First, while I have your full attention, please have a look at the following video. It is about a half hour long. If you don’t take the time to do this, you will perhaps not understand the point of this post. The video can be seen at http://publish.dvlabs.com/democracynow/ipod/dn2013-1121.mp4?&start=1617.0&end=3286.0
Welcome back. If you did, indeed, watch the video provided above, you are now poised to understand the great disconnect that exists between the very best and latest science available on the subject of man-caused global warming and the general public including its institutions of higher learning.
To summarize the video, a main point made by climate scientist Kevin Anderson, Deputy Director of the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research (London) is that “radical and immediate changes” in the lifestyles of those living in the “wealthy” countries of the world are needed if we are to avoid catastrophic temperature rises above two degrees Centigrade. It is via changes in the carbon footprints of these relatively wealthy inhabitants of Earth that needed reductions in total global emissions of CO2 can be most easily and most quickly made – simply by changes in their lifestyles. While these needed changes include many different forms of energy conservation, those highlighted in this video were the methods and frequency of travel chosen by the wealthy.
Now I should also take a moment here to assure you that Kevin Anderson is not just a second-rate scientist “whistling Dixie” concerning his personal biases on an environmental issue. He is one of the most accomplished and highly respected leaders in the world in critically important field of climate modeling. Modern modeling is done by taking all of the information available, from observations of the past and from the basic principles of physics and from them constructing predictions of the future. The Tyndall Centre for Climate Research is an organisation based in the United Kingdom that brings together scientists, economists, engineers and social scientists from about a dozen of Britain’s top research universities.
So next, who in the public domain should I (admittedly unfairly) choose for a comparison of their activities against the recommendations of Dr. Anderson? While almost any American organization in the domains of business or education would do, I am going to “pick on” St. Olaf College of Northfield Minnesota here simply because that college happens to be my own alma mater and that of numerous relatives going back to my grandfather, Lawrence Grimsrud, who graduated in 1899. Thus, I am picking on St. Olaf College here because it is “my own” so to speak, just as when I require a brunt in the telling of my favorite jokes, I usually select either “Norwegians”, in general, or “Ole”, in particular. With this self-effacing approach, I believe that I am less likely to offend someone.
OK, so now let’s use St. Olaf College as an example of an organization that clearly does not yet conform to the recommendations of Dr. Anderson and let’s do that by focusing on the single issue of travel.
St. Olaf is appropriately proud of its extensive “Studies Abroad” programs. A large fraction of its students in all majors take courses in which professor-led trips to distant places are involved. Even its basketball team now travels to Europe during the summertime apparently because their BB schedule during the academic year prevents their access to St.O’s studies abroad programs. I was also a BB player while at St.Olaf and have provided some financial support for this new travel program.
In the Spring 2015 issue of the St.Olaf magazine, there is a small article entitled “Why do we travel” reminding us of the obvious, undisputed and time-honored benefits of travel. It goes on to describe one specific course that recently took faculty and students to Germany where they studied the cultural effects of the Reformation. Then the article described two upcoming trips offered to St.Olaf alumni, one to the Bay Area of California and another to the Holy Land.
Now let me be clear on one point – I think these programs are wonderful and appropriate for those who can afford them. I would like to be on all of them myself. But what is lacking in the article I am referring to above is another companion article entitled “How do we travel?” In that proposed article I doubt that the modes of transport reported would be in compliance with the recommendations made by Dr. Anderson in his video interview. That is, I would doubt that most of those going on that trip to the Holy Land or even to San Francisco will be going by lower carbon intensive methods involving relatively slow mass transport on the seas, rail or in buses. Most would undoubtedly be going by high carbon footprint aircraft and then returning as quickly as they can by the same method in order to get back to their busy lives at home – possibly involving another quick trip to another distant place.
At this point, I think I can already hear the criticisms that are likely to come my way as a result of what I just said. Most common among them will be, “but Eric, you are far too naive. The world simply does not work that way anymore.” And I will agree with that comment in advance, while also pointing out the misuse of the word “work” in it. As Dr. Anderson clearly states, our current way of living, including travelling, is not “working”. The status quo modes of transport presently being promoted by St. Olaf College and almost all other sizable organizations are not sustainable. Sure we have to do what we have to do, but must also learn how to do it in a manner that does not pass the bill onto future generations.
RADICAL changes are indeed required RIGHT NOW and they can be done right now by changes in the lifestyles of the more wealthy countries, organizations, and individuals of the world. Concerning travel, only low carbon methods should be used and if travel by aircraft is necessary, that aircraft should be power by bio-diesel fuel which is carbon neutral, but considerably more expensive.
The issue of climate change is no longer just a scientific and/or economic issue. We now know enough about the science as to make it a MORAL issue. Furthermore, I believe it is now the most important moral issue on the table. Given the historic commitments of St. Olaf College to moral issues and its service to mankind, it would be most appropriate for St. Olaf College to become an even better institutional example in the fight against global warming by moving to a higher level of “walking the walk”.
If you are still confused about the necessity of what I have recommended here, please have another look at the video referred to above. Then tell yourself, if you are not going to put your trust in the likes of Kevin Anderson, you are putting it in the likes of Rush Limbaugh or, more likely, in more moderate “greenwashers” who only “talk the talk”. If I am in error by favoring Anderson’s recommendations, you can blame that on the excellent education I received at St. Olaf College concerning a wide variety of subjects within both the sciences and the humanities – in which the importance of one’s service to mankind was emphasized.
Again, sure we have to do what we have do, but we also have to very quickly learn how to do those things in a manner that does not pass the bill onto future generations. That is, we have to pay for our selected life styles right now in the present as we make our choices. And this can be accomplished. For example, cars, buses, trains and even aircraft can be propelled by carbon neutral bio-fuels whenever that trip needs to be taken. And, of course, we can also consider more carefully whether or not that trip really needs to be taken. It’s really a matter of personal will, choices and political action. As far as I know we still have a free market system that responds to the professed needs and preferences of its members. And our educational institutions are in a perfect position for changing those preferences to the significantly higher levels now demanded by the latest science of climate change. We have painted ourselves into the corner we now find ourselves because we have not payed sufficient attention to such warnings in the past. Obviously, I would like few things better than to see my alma mater, St. Olaf College, embrace this opportunity for assuming a higher level of leadership during this most dangerous period of either environmental recovery or demise. .