Tepid statistics as the planet burns


Mired firmly in denial, we seem to be stuck in the first step of Elizabeth Kubler Ross's five stages of grief about the death of life as we know it on Planet Earth.

Adam D. Sacks has an excellent piece on Grist about our lack of urgency about global climate change -- and from the very people who care most about it: climate activists. He cites

the timid, tentative, emotionally impoverished voice of our communications, the feelings unexpressed in the face of the premature and squalid end of so much of what we love, the unfathomable reluctance to speak to the depth of the grief we are bringing upon ourselves.

Our silence is not the lack of words, it is the absence of an essence in urgent human relationships, an essence with power to break the bonds of unthinkable thoughts: passion.

Sacks quotes Frederick Douglass' thrilling 1852 anti-slavery speech as an example of the necessary "fire, thunder, ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm and stern rebuke" to get us off our dime. Then he goes on:

Today we are addressing the end of the world we know it, quite possibly the extinction of homo sapiens and most other species on earth, and we can do little more than cite statistics? Surely an unravelled web of life, miserable ends for countless creatures great and small, and mass death of billions of human beings, mostly innocent, should call for “scorching irony,” at the very least. 

Why are we so polite? Why are we so obedient?  What are we thinking?  What aren’t we thinking?  What are we doing?  What aren’t we doing?  When do we start?

Good questions. Many of us share Sacks' feelings, while going through our daily lives, wasting resources and creating plans that assume a predictable future. When I find myself wondering whether my grandchildren will have air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat by the time they're my age, I quickly dismiss the thought and life goes on -- I allow them to waste water, buy plastic junk and go through paper as if it were the 1950s. The threats are staring us in the face: global warming, ecosystem collapse, poisoning of air and water, unsustainable population -- not to mention nuclear proliferation. And yet we're stuck.

Recently I took a test to evaluate my footprint, and the good news is that I'm at half the level of most Americans. The bad news is that it would take 3.18 earths to furnish the resources if all 7 billion of us lived at my seemingly modest level.

Perhaps we think we can simply change the channel and find a show where humans have not poisoned air and water, burned fossil fuels, created nuclear weapons, over-fished, over-hunted and overproduced.

It's a long way from denial to acceptance, with anger, bargaining and depression in between.

How about a little drastic action?

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