Nobody Will Save You from Climate Catastrophes
Richard Gale and Gary Null PhD
Progressive Radio Network, December 13, 2019
Since Rachel Carson’s seminal work Silent Spring published in 1962, hardened activist Baby Boomers and today’s senior citizens have taken on challenges to ban DDT, fluorocarbon pollution, acid rain caused by industrial sulfuric and nitric acids, nuclear power, and supported Ralph Nader’s policies that led Nixon to found the Environmental Protection Agency and the signing of the clean water, air and energy acts. More recently environmental movements have taken on genetically modified crops and toxic pesticides, forest and species loss, the factory meat farm industry, PCBs, plastic pollution, natural gas hydrofracking and other toxic corporate enterprises. One of the lessons learned is that it is not easy to galvanize public attention, and especially the corporate media, to confront the most immediate threats to personal health and well-being if it will require making personal sacrifices. In retrospect, past successes have been accomplished by surprisingly small numbers of people. In fact it has been shown that with only 3-4 percent of a galvanized population on an issue can influence fundamental changes in legislative policy. The Vietnam War and civil and women’s rights are supportive examples. This means that an empowered and educated minority can influence a complacent and indifferent majority.
Today the greatest threat is anthropogenic climate change, a warning far greater than all of our past threats combined. But it required a 16 year old Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, to pull us out of our stupor and arouse an awareness that global warming transcends corporate profits, political campaign funding, and ideological differences. The times are urgent and people need to be in the streets in acts of disobedience, including general strikes such as the Yellows Vest in France, in order to raise greater public consciousness and force political action. Yet they have no power to reign in the bureaucrats who are determined to preserve the status-quo nor the mainstream media that has been completely compromised by private interests. Unfortunately, the moral responsibility being raised by protesters has failed to penetrate the federal and state levels, nor the personal lives and behaviors of most Americans. Consequently, our culture continues to march blindly over the precipice into a dystopian future. Our population is fully distracted by the daily rituals of consumption. It is much easier to live by the fairy tales fed to us by Silicon Valley’s latest technological novelty to keep us hypnotized from reality and the efforts of the 5,000 most powerful people at Davos to conjure strategies to keep us in an illusory daze of false hopes that humanity has the capacity to reverse engineer all that has gone wrong and set our capitalist Titanic aright.
The harsh reality is that as the research data flows in, many more climate scientists are realizing that modern civilization as we know it is on a slow death spiral. A recent report from in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists suggests we may not be facing a single apocalyptic moment, but rather multiple possible smaller apocalypses. It is difficult, the reports argues, “to envision the scale of the problem and to imagine how we will actually experience it.” It is not simply that corporations and the Wall Street jungle continue to exploit fossil fuels and natural resources to pump back into the atmosphere. There is also the fact that the majority of average citizens on the planet have been horrible stewards of the earth. We seem to becoming increasingly incapable of personal responsibility when our survival is dependent upon a system that is willing to commit ecocide with the weapon of increasing growth and profits on the behalf of shareholders.
So as the millionaires and billionaires fly off to the World Economic Forum in Geneva on private jets to meet in back rooms and gorge on Kobe beef, they willingly invite a teenager to yell and demean them while later giving a standing ovation. It is hard to imagine, but the elite are remarkably smart. They are fully aware of Greta’s idealism, but also bet their buck on her causing panic that would drive trillions of dollars to “save the planet” with minimal surgical procedures such as carbon capture credits and more investment into green capitalist ventures. Investing in proactive preparedness for our cities, towns and infrastructures is off the table. A fundamental pledge is to not permit climate change solutions to interfere with capital growth and progress. Therefore, it is fine to allow a teenager to reprimand them all day as long as the elite can generate billions in return. It is a momentary humiliation they are willing to accept. During the past year, market analysis sites such as Raging Bull and Market Watch, as well as the New York Times, are praising the profitable opportunities climate change is offers to the keen investor in corporations such as Tesla, Ecolab, First Solar, Clean Harbors and Waste Management Inc. However, with nearly half of Americans workers now making $!8,000 annually or less, only the global elite will benefit.
