As the year glides toward its marker-designated-by-mankind end I have to admit a certain pessimism about the future of our species. While scientists have been warning of climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions with greater and greater urgency for the last 40 years, governments, industry and society have done little to address the problem.
Industrial giants have used their money and power to defeat any environmental concerns. All they care about is making more money now and the future be damned.
And we as a people have done little to nothing to rein in our own consumption levels, and to demand our governments enact environmental legislation. In fact all we have done is demand more and more and bigger and faster and shinier and newer and with one more feature/colour/button than six months ago.
I'm not excluding myself. I cringe every time I reach for the 'Charmin', buy produce imported from Chile, Mexico and California, stand in the shower for an extra minute with the hot water pummelling the crook in my spine, and I make my excuses.
We lived so low on the eco-pole for five years in our 120 sq ft "tin palace" that I'm begging off my eco-crimes on the grounds that it's taken me over two years to put 5,000 kilometres on my KIA, and that's with the oldest son driving it to Vancouver Island and back, which put almost 2,000 km on it. We eat very little meat, we are careful, conservative shoppers, and I wear my clothing 'til it's indecent to go outside. Right now I'm wearing a hippari top I made in 1979. The seams are worn right through in places, but it's so practical I can't bear to discard it. Nonetheless today we all collectively stand on the brink of the abyss.
A new draft report by the the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests that we are looking at the likely end of human civilization as increasing greenhouse gas emissions create “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems” over the coming decades.
Global temperature is nearing the point when loss of the vast ice sheet over Greenland will be unstoppable. Along with melting Antarctic ice, sea levels will flood major coastal cities as well as coastal plains and low-lying and island nations.
One of the most feared consequences of global warming is the thawing of permafrost regions. A study in Science magazine warns that “even slightly warmer temperatures [less than is predicted in coming years] could start melting permafrost, which threatens to trigger the release of huge amounts of greenhouse gases trapped in ice,” with possible “fatal consequences” for the global climate. (As humans we aren't designed to breathe carbon dioxide or methane.)
The human era of civilization coincides closely with the geological epoch of the Holocene, beginning over 11,000 years ago. The previous Pleistocene epoch lasted 2.5 million years. Scientists now suggest that a new epoch began about 250 years ago, the Anthropocene, the period when human activity has had a dramatic impact on the Earth. The rate of change of geological epochs is hard to ignore.
One index of human impact is the extinction of species, now estimated to be at about the same rate as it was 65 million years ago, when an asteroid hit the Earth. That is the presumed cause for the ending of the age of the dinosaurs, which opened the way for small mammals to proliferate, and ultimately modern humans. Today, it is humans who are the asteroid, condemning much of life to extinction.
The IPCC report reaffirms that the “vast majority” of known fuel reserves must be left in the ground to avert intolerable risks to future generations. Meanwhile the major energy corporations make no secret of their goal of exploiting these reserves and seek new ones to plunder, even in the most environmentally sensitive and vulnerable ecologically places on Earth.
A day before it ran a summary of the IPCC conclusions, The New York Times reported that huge Midwestern grain stocks are rotting so that the products of the North Dakota oil boom can be shipped by rail to Asia and Europe.
The same is true in Canada. Grain sits in silos; farmers are unable to find railcars to ship their grain to ports or domestic markets, while tar sands products are shipped by the hundreds of thousands of rail cars daily to Asia and the USA. "Oil transportation by rail is expected to jump to about 700,000 barrels per day by 2016 from 200,000 bpd in late 2013, the Calgary-based lobby group predicted Monday in its annual crude oil forecast." [Financial Post; June 9, 2014]
I used to want grandchildren. I don't anymore. Best not to bring children into the hell this world is going to descend into.
"Only when the last tree has been cut, and the last river has been poisoned, and the last fish has died. Then you will realize that you can't eat money." Chief Seattle