All Things Must Pass

The New York Times has a weekly quiz of eleven multiple choice questions to test your awareness of current events. My results range from 6 or 7 correct (which indicates virtually everyone did better than me) but sometimes I get 9 or 10 right.  Rarely, but occasionally, I get them all right, on par with the top 8-15% of responders.  Peer competition is tough.  On those rare occasions when I get them all right, I’ve had to laugh when I’ve read “Congratulations, 11 out of 11 correct – you’re reading too much news”.  That’s where I find myself now.

I’m reminded of the blog I wrote in April, A Different Perspective, as I was becoming pessimistic because of all the coronavirus lockdown news, and the devastation affecting so many individuals.  At that time, I decided to look at what’s going on differently – seeing the heroes instead of the victims – seeing the helpers instead of all those in need.  And also, looking for some comic relief.

But I find myself troubled again as the number of individuals lost to this virus in this country now exceed 100,000 lives and, at the same time, so many government officials are ignoring (or at best giving lip-service) to the health guidelines that attempt to control the contagious spread.  And equally as troubling, are the many recent horrific acts against blacks including a vigilante shooting of an unarmed black jogger in Georgia and a filmed execution of a handcuffed black man by a police officer with his knee on his neck for over 8 minutes.  The violence in the streets reminds me of the 1960s when our country was dealing with civil rights issues and a controversial war.

And relative to climate change, we’ve learned that even with all the reductions in CO2 emissions associated with the shutdowns of economies, worldwide, those reductions are not enough to address what is needed on an ongoing basis, in order to meet the Paris Accord targets of limiting the rise in global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius by 2050.  An article in the Houston Chronicle put it this way:

“Yet for all the deserted highways, closed factories and shuttered schools, global carbon emissions are believed to have fallen by about 5.5 percent, according to newly released estimates from the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization. But UN climate scientists believe the reduction needs to be about 7.6 percent every year to avoid the worst effects of climate change.”

The headline from this article is: If lockdown isn’t enough to save the planet, what is?

An NPR story that aired on the May 19, 2020 Morning Edition segment provided some insights into why air pollution was smaller than expected, despite the 40% fewer cars on the road. For example:  

“In cities such as Los Angeles, stubbornly poor air quality during the coronavirus lockdown underscored how vast fleets of trucks are a dominant source of pollution. In industrial cities like Houston, refineries and petrochemical plants spew considerable air pollution. And in Pittsburgh and across a swath of the eastern U.S., much of the air pollution still comes from burning coal.”

One lesson we can take away from these observations is that there is no silver bullet or magic fix – not even a worldwide lockdown – that will completely address how to combat climate change.  It will take many, many, initiatives and all of these steps will provide some contribution to addressing the problem.  Steps like reducing our driving and air travel, regulations to require more efficient trucks, fewer coal plants, less consumption, better diets…. all of these things make a difference and all contribute to making our planet better. (See Climate Change: Can we stop the fire?)

At times like this, it’s not easy to feel optimistic or hopeful or to believe what we do will make a difference.  But it can.  If we only keep Waiting For the World to Change (John Mayer) we may have a long wait ahead.  But if we recognize that we have the choice as to how to live, and how to enjoy life, even during difficult times, we can make a difference – certainly to all the people around us.  And it’s our choice.

As George Harrison once put it, All Things Must Pass.  Change is inevitable and sometimes painful as we’ve witnessed with this coronavirus.  Relative to climate change, we’re continuing to see the evidence of how the world is changing and it’s not good.  We can do more.  A recent article by David Wallace-Wells entitled, Welcome to the End of the Human Climate Niche, is a sobering account of what life will be like in the future, even under the best-case scenario.  Given his assessment, we certainly don’t want to live in his worst-case scenario.

Yes, all things must pass, but, if we focus on what each of us can do, instead of only seeing what others are doing wrong, our old habits can pass away, our old way of doing things can pass away, and we can take comfort in knowing that we are changing the things we can control.

As Mohandas Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  Pretty good advice to live by – in good times and troubled times. 

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