The outcome of the December 19, 2016 election is another disaster for environmentalists. Beginning in November, environmental advocacy organizations have made their usual response: a plea for more money.
The appeal for funds has become an end in and of itself rather than a means to an end. Environmental organizations will raise more money in reaction to the complete take-over of government by a single political party, but species extinction and climate heating will continue as before on an ever accelerating path.
As long as fund raising remains the goal, radical naturalists and well-meaning environmentalists alike will continue to lose wild-nature one piece at a time until it is gone.
We should instead see fund raising only as a means, and direct action (with results) as an end.
Here are a few things we can do now:
- Admit that as goes the occupation regime in Washington, D.C., so goes the environment (nothing but disaster ahead without our concentrated opposition).
- Reject the prevailing trend that partisanship must trump patriotism.
- Accept that acting to save our environment from destruction and the agents that intend to bring that destruction about, is an act of urgent patriotism.
- Agree that doing violence in doing so is not answer (we don’t want to become like them)
- Pay attention to the “unpresidented” intervention by a foreign government in choosing the current leadership in Washington. React in the following way:
- Call the election result what it is—illegitimate. Become an election denier, a Dearther (for the dearth of information provided by intelligence agencies and others that might have changed the election result).
- Shame Democratic politicians into not attending the inaugural on January 20 (nothing else will get their attention). If they attend, they will validate the fraudulent election result.
- Demand the appointment of an Independent Special Prosecutor to investigate, without restrictions, the actions of a foreign government in influencing the election.
- Demand the appointment of a second Independent Special Prosecutor to investigate the actions of the FBI over its political intervention in the election.
- Demand an immediate disclosure of all tax and business records by the new elected and appointed officials regarding their financial ties to foreign governments.
- Stop referring to fascist (euphemism: “alt-right”) propaganda as “fake news.” The word to use instead: lies.
While raising money to support specific environmental causes is necessary, emphasizing money is not the answer—in that direction lays despair and hopelessness. Our opponents will always raise more.
Our usual defensive/reactive posture must be replaced by its opposite. We must fight to save nature (or itself and for our own self-interest) and create awareness that what we do in the world, destruction or preservation, is the very definition of morality.
Writing on the Wall photo by David L. Witt
Liberals and conservatives have failed to adequately address the climate change crisis. Neither political party gave significant attention to any environment issues during the 2016 elections. Politicians left and right are unable even to ask meaningful questions regarding the environment because the frame of reference of these philosophies is not set up to do so.
In his 2014 book, The Great Debate, Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, And The Birth of Right and Left, the political scholar Yuval Levin chronicles the late 18th century origins of conservatism (Burke) and Liberalism (Paine).
Burke believed that rejecting the traditions and practices of the past leads to disaster. He feared that the passions of the moment overwhelm reason, and that instead, keeping to what works contributes to overall societal happiness. We retain inherited political and social institutions for good reason—the maintenance of order. Social relations are and must be restrained by the legacy of past generations and by our obligations to future generations. These traditions mostly obviate the need for social engineering by government regulation.
Paine believed that not rejecting those traditions and long standing practices leads to disaster. Discarding the dead hand of the past and adapting to changing conditions creates justice in the contemporary world contributing to overall happiness. He trusted citizens to employ “reason” in their consideration of political matters. Social and power relations should change with each generation, through revolution if necessary, and that the present should be of greater importance than the past or the future. Reason, rather than tradition, should be our guide.
Paine favored individual choice. Burke supported the obligations and privileges to which we are born. Both views have negative implications for contemporary environmentalism.
Conservatives see no reason to intervene in ancient environmental systems since those have and will continue to manage—and even evolve—on their own. Applying “reason” (including science) to address environmental issues unnecessarily grants authority to radicals who are more than willing to tear down the existing order for obscure (to the conservatives) revolutionary objectives. We have built a great nation on certain shared values (such as property rights, capitalism). Leave well enough alone.
Don’t expect liberals to come to our rescue. According to Paine, the motives of authorities (representing the long existing establishment, including scientists) are suspect; they are not to be trusted. Personal experience and immediate needs (such as alleviation of poverty, prevention of war) are of greatest concern. The people of the future can (and should) address the problems of their own time. Meanwhile, we must look out for ourselves.
