Planet Earth Weekly

Climate Change and Renewable Energy: Saving Our Planet for Future Generations


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Building Sustainable Cities

Sierra Club

Sierra Club for Clean Air

“Sustainable planning must come before greed!”

By Linn Smith

I live part of the year in a rapidly growing city. I have lived in this city for 20 years, 15 years full time. In the past 5 years there has been a mass migration to this city. Traffic has come to a halt at rush hour, which now starts as early as 2:30pm and extends until early evening, accidents can hold up traffic for hours and parking spaces…forget about it! Developers of the city transit system have been involved in lawsuits with city transit, halting development in some areas for years, costing the city millions of dollars.

The High Price of No Sustainable Plan

Housing prices have tripled…. $500,000 being the price of the average home. We are diminishing the habitat of wildlife in a former mecca for bears, wildcats, moose and elk. The plan for their intrusion on us is 3 strikes you’re out. If a bear is found in a populated area 3 times it is euthanized and this is happening more and more with city sprawl….we have intruded on their space and there are severe consequences to them….for intruding in “our” space!

Pollution and air quality are rapidly declining. We are now the 12th most polluted city in our country.

Profit Before Sustainability

Well thought out planning? Jobs, yes, sustainable planning, no! Money has spoken clearly, developers and contractors have become rich. The city’s motto seems to be, “Build for those who come at any cost to the environment.” I am both amazed and disgusted to see the growth without planning. Why do I live here? I migrated here from the agricultural areas of the U.S. for a teaching job, and now my family is here.

It may be too late for this city, but my hope is that other cities will plan before sprawling unconsciously, building on every green patch of grass available without thought of the cost to our planet and the future of our survival!

building sustainably

Building sustainable cities

According to data provided by the United Nations, 68% of the world population will live in urban areas by 2050….that is approximately 2.5 billion people migrating from rural to urban areas! (This also includes projected overall growth in human population). North America currently has 82% of the population living in urban areas. Understanding these numbers is going to be critical for planning sustainable cities. Sustainable planning must come before the dollar signs shining in the eyes of contractors and developers!

What is a sustainable community?

Green, sustainable communities implement multifaceted methods of environmentally sustainable practices, changing city government to support these practices so that present and future generations can have clean, healthy environments and a planet that will continue to support humans and flora and fauna. Steps towards a green community should be outlined with measurable goals to see the growth on a continuum of ongoing sustainable practices….i.e. conditions that will not harm the environment.

Sustainable cities

Campbell’s Triangle plan

Building Green Ideas

1. Parks and Green spaces are meant to be part of a city’s health for residents, not future places for buildings to be developed.
2. Bike lanes and bridges should be separate from streets and highways.
3. Build or refurbish all government buildings to reflect the sustainable city vision.
4. Buildings will be renovated instead of torn down.
5. Comprehensive recycling and composting programs.
6. Green leadership with leaders who already live sustainably.
7. Smart energy policies.
8. Efficient public transportation.

Again, sustainable development must come before of greed!

Sustainable Cities

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Climate Change: The Shift in Politics and Public Opinion

“If the Green New Deal isn’t a quick fix, it is creating a conversation.”

By Linn Smith

Renewable energy

Support sustainable energy

The term Green New Deal, has currently been brought to public attention by Congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasii Cortez. But the term was originally used in the early 2000’s by Van Jones to outline his vision for a program that would birth a “just and green” economy, as written in his book, The Green Collar.

Climate change

Support renewable resources

The Changing Public Opinion on Climate Change

Public opinion is changing in support of climate legislation, politicians can no longer put it on the back burner. Seventy per cent of Americans have real concern for our changing climate and have some knowledge of what’s coming down the pipeline in our future. Most people have also experienced some form of extreme weather conditions in the past several years.

climate change

Support Renewables

The Green New Deal

If the Green New Deal isn’t a quick fix, it is creating a conversation and parts of the proposal are gaining support from both Democrats and Republicans.” An article on climate change in the recent issue of Time Magazine states, “The outcome of the debate will go a long way towards determining if humanity can avoid the most catastrophic consequences of a rapidly warming world….the science is damning and the clock is ticking!”

