How loudly must we shout?

June 05, 2014

World Environment Day has rolled around again and I want to put down some thoughts about it as I  sit outside on a barely cool winter’s day.

The UN WED website says
“World Environment Day (WED) is the United Nations’ principal vehicle for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the environment. Over the years it has grown to be a broad, global platform for public outreach that is widely celebrated by stakeholders in over 100 countries. It also serves as the ‘people’s day’ for doing something positive for the environment, galvanizing individual actions into a collective power that generates an exponential positive impact on the planet.

“In support of the UN designation of 2014 as the International Year of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), WED this year will adopt SIDS in the broader context of climate change as its theme. Our objectives are to help build momentum towards the Third International Conference on SIDS in September and encourage a greater understanding of the importance of SIDS and of the urgency to help protect the islands in the face of growing risks and vulnerabilities, particularly as a result of climate change. We believe WED will be an excellent opportunity to raise a call for solidarity with the islands.”

This website and the many others related to it and/or the calendar event highlight the positive actions that people are taking to improve their local environments and strengthen their local communities in doing so. And maintaining positivity and optimism is important if there is to be any hope at all of having a real impact on the chaos we have created.

But it is hard not to feel very, very sad about the actions that corporations and governments are taking which are having far greater and long-term impacts in the other direction. Rather than simply looking at the environment itself on this WED, it may be useful to look at the “World Environment”, because it is what is happening in the global environment that is contributing to, if not directing, what is happening to the “environment” that WED is all about.

Back in 1997 I was in Newcastle for the grassroots Actions for Sustainability event, which took place alongside the formal Pathways to Sustainability conference. Both events happened in early June, including World Environment Day. Because the Kyoto Climate Convention was scheduled for later that year, and because the then Minister for the Environment Robert Hill was in town for part of the formal conference, I thought it might be good to highlight the lack of real action to address environmental issues by doing something a bit different on World Environment Day. So that year, it became Wear Black on World Environment Day, and environmental activists in Newcastle and elsewhere (we managed to get the word out via our networks despite it still being the early days of the internet at that time) joined in in their communities as well. Our event took the form of a march with a coffin that symbolised environmental destruction (needless to say) and I and a couple of others also turned up later, still in black, at an event at which the Minister was the guest speaker. I remember being accompanied around the venue by some heavies who obviously were not aware of my commitment to nonviolence, though perhaps they were just trying to scare me out of the room. It was only later in Kyoto, where I took the Peoples’ Declaration on Global Warming petition, that I realised just what a stranglehold the fossil fuel industry had on the governments of the world and their role in the destruction of the Earth and its ecosystems became so glaringly obvious.

The world environment is one of conflict wherever we look. In some places that conflict is strikingly obvious, taking the form of wars and civil unrest amongst those with differing ideas about a variety of issues including but not restricted to democracy and religion. Then there are the wars over things like land, water and drugs.

In other places people are fighting their governments to stop unwanted development, using nonviolent direct action. In Australia, groups of people who once believed they had nothing in common are coming together to stand up to governments and the industries that control them to try to stop the flood of Coal Seam Gas development which is threatening farmland, communities, water supplies and forests and other natural areas.

What has brought about this disconnect between people and their governments, and with the environment, an appreciation of which is crucial to the survival of the human species, let alone our short-term comfort and safety?

I think it has a lot to do with love, or rather the absence of love.

In order for humans to have done a good job nurturing and caring for our environment in the way that was required for it to sustain us in the long-term, we needed to adopt a very different attitude to it, and if we had been interested in learning how, the way indigenous people have survived for millennia would have been a good place to start. For all of this and the preceding century, and going back at least to the beginning of the ubiquitous Industrial Revolution, we simply have not loved the Earth in the way that we needed to if we wanted to protect it. Instead, we have placed more value on the material wealth that we could acquire by exploiting the planet. At its worst, this is exemplified by the actions of the fossil fuel industry and other branches of the mining industry, together with the governments who have been their puppets from the outset. But it is also exemplified by consumers’ attitude to wealth and to the goods that are accumulated as a result of the activities we have implicitly condoned by maintaining and increasing our consumption levels.

We have loved things, we have not loved each other enough, and we have spared little thought for the Earth and what we are doing to it through our negligence and greed. But a discussion about love and in defence of love is the basis for a whole other treatise, for which there is no time here if I want to post this before WED 2014 is over.

So, back to WED 2014 and why we need to temper our celebrations and work much harder to improve things.

Instead of being able to report big inroads on a large scale in our efforts to protect the Earth, we are witnessing environmental destruction and disasters at an increasing rate all over the globe. We are allowing the climate to change because of our dogged insistence on the burning of fossil fuels. Climate change is responsible for unseasonal temperature lows and highs and extreme weather events, such as strong winds or floods, etc. Higher than usual temperatures are resulting in the drying out of whole tracts of forest, including rainforests that were previously safe from fires. This in turn means that mega-fires are becoming a regular occurrence in places where fires were once almost unheard of, and the millions of trees that were playing a crucial role in mitigating climate change are being lost when those mega-fires strike.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, we are clearing greater areas of forest for wood-chipping, growing the plants for palm oil, mining and extending areas of farmland, sometimes to replace the forests that once sustained indigenous populations with cash crops like coffee and cocoa for wealthy nations to devour. Land-clearing can result in massive landslides when there is heavy rain such as is occurring with greater frequency as part of extreme weather events. Climate change in tandem with mining activities are also impacting on coral reefs and ocean health in general, and over-fishing is causing ocean system imbalances like we have never before seen. The extinction rate of mammals, fish and a range of other living things is rising sharply and our negligence with feral animals is contributing to the problem. In Australia it is estimated that every night of the year, an astonishing and shocking 75 million native creatures are killed by feral cats. We are killing bees as a result of our over-use of chemicals in food production and mono-cultures are contributing to the frequency of plagues of mice and locusts, etc. The loss of habitat of native species means that these creatures often stray onto areas that humans have taken over for their own domestic use and they are then regarded as a pest because they have dared to do so, or are killed by vehicles when they cross roads. We are introducing genetically manipulated organisms into our environment without making sure first that they are safe for human and ecosystem health, and GM proponents tell us it is necessary if we are to feed the world’s hungry. Meanwhile, there is more than enough food for all the humans that are currently alive, but it is unevenly spread across the globe so while rich countries are throwing it away, poor countries have millions of starving people. And the list goes on.

All of this points to the need for us to heed the the slogan of this year’s WED even more consciously than we may have to date – “raise your voice, not the sea level.”

I am sorry to say it, but I think the human race is doomed, and if we are not yet, we will be if we do not start to change immediately. This means not just loudly and often voicing our concerns to the governments who are making the big decisions which are resulting in the greatest impacts, but voicing our opposition to the corporations that we are supporting by continuing to consume at current levels through our actions to reduce.

It’s hard to imagine that we will be able to act in time, but without hope we have nothing.

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