As a result, neither conservatives nor liberals have much to offer environmentalism. Conservatives fear that environmental action will trample the rights of individuals well vested in the current system. Liberals fear that environmental action could compromise their goal of a more just and equitable society.
If conservatives admit the reality of climate change, then they have to admit that the issue can only be addressed though collective action organized by multinational governmental agencies. If liberals admit that climate change is real, then they have to adjust to societal sacrifices, knowing that the less well off and less powerful will give up more than the rich and powerful in addressing the problem.
Their differing worldviews make conservatives and liberals unable to understand one another on almost any issue. At the same time, but for entirely different reasons, their preconceptions make them equally unable to take revolutionary action that would disrupt our world society today for a payoff (in environmental and climate terms) that cannot be achieved until far into the future.
“The Great Chasm” Photo: David L. Witt
Secretary Clinton is only 42 votes shy of winning the Electoral College, the second phase of the Presidential election which takes place in each state on December 19. Another way to put this is that she already has 228 votes lined up. If 42 Republican electors were to put country ahead of political party and change their vote to Clinton (who won the popular vote) we could, perhaps, achieve a more hopeful future. Somebody get this idea to Michael Moore!
The College was designed for just this purpose. Alexander Hamilton explained in an essay in The Federalist Papers that the College was the one chance to keep the Presidency from going to an unqualified person.
There is little time to left to save what remains of wild-nature–as well as ourselves–the extraordinary measure I propose could be our one remaining chance.
Adoption of the Paris Agreement
December 12, 2015
In combating climate change, the Agreement emphasizes “should” rather than “must,” which is to say that it is voluntary. It calls for recognition of social justice, for sharing technology, and for wealthier countries to support appropriate development in less wealthy countries. Environmentalists (including me) will fault the agreement for not being stronger. At the same time, however, it does establish an international moral imperative to combat this grave danger that threatens us all.
Will it be enough to save remaining wild nature and the larger part of world civilization? Implementation of the agreement is likely to be slower than needed. But how could 190 countries have come up with a better plan? Short term interests of corporations and the politicians they buy is as strong as ever.
Still, maybe, perhaps, if we’re lucky, maybe the United States of America will take the lead as its used to do in the 20th century when faced with global challenges.
Here are some highlights. For the full document, go to:
This Agreement, in enhancing the implementation of the Convention, including its objective, aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty, including by:
(a) Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;
(b) Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production; (c) Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.
- In order to achieve the long-term temperature goal set out in Article 2, Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.
- Each Party shall prepare, communicate and maintain successive nationally determined contributions that it intends to achieve. Parties shall pursue domestic mitigation measures, with the aim of achieving the objectives of such contributions.
- Parties recognize that some Parties choose to pursue voluntary cooperation in the implementation of their nationally determined contributions to allow for higher ambition in their mitigation and adaptation actions and to promote sustainable development and environmental integrity.
- Parties recognize the importance of averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including
extreme weather events and slow onset events, and the role of sustainable development in reducing the risk of loss and damage.
- Developed country Parties shall provide financial resources to assist developing country Parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation in continuation of their existing obligations under the Convention.
- Parties share a long-term vision on the importance of fully realizing technology development and transfer in order to improve resilience to climate change and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- This Agreement shall enter into force on the thirtieth day after the date on which at least 55 Parties to the Convention accounting in total for at least an estimated 55 percent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession.
<Will it be sunset, sunrise, or something in between? Aylmer Lake sundog, Summer 2015. dlw photo)
I recall a movie from the Cold War days. A device was discovered that had the power to make bad people disappear. After giving consideration to the merits of this power, it was used to make all the Commies disappear—Russians, Eastern Europeans, probably Chinese. Those who remained on earth rejoiced at the triumph of our way of life. Getting rid of those we don’t want around is more messy than making a wish.
The Donald wants all the “Mexicans” (short hand for Latin American civilization) to go away. His proscription for doing this is ethnic cleansing—forced deportation. His political opponents have not called his plan ethnic cleansing, but they should since that it what it is. The mainstream media has failed us by not applying this obvious labeling.
