Perhaps it was only a conicidence, but when news of the U.N. report on the dramatic increase in the number of species going extinct, I awoke to a barred owl in the woods around our home for the first time in months.
The "who-cooks-for-you'all" call isn't anything new, but its echoing sound seemed a reminder that this news hits closer to home than many of us realize. And that's nothing less than tragic.
Taken together with recent news of whales washing up on beaches -- perhaps their food has become scarce -- I'm reminded of those "Save the Humans" bumper stickers that showing up as an attempt at humor or one-upmanship years ago in response to an early "Save the Whales" campaign. "Save us All" would have been much more to the point, without the bumpers.
The prospect of 1 million plant and animal species threatened with extinction is, like much of the news about our world that we've been getting bombarded with these days, so overwhelming that we tend to move on to other, less threatening, things: anything and everything.
Consider, for example, the comprehensive Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services report's findings that :
* roughly 75 percent of the land-based environment and about 66 percent of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions, and that
* over a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75 percent of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production.
Meanwhile, land degradation has reduced the productivity of nearly a quarter of the global land surface, while an enormous portion of crops globally are at risk from pollinator loss, while 100-300 million people are at increased risk of floods and hurricanes because of loss of coastal habitat, and plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980.
Or more likely, switch the channel to ESPN or the Shopping Channel. Or, as we've come to expect from our government "leaders," deny and obfuscate.
An immediate reality check is imperative.
In our rush to have it all, we 7.8 billlion humans are destroying nature at an unprecedented rate, depleting land habitats and transforming marine ecosystems to existentialy threaten the lives of our children and grandchildren.
How do we contemplate this kind of catastrophe already in progress, much less act to prevent the threats from happening?
Tim Foresman, former U.N. chief environmtal scientist, called in to WBUR's "On Point" the day after the report was released to say, "I write children's books, and we're trying to engage them with this reality. But you realize this cloud that we're holding over their heads with reports like this, and there is no good news in that report. If you look at your children and tell them they're doomed, what do you think that's doing to their heads?"
Foresman, who helped write the UN's 2002 Global Environment Outlook report that outlined many of the same trends for the Global Summit for Sustainable Development, pointed to the term solastalgia. That's the the mental or existential distress caused by environmental damage, the psychic pain of climate disruption and the environmental destruction of the place we call home. It's exacerbated by a sense of powerlessness over the unfolding change.
We have the technical know-how to begin to halt and reverse the existential threats we've heaped on our planet, the new report's authors say. What we lack is the political will -- and seeingly the collective ability to grasp the damage we've done and what the implications are to our survival.
Not only are we destroying Earth's resources, with our release of climate-changing gases vastly accelerating the pace of the damage, but we are ensuring that our food supply, as well as the security and well-being of our own children's future, will be threatened.
"The big control for 7.5 billion people is the daily choices we make," Foresman said. "'What are we buying? What are we eating? Where do we live? How do we build our houses?' That's the only control that these children can work with. Because it is very dark, and I don't like to watch kids crying. So we try to get them excited about what they can do."
How then do we awaken one another to the reality we face, rather than deny or ignore scientific consensus? The sacrifices we're being called to make are absolutely real, yet the gluttonous desire by too many of us suggests there's a belief that we can escape the obvious, without regard for future generations.
Maybe Jeff Bezos believes he and his friends can climb aboard Blue Origin and outsmart Mother Nature to ensure their survival on the moom. Or maybe they've bought their way out of calamities before and they can continue to deny the obvious. But clearly, while the most disadvantaged in poor countries may face the most immediate threats, we're truly all interdependent: the plants, the animals and us.
“For a long time, people just thought of biodiversity as saving nature for its own sake,” Robert Watson, chair of the panel that conducted the assessment, told The New York Times. “But this report makes clear the links between biodiversity and nature and things like food security and clean water in both rich and poor countries.” Anyone who buys into the "every nation for itself" or "America first" mentality that flows from the competitive spirit of capitalism needs to wake up to that interdependency if there's to be any hope for survival.
That kind of wisdom, environmental author Barry Lopez told The Guardian, is to be found among the elders in traditional societies
“Something very big is going on the like of which we have never seen,” Lopez said. “I’m trying to see the bigger thing that operates independently from the idea of nation state, what’s going on that’s transcultural, and who are the people worth listening to in a culture like ours where we have pretty much destroyed the elders.”
“My supposition Is that we’re living in emergency times. In the west, we believe we are the most progressive and socially just, but a lot of that is just a hopeful illusion," HE ADDED. "The more time I spend in the middle of this the more do I see the profound difference between a headlong culture like ours, that is attracted to drugs, attracted to possessions and attracted to progress, that sets up artificial hierarchies – that culture is moving so fast there can be no deliberation. In traditional culture, there is no interest in progress – what you have is pretty good. The idea is to assess anything that threatens stability.”
Horizon is full of such observations, even questioning the idea of environmental restoration – a kind of fascism, he suggests, that attempts “to erase the horror of what you see before you. It’s like pacifying a child – just a way to make you feel OK.”
The 1982 film, Koyannisqatsi (the Hopi word for "Life Out of Balence") foretells the dire future we face by turning away from natural truths and forgetting that we as a species and nature are one.
Although it doesn't depict the extinction of plants and animals, it does convey cinemagraphically the "out of balance" state we're in on Planet Earth as humans. The animals, you might have been led to believe, have gotten off lucky, being left to blissfully enjoy their natural state.
"We are effectively undoing the beauty and the variety and the richness of the world which has taken tens of millions of years to reach," Sixth Extinction author Elizabeth Kolbert said on NPR. "We're sort of unraveling that. ... We're doing, it's often said, a massive experiment on the planet, and we really don't know what the end point is going to be."
If there's any hope it doesn't rest with the politicians who need to come to terms with reality, nor with businesses that truly are in charge here and could take a stand in their own financial self-interest. Nor even with the population at large, which is being called to make genuine sacrifices, nor apparently with faith leaders who should be pointing to the moral necessity of doing so.
The our only hope is in young people, following the example set by Greta Thunberg, to leading us in a global strike to shut down business as usual. 'As usual' can no longer be the way we live our lives.
We need to be woken from our sleepwalk if we, our future generations and all life on this planet, is to have any future at all.
Posted: to Richie's Almanac on Tue, May 7, 2019
Updated: Fri, May 10, 2019
Posted: to Poor Richie's Almanac on Fri, May 10, 2019
Updated: Sun, May 29, 2022