The Green New Deal


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Renewable Energy: Hatch, New Mexico

“The systems are best for high and dry climates, which makes Hatch an optimal location.”

As a resident of New Mexico for 6 years, I have long known the value of Hatch green chili…the Best in the West! But the past several years I have traveled Hwy 26, a lonely stretch of road through seemingly baron land just west of Hatch, passing massive wind and solar fields.

Solar Power

According to VillageofHatch.org here is the data on the impressive energy produced by these solar fields, plus pictures I was able to snap along my route recently:

“The Hatch Solar Energy Center consists of 84 Amonix 60-kW systems on 41 acres of land. The platform and panels are each 50 feet wide and 55 feet high tall. Each panel is made up of three different photovoltaic materials in a single cell so they extract more energy from the range of wavelengths in sunlight. Dual-axis tracking systems maximize energy production throughout the day by allowing the CPV systems to follow the sun. The systems are best for high and dry climates, which makes Hatch an optimal location. The systems require no water in power production, use land better, and produce more energy per acre than any other solar technology— equivalent of planting 3,500 trees every year it operates.”

Wind Power

The Macho Spring windfarm is nearby.

Wind Turbines

Along my route I also passed a train carrying at least 30 wind turbine blades…the trip was a visual feast for my “build it green” eyes!

And, while you’re on the drive, stop at Sparky’s in Hatch and get some green chili lemonade, it’s a treat your taste buds won’t soon forget!

Happy Trails!

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International Action on Climate Change: Paris, France (COP21) to Katowice, Poland (COP24)

Climate change conference

Climate Change

“It recently became clear that not enough was being done to reduce global warming.”

By Dr. John J. Hidore

January 18, 2016—-In 2015, a major conference on climate change was held in Paris. At the Paris climate conference most of the representatives of the nearly 200 countries attending agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At present, global temperatures are set to rise 3°C (5 1/2°F). An agreement was reached to make sure global temperatures did not rise more than 2°Celsius (3.6°F) above temperatures prior to the industrial revolution. It is believed by many scientists that any rise above this level would lead to a self generated further rise in temperature. In turn this would lead to devastating changes in natural events. Much more rapid melting of the global ice and a corresponding rise in sea level would occur and extreme weather events would be more common.

At the Paris conference each country was allowed to present a plan for reducing emissions. None of the plans were enforceable. This was the only way to get most of the countries to submit plans.

Poland and renewable energy

Poland and %100 renewables

The COP24 Conference

It recently became clear that not enough was being done to reduce global warming. Another conference was scheduled, representatives from most of the countries that participated in the Paris conference met earlier in December 2018 in Katowice, Poland. The purpose was to further the outcome of the Paris Conference. This conference is known as the COP24 conference. The goal of this meeting was to establish a set of rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions more sharply by the countries that attended the conference. The rules take into account the possibilities and conditions in each individual country.

At the present many, if not most countries, have no way of tracking their emissions. What is needed, of course, is some method of documenting emission levels. However, there have been many objections expressed to documenting emissions. Some of these objections are simply based on available technology. Others are based on a fear of providing national technological data to the rest of the world. There are also many objections from the less developed countries which emit a combined 60% of the emissions, but do not have the technology nor economic resources to monitor them. There was considerable effort by the less developed countries to have the more wealthy countries help finance the data gathering and emission reductions in the poorer countries.

climate change

The exchange of energy is causing rapid arctic melting.

Polish Plans to Reduce Emissions

Poland is a country with extensive coal deposits which are used to produce electrical power. However, the Polish Government has begun a number of projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They launched a clean air program in the summer of 2018. They have been increasing the area of forested land. Forests cover about a third of the country and the area has been increasing. Selected tree species can increase the absorption of CO2.

