A Voice for Earth

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


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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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If We Burn, You Burn with Us

Last weekend, people rejoiced over the signing of the Paris climate agreement, the first time since Kyoto that something has been accomplished in the fight against climate change. There was much pomp and celebration by the negotiators and political leaders, and the mainstream media generally put a positive spin on the agreement, and there was definitely some cause for all this.

Paris marks the first time that nations around the world recognized the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, if possible, is far more desirable than capping it at 2 degrees, which had been the mantra of climate negotiations prior. This was a matter of simple justice for small island nations and vulnerable coastal regions, as warming of 2 degrees is seen by them as a death sentence.

Other positives about the agreement include funding to help developing nations potentially leapfrog fossil fuels straight to a clean energy economy or, at least, expedite their transition between the two. The involvement of major nations like the US and China, major developing countries like India and Brazil, and major oil producers like Saudi Arabia, was also quite a refreshing state of affairs from the usual discord and haggling that has marred previous COPs.

Indeed, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic. The treaty does have some promise, but promise is the key word here, for our leaders really haven’t made us anything other than promises, and not commitments. There are no enforcement mechanisms written into the treaty, everything contained within it is voluntary, except perhaps agreed further conferences and tracking each nations’ progress towards its climate mitigation goals. Goals, mind you, that are self-imposed and also, voluntary.

I’ve heard it said that COP 2015 is an excellent treaty, had it been agreed in 1995. Our political leaders have always lagged behind the times when combating the climate crisis, so perhaps any success, no matter how meagre, seems like something ground-breaking and worthy of applause and commendation.

I know it seems like I’m completely trashing what was achieved in Paris, and I kind of am to be honest. I’m not trying to be overly pessimistic, but we still need to be realistic here. Climate change demands a monumental collaborative effort across all nations, across all levels of society. Paris, in this regard, is like needing to jump clear over a raging river when you’re being chased by a lion and instead, jumping to a stepping stone about a foot from the river bank.

In essence, it’s a good starting point, had it been enacted twenty years ago and at that time had been mandatory. Well, it’s not the 90s any more when climate change might have been easier to take in hand, and nothing legally compels our leaders to adhere to the agreement, so what does that leave us with? Probably not exactly at square one still but definitely not at square two.

So, let’s assess where the treaty takes us relative to where we actually need to be. First off, the climate pledges that the majority of nations made in the run-up to COP21. As I mentioned already, they are voluntary pledges to lower emissions through various means with no national or international legal obligations to undertake them. However, that isn’t the worst part. Taken together, the collective climate pledges will not hold warming anywhere near 1.5 degrees, they won’t even keep us under 2 degrees. Current estimates given our emission cut commitments as they stand place us on track for around 2.7 degrees Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels.

As Tim Gore, head of food and climate policy at Oxfam put it, “While this round of pledges is a step in the right direction, they only take us from a 4 C catastrophe to a 3 C disaster .”

Next up, funding to aid developing nations to transition to clean energy and adapt to climate change already locked in. The money will come from developed nations and larger developing nations with the capacity to contribute such as China which has pledged $3 billion dollars. In total, the established floor for the so-called Green Climate Fund is $100 billion annually. I don’t pretend to know much about the value of such a contribution in economic terms, but it seems to me a pittance to help every developing nation in the world to kick fossil fuels in favour of clean energy whilst simultaneously dealing with climate-related stresses and natural disasters.

So far, the text of the agreement is unclear as to the role or the trajectory of the fund from 2020 onwards when the Paris agreement comes into effect. So, even though, the sum promised is a floor, not a ceiling, there is nothing to say how much nations will, in future, contribute or if the fund will be kept alive long-term.

Next, it is interesting to consider what the agreement doesn’t mention rather than what it does. For one, the words coal and oil do not appear anywhere in the document. There is no commitment or even a suggestion that the majority of known fossil fuel reserves should be kept in the ground, as the science demands, let alone putting an end to further exploration for new reserves.

There is no mention of agriculture, responsible for at least a third of all emissions, nor is there any mention of the emissions caused by international flights and shipping.

There is no hint of reparations to developing nations for the damage that has been caused and will be caused by climate change. In fact, the US played a key role in weakening the agreement in this regard, having categorically refused to include any mention of compensation in the final draft of the agreement. Their negotiators even wanted wording in the document to insure Western nations against any liability for future climate damages to developing nations, but that got kicked out of the final draft. They, of course, promised in return that they would sign up to the 1.5 degree goal, so long as it wasn’t binding and they didn’t have to pull their weight with lowering emissions, which they could ask for because they had the power to bring the talks to a screeching halt.

And the final stop on this train-wreck, what the treaty includes that hasn’t been part of an international agreement before. Forest offsets are the sustainable management of forest ecosystems in order to capture our carbon emissions. However, it’s not really known how effective this is because it’s hard to tally how much carbon any given forest absorbs exactly. More to the point, these offsets give countries an out for not actually reducing their emissions, so the pollution still occurs, and the offsets may not necessarily be countering all of it.

Moreover, anyone who has read Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything knows that these projects are often plagued by mismanagement and the displacement of indigenous peoples who more often than not know more about the sustainable management of their lands than the foreign companies who take them over and exclude them from places they have lived in for perhaps millennia.

The fact is that carbon offsets, carbon trading, and other market mechanisms for tackling climate change often fall flat and do little to solve the problem compared to actual intervention in the economy and tangible climate action. It was these so-called solutions to climate that led to the failure of Kyoto, as it took a decade to get them up and going and then they were marred by mismanagement and fraud.

So, if you look on the very bright side, yes, the agreement gave us a 1.5 degree target, yes, all the nations of the Earth are involved, yes, we’re getting money to developing nations to combat climate, but where are the tools to achieve all this? They’re not in the Paris document. In order to achieve even the target of 1.5 degrees Celsius would require a WWII-scale mobilization, starting right now. We would need to entirely de-carbonize our economies worldwide by 2030 and invest massively in carbon capture technology to draw down carbon dioxide that we have already emitted out of the atmosphere.

