Balloons, Climate Change, and the Future

What would it take for people to see their impact on the environment, in relation to climate change?  After a few moments of deliberation, my friend and mentor Rowan Claypool said Balloons.

Imagine that for all of your activity responsible for CO2 emissions, large ugly balloons filled with CO2 trailed you wherever you traveled. 

If you bought a couple of Big Macs, balloons would appear.  If you went joyriding in your Saab Wagon on a Sunday morning, balloons would appear.  If you flew to New Orleans for a Teaching Conference–which I am actually en route to now–you’d arrive in the Big Easy with hundreds more balloons attached to your carry-on bag.  The more you consumed, traveled, and  purchased, you would see a tangible sign of your impact on the environment.

Image from the Boston Globe online. Biodegradable balloons in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

I don’t understand how the science of climate change is disputable.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Mauna Loa, Hawaii, CO2 levels have increased from under 320 ppm in the late 1950’s to over 395 ppm now.  That seems to be an indisputable fact.  It’s also a fact that the number has been on a steady rise.  The more CO2, the more climate variability and extremes we endure.  Have you recently experienced a drought, heat wave, flood, or other event?  If you live in the United States, chances are the answer is a resounding Yes.

Somehow, special interest groups have successfully muddled the information to a great extent. 

Challenging the Altar of Economic Growth and Material Consumption is inextricably linked to acknowledging climate change and human impact on the environment.  For some, acknowledging this connection in our modern world is akin to challenging religious belief systems.  For others, acknowledging this connection means more government regulation and less “freedom.”  God forbid individuals are discouraged or fined for making decisions that impact everybody for the worse (sarcasm).

Unfortunately, I imagine individuals, communities, states, countries, and the world economy continuing the barrel along at a reckless pace.

I imagine a migration of folks out of the Southwestern United States due to a lack of water and ridiculous energy prices to cool homes and cars.  I imaging India, China, and other economies continuing to grow, extracting and using fossil fuels like the United States did to grow during the 20th Century.  I imagine returning to New England some day and having a similar growing season to what I currently experience in Kentucky.  I imagine obscenely rich people, no matter where they live, insulating themselves or using money to continue consuming at unsustainable rates.  I imagine science and technology putting a tiny dent in our environmental problems, but hardly providing long-term fixes.

The bottom line is, I’m not sure  most people on both sides of the debate are currently willing to make lifestyle changes and sacrifices that someday may be mandatory or necessary for more many more generations of humans to thrive.

And unlike many who deny the human impact on climate change, I hope my stance is wrong and that this post is far more gloom and doom than it should be.


  1. Thanks for links Carolyn! Living in Washington, D.C., you’re probably surrounded by more “believers” versus other parts of the country, which is sad, because there shouldn’t be a debate.

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