The American Government Repudiates Climate Change

The United States was a leader in organizing the Paris conference of 2015. However, Mr. Trump has repudiated the Paris Agreement. He has also refused to pay two billion dollars in aid pledged during the Obama administration to support global efforts to reduce climate change. The government of the United States did not send representatives to the Katowice conference.

World cooperation on many items has decreased substantially in the last three years. A big part of the reason is the nationalism (America First) espoused by Mr. Trump. The United States can do better at being a leader in the fight against rising temperatures on our planet!


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2019: What’s New for Solar

The earth continues to warm

Fight against global warming!

“Supplying 100% of America’s electricity with renewable energy is not only possible but urgently necessary.”

By Linn Smith

January 13, 2019—–Well, it’s 2019. Time for the What’s New in Solar search. Solar isn’t going away! It continues to thrive and grow….from solar gadgets to panels to super solar farms. Here are just a few things that may be of interest for 2019.

Solar Charger

One of the best solar chargers to charge your devices.

Portable Solar Chargers

http://www.Outdoorlabgear.com tested many portable solar chargers to keep your gadgets charged instead of using your standard wall outlet. For 2019 the BigBlue 28, at http://www.ibigblue.com, is their top solar charger, the Instapark Mercury 10w, at http://www.instapark.com, is their best buy, with Renogy E.Flex5, at http://www.renogy.com, the top pick if you want a really light weight portable solar charger to carry in your backpack.

Solar windows

SmartSkin Solar windows

SmartSkin Windows

This company, http://www.physee.eu, has created what they call a SmartSkin for windows. The SmartSkin integrates solar cells into your glass which will turn sunlight into green energy. The smartskin also has sensors which reads the weather conditions. The sensors are connected to an energy efficient system that communicates data and calculates ideal room settings. The company states these windows will reduce your building’s energy use by up to 20%.

Most Efficient Solar Panels

From the website http://www.energysage.com here are their picks for the top 5 solar panels based on efficiency. Based only on maximum module efficiency (how well they convert sunlight into electricity) the top five manufacturers that make the best solar panels are:

1. SunPower (22.2%)
2. Panasonic (21.6%)
3. LG (21.1%)
4. Hanwha Q CELLS (19.6%)
5. Solaria (19.4%)

The Solar Motion Light

A friend has a solar motion light on her garage. It stays off until it detects motion, then pops on and is as bright as any outdoor light. These are reasonably priced, between $20-$40. According to http://www.solartechnologyhub.com several of the best are made by Sunforce, Frostfire, Nekteck and Litom.

And finally, the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) believes that, “Supplying 100% of America’s electricity with renewable energy is not only possible but urgently necessary. We need to decarbonize our economy by the middle of THIS century in order to have any chance of constraining the global temperature increase to less than 2 degrees C, which in itself, will be disruptive to mankind.”

Solar


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Wind Driven Power Surging Globally

windpower

Wind power is thriving in Arizona.

“Globally, the use of wind driven turbines to generate electricity is growing extremely rapidly.”

By Dr. John J. Hidore

April 30, 2018—-Wind has long been used as a power source. The earliest use of wind as an energy source probably began with its use to power boats and ships. Evidence indicates that it has been used for this purpose for several thousand years. Both Egyptians and Phoenicians were using primitive sails on boats. Pictorial evidence shows that it was used on the Nile nearly 4000 years ago.

Windmills are believed to have been in use in what is now China and Persia as early as 2000 BC. They came into use to power water pumps and for grinding grain in Europe around the tenth century. Paintings by early Dutch artists often include windmills. They are still widely used to lift water from the ground throughout the arid and semi arid lands. In the United States such windmills are visible throughout the Great Plains region.

wind turbines

Building offshore wind turbines.

Historic Growth of Wind Power

Wind is one of the renewable sources of energy that is rapidly replacing the use of coal to generate electricity. Windmills to generate electricity are a product of the 20th Century, and in the 21st Century there has been a phenomenal growth in the industry. Today a single wind turbine can power up to 500 homes. According to current estimates renewable energy sources will surpass coal by 2045.