Why is such an undertaking necessary? Because the threat is that huge, far worse than that of Nazi Germany or any other human enemy from history. We need to stop thinking of climate change as simply an environmental problem. The fact is that we are at war, a war with time and with ourselves. We can’t let the jubilation that surrounded the “successful” Paris climate talks to trick us into complacency. The root of the threat we face is Big Energy, Big Agriculture, and Big Transport. They all need a massive overhaul if we are to have any hope of stemming the rise in temperatures and averting future disasters.

However, corporations with vested interests were heavily involved with the talks, and their lobbyists no doubt sunk their teeth into many a negotiator. My belief now is that the solutions to the climate crisis are no longer to be found in the political process. Governments can no longer act in an effective or timely manner because they are tied down by too much red tape and are strung up on too many corporate strings.

It is now the turn of the people to make the transition, to make the leap to a fossil-free future. We can do this by making personal to changes to our energy usage, what we eat, how we get around, and by acting together as communities to build better from the ground up, from local, to regional, to national. I’m not saying that state governments are totally obsolete. They still have the power to effect change and, unfortunately, to get in peoples’ way or worse, add to the problem. After all, not long after the COP, the UK decided to expand fracking, and New Zealand handed out new oil leases.

Only a loud, convincing voice, a massive people’s movement can topple them off their high seats of apathy and lethargy. The Paris agreement is one more example of our leaders treating an existential threat as a remote and manageable problem. Climate change is happening now. It is on our TVs, it’s in our communities and for some unfortunate people in my own country and the UK this Christmas, it is in their homes. We can no longer abide by governments throwing a bone at the problem when it demands we give it everything we’ve got.

Ultimately, people power will overwhelm this complacency, I believe, I hope, but our chances of achieving the lofty goals of COP21 would be much greater if politicians engaged with the problem with the seriousness it deserves. I’ll end with a message to world leaders, a quote by one of my favourite fictional characters, Katniss Everdeen, fire is catching and if we burn, you burn with us.

Links:

Good Reasons to Cheer the Paris Climate Deal

World’s climate pledges not yet enough to avoid dangerous warming – UN

Green Climate Fund seeks clear role in post-2020 climate aid

Trading Carbon: How Paris Set Us Up for Failure

Seven Wrinkles in the Paris Climate Deal

The Paris Climate Talks and the 1.5C Target: Wartime-Scale Mobilization is Our Only Option Left

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions, and no offence is intended to anyone.

 


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Do We Want to Sink?

“…so you dwell on this terrible future, you resign yourselves to it and for one reason, because that future doesn’t ask anything of you today…”

Governor Nix, Tomorrowland

It’s been a long hiatus for me in terms of blogging, but now that my wedding and honeymoon have passed, I have wanted to get back into it, and there are a number of things I want to review, movies and documentaries that I’ve seen in the last few months. I saw Tomorrowland when it was out in cinemas during the summer but on my flight home after my honeymoon, it was available to watch, and I thought I should refresh my memory before offering my thoughts on it.

Tomorrowland is essentially a concept of a place without limits on science and creativity all directed to build a better world. It is a story about what might be possible if the greatest minds could innovate and build without the limitations of bureaucracy, of financial greed, and superstition. It’s ultimately about the potential of humanity and hope for the future, that we can make it all we can imagine and beyond. It’s quite an alluring ideal. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the philosophy behind the Venus Project in that society works for the benefit of all humankind rather than for a select few.

Whilst the movie was largely about wonder and peril and adventure with a not too small element of fun, there was one moment in it that, for me at least, was truly impactful and very relevant to the current state of world affairs and that was, once again, a speech by the principal antagonist of the movie, Governor David Nix. I have embedded a link to it at the top of this post, and I think it’s something everyone should watch. It’s surprising, given the overall tone of the movie, how meaningful it is and how much it touches on the state of mind of the majority of people when confronted with the many crises that beset us and the potential of our eventual demise.

I want to start with the end of his speech, his accusation that as a society, we want to sink, to fail, that we are happy to run headlong into disaster. I disagree. The overall premise of the movie is that the majority of people have given up, but quitting in the face of adversity isn’t the same as relishing it. I think, if asked, anyone would say they want a better world, a better life, to live on a planet not ravaged by crime, war, climate change, and pollution. They would want a peaceful world with a clean, stable environment where they are free to live the life of their choosing without fear of repression or impending disaster, a world where society takes cares of everyone equally and is not set up to favour a select elite. The problem is that most people probably and understandably think that these basic desires are beyond our collective reach, a utopian fantasy that could never actually happen.

The part of his speech that I most agree with is the line that I have quoted above. For, to have that idealistic, though in my view, completely reasonable future, we would have to work for it, fight for it even. That is asking a lot of people in this day and age. Our lives have become so regimented, so consumed with getting from A to B, with work, with chores, and then managing to squeeze in time for our loved ones and ourselves before we have to go to sleep and repeat the whole cycle again the next day. So where in that schedule do we find time to contribute to the betterment of society, to take part in community building and improving amenities, to clean up our local environment, to write to officials, to join a protest? The answer is that most of us don’t.

There’s also risk involved in challenging the status quo. In my opinion, rather than moving towards that utopic future we so desire, we are teetering on the brink of utter dystopia. Between regressive laws and ordinances, the curtailing of democratic freedoms and rights, and the rising brutality of police forces meant to protect and serve us but instead serve government and corporate interests, it’s fair to say you are sometimes seriously sticking your neck out by challenging the system. In the face of the limits on our time and the undue consequences that we tempt by acting, it’s not hard to see why people might be resigned, why they might give up. I. myself, feel this way often enough. It’s the powerlessness of seeing the wrong in the world but simultaneously feeling too small to do anything about it.

