Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, and Alabama are off the list of states I’m willing to visit. Ohio, Kentucky, and Missouri on that list as well, with exceptions for necessary pass-through travel. Texas, Florida, South Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee, and West Virginia are less attractive than they had been. Despite the fact that abortions have declined by more than 24 percent since 2005, these states are playing politics with women’s lives in an attempt to be the state that overturns 1973’s Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.
Making the passage of these new bills even more egregious is an insane level of punishment they prescribe. Georgia’s bill punishes women who travel out of state. Alabama’s bill provides for doctors to be jailed up to 99 years. Lawmakers in these states are hoping that by making the bills so terribly uncompromising they’ll guarantee a hearing in front of the Supreme Court, hopefully paving the way for the conservative-dominated court to reverse course. Never mind that the extreme nature of these laws is what is most likely to doom them should SCOTUS decide to take one or more of the cases. The political leverage that could come with overturning the famous case is all that matters.
The fallacy of the mislabeled pro-life movement is well documented. While screaming to protect the unborn, the rights of people who are actually living are not only ignored but severely trampled by the same people. The lack of support for the very things that prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place, such as contraception and universal health care, make any pro-life argument hypocritical. Universal lack of support for healthcare for women and children, laws that allow rapists to claim parental rights, reduction in services for feeding lower-income citizens, restricted access to mental health care, elimination of education funding, and lenient sentencing for rape and sexual abuse are all in direct conflict with the very concept of being pro-life. Yet, the same people writing and backing the heartbeat bills are fervently behind destroying the lives of people who somehow managed to survive the birthing process.
While the sheer stupidity of these heartbeat bills is infuriating, however, we face a bigger problem, one that threatens to make the inane little laws regarding the beginning of life irrelevant. An increasing number of studies and scientists are now saying that unless we, globally, take dramatic action immediately, we could potentially abort our entire planet by the year 2050. Understand, please, that I’m not merely talking about ecological concerns. While those are certainly significant and perhaps front-of-mind from a potential policy perspective, there are plenty of other unsustainable things we are doing that not only threaten the physical condition of the rock on which we live but whether our species continues to survive at all.
In his new book, Upheaval noted polymath Jared Diamond delivers a frightening warning that focusing on environmental matters alone is not enough to save the planet. Instead, he argues, we need to take a more holistic approach to sustainability across a number of problem areas. If not, he threatens, there is a fifty percent chance that we could completely eliminate ourselves by the year 2050.
Dismissing Mr. Diamond’s claims might be easy if there wasn’t such a preponderance of evidence that backs up what he says in the book. He doesn’t come by his prognostication without sufficient research to support his opinion. While the temptation is to pass off such a dire prediction as fear mongering, when one looks at the mountain of evidence addressing all the various problem facing humanity, one begins to get the feeling that Mr. Diamond’s 2050 deadline could actually be a bit generous.
What perhaps bothers me most, though, is that despite all the evidence, regardless of all the warnings, the people who are in positions to actually do something to stop this disastrous abortion of our planet and species (yes, I’m going to use the word abortion repeatedly) are choosing to completely ignore the severity of the problem because it is not politically expedient. The average person on the street, any street, is likely to only be aware of one, perhaps two of the primary challenges we face.
In an interview with David Wallace-Wells, Mr. Diamond restates his opinion thusly:
I would estimate the chances are about 49 percent that the world as we know it will collapse by about 2050. I’ll be dead by then but my kids will be, what? Sixty-three years old in 2050. So this is a subject of much practical interest to me. At the rate we’re going now, resources that are essential for complex societies are being managed unsustainably. Fisheries around the world, most fisheries are being managed unsustainably, and they’re getting depleted. Farms around the world, most farms are being managed unsustainably. Soil, topsoil around the world. Fresh water around the world is being managed unsustainably. With all these things, at the rate we’re going now, we can carry on with our present unsustainable use for a few decades, and by around 2050 we won’t be able to continue it any longer. Which means that by 2050 either we’ve figured out a sustainable course, or it’ll be too late.
We are, quite frighteningly, in a position of crisis overload. There are so many global situations that are unsustainable that we are completely overwhelmed by the sheer size and complexity of the problems. We find it much easier to completely ignore everything than to adequately address even one of the problems in a sustainable manner. By turning away and doing nothing, we allow the problems to grow exponentially, therefore shortening the amount of time we have until an involuntary abortion occurs.
Even in doing the research for this article, the preponderance of information available is so overwhelming that I’m having difficulty keeping up with everything. I knew when I started that keeping within a reasonable non-book-sized word limit was going to be difficult, but know before we’ve even started well that I’m going to have to abbreviate the amount of information rather severely. Please do not take that abbreviation to mean that any one portion of this impending disaster is less important than another. Our entire planet is in danger. Everything we do matters.
What I want to do is look at the situation first in terms of the extreme severity of the matter, defining it fairly specifically, consider steps already being taken to address the problem and whether those are working, then what needs to be done and the obstacles to achieving those goals. I am concerned that to some this may appear as an extremist rant and that is precisely what I do not want to present. The severity of the issue, however, is extreme. There is no getting around how dire our situation is.