Wind Driven Turbines are now in Operation on Both Land and Sea

Not only are wind driven turbines found on land, but they are also being placed in the ocean. Some are in shallow water with their base on the sea floor. Others are now being placed on floating platforms in deeper water. Hywinds, the world’s first floating wind farm recently began operation off the coast of Scotland and extends towards Norway. The project includes five turbines. The turbines will be tethered to the sea bottom in several hundred feet of water. The system was developed by Statoil, a Norwegian oil and gas company.

wind turbines

Building Wind Farms offshore.

Wind Power Usage in the United States

In the United States five states now produce more than twenty percent of their electrical energy from wind farms. These states are all in the Midwest. They are Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Texas is known worldwide for its history of oil production. Now the state of Texas ranks 6th in the world in energy produced from wind when compared to that produced by countries around the world.

The state of Iowa is a leader in the proportion of its energy demands being met of wind driven electrical energy. In 2016 it got 36 percent of its electricity from wind turbines and this is expected to increase to at least 40% by 2020. The town of Georgetown, Texas decided in 2015 to require all of the city’s electricity to be from renewable sources. The town currently gets most of its power from a wind farm in Amarillo and this summer will add solar energy from a West Texas farm.

Wind turbine

Wind farm off the coast of the U.S.

Global Use Growing Rapidly

Globally, the use of wind driven turbines to generate electricity is growing extremely rapidly. The year 2017 saw a record high amount of installed wind power. The capacity increased 11 percent over 2016. In 2017 China was the world’s leader in installing wind energy capacity. The European Union was second in amount. Among the countries projected to make substantial increases in wind power generation are Russia and India, both potentially large markets.
Not only is the total amount of electric energy produced by wind increasing, but other aspects of the industry are increasing as well. For example, in the year 2016 there were more than double the number of employees in the wind industry than in the coal industry. As renewable energy grows, so will job opportunities.

Wind Power


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Trump Rolls Back Clean Air Act

Following are recent changes announced by the Trump administration for rolling back the Clean Air Act. This article was copied from the EPA’s website:

EPA Administrator Pruitt: GHG Emissions Standards for Cars and Light Trucks Should Be Revised
04/02/2018

WASHINGTON (April 2, 2018) — Today, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is announcing the completion of the Midterm Evaluation (MTE) process for the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for cars and light trucks for model years 2022-2025, and his final determination that, in light of recent data, the current standards are not appropriate and should be revised. Administrator Pruitt is also announcing the start of a joint process with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to develop a notice and comment rulemaking to set more appropriate GHG emissions standards and Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.
“The Obama Administration’s determination was wrong,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “Obama’s EPA cut the Midterm Evaluation process short with politically charged expediency, made assumptions about the standards that didn’t comport with reality, and set the standards too high.”
Under the Clean Air Act (CAA), EPA sets national standards for vehicle tailpipe emissions of certain pollutants. Through a CAA waiver granted by EPA, California can impose stricter standards for vehicle emissions of certain pollutants than federal requirements. The California waiver is still being reexamined by EPA under Administrator Pruitt’s leadership.
“Cooperative federalism doesn’t mean that one state can dictate standards for the rest of the country. EPA will set a national standard for greenhouse gas emissions that allows auto manufacturers to make cars that people both want and can afford — while still expanding environmental and safety benefits of newer cars. It is in America’s best interest to have a national standard, and we look forward to partnering with all states, including California, as we work to finalize that standard,” said Administrator Pruitt.
Additional Background
As part of the 2012 rulemaking establishing the model year 2017-2025 light-duty vehicle GHG standards, EPA made a regulatory commitment to conduct a MTE of the standards for MY 2022-2025 no later than April 1, 2018. This evaluation would determine whether the standards remain appropriate or should be made more, or less stringent.
In November 2016, the Obama Administration short-circuited the MTE process and rushed out their final determination on January 12, 2017, just days before leaving office. Since then, the auto industry and other stakeholders sought a reinstatement of the original MTE timeline, so that the Agency could review the latest information.
EPA and the U.S. Department of Transportation announced a reestablishment of the MTE process in March 2017. And, in August 2017, EPA reopened the regulatory docket and asked for additional information and data relevant to assessing whether the GHG emissions standards remain appropriate, including information on: consumer behavior, feedback on modeling approaches, and assessing advanced fuels technologies. EPA also held a public hearing on this topic.

