May 26, 1998
by Woody Justice
"When the environment is finally forced to file for bankruptcy because its resource base has been polluted, degraded, dissipated, and irretrievable compromised, the economy will go down with it."
- former Senator Tim Wirth
I've covered a lot of ground this publishing cycle and if much of it sounds like doom & gloom, it is only in an effort to shine a light on the discrepancies, the inequities, to offset the hypnotizing voice of multinational corporations, their pervasive spin that is meant to keep us pacified and mindlessly traveling the same path despite evidence that things are not working.
Humans are such a successful species because of our capability for adapting things in the environment to better fit our needs. Just some of the recent examples are decreased infant mortality, increased life expectancy, improved living conditions, more opportunity for education, and labor-saving technologies. These things show real progress and they contribute to a better quality of life, but Homo Sapiens are a part of, not apart from, Nature. This means that we are subject to the same rules with which all living things have evolved.
When we confuse wants with needs, quantity with quality, there are repercussions that we ignore at our peril. We don't just take the things we need, we manage the environment to accumulate an excess. The strategy has gone far beyond putting aside a little extra food for times of drought. Our drive now is to convert natural resources to "wealth." We attempt to manage the system - one that emerged and developed to support a great variety of life - for economic gains. This being a closed-loop, zero-sum, finite system there have to be consequences that result. The declining state of the natural environment and the human condition are overlooked as either footnotes to progress or temporary problems that we will eventually develop technologies to handle.
Humans now consume - directly (for food, fuel, materials) and indirectly (loss of potential due to ecosystem alteration) - one-fourth of the Earth's total net primary production. (NPP is the basic food resource for everything on earth that is not capable of photosynthesis.) So at this level of consumption and population growth, in 80 years when there are four times as many people, humans will require 100% and no plant production will be available for any other species.
The most recent study on global warming (published in the British journal "Nature") reinforces the IPCC's conclusions. Historical records only go back about 150 years, but temperatures inferred from tree rings, oceans fossils, glacial deposits, fossilized pollen, and the chemical composition of ancient ice at the poles indicate that this has been the warmest century in 600 years.
Traditional fishing grounds like the Grand Banks are severely depleted, close to the point of collapse. Many lakes and rivers only support sport-fishing because of government stocking programs using hatchery-bred fish. Even where fish can still be caught, there are advisories against consumption of them.
While mortality rates fall in developed countries, empirical studies indicate an increase of both acute illness, like colds and sore throats, and chronic conditions, like heart disease. Background ("safe") chemical exposures degrade the immune system and give rise to increased infections and disorders such as asthma, arthritis and diabetes. At any time there are 20 to 30 major wars going on around the globe, with more than 90% of the casualties being civilians, and these hostilities are fueled by a $40 billion annual global armaments trade, most of it our country's.
Extinction rates are at least 100 times the natural background rate, in some places 1,000 times. A "perfect world" by some accounts would consist only of the recreational-game animals, the corporate-farm animals, the high-profit agricultural crops, and a few species that are cuddly and/or photogenic, but only as long as they don't interfere with some economic pursuit. A study last year concluded that the ecosystems' services and natural capital contribute around $33 trillion per year, an amount greater than the global Gross National Product of $25 trillion. Some of the services taken for granted or ignored until a manmade product results from it are pollination, raw materials production (food, timber, fish, genetic resources), water supply (hydrologic cycle including replenishment, purification, transportation, and availability for agriculture and other human uses), climate and atmosphere regulation, soil formation, and recreation and education. (If some of these benefit-costs seem dubious, consider the price tag if corporations or government agencies duplicated them.)
One need not read Revelations nor consult the prophecies of Nostradamus, but we do need a major paradigm shift. Humans are not the penultimate creatures on the planet; evolution did not stop with us and was not designed for the sole purpose of bringing about humans; we are not free to choose what survives and what perishes based on our narrow perceptions.
When families manage to hike their income levels - the lucky ones through raises, the rest by taking on more work - they are driven to acquire more, spend more. Move into a bigger house with a larger mortgage. Buy more recreational equipment that you won't have time to use, more luxuries that you can't enjoy because you have work harder to pay them off. We have lost the recognition of true value and seek happiness and self-worth in the accumulation of things. We know, whether we admit it or not, that is a hopeless pursuit and an empty lie, still we remain on the treadmill.
Are road-rage and school shootings learned behavior from the corporate example: life is cheap and personal gain is most important? Could kids on Ritalin and adults on Prozac be a response to the subconscious knowledge that our society is not sustainable? Is the epidemic apathy masking a fear that the public is powerless to change things? Or is it merely exhaustion from running at top speed just to stay in place? I wish I had the answers, but I do know that something is obviously wrong here in the richest nation and in the world.
To call the internet a vast resource for information is a vast understatement. Amongst all the confusion and distractions is a concise collection of worthwhile information and links found on the Institute for Global Communications website: http://www.igc.org/. IGC is the US member of the Association for Progressive Communications, a global partnership of computer networks that link activists around the world. APC's mission "is to empower and support organizations, social movements and individuals through the use of information and communication technologies to build strategic communities and initiatives for the purpose of making meaningful contributions to human development, social justice, participatory democracies and sustainable societies."
IGC seeks to expand and inspire movements for peace, economic and social justice, human rights, and environmental sustainability around the world. The website consists of five online communities of activists and organizations grouped under the headings PeaceNet, EcoNet, LaborNet, ConflictNet, and WomensNet. A gateway for anyone who seeks to become active or at least aware and a resource for organizations to develop communication tools.
In IGC's words: "Through PeaceNet, explore information and work for positive social change in the areas of peace, social and economic justice, human rights and the struggle against racism. EcoNet supports ecological sustainability and environmental justice. ConflictNet promotes dialogue and sharing of information to encourage appropriate dispute resolution; highlights the work of practitioners and organizations; and is a proving ground for ideas and proposals across the range of disciplines within the conflict resolution field. LaborNet supports human rights and economic justice for workers by providing Internet services, labor news and information, Internet training, and website design for union and labor organizations. WomensNet supports women's organizations worldwide by providing and adapting telecommunications technology to enhance their work."