THE Number 1 Problem — Destruction
of the global ecosphere

October 11, 2005

by  G. S.    <george.salzman@umb.edu>

this page is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/Discus/2005-10-11.htm

Unless we, the world's peoples act, there will be no tomorrow!

      The world, the physical world as our grandparents and our parents knew it, is rapidly, precipitously, coming to an end. There will be catastrophes of a scale that, by comparison, will reduce to insignificance the destruction of New Orleans and an extended part of the Gulf region triggered by the mammoth hurricane Katrina. The evidence, the overwhelming evidence for the coming collapse of global human society is in my opinion at this point beyond any rational doubt. And this unprecedented tragedy is coming about not as an act of God but as a result of the dominant ideology of so-called Western Civilization.

      Every horrendous problem that claws at our consciousness through sleepless night-time periods will likewise, by comparison, be rendered of trivial magnitude, among them:
 — the over 50,000 needless deaths every day, the majority of them children in so-called third-world countries [1] ;
 — the 50 million people made homeless in the Valley of the Narmada River by the Indian government’s damming of that great river [2] ; and
 — the hellish destruction in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and many other countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Pacific, caused by so-called “great powers” and their allies (governmental and paramilitary) [3].

Global ecocide — engulfing our earth

      A preliminary caution: The notion that measurement — quantification — is essential for weighing the significance of objects and events is frequently much overdone and badly misused, often for the attempted justification of terrible actions. In addition, the so-called data are commonly subject to distortion by those using it in their effort to justify their actions. A recent example was the portrayal by the Bush administration of Sadam Hussein’s Iraq as a major military threat to its neighbors, a nation they alleged had legions of well-armed troops, and with chemical, biological and perhaps even nuclear weapons of mass destruction at its disposal. And almost comical was the frantic effort to find at least some evidence, some hard factual evidence, that those were not all just lies. Numbers, statistics, data, that’s what supposedly counts. In fact, even the common expression, “that’s what counts” reflects the weight accorded to “counting”, because in this expression it means “gives it significance”.

      Numbers of course do count; they are important. But things that are not quantifiable, that cannot be assigned numerical values, also deserve to be considered and some of them ought to be accorded weight. The core belief of my faith (a faith that has nothing to do with religion) is “the assumption that all people are human beings, that all of us experience pain and suffering, and that the true measure of a civilization is how successful it is in minimizing the avoidable suffering of each person.” [4] In the foreground of the following picture, which was published in the April 13, 1967 New York Times during the “first” Vietnam War, are two young human beings. Look carefully.
 

New York Times Caption: HOMELESS CHILDREN: Girl holds her wounded baby sister as South Vietnamese rangers move through their hamlet. Children had been rescued from bunker under their house, burnt down when U.S. helicopters fired on Vietcong.

      I used this picture on Moratorium Day, October 15, 1969, for a talk at a teach-in organized by the Student Mobilization Committee at the Boston Campus of the University of Massachusetts. My talk concluded, in words as applicable, with but a few minor changes, to the “second” Vietnam War, now in Iraq, as they were 36 years ago.

      “Now it is two and a half years later. Suddenly, this autumn, the tide is shifting strongly in favor of early withdrawal. The minority of but a few weeks ago has become, almost overnight, the majority. People from all strata of American life are joining the students in calling for quick disengagement. And from the phalanx of arguments advanced, I must admit, wryly, that I think many people who are supporting withdrawal now, are doing so for the wrong reasons. I don’t believe we should feel compelled to get out of Vietnam because it is bad for business, because we cannot win a military victory, because it will improve our image in the eyes of the rest of the world, because it will allow us to turn our energies to domestic problems, because our continued presence there is serving the cause of world Communism, because it is alienating our young people, because it is politically expedient to do so, because it is generating domestic inflation, because the price of killing the Viet Cong is too high, because the majority of Americans now favor getting out. If the struggle were just and of vital importance to us, these sacrifices might be justified.

      “I believe that the overriding reason is simple and that it has been with us for a long time. It cannot be more eloquently stated than by the anguish of these two children. The terse caption informs us: Children had been rescued from bunker under their house, burnt down when U.S. helicopters fired on Vietcong.

