Can we change the conversation about climate change?

Climate change as we know it

Climate change from 1950-2013 

Climate change from 1950-2013 

There is no doubt that climate change is a big train thundering towards us. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders even named it as the biggest threat to national security in the most recent Democratic debate. But if we’re honest, we might feel like “climate change” is the tagline that keeps relentlessly buzzing in our ears like a pesky mosquito. Moreover, it’s a heavy, depressing, guilt-filled mosquito that makes you feel like we are headed for a doomed destiny in which we will sizzle in a hot pocket of carbon dioxide. And yes, there is more than enough reason to think that way

If things are so dire, how can we ever turn it around? If there are so many initiatives to reduce our impact on the climate, are they even making a dent? From here the sense of gloom grows. It begs us to examine our way of thinking. 

A shift in the climate change discussion

Most responses to climate change fall into the categories of reducing carbon emissions, using renewable energy sources or even more radical ideas such as geo-engineering. Notably, each of these concepts center around favoring productivity over ecological prosperity which creates a fundamental flaw in the system. Ecological prosperity, a result of self-sustaining, biodiverse and fertile land, is essential for productivity.

As long as our global economy continues to value production and consumption higher than the functioning ecosystem the results will remain the same and the outcome for humanity and the planet is bleak.
— John Dennis Liu, senior research fellow at the International Union for Conservation of Nature

The debates over our approach to climate change aren't practical or ecological, they're political and moral. We must ask ourselves where our values lie. When ecological prosperity is the priority, all other things fall into place. When our land thrives in the long term, our productivity thrives in the long term. 

Has nature had it right all along?

The drastic decline of a group of early Mesoamericans from the region around Canton was due, at least in part, to climate change, according to a new study. (Photo: Flickr: Dennis Jarvis)

The drastic decline of a group of early Mesoamericans from the region around Canton was due, at least in part, to climate change, according to a new study. (Photo: Flickr: Dennis Jarvis)

The planet is the ultimate judge and history is the ultimate testament to this. The vast majority of major civilizations in the history of the earth have fallen because they failed to protect and conserve their ecological systems. Mayan, Egyptian and Cambodian civilizations each experienced a similar demise, for example. Without fostering optimal ecological function, societies cannot be supported.

How about our efforts in reducing greenhouse gas emissions? In response to data on carbon emissions, many countries are pledging to reduce their CO2 emissions. This is a wonderful idea, until we acknowledge that these efforts aren't nearly enough to stop the planet from approaching the two degree increase in temperature that will hold dramatic consequences. We are passing many road signs and they're all telling us to exit onto the route of prioritizing ecological systems. 

Reason to be optimistic: an example of Ecological success in China

The Loess Plateau in China

The Loess Plateau in China: 4 million hectares of land (the size of Afghanistan)

  • Centuries of overuse and overgrazing led to one of the highest erosion rates in the world (1.6 billion tons of soil washing into the Yellow River annually) and widespread poverty
  • In 1994, one of the world’s largest conservation programs Grain for Green began. Millions of rural homes worked to return agricultural lands to areas with:

    • Increased biodiversity

    • Tree cover

    • Erosion fighting terracing

    • Maximized hydrological function 

The stunning results:

Before and after shots of the Loess Plateau

  • The land was beautifully restored with sustainable systems in place, prompting these changes:
    • Income of local farmers was doubled
    • Employment rates increased 
    • Erosion was reduced by 100 million tons of sediments annually
    • Grain production increased from 365 kg to 591 kg per year
    • Food supply was secured 

The bottom line

When we examine our current efforts against climate change, it is clear that we are trying to evade major planetary changes with a hall pass. We feel the dark cloud of green house gases approaching over our heads as we realize these efforts are ultimately not sufficient. To shift the focus to ecological prosperity is to set the stage for prosperity in all areas of life, as the success following the restoration of the Loess Plateau demonstrates. Choosing the planet first is choosing our ultimate health, happiness and harmony