For more information: https://www.epa.gov/regulations-emissions-vehicles-and-engines/midterm-evaluation-light-duty-vehicle-greenhouse-gas

https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-04/documents/mte-final-determination-notice-2018-04-02.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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 A Visit to Biosphere 2

“On a day by day basis I was very aware that the Biosphere, the plants, the algae in there, were providing me with my oxygen.”

By Linn Smith

January 13, 2018—–A visit to Biosphere 2 last week, which is the world’s largest science laboratory, revealed a site of many experiments, both past and present. Biosphere 1 is our Planet Earth. Biosphere 2, located in the desert of Arizona, emulates our planet, containing a rainforest, ocean, grasslands, desert and other earth replications. The mini earth also contains human living quarters and an agricultural area for growing food.


Biosphere 2 according to Wikipedia, “was originally meant to demonstrate the viability of closed ecological systems to support and maintain human life in outer space. It was designed to explore the web of interactions within life systems in a structure with different areas based on various biological biomes.”

Life in Biosphere 2

In the 1990’s, eight people were sealed inside of Biosphere 2 for two years. The experiment was to study if conditions on earth could possibly be emulated and contained for living elsewhere—possibly the moon.

One participant, Jane Poynter, said, “We were recycling all our water, all of our air, and growing all our food. Nothing was going in or out. The Biosphere was truly hermetically sealed.” The experiment eventually revealed that the participants couldn’t get enough oxygen or calories, eating their emergency food supplies and getting oxygen injections.

When the experiment ended Poynter stated, “I walked out and the next morning saw a gigantic pile of garbage. We hadn’t had any garbage in the Biosphere, we recycled everything. And then you go to a store to buy stuff, and you’re like ‘holy cow, look at this!’ There’s not only tomato ketchup, there’s 17 brands of it! It’s the abundance of this world that we all take for granted which became so apparent!”

Interdependency of our Planet

Today, Poynter tries to live her life with as low a carbon footprint as possible. Life inside the Biosphere also taught her the value of food. “Today we pick up the phone and order a pizza, but in the Biosphere we had to plant the wheat, which would take about 120 days to grow, harvest it, grind it, turn it into flour and make dough. To get the cheese our goats had to be artificially inseminated and have babies to get our milk!” Similar to what life was like before the early 1900’s!

Even though the experiment failed in some areas, not only lack of food and oxygen, but also warring factions between participants, Poynter states, “On a day by day basis I was very aware that the Biosphere, the plants, the algae in there, were providing me with my oxygen, and I was providing them with their carbon dioxide. It was incredibly interdependent. It’s like that on Planet Earth, but it’s so big you don’t realize it, or think about it.”

Is it time to start thinking of where our oxygen comes from? How interdependent life is? The causes of extreme weather conditions and what our carbon footprint looks like? Will future generations lack food and oxygen? It’s time to look at the truth and the increasing data collected by scientists that will predict how comfortable future generations will be when occupying Planet Earth.


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Jostein Gaarder on Climate Change

“Human activity is draining resources and destroying natural habitats.”

By Linn Smith

February 6, 2018—–Besides being a successful author, Jotstein Gaarder works to support both human rights and a sustainable environment. Gaarder clearly states our current world condition concerning the cause and effect of climate change in the following article, which is the foreword to his 20th addition of Sophie’s World. Sophie’s World is a novel he wrote in 1995 which became a best seller around the world. 

