Life in the 21st Century: We Need to Build Resiliency or Be Swept Away

First a giant airplane loaded with people and fuel simply vanishes over the ocean. Then a wall of mud a mile wide slides down a mountainside and buries a small community of houses and people.  What’s next?

It disturbs me that so far I’ve heard not a whisper of the question of whether this week’s Washington state mud slide was caused by logging and/or development.

Before and after image

Before and after image

Was there clear-cutting going on in the ridge above the little town that got buried?  Was the town itself part of the problem, the clearing for houses taking away the trees that had been doing the good work of holding the landscape in place?

The obvious culprit being blamed is simply too much rain, yet another example of our climate going haywire in response to the destabilization of too many humans burning too much fossil fuel.

I’m glad to see glimmerings of recognition inside the insular Washington DC Beltway that the effects of climate change are here and are only going to increase in the coming years.

Earlier this month a group of Democratic Senators staged an all-night climate change rally, Senate-style—meaning, they talked about climate change all night long to raise awareness and bring attention to the urgency of the issue.

Talk is cheap; action is what counts.

So far we have not seen nearly enough action aimed at shifting our economy towards renewable energy and “sustainable growth”—scare quotes because “sustainable growth” may, in fact, mean “limited growth,” anathema in American political/economic circles.

We know now that if human population and resource consumption continue to rise at current rates, we will simply decimate our planet, like the locusts we are coming to resemble.  That way lies death, terror and madness.

We have already altered the climate enough to keep the disasters rolling in—floods and droughts, wildfires and hurricanes, spring blizzards and summer heat waves…we’ve seen it all and this is the new normal for the rest of our lifetimes.

We need to acknowledge that building resiliency is of paramount importance in these critical years while there is still enough political and social stability to make the adaptive changes that are needed.

images-1Building resiliency means shifting to renewable energy—solar, wind, tidal, geothermal—that is locally based all over the planet.  Forget about pipelines and oil tankers.  Forget about huge power lines criss-crossing the countryside.  We need to move towards a distributed energy model where each town and county becomes responsible for its own energy needs, and has back-up plans in place for the times when those floods and storms hit.

The same thing goes for food production.  Forget about shipping tropical fruits north to please the fancy of the WholeFoods crowd.  Forget about ripping up African rainforests to create palm oil plantations. We need locally based agricultural production that can sustain populations where they are.

We need to return to the resiliency of pre-20th century human populations, but now connected as never before by our awareness of the role we can play, for good or for ill, in the global biosphere.

We also need, unpopular as it may be, to curb human population growth.  Sharply. Now.

Those who live to tell the tale of the 21st century will look back on the 20th century as the unfolding of the greatest nightmares the human species has ever faced.

In the 21st century, all those disastrous chickens hatched by the petro/agri/chemical industries of globalized capital are coming home to roost, and none of us will be able to build a wall high enough to keep them at bay.

If we want to survive—if we want to bequeath a livable planet to our descendants– we need radical new thinking, backed by urgent and committed action.  Now, before the next mudslide, the next flood, the next wildfire sweeps more of us away.

Dreams of terror, dreams of peace

This morning my son came down to breakfast with a queasy look on his face.  “I had a dream that I killed a baby,” he said.  “I was shooting with a machine gun at these guys, and the baby was in the way.”

I hate the fact that this kind of violence, which kids are exposed to through the media constantly these days, creeps insidiously into their sleep, invading their dreams.

The subliminal violence is everywhere.   This same son, a 9th grader in a typical American public high school, is reading Lord of the Flies for English class and All Quiet on the Western Front for Social Studies.

Lord-of-the-Flies-1963-fi-007Lord of the Flies, you’ll remember, is about how a group of adolescent boys, turned loose on an island without any adult authority present, morph into “beasts” who bully, torture and kill one another.

All Quiet on the Western Front is about World War I, and my son’s teacher is sparing the class none of the gory details of that war; in fact, a whole section of the paper my son has to write about the book is supposed to enumerate all the challenges ordinary soldiers in that war faced, from freezing muddy trenches to disease to field amputations, rats and artillery fire.

Last month, this same teacher had the kids reading 1984 and spent a lot of class time talking about how the surveillance tactics and physical brutality in that book related to real-life episodes of torture and detention camps in the history of China and the Soviet Union.

In short, my son’s imaginative life lately has been saturated with violence, for which the peacefulness of our home is no match.  And he is one of the more sheltered boys growing up today; I do my best to keep him away from violent movies or military-style and gangster video games.  We don’t even have TV at home.

