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Zero impact as important as zero emissions

Nov 3, 2021 | Blog

by Joe Neidhardt, MD

Many realize that we need to get to zero emissions of nitrous oxide, methane, and CO2 if we are going to address the climate crisis.  In addition, there is another zero we need to achieve;zero impact.

Our western culture has been based on consumerism and an extraction economy.  This has driven our industrial civilization and significantly contributed to the climate crisis.  If our solutions rely too heavily on the industrial complex we could be setting ourselves up for a crisis of another sort and still be left with many of the problems that the climate crisis is thrusting upon us. Species extinction, land degradation,  loss of soil, over extraction of water,  declining resources, immigration pressures, and food insecurity are prevalent in much of the world and spreading rapidly.

Ramping up the industrial complex to tackle the climate crisis will create pressures to mine more rare earth metals,  as well as iron, copper and lithium. We will need to extract millions more tons of silicon and utilize energy to refine steel and copper.  Some of this will be necessary, but the more we can rely on other solutions the less we will have to accommodate the industrial waste from continued extraction and spent materials. There is no conflict in implementing industrial technological solutions as long as we aim at zero impact  before, during, and after solutions are implemented. So how can we approximate zero impact?

Replace consumerism with compassion: Let us admit that we are addicted consumers. Unless we address consumerism, we are neglecting one of the major drivers of the climate crisis.  Consumerism got us out of the depression along with World War ll, and we have resisted even questioning it seriously ever since. We have an epidemic of obesity with the resultant medical health issues, and we sell supersized soft drinks. We get cell phones every two to three years because we want the latest model when a 10-year lifespan is easily achievable. We stopped recycling soft drink glass bottles when plastic containers and aluminum cans became available. We have built cities for cars instead of bicycles and walkways. Twenty-five percent of all food in the world is wasted.  The bottom line:  We can use a lot less, be healthier, happier and care for Mother Earth and her 7.8 billion people, and 7+ million species.

Find alternative economic systems: The Doughnut Economic Model designed by University of Oxford economist Kate Raworth addresses some of our environmental problems. It is now being tested in places such as Amsterdam and Nanaimo, British Columbia.  It sets planetary boundaries, which protects Mother Earth, and is a rigorous economic model to consider seriously.  Many Indigenous cultures practice various forms of a gifting economy that provide us with other viable alternatives.

 Industrial waste: This is a design problem in that designing things to use less material to be recycled and reused will decrease waste.  “Small is beautiful” can be a slogan that will minimize materials.  Some materials are absorbed back into nature naturally, whereas some are highly toxic and will need to be avoided in the first place.

Guarantee food security: This can be done through the upgrade of agricultural practices that create soil and sequester carbon dioxide. Modern agricultural practices can produce more food while soil is being generated. While this is true, we are losing our topsoil 20 to 100 times faster than we are producing it every year. (Special Report on Climate Change and Land https://www.ipcc.ch) This cannot go on. We could pay farmers to sequester CO2 with money made by charging industries that produce CO2.

Let nature do most of the work.  E. O. Wilson in his book Half Earth outlines a strategy to create large autonomous nature reserves that can be self- sustaining. Doing so will keep nature in balance, sequester carbon, protect the 7+million species, and help rebalance Mother Earth. Nature produces high carbon ecosystems such as mangroves, forests, rangelands, and peatlands.

Support Third World countries and design ways to foster compassionate migration: We already have a million climate refugees, and people will continue to move north.  We need a world conference on helping people stay in their homeland and find ways to assist those who cannot.

Rematriation: Enhance the feminine to balance the masculine.  We need women and feminine nature to take over. The masculine, with its wars, military industrial complex, extraction, power and control, and competition has been dominant for far too long.  We need reciprocity with nature, nurturing of ourselves within nature, love and compassion for ourselves and the sentient beings with whom we share the earth.  To save our planet we need to build rapidly on what is already taking place with  the kind of leadership provided by such women as Kamala Harris, U.S. Vice President, Deb Haaland, U.S. Minister of the Interior, and Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand. Rematriation will lead to balance and respect for Mother Earth.

Use less energy:  We want to replace fossil fuel-consumption and also reduce our need for energy.  There are so many ways to decrease energy demands, build smaller insulated buildings, create lighter,  smaller, but roomy cars and share transportation, have efficient fast ground transportation, dress differently according to temperature gradients, walk and cycle and so on.

Employ better problem solving:  Create opportunities for diverse groups of people to share and find new low- and no-impact solutions. Be inclusive of black,  indigenous and people of color, liberals, conservatives, socialists, women, a variety of religious people, young and old. Together we can be more creative.

All of this can be done while we move toward economic equality, facilitate the rights of nature, secure racial justice,  establish Indigenous equity, create non-aggression pacts, and guarantee individual rights within the context of compassion and caring.  We are at a tipping point and doing anything less will certainly guarantee the demise of our civilization as we know it. It can be done.

Walk in Beauty.

Joe Neidhardt, MD, is a practicing psychiatrist in Santa Fe and co-editor of “Groundswell Indigenous Knowledge and a Call to Action for Climate Change”.