Our promising human species is plagued by numerous fatal addictions including: Alcohol, Biases, Capitalistic Greed, Cigarette Smoking, Drugs, Guns, Materialism, Procrastination, and Wars.
Like most teenagers I tried alcohol and cigarettes. Finding them distasteful, I chose a different addiction in stamp collecting which taught me a great deal about economics, history, geography, inflation, and politics.
Painfully, I was to see scores of my cherished friends succumb to the addictions of alcohol, cigarettes, and wars. Wars were forced upon them but alcohol and cigarettes were self-inflicted. These victims knew their addictions were killing them but they were incapable of escaping them. For me, the cruelest loss was my talented sister, Ruth. She never smoked but worked in a lawyers’ office where clients continuously filled the confined space with smoke. Painful sessions of chemotherapy were unable to save her from lung cancer.
Early in life I understood what the extraction of minerals, fossil fuels, and the paving over of our best fertile soils meant to our future well- being. Along with what I could see there were numerous authors who warned us, in best-selling publications, of the fatal path we were on. But, I learned, these recent authors were predated by the wisdom of aboriginal people and the goals of many subsequent popular uprisings.
The enclosure of the Commons in English agriculture began in the 1500s creating masses of landless people to fuel the industrial revolution. Voices opposing this were ineffective, and many were persecuted, because a few became very wealthy and powerful while most remained in poverty.
There have been times, like the French Revolution of 1789-1799, where the masses prevailed, but the blood shedding was self-defeating, leading to Napoleon and even more blood letting.
Today, I applaud my nephew, David, an Ottawa lawyer, for his successful world-wide efforts at curbing the use of cigarettes. He is called “a public health hero”. Yet his attempts to eliminate the harm being done to the still-addicted have yet to receive adequate acceptance. He is promoting devices that can provide relatively-harmless nicotine, the addictive element, minus the toxic smoke.
But now for our most frightening threat. Our media, more interested in Terrorism and Donald Trump, has given Global Warming, grossly-inadequate coverage - except for the likes of the daily PBS hour-long news broadcasts of Democracy Now, led by Amy Goodman She attends these climate conferences, and spent all two weeks at the Nov-Dec 2015 Paris conference, giving us excellent coverage of world-wide environmental activists including indigenous groups all pleading peacefully for the rest of us to take notice.
Concerns for, and abuses of, our environment are not new. Too good at obeying the command “Go forth and multiply” we have always been over-populated relative to fertile land and human technology. The powerful have forced the less-so into inhospitable areas. Amazing human ingenuity has allowed many of these to thrive at the cost of unending wars. Environmental abuse started gradually, increasing with the industrial revolution, accelerating out of control in the last 100 years to the point where we now have millions of individual and group protesters warning we are well on the path to self extinction.
A few notables: John Muir started the Sierra Club in 1892; Rachel Carson wrote “Silent Spring” in 1963; Paul Ehrlich gave us “the Population Bomb” in 1968; David Suzuki with radio and TV shows plus several books; Friends of the Earth founded by Robert Anderson in 1969, became international in 1971, has 75 member groups; Greenpeace, formed in 1971 to fight nuclear testing, then whaling, now climate; Christian Parenti of the Club of Rome who published “The Limits of Growth” in 1972; Bill McKibben who published “The End of Nature” in 1989; James Hansen, ex-NASA , has long and continuously warned us about climate change and calls the Paris talks all talk and no action; Al Gore’s 2006 “An Inconvenient Truth”; Naomi Klein, who published 5 books including “The Shock Doctrine, The Rise of Disaster Capitalism” in 2007, “This Changes Everything” in 2014; and in 2011 Gwynne Dyer’s “Climate Wars”.
Then we have all those organizations such as:
350.0rg: Unites and helps activists in 189 countries. Its name comes from the safe amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, 350 parts per million. We have now passed 400.
Sierra Club: founded in 1892 by John Muir, while evaluating the Sierra Mountains, turning to civil disobedience when 52 members including Bill McKibben and president Alliston Chin were arrested outside the Whitehouse protesting the Keystone pipeline in 2013.
