The century of disasters

Posted May 16th, 2011 in Blog, Featured 2 Comments »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

I didn’t make up that headline. I know I am often grim, but this one is not mine. However, it is about a story that backs up what I try to communicate in some of my speaking and writing and retreat work:

The world is changing. We have crowded the planet. We have created conditions for ongoing disasters. We have lived wrongly within the Earth and its eco-communities. We will pay a high price. We face some real challenges over the course of this century. How well we survive and with what quality of life depends on the decisions we make now. We have already run out of time to keep the changes and disasters from coming. They are here. But, again, how we live through them, what kind of human beings we decide to be as we face the consequences of our species’ presence here, that can still affect the outcome for humans and our fellow beings, that can still decide how bad things are going to get.

Then my niece sent me this article:

The Century of Disasters: Meltdowns. Floods. Tornadoes. Oil Spills. Grid Crashes.  Why disasters are becoming more frequent and what we can do about it, by Joel Achenbach.

Not cheerful reading. Not the kind that gets your day off to a high energy start as you sip your morning coffee. More like, staring at the wall with eyes glazed over trying to take it in.

In the same way that the 20th century was the century of world wars, genocide, and grinding ideological conflict, the 21st will be the century of natural disasters and technological crises and unholy combinations of the two. It’ll be the century when the things that we count on to go right will, for whatever reason, go wrong.

I know he’s right. This is not a stunning breakthrough in journalism, just a good summary of what the research (and our actual experience if we got off our computers and iPhones and back into our bodies) has been trying to tell us for some time now. We have already passed many tipping points, and we have recklessly attached ourselves to risky technologies for delivering many basic necessities (like our dependence on satellites for the delivery of electricity or communications with one another) even though there is a growing risk, therefore, of catastrophic breakdowns in the event of the inevitable failures to come (like the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, or the potential for a solar storm to disrupt our satellite communications).

Carbon emissions 800,000 year record. Source: US Global Change Research Program

We are beyond the Earth’s biocapacity – it can’t carry us as we are living now much longer; we have already changed climate and therefore weather patterns; we have already set melting of glaciers and ice sheets on a course that will cause sea levels to rise and inundate coasts; we have already set in motion a population rise that is not sustainable unless we scale down the human project drastically and stop an industrial process that is depleting all the natural resources we need for life – well, I could go on.

As I wrote last week, add the historic Mississippi River floods to the disasters list already this century, a perfect example of all that is wrong with how humans have tried to engineer the planet to suit us.

Just wanted to hang my head in despair with Obama’s announcement that the feds will speed up oil and gas drilling off our Atlantic Coast, the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska, caving in to political pressures, another sign that we as a political culture are incapable of responding appropriately to the mounting crises.

Humanity's ecological footprint - Global Footprint Network

Speaking of politics, let me add into the mix here what it means that our governments at the federal and state level are coming increasingly under the control of super-rich corporate plutocrats who are purchasing it right out from under us. Want to read something really scary? Maybe not, but it’s something you need to know – the extent to which David and Charles Koch and Koch Industries are becoming CEOs of the corporate power grab over all things government, and all the policy tools and resources we would need if we really wanted to make government responsive to all these current and looming threats.

You Thought the Koch Brothers Were Bad? Turns Out They’re Even Worse Than You Thought.

Okay, I’m just trying to be the messenger here. Democracy depends upon a well-informed citizenry, something we don’t have right now, not to the extent needed, that’s for sure. This stuff should be on the news every day; good journalists ought to be doggedly following this most crucial story of our times.  But mostly they won’t because the mainstream media is pretty much owned by them, too. And people might get very, very angry with them if they try to tell this most unpopular truth. ‘Dancing with the Stars’ is more fun anyway, right? and gives you something to talk about with your neighbors.

I swear, it feels that dysfunctional these days.

Where do I find gift and grace? Well, still there is friendship, family, play time with my goddaughter – and still, no matter how badly we have abused this most intimate lover of ours, there is still the Earth’s beauty. If we could just turn off all the noise and distractions and wake up again into what is most real, lasting, essential, we might find what we need to carve out a new path even as the old crumbles, even as we face disaster after disaster.

Photo: Margaret Swedish

Yesterday we had what can only be called a day and night long gale, a classic Lake Michigan gale. I braved it briefly in the afternoon, gusts up to 50 mph coming directly off the water. I let a tree give me just enough protection to hold my hand steady to take a couple of photos of the waves crashing over the breakwater.

It’s hard to describe the thrill of being on the shore during one of these gales – the deafening deep howl of the wind, the nearly constant crashes of waves that make the ground seem to tremble, the expanse of waves and white caps all the way to the horizon. Many others were out (most parked in their cars) and it always gives me some reassurance to know that there are folks who take time in their day to watch something like this.

I know that when our technology and industrial civilization faces all sorts of crises and collapses, these gales will still rise up; this lake will still roar at times like a wild animal full of fury, humbling us one more time, reminding us yet again that we are not in charge here.

I wish we learn this as the disasters mount; I wish we learn this lest the disasters become more than we can bear.

Photo: Margaret Swedish

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2 Responses

  1. D.Bheemeswar

    Not only there shall be natural disasters but also there shall be man made disasters. especially from egoistic people hose who feel they well above all this due to their position and power; already we have seen few of these outbursts, that is we have to face the mental problems of those who are helm of affairs. There shall also be more health related problems unknown to man kind so far. Only remedy is will power and meditation for health problems and political disasters only wait and see and hide & seek game.

  2. hombredelatierra

    http://www.montrealgazette.com/technology/Unprecedented+1999+Arctic+storm+called+portent+future/4794212/story.html

    What are Tipping Points? Here is a likely example. A monster storm surge in 1999 – possibly / probably linked to Global Warming may have tipped part of the McKenzie Delta ecosystem (Northern Canada)over into a “new trajectory”. Rather than recovering – as the ecosystems did after past storm surges – they died back and now appear headed along new, unpredictable pathways of species succession.. a “1 in more than 1,000 year” event..