Thursday, October 15, 2009
Blog Action Day 09: Climate Change
October 15, 2009 — Today over 7000 bloggers are participating in Blog Action Day by posting comments on a subject of global significance to humanity: Climate Change. The unfortunate acronym of BAD notwithstanding, it's a good idea for reflection and consciousness raising.
For millions of years human life has clung precariously to our tiny marble in the sky, from barest subsistence living off the land like all the other animals, to learning in minuscule increments to adapt to existing and varying temperatures and availability of water and food and shelter.
From caves to make-shift hovels to skyscrapers; from rivers to aqueducts and aquifers and reservoirs; from foraging to agriculture; and from hunting/fishing to animal husbandry, mankind learned to put a widening safety margin between survival and flourishing.
Through the creation of language to communicate and preserve the fragile knowledge, our understanding of the natural laws at work on our planet broadened. We learned to harness energies from many sources—earth, wind, fire, and water and raw muscle power—and change the face of the land forever.
With levers and pulleys we built monumental structures. With fire from wood, coal, oil, we extended our territorial reach from icefields to scorching deserts as our nomadic ancestors explored the globe from pole to pole, not dissuaded by the vast distances of sea and land.
Through brutal conquest and pillage they took what they needed, whether natural resources or the achievements of other populations. Constant battles between population groupings both obtained and destroyed resources, material and human, in escalating numbers. Treating foreign peoples as no more than dehumanized resources to rob, kill and expropriate, the conquering hordes took land and lives with equal impunity, even unto the present day. The mutual destruction and enslavement of conquered populations, whether for free labor or extracted tribute, became entrenched into our very genes as protocols to benefit our own kind, and continues yet, allowing limited and differentiated development of societies and civilizations.
It was the discovery of electricity that gave mankind its greatest boon in advancing beyond the marauder stage, in only the last 200 years, a mere blink of an eye on the historic scale. It allowed the building of infrastructure, the unfolding of ever ascending scientific and technological marvels, from refrigeration to a national power grid and the Internet, from rural to urban habitats, from local to interplanetary transport, and, sadly, ever more sophisticated armaments with which to continue the ingrained habits of war and conquest.
To a great extent such cultural climates were molded by the planet's own conditions of climatic changes, the natural cycles of freezing and melting as its great source of received energy, the Sun, went through its own cycles of increased and decreased output.
Relatively long spells of weather within tolerable margins allowed humanity to settle into patterns of tribal, racial and national groupings and the expectation of stable conditions within the changing seasons.
There is a tendency to expect the accustomed to remain unchanged as the given, the taken-for-granted, a right. With seemingly free energy, assured food supplies, comfortable lodgings, mankind's complacency settled in for the long run. Our ability to temper, and to tamper with, natural environments lulled our communal memories of a harsher time into oblivion. Our dependence grew on an ever narrower margin of variable conditions of temperature and humidity, within which lay our ideal comfort zone for food supplies and ever-rising living standards.
As our populations expanded exponentially, the impact on our global life support system began to make itself felt. The historic process of "befouling our nest" showed its consequences in the water, earth and air. Like heedless children, mankind had proceeded on its course of expansion and exploitation until it crossed the threshold where the planet's natural processes of self-cleansing and maintaining a human-friendly equilibrium became overwhelmed.
Now we are engaged in seeking to heal our planet by reducing our habits of polluting and altering our energy use to cleaner methods. But like careless children who don't understand the chains of causality with which they play, we will meddle with nature's processes at our peril. Like petulant children throwing tantrums when deprived of what they had come to consider their rights and privileges, we urge each other to rush headlong into putative cures whose hoped-for remedial effects will have consequences we cannot predict.
Whether only we have caused global warming or cooling with our puny activities is far from certain. Solar activities that flood us with heat waves, or their absence, have far more effect on the state of our planet and our sister planets than our vehicle emissions.
Earth's life forms evolved through far more dramatic changes in soil and atmosphere all those millions of years ago. For every substance there is a customer, and we and the plants have come to a symbiotic relationship of exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide. If we befoul the air and decimate plant life beyond the plants' ability to restore, we endanger ourselves.
Our big brains need a certain minimum level of oxygen for full functioning. Air quality has degraded, especially around massive population concentrations. How has that affected our cognitive and physiological performance?
Early man as well as modern man destroyed huge swathes of forest for fire and timber, yet good wood grows far more slowly than the rate of harvesting. Forest management is a rather recent development, and not practiced everywhere. Shortsighted gain sacrifices long-term survival. Moments of truth appear only on the edge of disaster.