      “The Associated Press photographer who took this picture in April of 1967 has been kind to our sensitivities. The older child, a girl of perhaps nine or ten years, is holding her wounded baby sister, and the wounds are hidden from us by the body of the older girl. If we scrutinize the half-tone image carefully, we can make out the right hand of the baby, a small bracelet at the wrist, hanging limply at her sister’s side. Next to it, the older girl’s shirt is stained, but the picture is not sharp, and we do not know whether the stains are of dirt, or of her sister’s blood. But we do not need to know. The face of the baby tells us everything we have a decent right to inquire into. Examine that tortured face.

      “The horror that we have visited upon these two tiny children is unspeakable. We would prefer to avert our eyes, for otherwise we must stand aghast, incredulous at our own brutality. If we would be human we must stop such acts. For me this is the uncomplicated and compelling reason for immediate withdrawal.”

      How can we quantify such horror? Of course, we cannot. It is not subject to being measured. But it is real, and significant, and ought to be recognized as “counting” for something, even though numbers cannot be meaningfully assigned to it. In a civilized world torture of even one human being would be unacceptable. So much for my preliminary caution.

Possible scale of the looming super-catastrophe

      In spite of my insistence that we ought not accept the needless suffering of even a single human being, that does not invalidate the notion that the avoidable suffering of great multitudes ought to arouse in us even fiercer resistance. In short, large numbers should compel us even more strongly in our opposition. And of course I cited some large numbers in order to help shock us into realization of the much vaster scale of suffering that will result if, as now appears extremely likely, major climatic changes occur in the near future. Instead of the tens of millions mentioned above, there may well be some billions of human lives extinguished. In fact, conceivably our species could become extinct. The urgency of the danger is emphasized in two articles, both written for general (i.e. not scientifically specialized) audiences, and cast in highly dramatic terms.

      A recent e-mail from Manuel Garcia <garcia22@llnl.gov>, a theoretical physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, included the following:


Apocalypse Now, How Mankind Is Sleepwalking To The End Of The Earth
Maria Gilardin [<tuc@tucradio.org>]
21 September 2005
http://www.dissidentvoice.org/Sept05/Gilardin0921.htm

      Maria Gilardin’s article, describing how the Earth’s climate is changing right now after a period of stability going back 11,000 years to the end of the last Ice Age, is rich with details particularly on the many effects occurring in the oceans and polar regions, and very clear and sobering in its implications. I urge you to read it, and to pass it along to your friends and colleagues in your discussion networks. If you happen to have an interest in science, then realize that this has to be the most important issue in science today (and probably generally), far bigger than evolution in 1859, relativity in 1905, and quantum physics in 1920.

      Maria Gilardin notes that the “only” climate change study issued by the US government which acknowledges this reality, was originally a secret Pentagon report seeking to determine justifications for the military establishment under the possible climate-related disasters that might occur (I put “only” in quotes because numerous scientific papers and low-level reports from federally funded individuals and institutions will operate in the “reality-based community” as regards climate change; but Maria is undoubtedly right in that the USG[overnment] today does all it can to underplay this reality in its major public announcements in UN, G8, media-event and similar gatherings). Examples were securing the southern border against eco-collapse refugees, and preparing for expeditionary wars to secure “vital” resources (clearly, oil to keep the military going, food and water to keep commanding elites as such). I’ve given my own interpretation on these matters, which is consistent with Maria Gilardin’s, in articles I’ve mentioned before (I can send links, if desired).


      I agree with Manuel Garcia that Maria Gilardin’s article is indeed well worth reading with care. And it is hair-raising. Writing of the title of her piece, she begins, “This headline appeared in the London Independent in early February of 2005, following a conference at the Hadley Centre in Exeter, England, where 200 of the world's leading scientists issued the most urgent warning to date: that dangerous climate change is taking place today, and not the day after tomorrow.”

      A second article, posted by Wren Osborn <wrenosborn@cox.net> to the Science for the People list, is by Tom Englehart, featuring a piece, “The other Hurricane: Has the Age of Chaos Begun”? by writer Mike Davis. His text (slightly expanded for clarification) reads in part,

      “The paradigmatic example [that global temperatures and ocean circulation can, under the right circumstances, change abruptly — in a decade or even less] is the so-called “Younger Dryas” event, 12,800 years ago, when an ice dam collapsed, releasing an immense volume of meltwater from the shrinking Laurentian ice-sheet into the Atlantic Ocean via the instantly-created St. Lawrence River. This “freshening” of the North Atlantic suppressed the northward conveyance of warm water by the Gulf Stream and plunged Europe back into a thousand-year ice age.”

