Wednesday, January 20, 2016

PLANET EARTH - ON ALERT by Joan Bleidorn

The Paris Climate Conference held in September 2015 is now over and the end result was that all 190 countries were in full agreement that the planet was in dire straights due to climate change.  It was agreed that global warming was caused primarily by human beings and their overuse of fossil fuels.  It was unanimously agreed that the science on this was in, and that all of us sharing this endangered planet must pull together, if we want to survive and leave a habitable place for our children and grandchildren.  These 190 countries agreed to make every effort to limit global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius. This was an amazing accomplishment, which may not have occurred had the commitment been in the form of a treaty.  The measures taken by each country would be voluntary, but the incentive was there. President Obama knew that a treaty would be rejected by an obstructionist Congress.

The major responsibility for change must come from the wealthiest nations whose carbon footprint on the planet is the heaviest.  The inhabitants of poor nations are not to be held accountable for planetary damage, since their use of resources is at a bare minimum.

Young people, especially in the U.S. are stepping up to the plate to eliminate fossil fuels through the divestment movement.  College students all across the country are becoming increasingly active, and putting pressure on colleges to divest from fossil fuels. We are talking big money here, that could be put to better use by reinvesting in renewables like wind and solar power.  The activism of young people, including young children, is increasing, since they are well aware that they will be the ones inheriting a trashed planet, If things do not change.

We now clearly understand that since a mere 3% of the world's water supply is fresh water, it must be carefully conserved and not squandered. Fracking is a drastic misuse of our precious water, with huge amounts being pumped a mile underground, along with dangerous chemicals, to force natural gas to the surface.  In addition to the squandering of our water, fracking lays the foundation for earthquakes.  We now have some 7 billion people inhabiting a planet that can comfortably accommodate 4 billion.  The population is expected to skyrocket to as high as 14 billion, within decades.  We cannot survive without water; it is essential to life. But in spite of water shortages, corporations like Nestle can gain control of vast amounts for bottled water, to sell to those who can pay.  The poor are left without.  Meanwhile, Nestle leaves as a disastrous legacy millions upon millions of plastic bottles, which further damage the environment.  The lack of access to clean water for all threatens the stability of the planet.

Climate change brings extremes in weather, with floods in some areas, and drought in others.  These extremes will mean crops will fail, and there will not be enough food and water to sustain life, with resulting conflicts and wars. This is one of the major causes of the tragedy now occurring in Syria, a country that has seen years of drought, crop failures, and now faces mass starvation, while the rest of the world stands back and can't seem to consider anything other than a military solution.  War is never the answer. We will see increasing numbers of refugees fleeing devastated countries, in search of a safe place to live, unless we commit ourselves to doing our part to limit global warming.

It is said that a meat eater riding a bicycle does more damage to the environment than a vegetarian driving a Hummer.  This is no exaggeration. It takes massive amounts of our precious water to grow the grain to feed the cows which provide us with meat.  In Kewaunee County, Wisconsin alone, there are some 15 farms each with 10,000 cows, totaling some 150,000 cows per day eating grain and creating massive amounts of cow "poop", which then further damages or environment through methane in our soil and water.  This is one county alone, in Wisconsin.  If you want to do something really effective to protect the planet, cut down on the amount of meat you eat, or if you are really committed, cut it out completely. You could well experience a great boost to your health and well-being. It's worth a try, and you might find some garden and veggie burgers are actually very tasty.

The pollution caused by automobiles has hit the news within the past few weeks.  In Delhi, the pollution was so great, that all cars were pulled off the roads for a time.  In Beijing, the same unbearable pollution forced the authorities to close the schools for several days, and force cars off the roads.  In some cities, only a certain number of cars were allowed on the road, because life had becoming unbearable because of polluted air.  You know there is something drastically wrong when you can't go out-side without wearing a mask. 

Driving less is an immeasurably good way to help lessen climate change.  Cities like New York are so well equipped with mass transit that many New Yorkers, or even most, can get along without a car.  They are walkers, bikers, and heavy users of mass transit.  They are, incidentally, for the most part, much healthier than the rest of us in other cities in the U.S.  They walk, while many of us drive everywhere.  We could start small, and leave our car in the garage one day a week if possible, and move up from there.  Everybody could benefit, if there are fewer cars on the road, with cleaner air, fewer accidents, and less stress on the road. Take the bus. You'll like it.  You don't have to circle round and round on busy downtown streets, trying to find a parking spot, where you shell out $6.00 or more, hoping you won't find a parking ticket waiting for you when you get back.  Life can be less stressful.  Try it.  Pretend you are a New Yorker.

Pope Francis in his encyclical LAUDATO SI, warns us about the consumerism in our society, and we know he is talking about us American shoppers whose     basements, attics, and closets are stuffed with 'bargains' we got at the Mall.  Two for price of one, when we don't even need one. We might want to divest ourselves of this excess, and find we have gained living space that was formerly housing unneeded 'stuff.'  I think they call it downsizing.  It's worth a try.  We might even find breathing easier, as some of those bargains at the Mall contain some of the 7000 dangerous chemicals found in the average home.

What exactly is a somewhat spoiled middle class American adult to do to help lessen an undeniably heavy carbon footprint on the planet? Many of us are eager for change, eagerly waiting for someone to do something, someone else, oblivious to the fact that that someone must be US, and it must be NOW.  Otherwise, we cannot in good conscience look our children and grandchildren in the eye, knowingthey will be the ones to face the consequences of climate change. Do something. Anything. Start small. Good luck!

Joan Bleidorn, a Canadian-born United States citizen, is an activist in the Peace movement and advocates for immigrant and worker justice in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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