In the meantime, people worry about their future in more or less degrees. We also tend to find different worrisome developments in our world that bother us more than others. Arguably there are three principle categories that are leading our world towards an apocalyptic conclusion: climate change’s disruption of the planet’s biodiversity and ecological balance, the acceleration of conflict, war and hatred, and growing inequality and poverty. Although each refers to various sets of critical issues and crises, they are in fact intermeshed because climate change is probably the most concrete example of a system or holistic theory in progress throughout our daily lives. At the same time, all of these issues refer back ultimately to the more essential ethical and spiritual crisis confronting humanity and the degradation of decent moral personal and universal values.
No single person nor institution can accurately surmise what the future holds as the Earth continues to warm. Numerous scenarios may be imagined, each mixed with truths and falsehoods. How populations and communities, governments, corporations and international institutions respond when the kettle starts boiling are also unpredictable factors. They may turn towards more progressive solutions and work in communal harmony together but more likely they will conversely descend into authoritarian and fascist tribalism. However there is one fact we can be absolutely certain: individuals, communities, towns and cities, governments and nations will experience increasing stress and billions of lives will be at stake.
Just during this past year climate scientists have been telling us that:
- Global greenhouse emissions have reached 36.8 billion tons beating last year’s record; the US, China and India continue to be the world’s largest emitters of emissions;
- Nine climate tipping points are currently active threatening a cascade of events beyond our capacity to curtail;
- Atmospheric scientists are now warning of Category 6 super storms, never before experienced;
- A near-term future drought is expected to hit half of the world’s wheat yields at once;
- Scientists are suggesting that the growing climate crisis may make California too dangerous to live in;
- The Arctic permafrost is melting 70 years earlier than previously predicted and has reached a critical threshold; the entire Arctic emits more carbon now that it absorbs;
- Greenland’s ice sheet is melting seven times faster than originally calculated;
- Alaska’s sea ice has completely melted away;
- Floods are predicted to uproot 50 million people annually as the climate heats up;
- In August, the Gulf stream was observed to be slowing down which would mean a more sudden rise in sea levels and a hotter Florida;
- The rapid destruction of the Amazon may lead to a “cascading collapse” of the entire region’s natural systems;
- American urban areas have failed to plan for the coming heat waves that will adversely affect those most vulnerable ;
- Almost 2 billion people are at risk of water shortages due to disappearing glaciers and drying rivers;
- Population migrations of climate refugees is accelerating at a rapid pace;
- BBC News reports that the climate math gives us 18 months to turn things around dramatically instead of the earlier 12 year IPCC’s report from last year;
- Analysts predict that climate change will trigger the next major global financial collapse.
These are just a small sampling of the numerous other headlines to be read in the off-the-beaten track of independent news reporting. Rarely are they ever headlined in the corporate media. One reason is because of censorship. Last July, a journalist’s investigations published in Energy and Environment News uncovered that the federal US Geological Survey, which channels climate reports to the mainstream networks, provides “sanitized spin” of events directly associated with climate change. Therefore, the average person only receives a tiny sliver of the actual findings being released by the scientific community and more often than not these events are not reported in the context of climate change.
The majority of Americans, and 97 percent of climate scientists regard global warming as a very real problem that is largely caused by human emission of greenhouse gases. In 2016, 70 percent according to a Yale University survey expressed deep concerns. That figure has increased to 80 percent now believing that human activity is responsible for the rapid changes being experienced and 50 percent view it as an urgent crisis. Nevertheless only 48 percent, less than half, believe that we can pull through the crisis by making minor sacrifices while 18 percent believe nothing needs to change. The latter group are those who are still doubtful or dismiss global warming altogether. Consequently the public still perceives climate change as too impersonal, distant, and unlikely to have any immediate impact upon their lives and financial wellbeing. Most people continue to believe that aside from the weather getting hotter or wetter, their lives will not change substantially. But if we can understand more deeply how climate change will directly disrupt our lives, our health, and our bank account, then it might trigger our determination to make the necessary changes in our lives so that we are not contributors to the problems, but rather their solution. So far, the threats have not been adequately translated into the broader impacts being ushered by these crises.
