A Voice for Earth

Environmental and social justice and my personal experiences in the area.


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Avengers Series Part I: Dire Reality

“The end is near. When I’m done, half of humanity will still exist, perfectly balanced, as all things should be…”

Thanos, Avengers: Infinity War

It’s a sad state of affairs when an action movie makes you question everything , as though you’re having some kind of existential crisis, but is it? Quite often the fictional, whether it’s a novel, a television show, or a movie, can have a bearing on real-world issues. I, myself, find that what we imagine on the page or the screen can trigger you to think far more than the cold, hard facts of a matter we encounter in the news media or in scientific studies. Not that facts should ever be disregarded, there’s enough of that going around in the fake news era already. Still, it is possible to allow for the questioning of reality based on a fantasy.

Reality

So let’s dissect the reality we have created for ourselves. We live on an amazing planet, the only one we know of in the universe to support life of any kind, much less a diverse and intricate biosphere. Life on Earth is no doubt resilient, having come through five major mass extinctions, and multiple smaller events interspersed between, throughout it’s long history. Each time, life has recovered and rebounded. A smattering of survivors becomes ecosystems brimming with almost countless species. But that’s the thing, life’s story is that of survivors, those generalist, often unremarkable species that pull through where specialists and fantastical beasts are the first to fall.

You see the meek really do inherit the Earth, not the mighty (sorry, Thor). That is why the dinosaurs were wiped out by the KT asteroid, but birds, insects, small reptiles, and to our sake, mammals, pulled through. This is why the megafauna of the Ice Age could not withstand a combination of rapid environmental change and human hunting pressures, yet smaller animals with more adaptability, made it.

All these crests and troughs of the living world have been happening for hundreds of millions of years, long before we came on the scene. The problem now is that we may be an agent of change that brings that crest crashing down into a sixth major extinction event. A phrase I often hear is that we are the asteroid this time, but I think that underestimates the degree of threat we pose. For we are potentially not just a big rock from space that makes a big bang, snuffing out three quarters of all species, no, we could be a second Great Dying.

This is what the end Permian-Triassic extinction is sometimes known as. It is the calamity that ushered in the age of the dinosaurs, but quite nearly put an end to complex life on Earth. 90% of living species went extinct with the oceans suffering the most. It is believed the massive volcanism of the Siberian Traps was largely responsible, though there’s also evidence of a significant asteroid impact at this time. Perhaps one is connected to the other. Either way, the flood basalt released gargantuan quantities of ash, sulphur, and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, leading to alternating volcanic winters and extreme warming periods before climate change triggered the release of unstable methane hydrates from the ocean floor. This methane supercharged warming, leading to the oceans suffocating from oxygen loss and the land being engulfed in unending heat and drought.

Millions of years passed before there was any true recovery, and it completely repainted the picture of life on Earth. So how do we humans compare to the force that nearly obliterated the living world? Disturbingly comparable to be honest.

You see, we are the Siberian Traps. We are akin to a globally distributed mega-eruption that is spewing mostly just greenhouse gases because we took issue with particulates and sulphur due to more obvious environmental crises like smog and acid rain. So that means unless we have a nuclear World War 3 (which doesn’t seem too far out of realm of possibility lately), no global winters, just straight-up warming, which may become an exponential problem if we liberate even a small fraction of the modern methane hydrates on our ocean floors.

Here I’ve laid out the consequences of just one of the pressures we apply to our buckling biosphere. Climate change is probably the most serious and far reaching, but it is hardly the only way in which we jeopordise the livability of our planet.

Right now, we are pulling fish out of the oceans so fast that we face virtually fish-less oceans by 2048. Our fishing methods are also decimating other species because of how unselective they are, pulling up juvenile fish, turtles, dolphins, sharks, and other sea life that end up being cast back into the water dead or dying.

The oceans are both acidifying and losing oxygen due to our emissions of carbon dioxide and massive amounts of agricultural pollutants that flow from our rivers. The acidification, caused by carbon dioxide dissolving in seawater to form carbonic acid, is another threat to sea-life as it prevents molluscs and small plankton from forming shells. This could undermine the whole ocean food chain. As for the deoxygenation, fertilisers and manure from our agricultural activities promote the growth of algal blooms, which consume oxygen as they decay. This can render entire areas as aquatic deserts where little life can live.  There is a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that is the size of the state of New Jersey and a growing one in the Gulf of Oman.

There may well be more plastic in the oceans than fish by the middle of the century. Plastic will break down into smaller fragments in the rough and especially warmer waters, but these release chemicals that end up in the food chain, finding their way back to us. If there were ever a perfect example that there’s no such thing as throwing things away, this is it. This plastic also ensnares sea life, or larger animals like whales eat the plastic debris, clogging their digestive tracts, from which they die slowly.

We are destroying our usable soils, and farming as we know it might have to end in 60 years. This is caused by a mix of poor farming practices and environmental stressors such as climate change and deforestation.

The Amazon Rainforest, the so-called lungs of the Earth could collapse completely into a degraded savannah if just an additional 3% of its area is lost to either climate change or deforestation. Taken together with the decline of other forests and phytoplankton in the oceans, this could lead to deoxygenation of the atmosphere itself, which is thought to be something that occurred during the Great Dying.