What does this have to do with radical natural history? I’ll get to that, but first, more examples of magical wishing from this week’s news:
Fox News wants Starbucks and its non-Christmas promoting red coffee cups to go away. Violent Shiite groups want violent Sunni groups to go away (and vice versa). Many Israelis want Palestinians to disappear (and vice versa). The Koch brothers, ALEC and other right wing anti-American groups want democracy to go away. The Catholic Church wants media coverage of their pedophile scandals to go away. Sagebrush Rebellion conservatives want public access to public lands to go away.
Carbon companies and their hired politicians want environmentalists and solar energy to go away. Big Pharma wants the movement for patient’s rights to end. The Prison Industrial Complex wants the opponents of mass incarceration of poor people to vaporize. European conservatives want Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraqi refugees to go somewhere else. The Chinese government wants all other countries to give up their right of free navigation over wide parts of the Pacific Ocean. Nearly everyone of any sense wants Putin to go away.
Back to natural history: Fish and Gave authorities in New Mexico, Wyoming, Oregon and other states want wolves to go away. A majority of humans, in claiming all natural resources and physical space for themselves want, in effect, for wild nature to go away
It is the same mindset that wants to get rid of “Mexicans,” wolves, nature, or whatever. And the harder we all work on getting our wishes, the closer we come to making all those wishes come true. We’re well on our way.
(I managed to gain special access into The Donald’s soul and was rewarded with the picture that leads off this essay. For Sci-Fi fans, recall the Krell of Altair-4.)
1) The American middle class is today better than it was 20 years ago. 2) Solar energy is not cost effective compared to various carbon fuels. 3) “Common Core” standards have greatly improved our education system. Hmmm.
1 Mr. Gates measured middle class progress by increasing access and use of information technology. Self-serving on his part? Recent measures of income growth and household wealth over the past two decades (particularly among minorities and less educated whites) show instead a growth in income inequality leading to a shrinking middle class.
2 Solar energy still costs too much? This depends on your accounting methods. The actual cost of using carbon as a fuel source not only includes getting it out of the ground, but also the expense of maintaining vast military establishments to protect producers from foreign and domestic threats. There is also the cost of the deterioration of fresh water as a result of fracking and oil spills. Mr. Gates also did not include as a cost the damage to human and overall environmental health (climate change, habitat destruction) from carbon fuels. These escalating, possibly exponential costs are impossible for the rest of us to ignore.
3 The blessings or curses of Common Core standards pale before the problem of inadequate funding for child education (based on local property taxes) and the unreasonably high costs of a college education. Middle class kids are being buried by debt or priced out altogether.
Mr. Zakaria called for support of free trade deals. I would like to make him a deal: You can have the latest free trade scheme in return for making sure the wealth created benefits the middle class not just the ultra rich. The likelihood of that particular deal happening, however, is too small to measure.
Mr. Zakaria and Mr. Gates have a wide platform for getting their views noted. By selectively editing out certain facts while fabricating others they can, in the short run, support any conclusion, however nonsensical. The disciplines of both history and natural history suggest that their fabrications will be shown as such in the long run. But it is the short run that worries me. The time we have left to give up the new Gilded Age fantasies to save both ourselves and our civilization seems to be all too limited.
<Puffball as metaphor for the Earth; dlw photo May 25, 2015>
The PBS Nature series aired a program on the endangered Sage-grouse on May 20. The natural history of this bird and other denizens of the sagebrush plains was well represented. The documentary even mentioned habitat destruction by oil and gas interests. Very daring of them. And timely. This lovely creature is not only under attack by resource extraction, but also the United States Congress. I wrote an editorial on this subject first printed in The Taos News on May 14:
The United States Senate Committee on Armed Services will be meeting later this month for a “Markup” of The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016. The bill that comes out of this committee, when reconciled with the version from the House of Representatives and signed by the President, establishes the budget for much of our national defense.
Included in this year’s bill is a special provision for the Sage-Grouse, an endangered (and spectacular) bird that (for now) lives in parts of Colorado and adjacent states to the north and west. Like the EA-18G Growler and the F-22 Raptor warplanes, the sage-grouse can fly. And while it is an effective system for destroying our nation’s insect enemies, it would seem better suited for the Agriculture or Interior Departments than as part of an appropriations bill for the Department of Defense.
