Wade Davis Defends the Indigenous

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I’m a big fan of history, authentic history that’s unshackled from bias. I like knowing what really happened, when and how, and the lessons we can draw from history, lest we repeat its follies. Sometimes, though, history is like lining up for my morning cod liver oil as a child, good for me, but awful tasting stuff I want desperately to spit out, especially when learning of our continuing abuse of indigenous people, not only in America, but worldwide.

In North America, where I live, our crimes against native peoples comprise an unparalleled holocaust even by WWII’s blood-curdling horror show of 10 million Jews, Slavs, and Roma slaughtered in Nazi death camps. It began even before the notorious Indian Removal Act (1830), ordering Indians east of the Mississippi to move westward. Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence decries the Indians as “savages.”

Just how many indigenous people lived in North America, not including Mexico and Central America, prior to 1492, is a calculated estimate at best. The consensus, however, led by scholars Russell Thornton and David Stannard, poses a reasonable estimate of 7 million, with 75 million in the Western Hemisphere at large (see Russell Thornton, American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History since 1492, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987; David E. Stannard, American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992). 

Thornton thinks that of some 5 million indigenous peoples within today’s continental United States, the vast majority were decimated by disease, starvation, forced labor, relocation, alcoholism, declining birthrates, and genocide. By 1900, that number had dwindled to 250,000. Of the 75 million indigenous in the Western Hemisphere, an estimated 70 million have perished consequent with European colonization since 1492.

Anthropologist explorer and advocate of indigenous interests, Wade Davis, wrote a definitive account of their plight, worldwide, in his 2001 book, Light at the Edge of the World: a Journey Through the Realm of Vanishing Cultures. It navigates, in particular, the pressures of modern civilization on ancient ways of life, harboring unique wisdom acquired over thousands of years of living in close contact with the natural world.

Wade explores several cultures, among them, Borneo’s Penan, northern Kenya’s pastoral nomads, and, tragically, the fate of Tibet and the coerced extinction of an ancient way of life. His book concludes with a model of hope in Canada’s designated vast homeland for the Inuit, Nunavut.

Passionate and eloquent, Wade delivers a salient polemic for doing everything we can to preserve these ancient cultures with their unique ways of imagining the human experience.

In our ethnocentrism, we may dismiss these cultures devoid of modern amenities as anachronisms, their loss of no consequence, perhaps even desirable: cessation of inter-tribal violence, improved health, social equity, education and employment options, etc.

Wade argues persuasively that when these unique societies fade, their former constituents most frequently find themselves adrift, subject to discrimination and poverty. He gives many examples such as the sad aftermath of the 1956 evangelical missionary intrusion of the Waorani, or Auca, habitat in remote Ecuador, its culture vanquished and displaced tribespeople reduced to menial labor in a modern landscape.

Space is crucial in positing who we are. When lost or compromised, we become adrift, flotsam in a larger current, severed from what conferred identity. This has also been the fate of Native Americans at large.

Spatial encroachment seems everywhere now, accelerated by corporate interests, technology, and human indifference. 98.9% of historical indigenous lands in North America have been lost since 1492 (environment.yale.edu). It continues unabated worldwide: Central America, the Amazon forest, Africa, where logging, mining, dam construction, oil drilling, pipe line installation and agribusiness, the foremost instigator, exact their toll upon historically indigenous land.

An estimated 370 million indigenous live in 90 countries and are notoriously abused. They exist as 5,000 distinct peoples, speaking 4,000 languages. 70% percent of the indigenous live in Asia.

Did you know that indigenous life expectancy is 20 years less than the rest of us? Or that comprising five percent of the world’s population, they’re 15% of the world’s impoverished?

We do a lot of talking about climate change, but how many of us realize the environment’s greatest defenders are the indigenous?

Occupying 25% of the world’s surface, they are guardians of “80% of its remaining biodiversity and 40 per cent of all terrestrial protected areas and ecologically intact landscapes” (Amnesty International).

20% of the world’s tropical carbon forest is stored in indigenous lands: the Amazon, Central America, Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (worldbank.org).

What’s more, their demise poses a visceral loss to all of us in the forfeiture of a unique diversity, reducing the world to a “monochromatic world of monotony,” Wade writes.

Tragically, in the last fifty years we have witnessed not only the loss of 1 million species of inestimable value to the biosphere upon which our existence depends, but the uniqueness and wisdom of cultures from which we can learn much to ameliorate our own. The parallel fate of these cultures, despite the UN’s passage of the Indigenous Bill of Rights, poses one of the urgent issues of our time.

