By Peter G Cohen Truthout.org | Op-Ed 21 May 2014
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The result is that human waste of every kind is now poisoning the natural environment, which is so overwhelmed that it can no longer absorb our waste or replace our consumption. We have destroyed the balance of nature. By burning the forests and fossil fuels, we have changed the atmosphere. As the temperature climbs, it intensifies heat waves, fires, storms and floods. If we do not change, these effects will increase until human life and the nature that sustains it is lost, possibly forever.
The pathological indifference of corporations and some wealthy individuals to the long-range effects of their actions makes it obvious that we urgently need a plan to transform them into good citizens.
We, who have conquered every corner of the earth and touched the moon, cannot believe what is happening before our eyes. As temperatures rise, storms intensify and hurricanes, tornadoes and typhoons rip apart our homes and wash away our people. Yet, we still do not have a world plan to reduce our greenhouse gasses and we continue to waste valuable time arguing with the global community. We are still facilitating the blasting, drilling and fracking, the piping and shipping of more, and ever more of the toxic greenhouse fuels. We are on a path to suicide.
If we continue with business as usual, most of the earth will be uninhabitable in decades. Hot and dry or washed away, our fields will no longer produce enough food and our few remaining trees will not provide enough oxygen for normal breathing. Yet our elected representatives continue their partisan bickering, while the nation’s needs are ignored.
The result is a sense of unease and mistrust because our government cannot protect us from a deteriorating natural environment, crumbling infrastructure, continuing unemployment and an extremely unequal society.
Meanwhile, ignoring these trends and needs, the Pentagon is still planning to spend billions for the “modernization” of terminal nuclear weapons. We are still actively selling nuclear plants around the world – in spite of the Fukushima disaster, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and the continuing lack of any safe way to store the life-threatening waste.
By sharing nuclear materials and technology that can easily be converted to making weapons, we encourage proliferation. At the very least, we are spreading the “routine discharge” of low-level radiation around the world and encouraging the waste of water, which is becoming ever more scarce. In the long run, more radiation of any kind means more radiation disease and a deteriorating human gene pool. Our priorities are based on profits, not on human needs.
As climate change destroys food crops and spreads deserts, the rise in food prices leaves people in poor nations hungry and angry. Demonstrations lead to unstable governments. Yet the world population continues to increase. The United States has reduced its support for family planning. The result is that rather than getting the world population under control, it is rising. Ignoring the need for family planning at a time when we anticipate less food production is leading toward mass starvation.
“Reverence for Life” is the attitude that will make it possible to overcome the obstacles we face.
China is buying agricultural land in Africa, while the United States is building military bases in that continent. Neither of these actions solves the problem. We should be investing in worldwide family planning and making contraceptives available to everyone. Experience has shown that the education of women leads to smaller families, yet we plan to invest huge amounts in the modernization of nuclear weapons and almost nothing in the education of women worldwide.
When you add to this unhappy scene the dangerous and unknown effects of tens of thousands of synthetic chemicals now in everyday use, it is obvious that business as usual is putting all humanity on a suicide path. We still use chemicals known to interfere with the mental development of children. In an effort to control weeds, we now distribute chemicals that are killing our honeybees – the pollinators of our food crops. Is this not suicidal?
The pathological indifference of corporations and some wealthy individuals to the long-range effects of their actions makes it obvious that we urgently need a plan to transform them into good citizens. The coal industry, the primary cause of global warming, is still destroying mountains and valleys in once beautiful Appalachia and continues its rape of the earth in the western United States. The profits are huge; the destruction of the land and the health of our people is a loss beyond price.
Without our rapid and determined change, climate will cause whole populations and some nations to disappear in the next few decades. The great test of nations in this century is their ability to control global warming and assure the survival of their people.
When we look at these problems together, they make a sad picture of the human future – the future in which our children and grandchildren must live. But we can change this situation. Despair is not an option. We must face the facts and act.
