“When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.” ~ Alanis Obomsawin
It is not an exaggeration to declare that global warming and the changing climate it is unleashing is the greatest existential threat to the earth and to all living species upon it and that includes us. The evidence is overwhelming and the deniers are now fighting a rear-guard action to protect the depletion economy that they – and we – have been vital in creating and sustaining.
Why has it come to this?
In Part One, we explored some possible reasons. Those reasons are grounded within Western civilization by a set of colonizing values based on the conquest and subjugation of “inferior” races and communities which included the God-given, Christian right “to have dominion over and subdue” our natural environment and the subsequent commitment to “progress” that ensued. These values have justified and fueled the creation of a largely unsustainable economy based on the constant extraction and depletion of the earth’s natural capital. We as modern consumers have benefited enormously from what has come to be called the neoliberal capitalist economy and are as much a part of that system as its creators. We all profit from it. The creators make money, the consumer creates comforts.
Global warming is essentially a by-product of affluence and the desire by the wealthy 1% to maintain civil order and stability by holding out the hope that the rest of society can achieve that same level of opulence. Donald Trump is the most recent example of someone who has successfully peddled this snake-oil remedy.
That same economic system that has raised rowboats to yachts by exploiting and sometimes ravaging our natural resources has created comforts and conveniences which Western societies have elevated to the status of a right. Corporate marketers have seen to that. But try removing these rights once they are so enshrined! Imagine the massive push-back from the more conservative (sic) elements of our society if we dared ban the comfort of automatic car starters; those which warm our butts in winter while pouring untold amounts of invisible CO2 into our equally warming atmosphere? Our economic system sells and sails on the 7 C’s: We commodify to consume. That creates the conveniences and comforts we deify and have elevated to the status of a right. That tends to create the complacency and compliance so essential for system-maintenance – which in turn renders us willfully complicit. And so that circle turns and turns.
The overwhelming conflation of money, power and influence in our current economic system and the dis-information funded and spread by these vested interests (the fossil industry leading the way) means that we do not have a proverbial hope-in-hell of reversing our ‘dead-man-walking’ march to that now critical threshold of two additional degrees Celsius to average world temperatures. This march is already wrecking havoc on the living things in our world. The march may soon become a massive trail of tears. There is a perfect, Perfect Storm brewing in our future. The convergence of catastrophic climate change, population growth and migration, job-killing AI, and the accelerating gap between rich and poor does not bode well for our future.
We teach our children that actions have consequences. But this consequence – catastrophic global warming and our reaction to it is tempered by the perception of risk and how far off in the future that risk is from materializing. The grizzly bear on the trail five kilometers down the mountain pass is far less a threat than the one hovering on the ledge immediately above us. Our assessment of the lack of immediacy of this risk and our conditioned response is such that so long as those consequences will infect future generations, then immediate sacrifice is not necessary!
Based on emerging behavioral and scientific research – from increasing temperatures, ravaging wildfires, deforestation, sea-level rise, our hell-bent decent to “uni-versity” and the annihilation of species, to food insecurity and the massive migrations that will turn caravans into unstoppable juggernauts of human traffic, there is serious doubt our species will escape this century alive. But no matter – most of us will not likely be around to witness or mourn this eventual unfolding! Again, the risk will fall to our grandchildren!
- O. Wilson, the renowned biologist has echoed much of the growing relevance of traditional Indigenous spirituality and its reverence for ecology, the beauty found in the natural environment and its intrinsic interdependence. He suggests that humans have an innate, hard-wired longing for and love of nature and the natural web of life that surrounds us. For far too many of us, surrounded by concrete and buried under the avalanche of comforts created by our many conveniences, this has become but a distant, obscure memory tugging relentlessly at that part of each of us that can’t quite put the finger on what’s wrong!
Yet, if we can contradict ourselves, there is something perhaps originating in our lizard-survival brains that theorizes if we are to survive, we can’t give up. Can we change our Gaia-ravaging economic system and begin defining how much is enough, so that all may have some? And to allow others to have some, can we give up what we may have that is more than enough? Can we demand that our many ‘bought-and-paid-for’ politicians loosen their ties to vested interests? Can we convince fellow-world travelers that we may have to choose between comforts and survival? We don’t know anymore – but for some reason, we can’t stop trying. Perhaps despair does that.
“The inability to see what is in front of our eyes replicates the blindness of all past civilizations that celebrated their eternal glory at moments of precipitous decline.”
~ Chris Hedges
Beverly Sabourin is a former Director of the Indigenous Access Program at Red River College and retired as the Vice-Provost of Aboriginal Initiatives at Lakehead University and is a member of the Pic Mobert Ojibwe. Peter Andre Globensky is a former senior policy advisor on Indigenous Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister and retired as CEO of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. They invite your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org