My grandson, Beno like most kids love music. He is four and a half.
Recently we were riding in my car together listening to the Police’s world-renowned song, “Message in a Bottle”. He loved the beat and the song, and asked me, “what does it mean to put a message in a bottle?
I explained simply that if you write a little note, put it in a bottle, cork it tight and throw it in the ocean, it is possible that someone far away that you don’t know might pick it out of the ocean and read your note. It is a way of connecting with people you don’t know, a way of sharing an idea or a feeling, and in so doing create a bond across the world.
He liked that idea very much.
Though the attached essay from the New York Times is hardly a message in a bottle, in some ways it might as well be.
To my family (and to all)…
So…have at it, this very long essay is a succinct history of how and why we are losing the earth.
As a piece of writing, it is very good indeed. As a piece of science, too.
It is also a bellwether.
While the piece makes clear and emphasizes what we have known since the late 19th century: that carbon dioxide emissions will warm the earth and create catastrophe, it is mostly a study in economics. That at least in the period of “liberal democracy”in the U.S, and parallel failures of Japan, the Soviet Union, and more recently, China, it is clear in the countries which produce most of the carbon emissions, that economic decisions are based on a hedge against the future.
This means in simplest terms that the interests of the producers of carbon emissions outweighed the impact on us, our children, and certainly our grandchildren and their grandchildren. Human behavior has decided that we and our children’s children are simply not worth the investment that had to have been made decades ago to stop the now inevitable disaster that awaits us.
I don’t think this analysis is overwhelming or emotionally draining. Rather, it is a clear statement of reality.
What is missing is not information. What is missing is the lack of political and social organization to empower people to act.
Some Europeans have done great work, like Germany and the Scandinavians, and others.
But the big violators including the U.S. have produced much more carbon emissions last year than any time in history, long after the nature and cause of calamity was well known to the oil and gas industry and to the political establishment in both parties.
While these facts are potentially overwhelming to digest and absorb, they don’t make me feel disempowered. I feel that what has always been true remains true: people can gain awareness through organizing and act. In point of fact, in the U.S. climate change is not well developed as a movement. Not much else is either, but we know how to do this.
The essay concludes by saying that our children’s children will begin to act when the calamities begin to take hold. This is possible of course. World War II ended with some action in Europe and Japan as they lay in rubble. England got the National Health Service and nationalization of banks, coal, steel, and rail. Other societies in Europe became better democracies and made some progress, much of which is eroding today, but they also have a better chance of survival.
But it is the U.S. that must lead on climate change. We cannot influence China very much. Here our children’s children will be forced to confront the disaster. In that reality, we can imagine great and revolutionary ideas springing forth.
In the long view of history, maybe that is something to feel positive about.
In the short term we must look at our politics as a complete abdication. Few sectors are off the hook of responsibility for our crisis. Nearly every institution I know of has taken a pass due to short term interests, or as the essay says more accurately: we were willing to value the present more than the future.
I have learned from my work in healthcare that the same is true. Nearly all participants in healthcare have valued the present more than the future. Instead of investing in the eradication of the causes of disease and injury, we invested in trying to cure disease and injury after it occurred even though we knew nearly all disease and injury is preventable.
Today we cannot afford healthcare and the population continues to get sicker.
This is a huge crisis. When will it end?
Maybe when the majority is scared enough?
How long will that take?
In truth the health crisis is related to the climate change crisis. The difference is that the climate change reality will effect everyone.
Beno (my grandson) and his kids will likely be the revolutionaries who will have little choice but to boldly confront the economics of misplaced value.
I think it is important to be optimistic in the face of all disaster. It is the only thing that can make life worth living. Humor and human intelligence can grasp the value of the inherent beauty of each day. The question becomes how best to value it.
The planet will heal itself with or without us. Can the revolutionaries who will act to curtail human tragedy caused by human failure do so with a true sense of healing and not anger alone?
Even in a time of great disaster and tragedy that sense of generosity of spirit makes all the difference.