Should I still be alive in the year 2050, and I assume that’s at least remotely possible, I will celebrate my 90th birthday. I would prefer to be able to celebrate that birthday on the same planet on which I was born and not in a corporately-managed bubble on Mars. For that to happen, though, a lot is going to have to change. If we claim to value life as much as pro-life terrorists infer, solving this problem should be the only thing on which we focus for the next ten years.
Planetary Abortion: A Slow Death
Horror movies have long been an unending source of ideas for horrible ways to die. Trapped inside a pizza, smothered by mozzarella, then being eaten is possibly the one that makes my stomach want to never see another piece of pepperoni again. Nick Cage being mercilessly stung by bees before trapped in wicker and set ablaze might be a more appropriate metaphor for how the earth might choose to kill us if given the option to do so. Drowning in popcorn while having sex is an unexpected form of demise one might not see coming until it is too late. There are hundreds of cringe-worthy deaths across the often equally horrific piles of celluloid that make up the horror movie genre.
Now, just imagine, being stuck on an island that is slowly shrinking, the available land and resources becoming smaller and smaller. It didn’t seem like much of an intrusion when there was still plenty of space between you and the water, but then you wake one morning to find the water at the end of your street. The next morning, it’s at your door. By the third morning, there’s water under your bed. You have no place to run, no means of escape, and no way to communicate with anyone who might rescue you.
Sound scary? That’s almost the exact scenario residents of the Marshall Islands are facing. As rising sea levels continue to increase due to the melting of polar ice caps, the residents of this chain of 1,200 small islands are already experiencing severe increases in water levels. They have few options beyond complete relocation. Making matters worse: when the problems first became noticeable, they presumed to have a hundred years or so to find a solution. However, as the pace of warming has increased, so too has the sea levels as well as the frequency of tropical storms that aggravate the problem.
The Marshall Islands aren’t the only ones with that problem, though. The Maldives are facing a similar crisis. A number of islands have already completely disappeared. Islands composing North Carolina’s Outer Banks, a popular vacation area I’ve personally enjoyed on multiple occasions, is losing six feet of coastal land to erosion every year. By the year 2050, if nothing is done, they could all be gone.
Unfortunately, our response to this situation tends to be something along the lines of, “That’s too bad, sucks for them.” What we fail to realize is that when one part of the planet dies, when one aspect of sustainability is a loss, the entire planet suffers. Our ecosystem is already to precariously balanced to endure continued this catastrophic levels of loss.
Just this past week, an article in Science Magazine details how warming is changing the sea ice, threatening the way of life for indigenous people on the islands of the Bering Sea. Where once the water between islands would freeze over during the winter, they’ve not seen a freeze of that level since 2012. The ice cover has fallen to its lowest level in at least four decades. As a result, just getting to the islands to deliver mail and resources has become difficult. The last Bering Air flight to the island of Diomede was in May, 2013. They are now dependent on weekly transfers by helicopter when weather permits.
Yet, that’s not the only threat we’re facing. While it might be easy enough for some to focus strictly on the environment, we’re also being threatened by processed foods. Studies released this week show that “ultra-processed” foods, those that are “ready-to-eat” and contain five or more ingredients such as breakfast cereals, sweetened yogurt, and hot dogs, make us likely to more, making them a significant factor in the obesity epidemic even when they have the same available calories and nutrients as minimally processed foods.
In 2017, Bryan Lufkin wrote an article for BBC’s FutureNow section listing ten critical issues facing us before 2050. In addition to the loss of cities and even whole nation states to the rise of warming oceans, he includes:
- Gene Modification
- Aging Population
- Social Media
- New Geopolitical Tensions
- Travel Safety
- Dwindling Resources
- Space Exploration and Settlement
- Boosted Human Brain Power
- Artificial Intelligence
While there’s no question those are all critical issues, several others also exist that need immediate attention. As I look through list after list of the world’s greatest challenges, things such as the threat of a global pandemic, lack of clean drinking water, drug-resistant diseases and other health-related issues loom large. Lufkin’s almost benign labeling of “Geopolitical Tensions” understates the reality of the global nuclear threat in addition to the near normalization of terrorist activities around the world. One of the biggest global threats in terms of violence is the fear that the gun violence epidemic to the United States might spread.
The number of pressing threats to the world can be broken down in several different ways and within certain contexts of attempting to solve the problems that breakdown is necessary in order to get anything practical accomplished. For the sake of initial conversation, however, and certainly within the realm of online media, broader terms make it a bit easier for one to wrap their brains around the huge problem sitting in front of us, threatening to devour everything we hold dear. Mr. Diamond has, I think, a reasonable grouping of the situation. He writes:
I identify four sets of problems with potential for worldwide harm. In descending order of dramatic visibility not not of importance, they are: explosions of nuclear weapons, global climate change, global resource depletion, and global inequalities of living standards. Other people might expand this list to include other problems, among which Islamic fundamentalism, emerging infectious diseases, and asteroid collision, and mass biological extinctions are candidates.
I take exception to Diamond singling out Islamic fundamentalism. Any religious fundamentalism is a threat and those threats are already affecting the planet for the worse. The rise of Christian fundamentalism in the United States is leading the country down a road of extreme intolerance that has already begun fuelling violence against minority groups. The rise of Hindu fundamentalism in India is just like what is happening in the US except they are attacking what has been one of the most diverse and accepting secular governments in the world. Any place where religion is taking a major role in government, populations are millions of people are at risk.
