Leaving Home - Disaster on Earth: End the Denial by Ness Mountain
"By 2080, the average number of people subjected to flooding by coastal storms each year will increase to between 75 and 200 million."
Regular readers of this column will have observed that while I have my opinions, the column is dedicated to achieving balance in interactions with each other and with the world. I’m rarely “in your face”. This issue is an exception. You need to read this.
We need to do something about it. If we have achieved balance, let us take that place of balance as a starting point for action. Our nation has perpetrated many crimes in its time, but our refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol is perhaps the greatest. The fact that our nation’s media have virtually ignored the problem makes the media—let’s face it, they really run this country—as guilty as Congress and the President.
Since the recent report of the UN intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), all scientifically respectable doubt about the science of climate change has disappeared (see www.ipcc.ch). The report spells out in painful detail the predictable effects. Water supplies will be reduced and damaged: by 2025, the report predicts, 5 billion people will be short of fresh water. Crop yields will fall in tropical and subtropical regions, while deserts grow; the areas subject to tropical diseases will greatly increase. This in turn will be exacerbated by rising temperatures and humidity which stress immune systems—and by lack of food and water, despair, poverty, and probably war.
In countries such as Egypt and Bangladesh, where millions of people live below sea level, the expected rises in ocean levels, combined with the increase in violent storms, are predicted to cause unprecedented disasters. By 2080, the average number of people subjected to flooding by coastal storms each year will increase to between 75 and 200 million. Again and again, the report hammers home a crucial fact: it is the poor countries who will suffer most.
On July 23rd, in the wake of this report, in Bonn, Germany, 178 countries representing most of the people of the world came together in an historic effort to save the Kyoto Protocol. Japan and Australia had been waffling, but with hard work, a willingness to compromise, and a global grassroots movement forcing leaders to take action against climate change, agreement was reached. The Protocol, which calls for reduction of emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, was weakened at least temporarily, but survived. That this happened without the participation of the US—the single largest polluter and the richest nation—is a testimony to the strength of the international movement.
The US simply declined to participate. Japan was angered, taking our actions as a national insult. Tens of thousands of protesters rallied around Europe. The European Union dispatched its environmental minister to lead a protest declaration to Washington.
In Sweden, a thousand protestors let Bush know what they thought of his policies—with perhaps the largest “mass moon” in history (“It is the only way to show him what we think about him”, said one brave participant).
But here, safely within the protective woolen blanket of our selectively silent newsworld, there is no problem. The calls for an international boycott of American products are no cause for worry: no one knows about them. Reading English newspapers on the web (see www.thetimes.co.uk and www.independent.co.uk), one has a picture of an entire world alive with indignation against the US. The English press resounds with denunciations of Bush and American policy. It’s tragic: they really don’t understand how well we’re insulated here. They think we hear them. They don’t realize our ears are plugged.
Bush claims that the emissions reductions unfairly place fewer restrictions on poorer countries (like a teenager insisting that the toddler has to clean up, too), and would “damage the US economy”. What is the US economy going to be worth in a world subjected to the disasters outlined in the IPCC report? When people are dying by tens and hundreds of thousands from the results of climate change, how will we maintain our elite position? Reality will creep in.
One day, we’re going to have to say we’re sorry.
I say it’s time to start now. Our excuses are gone. For my part, I’m going to go down to the Green Party office to volunteer.
What will you do?
Ness Mountain is a counselor and urban shaman living in Portland. Your comments on Leaving Home are welcome: respond to Alternatives or to Ness at <[email protected]>.