Yet is it good enough, given all that we may face in the future, to quit on the basis that to do anything else would be very personally burdensome? Maybe that’s a harsh way of putting it, but that’s essentially what it boils down to, the going will be hard, so we just stop going. As David Nix says, we have resigned ourselves to this terrible future because it asks nothing of us today. It will happen simply, inevitably, if we just continue on in blissful half-ignorance and gradually, as it draws nearer, as it begins to transpire all around us ,we can convince ourselves of the comforting notion that there was nothing we could have done anyway.

But that is a lie, a heinous one, meant to assuage our guilt, as we transfer responsibility for managing calamity and tragedy to our children and grandchildren.

Self-deceit and apathy, along with the fact that we really may be desensitized to disaster as we see it everywhere, in movies, in books, in games, and increasingly, in reality but usually at a distance, it is all these things that at least partly explain our inaction on some of the most pressing crises of our times. Climate change tops the list as it will effect everyone and everything in some shape or form. Besides the changing weather patterns punctuated by extremes and disasters, it will precipitate other crises like mass migrations, wars, famines, increased crime, disease outbreaks, and the breakdown of ecosystems and the Earth’s natural processes. Yet given this Pandora’s Box of nightmarish consequences, most of us are not motivated to challenge Big Energy and elements of government who support them, most of us aren’t picketing our officials and the responsible industries demanding that they enact policies to avert this impending catastrophe. A lot of us don’t even care or really believe it will happen. That is a problem because massive public demand would be required to usher in that change.

Changing everything will require everyone.

So, how do we get from a small group of committed individuals to everyone mobilised and demanding change, demanding justice and progress? I don’t have the whole answer to that. The journey from “that’s not my problem” to caring deeply about an issue is not standard for everyone, nor is it just an acute shift. However, I think what we can all agree on that is common to most people is hopelessness. We don’t believe that better does or can exist. We need to drop that anchor that is holding us in place, preventing us from moving forward. David Nix puts it best when he says, “In every moment, there’s the possibility of a better future…”, and that is the truth. Everyday, every hour, every second, there’s the opportunity for each of us to take small actions that taken together have the power to create real change. This lack of belief is not just in what’s possible in general but also in ourselves. We underestimate our ability to innovate, to reason, to create.

Perhaps a world reaching the dizzying heights of progress depicted in Tomorrowland is not something we could just conjure up tomorrow, but who’s to say what we could achieve if we are not limited by those in power and by ourselves. For the moment, why is better infrastructure, public transport, healthcare, a clean energy economy, a safe and healthy environment, an end to hunger, poverty, and the injustices that lead to crime and conflict too much to ask for? All these things are possible. They just require us to believe, to not give up, or, as the main protagonist in Tomorrowland, Casey Newton, puts it, to feed the right wolf.

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions, and no offence is intended to anyone.


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Maybe Ultron Had One Valid Point…

“You want to protect the world, but you don’t want it to change.

How is humanity saved if it is not allowed to evolve?”

You’re all puppets tangled in…strings…”

Marvel’s Ultron

So perhaps how I choose to interpret these lines is a far cry from the intended meaning of the character Ultron. However, they do speak to me about the current state of the world and our efforts to change the course. Let me start off by clarifying a point. I am not some supporter of voluntary human extinction, whether it be by some insidious agent such as an engineered disease, or passively such as not reproducing and allowing ourselves to die out. I wouldn’t normally be so direct in addressing my opinion of a particular philosophy but to me, electing to surrender entirely is the ultimate form of laziness, the abandonment of any hope. I’m not saying that hopelessness isn’t justified sometimes. These are hard times for the global biosphere, for societies right around the world, both struggling against injustice, greed, and conflict, but I am of the opinion that there is always light somewhere. No matter how dark it gets, it’s there somewhere. It just requires courage and determination to keep looking for it.

Therefore, Ultron’s approach to achieving world peace by ending it all is anathema to me. However, anyone who has seen the movie knows that that was not his original purpose, nor did he go off mission in the beginning. So perhaps mine is a loose interpretation of his opening speech, but here’s what I take from it. In a nutshell, we want it all. We want to save the Earth that is, the one we have grown up in, the one we are used to but at the same time, we want massive reform. We want to stop war, crime, climate change, poverty, hunger, pollution, tyranny, extinctions, and every manner of social and environmental injustice. We wave our banners and our flags, we bemoan the state of the world and expect better from our leaders, and many of us maintain a happy-go-lucky attitude that things will change for the better simply because they should.

Just because they should doesn’t mean they will. Just because we complain about something doesn’t mean our leaders will listen.

Our civilization, as is, cannot be maintained if we really want an end to all the things I listed above. Why? Because all of those things are symptoms of the sickness that is our consumptive, capitalist system that reduces everything down to its monetary value, that dehumanises individuals, that allows room for human and environmental tragedy in the name of profit. We all live in this system, we all play into it, whether we like it or not. The demands we place upon the Earth, far beyond its capacity to sustain, is what is driving all our current ecological crises. They in turn feed back into injustices that already existed because of the very nature of our current system, exacerbating them further.

Why, honestly, would we want to save this?

Why would we want to hand down to future generations a system that offers equality, privilege, and abundance to the few at the expense of all others? Why would we want to hand down a system of governance so vulnerable to corruption that it can be moulded like putty in the hands of the already powerful? Why would we want to hand down a wrecked Earth, mired by pollution, racked by an unstable climate, bereft of life and vitality?

The answer is simply, put that way, we wouldn’t, and these questions are moot anyway. We can’t save the current system because it is unstable and at odds with any kind of peace and prosperity in the long-term, and possibly at odds with our continued survival as a species. It operates under the assumption of infinite space and resources on a planet that has neither. Already, the Earth is overburdened by our sheer numbers and the demands that each of us as individuals place upon it on a daily basis. Food, fresh water, living space, raw materials, all of it drawn from the Earth in a largely unsustainable fashion. Eventually, the planet will hit the brakes and cease to give, and where will that leave us?

