But what can we DO?

It’s not enough to simply lament the disappearance of species, or the poisoning of the air, water and soil of the planet.  The urgent question of our time is WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT?  How can any of us–how can I–act to staunch the hemorrhage and resuscitate this dying patient, our planet, before it’s too late?

Let’s review the options.

There is political reform, through various channels: appealing to our duly elected representatives and/or supporting environmental groups that lobby these politicians and try to pressure the relevant federal and state agencies charged with protecting the “natural resources” of our country.

I have to say that I am quite skeptical of this approach, which doesn’t seem to have worked at all in the 40 years or so since I first became a Ranger Rick reader and aware of the environmental movement.

Things have gotten much worse for the natural world in my lifetime, despite all the efforts of big, well-funded groups like the National Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, or even Greenpeace, the most radical of them all. Greenpeace is the most willing to go out on a limb to protect species and habitat, but its actions have failed to make the kind of global difference we need.

There is international peer pressure to do the right thing–conventions, treaties and protocols.  Even as I type these words, I inwardly despair.  From Kyoto onward, the U.S. has been the bully who refused to play nice in the community of nations whenever it’s come to putting the common good before the holy Free Market.

There is actually going around the blowing up the worst aspects of civilization, like dams, power plants, cell towers and chemical plants, as the proponents of Deep Green Resistance advocate.  Eco-terrorism, anyone?

Or there’s crowd power of the Occupy Wall Street variety, which certainly seems right now to hold the most promise.  ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,” Margaret Mead said.

But how to convince those crowds that the fate of seals, bees and goldfinches–not to mention the oceans and the boreal forests of North America–is actually more important than the injustices of economic inequality here in the U.S.?

Of course, it’s all important.  I have several friends who are on unemployment now and having serious trouble finding jobs.  If the Tea Party had their way, unemployment itself would be a thing of the past, a quaint relic of the old New Deal.  We can’t let these radical conservatives shred our social safety net, and we do need to start creating jobs again–green jobs, of course.

But there is no single issue more urgent than climate and environmental health, because if our climate goes haywire and our life support systems here on Earth fail, folks, we are all going down with the ship.

How to convey this to the crowds who are willing to turn out to protest economic injustice, but give it a miss when the issue is global warming?  How to convince people that what we should be demanding as we flood the squares and Main Streets of our country are well- subsidized options to reduce our energy consumption?

Doesn’t sound very glamorous, but the truth is that there’s nothing more important to be fighting for right now than subsidies to install solar roof tiles, like they’ve been doing in Europe for a decade already; and solar hot water heaters; and geothermal ducts for large buildings; and affordable green tech cars.

As Mark Hertsgaard and others have been saying, it’s not enough to make individual green lifestyle decisions, like recycling or composting or turning out the lights when you leave the room.  These individual actions are all well and good, but they’re not going to make the dramatic change we need to get our climate back into shape.

For the kind of change that will save the polar bears and the walruses and the coral, we need our government to step up and protect the interests of its people.  Not the interests of the corporations which have collectively driven our planet to the brink of ruin with their shortsighted greedy ethos of extraction and exploitation.

Government by the people, for the people.  And for the environment that sustains these people in a web of life that includes all living beings on this planet.

How to say this in a way that will light up the imaginations of the 99% and ignite an unstoppable movement for change?

I will keep trying.  What more can I do?

Our planet, ourselves: we must wake up to the destruction, before it’s too late

First the honey bee population crashed.  Then it was the bats, dying by the millions in their caves during the winter hibernation, of a strange white fungal infection.

Now marine mammals, including walruses and ringed seals, are turning up dying on the beaches of Alaska and the far north.  Unidentified skin lesions and sores are the visible evidence of an unknown disease that is ravaging them.

Meanwhile, climate change is causing unprecedented surges in the populations of destructive insects like pine borers, which are killing off millions of acres of forests around the world.

I could go on, and on, and on.

Truly, Derrick Jensen is not exaggerating when he says that human civilization is killing our planet.

Last weekend I watched the new film “End:Civ,” by Franklin Lopez, based on Jensen’s book Endgame.  I had put off watching it for several weeks, because I knew it how upsetting it would be, and sure enough, it was disturbing, to say the least.

For me the hardest-hitting part of the film was about human beings’ casual tolerance of cruelty; our willingness to stand by, indifferent, as our fellow travelers on this planet are systematically hunted or poisoned or displaced to extinction.

Part of this detachment of ours may be rooted in the way we tell the stories of how these deaths occur.  We talk about “colony collapse disorder,” for example, rather than narrating the way that entire hives of bees–which are highly evolved, communicative insects–fail to return to the hive one day.

They get lost out there–maybe due to cell phone waves or other forms of chemical interference, we don’t really know–and never come home.  Imagine this happening on a global scale, a whole species of productive, social insects lost, one by one, by the million.

In the same way, it’s far easier to talk about “cancer victims” en masse than to live through the suffering death of your own loved one.  How many vibrant, creative, hardworking people have we lost to cancer the last ten years?  In the last year?  In the last month?  Wangari Maathai and Steve Jobs, to name two famous, very recent cancer victims.  The list goes on and on and on.

But still we remain passive.  We may mourn the disappearance of the honeybees or the songbirds, but we don’t make the effort to connect the dots and come to a true understanding of the extent to which our way of life has been poisoning our planet since the advent of industrialization, and especially since the beginning of the 20th century, which is when synthetic chemical production really took off.

Before she died of cancer, Rachel Carson managed to break through the wall of indifference and make the case against DDT.  Thanks to her efforts, the bald eagle and many other birds have rallied and come back from the brink of extinction.

It’s amazing how resilient life is.  If human civilization would just back off and give our natural systems on the planet a chance, they would heal themselves, and go back to providing the healthy ecological web that made our success as a species possible.

Our planet, ourselves.  We need to understand, in the deepest and most urgent possible terms, that we cannot dissociate ourselves from the poisoning and destruction that is being visited on the forests, oceans, swamps and grasslands of this planet.

The “Wall Street Awakening” cannot be only about jobs, about fixing a broken economy and continuing on our merry path of global domination and “resource extraction.”  The analysis has to go deeper than that, and the change has to be much more dramatic.

All the jobs in the world won’t bring back the walruses or the ringed seals or the polar bears.  What use will jobs be when the ocean is a giant dead zone, and industrial agriculture collapses?  Will we be worrying about jobs when the forests that provide our oxygen are all gone?

We need to focus on what’s important and go all the way this time.  As I keep saying, our future depends on it.  And I am not exaggerating.

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