Daddy, Could We Have Our Planet Back Now?

A Father’s Day essay on the world we’re leaving our children

On the one hand, should I be blogging on Father’s Day? On the other hand, what more important day is there to blog on climate change than Father’s Day? So as a compromise, I’m doing a repost.

Salon published my Father’s Day essay back in 2010. It was a sequel of sorts to “Is the global economy a Ponzi scheme?” Sadly, it needs to be updated since we didn’t pass a climate bill and instead took a quantum leap closer to leaving our children a ruined climate.

As parents, we constantly admonish our children to share with others. The joke is that as adults, we hardly like to share anything at all. Who likes to lend out their car? Or their tools or books? We’re so worried they won’t come back in the same condition — or won’t be returned at all.

But the truth is that the people we like to share the least with are our own children. “We do not inherit the Earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children,” the saying goes. Right now, though, we’ve borrowed the entire Earth, trashed much of it, and don’t plan to give back the rest of it.

We are plundering the world’s “renewable resources” — arable land and tropical forests and fisheries and fresh water. And we are using an ever-greater fraction of nonrenewable energy resources, especially hydrocarbons, with devastating consequences.

As one example, our carbon pollution is acidifying all of the oceans simultaneously, while heating them up to record levels, threatening mass extinction of aquatic life. Australian marine science professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the lead author of a major study on acidification, says the result is that “we are entering a period in which the very ocean services upon which humanity depends are undergoing massive change and in some cases beginning to fail.” He adds: “It’s as if the Earth has been smoking two packs of cigarettes a day” — except, of course, the smoke comes from our addiction to fossil fuels, not the Earth’s. (See Nature Geoscience study: Oceans are acidifying 10 times faster today than 55 million years ago when a mass extinction of marine species occurred).

The website RealClimate points out that the amount of dangerous carbon dioxide we spew into the air each day from burning fossil fuels and deforestation is roughly equivalent to “five thousand spills like in the Gulf of Mexico, all going at once … every day for decades and centuries on end.”

And if we listen much longer to those anti-science disinformers who have been counseling inaction, we won’t just be trashing the climate for our children — we will be destroying a livable climate for countless future generations. A 2009 study led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that “the climate change that is taking place because of increases in carbon dioxide concentration is largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop.” What kind of changes? Well, besides destroying the oceans, the study warns of “irreversible dry-season rainfall reductions in several regions comparable to those of the ‘dust bowl’ era and inexorable sea level rise.”

The dust bowl that will hit the American Southwest and a half-dozen other heavily populated regions around the Earth will likely last far, far longer than the one that devastated the Great Plains in the 1930s (See NCAR analysis warns we risk multiple, devastating global droughts even on moderate emissions path). And the sea level rise could hit 4 to 6 feet by century’s end and then continue rising 6 to 12 inches or more a decade, until all the land-based ice on the planet is gone and seas are more than 200 feet higher (See Sea levels may rise 3 times faster than IPCC estimated, could hit 6 feet by 2100). How will our children’s children and their descendants adapt to that?

Conservatives have demagogued even the most moderate, business-friendly proposal to put a price on carbon, falsely labeling it and “energy tax.” President Obama has never given a single major speech to the American public on the greatest threat we face — the threat posed by unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions, the urgent need to make polluters pay for emitting carbon dioxide. He failed to press hard for the passage of a Senate bill. As a result, the prospects have dimmed for serious climate legislation for the foreseeable future (see “The failed presidency of Barack Obama, Part 2“).

To refuse to place a serious price on carbon dioxide pollution is to ignore the damage your actions today will inevitably have on the health and well-being of your children and everyone else’s children. Something to think about on Father’s Day.

Related Post:

  • An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts: How We Know Inaction Is the Gravest Threat Humanity Faces

61 Responses to Daddy, Could We Have Our Planet Back Now?

  1. prokaryotes says:

    And the CO2 first ends up in the ocean for the most part, where among decreasing water PH acts on fish neurotransmitter, makes them easy prey…

    Carbon Dioxide Is ‘Driving Fish Crazy’

  2. prokaryotes says:

    “We’ve found that elevated CO2 in the oceans can directly interfere with fish neurotransmitter functions, which poses a direct and previously unknown threat to sea life,” Prof. Munday says.

  3. fj says:

    We have to come to grips with the reality that we will be forced to seriously act on climate change real soon.

    And it will be a lot easier if we start before the “forcing” starts.

    Why the carbon bubble will burst.

  4. Anne says:

    I am recalling my ancient Greek and Roman mythology, and hearing “Mother Earth, Father Sky”and recall something about our “parents” caring for one another, being kind to one another, to ensure our existence. Mother Earth — stuff on the ground — please be kinder and gentler to Father Sky – so Father Sky will be kinder and gentler to us here on the ground. A simple “chant” or possible an agnostic “prayer” for this Father’s Day…

  5. rollin says:

    I would not worry about our children adapting to changes in the environment, people have faced several ice age periods and survived. If nothing else, humans are adaptable to severe climate change and to ocean rise and fall.

