Global Warming and Us
By Elaine Harger
While driving over the Continental Divide in Montana last summer, I was heartsick to see many rust-colored trees scattered throughout forests of usually solid green. In places it looked as though 20-30% of the tress were dead, and indeed they are –killed by a beetle whose only predator is the extreme colds of Montana winters, themselves seemingly headed for extinction due to global warming.
What does the death of pine trees have to do with librarianship? Is global warming a “library issue”? Many librarians argue that provision of books, programming, and other information concerning environmental matters is sufficient to fulfill librarianship’s obligations. Some argue that we need to balance the environmental crisis with sources that deny human responsibility for it. However, I’ve come to realize that global warming goes to the heart of our professional concerns in a number of ways.
Recently, as part of a Northwest Earth Institute discussion group called Global Warming: Changing CO2urse, I calculated my carbon footprint. The average daily production of CO2 emissions per person in the U.S. is 122 lbs. About 65 lbs. is under the direct control of each individual, while the other 57 lbs. is each person’s share of emissions produced by the businesses, industries, electrical generators, and transportation systems that make up part of the infrastructure of our society. By way of comparison, the average daily CO2 emissions per persons in the rest of the world are 24 lbs. And, as it turns out, Earth’s ecosystems can fully process only 9 lbs. of CO2 per day per person.
To calculate your personal carbon footprint, you gather up gas receipts for your vehicles and your utility bills, and count the number of airplane trips taken yearly.
My CO2 production amounted to 34 lbs. per day, lower than the U.S. average, primarily because I walk to work and use my car as little as possible.
This bit of information posed a profound question and prompted a period of complete demoralization brought on by contemplating its implications: How do I reduce my personal production of CO2 from 34 + 57 = 91 lbs. per day to 9? What permitted me to emerge from my feelings of complete defeat were four realizations:
- First, I personally am not responsible for reducing 57 of those pounds: this is a task for our entire society, including librarianship.
- Second, any reductions to my personal 34 lbs. would have to include my air travel to professional conferences, which are usually the only flights I ever take.
- Third, I am only a third-generation CO2 producer. Most of my ancestors lived just fine producing much less than 9 lbs of CO2 per day.
- Fourth, the task of turning our lives from Earth-destroying ones to Earth-sustaining ones is as full of adventure and promise as any task ever to face humanity; al we need is to reactive some of that good old human can-do spirit, and librarianship can help enormously.
For starters, host a showing of the 2006 documentary film Who Killed the Electric Car? at your library and ask the audience to imagine every gas station stocked with solar-charged exchangeable batteries instead of gasoline.
Sponsor and participate in Northwest Earth Institute discussion groups so that your community can explore the possibilities for creating sustainable relationships with your bioregion.
Travel the world through books instead of as CO2-spewing tourist.
And finally let’s rethink ALA conferences. “Greening” ALA Midwinter and Annual meetings is not just a matter of whether or not convention centers recycle paper. We need to rethink the need for national gatherings, because they are not sustainable given current conditions.
Elaine Harger is librarian at Mount Si High School in Snoqualmie, Washington, and a member of ALA Council.
American Libraries / April 2008 / On my Mind / Opinion