According to a major study released by Yale and George Mason universities in 2019, “Climate Change in the American Mind,” Americans still fail to realize and understand how these changes are contributing to the decline in the quality of physical and mental health, food shortages, poverty, inequality, and weaknesses in national security. For example, climate change and the endless burning of fossil fuels are already having a dramatic impact upon people’s health. Dr. Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin, has charted the rise of health problems and diseases associated with longer periods of hotter days that can be directly attributed to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, especially in large urban areas. His Institute predicts a startling increase in respiratory and infectious diseases, malnutrition, hunger, and mental disorders. Heat stroke and cardiac arrest have already been ruled as climate-related illnesses. People with allergies and asthma will suffer from worsening ozone haze that accompanies hotter weather, such as Pennsylvania is now witnessing. In drier Southern regions bacterial born infections such as malaria and Lyme’s will escalate. In areas with excessive rainfall, we are witnessing a rise in waterborne infections, such as E. coli and hepatitis, that contribute to a large assortment of chronic gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses and death. Droughts can also contribute to a rise in waterborne pathogens as water treatment facilities become inundated with contaminated surface water. And with the escalation of extreme weather conditions adversely affecting people’s livelihood, such as tropical storms and wildfires, mental disorders such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder are on the rise.
Moreover the Yale-George Mason study reports a strong national reluctance to accept the demand for more regulation on emissions and the necessity to increase the costs of energy prices. The report identifies other shortcomings for average Americans to mobilize to the extent being witnessed in other countries, particularly in Europe. For example, only about 10 percent of Americans have actually reached out to government officials and legislators to communicate their fears and only one in every ten Americans confirmed that they speak about climate change with their family, friends and community members. In other words, while climate change is growing in public awareness, the incentive to act and make fundamental personal changes to our lifestyles and behavior lags far behind or is non-existent.
Unfortunately, a large majority of climate models used to predict futurist environmental conditions are based upon an end-of-the-century benchmark. Yet long before that time, we will already be living in a completely different world because these scenarios fail to account for the numerous incremental changes underway. Depending upon the region where you live, the harsh realities of climate change are already being felt differently. American coastlines, especially along the Gulf and the Atlantic seaboard from the Florida Keys to Boston are experiencing the brunt of sea level rises. All of the major cities dotted along the Atlantic are victims in waiting for extreme storms, ocean surges and increased flooding. In Miami and surrounding cities, climate impacts have already started to adversely shape everyday life. And no major concerted effort is being made to prevent or lessen the impacts of higher category storms and rising tides, such as concerted mobilization of populations further inland. On the other hand, inland New England to eastern New York, along with the northern Midwest regions along the Great Lakes and the northwestern region of states, are best positioned for the decades ahead.
It is not simply a matter of listing cities, regions and states that are sustainable or not. Instead, we must look at communities, preferably smaller and ideally rural or marginally rural, including those that are known as intentional or cooperative communities. These tend to have sufficient clean water, healthy soil, and are moving towards renewable energy sources. These are much like the old communities settled by the Quakers in the Pennsylvania valleys or the Shakers along the Hudson River. Individuals are able to maintain their autonomy yet still share common collective behaviors such as organic farms, arts and crafts, and offering these to the larger economy. Our modern cities are congested, over-crowded, polluted and thrive on competition contributing to enormous income inequality. Therefore in states such as California, New York and Texas, one can still find smaller regions that are not only sustainable but also progressive and have the communal resiliency to withstand unexpected climate threats. They are also far less susceptible to the adverse effects of the 5G technology being implemented throughout the nation.
Vermont, for example, is the most politically progressive, environmental-friendly state in the nation. A joint collaboration between the state government, Vermont’s universities and local farming and renewable energy organizations has brought the state to 90 percent self-reliance for its energy, food and housing needs. Compared to the dismal sustainability statistics throughout most of the remaining 49 states, this is a remarkable proactive achievement that other states must adopt quickly despite Vermont being the eighth fastest warming state after Alaska, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, New Jersey and Colorado. However, climate change gives no consideration for borders and boundaries nor state legislatures. Excessive rains contributing to extreme floods are predicted to plague even the most resilient regions. During extreme flooding events crops and orchards are severely damaged across the inland Northeastern and Heartland grain states rendering them minimally sustainable.
For much of the remainder of the United States, aside from local regions commonly referred to as “lifeboat zones,” conditions will worsen from longer periods of drought, extreme storms and tornados, and water shortages. Although still several decades away, the Ogallala fossil water aquifer, which provides eight states from South Dakota to Texas with the water necessary for extensive agricultural irrigation, is being depleted. This is the breadbasket of America, supplying at least 20 percent of the nation’s crop harvest. This 10 million year old deep reservoir was created during the Pliocene age and would require over 6,000 years to replenish itself naturally. The aquifer has already peaked for Texas followed by New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma before 2012. After 2040, accessible water will decline more rapidly.