And the big elephant in the room, animal agriculture, something that is more discussed lately and accepted as an environmental threat but previously, most people couldn’t abide the thought that what we put on our plates has an environmental footprint. Of course it does and of all the things we eat, animal products have the broadest reach, impacting climate change, ocean dead zones, species extinction, habitat loss, and water pollution. They also require vast quantities of our available land and fresh water.

Related image

Our Planetary Boundaries: Already, we are coming up against hard, natural limits to what our Earth’s systems can sustain, and others are creeping up. Image Source: Stockholm Resilience Centre

This is just an overview of some of the broader environmental challenges we face with countless others that may only have local or regional impacts but collectively, are contributing to broader pollution and environmental degradation. We face a number of tipping points that we dare not cross. Perhaps it’s too late, and we already have, in which case there’s even a greater necessity for drastic action.

Yet the reality where heroes save the day and avenge the Earth is not the one we live in. At least, there isn’t enough people taking an active role in speaking out about these growing calamities, or taking direct action to draw more attention. Those that do are often silenced by an uncaring system, or even a deliberately malign one intent on maintaining the status quo for the sake of economics.

Ultimately, our world has limits, limits to what we can reasonably extract from it in a given amount of time and expect those resources to be renewed. There are limits to how much we can pollute and waste without engendering deleterious effects. There are limits to how much space we can occupy and still expect local ecosystems and the greater biosphere to remain stable.

Yet our culture and our economic model doesn’t believe in limits. Neither our mindset nor our capitalist system is built to even consider them. Our system demands continuous growth, which requires more inputs so the system can generate more wealth from making endless products from the natural capital we extract from the Earth. This is expected to go on and on and on without end, a mad belief that we can somehow derive infinity from a finite world.

Ultimately, the bubble we keep blowing hot air and hopium into will burst. Whether it will be struck down by multiple environmental tipping points being hit at once or one after the other hardly matters. If we continue on as we do, the day will come when life as we know it will be impossible.

We face a dystopian future to make the Hunger Games, Mad Max, or Blade Runner look like some kind of idyll to look forward to.

The climate will destabilise.

The oceans will broil and suffocate and die.

The forests will burn away to ash.

The majority of Earth’s species will go extinct.

People will be displaced by rising seas and expanding deserts.

People will starve.

People will go to war for what’s left.

Then? Who knows? Human extinction is not off the cards.

We’d all like to pretend that this isn’t happening, that this is not the reality we live in, and just go about our normal lives, blissfully unaware of exactly what’s going on even though in the back of our minds, we sense all is not well, and things can’t just keep going as they are.

We all hope someone else will save us, but there is no one else. There’s no soldiers, warriors, demi-gods, or any being or external force that is going to come down and undo all our wrongs for us. There are no superheroes waiting in the wings, ready to fight the corruption and greed and apathy that has gotten us to where we are now. We have to be those people, by speaking out, by demanding change from our leaders, and making change in our own lives. Avoiding the above demands we rapidly change our ways from the top down and the bottom up.

Thanos, despite being the villain, understood that the universe has physical laws and limits that cannot be overcome, that thinking everyone can have everything and that ultimate satisfaction for all is somehow reachable, is a joke. His answer to the problem of overpopulations is, of course, despicable, and definitely isn’t the solution. Logic would say less people means less demands on the Earth and therefore, less environmental destruction. However when you consider that the Earth can only realistically sustain a little under two billion people at the consumption levels of an average US citizen, you begin to see the problem. It would take four to five Earths to sustain the current world population at those levels.

However, I don’t think this population is optimal or that we should take drastic measures to reach it like draconian reproduction laws, mass sterilisation, or anything akin to Thanos’s egalitarian genocide. It’s indeed possible that the Earth could sustain our current numbers and more. It’s less about overall numbers and more about how much we’re willing to change as individuals and as a global civilization. It’s about whether we can fathom living differently and having different individual and societal values, or are we doomed to follow our current path to its inevitable end.

Only time will tell.

 

Image Source: Marvel Movies Fandom

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Our Finite War

“In time, you’ll know what it’s like to lose, to feel so desperately that you’re right, yet to fail all the same.”

Thanos, Avengers: Infinity War

 

The clock, we’re at war with it

Every week, every day, every hour

Ticking off our lists, rushing place to place, clawing back the minutes

And what for but to do more of the same, more “living”

 

Thinking, we’re bereft of it

Because we wage this war for worthless minutes

Minutes spent going around in circles

Never changing, never learning, never doing a damn thing different

 

We live in our personal microcosms

Consumed by our own battles and conflicts

Ignorant that as a whole, people are losing the wider struggle

Collectively, we are failing, falling, flat-lining

 

It’s this individualist obsession

Society’s great lie that it’s everyone for themselves

In a time when we need to come together like never before

That’s why our pointless war dooms us

 

We can’t see the forest for the trees

The car for the emissions, the cow for the beef

We fail to make the connections

And because of that, we fail to draw a line

 

We are riding a tsunami, racing towards an unyielding shore

The crash will come inevitably, painfully

Yet that future is a choice, one that stems for a desire for more

More stuff, more wealth, more nothings

 

Our war is waged against all that matters

For the sake of things that only matter because we decide they do

Economics, numbers in a computer, pieces of metal and paper

For this, we raze our Earth

 

We are sawing away at the branches of life supporting us

Cutting away at the airways, poisoning the arteries

All for more because we have no sense of enough

No boundaries for our greed

 