This exerpt is from the article, “Sophie’s World in Danger: Living as though everything centres on our time is just as naïve as thinking the Earth is flat” from http://www.independent.co.uk:

“Two decades ago, a history of philosophy by an unknown Norwegian teacher became a most unlikely phenomenon. But how has time changed the writer? And how might he change his book now, if he could? Jostein Gaarder takes up his own story. However, by far the most important philosophical question of our time must be this: how are we going to save our civilization and the basis of our existence?

From time to time I am asked a question. If I had written Sophie’s World today, is there something important I would have added? Is there something I would have placed more emphasis on? The answer is a resounding yes! If I were to write a philosophical novel today, I would have focused a lot more on how we treat our planet.

It is strange to look back after only 20 years and realize that Sophie’s World doesn’t really address this question. The reason may be that over the course of these 20 years we have gained an entirely new awareness of climate change and the importance of biological diversity. An all-important principle in the study of ethics has been the golden rule, otherwise known as the reciprocity principle: do to others what you would like them to do to you. Over time, we have learnt to apply this rule more widely. In the Sixties and Seventies, people came to realize that the reciprocity principle must apply across national borders, both to the north and to the south.

But the golden rule can no longer just apply across space. We have begun to realize that the reciprocity principle applies across time, too: do to the next generation what you would like them to have done to you, had they lived on the planet before us.

It’s that simple. Love thy neighbor as thyself. Obviously, this rule must apply to the next generation and to everyone who lives on the planet after us. They are human beings, too. Therefore, we should not leave behind a planet which is less valuable than the one we have enjoyed. A planet with fewer fish in the sea. Less drinking water. Less food. Fewer rainforests. Fewer coral reefs. Fewer species of animals and plants… Less beauty. Less wonder. Less splendor and happiness.

Jostein Gaarder

Climate change and responsibility

The 20th century has taught us that people need conventions and obligations which go beyond national boundaries. 

The question we are left with at the beginning of the 21st century is: for how long can we claim human rights without accepting they come with fundamental obligations. The time is ripe for a Universal Declaration of Human Obligations. It no longer makes sense to think about an individual’s rights and freedoms without also thinking about the responsibility of individuals and individual states – not least our responsibility to safeguard the rights of future generations.

At this very moment we are experiencing the consequences of man-made climate change. They are dramatic. However, opinion polls indicate that the people of this world are not particularly concerned. One day in the future, global-warming denial may be considered one of the greatest conspiracies of all time.
The era we live in is exceptional in every way. On one hand, we belong to a triumphant generation, which can explore the universe and map the human genome. On the other, we are the first generation seriously to lay waste to the environment. Human activity is draining resources and destroying natural habitats. We are changing our surroundings to such an extent that people think of our time as an entirely new geological era.

Climate change and sustainable living

Jostein Gaarder

Huge volumes of carbon are contained in plants, animals, the sea, oil, coal and gas. The carbon is just itching to be oxidized and released into the air. The atmosphere on dead planets such as Venus and Mars is mostly CO2, and that would also be the case here if the Earth’s processes didn’t hold the carbon at bay. But from the end of the 18th century, fossil fuels have tempted us like the genie in Aladdin’s lamp. “Release us,” they whispered. And we gave into that temptation. Now we are trying to force the genie back inside the lamp.

If all the remaining oil, coal and gas on this planet is extracted and burnt, our civilization will not survive. But many people and many countries see this as their divine right. Why shouldn’t they use the fossil fuels on their land? Why shouldn’t countries with rainforests chop them down? What’s the difference? What difference will it make to CO2 levels or to biodiversity if one country stops while the rest carry on?

Over the past few centuries, most people here in Norway have been lifted out of poverty. The same is true in many regions of the world. We should not forget that. But this prosperity has come at a high price, a debt we are only now beginning to pay off. Before the Industrial Revolution, the atmosphere contained 275 CO2 parts per million. At the moment of writing, that figure is 400 ppm and it is still rising. Devastating climate change is unavoidable at this rate. Sooner or later we must attempt to return to pre-industrial CO2 levels. 