Diamond also raises the specter of a risk that hasn’t gotten a lot of serious media attention in the US: asteroid collision. I admit that there has been a bit more about this potential threat in the news over the past couple of years, specifically the “practice session” that was held this past April for emergency managers to attempt to find a solution in the event of such a collision. The good news: they’re practicing. The bad news: in their simulated events, no one was able to prevent the impact and subsequent annihilation. However, analysis shows that the chances of an asteroid strike on the plant are about 1 in 10,000. While we certainly need to keep looking for a solution, I’m not sure it factors that strongly into the complete abortion of the planet at this juncture.
A more suitable replacement on the list of threats is the grown of nationalism and the decline of true democracy around the world. Data analyzed and mapped by ArcGIS shows some of the most troubling hot spots. Those include, in order listed,
As troubling as that list is, it fails to include some of the areas of most recent concern such as Turkey, Venezuela, Brazil, Egypt, Syria, and Sudan. That’s not even counting all the regions of Europe that are currently part of a larger country but clamoring for their own independence. If all those nationalistic interests were to be served there would be over 60 additional countries in Europe alone!
Why does this matter? Because democratic countries have traditionally been more willing to consider how their activities and relationships affect those of other countries, specifically their allies. As nationalism grows, governments take a “Me First” approach to problems and ignore their relative place in the global environment, whether that be ecological or economical or medical.
Perhaps most importantly, nationalism tends to take compromise off the table. As we’ve seen in the United States, with the rise of an “America First” doctrine has come with an inability between ruling parties to reach a consensus on critical matters. Diamond explains the severity of this issue:
The first, and also in my opinion the most ominous, of the fundamental problems now threatening American democracy is our accelerating deterioration of political compromise. … political compromise is one of the basic advantages of democracies as compared to dictatorships, because it reduces or prevents both tyranny by a majority and its converse of paralysis by a frustrated minority. The U.S. Constitution sought to create pressure for compromise by devising systems of checks and balances. For instance, our president leads government policy, but Congress controls the government’s budget, and the Spear of the House (Congress’s lower chamber) set the House’s agenda for acting on presidential proposals. If, as regularly happens, our representatives in Congress disagree among themselves, and if backers of one view cannot muster sufficient votes to impose their will, a compromise must be recher before the government can do anything.
One tends to not consider how their governmental chaos translates into global chaos, but the US provides, sadly, far too perfect an example. One of the 45th president’s first acts upon taking office was to secede from the Paris Climate Agreement. Why? Because he didn’t think it was “fair” to the United States. Is the president willing to compromise on the topic? To date, he has not. In fact, he has gone out of his way to deny any existence of global warming, down to refusing to acknowledge that it even exists. As such compromise continues to break down and nationalism continues to grow, this concept of “I’m doing what’s best for me and to hell with everyone else” is the political equivalent of a spoiled child forcing their mother to abort a pregnancy so they can continue to hog all the attention. What that child fails to realize is that they’re killing their mother, without whom they’ll die.
If that comparison seems extreme to you, then good—we’re facing an extreme situation that ends in the complete annihilation of every living thing on the planet. We need to get a grip on how extreme the problem is if we’re going to solve it.
Okay, perhaps ‘extreme’ carries the wrong inferences. Let’s go with ‘urgent’ instead. I don’t want anyone thinking that the planet is doomed to blow up at any given second. There is room for action to be taken, but that room is small and seems to be growing considerably shorter.
How short? Let’s get back to the whole global climate change topic for a minute. Just over a week ago, May 10, the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii showed that carbon dioxide levels surpassed 415 parts per million(ppm). On one hand, that doesn’t really sound like a whole lot, does it? If carbon dioxide exists in 415 parts out of a million, that means there are 999,585 that don’t have carbon dioxide. What’s the big deal?
Simple numbers, in this case, are hiding the actual severity of the problem. One of the reasons the planet Earth is so much older than humanity is because it was once dense with carbon dioxide, about 20 times the current level. 500 million years ago, humans, at least as we currently identify them, could not have existed. Then, some 49 million years ago, give or take millennia, there was a dramatic and severe cooling of the planet. With that cooling came a decreased level of CO2 emissions and that allowed oxygen-consuming life forms, aka mammals, to evolve. While those numbers fluctuated a bit over time, they settled around 215 ppm in the early 19th century, prior to the industrial revolution.
All that changed, however, and changed quickly once humans started doing things like burning fossil fuels by the metric ton, clearing forests, and paving over everything with concrete. Reaching the milestone of 415 ppm means that carbon dioxide levels are the highest they’ve been in 800,000 years! In short, humanity has never had to endure air at these levels before and there is a lingering question as to what the long-term effect on the species might be. While we are still well away from the 2000 ppm point at which CO2 presents a challenge to our existence on its own, the effect of the higher level on the globe is the catastrophe that is most pressing. There’s a vicious circle in play here: Rising CO2 levels increase water temperatures. Warmer water temperatures increase CO2 levels. Add additional warming from man-made factors and the rate of warming begins to accelerate much faster than what models have been able to predict. As a result, we are now facing a problem we once thought was 200 or so years away is now getting ready to slap us in the face in about 30 years or less. In short, we don’t have to worry about dying from excessive carbon dioxide because every other factor we need to survive will have destroyed us long before then.
