“Past performance is no guarantee of future results.” If you’ve ever seen an ad from a brokerage firm, you know the disclaimer. That’s the story of the global environmental crisis and the approaching economic recession. Technological fixes for climate change, such as geo-engineering, are prescriptions for even greater disaster. And tried and tested, anti-recession formulas will in the future only make global warming and the economic crisis worse. What’s needed now is what’s so far been untried: real democracy, an economy based upon genuine human need, and an ethic of responsibility to the non-human world: in short, ecological democracy.
Harriet and I recently returned from a week-long road trip to Gulfport and Biloxi Mississippi. I’d only been to Mississippi a handful of times before, on the way to somewhere else, and had few impressions of the state. What I knew of it was mostly limited to national politics – it’s overwhelmingly Republican – and a childhood memory concerning the notorious murders in 1964 of three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner in Philadelphia, MS. The latter two were from New York City, as I was, and their deaths led to an outpouring of grief in Jewish families like mine. Terrible as they were in themselves, the murders somehow triggered thoughts of the Holocaust, a catastrophe still fresh in collective memory.
Harriet and I travelled without trepidation.
As expected, the first Atlantic hurricane of the season is a whopper. Coastal communities in North and South Carolina face the prospect of severe damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure, especially to the electric power grid. Inland agriculture, much of it given over to concentrated animal feeding operations (factory farms), may also be damaged, and neighboring communities along with them. The state has nearly 7,000 hog and chicken farms, the greatest share of them just north of Wilmington, near where the hurricane is expected to make landfall. Animal excrement ponds are likely be overwhelmed by the volume of rainfall and spread waste across a wide area.
Illustrations by Sue Coe.
The remarkable thing about current conversations concerning the ethics of veganism is that they so often turn into discussions about the necessity of veganism.[i] At a time of environmental crisis, human civilization itself may depend upon our willingness to protect animals and stop eating meat. Ethics in this case isn’t so much branch of philosophy as a means of survival.[ii]
A recent article in Quartz, an online magazine owned by corporate-apologist Atlantic Media, is an example of the growing backlash against the surging vegan movement, of which VGNPWR is one expression. The author, Chase Purdy, titled his piece “If the Entire Nation Went Vegan, it Would be a Public Health Disaster:”
In a recent issue of the journal Earth (September 2017), published by the American Geosciences Union, the philosopher Christine Cuomo cast doubt on the validity of the Anthropocene as designation for the current epoch in geologic history:
The Anthropocene, as visitors to Anthropocene Alliance will know, is the name proposed by the Working Group of the Anthropocene (WGA), a committee established by the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS), to describe the moment in Earth’s history when humans came to dominate and even determine major earth systems.
Since our founding in April, Anthropocene Alliance established a powerful tool for helping individuals and communities hurt by flooding, Flood Forum USA, along with a Facebook platform called SPOUT! FFUSA has engaged over 100 community Flood Groups across 30 states in the US, representing 200,000 people, and initiated mitigation programs in 10 of them, assisted by the Thriving Earth Exchange of the American Geophysical Union. SPOUT! has become a go-to, speak-out forum for up to date information about mitigation and flood relief efforts across the country. This recent article in The Huffington Post illustrates the bravery and resilience of our SPOUT! friends.
And then came Harvey.
The unfolding disaster in Houston and along the Texas and Louisiana coasts is a sign of things to come. Rain events are certain to get worse and more people are sure to be inconvenienced, displaced and even killed by flooding. Climate science proves it.
But there will never be a road sign that reads: “Yield to global warming.” Instead, climate change disasters will happen without warning, just as they do now. Seasonally occurring storms will form as they have in the past. A few will grow into hurricanes, as usual. But in a handful of cases – and increasingly over time – the hurricanes that form will be 100 year, 500 year or 800 year events. They will drop an astonishing amount of water and cause immense damage over a geographically large region.
Never before has the human role in environmental degradation been more widely acknowledged and understood. From great cities in the U.S. to small hamlets in rural China, people are discussing air and water pollution, the degradation of soils and aquifers, and especially, the looming crisis of global warming. People are poised to act.
And yet at precisely the moment when the majority of the global population has the greatest capacity to come together to face the environmental crisis, the world’s largest military and economic power has shrunk or shut down federal programs to research and limit the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.