Thursday, November 1, 2007

Contained in a Photograph

Today in class, we looked at a picture of the earth taken from one of the first Apollo moon missions. This photograph, dated 1969, brought to light an important difference between our current generation and those of the past. We, unlike present and past policymakers, have grown up with this image; we imagine the earth as this same small, illuminated, blue orb in space. To our generation, the earth isn’t quite so unimaginably large as it has been in the past. It can be contained in a photograph.

While this photograph is only a symbol, the ideas behind it extend into a much larger dichotomy. Where in the past the earth was considered to be a system beyond human influence, the more recent generation has the conceptual tools to conceive of it as something more special and fragile. While those born in the sixties and before were raised in the fever of technological excitement and advancement, we have entered into a more cautious world. The harm technology and industry can have on the environment has passed from potential to tangible. Where climate change was once a possible risk for the future, it is now a clear and present danger.

Global warming is a heated issue. In the media, in government, and in homes around the world, people care deeply, and disagree, about the reality of climate change. But despite this controversy, the great majority of scientists agree that the earth’s climate is changing because of human influence. [1] The effects of these changes can already be seen in the frequency of severe storms, the flow of glacier ice and the proliferation of tropical disease.[2] While details and predictions can be variable, there is little question as to the existence of climate change.

The problem of climate change puts our generation in a unique position. Until today, decisions about environmental policy have been made by political and industrial leaders who won’t be around to see the effects. When I choose to either conserve or waste energy, my choice will directly affect my life some years down the road. Those more skeptical about the status and speed of climate change must at least admit that my decision will affect the lives of my children. We, the generation approaching adulthood, bear the weight of the future of our planet. While we “practice” thinking about climate change and what we can do about it in this cooperative project with the PRI, we are preparing for a difficult job that lies ahead for us as we become the leaders and citizens of tomorrow.

[1] IPCC, 2007: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M.Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

[2] “An Inconvenient Truth – The Science” Accessed 10/11/07.

-Will Whitney, Cornell University Student

1 comment:

Alex Moore said...

This is a well-articulated and very important message. I think that Americans, in particular, remain enamored of a Frontier Mentality, in which the horizon is limitless, all things are possible, and there is plenty of space to expand in any way that we choose. The Apollo image underscores the point that this is not so. The horizon is finite and we are obligated to care for the only home that we have - there is no longer the opportunity to pick up and move to greener pastures. At the same time, the need to live sustainably within finite boundaries presents us with new intellectual opportunities, and challenges us to be better, smarter, and more efficient than we have been in the past.