Worldwide, some 300 million people, roughly 5 per cent of the global population, still retain a strong identity as members of an indigenous culture, rooted in history and language, attached by myth an memory to a particular place on the planet. Though their populations are small, these cultures account for 60 per cent of the world’s languages and collectively represent over half of the intellectual legacy of humanity. Yet, increasingly, their voices are being silenced, their unique visions of life itself lost in a whirlwind of change and conflict.

Wade argues that the loss of language diversity, in particular, underscores the accelerating demise of ethnosphere diversity through loss of habitat, acculturation and assimilation:

Of the more than two thousand languages in New Guinea, five hundred are each spoken by fewer than five hundred people. Of the 175 Native languages still alive in the United States, 55 are spoken by fewer than ten individuals.

….each language is, in itself, an entire ecosystem of ideas. and intuitions, a watershed of thought, an old-growth forest of the mind. Each is a window into a world, a monument to the culture that gave it birth, and whose spirit it expresses.

I’m very receptive to Wade. I’ve long been a student of culture. Wade’s book continues that interest and I recommend it, and all his books, as a collective, informed defense of the right of indigenous communities to a way of life, often superior to our own; the interplay of gathered insight through intimacy with Nature in its many vicissitudes.

I believe strongly in the gifts diversity confers, every culture a contributing chapter in the human narrative. Any diminishment of the ethnosphere consequent with cultural leveling alarms me. I believe it constitutes cultural genocide, whether by intent or omission.

Climate change is today’s most ardent threat to indigenous peoples, their ecosystems, upon which they depend for subsistence, vanishing rapidly as increasing temperatures; a greater suspectability to illness via vector borne and water borne diseases; drought; forest fires; and desertification exponentially occur.

In Northern climes, the Inuit, for example, are now facing a potential hunger crisis consequent with melting glaciers, rising seas, and diminished wildlife; on tropical islands, storms of increasing velocity occurrence and rising seas menace as never before.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees informs us that there presently exist 37 million climate refugees, a disproportionate 15% of whom are indigenous peoples.

I find this an unfolding tragedy. Indigenous tribes have been stalwart stewards of the biosphere from whom we can learn, but conversely set upon by agriculture expansion, logging, and mining interests. Activists have been murdered, most recently, journalist Dom Philips and indigenous advocate, Bruno Pereira in Brazil. Pereira had been investigating criminal activity within the Amazonian indigenous reserve of the Javari Valley. Philips was there to document.

In 2020, Frontline Defenders reported that at least 331 human rights activists, mostly in Central and South America were murdered, 69% of whom were defending indigenous lands. Between 2017 and 2020, 25% of those murdered were indigenous, who comprise only 5% of the world’s population. In 2021, a known 33 indigenous people were killed.

As I write, photos of many of indigenous victims lie before me, a good number of them women along with their children. I can give you country by country analysis of the continuing bloodbath, with governments such as Brazil’s Bolsonaro indifferent to the crisis and the perpetrators remaining free.

Unfortunately, the indigenous often live in areas most vulnerable to climate change: the Arctic’s Inuit, Scandinavia’s Swami, the Amazon’s Yanomami, for example. Thus, their ardent defense of their diminishing environment made worse by exploiters.

Their demise poses an incalculable loss for all of us. Wade, with his typical acuity, summarizes its meaning well:

The ultimate tragedy is not that archaic societies are disappearing but rather that vibrant, dynamic, living cultures and languages are being forced out of existence. At risk is a vast archive of knowledge and expertise, a catalogue of the imagination, an oral and written literature composed of the memories of countless elders and healers, warriors, farmers, fishermen, midwives, poets and saints. In short, the artistic, intellectual and spiritual expression of the full complexity and diversity of the human experience.

Indigenous People’s Day will be observed October 10, 2022 in the U.S. in 26 states as part of a growing movement to replace the traditional Columbus Day.  For me, it’s everyday I remember them, Earth’s guardians, beleaguered and increasingly vanishing along with their sacred habitat. They need your help.

—rj

One Mistake at a Time: Our War on Nature

The  only biodiversity we’re going to have left is Coke versus Pepsi. We’re landscaping the whole world one stupid mistake at a time. —Chuck Palahnuk, Lullaby

The year is 2060. You are gone, but your grandchild reads to her children from a book filled with drawings of creatures once abundant and a source of wonder, now the stuff of children’s story books, only not of some fearsome Tyrannosaurus Rex, Megalodon, or Woolly Mammoth, but of elephants, giraffes, lions, tigers, rhinos, whales and monarch butterflies, now vanquished, never to grace our earth again.

Distressingly, largely due to the exponential increase in the human footprint, this is our grandchildren’s bleak future. No more condors, manatees; no more of our closest relatives, chimpanzees, orangutans, and mountain gorillas, natural selection’s vast repertoire of unique, splendid entities reaching back several million years, thoughtlessly extinguished by Homo sapiens.