It is eye-opening to realize and remember that human survival everywhere depends on the quality of a few inches of topsoil. The soil in which the rainforests flourished has already given its all. It is not naturally rich for other crops. It requires massive infusions of chemical fertilizers, a self-defeating notion, and removal of trees makes the soil subject to erosion, like the horrible dustbowls of the Great Depression. Ignorance and shortsightedness will bring accelerating disasters.
More plants could easily handle our carbon emissions. It is, after all, one of the planet's most prevalent and most necessary components. The more important point is that we are polluting our life support system. We've understood the harm of forced inhalation of cigarette smoke and banned it from public areas. We have the geological evidence of the devastation caused by volcanic eruptions. We are well on our way to developing vehicles that run on cleaner energy. Necessity is the mother of innovation, and urgency begets solutions.
The quick, easy, dirty energy we have been obtaining from fossil fuels—coal, oil—has not only run its course in pushing us forward to far-spread suburban settlements and exploded commuting distances, but has brought us to the threshold of exhausted supplies. Scarcity has triggered the age-old response of appropriation by force.
To get control of dwindling oil supplies, America is at war with an escalating number of countries beneath whose soil lies the coveted resource. By a demented logic, America justifies wasting irreplaceable amounts of its wealth and lives to attack Middle Eastern countries, gashing unhealable wounds into its relationships with those other cultures and reversing centuries of diplomatic evolution. America is resorting to the same aggressive, imperialist practices she freed herself from in the name of enlightened principles of freedom from tyranny two and a half centuries ago. Not only has America betrayed its founding ideals, but has with every bomb and bullet dimmed its own reputation in the world.
The true pollution and environmental damage we've done is not to the physical environment but to the cultural/conceptual one. The fragile veneer of civilization and human values has cracked, much as the crust of the earth cracks from subterranean eruptions. The climate change we need to repair is not whether the globe's comfort zone of temperature oscillates a few more degrees than before, but the cultural climate of humans at war rather than in non-predatory cooperation.
The true enemy is neither our fellow man in other countries nor the planet's climate. The true enemy is in ourselves and our diseased ideas of rationalized mayhem and mass murder. And if we ever, in our most idealistic moments, hope to convert less humanistic governments to our model of democracy, we would fare far better by example, inspiring emulation, rather than by forcible regime change that is not an organic or spontaneous outgrowth from the indigenous cultures.
The climate change we need is not in the "carbon footprint" or tampering with the laws of nature, but in the mental/emotional climate of military boot imprints on the soil and throats of other nations. Our entire orientation of the metaphoric "wars" on terror (isolated incidents by individuals, not attacks by nation states), drugs, poverty, hunger, ignorance, or any cause du jour, is a travesty of truth-distortion and a ploy for social engineering that ineluctably leads to abrogation of individual rights by a ruling class. We become the tyrants we profess to deplore.
Climate change in the planet's physical rhythms is actually a good thing, stimulating inventiveness and letting humanity emerge into a sustainable modus vivendi and elevated consciousness. We need to be reminded that change is what brought us step by step to the evolved creatures we are now, coping by adapting to new conditions. The planet may well serve us better when dry areas become wet again, and cold regions become more hospitable.
We need to remember especially that America is primarily a land of immigrants, people who were willing to be uprooted and go where life was more promising, and where a great mixing bowl of diverse peoples learned to live together and thrive together in a new land. We need to be reminded that constructive, not destructive, practices and mutually respectful, not mutually destructive, relations are the solution to both the outer and the inner climate.
We must outgrow the predatory habits that served us as animals. They are the source of monstrous evils committed in the name of power, resources, religion, economics, security, national interest, or any other current buzzword we hold up as pretexts. These malevolent justifications pollute our spiritual climate and pervert our value system. Worse, they poison the whole world's meme pool, its storehouse of ideas and wisdom.
Let's change the climate of warmongering and remove the provocations for enmity. Obama should not be continuing an illegal war in Iraq and spreading its conflagration into adjoining lands. Congress needs to take back its duties to authorize wars and exercise its right to withdraw funds from illegal operations.
The American people need to reconcile their religious values (especially "Thou shalt not kill"; "thou shalt not steal"; "thou shalt not covet"; and "thou shalt not bear false witness [lie]") with their actions in the world. They need to learn to evaluate more critically and resist more intelligently the temptations by their "leaders" for vengeful wars against imaginary enemies.
The American people need to hold their representatives' feet to the fire of truth and not get swept up by the hysteria of false patriotism. Invest our resources in enterprises that build a less befouling infrastructure and we will accomplish both: a cleaner climate and a peaceful world.