      My impression is that Davis’s article may be slightly overdrawn. In particular, the paragraph just quoted attributes the onset of the Younger Dryas event to collapse of a Laurentian ice-dam. I’m a layman in this area, and went to the internet for additional information. That does seem to be the currently favored explanation, but whether it is as certain as Davis’s account would have it remains unclear to me. What remains absolutely certain is that sudden and catastrophic climate changes have occurred in the past (the 1,200-year Younger Dryas “ice age” is one of the more recent such events) and that we appear to be headed for another major “event”.

      Moreover, there is widespread — not unanimous but nearly so — agreement among the scientific specialists (particularly among those not in the hire of the energy industry or employed by government “regulatory” agencies) that human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, is a major causal factor. Not surprisingly, given the complexity of the vast physical system (the entire ecosphere), there is no general agreement in predicting just how the next “event”, once triggered, will play out. But we should not confuse this uncertainty about the details of the “event” with the near unanimous certainty that human activities are in all likelihood triggering irreversible steps that will launch another abrupt, massive climate change completely beyond our ability to reverse it and avoid the likely mega-disaster it will cause.

What to do?
      This brings me back to the initial heading — the one preceding the first paragraph of this essay,
Unless we, the world's peoples act, there will be no tomorrow!
I firmly believe that it is really up to us, the world’s ordinary people, to take direct action in order to try to avert the threatening catastrophe. Attempts to rely on the established institutions — governments; the United Nations; government regulatory–, law-enforcement–, etc. agencies; foundations; corporations’ supposed “social responsibility”; corporate media for providing honest information; and so on — all such attempts are doomed to failure. Each of these institutions is dominated by the prevailing etablishment culture, what I will call the death culture, the pervasive ideology of corporate capitalism. All these institutions are integral parts of that culture, in the hands of individuals beholden to that system for their current “successful” careers, and their aspirations for continued “success”. They are “locked in” by their perceived need to appear “responsible” to their compatriots in that system, and will never, as individuals, unless they abandon the system, be able to do more than make supposedly dignified appeals for justice and human rights, while in fact supporting the entire death culture.

      Some of the things I think we need to do:
1. Build grassroots communication networks, multiple networks of global extent;
2. Support grassroots-based news and counter-propaganda media;
3. Devote as much of our resources as possible (time, energy, money and other privately-controlled material wealth) towards building true local community based on self-governing face-to-face democratic decision-making;
4. Work towards as much local self-sufficiency as is (and becomes) possible;
5. Work towards as much local autonomy from all distant centralized power – state, nation-state, and international – as possible;
6. Learn about, and work to stop, the profligate use of non-metabolic energy sources (fossil fuels and nuclear);
7. Speak to each other, and listen to each other, so that we may learn the truth and act upon it to try to save a world for generations yet unborn.
8. Above all, recognize the gravity of the threat to human survival, the urgency of trying to counter it. And, don’t give up hope!


Notes

[1] John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hitman: How the U.S. Uses Globalization to Cheat Poor Countries Out of Trillions, interview on PBS NOW program, March 4, 2005. Interview available at http://www.pbs.org/now/printable/transcriptNOW109_full_print.html. See also "Telling it like it is" at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/Notz/2005-03-18.htm.

[2] Arundhati Roy, May 31, 2003 interview by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=3704 said, “the World Commission on Dams did an India country study where they placed [the displaced population] at almost 56 million people, all of whom are obviously the poorest, the "untouchables," the indigenous peoples.” I remember reading a statement by Roy that explicitly said more than 50 million were displaced in the Narmada Valley, but could not find that reference. This statment refers to the entire country. I believe, but am not certain, that most of them are from the Narmada Valley.

[3] The documentation is vast. On Yugoslavia, a short account is To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia, by Michael Parenti, 2000. A comprehensive compendium of relatively recent such actions by the United States in all parts of the world is Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II, the excellent book by William Blum.

[4] From my essay, “Building the Global Grassroots Infrastructure: a task both local and global”, which begins with the basic beliefs I hold. Available at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Grass/Infra/index.htm.


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