We don’t have to worry about an asteroid destroying humanity. All we have to do to end life on earth as we know it is to not stop doing what we are doing. What we are doing is wasting, polluting, defoliating, and overpopulating.
Humanity’s effect on the planet is the biggest ethical issue ever to confront humankind. It is “ethical” because it has consequences, and because those are predictable. It is big because those consequences are far reaching and long lasting. Willful ignorance is dishonest and cowardly.
The ethical sense is natural and universal, derived from the innate capacity for compassion and perspective — the Divine within. It is no surprise that many churches, as cultivators of ethics, are taking the lead in teaching ecological awareness.
Pollution of the life-support system and depletion and misdistribution of resources are the problem. Humans pollute way out of proportion to our numbers, and in ways impossible for any other species to do or undo. Our pollution persists as petroleum products that ruin the air, water, and soil for eons.
Albert Einstein wrote, “Those have the privilege to know have the duty to act.” We all have the duty to act. First we need to know.
Lesson one: Everything comes from somewhere, and everything goes somewhere. There is no such place as “away,” where you can throw things you don’t want anymore. Teach this to your children. Think about the pollution generated by the manufacturing process that went into any product you want to buy. Think about where the product will end up when you are through with it. Lesson two: Every form of life depends on every other form of life, and as the physical environment affects all life, all life affects the physical environment. You are a participant in the infinite web of relations call the “ecosystem.”
Bad news/good news: Countries are running out of petroleum that can be economically and safely extracted.
In this oil age, very brief in historic time, the use of petroleum products has already done immeasurable damage to the earth’s air, water, and soil and health. The statistical curve of petroleum discoveries reaching a peak and declining thereafter is called “peak oil.” We are there. The attempt to get more is causing wars and even worse, pollution, as extraction and distribution use more energy, are riskier, and cause more toxicity, and the low quality product remaining is more damaging, as we saw in the recent tar sands spill.
What’s good about running out of easy oil is that Nature will stop this disaster if we do not.
A challenge more serious than “peak oil” is “peak water.” We can live without oil; we cannot live without water. While demand is going up, supplies of potable water are going down. Glaciers are melting, and aquifers are being depleted, island and delta agriculture is being inundated by salt water, and our own California snowpack is decreasing overall. Uneven distribution of resources creates artificial scarcity, so we will have to cooperate and share.
What can we do? We have to do it all. And we all have to do it.
We can do little things at home: reduce our use of water, electricity, natural gas, and gasoline.
Buy used clothing, furniture, and building supplies (check out the Habitat for Humanity Restore). Raise vegetables, not lawn. Hang laundry. Buy only recycled paper products. Use public transportation, especially rail. Relocalize food production. Buy water efficient toilets.
Reduce consumption of beef, which requires massive amounts of water to produce. Ban fracking, which pollutes enormous amounts of water. Accommodate people displaced by rising waters and exhausted water sources. Ban Styrofoam, a persistent pollutant and single use plastic bags, which eventually end up in the ocean as particles that kill the very foundation of the food chain.
We can also do big things: Influence the policies of our employers, clubs, cities, counties, states and country. Lobby legislators. Pressure manufacturers. Boycott products with bad reputations or too much packaging. Divest from polluters. Delay childbearing.
If we do not respond with conscience to care for the planetary life-support system, nothing else will matter ... not economics, not politics, not peace or war. Nothing.
“Reduce, reuse, recycle” is the motto we will all have to live by if our children and children’s children are to have air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, and land to live on.
World Water Day was March 22. Earth Day is April 22. It is time.
Carol Kuczora sits on communications committee and is an alternate board member on the Nevada County Democratic Central Committee.