Apart from the scientific community, the public appears largely unaware, perhaps even indifferent, to this unprecedented threat to species loss and the risks it imposes for its own welfare. This extends to climate change, largely human induced. A current PEW poll reveals only 41% of Americans regard it as a priority issue.

As to how many species exist, whether flora or fauna, we don’t really know. New species are continually being discovered, while others have recently become extinct or face extinction. What we do know is that many species have gone extinct even before their discovery. An estimated million others are likely to go extinct in the next several decades.

This leaves us in a quandary: do we attempt to preserve existing species for future generations or do we simply resort to preserving those serving immediate human interests? Unfortunately, our present trending indicates the latter with species everywhere in free fall.

A useful acronym for the specifics governing this decline is HIPPO: habitat loss, invasive species, pollution, population growth, over exploitation:

Habitat: Three quarters of the earth’s terrestrial environment has been altered by human activity; 66% of the marine environment.

Invasive species: Since 1970, invasive, alien species have increased 70% across 21 countries.

Pollution: 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge among other wastes from industrial facilities have been dumped into the world’s waters.

Population growth: The world’s population averaged an annual 1.7 increase between 1950 (2.5 billion) and 2010 (6.9 billion). In 2022, world population has reached 7. 6 billion. (Pew Research). While the growth rate has generally been plummeting, not so in Africa, averaging an annual 2.54 increase. By 2050, Nigeria will overtake the U.S. in population (The Economist); 800 million by 2300 (qz.com).

Over-exploitation: In 1930, an estimated 10 million elephants roamed Africa. Currently, that number has dwindled to 416,000, largely due to poaching and conflict (World Wildlife Federation). On the high seas, factory ships are removing fish faster than they can be replenished. Japan continues to hunt whales. Sharks are killed in the thousands for their fins (fin soup a Chinese delicacy), their carcasses thrown into the sea. Chimpanzees, our closest relatives, hunted for meat and increasingly suffering habitat loss, are now a threatened species.

Climate change needs to be added, giving us HIPPCO. It ranks second to habitat loss in imperiling biodiversity. Largely due to climate change, we are losing our polar bears, just 31,000 remaining; coral reefs with their independent ecosystem, nourishing myriad aquatic life, are dying as the sea warms and storm intensity and frequency increase. The speed of heat increase due to reliance on fossil fuels over the last 100 years now exceeds that of the previous 10,000 years.

Extinction isn’t new to earth’s history. Geologists have noted five principal occurrences, the most famous that of 65 million years ago, when a 12 kilometer wide asteroid crashed into the Yucatan, leaving a crater 10 kilometers deep and 180 kilometers wide, killing 70% of the earth species, including the dinosaurs, ending the Mesozoic Era, or Age of Reptiles, and ushering in the Cenozoic Era and the rise of mammals after 10 million years of evolution.

Humans came late on the scene. In the 1980s, aquatic biologist Eugene Stoermer coined the term Anthropocene to depict a new epoch, human dominated. In this epoch, the Earth faces a new menace, wrought not by an asteroid, but by Man. The massive extinction of this human-centered epoch has been popularized as the Sixth Extinction.

The fundamental source of our dilemma is our disconnect from nature. We have fostered Nature as something apart from ourselves. It exists, but it’s outside ourselves, an entity to be exploited for human needs.

The truth is we exist as constituents of a vast biosphere complex of interrelated life forms dependent on one another for well-being. Remove an element of this web and you potentially unleash a house of cards scenario of collapse.

Take, for example, the chestnut tree dominating the forests of Eastern North America before European settlement. Tall, fast growing, numbering an estimated four billion, their canopy housed millions of birds and their nuts provided food for many birds, insects and mammals. Then came the Asian pathogen fungus Cryphonectria parasitica of the early 20th century. With the loss of these magnificent trees came the demise of caterpillars metamorphosing into moth pollinators, along with the plunge into oblivion of the once prodigious passenger pigeon.

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In our earth’s nearly 4 billion year history, we estimate that of the 4 billion species evolved by nature, 99% are extinct. But such extinctions resulted from natural antecedents apart from human causation. Increasingly, Man has become the arbiter of species decline, not evolution or cyclic climate change, or asteroid collision. In the last 500 years, 900 species have gone extinct and the pace quickens.

Currently, 35,000 species face extinction risk, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species:

Among these, 1 in 7 bird species.

A quarter of the world’s mammals

40% of amphibians

34% of conifers

37% of sharks and rays

21% of reptiles

33% of reef corals

It gets worse than that. The latest UN IPBES Global Assessment report (2019) forecasts more than a million species are likely to go extinct in coming decades.