I think we’ve all been duped into believing that something akin to the American dream is possible for us all, that we all can have huge houses, our own expensive cars, boundless food and material goods, that there can be no end to our satisfaction derived from purchasing disposable objects and gadgets that we can then easily replace. It’s a very dated, very immature mindset, and one that could doom us. One of my favourite quotes is from Gandhi that “the Earth has enough for everyone’s need but not everyone’s greed”. Generally speaking, that is fairly accurate. While the resources exist to provide every person with food, water, housing, transport, and energy, it isn’t possible for every single person to own a Bentley and their own mansion. Yet even to provide that much luxury to a small number of people whilst the other echelons of society in the West receive a diluted form is plunging billions into poverty in the Third World and upending the Earth’s natural systems unlike anything since the asteroid the wrought the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The fact of the matter is that this globalized, capitalist system is a thrill-seeking madman that we are passively riding along with, even as it drives over the edge of the ecological cliff. That is the only way business-as-usual can take us. Yes, we do need reform. Yes, we do need change. However, I don’t think many people appreciate how these changes might affect them personally as individuals. One example is our unsustainable food system. Providing meat and dairy to the West is already a massive drain on resources and is fuelling multiple environmental crises, as I discussed in my previous blogpost about the documentary Cowspiracy. If it meant saving the planet, if it meant feeding everyone on Earth, could everyone honestly say they’d sacrafice at least a portion of their meat and dairy intake and replace it with plant-based foods? Could you make-do with a few ounces a week? Could you take on the ultimate environmentally and socially responsible diet and go vegan? I’m not sure how many would voluntarily subscribe to such a policy if it were ever instituted, but when our Earth can no longer sustain the cattle ranches and the factory farms, it might become mandatory.

Here’s another one that mightn’t be so hard to comprehend but still a challenge. Could you give up on the concept of having your own personal vehicle, could you depend entirely on public transport? Let’s for a moment imagine that these services are timely, readily-available, and cheap if not completely free? That might indeed be easier to swallow. After all, buying and maintaining your own car is expensive and if you had a free alternative at hand, why wouldn’t you choose that instead? I think the reason is that our culture emphasizes private ownership, that having your own car is a symbol of achievement and independence. However, for the sake of cultural norms, we are polluting the atmosphere with greenhouse gases and throwing more vehicles into the mix of a transport network that you might not come out alive from.

When it comes down to it, people aren’t going to make these changes unless they have a good incentive to do so, whether that’s achieved through policies that actually better all people’s lives, and not just corporations and the super-rich, or through the imminent collapse of civilisation as we know it is down to us. Collectively, we need to grow up and face the music. Between climate change, ocean acidification, sea level rise, habitat destruction, and all our other negative environmental influences, we have the potential to make the world a really nasty place where the type of dystopian rule that we imagine in fictional series like The Hunger Games becomes a real possibility, one we are already beginning to slip into, as governments exercise the wrong responses to the growing crises they face.

Our system, based entirely on monetary gain, placing a dollar value on everything, is both impractical and immoral given the realities of our world. It is a system that worked well in more primitive times when there were fewer of us placing a far smaller demand on the planet’s resources but now, it needs a massive overhaul, in fact a straight-up replacement, in order to bring human civilisation in line with the times. Our economy needs to be based on available resources and values, not financial gain and greed. We need to get it out of our heads that perpetual economic growth is a good thing because it only represents success in a narrow spectrum of society. Did you know that investments in health and education count against growth? Yet, the success of a company that manufactures guns or drones contributes to it. What does that say about our current system that educating our children and treating our sick and injured takes away from the value of our society whilst manufacturing weapons to kill does the opposite?

This is what we perpetuate. We are putting all our eggs in the wrong basket and hoping that it can still carry us to that wondrous place where we can have everything and everyone is happy. That isn’t impossible, but we have to accept changes, changes in what we value, in what makes us happy. Instead of our happiness and satisfaction in life being dependent on rampant materialism, perhaps we should emphasize experiencing the world we have and education, so that people can appreciate more what we’ve already been given by default. Maybe we should stop placing so much importance on owning one of everything and instead, rediscover sharing and interdependence, so that we consume less, waste less, and put a lesser strain on the Earth’s resources and its systems. Perhaps, we need just to accept that we are part of this world, not apart from it. The notion that we can somehow hold dominion over it is one that will destroy our environment and our society along with it, if not our entire species.

Our relationship with the planet is at a crossroads. Do we continue down the track we’re on into an unpredictable but most-likely dire future, or do we stop and choose a better path? Do we start to make informed decisions about our future, based on science, and take appropriate action, or do we leave our fate to the whims and opinions of self-motivated politicians and business leaders? As Ultron so aptly asked, how is humanity saved if it not allowed to evolve? How are we to progress under conditions where the ancient dogma and religious beliefs of political leaders can still hold sway and even overrule, or at least undermine, real science? We can’t move forward whilst holding on to the past, dated values, and prejudices. This is why we need a system overhaul. We need to educate ourselves away from these negative compulsions that rule our lives, so we can make better decisions for ourselves and the world at large.

At the end of Avengers, when the last of the Ultron bots faces its end, it states with indignant certainty to Vision, “They are doomed”. Vision agrees solemnly but responds that “something isn’t beautiful because it lasts forever. It is a privilege to be among them”. So, are we doomed? On the scale of geological time, most definitely. The sun, after all, is going to swell into a red giant and swallow the Earth, and the planet will become inhospitable long before that eventuality comes to pass. Unless now, we imagine some wondrous future where humanity is no longer confined to the Earth, even then, the universe itself will one-day, in perhaps trillions of years from now, be unable to support life as we know it. Back to the here and now, because that’s what really matters, our immediate future and that of the coming generations. What kind of world will we leave them to build upon, to work towards all manner of human endeavour, to reach for that amazing future where the fate of our race is not tied to the fate of the Earth?

