult.

Alternatively, we fast track all ideas as the path most likely to ensure success. We should not overlook any option that might help and manage the risk. Let's get the physicists, engineers and security experts imagining and designing the safest, most powerful nuclear power plants we can develop. Letting our fears of nuclear meltdowns, terrorism and waste disposal outweigh our ever greater need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is shortsighted.

Let's use the tools we have to attempt to ensure the Earth is inhabitable for future generations and direct our species, indeed all species destinies, towards a positive outcome.

Rich Woller is an occasional Eagle contributor.


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