Sunday, June 28, 2009

Never Too Late

I recently read that some experts think that it is too late for us to alter climate change: we’ve done too little too late.

It is never too late. At least, it is never too late to change our thinking, to come to a realization of the fragility of the world around us. An abundance of knowledge coupled with limited wisdom and the propensity of our species for belly button gazing and escalating hopelessness simply feeds more despair. Our way of thinking can cripple us.

In the early days of the American Revolution, the odds against its success were overwhelming, and yet a new nation, one based on democratic principles, was born and has inspired positive change everywhere for the past 250 years despite all the obstacles.

We now number nearly seven billion on this small planet. We, as a species, differ from the other species we share this little dot in the universe with in that we have awareness of our mortality, and never have we been more aware of the possible extinction of our species as we are at this time. We have changed this earth beyond recognition and depleted its resources with alarming and ever-accelerating speed. This realization compels us to ask what we, as a species and as individuals, can do to sustain the delicate balance and reverse the devastating consequences of our own actions.

Only three years ago Al Gore’s seminal film, An Inconvenient Truth, brought international attention to the perils of climate change. As Congress debates today the form of legislation to address this problem, the situation is growing worse minute-by-minute. Rising sea levels, melting glaciers, increasing carbon emissions are the indisputable results of what we perceive to be minor changes in human lifestyle while population, and its inevitable needs and wants, continues to grow.

At the present time, we breathe more carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases than we have in the last four hundred thousand years. Fifty years from now, babies born today will have to subsist on air containing more greenhouse gases that at any time in the past three million years.

Global warming has altered the very chemistry of our oceans. The drop in ocean pH levels in the last fifty years may well exceed anything that has occurred during the previous 50 million years. Currently, nearly a third of the ocean’s corals and amphibian species, along with a quarter of all mammals, and an eighth of all bird species are threatened with extinction. And that is without counting the millions of species that are already extinct: it is impossible to quantify the disappearance of life forms already lost to collapsing ecosystems.

Not only has our population more than doubled in the last fifty years, but also our global economy has doubled every 10 years for the past few years. Between 2003 and 2007, average income worldwide grew at a faster rate than ever recorded in history. Our global economy has grown from $31 trillion in 1999 to $62 trillion in 2008. All you have to do is look at our run-away use of coal and oil—natural resources that required millions of years to form—supplies in the last century to get an idea of the rapidity with which we are killing our planet.

We are barely recovering from a worldwide financial meltdown caused by unbridled human greed. This economic disaster is distracting us from the ominous ecological disaster before us. The shallowness and lack of public debate and dialogue with regard to cap and trade vs. carbon emissions taxation clearly illustrates the general disregard for these fundamental, and infinitely more critical, issues.

In addition to the current economic worries, Americans are faced with a broken healthcare system. This too is an issue of enormous societal implications that diverts our attention from any debate or actions concerning climate change even though, ironically, our health is directly related to our environment.

Yes we live in very complex, stressful and desperate times. Nevertheless, each of us does have a choice as to how we deal with these challenges. A feeble ray of hope perhaps: people of all walks of life everywhere around the world are awakening to our interconnectivity to one another and to every aspect of life on this planet—a fine thread to which our very survival is attached.

It seems at times that our species should be called “bozo sapiens” to reflect our monumental egocentricity and ability to delude ourselves. We are truly on the edge of a precipice. Can we make the right choices? Can we act responsibly and with respect for all? Can we ensure a world for future generations? Or will we doggedly continue to self-destruct? This is our greatest challenge, and each of us must unblinkingly face it with purpose as well as with humility.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hope While Our Climate Worsens

The Associate Press today reported today of the harmful effects from global warming are already here and worsening. This marks first climate report from Barack Obama's presidency in the strongest language on climate change ever to come out of the White House. According to the document released June 16th by the White House science adviser and other top officials global warming has already caused more heavy downpours, the rise of temperatures and sea levels, rapidly retreating glaciers and altered river flows,

The White House document presents a comprehensive and darker picture of global warming in the United States than previous studies and brief updates during the Bush years.

Weeks ago Thomas Berry passed away. This visionary left us with a legacy of earth wisdom. Thomas wrote in “The New Story" from his book The Dream of the Earth, “The basic mood of the future might well be one of confidence in the continuing revelation that takes place in and through the Earth.

This year Paul Hawken provided profound insights in his commencement address to the University of Portland Class of 2009. He inspired the graduates by saying:

“YOU ARE BRILLIANT, AND THE EARTH IS HIRING. The earth couldn’t afford to send any recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here’s the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done…
When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world.

Paul urges that the youth connect instead of control and act in a type of Mercy Corps behind the scenes to heal this wounded planet. Hopefully we can form a global movement to defend the rights of yet born. As we plant seeds for the future we can transform our economy. New enterprises will sprout based on healing for our future instead of stealing it. Mr. Hawkins comments that we can either create assets for the future or take its assets: restore instead of exploit. By working for the earth it is a way to be rich not a way to get rich.

Paul’s May 3rd, 2009 final lines in his speech says it all.
Hopefulness only makes sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it.
Let’s pray that all of us can awaken and feel so inspired!