Greenpeace: Founded in 1971 to protest nuclear testing, it has progressed to a fleet of 5 ships fighting whaling, and is now active against climate change.
Idle No More: Formed in 2012 among Canadian First Nations to fight resource extraction companies harming the environment. Skilled activists have organized rallies across Canada.
Union of Concerned Scientists: Formed during the Vietnam War to fight the government militarization of science. Now involved is sustainability research and fighting profits from climate-change inaction.
The David Suzuki Foundation that takes a positive view of Paris because of the largest-ever show of world leaders and the 50,00 activists who attended, marched, and protested in the area.
There was encouraging rhetoric from the almost 200 heads of state who spent all of 2 days at the 2-week Paris conference but most depend on voters back home to have their words become actions. How many voters realize the depth of the sacrifices that must be met? It is easy to convince monied interests that profits can be made by investing in solar and wind energy and many have, yet both kill thousands of birds that we have only started to resolve. My wildlife daughter, Trish, is working with wind farms with some success. Hydro-electric and tidal power pollute less but have some environmental problems. Fusion power is still a dream.
World appetites for beef and cars have exploded so how do we convince millions that mass transit is a must, that propulsion techniques for aircraft and shipping need less pollutants, that methane-belching cattle must diminish when our world has only 375 million vegetarians? The increase in the healthy love of bicycles in North America has been more than offset by the increase of cars in China and India.
If we need more worries there is methane, each molecule of which traps 30 times more heat than carbon dioxide. Yes, there is less of them, but fracking and a melting tundra can release enough of them to equal 205 gigatons of CO2 making a 2.0̊C cap an impossibility. Our one and only earth has already passed the 1̊C (1.8̊F) increase, giving us unheard of droughts, fires, and floods with associated damages. We aim to stop at 2̊C even though many countries insist 1.5̊C would mean disaster for them.
Among the hundreds of global temperature studies, whose findings take us back some 800,000 years, there are a few that infer humans have little effect on climate, that it was warmer in Roman times, that Antarctica ice is increasing. Deniers cling to these while ignoring such threats as the growing Chasm 1, now 50km long, 1 km wide, and 50 metres deep on the Brent Ice Sheet that will likely force the 8 modules of the UK Halley VI research station (the previous 5 gathered data since 1956) to move some 30 km. They were built on skis but it is still a difficult move. The former German base was lost when a 144 km chunk of ice broke off.
Yes, we do need to consider the arguments and fears of deniers. We tend to believe what we want to believe and too often select only confirming studies. Life and our universe are complicated so everything needs to be questioned. Fixed minds do not grow intelligence. Earth climates depend on variable cycles such as sun outputs, earth tilt (a 41,000 year cycle), precession (26,000 years), and shape of orbit (21,000 years). Past temperatures are gleaned, fairly accurately, from tree rings, fossils, and cores drilled through miles of ice, rock, and sea sediment. We can place ice ages and warm periods. What is so alarming in about 97% of these studies is the unprecedented rapid rise in temperature over the last 100 years and continuing at a pace beyond life adaptation ability. Either we stop it or it stops us.
Our faith in the Green Movement is wounded when some of its members soften their stands due to large donations from wealthy polluters. For instance Nature Conservancy accepted a gift from Mobil Oil of 2,000 acres on the Gulf coast to save the endangered Attwater prairie chicken, only to allow two new wells due to previous agreements so no prairie chicken now exits on this acreage. Our biggest worry is the fact that the sacrifices each one of us must make for species survival is causing far too many with comfortable life styles to deny that global warming exists or that we are the cause of it. And this includes Donald Trump who could become president of one of the two top polluters. Can Barack Obama or John Kerry prevail against the entrenched monied oligarchy that has stolen so many democracies? Justin Trudeau appears to have more luck with his 10 provincial premiers. We have always had those who lead in their opposition like Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, but the need for money to fight money does hamper them.
The current steps we are taking as a (mostly) united world are impressive but, sadly, not enough. There remains far too much inequality and just too many of us. Daesh, and several other like-minded groups, plus our retaliations (or is it they who are retaliating to our initial mistakes?), try to help but all in the wrong way.