Earth Day Hope

Earth is in trouble.  We all know that, and I don’t want to spend more than a few moments reminding ourselves of how and to what extent.  I want to dwell on the more hopeful news of the Great Turning that we are beginning to see in understanding, shifting beliefs, and innovation in policy and technology. I want to dwell primarily on what Kathleen Dean Moore calls the “Great Tide Rising” in her book of that title. But first. . . .

Around 1800 we began to create a heavy-handed, unsustainable, industrial-extraction civilization which led us to do four things that are driving us down the slippery slope toward the cliff, toward the chaos which will result from so damaging the ecological base of civilization that it will be followed by social collapse.

1:  Our population swarmed:  It took a million years to reach a billion about 1825. Then in the last 200 years it doubled four times to 2 billion, then 4 billion, and now nearly 8 billion.  There are too many of us taking too much.

2:  We are destroying habitat needed for the ecosystems that underlie and support civilization. We need to set aside half the world as wild.

3:  We have created tens of thousands of toxic chemicals that are depressing life—e.g. Roundup, DDT, PCBs, PFAS, et cetera ad nauseam, literally.  We’re killing the pollinators.  We are in the Sixth planetary extinction but this is one we have caused.  We are bleeding life from the planet.  Some areas have seen a 75 percent decline in insects in the last 30 years.

4:  We are rapidly altering the climate, leading to extreme heat, drought, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires, sea level rise and the acidification of the ocean that is killing off the base of the ocean food chain.  Picture Panama Beach, and Paradise California.  Fishing fleets coming home empty all over the world.  Picture a deserted Miami under water. Picture a world with a billion more people in it but a world in which food production has declined markedly due to floods, drought, and extreme heat killing the crops, Iowa as a desert, Phoenix at 130 degrees.  This is where we are headed.

            So why is there hope?  First, many people are becoming aware that we need to create civilization 2.0.  A new understanding is arising in all sorts of places.  I refer you to just a couple of books: Moore’s just mentioned, and Justice on Earth, The Uninhabitable Earth, The Shock of the Anthropocene, Eco-cities, The Transition town Handbook, This Changes Everything, and others.  Just Google these titles, or go to Amazon books and search for “environment” “climate,” “extinctions,” etc.  But get your local book store to order for you.

            Second, many organizations are rising to the challenge of doing just that, of halting the disasters of a fossil fuel based mega-civilization and creating the new relationship to nature.  It’s not just that the Old Line groups are revitalized: Sierra Club (See their on-line “Revelator”), Earthjustice, Greenpeace, Food and Water Watch, the Center for Biological Diversity, but that new organizations are developing as well, like the Sunrise Movement (a youth organization), Citizen’s Climate Lobby, Climate Parents, The Shift Network, etc.

            Third, vital political forces are arising, including the just mentioned Sunrise Movement and the world-wide wave of children’s school walkouts demanding action on climate.  The rise of political action by indigenous peoples, like the Indigenous Environmental Network and the Lumi peoples who have blocked a fossil fuel export port in the Pacific Northwest, the indigenous blockade of the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock,   the environmental justice movement in faith congregations, the Community Rights Movement and the general movement securing legal rights for rivers, lakes, and forests. Add in the excitement around the Green New Deal launched by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  Of course, the Old Guard elites who benefit from trashing the Earth are fighting back but it’s a rear-guard action by people who have no solution to the devastation they have caused, and it appears, no awareness either.

I don’t know if we are going to make the transition from Hypercivilization to Ecocivilization and even if we do, there are going to be losses along the way.  Nevertheless, this is a time of great ferment; at no time in the past fifty years has the possibility been this good.  We are living in dangerous but exciting times.  We are at last on the move.

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Asking the RIGHT QUESTION About The Environment

There are lots of right questions.  For example:

  • “How fast is the extinction rate proceeding?”
  • “Can the polar bears survive?
  • “How much CO2 is in the atmosphere now?”
  • “Why are so many toxic dumps sited by people of color?
  • “Who’s responsible for the pollution?”
  • “Are the coral reefs dying?”
  • “Why should anybody care of the insect populations are crashing?”
  • “How is the border wall damaging wildlife and biological diversity?”

 

And on and on.

 

These are perfectly good questions but they each give only a fragment of the whole picture. But what is THE RIGHT QUESTION?

 

If we are going to understand what’s happening, where we are in history of the Earth, and what to do about it, we need a much bigger question, a compound question that will help us ferret out what’s happening, how serious it is, who is responsible, who is harmed, and how it all interrelates or fits together. etc.  I suggest the following.  It’s not very elegant—won’t win any prizes for poetry, but here it is.

 

The Biosocial Question

Who determines what is done to nature, according to what beliefs and values, by whom, using what technologies at what rates, with what impacts on the planet and on society, and with what costs and benefits for whom?

 

What a mouthful!  But this analytical tool will reveal the state of the planet and civilization, showing us where we have gone wrong, who’s responsible, what we’ve done right and what we need to do now to avoid the impending collision between humanity and nature.  In short, we need a systems analysis approach since we are dealing with highly complex and interrelated biological, physical and social systems.  Put more simply, this ugly construction will tell us who we are, where we are, how we got here, and how to get out of here.

Biodiversity Loss–Threat To Civilization

Scientists are warning us of a hidden threat to civilization, the loss of biodiversity.  This threat is as big a climate deterioration.

The staggering loss of biodiversity in the last 4 decades is an equal threat to our survival. Since 1970, we have wiped out 60 percent of animal populations on the planet. Insect populations in German nature preserves have declined by 75 percent since 1970. The UN biodiversity office predicts that “By 2050, Africa is expected to lose 50% of its birds and mammals, and Asian fisheries to completely collapse.”

These losses are caused by primarily by habitat destruction (for example: clearing biodiverse forests for palm oil plantations), chemical pollution, infrastructure that injures and kills wildlife (glass skyscrapers, electric fences), and invasive species.  We are bleeding life from the planet and it is going unnoticed.  We are in the midst of the biggest extinction crisis since the disappearance of the dinosaurs millions of years ago.

Well, so what?  What’s the loss of some insect species to me, or some rare bird I will never see anyway?

Here’s what.  The web of life that supports us provides us food, oxygen, drinkable water, fiber for clothing, medicines, and building materials.  It is like a string hammock in which we lie.  We are rapidly cutting the strings. Beneath that hammock lies chaos and anarchy.  Stable social systems require stable ecosystems. Ecosystem stability comes from many species interacting, but ecosystems are collapsing all over the world.  Most of us live in cities and don’t see it, and the media and governments don’t have a clue either.  The UN points out that “The loss of plants and sea life will reduce the Earth’s ability to absorb carbon, creating a vicious cycle.”

World leadership must very quickly act to establish goals for habitat protection, reducing chemical pollution and preventing the spread of invasive species before it is too late, because once gone is gone forever.

While we should be alarmed, we should not be paralyzed.  “The UN Convention on Biological Diversity – the world body responsible for maintaining the natural life support systems on which humanity depends – will meet in Egypt this month to start discussions on a new framework for managing the world’s ecosystems and wildlife.  This will kick off two years of frenetic negotiations which must culminate in an ambitious new global deal, comparable to the Paris Climate Agreement, at the next conference in Beijing in 2020.

The U.S. is the only nation that has refused to ratify the Convention on Biological Diversity.  We need to lobby the federal government to join the rest of the world.  And there is also much we can do at our homes and local community level to preserve and create habitat where we live.  Every little bit of pollinator habitat helps, every little bit of forest or wild grassland saved makes a difference.  Without biodiversity, civilization is imperiled.