Good news, bad news, alarming news

Posted September 27th, 2008 in Blog, Featured 3 Comments »

Fostering Ecological Hope

Today from Margaret Swedish:

What an amazing week in this country — with more drama to come.  Won’t it be interesting to see what the markets do on Monday.  You feel the meltdown in the air, the comeuppance for these years of profligate spending and profit-making, all based on credit, meaning debt.

That’s been us — living on debt, historic debt, monumental debt, with ever-mounting interest attached.  We had to have things and houses and lifestyles beyond what we could afford — from the wealthy to those of modest means.  We were happy to be sold a bill of goods by shyster loan officers and financial advisors.

Not all of us, of course, but enough of us to bring the house of cards to the point of collapse.

Meanwhile, issues critical to the future of the planet were nearly buried in the onslaught of all that bad financial news.

Good news: It took a decade but the Great Lakes Compact finally became the law of the land.  What a great achievement, showing what can be done when the critical mass of citizens, grassroots organizations, and some political leaders come together in an important cause.  I live along Lake Michigan, so you imagine my relief in knowing that this magnificent body of water just outside won’t be drained to slake the thirst of greedy developers in Las Vegas.

Bad news: the Democracts capitulated (didn’t you just know they would?) and agreed to allow the off-shore oil drilling ban to lapse come the end of the month — 26 years in force, in four days no more.  Now it will take an act of the next Congress to do something to restore the ban or set new limits.  As of Oct. 1, there are no limits.

Now for the alarming news:  Yes, while all that Wall Street mess was unfolding, and while we all believe that this is the crisis of the hour, let me tell you about the real crisis of the moment, the one that will really alter all of our lives — and not in a good way.

The screaming Washington Post headline: Carbon Is Building Up in Atmosphere Faster than Predicted

And you thought the world was coming to an end because the credit markets are freezing up!

Here’s the deal, as reported in the Post: The rise in global carbon dioxide emissions last year outpaced international researchers’ most dire projections… What this means is that the the projections for the rise in global temperatures this century are headed for the upper range of what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change called “catastrophic” for the impacts on climate.

As reported here, …the IPCC has warned that an increase of between 3.2 and 9.7 degrees Fahrenheit could trigger massive environmental changes.  What pace are we on now?  11 degrees Fahrenheit!

11 degrees.

James Connaughton, chair of the currently oxymoronic White House Council on Environmental Quality, as usual, blames developing countries, like China and India, whose emissions are on a rapid upward trend.  Neither seems willing to take action that will curtail the fast-paced development that is taking many people out of poverty and into the world of production and consumption.

air pollution from China - Earth Observatory NASA

air pollution from China - Earth Observatory NASA

But the figures are misleading.  Yes, China passed the U.S. in total emissions in 2006, but on a per capita basis, they are not even close.  Check out these stats from the NY Times back in June: The United States still has a vast lead in carbon dioxide emissions per person. The average American is responsible for 19.4 tons. Average emissions per person in Russia are 11.8 tons; in the European Union, 8.6 tons; China, 5.1 tons; and India, 1.8 tons. You see, there is no moral equivalent to what we spew into the atmosphere.

Besides, as this article notes, U.S. emissions are also on the rise.

From the perspective of this project, which examines the moral and ethical, and the spiritual, dimensions of the crisis and our responsibility in the face of it, it is neither moral nor ethical to demand that these countries slow their growth in the face of our enormous and insatiable demands for fossil fuels.  It remains in our hands, the world’s biggest consumers, to take the lead in the curbing of greenhouse gas emissions, CO2 being only one of them.

What this study shows is that we are in trouble no matter what we do now.  But how deep the trouble will be, that is most surely up to us.

So while we worry about stock portfolios and retirement accounts and losing our overpriced houses and whether our credit cards will still work next week —  there is something far worse looming right out there in front of us.  You feel the meltdown in the air, the comeuppance for these years of profligate wasting, polluting, and contaminating the Earth.

Would that we would use the financial crisis as an opportunity to stop this crazy economics of growth, of endless consumption and waste, and begin to be honest and humble creatures of the Earth responsible not only to this generation but the ones to come after us.

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3 Responses

  1. Richard Pauli

    Margaret,

    Thanks for all that you do.

    We are disempowered, we keep an eye on the horizon and see the warming coming. We can speak truth and demand an end to denial, but we are a long way from significant action. The most fundamental thing we can control is our spiritual center. We can prepare ourselves for the privation ahead by knowing about it. I think of it as a slow moving hurricane like Katrina. Everyone was stunned by the unexpected death and destruction and the suffering that still remains. For the next hurricanes FEMA tried harder, and people sensed the importance of seeking safety preparing and plans to survive. The next hurricane will teach us more lessons.

    Global Climate Destabilization is kind of like a looming heat storm with no end. We have never seen this, we don’t know what to expect, we are not completely sure about all the catastrophes associated with this. But clearly our own actions have made it worse, and our actions can make it less destructive. All of human history has never seen such a storm Science gives us much of a general view but we don’t know exactly when, and we don’t know exactly how bad. But the heat is on the horizon.

    Humans will eventually know all this by feeling it directly. It is really hard for me to accept that our species is unable to act to the clear danger. It tests my acceptance, makes me angry that humans have not really decided to live into a multigenerational future. That is really sad. I expect people will feel these kinds of emotions more and more.

  2. Margaret

    Richard, we are numb. Or better, we have been numbed. It amazes me that I don’t sense that much anger out there, outrage, even as the economy sinks and we are being buried in debt. The world is in major upheaval, and we don’t feel it. I don’t know how we get past the numbness to get people to actually FEEL their lives again, feel what is happening to them. We are walking around in our isolated dazes, with our fears and anxieties, with earphones on and fingers wildly text messaging, playing video games and watching TV. We work harder than ever but don’t know just exactly what we are working for, what the meaning is. When we feel bad, many of us take medications.

    We can’t FEEL anymore. Biological beings, in order to know they are in danger, must be able to feel, to sense, in their bodies the threats and understand them correctly.

    It is why, while focusing on ecological hope, I like so many others, struggle with a certain resignation about our fate.

    Yes, the heat will come, upheavals will be many, which is why this project focuses on the question: what kind of human beings will we be as we go through the crisis?

    Thanks for posting.

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