The rapidly declining Sage-Grouse (also known as the Greater Sage-Grouse, Centrocercus urophasianus, and its even more endangered cousin, the Gunnison Sage-Grouse, C. minimus) is in catastrophic decline due to habitat loss. They may have once numbered in the millions, but are currently on their way out of existence. Animals and plants is this predicament have in the past found some protection through one of the great pieces of environmental legislation, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) which can help in saving habitat and reducing hunting pressure (while also protecting private property rights).
Instead, this time, the Sage-Grouse has become the latest victim in the culture-war being waged by right-wing politicians against all policies thought by them as “liberal.” As far as I know this Galliforme exhibits not the slightest political inclination, taking no position on the use of missiles or the deployment of aircraft carriers. The male of the species is primarily known for its “dancing,” or mating display. This should find favor with conservatives since the point of the dance is traditional male-female heterosexuality at its finest.
So what is the Sage-Grouse doing hanging out in the same bill with drones and helicopters? Here is where its special status comes about. Republicans have placed this animal on a hit list hidden within the labyrinth of defense spending that specifically exempts the Sage-Grouse from listing under the Endangered Species Act. Without this protection, the Sage-Grouse may be doomed to extinction.This is clever if underhanded: neither Congress nor the President is likely to sacrifice the national defense establishment to save a grouse.
If the Republicans are successful in this they will accomplish two goals. First, habitat that might have been protected to save the Sage-Grouse will not be protected and instead will be open to oil and gas resource extraction. Second, by establishing the precedent of defying the Endangered Species Act, they may also keep other species off the list and could de-listing those already protected. And if they succeed in gutting the ESA, why not move on to similarly decommissioning other environmental protections for clean air and water?
Thus, on the stubby wings of Centrocercus urophasianus, hangs a great weight.
On April 29 I met with Senator Tom Udall, Senator Martin Heinrich and Representative Ben Ray Lujan. I was part of a volunteer citizen group organized by the environmental group, Defenders of Wildlife (www.defenders.org). We discussed with these gentlemen (and their legislative assistants) the ESA, sustainable logging in National Forests, and assuring adequate funding for fighting wildfires. Our legislators were cordial and supportive, welcoming to their constituents from New Mexico. All three of them expressed support both for the ESA. We asked that they try to rescue the Sage-Grouse from being lumped in with defense appropriations.
Whether or not they (with our support!) can save the Sage-Grouse and the ESA is an open question since this legislation has never before been subjected to anything like the current level of attack. That the Endangered Species Act is itself highly endangered was an irony made all the worse when the Sage-Grouse exemption from protection passed through a House committee hearing in the same week when I was in Washington advocating for its protection.
If you care about saving the ESA from extinction (and its feathered, furred and leafed constituents), this would be a good time to make your opinion known to the policy makers in our nation’s capitol.
<Photograph turned up from Google search>
The annual Day of Mourning occurs on Wednesday April 22 this year. I recall the excitement around the first Earth Day in 1970. Environmentalist Senator Gaylord Nelson (defeated by a non-environmentalist Republican ten years later) and a cynical Nixon White House promoted what I hoped would become a change in consciousness, a beginning to the end of our war on nature.
It did give a boost to the environmental movement, but the depth of the catastrophe and the technical and political complexity of achieving change was far greater than I understood as a 17 year-old. An intransigent global system of seeing nature as a convenient commissary and sewer has so far been impossible to dislodge. Millions of us have at once been convinced by the pro-nature message of Earth Day while also being largely ineffective in fostering needed change.
In this country the nature of nature unfriendly corporations and their politicians have continued to stall or work to reverse critically needed actions. Global heating, massive animal die-off in the Gulf of Mexico, and insane projects like building another Atlantic to Pacific canal through Nicaragua garner little attention beyond the nearly powerless circle of environmentalists.
Economist Jeffry Sachs has pointed out that while the earth’s human population has grown tremendously in recent decades, the earth itself has not increased in size. On Earth Day 1970 the human population was around 3.7 billion. Now it is around 7 billion. Over forth years later the total number of individual mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish has dropped by hundreds of millions. Perhaps there is an equation of proportionality. For each x% rise in human population there is an x% decrease in the total number of wild animals.