    What we really need to worry about are the traps being set by civilization that will destroy the environment permanently. These traps are now in the form of nuclear weapons and in nuclear power, especially the spent fuel storage facilities. These are hundreds of disasters waiting to happen that will destroy life. If others have their way, there will be thousands of nuclear facilities and their insidious waste. Cure that problem, because when civilizations do fall, they may not be able to care for those waiting monsters and keep them at bay.

    Other traps are bio-weapons and GMO’s.

    Cure those traps and they will have a chance to adapt.

  6. prokaryotes says:

    Climate Change Puts Even ‘Safe’ Species at Risk

    “The findings reveal alarming surprises,” said Foden. “We hadn’t expected that so many species and areas that were not previously considered to be of concern would emerge as highly vulnerable to climate change.

  7. prokaryotes says:

    Climate Change Puts Even ‘Safe’ Species at Risk

    “The findings reveal alarming surprises,” said Foden. “We hadn’t expected that so many species and areas that were not previously considered to be of concern would emerge as highly vulnerable to climate change.

  8. prokaryotes says:

    What we lack is not expertise, but will. We’re living with politicians so feeble that they see wind energy as a local planning issue and they’re afraid to talk about saving energy for fear that it might sound expensive. Faced with a scientific consensus on carbon use that is as close as humanity will ever get to unanimous, their response is to find more carbon.

    The discoveries we need to make are not technological; they are human. How do we imbue the political cycle with some long-term thinking, some altruism, some care for future generations?

  9. Nell says:

    It was never our planet. That’s the problem, we’ve been acting like we owned it…that it was ours to consume.

    Payback is coming. Peak everything is decades away.

  10. Superman1 says:

    We don’t have to worry about adaption; at 6 C, we’re toast!

  11. catman306 says:

    Where did the idea of land ownership come from?

    “Humans, like many of our primate cousins, engage in group (as well as individual) territoriality. Tribal groups saw themselves connected to particular territories – a place that was “theirs.” Yet their attitude towards the land was very different from ours. They frequently spoke of the land as their parent or as a sacred being, on whom they were dependent and to whom they owed loyalty and service. Among the aborigines of Australia, individuals would inherit a special relationship to sacred places, but rather than “ownership,” this relationship was more like being owned by the land. This sense of responsibility extended to ancestors and future generations as well. The Ashanti of Ghana say, “Land belongs to a vast family of whom many are dead, a few are living and a countless host are still unborn.”

    For most of these tribal peoples, their sense of “land ownership” involved only the right to use and to exclude people of other tribes (but usually not members of their own). If there were any private rights, these were usually subject to review by the group and would cease if the land was no longer being used. The sale of land was either not even a possibility or not permitted. As for inheritance, every person had use rights simply by membership in the group, so a growing child would not have to wait until some other individual died (or pay a special fee) to gain full access to the land.”

    The Idea Of Owning Land

  12. Lou Grinzo says:

    Thanks for this, Joe.

    As I so often say about this topic and the children of the world: They’re ALL our kids, whether they share our DNA or not. And right now, by sticking to our business as usual emissions path, we’re engaged in a slow-motion, global act of child abuse.

  13. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I bet the jellyfish love it.

  14. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    There is no ‘We’. There is ‘Us’ the rational, sane, humane human beings who want humanity to go on, and there are ‘Them’, who care only for their own lives and their wealth, power and ego. ‘Them’ is winning, hands down, because most of ‘We’ refuse to recognise just what ‘Them’ represent.

  15. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Talk about, ‘Special subject-the bleeding obvious!’. This is a MASS extinction we have caused, all by ourselves.

  16. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The indigenous concept of belonging to their ‘country’, and not seeing it as a commodity to be bought, sold and kept from others, is one of the indigenous beliefs that most enrage the Right in Australia. Since John Howard’s regime slithered to power in 1996 there has been a concerted effort to destroy indigenous culture by coercive ‘assimilation’ into the grey, greedy, monoculture of ‘mainstream’ Australia. A particular emphasis has been placed on driving the indigenous off their remote ancestral lands, from where services have been removed, successful community work programs ended, and a tyrannous program of radical disempowerment, the quasi-military, ‘Intervention’ been imposed on a mostly unwilling populace. Needless to say, this infantilising, humiliating, contemptuous program has enjoyed bi-partisan political support, the anti-indigenous racist vote here being prodigious.

  17. prokaryotes says:

    You can not compare past climate change adaptation of species to today’s,because the rate of emissions is so much greater and the heat trapping gases are in part novel. The ozone layer is also already damaged, things which effect climate. Unprecedented…

  18. Dave S. Nottear says:

    There are so many things wrong with what you said in your first paragraph it would take a few text books to clarify.