Is There A Doctor On The Planet?
If there is good news anywhere in this incredibly complex and frequently chaotic situation we’re in it’s the fact that there are already a lot of people working on almost all the problems we’re facing. I say almost because the matters that directly involve government are not so easily addressed by forces outside those governments. We’ll get to that a little later in the conversation. What’s important is that where people can do something they have established organizations to address some of the most critical needs that threaten our existence.
Right off the bat, let me say that I’m not being compensated in any manner by any of the organizations I’m about to mention. In fact, I’m not being compensated at all. If you would like to help change that, there’s a donation button at the top of the page. We would appreciate your help.
When we look across the incredible breadth of need, a lot of issues are being addressed by the United Nations. At least, they’re attempting to address needs. The work of the United Nations falls under five broad categories of international concern. They are:
- Maintain international peace and security
- Protect Human Rights
- Deliver Humanitarian Aid
- Promote Sustainable Development
- Uphold International Law
All five of those areas are critical if we are to adequately address the challenges standing in the way of our long-term survival. In fact, the United Nations is probably the only organization capable of taking on the full breadth of global challenges at the same time. The UN has size, scope, and resources capable of reaching into almost every country on the planet and helping to affect positive change.
Among the projects doing the most good is the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which not only helps countries get away from single-use materials but also helps reduce terrorism by addressing the conditions that foster the spread of that disease. Other projects such as the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) and the Tech against Terrorism initiative are critically important to addressing world safety issues and making sure that other humanitarian aid and sustainability programs can be applied to smaller and often trouble-filled countries.
While the UN can address large-scale issues in a large-scale manner, it has more difficulty reaching into the detailed needs of individual communities, especially those that are ignored and/or oppressed by their own governments. To help fill the gaps, there are Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). While the International Red Cross and Red Crescent are probably the most well known of these organizations, there are literally thousands of NGOs scattered across the planet doing good, often with no thanks or recognition for their effort.
NGOs have the potential, in many cases, to bring a greater level of expertise from the private sector to help address real-world problems in places too easily ignored. They are frequently challenged at every step by bureaucratic obstacles and sometimes have to abandon their work due to the overwhelming threat of violence. Yet, this is where the front line battle is occurring to secure our long term survival. Please allow me to highlight just a few of these wonderful organizations and the work they’re doing.
Mercy Corps (mercycorps.org) is one of the most effective NGOs when it comes to addressing world hunger and clean water. With some 5,500 or so people on the ground, they aren’t afraid to step right into the middle of a mess such as the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo and work to help find a solution. One of the tactics that help make them effective is their ability to partner with major international corporations to bring materials and technologies to bear at a reduced cost into places that didn’t even know those options existed. They’re even partnering with NASA in the search to find water on other planets. To say that the work they are doing is critical to the survival of the planet is an understatement.
What impresses me about Mercy Corps is that they are not only addressing immediate needs, they are actively anticipating and finding solutions to future challenges as well. They’re not waiting until someone calls in desperation before they begin working to not only sustain life but make it better. Through education programs and corporate partnerships, they are equipping some of the planet’s most challenged people groups with leaders that can help them make more intelligent and sustainable choices going forward.
Ceres (ceres.org) is another heavy-hitter in the area of sustainability. Their focus over the past 30 or so years has been to harness the resources of investors and corporations of every size to help address challenges through economic development and development of leaders. They’re stepping up to the plate in places where nationalistic governments are afraid to go, tackling climate change, pollution, water scarcity, and one area often overlooked: workplace equality.
Where Ceres excels is in getting board rooms off their over-sized corporate asses and focused on sustainability by demonstrating how that doing good can also be profitable, making business cases for projects that extend the lifeline of the planet while boosting the global economy at the same time. Ceres understands the truth behind the maxim that money talks and finds a way to make it say the right things to address sustainability needs around the globe.
Having been raised in rural Oklahoma, when I first heard of Heifer International (heifer.org) I assumed that it had something to do with the breeding of cows. Heifer turns out to be way cooler than breeding cattle, though it does help with that sort of activity. What Heifer does is go hands-on with preventing poverty and hunger by helping small-scale farmers raise crops and cattle in a sustainable manner. If the situation calls for a cow or a group of cows, they help find those cows. Same for chickens, goats, and other common farm animals. They teach sustainable farming methods in places where farming was seen as a futile effort or economically unsustainable. They insure the provision of basic needs in communities that have absolutely nothing from which to build. Heifer gets down to the nitty-gritty of not just creating programs but helping real people with real needs.
Where Heifer shines is their work helping women to become entrepreneurs, teaching them that they can be self-sufficient on their own, helping them to develop leadership skills and setting up education programs teaching them to read and calculate and think creatively about problem-solving. In so many places around the world, women are still treated as property or worse. Heifer pulls women out of that inequality and helps them develop the ability to make intelligent and informed decisions for themselves, helping them take a role in their own economic security. Programs such as these are exactly the approach needed to make sure we survive at least into the next century.
