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Who Owns the Planet?

by: Deepak Chopra    5 February 2007

The United Nations report on climate change wasn't unfortunate only because it showed, with 90 percent certainty, that the planet is warming up due to human activity. The really unfortunate part is that it gave aid and comfort to right-wing forces who want to keep polluting and ignoring the issue. The authors, scientists from 113 countries, felt obliged to tell the truth, which is that global warming and rises in sea levels will continue for centuries.

This despite any foreseeable efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

As the report fears, this news will cause many countries to throw up their hands and do little or nothing. Why try and stop the inevitable? Drastic changes in oil and coal consumption can slow down climate change, but climate experts take as a foregone conclusion that the carbon dioxide layer in the upper atmosphere will double anyway. For more than a decade the pessimists among climate researchers have said that human beings will have to adapt to change, because correcting the warming trend is impossible, for all intents and purposes. Lowering greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale would require unprecedented cooperation; moreover, the gases already present in the atmosphere would have to be neutralized somehow, and no workable technology is in place to accomplish that.

Human beings have created "a different planet," the report says, and now we must live with what we've done. In essence the human race feels that it owns Earth. We mess it up at our whim, like landlords who turn apartment houses into tenements and feel justified because it's their property. Animals and plants have no say in the matter because they have no voice, but even if they did, humans would overrule them.

One hope is that time will allow the development of super-technologies that can override pollution and negate its effects. Some highly optimistic researchers believe that nano fuel cells and the like could conceivably replace fossil fuels before mid-century. We might find ways to bury carbon dioxide emissions (Norway pumps some emissions under the sea floor presently). Replanting the rain forest or constructing huge oxygen-emitting devices worldwide might help.

But even if science fiction turns into real science, would the world's mentality really change? The climate report gives us until the year 2100 before warming increases by 2 to 11.5 degrees and sea levels rise by 7 to 50 inches. The margins are wide, the time frame is long in relative terms. But for now the pessimists seem to be winning. Governments are likely to continue to wring their hands while doing very little. Corporations will pollute unless absolutely forced not to.

Is there anything you and I can do as ordinary citizens? As in all matters that run this deep, only a change of consciousness can bring about radical change on the outside. Each person must realize that human beings don't own the planet. Life does, on every level. We owe our existence to plankton, blue-green algae, and one-celled organisms at the base of the food chain, not to mention our evolutionary debt to primitive life forms going back billions of years.

Reverence for life is our only hope. Instead of being a spiritual doctrine confined to individuals like Gandhi and Albert Schweitzer, or to a few religions like Hinduism and Jainism, reverence for life now stands between us and catastrophe. Ultimately, the climate report can't be considered definitive. It took only 200 years of industrialism to create climate change; with the right will, a reversal could be engineered over the next two hundred years. One only hopes that reverence wins out over greed and hopelessness.