To me, this greed is about one thing, winning

Winning wars of trade, of politics, of blood

Nations and corporations one upping each other without real reason

An aimless zombie legion flying the capitalist colours

 

I quote Thanos because collectively, we’ve become the villain

We are our own antagonist, and we will be our own undoing

Because for all our winning, we’ve yet to feel what it’s like to lose

Our global regime knows only further, faster, not falter, failure

 

Then for those among us so painfully aware of our peril

Those who look unblinking at the destruction, the corruption, the suffering

Those who know that solutions are known and possible

But between us and them stand the few obstinate and the many indifferent

 

Between us and a brighter, fairer future for all are titans of obsolete industries

And those who turn a blind eye to cruelty, neglect, and killing

There are the politicians whose self-interest outstrips their values

And there are those who litter and waste carelessly, unthinking

 

And these are the decisions we’ve made, the path we’ve chosen

And destiny will arrive, no matter how we bemoan it, no matter where we run

Our fate is set because where we need to swing the wheel to avoid the cliff

We gently swerve in the hopes we’ll miss

 

Time, it’s against us, inexorably moving forward, indifferent

Reality, we deny it, preferring our safe, cozy bubble while it persists

Mind, the presence of we lack, trapped in the present, in screens and apps

Space, finite on our Earth, and yet we burn it up like so much dirt

Soul, we bury them, down, down ,down, where we can’t feel for our fellow beings

Power, the only coin in the game, but what happens when our ailing world…

…Upends the board on which we play?

 

Image: Infinity War Trailer


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Sick Ones

Animals

Enslaved, tortured, murdered

For the sake of tradition, for a moment of pleasure

Such is our condition, that we measure off their pain against what we can gain

 

Oceans

Open sewers, garbage dumps

Overfished, over-drilled, over-exploited

Thousands of lives taken for the few that we wanted

 

Forests

Burned down, chopped up, covered over

With cash crops, with cattle, we won’t contemplate

With each tree we fell, the less time till we suffocate

 

Air

Filled with soot and fumes and CO2

If you live in a city, you may as well be smoking a few

We can’t even spare that which gives us breath

 

Water

Counting down the drops left to drink

As we fill our rivers and streams

With wastes of farming, of industry, ourselves, all of our stink

 

War

Senseless, needless struggling

For dominion over a world that anyway we’re killing

For arbitrary borders, resources dwindling, and beliefs conflicting

 

Society

Laughing emoji, LOL, because that word is a joke

In reference to that which we’ve built on this Earth

Where to address any of the above openly is to be a downer

A loser, an outsider

No, no, no, we want to discuss celebrity gossip and soap drama and who won the soccer

You know, important stuff, things that matter

 

As if having food, water to drink, and breathing don’t matter?

As if living in fear of the weather and and a rising sea doesn’t matter?

What is this madness? This absence of care

That we charge headlong into the night by the light of our devices

And joke about the polar bears as the ice melts

And mock vegans as being weak for trying to advocate for those who can’t speak

 

Oh yes, we are the sick ones

Easy to say when the majority is ill

Who can’t look up long enough to see the ice berg

Despite those who scream from the decks

And it takes more than a few paddles to turn a cruise liner

What have we become? What have we created?

 

The end, that’s what…

We’re moribund and decadent and narcissistic

Well at least we’re united under our indifference

To the fact that we’ll leave a lesser world for our children

One of loss and darkness and terror and want

Just so we can cozy in the spotlight and the blissful warmth of ignorance

 

But what about my right to choose, and voting rights, and terrorists?

What about illegal immigrants and helping the homeless?

Well, I don’t know, what about just helping everyone?

How about taking that steak out of your mouth so a dozen starving children can have the grain used to make it?

How about helping people sleeping rough and people running from bombs?

How about helping ourselves? How about that?

 

Because this is it, we have one world, one home, one shot

Either to aspire to utopia or descend into dystopia

Because we’re there on that precipice, ready to drop

And nothing else matters if we screw this up

We’ve created a society of gimme this, gimme that, I want, I want

What we need is one of community, giving, and hope

 

And if we want, let’s want for things like…

…A world where no one goes without food, without water, without shelter

Just so some billonaires can get themselves richer

A world where profit and economics don’t come before our health and nature

A world where children won’t just see animals in pictures

A world where to care is valued above the self

 

The Future

Right now it’s a blur, we’re too close to the edge

We’ve climbed too high to see down

How far we could fall, to know the consequence

Some things are locked in now, they can’t be undone

But we still have the choice to walk back from this path

To admit our mistakes, learn the lessons, be the change

 

So that’s where we’re at

Not do we save our planet because it’ll outlast us

It’s do we save civilization, do we meet the challenge

Of being all we can be, of fighting for what really matters

So let’s all try to give back what we’ve stolen

And follow the path we should have trodden

 

Image: Precipice from Robert & Shana Parke Harrison


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Another Warning Sails on By

In three years time, avoiding a temperature rise of two degrees Celsius will be impracticable, unless we reach peak carbon emissions by then. That is the finding of the Carbon Tracker in London, the Climate Action Tracker consortium, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut in a joint report.

