As I have slowed down and begun to take in some of the current information, four things have most affected how I look at everything these days.
FIRST, CO2 in the atmosphere remains in the atmosphere for decades to centuries to even longer. (see Archer et. al. PDF) This means that anything that we spew out is likely to affect many, many future generations. What kind of civilization would do that? How can we change our civilization so we protect the future centuries ahead?
SECOND, we are already in the midst of a sixth extinction (ref Kolbert). The last one was about 66 million years ago when the dinosaurs went extinct, probably due to an asteroid falling onto earth. This time the meteor is us. The good news is that this is something that we can change significantly if we find the will to do so. However, species are currently going extinct 1000 times faster than the natural extinction rate (abstract of article in Science). Let us honor them by changing our ways.
THIRD, the story about trees is not quite what I thought it was. Previously I had mostly focused on how we humans and trees are beneficially interconnected. We breathe in the oxygen they put out and they inspire the CO2 that we breathe out. I even did a drawing series of tree portraits titled “Breathing Each Other.” This is indeed partially true, and it did allow me to get to know a number of individual trees better.
However, the other side to this story is that trees also breath (respire). They take in oxygen and emit CO2 and water just like we do. When they have enough light, water and CO2, they convert (photosynthesize) it to glucose and oxygen, generating more oxygen than they need for their own respiration. At night without light, trees cannot photosynthesize and convert CO2 to oxygen. Far more important in the current picture, though, during droughts trees also give off CO2. Thus, as we potentially have more droughts and a hotter overall climate, trees may make the situation worse. Also, thinking about planting trees as alleged carbon offsets may not work out as we had hoped! For me this makes it even more crucial for all of us individually and as groups to drastically cut our carbon emissions ASAP.
FOURTH, if we all lived like South Koreans, we would need 2.5 planet earths to be sustainable in the long run (Living Planet Report 2014, p.39 PDF). If we all lived like North Americans, we would need 4 planet earths! I am currently trying to get my head around specifically what it would be like to live like a European. And more crucially, to live like we only have 1 planet. Because that is what we have…