Industrial agriculture is water-intensive. US farms use approximately 57 million gallons of water per day for irrigation. This is almost 300 percent more water that is consumed daily through our public water supply systems that feed into our homes and businesses. Chemical-based agriculture, because it contributes to rapid soil degradation and erosion, requires far more water than organic farming to produce a similar yield. Organic, living soil retains moisture and also uses nitrogen more efficiently. Finally, since organic agriculture has no need for chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, it produces only a small carbon footprint. A study conducted by the Rodale Institute measured the amount of energy required to grow a hectare of organic corn versus a hectare of corn using conventional chemical methods. On average, the conventional crop required 71 percent more energy than the organic. Forty-one percent of this energy excess was due to the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers. However, aside from conventional agriculture’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, it also threatens our nation’s food security.
For those who seriously consider migrating to a new region, additional economic and civil concerns factor into climate preparedness, including financial and residential safety, emergency and infrastructure preparedness, transportation, and strong local economies that are not at the mercy of imports. In this regard all of the New England states, along with Minnesota, Hawaii and Washington top the list. Those states that are worst placed for experiencing climate catastrophes most quickly, according to the personal finance analysis firm WalletHub, also happen to be the weakest in economic and social security preparedness, including Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Florida, Arkansas, Alabama, Missouri and Alaska.
There is already growing warnings that humanity may have already passed its threshold whereby our governments, international institutions and science itself can turn back the clock. Therefore, more scientists and environmental experts and activists are demanding that instead of waiting in hope for answers, we begin to learn immediately how to adapt to harsher conditions that are becoming the new normal. Remaining engaged with others who share your concerns over accelerating climate changes and a further breakdown of our urban and rural infrastructures is crucial for sustaining a sense of calm and wellness. Climate-related stress and anxiety, and the accompanying physical and mental problems associated with it, are already being felt across the nation. Victims of recent extreme storms in the South, victims of massive flooding in the Midwest, victims of California’s endless droughts and wildfires, and victims of life-threatening heat waves in the arid basins of the Southwest are a few immediate examples.
In the past we have always relied upon advanced engineering and technological ingenuity to pull us out of crises. Yet at our present moment, and after decades of institutional denial since the first warnings about global warming almost half a century ago, scientists are gradually telling us that we have passed the point a no return. The train has left the station and there is no engineer in the driver’s seat. We need to begin preparing for the worst, and that begins with ourselves and our local communities. Our governments have proven to be completely unreliable. The key expression now is to start learning how to adapt to the changes ahead because there will be many. This begins by reevaluating our own lives and identifying how our habits of consumption are contributing to the warming planet. The standard of living we have taken for granted will incrementally disappear. For too long our civilization has been bankrupting itself and destroying itself in the process. It is the rare individual who has actually lived as a good and conscientious shepherd on this earth.
It is also critical to understand that the rise in nationalist sentiments in the US and Europe only worsens our ability to lessen greenhouse emissions, polluting the oceans and destruction of our remaining protected wildernesses. Nationalism is the antithesis of thinking globally. Every nation is based upon economic and job growth, manufacturing, and security that have an enormous toll on natural resources. For example, Karl Marx — perhaps one of the first environmental visionaries — noted that “Man lives on nature — means that nature is his body, with which he must remain in continuous exchange if he is not to die. That man’s physical and spiritual life is linked to nature means simply that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature.” Marx was also the first to observe that capitalism was a fundamental reason for humanity’s increasing alienation from nature and contributed to the loss of our relationship with the natural world.
Henry Thoreau would completely agree, “A town is saved, not more by the righteous me in it, than by the woods and swamps that surround it.”
With learning to adapt to climate change as our paramount take, over the years several groups have dedicated themselves to preparing citizens for the future rather than relying on the hopes that government and industry will save us:
The Transition Network. An international movement started in the UK by the creative visionary Rob Hopkins in 2005 to mobilize cities, towns and small communities to collectively harness their skills and talents to proactively address the larger future challenges by starting at the local level with direct civil engagement. There are today thousands of transition towns in over 50 countries. There are now 167 active transition initiatives across the US.