The biosphere, which includes ourselves, is Nature’s survival gift, complex and delicate, requiring balance of its constituents.  Safe-guarding it is crucial and its benefits not to be taken for granted. Healthy Plants convert the sun’s energy, making it available for other life forms. Bacteria and other living organisms convert organic matter into nutrients enriching the soil. Pollinators are essential to food production. Plants and oceans act as major carbon sinks.  Did you know that of the 50,000 known medicinal plants, up to a fifth face extinction from deforestation? Or that approximately 120 drugs derived from rainforest plants are used to treat cancer, leukaemia malaria, heart diseases, bronchitis, rheumatism, diabetes, arthritis or tuberculosis? 

As the late eminent biologist E. O. Wilson pleads in his compelling Half Earth,

The biosphere does not belong to us; we belong to it. The organisms that surround us in such beautiful profusion are the product of 3.8 billion years of evolution by natural selection. We are one of its present-day products, having arrived as a fortunate species of Old World primates. And it happened only a geological eyeblink ago. Our physiology and our minds are adapted for life in the biosphere, which we have only begun to understand. We are now able to protect the rest of life, but instead we remain recklessly prone to destroy and replace a large part of it.

Our Earth has taken ill and we are its cause. Paradoxically, we must be its healer.

—rj

 

 

 

Everything’s on Fire: Devastation in Argentina’s Paraná River Delta

We’ve been hearing a lot about recent fires rampaging California, the “new normal” as they now call it. But the new normal is actually worldwide.

Just now, only because I read in Spanish daily, did I become aware of the widespread fires sweeping vast areas in South America that dwarf what’s been happening in California.

While most of you know about the Amazon fires in Brazil, I’ll venture only a few of you know about the vast Paraná delta wetlands of Argentina. In fact, I hadn’t previously heard of the Paraná, South America’s second longest river after the Amazon and eighth longest in the world.

As I write, multiple fires that began seven months ago continue to ravage this eco-sensitive marshland landscape, home to unique plant and animal life, with the smoke so intense it threatens the health of population centers like Rosario and Buenas Aires

Sadly, farmers and ranchers in the river’s Brazil basin have contributed to the fire menace and made things worse, lighting fires to clear land.

In Argentina, ganaderos, or ranchers, follow their example, annually igniting fires to regenerate grazing land and, so far, there isn’t any law to stop them in this country of heavy meat consumption and export.

Some have speculated arson by real estate speculators may be a contributory cause for this year’s fires. The land can be sold for real estate once the trees are gone. Two men have been charged with arson so far.

When rain does comes, it’s only in brief showers unable to penetrate the hardened, parched earth. While Environment Minister Juan Cabandié has openly accused ranchers of causing the fires, they deny it, arguing it isn’t in their interest and blaming the government for neglect instead.

As is, some 11,000 fires detected this year have razed an estimated 540 square kilometers of marshland, or three times the size of Buenas Aires.

Concurrently, the Argentine government is sponsoring a wetlands protection bill to protect the delta, but it must be approved by the Congress. As is, it lacks teeth. It doesn’t prohibit ranchers and farmers from their yearly ritual of burning grazing land.

Long term weather projections show little rain likely to occur. Meanwhile, some 750 unique animal species of the delta, already diminished by both climate change and humans, face imminent extinction.

–rj

 

Business as Usual: Lockdown Unenforced

Protestors in Texas

As experts have warned and a rogue president, prioritizing reelection, has ignored, recharging the economy when Covid-19 continues to ravage has exacted a surge in the pandemic’s victims, with a new wave anticipated this fall.

But Americans are its lead cause, a spoiled populace ignoring the laws governing exit from the crisis, wearing a mask in public, practicing social distancing, limiting unnecessary activity. Fifty states, each with its own governance, unequal to enforcing these mandates of public safety, subservient to economic interests, fuel our crisis. Shamefully, we lead the world in the pandemic’s victims.

Meanwhile, climate change exacts its continuing world toll. We tied the record in May for the highest monthly average on record; investment in renewable energy has plummeted; in the next five years, five-hundred species will disappear as humanity continues its assault on Nature, despoiling fauna and flora in a greedy rush for profit. Worse is the meat industry, a virus hotspot, progenitor of the pandemic, not just now, but historically in its previously related strains.

As I write, the Amazon forest continues to burn to make room for cattle ranches, environmentalists have been killed or discredited, indigenous tribes decimated. In Croatia, yesterday, 50 million bees died, suspected victims of pesticides. You think it only happens abroad? It’s happening here. Last year in Texas, someone deliberately set fire to beehives, killing 500,000 bees. Almonds, a prime contributor to California’s agricultural sector, may soon devolve into memory.

