It took millions of years for all the carbon in the atmosphere to be enclosed deep in the ground through the work of the biosphere. In the process the Earth's climate cooled and stabilished, and natural movements and circulations of the atmosphere came to be.
When we release those carbon back to the atmosphere, we are practically reversing this process, making it hotter and more unstable. It is important for us to really understand that the Earth is one finite system. When we pollute it, we pollute ourselves and our children too, when we use it up, we won't be able to sustain ourselves anymore.
The only thing that would legitimate our long-term existence is the surplus we help nature produce, meaning our impact makes the ecosystems we depend on preform better, use energy more efficiently, so we can safely take what we need. Michael Moore phrased it this way: 'you are committing a sin when you benefit at the expense of others' - which is basically what we do since the dawn of our species.
That what I think the deal is. As Derrick Jensen says, we won't undergo any kind of voluntary transformation to a saner way of living - so, it is pointless to fantasise about these things. An individual could not do anything about it, and society will not do anything about it. You can guess the outcome.
I think this is the general state of the academic discussion:
1. Are we experiencing climate change? Yes.
2. Is the planet warming up? Yes.
3. Is CO2 increasing? Yes.
4. Can human activity impact the climate? Yes.
5. How much of the climate change is caused by human activity? Not entirely sure.
Despite what you may think from the public debate, it is really only point 5 which is being discussed. Some answer 'all', others 'none', most think 'some' and try to find out exactly how much.
@Dave - I've spent the last few weeks education myself a bit and I stand corrected. It appears to me that all say 'most'.
Thanks for inspiring me to do so :)
I work for "big oil" and I can assure you that all the major players fully and wholly accept AGW and their responsibility in it. But it must be possible to also accept that hydrocarbons form the backbone of modern societies and that the consumers shares at least as much responsibility as producers. Solutions must therefore be global in terms of geography, industry and emission source.
"We are not a denier; we understand that the climate is changing."
Chevron stance (quoting IPCC):
"Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level."
BP stance (intrinsic acceptance):
Climate change is a major global challenge (...)
"For us the debate on climate change is over."
And the same goes for the other companies.
They are merely suppliers of hydrocarbons. Actually very small suppliers, even combined. We cannot have the same level of welfare without the product, and I have yet to meet one single coworker who doesn't want to do everything as clean and safe as possible. Even from a strict business standpoint it makes sense: Pollution is waste, and waste is inefficiency.
They can only control the pollution the cause themselves. To focus only on one thing, oil companies are responsible for emissions in production, refining and distributions, car manufacturers are responsible for the emissions of the car, the guy driving is the responsible for emissions from the car. They all need to be held accountable, in Norway the oil corps pay 75% profit taxes, car manufacturers have to pay CO2/km based tax on each vehicle, and the consumer pays 80% tases on gas. It's a good system, even the oil industry can accept that, but it tends to not be the system proposed abroad.
You need to think of everything humans do. CO2 is a big thing, but it's far from the only thing worth considering with "the environment". Big points to read about:
1. Water: pollution here from chemicals used in every single industry plus the private sector leak into the planet's water. Changes EVERYTHING on the planet. Coral bleaches, fish die, animals and people get cancer or have weird gender effects... If you think drinking toxic stuff is great, you can ignore this. But it's huge, and scary.
2. Consumption of goods (everything you buy): Manufacturing is dirty. Transport is dirty and expensive (carbonwise as well as time and materials). Think of how much stuff you throw out in a week, a year. A heck of a lot of that goes back into the water. You are pumped up with commercials to want more. Limited resources, people! If populations keep expanding, we won't have enough for even food/shelter for everyone, and this leads to war usually. No one wants to die after all.
3. Biodiversity: If we only think of humans, what happens to everything else? Take a look at Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biodiversity Now think about killing a lot of animals because you wanted to have three computers and two cars and an Ipad and a biiiigggg house and lots of other stuff. And then you have to hope to goodness other species step in and fill the gaps left in the ecosystem well enough. We're missing a lot of bees, and crops are suffering for it, and food prices are rising. This effects us quite directly.
And while we're starting to see the effects of a human-centric viewpoint, it's our kids and grandkids who have the burden of dealing with what we leave behind. So, better to read up and be careful. CO2 is masking the whole of the problem and it's letting people bicker over small points. Makes me a little angry.