A Voice for Earth

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


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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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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.