Well, it won’t happen in a world where the biosphere is burning down around them. They won’t shoot for the stars when their most immediate concern is where the next morsel of food is coming from, as was depicted in the movie Interstellar. Even the achievement of saving ourselves from a dying Earth might be too much to hope for. We may instead devolve into the primitive hunter-gathers or proto-farmers we once were, or just go extinct. To quote Brian Cox, “We are the universe made conscious, we are the means by which the universe understands itself”. What a shame then if we used that remarkable gift to snuff ourselves out.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I think the time to act was thirty years ago. The next best thing we can do is to make the right choices now, for ourselves and together for all humanity, and cut the strings on us that prevent us from doing so. I’d like our privilege as a species of being here, now, to last a little longer than my lifetime.

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions, and no offence is intended to anyone.


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Adrift in the Orwellian Haze: Part III

(Image Source: Imgur)

Our Democracy: Vote for me, and I Promise NOT to Represent You

In theory, we live in a representative democracy where a majority vote by the citizens of a community/province/nation determines its political leadership, and these leaders represent the interests of the people who voted for them. That’s the theory. The reality isn’t nearly as neat and rosy as we are brought up to believe that it is. In a previous blog post, I wrote a review of a documentary film I watched called ‘Citizen Koch’, which decried corporate and Big Money involvement in politics, and how America’s political and judicial systems were being corrupted by the money of a few billionaires with vested interests in influencing policy decisions. The problems of our modern democratic system are laid out pretty well in the film, but one problem drives practically all the corruption, and dallying, and bad management that our governments are responsible for, and that is money in politics.

Before I get into that, though, I have to ask what do we expect of our elected leaders, of our representatives at home and abroad? When we vote someone into power, we believe we are choosing the person who shares the same interests and concerns as us about society and the lives we live, that they will represent us in driving progress and reform to better all our lives and those of our children, to ensure they inherit and even better society when it comes to their turn to enter adulthood and exercise their democratic rights by voting. We vote for a politician who is like us, whose idea of the betterment of people and the system at large coincides with ours.

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that that’s rarely what we get.

The above video describes what is wrong with having a representative democracy in the US, but it could easily apply to any country with leaders elected by popular vote. Essentially, in most cases, our choices of representatives are limited to two, maybe three choices, who have to fund their campaigns to get enough public exposure to be a serious contender. Sure, especially in more local or regional elections and sometimes national elections, there can be a great many options, but can they really be considered in contention for a seat in government if the people have never heard of them and don’t know what they’re about?

That is why political candidates need donors.

Anyone can be a donor. I could donate one Euro to the political campaign of my choice, and that makes me a donor, but not a very significant one. However, the guy who donates a million Euro is much more likely to get noticed than a million people like me donating one Euro. That is the nature of democracy today. You pay big bucks, you get the attention of your candidate, and they are in your debt, literally! Therein lies the problem, as how can you have a representative democracy when the leaders we vote into power are technically obligated to represent those who paid them into power? Whoever conceived of the idea that money and donations in politics was a good one clearly didn’t give much thought to this question, or did, it’s hard to say which is worse.

We the people just don’t bring enough dough into the equation. Thousands or even millions of small donors can be easily outspent by a handful of very big ones. Therefore even as a block, the small donors don’t get noticed by the politicians they subsequently vote for. It leads to the inevitable conclusion that votes don’t really matter. It’s all about who can raise the money to fund their election campaigns, who can prostitute themselves best to corporate donors who will fund them into the spotlight in exchange for favours down the road.

When you consider the corporations are only interested in making a profit and are willing to do everything it takes to achieve that aim, it makes sense for them to have considerable influence with the politicians and government entities that can affect their profitability. Therefore, having paid for their politician, it is of course only “fair” that they get to lean on them to create or block legislation, depending on which action benefits them most. What hope have the people got in this scenario?

When we think about it, despite differences in culture, ethnicity, religion, social class and many other factors, we all want basically the same things from our government. We want them to provide us with healthcare, education, jobs, infrastructure, utilities, a good food system, a healthy environment, and a strong economy that benefits everyone. The problem lies in the fact that these things don’t always benefit corporations. In particular, regulations of a social or environmental nature such as for food safety, health cover, workplace safety, clean air and water regulations, and other such legislation that would be welcomed by you or me, is burdensome to a big company that just wants to make money in the cheapest, most efficient way possible.

If our government does not provide our needs, we can rally, we can protest, sign petitions, and sometimes such actions are successful, but a lot of the time, the interests of Big Business are favoured. Often this is justified because politicians believe increasing the success of corporations means the betterment of society across the board. However, just because corporations are making more money doesn’t mean they’re going to employ more people or invest in the communities that harbour them. It doesn’t even mean greater tax returns because corporations often lobby politicians to cut their taxes, so wealthy Big Business gets more and more state wealth that could pay for much of things we desire of government that I mentioned above, and what’s the government’s answer? Give them what they want, so they can expand further and continue to drain the economy and society.

Democracy should mean putting the people first, but corporations now are people, at least in the US. It has basically reached the stage where the people cannot decide that they don’t want something and that’s the end of it. Take Denton, Texas for example. The town that originated hydraulic fracturing voted in a landslide to ban the practice within its town limits. This is local democracy in action. This is the people saying loud and clear that we don’t want something in our community that pollutes our environment and harms our health. That united voice should be good enough, shouldn’t it? No, it’s not because Big Oil and Gas will lose money because of the ban, especially if other towns and cities follow suit. So they are suing to overturn a democratically approved mandate for their own selfish ends and instead of supporting the people of Denton, the Texas government, in co-operation with ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), has been moving to prevent cities from banning fracking or regulate oil and gas industries in any way, thereby further undermining local democracy.

This is not an isolated incident, especially in the US where states are moving to prevent municipalities from passing any kind of ordinances whether they be to prohibit drilling within a town’s limits or to have anti-discrimination laws in place. For example, another bill, if passed in Texas, would kill home-rule authority, which would transfer all powers to pass ordinances to the state. This is the uprooting of democratic principle, concentrating power in an evermore centralised form that limits the participation of ordinary people.

