Back to work

Posted January 4th, 2010 in Blog, Featured 4 Comments »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

Okay, holidays over, back to work.  I know so many people reluctant to go back to their jobs and stresses, and that already says something about our world, right?

It’s tough out there.

I always hate being the purveyor of bad news, but I was really struck by a long article in the NY Times yesterday reporting that some 6 million people in the US are living off food stamps as their sole source of income – as in, no cash of any kind.  Food stamps. That’s it. 1.5 million of these people are children.

In a country where an athlete like Alex Rodriguez can make $25 million per year playing baseball and CEOs of financial institutions rake in tens of millions after bringing our financial system to the brink of collapse – leaving millions of people with foreclosed homes, without jobs, or going off to war on their behalf.

There is something so wrong with us.  Republican member of Congress John Linder of Georgia is quoted in the NYT article saying: “We’re at risk of creating an entire class of people, a subset of people, just comfortable getting by living off the government.”

Is this guy serious?  Oh, we have some pretty terrible heart problems in this country, an overdose of callousness.

Okay, to balance this, I will provide this link to another NY Times article which reports on a very encouraging trend – that many people are giving up excessive consumption and returning to ‘doing’ things, especially with their families – like reading books, camping, walks in the woods, etc.  Best of all, it looks like this trend is not only related to the economic crisis, but rather to a growing disgust with the consumer culture and what it has done to us, to our children, families, communities, friendships.  This is good news and we ought to do everything we can to encourage this trend.

Carbon dioxide historical record - Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Carbon dioxide historical record - Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Now, on Monday my local paper always has the weekly report from the website Earthweek, A Diary of the Planet. Today they had a look back at 2009 and a couple of the major stories of the year.  These are tough ones, indeed. Included among them, a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from a year ago indicating that even if we stopped all greenhouse gas emissions today, the atmosphere will continue to warm until the year 3,000. The problem is that the oceans are warming and will be releasing heat back into the atmosphere until they reach a new equilibrium. In other words, climate change is already irreversible, no going back to an old, familiar normal.

NOAA senior scientist Susan Solomon said:  “Our study convinced us that current choices regarding carbon dioxide emissions will have legacies that will irreversibly change the planet.” [see also this Washington Post article from January 2009]

Someone ought to be better preparing for this future – like maybe human beings. And it might behoove us to act pretty quickly to reverse the upward trend in GHG emissions, to do a sharp and rapid transition to a new economy, to keep this crisis from getting any worse.  No, instead, polls indicate a declining belief in this country that humans are causing global warming or that we need to change our lives in any way besides buying hybrid cars and recycling.

Crossing dangerous thresholds - Source: Nature and Grist

Crossing dangerous thresholds - Source: Nature and Grist

Then they also highlight the story from the journal Nature back in January 2009 – a new scientific study indicating that humans may already have passed some ‘biophysical boundaries’ that have allowed the Earth to ‘self-regulate.’ The report described these boundaries as limits within which the Earth must remain in order for these self-regulating systems (biodiversity, climate, etc.) to function, in order for the planet to have “a safe operating space for humanity.” Of the nine they define, we have already crossed three. In other words, we are already committed to a new planetary reality.

“Humanity may soon be approaching the boundaries for global freshwater use, change in land use, ocean acidification and interference with the global phosphorous cycle. Our analysis suggests that three of the Earth-system processes — climate change, rate of biodiversity loss and interference with the nitrogen cycle — have already transgressed their boundaries.”

What a great experiment this will be in human capacity for adaptation! Even among most environmental groups, I don’t see near the level of alarm that such news ought to inspire, do you?

So I need regular doses of hope. For that purpose, I am embedding here a wonderful 6-minute video, a must-see, a shout-out from the generation growing up into this rapidly changing world to all the adults that created this crisis and whose collective response continues to be insufficient to say the least.

If there are more people like this young women, Severn Suzuki, coming into our world, then bring ’em on! More than that, LISTEN to them, embrace them – give them as much reason for hope as they give us. This is a moral obligation.

The girl who silenced the world for 5 minutes…


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4 Responses

  1. hombredelatierra

    Richard Heinberg’s article deserves to read by all. He makes the strong case for building local resilience as the New Economy (Post Peak Oil) takes form around us.

  2. hombredelatierra

    Richard Heinberg (Post carbon Institute) interview: how to introduce Post Peak Oil into conversations. We need new economic indicators of human well being.

  3. Steve Salmony

    Dear Margaret,

    Thanks to you for being here just as you are and for all you are doing to protect life as we know it on Earth from huge human-induced threats. Surely you are probably correct about the formidable challenges to Earth’s body and its environs that are likely the result of human activities borne of stupidity, arrogance and greed. To be a species with such remarkable self-consciousness, intelligence and other splendid gifts and to do no better than we are doing now is a source of deep sadness and occasional outbreaks of passionate intensity (likely signifying nothing).

    Still I believe in remaining engaged with you in this necessary struggle for the future of life as we know it, a sacred struggle in which so many human beings with feet of clay have been involved for a lifetime. The first fifty years of my life were lived as if in a dream world, the profane one devised by the self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe among us. I had no awareness a single generation would elect sponsors of powerful, greed-mongering economic powerbrokers who would formulate policies and implement business plans that irreversibly degrade Earth’s environs, recklessly dissipate its limited resources, relentlessly diminish its biodiversity, destabilize its climate and threaten the very future of children everywhere. My failures include not realizing that I and my selfish generation were ravaging the Earth and effectively behaving in a way that could lead to the destruction of our planetary home as a fit place for habitation by the children (let alone coming generations). Even though it is discomforting and difficult to responsibly perform our duties to science and humanity, at least we can speak out loudly, clearly and often about these unfortunate circumstances and in the process educate one another as best we can. Like you, I do not have answers to forbidding questions related to the patently unsustainable ‘trajectory’ of human civilization in its present, colossally expansive form. Much more problematic, however, is the ruinous determination of many too many experts who have colluded to consciously obstruct open discussion of the best available scientific evidence of “what could somehow be real”. If what could be real about the human condition and the Earth we inhabit is not confronted with intellectual honesty and moral courage, how is the family of humanity to adapt to the practical requirements of “reality” in a reasonable, sensible, sustainable and timely way?

    An ecological wreckage of some unimaginable sort is likely to be the end result of experts choosing to remain willfully blind, hysterically deaf and electively mute rather than examining extant science of human population dynamics and the human overpopulation of Earth. This refusal to respond ably by acknowledging evidence and accepting responsibility for the distinctly human-driven global challenges that have emerged robustly and converged rapidly in our time could be one of the greatest mistakes in human history. After all, what mistake in history could be greater than the ones made in our time that lead humanity inadvertently to precipitate the demise of life as we know it and to put at risk a good enough future for the children?



  4. Margaret

    Steve – decades ago, we could say that we certainly did not intend the wreckage of the planet. Most would still say that is not their intention. But now we know better; now we must know better. If ignorance was an excuse before, it is no longer.

    It is very late. I believe we will learn by disaster; we will not learn in time to avoid some pretty terrible ecological events. But I also believe that many will learn in time for those disasters to be teachers, and to begin creating in the midst of crisis a way through the crisis to a new way of life.

    Thanks for your moving comment.