What it boils down to is that we have a carbon budget. Depending on the varying ways this budget is calculated and subtracting past emissions, our remaining carbon credit falls somewhere in the range of 150-1050 gigatonnes of total emissions. This is the maximum we can emit if we are to have any serious hope of achieving the Paris Agreement’s aspirational goal of keeping warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, or even below 2 degrees.

At the current rate of emissions of 41 gigatonnes annually, that would mean that at the lower end of that scale that we would cross the threshold in four years, so let’s hope somewhere in the middle or upper end of the range is closer to reality. Otherwise, we’ll have to deploy large-scale carbon capture technology and drop carbon emissions to zero right now, which would likely crash the economy, god forbid, when we’re on course to crash all of civilization.

So they’re presuming a 600-800 gigatonne carbon credit. Peaking emissions now would give us 25 years to get them down to zero, which, let’s face it, isn’t happening and won’t in the near-term, but we must do it by 2020 to have a reasonable chance to accomplish decarbonisation of the economy in time. If we do it by then, we should achieve zero emissions before 2040 with a 600 gigatonne credit. However, with an 800 gigatonne credit, we can push this out to 2050 but with a greater risk of crossing the two-degree threshold. Waiting till 2025 to peak emissions or even keeping them level until then will put that goal out of reach for all intents and purposes.

So here we are, pretty much being told it’s crunch time for climate action, but there doesn’t seem to be any corresponding increase in urgency. Things are being left to mosey along at a woefully insufficient pace. Let “market forces” drive change they said, the economy will fix the problem they said.

Yes, the capitalistic, growth at all costs, money-hooked machine is going to resolve a crisis that ultimately requires that it rejects itself. Corporations do not want to do anything that’s going to affect profitability. Competitiveness is what is inclining many companies to favour renewables and electric transport, as they know where things are going long-term, but they won’t jump the gun from their perspective if it risks them losing money.

Ideally, governments would regulate corporations and national bodies, forcing them by means of legislation to change how they operate. However, governments are nearly more scared of regulations these days than the corporations themselves. They don’t want to be seen as impeding businesses that bring jobs and wealth into their respective countries by whatever trickle-down argument they want to use.

We can pretty much be assured that in most countries that this will continue. A few like the Scandinavian nations are committed to more appropriate targets for complete decarbonisation, but even their plans would fall short if the actual carbon budget is less than the 600 gigatonnes we’ve allowed ourselves.

I imagine at this point that even 2 degrees is the aspirational goal, and 1.5 is already out of reach without actions so drastic that it would make the US mobilisation for WW2 pale by comparison. On our current course, we could be threatened with up to 3 degrees Celsius of warming at least. There are some estimates that say that we’ve grossly underestimated climate sensitivity and warming of up to 7 degrees Celsius is possible by 2100.

It’s hard to fathom what that much warming could do but assuming even the lower value of 3 degrees, we can be assured of massive upheaval, perhaps civilization-toppling effects. We could see the collapse of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, raising sea levels tens of feet. We could see desertification in the equatorial regions, the complete annihilation of the rainforests, and the loss of major breadbaskets. We could assume that all this along with major natural disasters would lead to mass migration and inevitable conflict over reduced space and resources.

Even if we “only” warm the world by that much, we can’t be positive that it would end there because of all the feedbacks in the Earth’s systems.

So, again, here we are, poised to unleash disaster on a scale no human has witnessed since the rise of civilization, if ever. We could potentially set back our development centuries, if not right back to the Stone Age. Hell, if the higher climate sensitivities to GHGs are correct, we could be galloping towards our own extinction like so many lemmings charging towards a cliff edge.

I really hope that we can avoid that world. I hope that what momentum there seems to be from Paris and the drive for renewables and zero emissions transport really will continue on the up and up. I hope that our leaders can start to see beyond short-term economic gain and begin assuring a safe future for our children and all the generations to come. I hope, I hope, I hope!

It really does feel like instead of putting it out, we’re playing with the fire that is catching. I feel as though we’re all living on a prayer with this carbon credit shot in the dark. We’re hoping the credit is higher, and we are depending on probabilities of achieving that below two degrees goal. However, the reality is that we could see a sudden upshot in warming any year now. 2016 proved that, having crushed the two previous warmest years, 2014 and 2015. If that happens, we’ll be forced into drastic action one way or another, and it still might not be enough.

I still believe we can do better, that we still have a chance to do so, to leave the world better than the generations before us have and how we have it now. However, the margins are tightening and time is slipping away from us. Just because we don’t know exactly how tightly we are bound doesn’t mean we should assume the most optimistic scenario, that we still have plenty of time. We should assume the worst and act accordingly. It seems to me to be the only responsible thing to do.

Image Source: List of Polluted Earth Wallpapers (allwidewallpapers.com)

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions.


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Evacuate Earth? Hold your Horses Hawking

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk from the likes of Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking that we must become a “multi-planetary species” in order to protect ourselves from the risk of total annihilation upon our one little home. Being interested in space myself, I can understand their reasoning. So let’s examine the logic behind investing our resources into putting humanity firmly beyond the Earth for good.

The solar system and the wider galaxy are not the most secure places for a living world hurtling through the void. Within our own planetary system, the big risk factors are asteroids and comets, the former being a giant chunk of rock and/or iron, and the latter being mostly water ice. Certainly, many have impacted the Earth, leading most famously to the extinction of the dinosaurs. An asteroid capable of causing an extinction level event would most likely be detected long before impact, and a coordinated international effort could launch a mission to deflect it. Comets, however, are often not visible until they pass the orbit of Jupiter and given the velocity at which they travel, that would give us probably less than six months warning. There’s currently no method conceived of for deflecting a comet.

