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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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

 


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Giving a Fuck Sometimes Sucks

(Image Source: Journey of a Thousand Miles)

So I haven’t blogged in months, pretty much because I’ve been hating on the world. Well, maybe not hating but getting apathetic, a state I don’t want to be in but bombarded by so much negativity on a daily basis, it’s hard not to succumb to it occasionally. I regret that this has taken me away from blogging, my Facebook page and group, even my vegan Instagram account, not that I’ve been totally absent, but I have dialed my exposure back for my own sanity.

What specifically has been bothering me lately? Pretty much everything to some degree. I suppose the overriding issue for me is always going to be climate change because there are so many feedbacks and so many other issues that it affects, it pretty much has an impact everywhere and on everything. Ever since the Paris climate accord last year, my level of optimism has dropped off. Solving the issue has seemed further away when it should have drawn closer after the ‘historic’ agreement. Why do you ask am I so pessimistic all of a sudden? Why am I being a downer even?

Because it just ain’t gonna cut it, that’s why!

Paris would have been absolutely fantastic had it been negotiated in the 80s, it would have been appropriate in the 90s, it would have fallen short in the 00s and for this decade, it’s a band aid on an open artery. I think we’re all sick to death of half-measures, if only governments and corporations were giving us even that. Instead we’re being given platitudes and green-washing and trade agreements that undercut what little we have already achieved. Fun times!

I’m completely over politics, as well, from the efforts made by establishment politics to suppress the rise of democratic socialist politicians like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, to President Obama, a supposed progressive, pushing a regressive trade agreement like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, to the recent insanity that was the Brexit and how all these things are negatively impacting effective climate and environmental policy even more.

It’s hard everyday to log into Facebook and see Florida’s coast swallowed by an algal bloom probably a result of warming waters and nutrient enrichment from animal agriculture and fertilizer runoff. It’s hard to see flood after flood after flood hit parts of Texas and the Midwest and have the political leaders there deny that there’s even a problem. It’s hard to watch the Great Barrier Reef slowly die. It’s hard to watch Rhinos and Elephants get slaughtered for a single body-part that only has extrinsic worth that some witch doctor gave them. It’s hard to watch species like the vaquita, the orca, the orangutan march towards extinction, to watch the seas get depleted of fish, to watch plastics pollute everything, to watch rainforests torn down for ranches and palm oil, it’s all just hard!

This all probably sounds very self-pitying and, of course, none of this is about me, this isn’t why I care, even though we all have something to loose if the shit really hits the fan. Also, I can say all this is hard to watch, but it is infinitely harder for the people who actually have experienced these disasters, who are physically present to watch the lands they call home change for the worse, to watch the creatures they know disappear, and to have homes and livelihoods lost. If watching all this on a screen diminishes my hope, how must these people feel? I can’t imagine.

I’m starting to come around again and feel motivated once more. Nothing in particular has spurred me on, maybe a combination of things. My wife has told me that if I don’t like what I see, change it. It’s a simple solution to my problem, but positive thinking and reading about the things that are going right really helps. I’m trying to post more about positive political and activist action that has changed the course like how Europe has seriously curtailed the extension of approval of glyphosate, in no small part because of public pressure. Recently, pipeline proposals by Enbridge in Canada have been shot down, thanks again to actions of people. Then there’s how San Francisco banned styrofoam, Morocco banned plastic bags, and Germany is mandating all cars be electric by 2030 with Norway considering an even more ambitious version of this policy for 2025.

I think it’s been good, as well, to get more involved with the online vegan community. It’s nice just to know that there are people out there who care as much about animals, people, and planet as much as yourself. It’s difficult when no one in your personal life is as involved as you, and I mean immediate friends and family, not online friends and passing acquaintances.That’s not to downplay those connections because they are the only thing really reassuring me that I’m not just some hippie loon and that I’m actually going crazy. Other people see what I see,  other people care and even though we are few and far between, that restores my hope.

That is what I plan to focus on in future now whenever I’m feeling low about the world, about the way things are going, and how meaningful my impact is. For that, I guess I can thank everyone I’ve interacted with online and all those writers out there putting out hope rather than doom-saying. I know I’ve written a piece with both. I am still being realistic in that I know there’s a lot that still needs to be done to remedy the Earth’s environmental and social problems, but giving into despair about the world did nothing for me or anyone else. If anything, it just made me more depressed and less interested in involving myself, making me no better than anyone who carries on day to day in apathy and ignorance of what’s going on in the world.

A quote by Jane Goodall stands out to me especially:

“In 200 years, people will look back on this particular period and say to themselves how did those people at that time just allow all those amazing creatures to vanish. But it would be very little use in me or anybody else exerting all this energy to save these wild places if people are not being educated into being better stewards than we’ve been. If we all lose hope, there is no hope. Without hope, people fall into apathy. There’s still a lot left that’s worth fighting for.”

It’s worth it to fight against apathy, hopelessness, depression about this world we live in and where it’s headed at the moment because if we don’t, how will we ever change the course for the future? These things sap you of the strength to do anything but bemoan the problems instead of being a part of the solution and no matter how small your part may be, as was said in the documentary Racing Extinction, “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness”.

That’s something I plan to take to heart from here on out as best I can, and I know there’ll be setbacks, both personal and in the wider world, but what’s important is that we all pick up and carry on, and maybe the solutions for the future we all wish for will come to pass.