While politicians in the United States fuss and fume over the concept of universal health coverage, PATH (path.org) is actually out there making it a reality in hundreds of places around the world. PATH is taking health care to people who have never seen a doctor, don’t understand the basics of how to avoid disease, where mortality rates are frighteningly high, and in places where healthcare is often met with suspicion and hostility. Their to-do list involves tracking outbreaks of Ebola, Malaria, and meningitis. They’ve been instrumental in developing technologies that make it easier to provide vaccinations, align regulation between countries, and smooth the flow of medicines from ports of entry to the places where it is most needed.
PATH does especially critical work with women and children, addressing mortality rates and healthcare needs of some of the world’s most vulnerable people. Their digital health tools help identify and provide treatment for reproductive and communicable diseases before they have a chance to become an epidemic. This is another organization that is seriously pushing the envelope toward the future and in the process laying the foundational groundwork that is necessary for our continued survival.
The Foundation for Economic Education (fee.org) is almost a global structure on par with the UN. Stretching across 73 participating countries, they have amazing reach and influence in educating the world about the economics of protecting the environment in every form. UNESCO has even called their approach to education “cutting edge.” By bringing together all the potential players within a given economy, FEE addresses the differences between economic theory and economic reality, the challenges of entrepreneurship, and the morality of Capitalism. As such, they are a major force in helping young democracies to grow and become more stable as they struggle for sustainability.
FEE hosts events worldwide, produces its own video series, publishes books by its founder, Leonard E. Read, and hosts its own FEECon. The impact the organization has is practically unmatched by any other than, perhaps, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. One should note, however, that FEE is a very strong Libertarian organization which sometimes puts it in conflict with the governments of its member countries, including the United States. They campaign strongly for deregulation which may not necessarily be the best approach when we’re looking at a mere 30-odd years before a possible catastrophic situation occurs. Still, the amount of good they have done to date outweighs the dangers of their political principals.
There are hundreds of other worthwhile organizations, of course, and often it is the smaller NGOs that accomplish the most groundwork. Larger organizations require a heavier load of bureaucracy that causes them to move more slowly in their response to crisis situations. Smaller NGOs are frequently more nimble and address a critical situation more quickly.
At the same time, not every good move is undertaken by an NGO, nor should it be. There are certain advances that require such tremendous up-front investment that they can only be achieved through major industry players. A good example of this is electric car development. While electric cars have been possible for many years, going all the way back to when I was in college, It wasn’t until Tesla disrupted the automotive market that real development started taking place among traditional automakers. As a result, we’re seeing an increasing number of non-gasoline-powered vehicles enter the market, a step that has the potential to dramatically reduce global CO2 emissions.
Within the fashion industry, which accounts for millions of tons in landfill waste, there is a strong move toward finding more sustainable resources for clothing. The Sustainable Fashion Forum this past April brought together fashion industry leaders from all over the world to discuss and examine how to make clothes that don’t damage the environment or economies in one way or the other. While they’re still far from finding a long-term solution, the fact that they’re responding to market pressure rather than government mandate is encouraging.
Perhaps one of the most radical attempts to address environmental development came from the U.S. Congress in the form of the Green New Deal. Even though the resolution was defeated in the Senate, the fact that it exists at all sets the foundation for continued conversation going into the 2020 election cycle. The entire document does not have to be accepted for pieces to influence future legislation in a positive manner.
When we see a news article addressing yet another dire warning about impending disaster we tend to get lost in the size of the problem without stopping to consider whether anyone is already addressing the matter. In most all the points of concern raised by scientists and analysts around the world, someone is already doing something to combat that problem. We should all be encouraged by the good that is already happening. Unfortunately, it’s not enough.
Get Off My Agronomically-Sustainable Lawn
The wet dream of Capitalism is that private industry can and will solve any problem without government interference. Over and over, one hears economic evangelists proclaiming the virtue of companies that profit by responding to an overwhelming need in the market and they expect us to believe that is going to solve everything.
Reality, however, is a very different matter. As we’ve seen with skyrocketing price increases for critical medicines, expecting companies to always “do the right thing” is naive. Companies are more likely to take a course of action that responds to increasing dividends for investors. If that means contributing to the global increase in the cost of medical care, so be it. Profit comes before everything.
When corporations and businesses can directly address matters of environmental and humanitarian concern, such as the need to build an economically efficient and reusable rocket to transfer people and supplies to space, they do so very well. However, even the FEE’s education program is a long way from convincing the most powerful players that there is profit in finding sustainable solutions to things such as ending hunger and helping developing regions become more self-sufficient. States are having to sue companies like Purdue Pharma because they refuse to accept responsibility for their role in the opioid crisis. Ask anyone at General Mills, Unilever, Danone, or Nestlé to dramatically re-develop all their products to reduce the amount of processing in their food products and one is likely to be laughed out of the room. They may add new, less-processed foods to their inventory but they’re not going to change the products that provide them the most consistent profits.
Am I speculating over a hypothetical situation? I don’t think so. Food insecurity is a major aspect of saving the planet. Ten companies, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Mars, Associated British Foods, and Mondelez, control the majority of the world’s food supply. Together, they could easily and quickly eliminate hunger across the planet. They have been able to do this for decades. OXFAM has tried previously to get the food giants to work together to address the situation and at times has gotten one or two of them to participate in specific short-term projects, but one doesn’t have to look very far to realize they’re not doing nearly as much as they could. Hunger and food insecurity remains one of the largest and most pervasive crisis items around the world.