So that’s suitably terrifying, but the galaxy has far more nasties to offer up. A close pass by another star could disrupt the Oort Cloud, sending countless comets into the inner solar system to relentlessly bombard the Earth. A nearby star could go supernova, bathing our fragile biosphere in ionizing radiation. A rogue neutron star or black hole could cut right through the heart of our system, slowly strangling the life out of our world with their immense gravity before finally tearing it asunder.

Hell, the Earth itself could kill us.

During the Permian Mass Extinction, also known as the Great Dying, over 90% percent of all life was lost. It was initiated by massive volcanic activity in the Siberian Traps that was of such a scale that it released enough greenhouse gases to raise the Earth’s temperature by five degrees Celsius. After a series of volcanic winters and periods of rapid warming, the dust finally settled allowing the released GHGs to properly cook the Earth. This warmth in turn destabilized methane hydrates at the bottom of the ocean, which is a greenhouse gas up to 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide. This raised temperatures a further five degrees. The ocean ecology collapsed, and Earth’s waters became one giant acidified dead zone. The land became inhospitable, searingly hot and bone dry. Even oxygen levels dropped, suffocating some of the fauna.

The ironic thing is that there’s an experiment being carried out right now to replicate the conditions of the end Permian extinction. It is entitled “Global Industrial-Scale Fossil Fuel Combustion to Generate Electricity and Fuel Transport for Human Civilization”. You should look it up some time!

One would think after all that that we’re screwed. One or more of these events is bound to transpire at some point, but that’s the thing, some point could mean tomorrow or ten million years from now. Granted, we can already be pretty damn certain that we’re killing ourselves, but that is a choice, one we are moving painfully slowly away from, but I have hope that self-preservation will slam the accelerator one of these days.

However, putting the pedal to the metal on preserving our living planet and all the life it supports will require massive investment and focus globally. Climate change and general degradation of the Earth’s systems have already progressed far further than they ever should have been allowed for the sake of economic growth and greed. We need a massive overhaul of not just how we produce energy but of our economy and societal values. We need to put the living systems that support our civilization before the profit motive.

What we cannot, for the moment, factor into this equation is an elitist escape plan. We cannot invest in building a lunar base, or founding a Martian metropolis of a million souls, or trying to develop viable ways to travel to the outer reaches of our solar system and to the stars beyond. Not right now at any rate. I imagine Stephen Hawking would wholly disagree. He believes we are at our most vulnerable right now as a species because we possess the means to destroy ourselves and the Earth, but we lack the means to escape it.

But what do we think we’re escaping to? The Moon? Mars? The gas giants? We’re certainly not getting any further with current technology, so forget about some “potentially Earth-like planet” that the Kepler telescope has spied in the depths of the universe. There ain’t no warp drive or wormhole to get you there just yet.

The fact is that if Earth faced an imminent and dire external threat and was surely doomed then very few of us would be escaping. It would probably be the privileged who could afford it like the escape tunnels of the kings of old, and they wouldn’t be taking refuge in some celestial idyll. They would be in cold, sterile, self-contained bases, shielding them from the inhospitable environment they are condemned to see out the rest of their miserable lives in, as they attempt to perpetuate some semblance of the human species.

Even if we could get to the nearest potentially habitable planet, Proxima Centauri B, what then? What if it has its own diverse ecology, probably something incompatible with our own? Are we honestly going to carry with us the thinking that drove us from our home and bend another living world to our will for the sake of our own survival? What right have we to do that? Are we to become the antagonists of such alien invasion movies as Independence Day and War of the Worlds, harvesting the resources of another world because we have so thoroughly ransacked our own?

Really, for people who dream of evacuating Earth to save us from ourselves and the grave threats of the universe, it is more to make the vision of spacefaring humanity become a reality rather than any practical reason. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the allure. I grew up watching Star Trek and Stargate and any sci-fi I could get my hands on, and the idea of zooming off into the void, seeing what’s out there, finding new life, all that is exquisitely compelling.

Yet, I think it’s unlikely that we will reach those heights of technological achievement in time to make any difference to our survival, not on the business-as-usual path we are currently sprinting down. It’s likely that in this century and the next that we’re going to experience some society-stopping shocks. Water scarcity, food insecurity, conflict, natural disasters, all beyond our capability to adequately respond, and then complete breakdown as civilization slips away into the fires of a second Great Dying. Even if we survive the Armageddon we instigate, all else will be lost.

No one who survives such a calamity will remember Elon Musk or Stephen Hawking or the dream of humanity amongst the stars. All they’ll know is a grim reality of anything beyond bare survival being a luxury.

But as I said before, we have a choice in that.

We can be the fools who ran their only home into the ground with the slight possibility that some will seek shelter on the nearest dead rock, or we can be the visionaries who see the value of Earth and take whatever steps are necessary to preserve it for future generations, so that they may seek out greater knowledge and higher things.

My wife told me a story once of a couple who’d been together over fifty years. They were asked how they did it for so long, did they not ever fight? They said that of course they do but in their day, when something was broken you fixed it, you didn’t just replace it. We are breaking our world, our only home in all the universe, and that fact isn’t going to change in time to save us, no matter how much we dream.

