By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Forgive me, but I am scared
Any reader of my columns knows that I pay fairly regular attention to the matter of the environmental crisis. But over the last few weeks, the news has become more unsettling. Greenhouse gases continue to spread across this planet. While there appears to have been a slight slow up in the increase over North America, in many other parts of the planet that is not the case.
I was at the New York Museum of Natural History the other day and visited an exhibit dealing with climate change. Part of what they showed was the decrease in ice on the North Pole. The visuals were very dramatic. With all due respect to any reader who remains in denial, it is impossible to argue that the climate is not changing. What scares me is the question of whether the situation has gone beyond the point of no return.
To the extent to which we address the environmental crisis, we all have to realize that it will necessitate changes in the way that we look at life and look at this planet. Not only does our economic system teach us to believe that the planet is one giant garbage bin to dump on as we see fit, but it also teaches us to believe that it is our right and privilege to use up all the resources and all of the life in the planet in order to make us feel a bit better. We are reaping the result of that at this very moment. An economic system that insists that we must continue to consume every natural resource imaginable and not pay attention to the impact on other life on this planet is a system that has us driving down a one-way street at 100 mph. And did I mention that it is a dead-end street?
In order to think about addressing the environmental crisis we have to recognize that we must go beyond recycling, though that is important. We have to put ourselves in the mindset of a nation at war. Let me give you an example. When the U.S.A. entered World War II, there was a dramatic shakeup in the way that virtually everything was done. Women entered factories en masse, and as a result, childcare centers were set up attached to the factories when only a few months before it was alleged that neither of these things could be done. Certain products were no longer available because of the war effort. The slogan attributed to President Roosevelt summarized the new thinking: ”Is this trip really necessary?”
In the years since World War II, there has developed a complacency about resources. The massive introduction of plastics and disposable items has decreased our sense of the need to preserve resources. And certainly the expansion of the use of automobiles has changed everyone’s view of free time.
That said, we find ourselves at a critical moment where resources are running out and environmental pollution is killing off entire species, and quite possibly killing off humans. To address this, we need the same sort of reorientation we experienced in World War II. Science must be devoted, not towards armed drones and NSA snooping, but the creation of energy-saving technology. We must wean ourselves away from artificial pesticides through the development of new treatments or the use of more traditional approaches. Trees need to be planted on a grand scale and water preservation technologies must be developed. The list goes on.
Now is the time for us to make those difficult choices, but then again, is there really an alternative? Driving down a one-way street at 100 mph never impressed me as either fun or rational.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum.