By John Keeble
Ah, the Atlantic hurricane season has kicked off with promises of record violence – a timely reminder that the planet is still crashing out of control regardless of our very understandable focuses on the pandemic and Black Lives Matter.
Or, put another way, the environmental crisis continues to grow worldwide while we are preoccupied. The planet has not put its reaction to human pollution on hold while we sort out ourselves and get back to noticing it.
On the other hand, the human filthy rich and powerful – the individuals, politicians and corporations – are very pleased that you are not noticing the environment being exploited for the benefit of the few and the detriment of the many now and in the future.
This is despite growing evidence that exploitation of nature not only adds to climate change but also fuels pandemics.
Have you noticed how the rush for profits has continued even as our nations are gasping for breath in the Covid pandemic? No time or money to help the millions of people cut off from medical cover or ability to pay loans on their homes but time and money aplenty for boosting the dirty energy companies. Surely, as individuals, we must be able to do something about it?
Thinking people – let us leave aside the anonymous trolls and “fake news” parrots – have been considering the question. This is a critical moment and there are ways to fight the destruction of the planet and our societies, even though the powerful elites and their followers want more of the divisive snout-in-the-trough measures that have caused so much damage in the past few years.
By May this year, when Covid infections and deaths were rampant in the UK and the US, the world’s most powerful disrupter was still at work damaging renewable energy, promoting dirty power from fossil fuels, and scrapping environmental rules and regulations designed to protect you and preserve the planet for future generations. Scientific research shows that between 90,000 and 360,000 deaths per year in the US are linked to air pollution and it is getting worse.
This week, the latest example of environmental vandalism is coming from the so-called Environmental Protection Agency which is due to lift controls on methane, one of the most potent global-warming gases, to aid the oil and gas industries.
If you think that is bad, just wait for November 4, the day after the US presidential elections. The US, subject to its vote on November 3, is poised to torpedo the world’s efforts to combat climate deterioration and preserve the world as a human habitat.
The Paris climate accords were signed by nearly 200 countries and brought on board the dirtiest nations on Earth – including China, America and India. Then the US climate denier-in-chief put profits ahead of lives and pulled out of the Paris Agreement (exit effective November 4).
“The choice of [Joe] Biden or [Donald] Trump in the White House is huge, not just for the US but for the world generally to deal with climate change,” said Todd Stern, who was America’s chief negotiator when the deal was sealed in Paris in 2015. “If Biden wins, November 4 is a blip, like a bad dream is over. If Trump wins, he seals the deal. The US becomes a non-player and the goals of Paris become very, very difficult. Without the US in the long term, they certainly aren’t realistic.”
Way beyond being unrealistic is the very real risk of the biggest polluters getting into a growth war to grab every economic advantage without care for the environmental damage. It is hard to imagine China, India, Australia and South American countries standing back to allow the US to grab the most economic gain just because economic growth is wrecking our future.
Indeed, just days ago India announced a major energy shift towards coal expansion. It is selling licences on an ancient and highly biodiverse forest to private firms to develop 40 new coal mines. If the world were standing together to cut fossil fuel use, would India have decided to go that route? What has been happening in leading nations, especially the US that was once regarded as a world leader in so many ways, impacts on decisions made by political leaders worldwide.
The rate at which the world is heating – and all the associated problems – is accelerating. The horror of the past that the global rise would hit 1.5C by mid-century is now happening 25 years earlier than predicted. (CHL ran the report and 400 readers clicked on it … a quarter of what we could have expected if the story had been about something really important like a change in alcohol prices).
Each of the past six decades has been warmer than the one preceding it, and 2020 is expected to set a new record. “In the United States, heat kills older people more than any other extreme weather event, including hurricanes,” reported the New York Times.
A fascinating aspect of Covid restrictions is the worldwide drop in emissions of carbon dioxide and other planet warming gases. It has been immediate proof that global heating is being caused by human activity – yes, I know, we all knew that but many people preferred to deny it and carry on with their old consumption ways.
The issue now is whether the greed of the few will rob the young generations of today by shoring up the dirty practices that caused the environmental crisis and will make it worse. Far worse.
In a fascinating “real time” study, scientists show that switching to a green economy is vital to build on the gains of the coronavirus pause. It would be possible to hold global heating to 1.5C by mid-century, thus avoiding the worst of the predicted catastrophes facing our younger generations.
“It is now make or break for the 1.5C target,” said Prof Piers Forster, of the University of Leeds, UK, who led the team of researchers. “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to really change the direction of society. We do not have to go back to where we were, because times of crisis are also the time to change.”
This change will happen only if we demand the worst practices are ended and commit to less exploitative ways of life, including phasing out the use of fossil fuels which not only damage the environment and human lives but also underpin social inequality.
The whole range of planet-killing exploitations are ready to rev-up again as soon as the coronavirus pandemic permits – most, of course, continue now.
The killing of animals, for example, ranging from poisoning dolphins and whales off south-eastern US and the appalling Chinese plundering of marine life off the Galapagos islands, to the brutal killing of billions of animals, causing huge environmental damage, for human food.
Plastics pollution has reached the highest mountaintops and the deepest ocean floors. Everyone knows about the damage to every living creature from plastic in the air, on the land and in the seas. And yet, instead of controlling it, producer countries are increasing production. A Yale university publication reports: “A world awash in plastic will soon see even more, as a host of new petrochemical plants — their ethane feedstock supplied by the fracking boom — come online. Major oil companies, facing the prospect of reduced demand for their fuels, are ramping up their plastics output.”
Meanwhile, scarce water supplies are being sucked into profit streams by big corporations; our use of irreplaceable resources is catastrophically high and growing; and we are causing a mass extinction of other creatures and plants.
So what can we do about it? Or should we just reach for another glass of red and feel comfortably helpless? After all we had to handle the issues of our times… but should we dump the cost of our exploitation of our once healthy green and blue planet on our children and grandchildren?
Obviously, the biggest change we can make is voting in governments that will use national power for the good of the people, nation and planet.
That is less easy than it might seem. Political systems are being rigged to keep rich and powerful hands on the scruff of the neck of ordinary voters. That surprised you, didn’t it?
What is surprising is how many people are stupid enough to go along with it – they imagine it will give them, personally, a benefit or, at least, not impact on them. I guess ordinary citizens felt the same during the rise of Nazi Germany.
Perhaps now, at this critical moment in our civilisations and the planet’s future, it is time to do more than vote – try to get thinking people, even self-focussed non-thinking people, to consider the future and exercise their right to choose our leaders.
On a personal level, we can choose how we live and consume. The generally-acknowledged biggest difference an individual can make to global warming is to stop consuming meat and dairy. It is not so difficult these days and plenty of help and advice are available.
Most CHL readers are baby boomers. Do you remember when we conquered our worlds in the last century? Isn’t it up to us to help save the world now?