Yes, sure, a rock could fall out of the sky and smite us, or a black hole could swallow us whole, but those events are beyond our control. What we can control are our own actions on this Earth. So let’s work on the issues here and make our planet the haven of humanity and all Earthlings that it should be rather than chucking it on the trash pile in the vain hope that another Earth will come our way.

 

Image Source: Random Ramblings of Celeena Cree from National Geographic documentary “Evacuate Earth”

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions.

 

 


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Dumbass Trump Blustering as Earth Burns

When Trump was elected last year, it seemed surreal, like a ridiculous practical joke played by the American electorate and the electoral college on the rest of the world. As the disbelief dispersed afterwards, I think myself and many others wondered how could this be and what could this mean. Seven months on and despite his behavior on the campaign trail, it’s still hard to believe so much madness transpired in that amount of time. It’s like he’s had two terms already (by God, I wish that were the case).

I’ve been so bombarded with the constant awfulness coming out of his administration, and the now Republican dominated House and Senate, that it’s an effort not to grow numb to it all. Everything environmentally and socially responsible seems to be going out the window. Trump’s presidency is like shit-show the musical comes to crazy-town and now he’s taken his tour of insanity international with comically disastrous consequences. If only he weren’t the president of the United States, the greatest military power on Earth, the second greatest carbon polluter, and greatest cumulative carbon polluter, well, then I’d be able to laugh.

I could account for my lack of blogging with things happening in my own personal life but really, it’s been this nutty parade of unmitigated crap, falsehoods, and travesties that has put me off. It’s enough to read about it, let alone write about it, and so here’s to the journalists that keep on reporting on the the corruption and challenging the nonsensical. Still, I can’t let what happened this weekend pass without comment.

Trump exited the Paris Climate Agreement just 18 months after the vast majority of countries in the world negotiated it. He has joined a rather small club of nations who have not ratified it. Syria did not do so for obvious reasons, the country is war-torn and unable to make any such commitments. Nicaragua did not sign because they regard the treaty as not being strong enough.

That I have to give them.

The Paris Climate Agreement would have been a step in the right direction in the 80s or 90s and while it still technically is, it’s woefully insufficient in the face of the scale of the problem. At this stage, we need rapid decarbonisation and equally speedy deployment of renewable energy. Our transport and agricultural practices would also have to radically change, and we would need to also consider investing far more in carbon capture technology to make it viable. I’ve often heard that we need to react globally on the scale the US did in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor and joining WWII. Some people don’t care for the analogy, but what are we if not at war? The only difference is our enemies are not other nations but time, the forces of nature, and ourselves.

Paris only calls for nations to make modest reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases, targets which they can set for themselves, and those self-determined goals are not legally binding. Therefore, Nicaragua’s leaders are right. The treaty is weak, entirely dependent on the goodwill of its participants, but at least it had the support of almost all nations on Earth including the largest carbon emitters, or at least it did until Trump stuck to his inane campaign promise (and in my opinion, stuck it to Europe who failed to adequately fawn all over him on his clusterfuck overseas trip).

I could go on for several essays on how Paris is only the very beginning of what we need to tackle climate change, and how we need to make the bulk of the big changes necessary in the next two decades.  However, this is me venting and raging against the orange buffoon who now sits in the Oval Office, so I’m going to stay on topic.

Trump is moronic. He completely lacks understanding of what the climate accord is or does. He doesn’t even properly realize that he can’t just immediately pull the US out of it. At the earliest, nations can pull out with a year’s notice after it goes into effect, meaning that the earliest he could do this legitimately would be the day after the next presidential election.

Of course, he can do what he has been doing already, and this is the reason that Paris is so shamefully weak, and that is to keep the voluntary commitments but not implement them and even backtrack to whatever extent he wants on environmental and energy policy. Realistically speaking, him reneging on the Paris Agreement was more of a symbolic middle finger to the world, letting everyone know that he really means it when he says America first.

It is ironic that his primary motivation, at least officially, for pulling out was to bolster the US economy and protect jobs. He seems to be, either willfully or not, oblivious to the fact that the clean energy sector is producing more jobs than fossil fuels, especially coal which is in decline. Solar alone in 2016 created 17 times more jobs in the US than the rate of the overall economy. Wind power also employs far more people than coal, and renewables are on the up and up.

He also campaigned on ending what he perceives to be the US’s losing streak to China. Yet China has plowed funding into renewables and is seeing job growth in the sector, and the investment is forecast to create 13 million jobs by 2020. His policies and leaving the Paris Agreement will ultimately only make the US less competitive in a rapidly growing sector while giving China, India, and other nations an edge. His policies will, at best, stagnate the fossil fuel industry rather than accelerate its decline, which is what Obama’s policies would have done. Yet, given how dire our situation has become, we cannot afford even a stagnant fossil fuel industry. Emissions have to start coming down rapidly from here on out.

This is what drives me insane. In his arrogance, his bluster, and his stupidity, Donald Trump has thrown the US paddle overboard, folded his arms, and now sits there sullenly, while the rest of us desperately try to get our boat towards a horizon we need to reach, for behind us is the precipice of a waterfall, and we will not all survive the descent, if any of us.