As the video above states, we do not live in a representative democracy. We live in a plutocracy run by oligarchs who are increasingly not being subtle about it. The concentration of wealth and power and the elitism that has infected our political systems can only lead us down a road of less power to the people, less socially responsible governance, less corporate and political accountability, less rights and freedom, less of everything that is supposed to be upheld in a democratic society. We are degenerating into a modern kind of fascism, power to the wealthy and to the corporations, but not you or me, not the people.

The example I gave above is just one way in which our democratic system no longer serves us, local policies being rendered meaningless by the state despite the local people wanting them. In my own country, my county council for Clare and several others, have called for a moratorium on fracking in Ireland. However, it doesn’t matter what they want, or by extension what the people want, if the Irish government decides they want to allow fracking in the country then their decision is final, much like they wish we’d accept water charges as final. The fact is whether it be local ordinances or decisions that affect an entire nation, what people want is largely being ignored. This is why people are rising up against austerity, intrusions of privacy, and corruption that are becoming more and more commonplace.

However, we now have many obstacles in the way of us exercising our basic democratic rights. Even though we are essentially voting for one or another side of the same coin in an election with other candidates not well known enough to reach significantly into the public conciousness, any concerted effort to vote for the lesser of two evils is even thwarted. Voter ID laws, gerrymandering, and zero restrictions on fund-raising for candidates are all designed to favour one side of an election. Even when we try to overcome these insidious attempts to undermine the validity of our votes, we can no longer protest safely, or question the status quo without being under suspicion of some kind of sedition.

We are losing what little liberty we have under the current system. We have become so disillusioned with it that many of us don’t bother to even participate. There are two ways to look at that. One is that it can be a kind of protest, a rebellion against a system that churns out a political leader who does not bring change, who does nothing to better the lot of the general populace, who favours corporatist interests rather than populist ones. By not engaging in politics, we are demonstrating our disapproval of the system which in itself is like a democratic vote, just one to abstain! However, on the flip side, those who do vote then get disproportionately represented in government, and that can be detrimental to minority groups’ interests. It can also be the difference between getting a relatively idealistic, progressive representative and a greed-driven, conservative.

Last year was the first time I personally voted. I voted for Fis Nua and Green Party representatives because I believed they held the greatest promise for positive change in my own country and while, yes, some candidates do get elected to local councils or the European Parliament, politics in my country, just like practically everywhere else, is polarized between two or three major parties. I’m not going advise people who don’t vote to vote because I’m not even sure if democracy in its current form can ever be truly representative and not corrupt. Even if the most progressive, well-meaning individual gets into high office with the best of intentions, they generally have to tone down their message for change and compromise themselves in order to fulfil their role within the government machine. Jacque Fresco of the Venus Project has stated on many occasions that “all governments are basically corrupt”. His answer is basically to do away with government rule and leave major decision-making to computers to manage everything from agriculture to transport to resource management.

Crazy? Or maybe exactly what we need?

In my previous post, the video, “The Story of Your Enslavement”, suggests that as our personal freedoms increase, people begin to wonder why they need leaders at all. Is this perhaps why right now our freedoms are being increasingly curtailed and democracy in practice has become a joke? A slightly paranoid notion, but who’s to say it isn’t the case?

Whether we choose to abstain from the current system as it continually degrades our lives with austerity, incursions into our privacy, circumvention of our rights and freedoms (as they are), and expects us to just accept it as just how it has to be, or we choose to vote and perpetuate all of this, or maybe, just maybe, see politics working for the people, that is our choice and one of the few things we can control. For me personally, I would use my vote to throw the corporations and lobbying interests a curve-ball, to get corrupt politicians and bad decision-makers out of the game, replaced by people with some kind of vision for the future. After all, what good to us is a lawyer or a businessperson to make decisions about agriculture, education, the environment, infrastructure, transport, food, or water? From what frame of reference can they make a decision on whether to approve a new chemical pesticide, or to decide where is best to build a highway, or judge how to address social problems like homelessness?

They can’t! We need engineers for that, chemists, architects, sociologists, people with the know-how to make these kinds of choices for the betterment of society. I’m not saying that all politicians are inept, but many are guided by their own prejudices, their own short-sightedness and greed. After all, what vision can one exercise when all they’re concerned about is getting through the next election so they can keep their job another few years? So to those of you all over the world who plan to vote, vote for underdogs. Don’t vote for someone because you’ve always voted for that party, vote for people who are actually different, not those who just promise to be.

Our world is in crisis. Our perpetual growth economy has already pushed Earth beyond four of the nine planetary boundaries by which scientists determine the state of our planet. Our course needs adjusting, but how can we hope to accomplish that if we keep choosing the same drivers? Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results. By that standard, our drivers are nuts. The question now is are we happy to let them drive us off a cliff, or are we the people brave enough to take the wheel?

Links:

America’s election nigthmare: how voter ID, gerrymandering, & fundraising made us a laughing stock

Breaking: Denton, Texas, Hit with Lawsuits After Landslide Victory on Fracking Ban

Since the City of Denton Banned Fracking, Texas GOP Moves to Preempt Local Control

New Documentary Trailer Shows How Denton, Texas, Upstaged the Oil and Gas Industry

Clare TDs Asked to Support Fracking Ban

Planetary Boundaries: Gauging the Limits

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions, and no offence is intended to anyone.

 

 


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Adrift in the Orwellian Haze: Part II

(Image Source: cagle.com)

Our Rights: Of course you’re free…in theory

What exactly is freedom? What does the word mean to you? Most people would probably answer being able to make your own choices in life, live the way you desire, or some may ascribe it our right to choose our leaders and our laws via voting a in elections and referenda. Out of interest, I Googled the definition of freedom, and the first result stated it is “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants”. However, what caught my eye was the example of its usage given directly below: “We do have some freedom of choice”. Some being the operative word.

