BENNINGTON — Rising temperatures from carbon dioxide emissions could cause the West Antarctic Ice Sheet to melt by the end of the century, increasing sea levels five to six feet.
Scientists say this could be devastating to island nations and coastal cities. In the U.S. alone, that could affect some 13 million people, and hundreds of millions worldwide, according to Karenna Gore.
For those facing those effects today, "it must seem intolerable to hear others talk about when will we reach the threshold after which there's too great an impact," Gore, director for the Center for Environmental Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, said at Southern Vermont College's Everett Mansion Saturday night.
But for those people whose relatives perished from heat waves in some of the warmest years on record, those whose culture and way of life is being threatened, "we've already crossed that threshold."
Gore, the eldest daughter of former Vice President Al Gore, delivered her talk on All-Species Day. The inaugural community event came a day after the 46th annual Earth Day. Gore's talk and an accompanying dinner was a fundraiser for the CEE and the college's environmental initiatives.
"We need to think long-term about all of our actions," said state Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Hinesburg, when introducing Gore. "Our environment is more than what it means for us to be able to live in our short existence."
Noting the recent water contamination issue in North Bennington and Pownal, he said that "not thinking about our consequences long term is having a consequence on our water and soil for an untold amount of time."
The CEE within Union Theological Seminary in New York City draws from the faith, wisdom and traditions of people and faiths from across the world, Gore said.
While our ancestors knew where to find water and hunt for their own food, society today is led by consumption, development and growth, Gore said. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP), often a measure of economic wellbeing, doesn't take into account depletion of natural resources to make products, she said, or development's negative effects on rivers and forests. She spoke of mankind maintaining its integrity by practicing sound environmental ethics.
Gore cited official scientific studies that say the world is in a 6th major extinction — 20 to 30 percent of species, many of which haven't even been discovered yet, could become extinct. Experts say it stems from man-made climate change, a long-term shift in weather patterns. Climate change is caused by global warming, a phenomenon NASA describes as "the gradual increase in Earth's average surface temperature due to rising levels of greenhouse gases," like carbon dioxide, which is released from burning fossil fuels.
Gore noted she wasn't there to talk about the science explaining climate change, or denial of the science behind it. Her message, she said, was "how we can respond as individuals, families, communities, and one of many species."
"We misremember where we come from – cultures that have long histories of living in close relationships with the land," she said.
Our society needs to be "caretakers for future generations," she said.
"We need to do this now, not just for our children and grandchildren, but for ourselves, our own integrity," she said. "By doing that, we'll honor our ancestors and all species, so they can flourish and thrive."
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979