The Future of Life on Earth
We humans with our great numbers and powerful technology are now determining the future of life on earth. This awesome new responsibility is not yet reflected in our culture. The supreme value is life itself. The amazing variety of life, the proliferation of species, is awesome and inspiring. This “Reverence for Life,” as Dr. Albert Schweitzer put it, is the attitude that will make it possible to overcome the obstacles we face. It may also be called Defending God’s Creation. What matters is that we treasure every living species – including our own – and end the careless destruction of the web of life.
Integrity versus Corruption
Our nation’s founders pledged “their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor” in the pursuit of liberty. Now we have to question whether a politician is representing his constituents and the nation, or has been diverted to serve some special interest. For example, why do we not respond to the violent attack of climate change? Counting just the billion-dollar climate events in the United States, from 2001 to 2012, we lost $477 billion in property damage and 3,952 lives, according to the National Climatic Data Center. This is greater than the losses of 9/11 by magnitudes. We are under attack by violent climate change! Why do we do so little to limit greenhouse gasses and protect our people? It is because private interests have organized and spent millions to obstruct our response.
We must consider the whole group, the community, the nation, humanity and all life – if we are to survive.
To preserve their investments and huge profits from oil and related products, the Koch brothers’ organizations recentlypersuaded 169 members of Congress to sign a pledge to obstruct all climate change legislation. But climate change legislation is exactly what we need to reduce greenhouse gasses that increase the violence of climate change. It is urgent that this deadly interference with our national defense against the climate attack be investigated and prosecuted.
The Koch brothers and ExxonMobil executives provide examples of extreme egoism. They are indifferent to their effect on society, including deadly pollution and killer climate change. What is the criminal charge of pursuing a course of obstruction that is known to result in people dying? Reckless endangerment? Manslaughter?
The failure of the background-check gun law is another example of a useful public law being obstructed by an industry to protect its profits. We cannot save ourselves from this suicidal path as long as obstruction and intimidation go unrecognized and unpunished, our political campaigns are still privately funded and representatives trade their votes for campaign cash.
Sadly, the rot of corruption is now institutionalized: “After the elections in November, Democratic Party Leaders gave a PowerPoint presentation urging their freshman members to spend as much as four hours a day making fund-raising calls while in Washington, and an additional hour of ‘strategic outreach’ holding breakfasts of ‘meet and greets’ with possible financial supporters. That adds up to more time than these first-term lawmakers were advised to spend on Congressional business.”
It Is Urgent that We Get Big Money out of Government
If we add the many lobbyists and their very substantial contributions to campaign funds, it becomes obvious that we have allowed members of Congress to serve others, rather than their constituents or the constitution they are pledged to defend. One answer is to reduce private funding of elections with the Fair Elections Now Act, or a similar measure. This act would provide government campaign funds for qualified candidates, greatly reducing the need of representatives to dance for the money of wealthy patrons. At the same time, it would empower outstanding individuals without wealthy contacts to challenge unrepresentative incumbents.
Without a movement for genuine and widespread integrity for all, there is little chance that we can deal with the threats to our nation, or leave the suicide path. We must find a way to launch a National Campaign for American Integrity that will reach every household in the country and make it completely unacceptable for our representatives to represent anyone other than their constituents.
In the last century, the human relationship with nature has been largely lost. In the 19th century, most people were farmers and were well aware of our debt to nature. The farming population in “advanced” nations is now so small and agriculture so mechanized that the general population is unaware of our dependence on nature for air, water and food – not to mention a moderate climate.
People are cutting and burning forests to access tar sands in Canada, to plant palm oil in Indonesia and soybeans in the Amazon. These forest areas are known as carbon sinks and oxygen sources – not to mention the amazing number of species that tropical forests harbor. The tragedy is that large tropical forests like the Amazon make their own weather and recycle their own fertilizer. After a few years of cultivation, they often have little agricultural value, but the trees and their lush foliage are gone, and so are the creatures that survived among them for millennia.
Solidarity and Survival
The egoism of our competitive, consumerist society has led us to the suicidal path. We are living in a society that has exceeded its natural limits. The earth cannot support 7 billion people living like the so-called American middle class. Rather than the egoism of great wealth, we urgently need the solidarity of common purpose, and that purpose is human survival in a livable world. We must consider the whole group, the community, the nation, humanity and all life – if we are to survive.
