Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Planet Earth Perishes, Few Take Note

Shifting Times

Although climate change and its consequences have often been in the news the last two decades, it deserves more serious attention, since the potential for serious disaster are, well, serious, affecting our modern way of life. Yet it doesn't get much attention, probably for a number of reasons, including public scientific illiteracy, short attention spans, and a concerted effort by Big Business to shift the focus elsewhere in a "business as usual approach." Lorna Salzman writes: "Global famine from water shortages, droughts and desertification is being seriously considered. Not one of these scientific reports from credible organizations and government agencies has warranted even a first page story, let alone a large-type headline, in the New York Times or I dare-say in any other major newspaper in the country."

by Lorna Salzman

The New York Times headline, in huge caps, of June 25th, celebrated the New York State legislature's passage of a bill legalizing gay marriage. The news stories there and elsewhere say that this is a watershed event that will strengthen the movement in other states. It seems as if the printer soaked the newsprint in Champagne. The last time this size headline may have been used was after the capture of Osama bin Laden.

Elsewhere, that is to say on internet blogs, the dismal reports from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), climatologists and geophysicists mount daily, with headlines announcing the prospect of runaway temperature increase, increased GHG emissions in a steady upward curve since 1970, methane releases, predictions of super-extreme weather events like hurricanes, and increased ice sheet loss leading to a projected sea level rise of three meters before the end of the century. Runaway climate change, known as the Venus Syndrome, is a distinct possibility according to James Hansen.

Global famine from water shortages, droughts and desertification is being seriously considered. Not one of these scientific reports from credible organizations and government agencies has warranted even a first page story, let alone a large-type headline, in the New York Times or I dare-say in any other major newspaper in the country. Small wonder that the public has tuned out the issue of climate change. If it isn't in the newspaper, it doesn't exist.

Here's what the headlines should read:
Pardon me, gay friends and colleagues, but notwithstanding your successful campaign, I am still worried about this country. I am still worried about the planet. I am still worried about climate change, loss of biodiversity, the vanishing oceans. Maybe some of you can now relax long enough to join us tree huggers in fighting these other trivial battles, which may seem boring by comparison, or perhaps too technical to comprehend, or just plain irremediable. I know that your self respect and desire for full civil rights are important. I know that this will provide you a greater sense of security. All those things are true. Nevertheless.......

Nevertheless, this victory, while important to gays, pales in comparison to the terror that many of the rest of us feel as we contemplate daily and unremittingly the disintegration of the earth's ecosystems, the loss of species, the destruction of ecosystem functions on which we depend for food, water, energy, health and well-being. As things stand, there is a chance of a snowball in hell of a victory for us equal to the one you are now celebrating. We have no prospect of any celebration, certainly not in my remaining lifetime, and probably not in that of my granddaughter's either. We are talking about the future, if any, and the fate of seven billion people. We are talking about civilization. We are talking about Life on Earth.

Many of us, that is to say those paying attention, are already in mourning, fearful and anticipating worse to come. We haven't seen any sign of things getting better, much less even remaining where they are. In the lifetime of someone born in the next ten years, the earth will end up in that proverbial hand-basket  It will not be fun. There will be no place to hide. There will be no place to put fifty million refugees. There will be no way to feed the two billion more people. There will be no way to head off epidemics, whether flu or insect-borne disease such as Dengue fever which has now reached as far north as Mexico. There will be no way to prevent the ocean flooding of the cities along our Atlantic seaboard or the Gulf Coast. Urban infrastructure—subways, sewage systems, drinking water supply, electricity, gas—will crumble.

I have given a lot of thought to the disinterest and indifference of Americans, including the most educated and progressive, regarding the environmental crisis. It is not as if what we read about is new or recent. A review of environmental articles, books and research of the 1970s, and in some cases earlier, shows that all the problems we face now existed then. We just didn't do anything about them. Why? Because too many Americans were mired in single issue special interest campaigns, like a parade that went off in many directions, losing its way and its integrity. 

Nothing has changed since then, except that things have gotten worse and some environmental organizations have given up the ghost and thrown their lot in with Big Business, fooling themselves into thinking that this is the only route to salvation, and in turn being fooled by BB into thinking that green technology and capitalism are the answers....even though Big Business was responsible for the whole problem in the first place and has had half a century to do things right.

No, I've lost hope and patience. I'm afraid that I can't celebrate the small stuff, not because it isn't my personal fight but because time is too short to get deflected from the main battle. That battle isn't for one group; it is for the whole collection of "special interests": what we call Life.

The author, a graduate of Cornell University, has been an environmental writer, lecturer and activist since the 1970s. Her articles on environment, energy, biodiversity and natural history have appeared in leading journals here and abroad, including The Ecologist, Index on Censorship, Resurgence, New Politics, and Business & Society Review. Her professional career began when David Brower, the leading conservationist of the 20th century in the USA, hired her as mid-Atlantic representative for Friends of the Earth, where she worked on wetlands, coastal zone and nuclear power issues for over a decade. In this period she was instrumental in the preservation of two key wildlife habitats (Swan Pond and Maple Swamp) in Suffolk County, NY.

Later she became an editor at the National Audubon Society's journal, 
American Birds, followed by directorship of the anti-food irradiation group, Food and Water. In the mid 1980s she co-founded the New York Greens, later the New York Green Party, on whose state committee she served for several years, and became active in the national green movement.

She worked for three years as a natural resource specialist in the NYC Dept. of Environmental Protection, focusing on wetlands and coastal zone protection. In 2002 she was the Suffolk County Green Party candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1st CD on eastern Long Island, and in 2004 she was a candidate for the U.S. Green Party's presidential nomination. Her hobbies are mushroom hunting, classical music and birding around the world with her composer-husband Eric. They have twin daughters, one a pop composer and lyricist in NYC and the other a poet and writer based in England. They live in Brooklyn Heights, NY, and East Quogue, NY, and have lived for extended periods in Italy and France.

Copyright ©2013. Lorna Salzman. All Rights Reserved. It is published here with the author's permission. More of her writing can be found at