My Turn: Is it already too late?

Published: 6/27/2018 9:00:05 AM

Optimism about the future is wishful thinking…

Most of us are familiar with the cartoon figure carrying a sign proclaiming “The end is near” and chuckle at its apocalyptic forecast. Maybe. That said, we have become increasingly captivated by apocalyptic themes and storylines, with a plethora of popular TV shows and feature films featuring zombies, plagues and other terrifying end of the world scenarios of Armageddon.

But the Armageddon scenario isn’t merely reserved for fictional media. The concept is deeply embedded in some Christian theology in which believers have prophesied a coming Armageddon in biblical scriptures for the past two millennia. Some contemporary theologians and pastors believe that there are numerous signs in the current culture that mirror the supposedly prophetic contents of scriptures in the Old and New Testament — events that they tell their congregations will soon come to fruition. Then there’s Trump, Iran and North Korea. They may be right.

Personally, I don’t believe the end is coming of the world as we know it. I accept it.

That is because I accept the facts that have emerged from voluminous international studies about our changing climate. They are undeniable…unless you don’t “believe” them. I wrote about acceptance and belief in my last My Turn essay. Belief is not founded upon facts or scientific proof. Belief rises from what you would prefer to happen or not happen.

Even if the world could stop carbon emissions today, the data is clear; the climate is warming exponentially. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that the world on its current course will warm by 3C by 2100. That’s an increase of 5.4 Fahrenheit! And that translates day-to-day life increasingly punctuated by intense storms, wider-ranging wildfires and increasing drought, among other changes. We have already witnessed these impacts in America. Scientists are struggling to predict the full impact of the feedback from future events such as methane being released by the fast-melting permafrost. The heat-trapping impacts from methane are 30 times greater than CO2.

Global emissions were static in 2016 but the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was confirmed as beyond 400 parts per million, the highest level for at least three million years. That was when sea levels were up to 65 feet higher than they are today. These concentrations can only drop if we would emit no CO2, nada, nothing. But as social scientist Mayer Hillman has written, “Even if the world went zero-carbon today that would not save us because we’re gone past the point of no return.” We’ve passed the tipping point.

Those who are committed to individual action in the “belief” that it can help save the environment will be dismayed to read what Hillman describes “as good as futile.”

Hillman is not just another opinion writer. At 86 years old he is a senior fellow emeritus of the Policy Studies Institute in England who has spent the last quarter century focused on climate change. For nearly 60 years, his research has used factual data to challenge policymakers’ conventional thinking.

Hillman accuses all kind of leaders — from religious leaders to scientists to politicians – of failing to honestly discuss what we must do to move to zero-carbon emissions. “I don’t think they can because society isn’t organized to enable them to do so. Political parties’ focus is on jobs and GDP”…which depend “on the burning of fossil fuels.”

Underscoring Hillman’s accusation is the fact that in addition to environmental and human rights nongovernmental organizations, hundreds of lobbyists from fossil fuel industry representatives attended the 2017 United Nations climate conference in Bonn, Germany. A report by Corporate Accountability International (CAI) cited one group of lobbyists as more powerful than all the rest: business trade associations with links to the fossil fuel industry. “With so many arsonists in the fire department, it’s no wonder we’ve failed to put the fire out,” said Tamar Lawrence-Samuel, author of the report and International Policy Director of CAI.

A 2015 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) titled “The Climate Deception Dossiers,” compiled evidence culled from 85 internal documents from a wide range of internal corporate and fossil fuel trade groups that were pried loose by leaks, lawsuits, and FOIA requests. Spanning nearly three decades, these documents reveal that the world’s largest fossil fuel companies — BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, coal giant Peabody Energy, and Shell — were fully aware of the reality of climate change but continued to spend tens of millions of dollars to sow doubt and promote contrarian arguments they knew to be wrong. Taken together, the documents show that these six companies, in conjunction with the American Petroleum Institute (API) and a host of front groups, have colluded to intentionally deceive the public; their corporate officials have known for at least two decades that their products are harmful; and their disinformation campaign continues today. This in spite of the fact that most of the companies now publicly acknowledge the reality of anthropogenic, or human-caused, climate change.

This concerted corporate collusion, a primary cause of earth’s euthanasia, is stunning, sobering and sickening beyond description.

Can civilization prolong its life until the end of this century? “It depends on what we are prepared to do” Hillman said. “Standing in the way is capitalism. We’re doing the reverse of what we should be doing, with everybody’s silent acquiescence, and nobody’s batting an eyelid.” Optimism about the future is wishful thinking, says Hillman.

What then I ask myself, is there to hope for? I accept the fact that my grandsons have little chance of living until 2100. But their offspring will be living on this earth 82 years from now. Dare we even hope for a tipping point in public awareness? “Hope,” wrote Father Gregory Boyle, “is not some assurance everything will work out but rather a confidence that purpose and luminous meaning can be found there, no matter how things unfold.” Hillman believes that accepting that our civilization is doomed could make humanity not unlike the men with a terminal diagnosis in my cancer support group. Many of these men I have met over the years at Cancer Connection do not give up. They do all they can do to prolong their lives.

Some die and some survive.

John Bos lives and breathes in Shelburne Falls.


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