The biggest recent response to the crisis has been California’s plan to reduce lawn watering. Get used to not having green lawns their Governor recently warned. Once we reacted differently to threats. The free peoples of the world banded together to fight the three parts of the 20th century world war against fascism and communism. At a considerable cost in lives and treasure. With climate change and species extinction the stakes are even higher now. Then our freedom was at stake, now it is about our survival. Yet, many (most?) American politicians, bending to the will of their paymasters, have lost the will to fight for the environmental survival of our country and our planet.
National policy is to take timid steps or none at all. At the same time that there is a growing movement towards Iraq War III to save civilization, there is not much interest in saving the climate that has nurtured us for thousands of years since the last ice age.
So we can celebrate the nature we have left, but we should also mourn for the nature we are losing. My wish for Earth Day is that we take a moment to ask: Why have we lost the will the save ourselves?
And it’s one, two, three,
What are we waiting for ?
Just ask me, there is a reason,
Next stop is Extinction;
And it’s five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
While there is still time to wonder why,
We exclaim they are all gonna die!
The reason I usually don’t like post-apocalyptic movies such as The Matrix is that given the apparent destruction of wild nature what difference does it make rather a handful of humans survive or not? Part of what makes us human is the other creatures with whom we share the planet. According to Elizabeth Kolbert in The Sixth Extinction, An Unnatural History, “one-third of all reef-building corals, a third of all fresh-water mollusks, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivion.” And that is just in the near future. If the planet keeps warming and precipitation patterns alter as expected, it will only get worse.
Kolbert takes her readers through a history of extinction from the Ordovician (444 million years ago) to the 19th century when scientists began to come to terms with the idea that some of our fellow creatures had fallen from the evolutionary path. She offers up other important ideas such as the extinction rate has increased as humans have accidentally introduced new species of rats to fragile environments like islands where the newcomers destroy every defenseless creature they come across. The sheer number of species disappearing in our time is enough to leave a permanent mark in the geologic record.
I don’t know if climate change deniers also deny the sudden drop off of other creatures. In the face of overwhelming observational and statistical evidence, if the climate deniers have not yet also started denying the truth of species loss, they will likely do so any time now. The facts are that atmospheric carbon pollution and ocean acidification are driving coral ecosystems out of existence. Fungus infections are wiping our amphibians and bats. Some mammal and bird species move uphill to find cooler conditions but find less and less space since the land area of mountain tops is less than that at a mountain’s base.
The ecological concept of biomes (environments defined by dominant plant and animal species) is being replaced by “anthromes” (environments dominated by humans). The world of large animal biology (mice and bigger) is becoming simpler, that is, fewer different types of creatures as time goes on. Kolbert does not leave us with much hope: “The Sixth Extinction will continue to determine the course of life long after everything people have written and painted and built has been ground into dust and giant rats have—or have not—inherited the earth.”
It seems to me that when all other creatures worth hunting and killing are gone we will have only ourselves left for that purpose. The mutually hating fundamentalists of all religions have a lot to look forward to.
<Mollusk fossil and computer. Photo by dlw.>
A celebrity news reader has been accused of misrepresenting a trivial incident during Iraq War II. Authentic journal Bill Moyers pointed out the irony: More attention paid to Williams than to the lies of Bush, Cheney, Rice and Rumsfeld that got us into an unnecessary war. If we want to feel outrage about the antics of media figures, why not instead ask Williams and his ilk why they didn’t expose the lies? Democracy Now! and other media outlets did, so there is no excuse.
But why go back in time? The major TV networks cover up catastrophic issues of mass species extinction and climate change through downplaying or ignoring or falsely claiming that many scientists doubt the science. It is not a coincidence that carbon corporations provide an important revenue stream for all the networks.
We have entered the Era of Distraction where television viewers are diverted from the major environmental issues of our time by pseudo-scandals (Williams) or war as entertainment: See CNN’s “The Blockbuster story of American Sniper.”
And while we are distracted, the creatures and the habitats in which they live (or once lived) die in unfathomable numbers.
Hey, Brian, I’ve got a good story idea for you to work on during your six month suspension from NBC. It will restore your reputation and could help save civilization: start telling the real story about carbon-based destruction of the atmosphere, about the deaths of millions of our fellow creatures from amphibians to bats, and about the small number of individuals who profit from the destruction. If someone like you started telling the truth, I believe that many people would begin to listen.
<Snowstorm, cloudless sky morning, December 27, 2014. Photo by dlw>