Friday, March 19, 2010

Enter Hopefully


Whenever an environmentalist opens his mouth, no matter what he thinks he is saying people take the message to be like what was posted over the door to Hades: "Abandon Hope All Ye That Enter Here." This was just what renowned environmental broadcaster David Suzuki found out to his chagrin when he interviewed his daughter (this, I hear from friends, is the subject of a documentary series being shown on CBC). All her life she had listened to her father going on about the decline of nature. He had imagined that he was being upbeat, but no. She told him that all she had got out of what he had been telling her about the urgency of saving the environment all those years was just that we should give up hope, since we are all hurtling to hell in a hand basket. David Suzuki protested vehemently, "That is not at all what I wanted you to think!" I must say I find Suzuki's voice and demeanour reassuring, even to the point of being mesmerizing. He cannot be faulted for a gloomy aspect. But his beloved environment is in trouble, and I think I am not the only one who finds it depressing to hear about it.

After talking to his daughter, Suzuki subsequently researched the solutions and wrote at least one book about answers to the problem. His daughter is now an environmental writer and broadcaster in her own right.

This is one reason I am writing People Without Borders. When I did come across Suzuki's book of solutions in the library and glanced through it I was almost as saddened by it than his earlier, darker writing. These so-called solutions, helpful as they may be in their own context, are not going to put a dent in the rumbling juggernaut of total planetary destruction. We need far more fundamental changes than having dry cleaners switch from one chemical to another.
Consider, if you will, the special report in the latest Scientific American, "Managing Earth's Future; Solutions for a Finite World." The editors sum up the first article, "Boundaries for a Healthy Planet," (Jonathan Foley, SA, April, 2010, p. 54) saying,

"Although climate change gets ample attention, species loss and nitrogen pollution exceed safe limits by greater degrees. Other environmental processes are also headed toward dangerous levels."

The author of the article shows a lovely graphic of the results of a major study by a group of scientists, reported in Nature. The chart looks like a spider splattered over a wall clock, displaying nine factors threatening our survival and how close each is to bursting beyond the earth's natural limit. Only two, nitrogen and biodiversity, have blown well past the line, though one, CO2, is also slightly over the line. In a hopeful turn, they also concentrate on solutions, such as they are. The editors sum them up:

"Promptly switching to low-carbon energy sources, curtailing land clearing and revolutionizing agricultural practices are crucial to making human life on Earth more sustainable."

For the moment, let us assume that this approach is sufficient. The question remains, how do we do it? Governments go hat in hand to energy companies, not the other way around. Curtailing land clearing would require an overhaul of the economy and the entire legal system that supports it. And agriculture? Nationalist states are nominally democratic but voters are not represented proportionally. Rural voters dominate urban ones. As a result, politicians routinely bribe farmers with subsidies in order to get re-elected.

Changes to any of these are simply not negotiable.

The only hope for change is a major overhaul not only of democracy and education, but also of the very ethical and religious reflexes of the human race. How do you do that?


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