Where do we go from here? For the sake of the present we are ravaging our children’s future. I think anew of poet Robinson Jeffers’ credo of “inhumanism,” a summons to abandon a plethora of mass murder and commodification, to simplify our lives, to embrace with stoic discipline those values that both uplift and secure our children’s destiny.

—rjoly

Is Anybody Listening? Voter Apathy on Climate Change

American media should be ashamed! Here we are, facing an unparalleled survival crisis, yet the absence of climate change from Thursday’s Democrat debate. (No opportunity for discussing the Green New Deal.) Then there is the apathy of many Americans. Three recent state voter surveys sadly show the absence of climate change as a top five issue for prospective voters. Meanwhile, the Trump assault on environment continues, with the Arctic opened this week to new oil exploitation, even as the world burns and the Arctic melts. I leave you this recent op-ed excerpt from Naomi Klein, one of our foremost writers on the subject: rj

“Wherever in the world they live, this generation has something in common: they are the first for whom climate disruption on a planetary scale is not a future threat, but a lived reality. Oceans are warming 40% faster than the United Nations predicted five years ago. And a sweeping study on the state of the Arctic, published in April 2019 in Environmental Research Letters and led by the renowned glaciologist Jason Box, found that ice in various forms is melting so rapidly that the ‘Arctic biophysical system is now clearly trending away from its 20th-century state and into an unprecedented state, with implications not only within but also beyond the Arctic.’ In May 2019, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services published a report about the startling loss of wildlife around the world, warning that a million species of animals and plants are at risk of extinction. ‘The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever,’ said the chair, Robert Watson. ‘We are eroding the very foundations of economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide. We have lost time. We must act now.´”

–rj

Coming to Our Senses

Image result for amphibiansindangerDo you remember any of those asteroid disaster movies? Depending on how you do the counting, there were at least seven of these goosebump films, assuring you nightly bouts with insomnia. One of my favorites has to be Meteor (1979), staring Sean Connery. That ominous prelude:

Its power is greater than all hydrogen bombs. Its speed is higher than any rocket ever conceived. Its force can shatter continents. Its mass can level mountain ranges. It cannot think. It cannot reason. IT CANNOT CHANGE ITS COURSE.

In the movie, the danger was sufficient that both the United States and Soviet Union suspended their cold war animosity to mutually merge efforts to ward off an impending doomsday scenario.

Today, Earth faces an apocalyptic fate all too real, fostered not by a fast approaching asteroid straight out of science fiction, but largely of our own making in real time: climate change.

It’s difficult to believe that there are skeptics about something seemingly so obvious and menacing like climate change. A bit like believing the earth is flat. Several months ago, I actually had my barber tell me the earth was flat and I nearly fell out of the chair!

Between May 23 and May 26, or just a few days from now, elections for the European Parliament will take place. As a prelude, the German populist party, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), hopes to augment its appeal by stridently dismissing human caused climate change as Klimawandelpanik (climate change panic). They are backed by the European Institute of Climate and Energy (EICK), a consortium of conservative scientists, with links to their counterparts in the United States.

In America, we of course have Donald Trump leading the anti-climate change brigade. Additionally, there are entities like the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow and the Heartland Institute, the latter funded by fossil fuel interests.

They argue that human induced climate change is simply an unsettled matter, with no definitive science resolving the issue. To buttress their claims they like to draw on the The Petition Project that presents 31,000 signatories from the science community, supporting the conclusion that “there is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth´s atmosphere” (Petition Project).

In rebuttal, co-authored consensus studies of climate change by seven eminent scientists averaged a 97% probability of human causation (John Cook, et al). I should point out that far more than seven scientists have underscored the human factor. What happens is that when research establishes probability, scientists move on. Why belabor the obvious?

And then there’s the science of climatology, which exceeds meteorology, the latter fairly reliable for short term forecasts we’re accustomed to getting daily on our TVs or smart phones. Climatologists, in contrast to meterologists, can pickup likely long term weather patterns; let’s say, for example, fifty years into the future through applied physics, computer models, and statistical analysis. Overwhelmingly, given the current projections of rising atmospheric temperatures, the future weather landscape poses survival implications for a vastly changed earth.

Even when we humans accept climate change as a reality (very true these days in Europe), we’re wired through evolution to take stock of palpable, more immediate threats such as job loss, divorce, a declining economy, or possible physical danger such as a street mugging, not abstract, long-range scenarios. It doesn’t affect me now, so why bother?

We judge weather short-term through memory and emotion, not seeing developing long term patterns. Climate change thus poses a peculiar, subtle kind of threat, silent, ubiquitous, insidious, and unrelenting.