When dreams like this emerge at our breakfast table, they remind me that the apparent peacefulness of a small American town like mine is terribly fragile.

With every mass-murder shooting incident that occurs, the fine veil of civility frays just a little more.

The truth is that the United States has one of the most heavily armed civilian populations in the world.

It would not take much, in terms of social unrest, for those guns to come out and the “beastly” side of humanity to emerge, a la Lord of the Flies.

That’s what worries me when I contemplate climate change scenarios involving catastrophic storms like Haiyan that result in power outages, fuel and food shortages—which could happen here in the U.S. just as easily as anywhere else.

What we should be doing now, in the time we have left before climate change gets truly out of hand, is strengthening our bonds as communities.

Never mind the dysfunctionality of our Congress, the bashing and competitive trash-talking that too often passes for ordinary public discourse in America today.

On the local level, we can do better, and indeed we must.

Every community in America should be starting to plan for how it would respond to disruptions in power, fuel and food supplies.

We can’t rely on FEMA to ride in to the rescue.  We can’t afford to entrust our survival to the guys with the biggest guns in our area.

The Transition Town movement has it right in their focus on building strong, resilient communities and re-learning valuable pre-industrial skills.  But they need a greater sense of urgency.

My son’s dream is a warning that we ignore at our peril.  There is no time to waste.

An urgent message for the global elites: change is coming, like it or not!

America’s ‘Primal Scream’ –

It’s always nice to wake up and see the very thoughts I was writing last night trumpeted in the Sunday Review of the NY Times.  Nick Kristof cites many of the same statistics I did to make his case that income inequality is not only real, but “a cancer on our national well-being.”  

But where he ends his column wondering whether the movement will persist “once Zuccotti Park fills with snow and the novelty wears off,” I believe things are only going to get more intense as we move into this winter of discontent.

For one thing, there’s climate change looming over us.  Check out today’s big story on the fact that this imperative issue has lost traction in the U.S., even as most of the rest of the world is moving aggressively to regulate carbon emissions and develop more sustainable technologies.

It seems that the elites driving our economy believe that we can continue our comfortable insulated ride in the plush American Caddy, and let the plebes outside the walls of our national gated community deal with the unpleasantness.

How quickly we forget the major blizzard in New York City last year, or Hurricane Irene bearing down on the whole East Coast.  Climate change is only going to intensify in the coming years unless we get serious about it fast.  The natural disasters it will cause will cost far more than action to curb emissions proactively.

Unlike Nick Kristof, I don’t believe our society has a choice about whether or not to change.  We will be changing, like it or not.  The question is, will we change in an orderly fashion, through regulation and innovation that puts the common good ahead of the greedy goals of the men behind the tinted windows of those chauffeured limousines?

To me, this is what the Occupy protests are about.  The 99% are sick and tired of shouldering all the costs of our industrial capitalist way of life–the debt bondage, the toxic chemicals making us sick, the decimation of our environment wreaking havoc with our climate, the fading of the American dream–while a few fat cats sit pretty on top of the heap and enjoy the spoils.

I have news for you, global elites.  You can’t escape the impartial justice of climate change.  You should have realized by now that you will reap what you sow: if you seed our agriculture, air and water with toxic chemicals, you and your children will get cancer just like the rest of us.  If you continue to deforest the Earth at the current rate, you too will be gasping for oxygen along with the poorest inhabitants of what used to be a boreal forest.

Hiding behind police barricades in your plate-glass towers will only get you so far.  In the long run, it’s no way to live.

Come on out into Liberty Plaza with the rest of us, and let’s work together for a better life for all–while there’s still time.

Psst–did someone say…CLIMATE CHANGE???

A Year Full of Weather Disasters and an Economic Toll to Match –

Here is yet another example of the way the mainstream press reports on climate change without actually using that oh-so-loaded term.

“Normally, three or four weather disasters a year in the United States will cause at least $1 billion in damages each. This year, there were nine such disasters… These nine billion-dollar disasters tie the record set in 2008, according to a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.”

The article goes on to say that the NOAA “is taking several steps to try to make the nation more “weather ready,” including making more precise forecasts, improving the ability to alert local authorities about risks and developing specialized mobile-ready emergency response teams.”

But not a word about what really needs to be done to slow down this destructive trend, saving lives and livelihoods, not to mention the environment itself–REDUCE CARBON EMISSIONS!!!!

I wonder how the Times is going to cover the big climate change action coming up on Sept 24?  Check out Moving Planet for more info and to get involved.

Information warriors, we need you!

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