We will share cleaner air and greater health as we eliminate carbon fuels. We will share full employment as we reduce our labor-saving devices and job-exporting trade policies. For the rest of this century, the highest priority must be limiting climate change and protecting our people from its killer events.
At every level, education is essential to understanding natural systems, climate change and remedial efforts. We will also need to provide the science to develop clean and sustainable industries and transportation systems. What is the best way to move wind and solar energy from mountains and deserts to the communities where it is needed? How can we design homes that are not destroyed by tornadoes and hurricanes? Can we remodel appliances so that they are easier to repair and require less energy to make and operate?
If we maximize human development rather than market development, we will grow in personal richness and satisfaction without excess possessions.
We will also need to invent new relationships and social organizations that can remain creative while not requiring growth. The goal of growth encourages materialism and the exhaustion of natural resources. If we maximize human development rather than market development, we will grow in personal richness and satisfaction without excess possessions.
If we can slow the speeding suicide train and renounce the sick dream of controlling and exploiting the world, we can focus on creating a more efficient, livable and equal society – a society where satisfactions lie in community successes and shared possessions. Outstanding contributions will be recognized in ways other than material accumulation. Can we raise a new generation of people who put the group ahead of the self, and consider the role of nature in everything they do? “Primitive” societies have managed these things without our technology. Surely with the science we have, we can too.
1. We Must Have a Partnership with Nature
If we, humans, and the remaining species are to survive, nature must become our equal partner in survival. We are completely dependent on nature to provide a breathable atmosphere and a temperate climate. Together we can continue to evolve for millions of years. If we fail to accept nature as our partner in life, our grandchildren will be trying to eke out an existence in a polluted desert.
We must have a national policy that preserves wild areas and agricultural lands from development and encourages the greening of urban areas. We must end mountaintop removal, drilling, fracking and polluting practices such as tar sands extraction.
2. Establish a Livable Climate Agency (LCA)
. . . patterned after the powerful War Production Board of World War II, that would reduce the use of carbon fuels by taxation, while smoothly replacing the lost energy with alternatives such as wind and solar. At the same time, we need to integrate and harden our national transmission system to bring these new energies from wind and solar areas to the urban centers where they are needed. New transmission lines will also supply areas devastated by violent climate change with the energy needed for rebuilding. The LCA could also train workers from the carbon industries to work in alternative energy industries.
3. Reduce the Pentagon
. . . and war-making budget to what is actually needed to defend our nation. The current (unspoken) policy of dominating the world with about a thousand (the actual number is secret) military bases, and the ships and planes to support them, benefits the same large corporations that often keep their earnings overseas to avoid US taxation.
With all the talk of budget cutting, we are still spending well over $600 billion a year on the military. Some want to balance the budget with further cutbacks in child care, health, nutrition and education. What future will we have if our priorities are placing international corporations ahead of investing in our own children? Of course, the powerful corporate-military lobby will spend millions defending the Pentagon and Department of Energy’s nuclear budgets. Only American citizens can demand that we reduce military commitments and spending to what is actually needed for the nation’s defense in the complex world we now have.
4. We Urgently Need a National Campaign for Integrity
. . . to make these changes happen. Part of that campaign would be to enact a Fair Elections Now Act to get Big Money out of our elections. And, we must redesign our Congressional districts to be fair to all by using computers programmed to shape new districts by population without regard for party. We can no longer afford the waste of resources caused by partisanship. We must focus on a livable future.
None of these things will be easy. Millions will be spent on lobbyists and deceitful advertising to preserve the status quo and make sure that the rich stay rich. But if our children and their children are to have a world worth living in, we must change. We cannot continue down the suicide path with business as usual. When people truly understand what is at stake, they will insist on that change. Our badly battered constitution still gives us the opportunity to adjust our government and ourselves to the realities of the world. For the sake of the children, we must succeed.
Copyright, Truthout.org permission.
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