The only thing that gives me solace is that as powerful as his office is, he cannot flip a switch and undo all the progress that has already been made, nor can he put the brakes on the inevitable changes in the energy sector. Renewables are still the future, as is climate action, if not in certain segments of American society and industry then it is so globally. It’s heartening that Trump faces massive backlash to his decision from around the world, that he faces dissension from within his own borders.

The US Climate Alliance, which started with three states, California, Washington, and New York, now includes Oregon, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island with more possibly to follow. They plan to continue to adhere to the Paris Climate Agreement, and they represent a massive chunk of US GDP and carbon emissions, meaning their continued efforts will have a significant impact on the US economy with them favoring the domestic clean energy and electric transport industries over fossil fuel energy and transport.

Though this may be enough for some to have cause for optimism, it’s still wholly inadequate. At the moment, we are allowing the free market and economics to be the sole drivers of investment in renewables and other technologies we need to face this crisis. Governments need to have a more hands-on approach and stop throwing out soft legislation and meager subsidies and instead focus policy on getting these technologies mainstream and dominant over fossil fuels as soon as is feasible. Doing less at this point is just irresponsible if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change and have a livable planet for future generations.

It is unfortunate that the current US president is a bull in a china shop who has surrounded himself with snakes in the grass. However, unlike Kyoto or other international agreements, we cannot let this administration dictate policy worldwide, nor can we allow its stubborn non-involvement to be an excuse to scale back action elsewhere.

Though Paris still leaves a lot to be desired, it’s all we’ve got so far, and the vast majority of the world seems to be sticking with it. What needs to happen now is that we continue to rapidly build on the successes of the agreement, to exceed our targets and exceed the next ones, and hope this eventually leads to stronger, more binding treaties that will ensure decarbonisation of the global economy happens, regardless of the current actions of the US federal government.

What we can also hope for, and what US citizens can work towards, is a political shift in 2018 and 2020 to boot Trump and representatives who are in the pockets of the fossil fuel industry, so that further action is not impeded and maybe it’ll be possible to get binding international climate treaties past the houses of Congress. If not, then we can still count on the autonomy of individual states. If enough of them are taking action, it’s going to be hard for those that are supporting fossil fuels and suppressing renewables to remain competitive nationally or globally.

In conclusion, trump sucks, but his suckiness is not a cause for falling into despair. He is one foolish man whose own arrogance and selfishness will be his undoing anyway. It can’t be long until at least some of his base realize he’s screwing them over, too. We can all live in hope that he’ll be only a one-term wonder. So as he bumbles on, we need to take our eyes away from Washington in hope of leadership and start being the leaders ourselves. Our governments, our mayors, our local councils, you and I need to demand change and make changes that will put further pressure on corporations and recalcitrant politicians to get in line on climate action.

So the world is still nearing the flames, but Donald Trump’s little hands can’t push us all the way in. Only we can do that by collective inaction or half-measures. Let’s hope we have the courage to pull back from the brink.

 

Image Source: The Daily Banter

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions.


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Saturn

It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.

I entitled my last blog post “Giving a Fuck Sometimes Sucks”, and boy, has it sucked these past three weeks and really the last few months. Whilst I tried to strike a semi-positive note in that post, it’s been hard to bring myself to write about current events, the US election, or my general feelings and opinions, in fact, much of anything really. I think we’ve all been, subconsciously or not, at the edge of our seats, waiting for the outcome of an election that could determine the degree of hope we could reasonably have for the future. Well, there could only ever have been two outcomes; we could be just disappointed or both disappointed and astonished. Guess which happened!

President Donald Trump. Who ever thought we’d be saying that? I certainly didn’t. When I overheard a manager mention it to some of my work colleagues the morning after, there was first disbelief and then wryness. My thoughts were something along the lines of “Oh America, you’ve fucked us all”.

Those who know me know that climate action and general environmental protection are issues that I think are key to continued human civilization and progress on this planet, at least in the manner that we’ve all grown accustomed to. Without solid steps taken to mitigate the climate crisis, we can soon enough just start adapting to a spiralling planet-wide disaster until the limits of adaptation are reached. Then who knows what will happen? All I know is that even if I don’t live to see some serious climate consequences, our children and grandchildren most likely will, and that through our short-sightedness we hand down a calamity, a far less liveable world, is unacceptable and in the eyes of future generations will be unforgiveable.

Unfortunately, in choosing Donald Trump, America has not only voted for racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, Islamaphobia, fascism, and Big Business, they have voted against a safe and secure future for all life on this planet. They have essentially voted for climate change.

I’m well aware that not all Americans consciously chose their candidate for the above reasons. Certainly, bigots across the country would have chosen Trump based on his prejudicial rhetoric alone. However, half of eligible voters did not do their civil duty and prevent this psycho from getting into office. Albeit, that might have been a form of protest in itself. Given the choices, I’m not sure I would have wanted to vote either, though I may have gone third party.

Well, what’s done is done. We can hold out hope that the electoral college will upset this upset, but the chances of that are vanishingly small. Anyway, what would we have if they did do something just as astonishing as Trump winning the election by denying him the presidency? What then? Well, we saw the upheaval and outcry after his victory, so his supporters would likely stage a repeat, and then that would wind down, and we would have Clinton. Whoopty doo!

