By Mickey Friedman
December 11, 2017
It was called “The Great Dying.” Peter Brannen described it in the New York Times: “The planet’s most profound catastrophe struck 252 million years ago, at the end of the Permian period, killing 90 percent of life in the ocean and 75 percent on land. The fossil record nearly goes silent and remains startlingly impoverished for millions of years: trees disappear, bacteria replace coral reefs, insects hush.”
I hope I’m not around for the Great Dying Two. Because once again the smartest of us are furiously waving their arms. Warning us. Eighteen hundred of the world’s scientists.
Brannen links the past to the present “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice.” He writes: “A growing body of evidence suggests that this ancient apocalypse was brought on, in large part, by gigantic emissions of carbon dioxide from volcanoes that erupted across a vast swath of Siberia. Today the consequence of quickly injecting huge pulses of carbon dioxide into the air is discussed as if the threat exists only in the speculative output of computer models. But, as scientists have discovered, this has happened many times before, and sometimes the results were catastrophic.”
This Second Warning lists the many interconnected strands of human behavior that are plunging us toward catastrophe:
“We are jeopardizing our future by not reining in our intense but geographically and demographically uneven material consumption … By failing to adequately limit population growth, reassess the role of an economy rooted in growth, reduce greenhouse gases, incentivize renewable energy, protect habitat, restore ecosystems, curb pollution, halt defaunation, and constrain invasive alien species, humanity is not taking the urgent steps needed to safeguard our imperilled biosphere.”
Yet we Americans, in our bravado filled new world of Make/Fake America Great Again, are rushing lemming-like away from responsibility. Still the scientists do their best to summon up some hope: “The rapid global decline in ozone-depleting substances shows that we can make positive change when we act decisively. We have also made advancements in reducing extreme poverty and hunger (www.worldbank. org). Other notable progress …include the rapid decline in fertility rates in many regions attributable to investments in girls’ and women’s education (www. un.org/esa/population), the promising decline in the rate of deforestation in some regions, and the rapid growth in the renewable-energy sector … but the advancement of urgently needed changes in environmental policy, human behavior, and global inequities is still far from sufficient.”
Benjamin Fong, too, wants to move the issue from personal behavior (a particular pastime of the self-absorbed here in the Berkshires) to systemic failings. He writes: “the cause of the disaster … is not the result of the failure of individuals to adopt the moralizing strictures of “green” consciousness, and it is a sign of just how far we have to go that some still believe reusable shopping bags and composting (perfectly fine in their own right) are ways out of this mess.”
How about we face the real cause: “The real culprit of the climate crisis is not any particular form of consumption, production or regulation but rather the very way in which we globally produce, which is for profit rather than for sustainability. So long as this order is in place, the crisis will continue and, given its progressive nature, worsen. This is a hard fact to confront. But averting our eyes from a seemingly intractable problem does not make it any less a problem. It should be stated plainly: It’s capitalism that is at fault.”
I recently spoke to two very well-read bright men within an hour who believe the clock has run out on humanity. Merely reaping, deserving, what we’ve sowed. And while I strongly believe the vast majority of us have had no say in the perpetuation of capitalism, I do admit we haven’t sufficiently rebelled.
And as the captains of industry insist on ever-increasing consumption, spewing ever-growing amounts of carbon, we humans will indeed reap. But what about the penguins. Victims to our greed, our arrogance, our mind-boggling carelessness. My heart breaks for about the 40,000 Adelie penguin chicks who starved to death in Antarctica as their parents were forced to travel an additional 62 miles to forage for food as their chicks were left to the rain and cold. More ice than usual a partial result of the break-up of the gigantic Mertz glacier in 2010.
Eric Holthaus writes: “The glaciers of Pine Island Bay are two of the largest and fastest-melting in Antarctica … Together, they act as a plug holding back enough ice to pour 11 feet of sea-level rise into the world’s oceans — an amount that would submerge every coastal city on the planet … There’s no doubt this ice will melt as the world warms. The vital question is when.”
My penguin friends never chose capitalism. Never chose the climate crisis. Never chose The Great Dying Two.
“The Great Dying Two” was first published in the November 30, 2017 issue of The Berkshire Record.
Mickey Friedman’s Berkshire-based I Ching mysteries, “Danger” and “Folly”, as well as his non-fiction “A Red Family” are available on Amazon.com. His films can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/user/bluehillfilms.
Things to read:
“When Life on Earth Was Nearly Extinguished”
Peter Brannen, July 29, 2017 New York Times
“The Climate Crisis? It’s Capitalism, Stupid”
Benjamin Y. Fong, November 20, 2017, New York Times
“Thousands of scientists issue bleak ‘second notice’ to humanity”
Sarah Kaplan, November 13, 2017, Washington Post
“Rapid collapse of Antarctic glaciers could flood coastal cities by the end of this century.”
Eric Holthaus, November 21, 2017
“The Doomsday Glacier”
Jeff Goodell, May 9, 2017 Rolling Stone