General · 30th October 2014
Almost every month in the life of our planet has now found its own special way of becoming surprising and memorable. The speed, intensity and significance of events seem to be rising, as if the centrifugal force of a faster turning wants to tear things apart while the centripetal force of our best intentions wants to hold them together. But September of 2014 was particularly noteworthy in defining Earth as one interconnected place where the opposing forces were unusually active.
Ebola became a serious worldwide issue when the consequences of conspicuous neglect allowed the initial outbreak of the disease in rural Africa to escalate to the proportions of an urban epidemic and then escape from its confinement to America and Spain. Doctors call ebola a difficult disease to catch but individual and collective folly have their ways of finding a means. One of the lessons to be learned from this tragedy is how quickly the neglect of the poorest can threaten the richest.
Meanwhile, in Iraq and Syria, ISIS — or ISIL, or simply the Islamic State as it has ambitiously identified itself — demonstrated with publicized beheadings and gruesome fanaticism the atrocious mayhem that can be unleashed when an ideology finds the circumstances to exercise the pathology of its imagination. So more international attention rushed to address another of September's noteworthy events. And we learned how just a few passionately committed people can engender widespread chaos.
While humanity was wrestling with the tumult of its most immediate concerns, the World Wildlife Fund released the results of a comprehensive global survey of 10,000 species of vertebrates, revealing that between 1970 and 2010 the planet's population of animals had declined by 52%. This astounding obliteration, in a short 40 years, includes mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish — some freshwater fish numbers have fallen by 76% and some lion and tiger populations by 90%. We humans are on a planetary rampage. And the damage, whether by intention, inadvertence or ignorance, is both tragic and shameful. We are simply catching too many fish, spreading too many pathogens, using too much water, felling too many trees, altering too much habitat, causing too much pollution, occupying too much land, and emitting too much carbon for the planet's multiple ecologies to function sustainably.
On a finite planet, the sobering conclusion is that we are accelerating toward a collision with the law of limits. This “cull of the wild” is yet another of the “dire situations” now unfolding because our needs, wants and demands have overreached our planet's ability to supply them. Once again we have been informed that we are depopulating and deconstructing the living structures of our biosphere. How we intend to halt this ecologically destructive process remains an unanswered question.
But the hint of a partial answer occurred in New York City on September 21st. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, called for a Climate Leaders' Summit to take place on September 23rd, just prior to the General Assembly meeting of the UN. His special purpose for gathering together 125 heads of states and senior government politicians was to create momentum for the climate negotiations scheduled for Lima (Conference of the Parties 20) and then Paris (COP 21). The Paris meeting in December, 2015, is supposed to culminate in a binding global agreement on carbon dioxide reductions that will begin to address the problem of a warming planet — a structural alteration in climate that is so major that it dwarfs the importance of all other concerns.
An environmental organization, known as 350.org, used the New York Climate Leaders' Summit as an opportunity to rally support for Ban Ki-moon's objective. Its plan was to organize a march of 100,000 people in New York, together with hundreds of other supportive gatherings around the world. Elizabeth May, Canada's Green Party MP, was in the New York march on September 21st. Her report is uplifting reading (Island Tides, Oct. 2/14).
She describes, in inspiring detail, how 40 blocks of the city — the staging area for the march that started at 11:30 am — were so packed with people that her group had to wait nearly three hours before space was available for it to follow the preceding marchers. At least 310,000 people made the march so large that it could barely march. Over 6 hours later the march was discontinued because the end point could no longer hold the masses of people moving into it. And at the honorary head of it all was the former little diplomat from South Korea, Ban Ki-moon, whose job — described by a predecessor as “the most difficult on Earth” — was leading a movement into the prospect of a more hopeful future.
Indeed, the New York march was just one of an estimated 2,646 events that occurred in 162 countries around the world on that September day. Concerned people had gathered and marched in Paris, London, Berlin, Hong Kong, Nairobi, Vancouver, the remote island of Kiribati, and even in a little place such as Campbell River, BC. Each person had come to add his and her weight to the scale that must be tipped toward the sanity of climate stability.
Normalizing climate will not make a perfect world — the usual definition of perfect has made this impossible. Joy and sorrow are as inevitably juxtaposed as life and death. Our moments of peace and contentment come partnered with turmoil and stress. But our human drama might seem less fretful and futile if we knew it could occur month after endless month on a normal, healthy and vibrant planet.