Coffee, please: What could that mean 50 years on, uh?


THE morning alarm rings. You take a hot shower, brew up a cup of coffee, read a bit from the morning newspaper and hop in the car to get to work on time.

Have you ever stopped to consider the total environmental impact involved in each of these daily habits? We’ve borrowed this scenario straight from a western lifestyle.

But this could apply to any other set of habits from, say, Maasailand where a pastoralist wakes up from a hut, breaks off a twig that will momentarily serve as a tooth-brush, chews on it – even he’s set to drive his herd out to the pastures. At each of these habits, our Maasai herdsman is making an impact on the total environment across the globe.

Welcome to My Kind of Planet, a humble vehicle that’ll take you – hopefully – behind the scenes so that we may examine how we all make a mark on this shared home we call the Earth.

The ecological footprint is one technique currently used in our attempts to answer the question of how our lifestyle affects the planet. The ecological footprint (EF) was developed at the University of British Columbia by Dr. William Rees and Dr. MathisWackernagel.

It estimates how much of Earth’s productive land and sea is used to produce the food, materials and energy that we consume and to assimilate our wastes.

The EF looks behind the scenes to see what it takes to make an alarm clock, a cup of coffee, clothes, a home or to operate an automobile. This gets complicated in our global economy where the products originate from around the world. An online example I picked takes a deeper look at that morning cup of coffee.

Land is needed to grow the coffee beans, for the processing and distributing operations, to house corporate management and advertisers as well as the downtown store.

Additional forest land is needed to absorb the CO2 resulting from all the energy burned harvesting, processing and shipping the coffee. Somewhere on the planet land was mined to make the metal for the machinery used in each step of the process and for the chemicals used in fertilizers and pesticides.

By now, our mind’s eyes may already be seeing all the environmental issues that engage public debate – chemical poisoning, pollution and the making of deserts – all in the name development.

Many are already peering into the future and argue that Planet Earth could be radically different pretty soon. Well, as soon as 200 years from the time you stop reading this piece – if you’ll stay reading. But there aren’t any fast answers to these complex questions.

One Robert Lamb – I’ve met two in my career journalism journeys – has just published a book that looks 500 years into the future. And, it’s a must read if you could lay your hands on it.

“If you could travel back in time five centuries,” he writes, “ you’d encounter a thriving Aztec empire in Central Mexico, a freshly painted ‘Mona Lisa’ in Renaissance Europe and cooler temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere.

This was a world in the midst belowof the Little Ice Age (A.D. 1300 to 1850) and a period of vast European exploration now known as the Age of Discovery.

“But what if we could look 500 years into the future and glimpse the Earth of the 26th century? Would the world seem as different to us as the 21st century would have seemed to residents of the 16th century? For starters, what will the weather be like?’, He asks.

Good questions. Depending on whom you ask, the 26th century could either be a little chilly or infernally hot.

Some solar output models suggest that by the 2500s, Earth’s climate would have cooled back down to near Little Ice Age conditions, other scientists say. Yet other studies predict that ongoing climate change and fossil fuel use will render much of the planet too hot for human life by 2300. According to recent predictions, humanity will make the leap from a type zero civilization to what’s called “a type I” civilization within the next 100 short years; in other words, we’ll become a species that can harness the entire sum of a planet’s energy.

By then, we would be churning out 10 new theoretical physics papers published every 10 seconds,“ Lamb further writes. Wow! If going to the moon in 1969 was rated as humankind’s greatest ‘leap’ yet achieved, we might as well consider our species no better than our extinct ancestors.

We’re currently the dinosaurs-in-waiting; each one of us sitting on a tree branch – and chopping away at its stem below. In crude shorthand, we’re making an ecological print, indeed. Have a warming day, will you?

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