If Capitalism isn’t going to save us, then who is? Are NGOs the answer?
As much as they would like to solve the world’s crisis issues, NGOs can only go so far. Their first challenge is that of limited funding. As non-profits, NGOs rely upon grants and charitable giving to secure their operational budgets. While charitable giving in the US was up 5% in 2017 (the latest year for which statistics exist), that giving is not necessarily equitable across all the areas of need. Giving toward health-related charities was $38.27 billion while giving toward education charities was $58.9 billion and environmental charities only received $11.83 billion.
If those numbers seem off balance, consider that the majority of charitable giving in the U.S. goes toward religious organizations, a whopping $127 billion. While major religious denominations do some crisis intervention, the greater majority of those funds remain with local churches, funding things like larger buildings, flashier Sunday morning shows, and large staff salaries. Less than five percent of church-related giving goes toward crisis-related programs and participation in those programs often comes with the requirement of participation in a religious service of some kind.
Charitable giving is at its core unreliable. When economic downturns hit, charitable giving is one of the first things cut by both individuals and corporations. When economies turn upward, however, charitable giving only grows at roughly a third of the speed of the stock market. This makes it difficult for smaller NGOs to engage in long-term projects because they have no guarantee that their funding is going to remain steady over the 10-15 years necessary to implement such a plan.
NGO’s also have a problem with limited reach. While some of the largest such as FEE are able to work across several different countries, even the biggest have places they’re not allowed to go. In general, any country where communism is the form of government or a dictator is in charge NGOs are not allowed. These are the places where UN researchers have the greatest amount of difficulty in surveying humanitarian and environmental conditions. Authoritarian governments are often paranoid that NGOs might influence those they help and sew the seeds of rebellion against the government. Therefore, few allow them access for even the most critical of needs.
If capitalism and charitable giving are not enough to address the world’s problems, then what universal source of help remains? Ostensibly, governments. In theory, that is part of the whole purpose of the United Nations, governments working together for the universal good. However, as we’ve seen repeatedly, not everyone cooperates and the work of the UN is increasingly limited as nationalistic countries with populist governments pull out of programs they don’t like.
Here is where that lack of compromise really begins to hurt. When countries and politicians put ideologies ahead of saving the planet how are we not all doomed? The concept that everyone should take care of their own yard doesn’t work because while one country may be committed to an agronomically-sustainable model, the country next door to them may prefer to have a coal-burning pit in their front yard belching smoke and polluting the air for everyone. If life on earth is to be sustained, there has to be a high level of cooperation and compromise for the sake of the better good. Yet, as domestic politics has proven, getting politicians off their ideological high horses is almost impossible.
To this end, I have a first-person example. I recently wrote all my Congressional representatives regarding the Green New Deal. Unfortunately, between the time I wrote and the time I received replies, the Senate defeated the resolution. However, I did hear from Representative Andre Carson (D) and Senator Mike Braun (R) on the matter at large. First, Mr. Carson’s response:
Time and time again, the American public has voiced its support for initiatives that maintain our pristine public lands and waters, protect wildlife, and reduce the impact of climate change. I was proud to support Obama Administration’s enactment of a number of new environmental protection policies, including limiting emissions from cars and power plants and restricting the dumping of pollutants into waterways. These policies were critical steps toward our goals of protecting public health and counteracting years of environmental degradation.
Unfortunately, Environmental Protection Agency under the Trump Administration has acted to reverse many Obama Era rules, removing restrictions seen to be detrimental to corporate interests. These changes are extremely short sighted and could have impacts on our country and our planet for years to come. I strongly believe that Congress, working alongside an active and responsible EPA, has an obligation to take action to ensure that the environment is preserved and protected for future generations of Americans. I will continue to support legislation that promotes emission control and the use of alternative energy, restricts dumping of pesticides and other toxic substances, protects wildlife and public lands, and ensures public health is a consideration in all environmental regulation.
As has been my experience with Mr. Carson before, he manages to not specifically endorse the Green New Deal specifically while voicing his support for the basic tenets of the resolution. Two days later, I heard from Senator Braun:
The Green New Deal is an unreasonable policy proposal that sacrifices the economic and energy needs of everyday Americans to promote more government control. While the resolution itself lacks concrete policy proposals, press releases issued by its sponsors show that the Green New Deal would radically change the lives of each one of us, forcing Americans to make costly investments in unproven, unreliable technologies to advance a political agenda of elites in Washington.
Economists estimate that implementing the Green New Deal would cost somewhere between $51 and $93 trillion over the next ten years, or between $361,000 and $653,000 per family. In addition to its upfront costs, the Green New Deal ignores the needs of our electrical grid to be supplied by reliable energy. Unfortunately, using technology available today, a renewables only energy supply would not be able to meet electrical demand needed during the coldest months of the winter, and the warmest months of the summer.
While I do recognize the need to do something to address our changing climate, I will not offer my approval for a plan that has the potential to cause so much harm for Hoosier families. In the Senate I will use my position to ensure that the United States’ takes meaningful steps towards cleaner energy production while ensuring that our existing economy and jobs are protected.