In the meantime, we know that climate change is accelerating with devastating consequences and that we are its seminal source. We’ve had several recent United Nation reports on the imperiled status of the Earth, but now comes its sobering May 6, 2019 findings:

1. One million of some 8 million plant and animal species are on the verge of extinction. Flora and fauna that form vital components of an ecological complex vital to our survival should be as imperative a priority as climate change. 66% of marine life and 75% of land environments have been “severely altered,” according to the report. Ten percent of insects, 40% of amphibians, 33% of marine mammals, and a third of reef-forming corals face extinction.

2. The impact of human population growth with its fossil fuel dependence,, urban growth, deforestation, expanding agriculture, excessive meat eating, ruthless plundering of exotic species, along with pollution, drives climate change and species extinction.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump has taken America out of the Paris Treaty, which at least attempted to set goals for diminishing carbon release into the atmosphere, and surrounded himself with lackeys denying climate change.

Concurrently, the Arctic and Antarctica continue their meltdown, the seas keep rising, and submerged coasts proliferate. Our oceans, covering 71% of the earth’s surface, grow polluted with human contaminants, much of it plastics. Alarmingly, water temperatures are rising, imperiling the Gulf Stream and Humboldt current on which much of Europe and the United States depend as moderating influences on climate.

Forest fires and drought have become common calendar features, not only in California, but globally. Heat waves scorch Siberia, while record floods inundate Midwest farmlands and hurricanes intensify and become more frequent.

Unfortunately, the seeds of our demise are primarily fueled by market economies with their dependency on growth, leading to still further decimation, not only of Nature, but from the economic inequity that results. Oxfam tells us that in 2016 the wealthiest 62 people owned half as much as the world’s poorest people.

Desperate people worry about their immediate needs, not nature. They farm animal sanctuaries, log and burn forest to expand grazing and plant palm plantations, fish the seas to exhaustion, poach elephants, rhinos and other game.

Alarmingly, a current 2019 Pew Research Center poll shows climate change hovering next to last place as a bottom priority with the economy, health care costs, and education taking the top tiers ([https://www.people-press.org/2019/01/24/publics-2019-priorities-economy-health-care-education-and-security-all-near-top-of-list/]

In America, some twenty Democrats have announced their candidacy for the presidency, yet only two as of this writing have a defined strategy for combating climate change! The leading candidate, Joe Biden, still finds a place for coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy. He seems not to have heard of the Green New Deal (GND), our best shot yet at slowing both climate change and eliminating the income disparity emanating from an exploitive economy dependent on fossil fuels.

I worry about my grandchildren. What kind of a world are we about to bequeath them?

If we can’t come to our senses, give-up our selfish behavior, change our priorities, persist in denying the seriousness of climate change and our complicity, then we are indeed in trouble, the quality of life itself profoundly diminished, if not imperiled.

As Mark Twain memorably put it, “Better to build dams than wait for a flood to come to its senses.”

–R. Joly

Expanding the energy portfolio: Utilities awaken

coalEvery month our local power cooperstive, Blue Grass Energy, sends us its superbly put together magazine, Kentucky Living, filled with helpful tips on home maintenance, gardening, recipes, recommended books, regional activities, events, etc.

With all its feel good staples, it’s easy to lose sight of its primary purpose as a public relations gimmick to elicit the public’s support. Your power company is on your side, helping you enjoy the good life, offering some of the lowest energy costs in the nation, largely through the state’s substantial coal reserves.

Its editorials, however, consistently make clear that this good life is under a black cloud via the EPA’s increasingly heavy hand, encouraged by Obama’s executive decisions restricting power plant emissions at heavy local cost and marginalization of its coal resources. In its use of coal as their primary energy source, states like Kentucky, not wealthy by any yardstick, will bear a larger cost burden than other states, which they simply can’t afford, the utilities say.

Tuesday is election day and according to the latest polls, Mitch McConnell. is poised to be reelected to yet another term and possibly become senate majority leader, meaning still more congressional gridlock.

Mitch says, “I strongly oppose the EPA’s efforts to shut down Kentucky’s coal industry. I will fight to ensure the future of existing coal-fired power plants.”

He has announced that one his priorities will be to defund the EPA.

His main opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, touted as the Democrats’ best shot at ending McConnell’s perennial reign, has simply been a mirror to McConnell on coal issues and climate change. She has even resorted to ludicrously painting McConnell as unfriendly to the state’s coal industry, including miners, even though they’ve repeatedly come to his defense.

As for Libertarian candidate, David Patterson, he tells us that “CO2 is not a pollutant in the quantities seen today.”

Fortunately, aside from the usual debacle of politics, Kentucky utilities are starting to get the message, with movement underway to harvest clean, alternative technologies. The East Kentucky Power Cooperative, for example (which affects our household) has invested $1.7 billion to help clean-up carbon emissions at its coal-fired power plants.