The video above is one I came across some time ago, and I will admit that upon watching it first, I found it slightly paranoid, or perhaps it was the analogy of the farm and cattle that put me off balance. Having re-watched it several times since, it has begun to make more sense to me. We do have certain liberties. We’re given little choices along the way that make us believe we are the primary directors of the course our life takes. However, that belief distracts us from the fact that we are merely following one lane on a pre-defined highway that has no turns and no exits. Our choices only allow us to change lanes, not get off the beaten path.

For instance, when I attended secondary school, I could choose a certain number of my subjects, but there was no choice over others, whether they interested me or not. I was then, along with others, exposed to the same information, the same standardized testing, and the same options determined by my results. As in “The Lie We Live”, our education system treats us like subjects in a clinical trial and in doing so stunts creativity and independent thinking. Quoting Spencer Cathcart, “…taught not to make a difference in this world, taught to be no different”. But then why would governments and corporations want thinkers, or activists, or idealists entering into politics and economics. The answer is, of course, they wouldn’t.

We serve a function in the current framework. We are not people. We are not individuals. We are a labour force, and we have certain freedoms only because it makes us more productive, not because anyone in power values us and our rights. People choose their education within a certain scope of options, as not everyone can strike out on their own and do what they’re really passionate about, and even such people get drawn back into the system by using their passion to support themselves. People choose their career based upon the results achieved through their “education”, though many are happy just to attain work in their field and often that career you worked so hard for is nothing more than a job. That job then determines everything else. Where we live, our standard of living, the car we drive, and where we send our children for education.

Then you will spend the majority of your adult life working for a life that you do not have time to live, because you work, you commute, you run errands, do chores, deal with the kids, and then you have to sleep. You work so you have an income for the twilight years of your life, so you don’t have to spend it subsisting on state benefits. Then, you die. Your children have replaced you on the hamster wheel that keeps on spinning and spinning. That is the highway, the whole length and breadth of it.

Of course, if you have the skills, the determination, or if wealth happens to fall into your lap, you can jump the barrier, and head off into the wilderness, literally. However, for the sake of argument, let’s say you have none of those things. Let’s say I tell you to hit the eject button and leave the monetary trap, leave the farm, go be a truly free cow rather than just another one of the cattle. Well, for starters, you can’t go where you want to go unless you plan to travel everywhere on foot. You could always thumb a lift, but anyone who’s tried that knows that it’s at best a hit-and-miss strategy. Then more fundamental questions raise their ugly heads. Where are you going to stay? What are you going to eat, or drink for that matter?

It all comes down to money, the tool of control. We get it in exchange for being effective cogs serving the machine. It allows us to buy the car that takes us to work to earn the money. It allows us to buy the house we hardly live in because we’re working to pay the mortgage on the house. It buys us all the consumerist items that advertisements pry us with that we also can’t enjoy to their fullest because we’re working for the money to get them. You can’t go out and find food and water for free unless, like I said, you run off into the wilderness and become a hunter-gatherer. Your options are that, submit to a system of wage slavery and life-consuming drudgery, or be homeless and depend upon the goodwill of others.

Is that freedom? Not being able to go where you want to go, do what you want with your time, or learn and experience the world as you see fit. To live a monotonous, scheduled, unsatisfying life all in exchange for paper that you simply use to perpetuate that same existence. No, it is not. You are not free to choose your own path if you are simply fearful of the consequences of that choice, if all options but one seem unviable.

We are so constrained, yet we are so occupied by the lives we lead that we don’t have time to consider it and even when we get a few moments to ourselves, we do not want to “waste” them pondering such things. We’d rather watch the latest soap drama to take our minds out of the reality of our lives, if only for an hour. However, sometimes we do not get a choice in the matter.

As is stated at the end of the video above, this system is unsustainable. Freedoms were given initially with the promise that they would make people more productive, and they did. However, what few freedoms and rights we possess, we grow attached to, and the more we’re given, the more we begin to open our minds and question the status quo. For example, people begin to doubt our political leaders intentions, and whether the officials we have chosen really have our best interests at heart. Now governments depend on how occupied we all are with work and home life to allow them to operate almost with impunity, because people just don’t have time to care about one bill being passed or another. However, the system is self-destructive, as it seeks to take back the freedoms it gave in order to keep the herd in check.

It is its own undoing.

More freedoms equal more productivity, but more freedoms lead to more freedoms, leading to questioning of the establishment, with a predictable backlash against freedoms from the establishment. An example is the C-51 anti-terrorism bill currently navigating through the Canadian legislature. It purports to only be aimed at dealing with the threat of terrorist acts and inciting terrorism, but the broad language of the bill means it could easily be turned upon Canadian citizens for simply practising their rights to freedom of expression. It opens up the door to oppressive domestic policing and violations of privacy, problems that are curiously becoming rampant in most Western nations where people are supposed to be freer than anywhere else.

In the end, we are expected to be well-conditioned components, carrying out a specific role in the system, and in exchange we get doled out the wage that allows us to continue functioning, and to continue performing our role, a role we believe we chose without any direction. Humans are not machines, however, or animals of burden. We are sentient, feeling creatures whose natural state is to be free, and I mean true freedom. Freedom from injustice, toil, and monetary dependence. We have the technological know-how to meet the basic needs of everyone for food, water, shelter, healthcare, and education. Yet the social advances we can make are limited by their “cost”, by political dallying, and corporate lobbying.

What can we do in the face of this machine that promises to grind us all down eventually? What can we do but burn down that highway until we meet our inevitable crash and other drivers then take up the race? We can choose to exercise the freedoms granted to us in whatever way we can. We can make our voices heard, even as those in power try to silence us with fear of what will happen if we withdraw our support for them. For freedom begets freedom. Having some will never be enough when we know we can have more. It is up to us to take what is rightfully ours, and demand real change.

Links:

Canadians Rally to Defend Their Freedom: A Day of Action to Stop Bill C-51

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions, and no offence is intended to anyone.


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Obama’s State of the Union, Reason to Be Hopeful about Climate Change?