Deep Adaptation Network. A network of professionals, including many climatologists and laypersons building collaborations to explore the implications of a near-term societal collapse due to climate change. Founded by Professor Gem Bendell at Cumbria University in the UK, the network maintains that the chances of reversing course are nil and people, communities and cities need to begin preparing to adapt to catastrophic disruption of life starting in the very near future.
Dark Mountain Project. For those who are creative, artistic and poetic, the Dark Mountain Project is a loose international network of ecologically minded writers and artists dedicated to deconstructing the language and images our capitalist civilization habitually relies upon to tell stories of humanity’s place and role in the world in alienation from nature and other species. Rather the Project’s members are creating new stories to un-civilize our cultural psyche.
Extinction Rebellion (XR): A global environmental movement committed to non-violent civil disobedience to coerce governments and industries to wake up and take responsibility for their actions in fueling global warming trends. Although XR has its detractors and critics among environmental organizations, outside of the UK the movement is decentralized, grassroots, and spontaneous. Its sole objective is to be a loud public voice warning of the dire impacts of climate change.
Keepers of the Waters. This is an international and grassroots arts, sciences and community project started in the US that is devoted to transforming our relationship with water through community efforts to integrate water awareness into city and town planning.
A predominant social illness infecting our culture is its failure or refusal to weigh the motivations and the probable results from its actions. Leveling a tropical forest in the Amazon basin may be good for the business of sowing genetically modified soy beans or to graze more beef cattle to meet China’s insane taste for meat, but what are the long-term effects? At what cost is the payback? This principle also applies to our personal lives. The same can be said for purchasing clothes manufactured in a sweat factory in Bangladesh or Indonesia, stocking up on the latest electronics that rely upon massive mining efforts for rare earth metals, the latest gas-guzzling SUV and searching for the best and cheapest discounts on Amazon. If we learn to weigh our actions in scale with their likely effects honestly, we can enrich and improve our lives immensely. And we can be comforted knowing that our actions will not adversely affect the lives of others. Natural biosystems do this instinctively. It is inherent throughout the energetic flow, balance and stability within healthy ecological communities. And it is part of the wider ecological awareness that we so desperately need to adopt and cultivate, and so urgently.
If this were three decades ago, we would be very confident that today’s Baby Boomers and senior citizens, having participated in cultural transformations and revolutions, would have had a collective mindset to make personal sacrifices and demand the government to do the same. It would be easy to envision and global Marshall Plan for the environment. Today, there is a different perspective and dramatically different standards of living. We can hope that the majority of Boomers believe climate change is real. To save the planet, we must reduce our consumption of good and natural resources by 600 percent. This simply will not happen. The fact is that China, India and the US are increasing their exploitation offers. So if governments, industries and average people are not willing to change then who will. Hence we must rely upon ourselves and build relationships with those who are determined to do the same.
Two decades into the 21st century, we now need to take a difficult and brutally honest look at our civilization and draw the conclusion that it is seriously ill. During the middle of the last century the great German-American existentialist philosopher Paul Tillich, and one of the most influential theologians in modern times, attempted to tackle the deeper underlying problems that were increasing and dominating modern culture. Paraphrasing Tillich’s work, for any serious intellectual inquiry into a dire problem, three fundamental questions need to be asked and addressed. First, what is the problem? What is our disease? As individuals, as a society, as a global family, why are we not where we ought to be?
Tillich’s second question is: what is our vision? If we were to be whole, healthy and vibrant human beings residing in harmony with a robust and flourishing planet, what might it be like?
Finally, his third question is, how do we move from the first question to the second? In other words, what is our medicine?
These are questions for each person to deliberate to themselves. Each of us will find her or his own answers and guidance for the best path to follow. Nevertheless, to dive into this undertaking, deep deliberation and acquiring a sufficient amount of knowledge is demanded. Then we step into the path that leads to an awakened ecological awareness and are able to consciously disembark from the road leading towards further discord, denial and ultimately ruin. This new path will demand us to make realistic and doable changes, adopt new initiatives and interests in order to loosen and discard our personal constraints. After we individually succeed in this endeavor will we be able to say we are no longer a part of the problem. Rather we are now an active participant in the remedies and healing.