Sunday, April 22, 2012

It's Take Your Planet to Lunch Day!

Earth Day--what does it mean anymore?  If Christmas is the day you eat too much and celebrate and maybe think a little about sharing etc. then Earth Day is a day to party in the outdoors while making Earth Day resolutions and maybe considering the planet as a priority.  For a little while.

That won't do.  But it is worth concentrating for a moment on what gets swept away in the swiftly shifting and inflated obsession of the moment, or even in the sustained effort (or sustained emotion) required to address some worthy and for the moment all-important goal.  But then there's the Earth perspective.  Which has a definite impact on the human civilization perspective.  So from that perspective, when there's not enough fresh water to drink and food to eat, it'll be nice knowing that you can be married to the person you're dying with, even if you're gay.  And when it's too hot to breathe or think, won't it be great if you've got  a middle class house that's powerless now because the system has melted and/or been eaten by rodents and cockroaches, or universal  health insurance for a health system in complete chaos due to rampant epidemics.

When it started, Earth Day was political first, personal second, in the sense that personal behavior, spirituality etc. was part of it but not the part that got people into the streets.  In recent years, it's the personal--all the ways you can save the Earth by recycling your plastic bottles (but heaven forbid anybody suggests you try holding onto your cell phone one minute after there's a new version--into the waste stream with that!)

The facts seem to be that both are necessary and neither can be neglected.  A lot of CO2 need not poison the atmosphere of the future if we'd insulate houses and build them in better ways.  On the other hand, more than 90% of the water that humans use is used by agriculture and industry (as Derrick Jensen pointed out recently.)  Residential consumption of energy is less than a quarter of the total.  And so on.  The consumption of energy, water, land, and the chemicals that are poisoning the planet as well as the production of waste is almost all by industry, including industrial farming.  How their buildings are built is far more destructive than residences, although the land use issues of how we organize where we live is itself a fairly big factor. 

So all of that requires political control, which of course is why we're told again and again--by these corporations and the politicians they've purchased--that government is bad, it stifles "freedom" and it wastes taxpayer's money.  (Whose money do you think the corporations are wasting, by the way? Or are you getting all your stuff for free?  Do you think it would cost less if you weren't paying for lobbyists, political donations and "issue" advertising? )

We could accentuate the positive.  A new poll shows that thanks to the unignorable extreme weather, more Americans believe that global heating is real and is making the weather more extreme.  On the other hand, I expect most Americans agree that massive oil spills, say in the Gulf of Mexico, that go on for months--those are bad.  But since the last one two years ago (as Rachel Maddow demonstrated on Friday), absolutely nothing has been done to prevent the next one, or to be better prepared for another such spill.

Meanwhile, the effects on the Gulf's ecology, on the fish, the habitat, etc. are still accumulating.  There are dire effects on human health as well.  The effects are expected to continue for decades, though the cumulative effects can't be predicted.  So--not great evidence for an adequate practical response to a catastrophe everybody saw unfold on their screens over months.  If the causes and effects of this oil spill haven't been addressed, what hope is there for the attention and will necessary to deal with the substantially by orders of magnitude greater Climate Crisis cause and effects? 

There's even practical good news: a study that says that carbon capture from power stations is feasible--but it will require longterm government commitment.  And that of course is the problem.  There's a lot of good news in fact---clean energy is becoming cheaper and more efficient and more powerful. (And no, those wind farms aren't killing off the birds.) With more research money almost unimaginable breakthroughs are possible.  But gearing up takes large scale, long term commitment--the kind that government is best suited to provide, and which in some cases it is the only entity that can handle it.  But we can't even really talk about this--we're engaged in some hopelessly primitive debate in which one side's philosophy has been a catastrophic failure, and they are doubling down on it.  And we're not debating what it is essential to debate.  However, if this election is lost to Romney and the Republicans, it's pretty much game over.  So we have no alternative but to engage in it.

Earth Day began in the U.S.  We're arguing now over what "American" means.  When you look at the U.S. in comparison with the rest of the world, it seems a self-contradiction.  But I don't think that all the strange reversals are inconsistent.  The U.S. now has comparatively bad public education, lower literacy, higher poverty, higher infant mortality. Our rich are richer and everybody else is poorer, and we're near the bottom in upward economic mobility, into the middle class. The U.S. is virtually alone among democratic nations or even industrial-age nations in having no universal health care, a death penalty, and a very high proportion of its citizenry in prison.  We also lead the planet in guns, and in the circumstances where concealed firearms are legal. 

These are not bizarre coincidences.  This is a pattern.  The United States is a plutocracy with a democratic Constitution.  It has been for a long time, perhaps for its entire existence.  But it started really going bad in the late 19th century, when Mark Twain was making a political analysis in the 1870s that could describe the 1920s and the 21st century so far.  There were some important changes, wrought by leaders we revere, though not all of us for the same reasons.  But those changes have largely been eroded or reversed, and the rest are under sustained attack in 2012.  It's a defensive battle when it needs to be a time of shared vision and positive change.

Now it's no longer just North America that's affected, nor even the West, nor just the global economy.  It's the Earth.  The tension between a ruling plutocracy and the democratic Constitution--of the values and vision of Lincoln, the Roosevelts, JFK and now President Obama--versus the power of the plutocracy and the darkness of ignorance it stirs up, is a battle for the planet.  Although sadly the Earth is not the stated primary issue.  But the Earth as we know it is the ground of any future. 

But we live now, and not for long.  We live in as much harmony with the planet as we can not only for the future but for ourselves, in all our dimensions.  We make the future the work of the present, as we allow ourselves to be what we are, part of the life of this living Earth.                

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