Except that Hillary would, at best, be a continuation of the Obama administration’s ambling progress. Would she move to keep fossil fuel reserves in the ground? No. Would she mobilize the US to act on climate change like it would in the face of war? Probably not. Would she be interested in more binding and/or progressive climate treaties with the rest of the world? Iffy and even if so, she would need a co-operative Senate and Congress. Therefore on climate change and other issues of environmental and social justice, Hillary Clinton is better than Donald Trump only in the sense that she, at least, would not fly in the face of reality and do the opposite of what needs to be done.

That’s unfortunately what will come into the White House in January, a president who will gladly undo climate legislation, protections for public lands, who would throw out the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts, all in favour of increasing fossil fuel extraction and other mining activities to the benefit of powerful corporate interests.

So, yes, it all very much sucks, and we can all collectively cry into our pillows, rock back and forth in a corner, or party like it’s 1999 because why not? The world is going to shit, and nothing we say, do, not do, is going to change that. Too many crazies are voting in crazies for the actions of the sane and aware among us to make any difference.

Well, you’d be wrong.

More than ever, I feel that it’s up to us. Politicians and governments aren’t going to resolve the issues because they no longer work for us. They work for themselves, for corporations, the 1%, for the prestige and financial gain that are inextricably linked to politics these days. There are a few good apples among all the rot like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, but even they must see the difficulty of effecting change from within a system that is inherently stacked against them, poisoned by greed and lobbying.

Even someone who has a passing interest in politics can see the strings being tugged and the off the record, behind the scenes dealings that must be happening. Yet most people don’t even care enough to look at the glaring corruption staring them in the face. It makes one wonder is politics made deliberately boring so people won’t pay too close attention to it? Whatever the case, people being uninformed about their choices is how the public were duped into voting for Trump. Even those who used their vote to say screw you to an establishment that changed northing in their lives must now see that Trump will fall into the establishment line, too, and deliver more of the same or worse.

It’s going to come down to the choices we make as individuals that largely determines the course from here on out. Like it or not, many of us a reinforcing the status quo and largely with our wallets. Corporations respond to demand and when demand shifts, they have to adapt or go out of business, which is why industries from tobacco to fossil fuels to the meat and dairy industries work hard to lobby politicians, confuse the public by muddying the science, and advertise us to death to prevent any shift towards alternatives.

We need to go to the science and the scientists ourselves, receive the information in an uncorrupted form, direct from the source. We need to make informed choices about how we spend our money, what businesses and products we support because if you burn coal, you’re cooking the planet. If you eat a steak, you’re cutting down rainforest and cooking the planet with methane. If you buy a product containing palm oil, you’re killing orang-utans by destroying rainforest also, and less trees doesn’t help the climate change situation either.

This has turned into a lecture on politics and personal responsibility which wasn’t the initial intent. You’re probably wondering as well what connection the video above has with the rest of this post. It was just something about hearing it, seeing it, that made me realise no matter how downtrodden I was about Trump being president, about Brexit, about right-wingers coming to power all over, the world is bigger than one man, one referendum, or one ideology. We are bigger.

It really doesn’t matter who sits in the Oval Office. What matters is how complicit with or apathetic we are towards those who would lead humanity down a dangerous path, into dystopia and chaos and calamity. We are the many, the bigger picture. They are the few with a narrow-minded, short-sighted outlook on what is important. It’s up to all of us to press on, to get to work, and do so with more energy and persistence than we have before because those we work against depend on our disillusionment, our moments of weakness, and they hope we’ll just surrender, re-join the flow.

I think of Saturn, a picture of it, floating serenely in the dark depths. That’s what our resistance is. Whether you stand with Standing Rock, whether you promote the vegan message, whether you support those in Bangladesh fighting a coal plant in the Sundarbans, or those in the outback of Australia fighting a nuclear waste dump, you are resistance. We are hope, nonviolence, a bright movement upon which blackness attempts to encroach but cannot snuff out.

I don’t believe for a second that the light of resistance could ever be extinguished, not with what’s at stake. However, it could be dimmed or brightened depending on how we all react to the crises facing us. Jane Goodall said in the documentary Racing Extinction that there’s still a lot left that’s worth fighting for. I think that’s true rather than the fatalist notion that our course is locked in, our fate already sealed. For sure, the coming years will be critical, even more so now that a climate denier holds the highest office in the US and republicans control both the houses.

With conservatives leading the UK and potential right-wingers gaining ground in France and Germany, we have a lot of challenges, but there is a lot of hope, too. The train of change has already left the station on climate action and green energy, and it cannot really be halted, only slowed. It’s our job that on this and other environmental and social justice issues that the accelerator is kept firmly pressed, that progress for the majority isn’t waylaid for the benefit of a few.

To anyone reading this, whoever is feeling hopeless, or that the challenge just doesn’t get smaller, doesn’t let up, you’re not alone. The movement can only get bigger, brighter. Social change is contagious, and we have the power to spread it far and wide. The other choice is to fall back and give up, and that is not a choice at all. It doesn’t matter if every Donald Trump and Theresa May and Francois Fillon gets into office. What really matters from here on out is not what state governments represent and try to do, but what we do regionally, locally, and most of all, personally. After all, the consumerist apathy that creates most of our problems could turn to consume-less activism. We are the basic units, the fundamental bedrock of the capitalist system. If we change, everything changes.

So light a candle. Reach out. Take action. We are Saturn.

Above Image Source: Universe Today