Lauren Carlstrom, O+ Team Member |
The times may be, or appear, divisive. Yet we may agree on the point that we all share the same air, and atmosphere.
It may surprise you just how interconnected the air we breathe really is. Consider the breaths you inhale each day from an astrophysicist’s perspective.
In his book, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, scientist Neil de Grasse Tyson writes, “A single breathful draws in more air molecules than there are breathfuls of air in Earth’s entire atmosphere.” Selah! (Pause and think about that)! That means we have to share – and can’t steal – each other’s oxygen, not even when we’re in the same room or Twittersphere.
The physical properties of air molecules also infer that air we breathe is shared across the dimension of time. Forget about what famous dead person you’d invite to dinner, reflect on the reality that “some of the air you just breathed passed through the lungs of Napoleon, Beethoven, Lincoln, and Billy the Kid” (de Grasse Tyson).
Welcome to Planet Earth; where no one – yes, no one – can steal your oxygen as long as you’re alive.
So what greater meaning can be derived from these scientific insights about the air we breathe? The ‘air apparent’ could be the quality of the air we share, and in what state of health we’ll leave the atmosphere for future Mozarts, Einsteins, daughters and granddaughters.
People on a smog-clouded street in Hebei Province, China, in 2016. China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, followed by the United States. Credit: Damir Sagolj/Reuters
A surprising recent climate report issued this month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), commissioned by world leaders under the Paris agreement, “describes a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040” (Davenport). Not only will your vacation destinations be more limited, the physical and economic effects of this ecological crisis invite greater socio-political issues (e.g., immigration, health care), with the effects of pollution “inundating coastlines and intensifying droughts and poverty” (Davenport).
The root of this foreseeable damage is atmospheric warm-up (an increase of even 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels) that is attributed to greenhouse gas emissions expected to grow at their current rates.
For me, the most saddening statement in the IPCC report is that while avoiding the most serious damage is “technically possible” if global action is taken in the next three years, the authors concede achieving this pending Armageddon is “politically unlikely” due to ingrained, unresponsive economic and political systems. And before we blame China, the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, let’s look at the second largest emitter: the United States of America.
Maybe now, or maybe for the holiday season, we – just you and I – can put our (political) differences aside and concede that the most important matter is our home, and, consequently, the quality of the air we undeniably share.
Thought-leader and author Rabbi Zach Fredman explains that Jewish ecological wisdom compares human beings to the trees of a field. A commandment in Deuteronomy states that, in wartime, the fruit trees that surround a besieged city cannot be destroyed because trees are not like people, who can flee destruction.
More often than not, breathing the air I breathe – day in, day out – I feel like a helpless tree in a field that’s under siege. There are so many factors I see and hear about over which I have no control. However, as Rabbi Fredman aptly advises, “We are trees of the field, only we have legs for mobility and the wisdom that can accompany a brain.” Therefore, he encourages his fellow humans, ”…these evolutionary gifts carry the responsibility that we act as stewards of the Earth.”
May I remember - with every breath I share - that even a small ecologically-responsible decision, like reducing water or food waste, buying recycled and recyclable products, or traveling a bit more green, is a small, but worthwhile action that will help preserve and repair our battered and neglected world.
de Grasse Tyson, Neil (2017). Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Davenport, Coral. New York Times. Major Climate Report Describes a Strong Risk of Crisis as Early as 2040. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/07/climate/ipcc-climate-report-2040.html. October 7, 2018. Retrieved October 20, 2018.
Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Global Warming of 1.5 °C. http://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/. Retreived October 15, 2018.
Rabbi Zach Fredman. The New Shul. Personal interview. Brooklyn, NY, USA. October 18, 2018.