With the hand-writing on the wall, Kentucky’s utilities are pursuing a diverse energy grid, including not only natural gas, but solar, wind, hydro and landfill gas.

All of this will impose increased costs, but the alternative in the context of the exponential menace of climate change makes these efforts of acquiring a diverse energy portfolio least costly in the long term.

–rj

 

 

 

 

After we Murder Nature, then What?

environment

After we murder Nature, then what? I know some of you may think this a dubious assumption as to possibility, and I would be among you–that is, until recently.

As is, Nature has atrophied and we live increasingly in asphalt environments, with Nature relegated to a few urban parks and, even then, they tend not to be passive parks given over to Nature, but to ball fields, children’s playgrounds, etc.

As evidence of our increasing sequestering of Nature, consider that more of us in the USA and Canada visit local zoos than attend professional sports events combined!

The pity is that Man is himself the evolutionary outcome of millions of years of a once teeming biodiversity. The question then follows as to what happens to us when we marginalize the very sources of our being and our future.

I’ve seen science estimates of the number of species of existing plants and animals as somewhere between 5 and 100 million. We know that invertebrates vastly outnumber vertebrates like ourselves, perhaps some 10 million, of which only a million have been identified.

Zoologist Edward O. Wilson tells us that if humans were to suddenly disappear, all would still be well on earth; conversely, were the invertebrates to disappear, life would soon revert to its initial state a billion years ago of myriad algae, bacteria, and a few multi-celled organisms (In Search of Nature, 153).

In short, we are intertwined with nature right down to the tiniest organism.

Our mistake is to think that even the smallest entities of Nature, so staggering in numbers, cannot be vulnerable to human excesses:

When a valley in Peru or an island in the Pacific is stripped of the last of its vegetation, the result is likely to be the extinction of several kinds of birds and some dozens of plant species. Whereas we are painfully aware of that tragedy, we fail to perceive that hundreds of vertebrates will also vanish (Wilson, 145).

 As is, humans from their earliest beginnings up to the last century had already wiped out an estimated 10% of flora and fauna species. Alarmingly, bird population is declining rapidly, with a drop of 25% in bird species. Presently, the drop-off in all species, not only birds, is occurring 100 to 1000 times higher than in pre-human times.

Consider the continuing decimation of the Amazonian rainforest, the world’s foremost repository of biodiversity with huge implications for pharmaceuticals, agriculture and oil substitutes and, of course, climate change. Each year, we lose to chainsaws an area approximating half the size of Florida!

Unfortunately, we’ve inherited a primordial disposition that prioritizes personal safety, followed by family, tribe, then outsiders ((Wilson 186), a selfishness that unless it gives way to altruism expressed in environmental regard, is likely to doom us.

Today, we’re hearing a lot about climate change, and it certainly can’t be minimized, since we are largely responsible for it. But it’s not just a matter of carbon, but our burgeoning numbers, with corresponding exponential demands on limited resources. The more population increases, the more decimation, with habitats reduced and species extinguished, many of unknown importance to our survival. Consider Nigeria with its present population of 175 million (2013). PEW research estimates it will reach 440 million by 2050, exceeding the USA population.

Although population rates are declining, the world’s population will be just under 10 billion by 2050, with sub-Saharan Africa experiencing explosive growth, an area already confronted by widespread poverty, disease, and ethnic conflict. Unfortunately, in many places, cultural traditions and religious beliefs continue to dominate.

We can still save the day, but it’s unlikely that we care enough to act meaningfully and quickly.

Take where I live, Kentucky, where we have two senate candidates, Democrat and Republican, trying to shout down each other in denouncing President Obama’s policies affecting environment, especially coal. Accordingly, reducing the powers of the EPA is a foremost goal for both.

Unfortunately, evolution gave homo sapiens a well-developed brain, but pulled up short in maximizing a moral prowess vital to its long term survival.

–rj

 

 

 

 

Places to see before they disappear

Meet-me-in-Big-Sur6-640x354

The other day I perused the well-stocked magazine rack at my local Kroger and surprisingly came across a special Newsweek issue intriguingly entitled, “100 Places to Explore Before They Disappear.” Teeming with stunning photography you’re accustomed to seeing in magazines like National Geographic, it whets your appetite to get about and see some of these places, six of them right here in the USA. But the rub is that, given the rapidly accumulating consequences of climate change, you’d better do it soon.

As Christiana Figueres, United Nations Climate Chief, cautions, “There is no doubt, if elevated climate is not addressed, it presents a huge risk to many geographic regions around the world, particularly to low-lying islands and to coastal cities.”

As I see it, the catalyst behind these impending geographic upheavals comes down to water, either too much of it (e.g., rising sea levels) or too little (drought).