According to Dr James Hansen, considered by many to be one of the world’s leading climate researchers, we must – initially at least – get this level down to 350 ppm. Only then can we feel reasonably secure that we will escape the worst catastrophes for this planet and for our civilization. But the figure is not going down. It is going up.

If we are to save biodiversity, we need to revolutionize our thinking. Living as though everything centers on our time is just as naive as thinking the Earth is flat. Our time is no more significant than future times. It is only natural that our time is the most significant to us. But we cannot live as though our time is also the most important one for those who come after us. We must respect future times as we respect our own time.
In relationships between individuals and between nations, we have emerged from our “natural state”, characterized by the survival of the fittest. But when it comes to the relationship between generations, unbridled lawlessness still reigns.

Everyone has the right to practice their beliefs, and everyone has the right to hope that our planet can be saved. But that does not guarantee that there will be a new heaven and a new earth awaiting us. It is unlikely that supernatural forces will bring about a Judgement Day. But it is inevitable that we will be judged by our descendants.

Climate change comes down to greed. The destruction of biodiversity comes down to greed. But greed does not trouble the greedy. History is our witness. 

The ethical question is not difficult to answer – what is difficult is living by the answer. But if we forget our descendants, they will never be able to forget us. The question of how widely we should apply the reciprocity principle comes down to identity. What is a human being? Who am I? If I were merely myself – that is, the body sitting here writing – I would be a creature without hope. But my identity goes deeper than my own body and my own short time on Earth. I am a part of – and I take part in – something which is bigger and greater than myself. Humans tend to have a local and short-term sense of who they are. We used to have to scan our surroundings, wary of dangers and prey. That gives us a natural tendency to defend ourselves and protect our own. But we do not have the same natural tendency to protect our descendants, not to mention species other than our own.

Favoring our own genes lies deep within our nature. But we don’t have the same instinct to protect our genes four or eight generations down the line. That is something we must learn – just as we had to learn to respect human rights. Ever since our species emerged in Africa, we have fought a determined battle to prevent our branch of the evolutionary tree from being cut off. That battle has been successful, for we are still here. But we have become so prosperous that we are threatening the basis of our own survival. We have become so prosperous that we are threatening the basis of every species’ survival.
As clever, vain and inventive as we are, it is easy to forget that we are simply primates. But are we really so clever if we put our cleverness and inventiveness ahead of our responsibility for the future of the planet?

No longer can we think only about one another. The planet we live on is an essential part of our identity. Even if our species is destined to die out, we still carry an important responsibility for this unique planet and for the nature we leave behind. Modern humans think we are almost entirely shaped by our cultural and social history, by the civilization which produced us. But we are also shaped by our planet’s biological history. There is a genetic heritage as well as a cultural one. We are primates. We are vertebrates.

It took billions of years to create us. Billions of years to create a human being! But are we going to survive the next millennium?

What is time? First we have the horizon of the individual, then of the family, of culture and of literary culture, but there is also geological time – we come from tetrapods that crawled out of the sea 350 million years ago – and finally, there is cosmic time. Our universe is almost 13.7 billion years old.

But in reality, these periods of time are not as distant from one another as they may seem. We have reason to feel at home in the universe. The planet we live on is precisely one third of the age of the universe, and the class of animals to which we belong, the vertebrates, has existed for a mere 10 per cent of the time our solar system and life on Earth have existed. The universe is no more infinite than that. Or conversely: our roots and our kinship are intricately and deeply woven into the universal soil.

Human beings may be the only living creatures in the entire universe who have a universal consciousness. We have a staggering sense of the immense and mysterious cosmos we are part of. Therefore, not only do we have a global responsibility to save our planet. We have a cosmic responsibility.”

This is the foreword to the 20th anniversary edition of ‘Sophie’s World’ (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, £8.99) published 8th October 2015. Translation © Paul Russell Garrett 2015 is published 8th October 2015.

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