    But, you are certainly right about the Giant Nuclear Booby-Trap we are still deliberately building still today.

  19. BobbyL says:

    I don’t think we are talking about survival. Rather, I believe most people are talking about continuing global civilization in a way that would be familiar. Another ice age with 7 billion people on the planet and being interdependent because of globalization would be devastating. But so would climate change if it became too severe, such as somewhere beyond 4C. Humans are very adaptable but the ecosystems that we depend on are in many cases not that adaptable and the interaction of declining ecosystems would greatly shrink the amount of land that is habitable for humans. To what extent nobody knows for sure but it is certainly something that needs to be avoided. A massive population collapse following an overshoot is what we appear to be heading for unless emissions of greenhouse gases are dramatically reduced very soon.

  20. Superman1 says:

    Your first sentence is correct, but then in the second sentence you transfer responsibility to the politicians. We, you and I, lack the will, and our elected representatives reflect that lack of will of their constituents. Hard to lead your troops in battle when they’ve all deserted to Sweden and Canada!

  21. Superman1 says:

    BAU will lead to ~6 C by end of century (or sooner), which means extinction for many species, including ours. Far more than ‘slow motion’, and far more than ‘child abuse’.

  22. Superman1 says:

    “There is ‘Us’ the rational, sane, humane human beings who want humanity to go on”, but who are not willing to move toward the required sustainability by surrendering the addiction to the high energy intensity lifestyle enabled by the unlimited availability of ‘cheap’ fossil fuels.

  23. Superman1 says:

    Now you will find out the real meaning of nonlinear dynamical systems with cross-coupled synergistic positive feedback mechanisms. Mother Nature is unleashing a full-spectrum offensive on land-sea-air; there will be no respite, and there will be no refuge. The end will be violent, and sooner than anyone here is estimating.

  24. Merrelyn Emery says:

    The Irukandji (deadly ‘box’) jellyfish has moved as far South as Fraser Island and the stinging season has now increased from 2 to over 6 months. Sounds like love to me, ME

  25. Merrelyn Emery says:

    The Aussie Climate Commission has a new report out today telling us we must leave 80% of our coal in the ground. Pro- and anti-renewables rallies are planned for Tuesday in the national capital. People and planet heating up in sync, ME

  26. fj says:

    Gee. Just had a marvelous Sunday biking around New York City — pretty much the only way I travel — around waterfronts, across the Brooklyn Bridge; stopping at places to eat and drink and talking with friends.

    Wonder what a low energy lifestyle would be?

  27. fj says:

    “Them” ain’t winning anything.

    “He who dies with the most toys wins,” is just a joke.

    And, it’s likely a lot of those toys will soon be even more silly useless.

  28. prokaryotes says:

    Well uh i quote from that article.

    In my opinion this shows why we require leadership.

  29. red admiral says:

    You can live your hip NYC lifestyle because every single thing you need use is brought to your very door with fossil fuels. Are you implying it is possible to have a ‘low energy lifestyle’ in NYC? Because you ride a share bike?

  30. fj says:

    The confrontation with reality should be terribly appealing.

  31. Henry says:

    I know the purpose of your article is to chide people into action on a serious issue, but when you say;
    “…But the truth is that the people we like to share the least with are our own children…”
    Wrong! I don’t know what type of family you were raised in but I share everything with my kids, more now since they are grown, because that is what family is for. To help each other.
    I know you have a job to do here but this time I think you missed the mark entirely, especially on Father’s Day!

  32. Merrelyn Emery says:

    I’m sorry but I have no idea what your comment means. Can you make it clearer? ME

  33. wili says:

    I think Joe is thinking a bit more big-picture here than you seem to be, Henry.

    As a _society_ we have use up non-renewable resources (like fossil fuels) that our children will not be able to use.

    And the result of burning through all those non-renewable stores of carbon is that we now have a planet that is profoundly and eternally altered from the one we came into. So we cannot share that now-gone planet with them.

    Think species extinction, ice caps, glaciers, sea level, CO2 levels, and the other things he lists…rather than the household items and financial resources you seem to be thinking of.

  34. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Now, now Super-don’t go generalising. A lot of people are reducing their consumption, markedly, but the Right is actively sabotaging such efforts, particularly in the deranged (due to high CO2 levels?) Anglosphere.

  35. Superman1 says:

    A 1/1000 exception does not invalidate my statement. Take a hard look at the CO2 emissions for the past three (or more) decades and CO2 atmospheric concentrations for that period, and then tell me about collective low-energy lifestyles.

  36. Superman1 says:

    “A lot of people are reducing their consumption”. Hmmm, talk about generalizing; if all these people are reducing their consumption, how come the CO2 emissions and concentrations are only going in one direction: UP!