This is why I support the USE IT Act, which incentivizes technologies to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air, creating new uses for CO2 that do not pollute our atmosphere. Moving forward, I will continue to give any serious policy proposals their due consideration when it comes to protecting our environment from the harmful effects of climate change.
Wait, what? Not only is Senator Braun misinformed on the reliability of renewable energy sources, but he also seems to not understand how government funding works. No one is going to come around to individual residents and demand they pay $653,000 per family. When we pay our taxes, the money is no longer ours—it belongs to the federal government. The federal government pays the bills, not individual families. If such were the case where individuals paid for each specific program, spending would likely look quite different than what we see in the current federal budget.
What is the USE IT Act? The act is Senate bill S.383, introduce by Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), co-sponsored by Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Tom Carper (D-DE), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Tina Smith (D-MN), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Mike Enzi (R-WY). The stated purpose of the bill is to “support carbon utilization and direct air capture research. The bill would also support federal, state, and non-governmental collaboration in the construction and development of carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration (CCUS) facilities and carbon dioxide (CO2) pipelines.”
Seems like a good idea, right? At least Congress is doing something to address environmental concerns. We can support that, can’t we?
Sure, but the problem is that substituting the USE IT act in place of the Green New Deal is like giving someone a four-ounce candy bar in place of a four-course meal. Capturing carbon emissions is a good start but does not touch the need to completely end the consumption of fossil fuels, especially the burning of coal, the development of alternative sources of energy, provisions for clean drinking water, and the full range of other solutions that the Green New Deal addresses.
Most importantly, perhaps, is the fact that the USE IT act is a slow-moving solution and the planet doesn’t have that kind of time. Remember, we’re looking at the catastrophic planetary failure by the year 2050. That’s only 30 years! And that doesn’t mean we’re going to wake up the morning of January 1, 2050, and suddenly everything’s gone to shit. We’re facing a continued deterioration of our global situation that has already started and continues to gradually grow worse the longer we sit around and do nothing. We are at a point where we need drastic and dramatic action and yes, Senator Braun, it’s not going to be inexpensive. Taxes may have to be raised on one percent of top earners. Yet, that is the only reasonable way out of this problem.
By the way, that part about renewable energy sources not being reliable? The people of Iceland would like to disagree. They have been using 100% renewable energy sources for all of its electricity production for more than seven years. They’ve been able to maintain a higher standard of living than most “Hoosiers” while completely eliminating the use of fossil fuels in the development of electricity for the entire country. Yes, their land mass is considerably smaller than the United States, but they are proof that renewables can work even through the most challenging weather patterns.
Here’s the thing: the environment isn’t the only problem and as severe as the differences toward environmental solutions is, when we look at other issues such as nuclear proliferation, religious-based terrorism, hunger, and healthcare, the parties involved are often more widely separated on those issues than they are on the environment. From Brazil to Turkey to India to China, no government wants to commit to the hard choices necessary to sustain life on the planet. They don’t want to participate in global programs because they fear any outside force telling them what to do. So, like spoiled children, world leaders sit in their heavily padded high chairs and pout and yell and scream and cry while the house is quite literally burning around them.
Without the cooperation of international governments, there is no way to provide a solution to sustain life on earth through the end of this century. We will be lucky if we make it to the halfway point. In fact, the more I’ve looked at the situation this week, the more I’m beginning to feel that Mr. Diamond was rather optimistic in his prediction.
On Second Thought, We’ll Keep The Planet
At this point, I’m sitting here wondering if there’s any chance of saving the planet at all. With the preponderance of crisis issues and the staunch refusal on the part of governments to do anything other than tossing an occasional bandage at the problems, I am finding it extremely difficult to end on a positive note.
My children are younger than Mr. Diamond’s. When I look at where they’ll be in 30 years, my oldest will be just slightly younger than I am now. My daughter will be a year away from her 40th birthday. They will all be in what should be the most productive and most enjoyable years of their lives. Yet, when I look at the situations facing them, facing us, I fear their futures are grimmer than I had previously imagined. They are more likely to be working multiple jobs to keep a roof over their heads. They are more likely to not have sufficient healthcare to address even the most common of illnesses. They are more likely to have food insecurities. They are more likely to directly experience violence and know the very real threat of nuclear annihilation. They are more likely to not have clean drinking water. They are more likely to be insufficiently educated. They are more likely to not have affordable housing.
Is that really the way I want my children to live? Is that the way anyone wants their children to live? I rather doubt it. The natural parental instinct is to want our children to have better lives than we do but for the first time in decades, that outcome is severely threatened. Moreover, if we continue to sit on our hands and wait for their generation to find a solution to the global problems, the number of them capable of implementing that solution is going to be severely reduced. We are looking at a scenario where many of our own children and grandchildren may not survive to middle age.
Diamond lists 12 factors related to the outcomes of national crises. Those are:
- National consensus that one’s nation is in crisis
- Acceptance of national responsibility to do something
- Building a fence, to delineate the national problems needing to be solved
- Getting material and financial help from other nations
- Using other nations as models of how to solve the problems
- National identity
- Honest national self-appraisal
- Historical experience of previous national crises
- Dealing with national failure
- Situation-specific national flexibility
- National core values
- Freedom from geopolitical constraints.
Am I the only one who looks at that list and is tempted to toss in the towel? I should probably translate a couple of those items.
