On May 21, 2005, David Foster Wallace, the American author, gave a commencement speech at Kenyon College pointing out that “the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.”
He told a story: “There are two young fish swimming along that happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Good morning boys, how’s the water.’ The two young fish swim on for a bit, and eventually one looks over to the other and goes ‘What the hell is water?”’
David explains, “The point of the fish story is that the most obvious important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.” This simple explanation seems like a trite platitude, but in the facts of day-to-day known existence, the platitude can have a life-or-death importance. The fact is that many people are oblivious and have no clue what day-in, day-out really means as it relates to living in an unnatural, human-produced climate crisis.
And then there are the fossil fuel climate denier arguments that climate change is only a banal, natural phenomenon and nothing should be done; this argument has been totally debunked. It’s time for climate deniers to take the climate crisis seriously and for smart persons to at least hedge on the possibility that they “might be wrong.” Doing something can possibly ensure their grandchildren from horrible devastation. Doing nothing is too frightening a thought.
Bill Gates, the brilliant technologist and author of a new book, “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster,” provides solutions we already have and the breakthroughs we need to push the world to zero greenhouse emissions in time to avoid a global catastrophe. “The case for zero is rock solid. Unless we stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, the temperature will keep going up.” Earth’s reduction of carbon dioxide is analogous to draining a bathtub full of water while slowly turning the spigot off.
“Eliminating fossil fuels is a matter of economics. It all boils down to making green energy cheaper.” New energy transmission lines, connecting Atlantic states with Pacific states, are needed for green energy distribution to tie new energy plants sprouting across our country. But getting to zero emissions includes reducing the demand side of the equation and not just supplying clean electricity and removing dirty cars.
New technologies are needed, now rather costly using dirty energy, to reduce emissions to zero, and processes offering at least a 1% reduction in total world greenhouse gases, now 51 billion tons per year, need to be funded. Here are the major polluting elements, according to Gates and the percentages of greenhouse gases they now cause in the world:
• Making things (cement, steel, plastics, refineries): 31%.
• Dirty electricity (plugging in things): 27%.
• Growing things (plants, animals): 19%.
• Getting around (cars, trucks, ships): 16%.
• Keeping warm and cool (heating and cooling): 7%.
But what can a single mortal do to help drive the world to zero greenhouse emissions? A few important starters are:
• Stay in contact with your government representatives, prodding them to pass policies that bring new technologies to market, account for carbon costs, improve the infrastructure and make buying green products easier and cheaper.
• Defund oneself from fossil fuel investments and fund green energy.
• Convert high-energy appliances to low-energy appliances.
• Eat less meat because of animal flatulence, nitrous oxide (N2O), and burping methane.
• Use less artificial fertilizer since N2O capture for making fertilizer has not yet been found.
• Trade in the gas guzzler for an electric car or truck.
• Don’t fly too often.
• Buy a smart temperature controller. Get a heat pump to control the temperature in your house. Consider geothermal heating and cooling.
In this list, I would have liked to include “have fewer children” to stop the world population from reaching 10 billion by the end of this century, but that still now flies into religious dogma.
About the fish story, it’s all about the real value of a real education, which has nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; it’s an awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over: “THIS IS WATER.”