Let’s start with the USA: If there’s one place I absolutely adore above all of California’s myriad tapestry of exotic beauty, it’s Big Sur, hugging the central California coast for 90 miles between Carmel and Ragged Point.   For me, it’s a sacred place in its remoteness, adored by one of our most articulate poets on the environment, the late Robinson Jeffers, whose home is there. Severe drought conditions have converted this once verdant mountain area into a virtual tinder box. Just last year, a devastating forest burned 1000 acres and destroyed 34 homes. It happened in December, not in summer. Last year was California’s hottest year ever recorded. Severe drought and record temperature highs are continuing this year.

Other American vistas in danger:

The Florida Keys from Key Largo to Key West has experienced a sea-level rise of nine inches over the last century, threatening its ground water supply. In the next fifty years, experts are predicting that figure will double.

New Orleans, devastated by Katrina a decade ago, continues to struggle to find ways to protect itself from future storm surges, while concurrently sinking six feet below sea level.

New York City, much like New Orleans, faces a future onslaught of rising sea levels, something hurricane Sandy made very apparent.

The New Jersey shore, stretching 130 miles, has increasingly been exposed to flooding and erosion. Experts predict worse flooding over the next several decades.

Hawaii’s island gem, Kauai, with tourist meccas like Koloa, are now threatened by torrential rain.

The Newsweek issue doesn’t mention other American places under siege like Miami, Boston, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, the latter two running out of water.

It doesn’t get better anywhere else: In fact, it gets worse, especially in Africa with its already burgeoning population confronted not only by poverty, but political, religious and ethnic instability. Its once teeming wildlife, increasingly encroached upon by poachers, will in all probability disappear into memory, given the added stress of climate change with diminished rain and rising temperatures.

Meanwhile, in a throwback to Nero, Congress fiddles while America–and the world– burns in a costly game of partisan politics and subservience to fossil fuel lobbyists. Some not only deny the human contribution to climate change, but climate change itself, ludicrously placing themselves on equal footing with credentialed scientists.

I think again of Robinson Jeffers and his prescient poem, “Shine Perishing Republic,” with its theme of the American dream settling into “the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire/And protest, only a bubble in the Molten Mass, pops/And sighs out, and the mass hardens.

It doesn’t have to be this way. While we aren’t able to halt climate change, the consequence of our dependency on fossil fuels, we can mitigate its effects. The lesson of evolution is the necessity of adaptation for an entity to survive. Thus far, we’re not doing very well at that.

–rj

 

 

Convincing meteorologists that climate change is real

Obamaclimate

You can see from the above photo the challenge our president faces in convincing, of all people, our meteorologists, that climate change isn’t simply cyclic, but ongoing, posing devastating consequences for America, with no region spared. Further, we humans are its driving force.

The National Climate Assessment came out yesterday, only to be immediately dismissed as “alarmist” by–imagine my surprise–Mitch McConnell (R-Ky). Guess he must think the same about the recently released  UN Panel’s 40 volume plus study conducted by leading climate scientists. I’m reminded as a former prof of Victorian lit just what it must have been like for Darwin in the outpouring of public vitriol that followed upon his perceived tampering with hallowed establishment assumptions. By the way, I never cease to be amazed at the gall of politicians assuming equal footing with reputable scientists.

But it isn’t just the Republicans we have to worry about in Washington when it comes to taking climate change seriously and initiating immediate steps to at least mitigate its effects. You see this most pointedly when it comes to the Keystone XL project. Presently there’s a bipartisan effort to get a two-thirds majority in the Senate in favor of the project, assuring veto proof passage.   So far, 11 Democrats have shown willingness to join 45 Republicans in such a move, with one Democrat optimistic of getting several more.

As always, it’s the old song-and-dance scenario of jobs, when the fact is that if we were to put environment on a war-footing we’d have universal employment in harnessing the forces to slow global warming.   Solar energy has considerable promise, for example, and is already a key component in countries like Denmark. Instead of constructing pipelines with their potential for spills–and sabotage–we’d do better in shoring up our coast lines.

How wonderful it would be to see Republicans and Democrats give priority to long term public welfare rather than short term corporate interests and their reelection prospects. (Once again, a good point for term limits. If it exists for the Presidency, why not for Congress?)

As for the meteorologists, a George Mason University survey in 2010 showed only 19% of them accepted human activity as the primary contributor to global warming.  Some deny climate change period! (http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/abs/10.1175/BAMS-D-13-00091.1 ) While good at short term forecasting, they fall considerably short at the long term. Public icons, they can be given to a narcissism of overreach. Unfortunately, 62% of us trust our TV weather forecasters more than we do climate scientists!

The greatest proofs of climate change lie not simply in natural catastrophes, but in their ever increasingly frequency. We have computer models for that!

above

–rj

 

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