When Diamond mentions ‘Building a fence,” in item 3, he’s not talking about a literal fence or wall. I’m not sure, given how long it takes to write and publish a book like his, he was aware of how that language might be interpreted. He’s talking about the ability to set aside pork barrel distractions and focusing on problems needing solutions.
Then, that line in number 5 of ‘Using other nations as models of how to solve problems?’ He’s assuming that there’s going to be a nation to step up and act as that model, at least on some of the issues. Certainly, Iceland is an example when it comes to renewable energy resources, but not every country has the available hydro resources that country has.
While the list presented makes good sense, however, one has to question whether any of them are even possible. Just getting past that first item could be daunting. Polls taken this past January show that 73% of Americans believe that climate change is real, but they don’t want to pay to find a real solution. Finding a consensus among Americans is like trying to find a seashell in Nebraska.
Before we can begin to approach the items on Mr. Diamond’s list, which I’m not disputing in any way, we first need to grab control of the situation and work collectively toward avoiding a complete abortion of our planet. Individually, we need to determine that the situation is not going to get any better without our direct involvement in influencing those who make policy decisions as well as those whose actions affect the economy. We cannot wait for politicians to lead because they have already proven they are incapable of doing so. As we’ve seen in the reactions to Representative Ocasio-Cortez of New York when one does try to show some leadership even members of their own party are quick to tell them to shut up and sit down. If that’s the way our elected officials are going to behave, then we have to make the choice to work around them and see if they decide to catch up.
We take that leadership role by aggressively using social media to sound the alarm to the severity of our situation. We cannot simply focus on climate change, but the full picture including hunger, healthcare, terrorism, nationalism, threats of nuclear war, clean water, gender and sexual equality, and disease eradication. If we fail to address the full picture we leave ourselves open to a future in which a large number of us fail to survive. This is no longer a bad horror story, this is the reality.
We, individually, have to also grasp the idea that what we do matters, that the actions we take both individually and corporately affect other people and the way they live. We have to take other people into consideration when making our decisions or else a lot of people are going to die.
For example, as I was driving across town last night, I made the decision to travel just a hair below the posted speed limit because my vehicle, for reasons I can’t explain, performs better on the 4s (24, 34, 54, etc.) than it does at slightly faster speeds. As inconsequential as that decision sounds, twice during my trip that slower speed gave me the space I needed to avoid hitting someone else, most specifically a young man on a scooter who seemed totally baffled as to exactly where he was supposed to ride the damn thing. Decisions we make, even little ones, affect other people so imagine what happens when we start making larger global decisions.
This means we need to put nationalism and populist figures on a shelf and leave them there. We cannot afford to entertain chants of “America first,” or “Brazil first,” or “India first.” No one gets to be selfish if any of us are going to survive. Instead, we have to look strongly toward international cooperation and insist that our government representatives follow that model. We need to take a stronger role in encouraging cooperation on UN projects and look for better ways to include more countries in those decisions.
Each of us, for ourselves, have to be adamant about gender and sexual equality. We cannot afford to accept anything less. At the same time, we have to embrace a full level of personal autonomy. Governments don’t get to decide what a woman does with her body. Men don’t get to decide whether women can be educated. Religions don’t get to dictate what people outside their belief system wear.
Equality issues alone are already responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people each year. We need to stop pretending that “it’s better than it used to be.” No, it’s not. People of color still live in fear of their lives. Women are still valued less than men in the workplace. LGBTQ+ people still have their lives threatened simply for existing. If we are to survive on this planet, none of those conditions can continue and you don’t need a government’s permission or mandate to change your attitude and actions toward people right now.
I understand: looking at problems of such immense size with such dramatic consequences feels daunting. I’m so small. The issues we’re facing are so large. We’re not merely underdogs in this contest, we’re almost inconsequential.
You can do things. You can write to your elected officials. I know that sounds like a lot of trouble, but there’s a wonderful app called Countable (countable.us) that makes it easy to contact your elected representatives even if you didn’t pay enough attention in the last election to know the names of those representatives.
You can engage in conversations on social media and make your opinions heard forcefully without becoming a troll. I know the comments sections of many issues are maddening but to the extent reasonable people remain quiet, the trolls win. Put them in their place and shove public opinion in the direction of finding and supporting long-term solutions.
You can pay attention to what you buy. Money, after all, still talks and one of the strange aspects of our crazy photo-sharing society is that when people share photos of sustainable products and healthy food, other people are more likely to purchase sustainable products and healthy foods. One doesn’t have to be a paid influencer for this to happen. In fact, people are more likely to follow the examples of their friends over those so-called influencers.
I’m coming up on 10,000 words and I promised myself I would stay below that mark this week. So let me add one more thing to the list of what you can do: share this article and tag your elected representatives. Yes, they actually do pay attention to what’s hitting their social media feeds. They may not always respond directly, but they notice trends among their constituents.
Our society as at the point of sitting in the doctor’s office facing a very important decision. We can either completely change the way we’re living and preserve life on this planet, or we can abort the whole thing and face complete planetary disaster by the year 2050. How much do you really value life? There’s absolutely no point in trying to save unborn “lives” if we’re not going to give them a planet on which to live. We can’t have it both ways.
Shall we live or die? Your choice. Respond appropriately.
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