(Image Source: Daily Kos)

The UK Met Office, NASA, NOAA, the Japanese Meteorological Agency, all have reported 2014 as officially the hottest year on record since 1880. 14 of the 15 hottest years on record have all occurred since the beginning of this century. The one year in the 20th century that still makes the top ten list is 1998, a year when a super El Nino hugely bumped up global temperatures and now that year is fourth behind 2005 and 2010, which were both weak El Nino years, and now 2014, a year in which we had no El Nino at all. That last fact alone should be alerting us as to where we’re headed, a hotter, more extreme world less hospitable to the human species.

The UK Met Office has even predicted the possibility of 2015 being warmer again than last year, dependent on whether El Nino develops or not. This back-to-back record warm years occurrence has happened before, most recently as it happens in 1997 and 1998 when El Nino supercharged the climate system, bringing much higher average temperatures right across the globe. After that, temperature increases, on land especially, slowed, which created the denialist argument that climate change had somehow stopped, coining the label, “The Pause”. It has since been determined that warming did indeed continue, just mostly in the deep oceans and in the polar regions were monitoring has less coverage. However, the denier community has yet to stop beating that dead horse.

However, a better analogue for the potential 2014/15 back-to-back warmest years scenario are the years 1980 and 1981 where both years were record warm without El Nino developing. These two years were the beginning of nearly two decades of intense warming, so is it possible that the current record warmth is a signal that the hiatus in warming is ending, and we are about to enter another intense warming phase? No one can say for certain. It’s possible the slowdown will continue for years more, or it may end in the coming year or two in drastic fashion.

One thing is certain, though. It will end.

Whether it be this year or in ten years, climate change will get back in to high gear at some point in the future. With carbon dioxide levels passing 400ppm and with other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide also rising, there is no way to avoid further heating of our climate system, especially given the insufficient action we’ve taken thus far to curb it. Indeed, we are beyond any halting or reversal of this process. The carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere will continue to warm the Earth for centuries to come. This throws into doubt whether we can even hold warming this century below the much touted two-degree Celsius threshold.

So, do we just pack it in and call it day? Of course not! However, the actions we’ve taken so far must be just the tip of the iceberg compared to what we do from here on out.

President Obama gave a rousing State of the Union address to Congress that could even be described as somewhat combative against an institution that has attempted to thwart his every move since he was first elected to the Oval Office. Specifically in the part where he discusses climate change, he poked fun at the Tea Partiers’ constant use of the “I’m not a scientist” cop-out when challenged on their stance on the matter. He also stated rather defiantly that “I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts…”. He also alluded to the deal he struck with China, saying that now that the world’s two largest economies have come to an agreement on lowering emissions that it has encouraged other countries to step up.

That may well be the case, and such efforts are to be applauded, but the world needs more from the US, China, and other major polluters than words. As the president stated in his address, we need to act forcefully if the damage inflicted by climate change is to be kept within tolerable bounds. So far, what we have done could less be described as forceful and more a gentle nudge in the right direction. In order to have just a fifty percent chance, one in two, of keeping warming below two degrees Celsius, we would need to peak emissions globally by 2020 and from there on out, decrease them by 9-10% a year. Are we going to peak emissions in five years? Unlikely. Are we going to thereafter lower them by a tenth every year? Even less probable.

So our odds of staying below the two degree threshold are probably going to be significantly less than fifty percent, but is that reason to resign ourselves to hopelessness?

I, for one, don’t think so.

Even under the current paradigm, we have the chance to do right by the planet and future generations. Maybe our political systems are too slow to act and too hampered by lobbying interests, but I believe that real change is going to come from us, not government. The US government, as a whole, has already proven it’s intransigence when faced with facts.The Republican Party especially has done everything from outright denial that the problem exists, denying humans cause it, to claiming it not to be within their purview to comment or act upon. President Obama imploded that last tactic by letting Congress know there are plenty of experts out there they can listen to in order to inform their decision-making.

Despite this, hours after the State of the Union, the Senate put forth a highly unpopular bill to block protections of new parks or historical sites after the president applauding his administration’s role in protecting more public lands than any before him. They voted 98-1 that climate change is not a hoax but subsequently refused to acknowledge humanity’s role in causing it. Then, the new environmental chair of the Senate, Senator James Inhofe, took to the floor to regurgitate a long list of much debunked climate denier talking points. In the US administration at least, it’s fair to say that climate realists are in the minority. Therefore, it’s up to us.

It’s nice that Obama supports climate action, and that he is willing to use his executive powers to forward his agenda. Still, the kind of action required of us would need every part of the US government co-operating and every country in the world doing the same. We’re not there yet on a governmental level. So while loud voices within government calling for action such as President Obama, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Sheldon Whitehouse is all well and good, it’s hard to take heart in it if their outcries are falling on deaf ears.

Individual action is what is needed, people everywhere demanding movement on the issue, demanding change.

This is possible. We change our own habits and make different choices to limit our carbon footprint, that is action. We speak out on social media, blogs, and other public forums, that is action. We march, we protest, we disobey (peacefully, of course), that is definitely action. Government action is slow partly because politicians require motivation in order to make hard decisions. Thousands upon thousands of people marching the streets can be that motivation, but sometimes even that is ignored. Therefore, our voices must be present everywhere. We must shout loud enough and long enough that we cannot be dismissed and if we are willing to make changes in our own lives and how we live, that sends a clear message to politicians and corporations that we are willing to step up, and now it’s their turn.

Links:

2014: Hottest Year in Recorded Human History

Two Degrees: Will we avoid dangerous climate change?

Even if emissions stop, carbon dioxide could warm Earth for centuries

Senate Votes 98-1 that ‘Climate Change Is Real And Not A Hoax’

New Senate Environmental Chair Gets His Gavel, Goes On A Rant Arguing Climate Science Is A Hoax

What would ‘wartime mobilization’ to fight climate change look like?

Report: Global Economies Must Decrease CO2 Emissions By 5 Times Current Levels

Hours After State Of The Union, Senate Targets National Parks

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions, and no offence is intended to anyone.