  37. Superman1 says:

    Much ado about Nothing!

  38. Raul M. says:

    Thanks Joe, it helps to know that many of the thoughts that I faced years ago still present to the younger generations. Sad that a truthful reply still is too much for many parents to face. Very telling title to a worldly situation.

  39. Superman1 says:

    “Well uh i quote from that article.” In that case, it might help if you place quotation marks around the quoted section.

  40. Superman1 says:

    The pot calling the kettle black? I also noticed your lack of comment on one of the article’s quotes relative to “our addiction to fossil fuels”.

  41. Joe Romm says:

    And yet we are stealing their future!

  42. Raul M. says:

    Iowa Wind Production Poised To Expand After $1.9 Billion Buffet Investment (INFOGRAPHIC)
    Nice windmills can make a difference in electricity generation once installed and running.

  43. Raul M. says:

    It would be nice if the balance argument actually focused on the energy balance (Watts per meter squared) when the next Buffet enterprise is proposed to Mr. Buffet on how to take advantage of the Eaarth’s energy. One interesting thing is that the Eaarth tends to keep more energy from the Sun these days, so using the incoming heat shows agreement with natural systems. It is up to us to use it as best as we may. Considering that the Eaarth systems may turn that incoming heat into too much heat, wind, and rain for our comfort we should find ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle the incoming heat . CSP seems to capture heat and change it to electrical energy which we would then use to turn motors that make heat, so heat is captured and then released. How about some new proposals on how to capture a cause of the heat retention and then no release of the causal factor. Certainly there are others who may define what such proposal could entail much better than I.

  44. Raul M. says:

    Oh, and I’m not suggestion a new and improved maid service which they would refuse to pay for, but a new source service that is able to get along with Eaarth systems which then could comfort us.

  45. Superman1 says:

    Red Admiral, Don’t forget the bridges and streets he rides on, all constructed with mucho fossil fuel.

  46. rollin says:

    We are headed for massive de-population even if we cut back on emissions, too many other factors against us and no real turning aside.

    But as far as keeping the current banking-industrial-technological civilization intact, I say look closely where it is headed right now and then decide if you want to live in it in the near future, let alone where is will go in the long run. Luckily it is unsustainable and will have to change dramatically.

  47. rollin says:

    Dave S., please name the text books.

  48. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I can think of one pair of ‘budgie-smugglers’ I wouldn’t mind seeing an Irukandji lodge in.

  49. Raul M. says:

    Now, now, enjoying a beautiful day is what beautiful days enjoin. Won’t many cuss when they have missed the beautiful day? It just works out that a beautiful day is nice.

  50. fj says:

    red admiral,

    Cheers to the one half billion Chinese cyclists living there hip lifestyle

  51. fj says:

    red admiral,

    Your remark is typical of fossil fuel propaganda attempting to stygmatize and prevent design, development, and broad deployment of positively disruptive advanced net zero mobility methods that will eliminate the extremely costly and dangerous dependency on fossil fuels.

  52. fj says:

    red admiral,

    In any case, infrastructure specifically designed for net zero mobility such as bikes have miniscule environmental and other foot prints compared to other modalities and the rapid transition would likely have minimal buildout emissions.

    Fossil fuel industry monopolistic practices prevent this.

  53. fj says:

    red admiral,

    I agree with you entirely that the extreme wasteful and dangerous dependency on transportation systems designed to sell fossil fuels is not cool at all putting billions of people at risk; and the millions killed and the excess of fifty millions gravely injured on the worlds roads annually is beyond horrific.

  54. fj says:

    superman 1,

    Uh, maybe emissions would be going up faster?

    Uh, maybe when people do this stuff people realize that “Something is not impossible if it already exists.”

  55. fj says:

    Superman 1,

    You really should get in the habit of at least trying to answer your own questions.

  56. fj says:

    Our children flow through us . . .

    I am terribly selfish taking terrific pleasure in doing what is right; blessed with a profound passion for my life, those lives of others and the exquisite nature of living things and all to come; and being part of a seemingly impossible effort to save all this from a horrific future; and the optimism to believe that this can and must happen.

  57. fj says:

    NYC is largely a manmade environment where investing $200 billion per year could make it net zero in five years; a good investment considering its trillion dollar real estate market being central to a region characterized by a trillion dollars economic activity per year.

  58. fj says:

    Unfortunately, economics is not rational as proven by psychologist Daniel Kahneman getting him the Nobel Prize in Economics with case studies detailed in his best selling “Thinking Fast And Slow.”

  59. fj says:

    The really bad habit of building supersize vehicles amplifies humanity’s footprint and difficulties astronomically and is very easy to change.

    The simple secret of net zero vehicles is to build them small and light enough to be easily powered by human power.

  60. fj says:

    The really bad habit of building supersize vehicles amplifies humanity’s footprint and difficulties astronomically