Our triumph in Paris!
So, the nations of the world, who represent the largest corporations – many of which now have much larger economies than all but the very largest countries – have agreed to sign an environmental accord in Paris, where they promise to try – at least a little – and “as soon as possible” – to keep the planet from heating up another 2C by the end of this century.
Which, in itself (a 2C increase) being near catastrophic for the environment. As anyone who saw or heard about the cherry blossoms blooming today in Washington DC. can attest to.
Still, I suppose trying to prevent a 2C increase is better than nothing. Technically speaking I mean, for it is, at least something, and not nothing. If you want to apply logic I mean.
If you are still one of those people who think that climate change is not happening, or that it is a liberal media hoax, then all you need to do is to drop by our farm for a day in this the warmest December on record, and let my 75-year-old mother explain the facts of life to you.
If you doubt my mother’s credentials – given that she has no university degree, does not belong to any recognized environmental non-profit, nor has travelled the world – I can only tell you that that is all true. She has no formal education beyond high school. There are no framed certificates mounted above her desk. No medals in her drawer.
But I can tell you this: my mother’s mother was a sixth generation Canadian who came from a long line of farmers and peasants that date back to the middle ages of England; and her father’s side of the line goes back to the first Mohawk clans of Lake Ontario, which are less than a 100kms from here.
This land breathes through my mother’s blood like sap moves through a tree.
She awakens to its sunrises – tends its vast gardens, has ploughed its fields, has been a mid-wife to calves in the middle of the night, cut venison until her fingers were numb. She knows the hawk’s shadow, how to read a moon for the coming rain, and what kind of winter we will get by looking at the hives of summer bumblebees.
She is old enough to remember when the land once crawled with great swarms of insects, frogs, snakes, butterflies, birds, moose, and bears. She remembers trees the width of small houses; with vast canopies that touched the sky.
She grew organically and shopped locally before either term was appropriated by urban permaculture hipsters. When I tell her she is the Buddha, she has no idea what I am talking about.
My mother is a self-made woman who owns her own 200 acre farm. She was born on a farm, raised on a farm, and if she has her wish, will die on this farm.
Those are her credentials.
She will ask you to account for the fact that we are in the middle of an Ontario December, only two weeks from Christmas, and that I was able to go out for a jog earlier today in shorts and a tee-shirt?
This morning she was told that it has been so warm a neighbor’s tulips had started to sprout. (The idea of tulips sprouting in December had her needing to sit down to comprehend the news. Like the Inuit who have no word for the Robins that now summer in their northern communities, my mother has no word for tulips that sprout in December.)
This afternoon we heard how the infamous Washington cherry trees, which bloom so resplendently every April, bloomed today. People were posting pictures to Instagram.
Until a decade ago, an eastern-Ontario December was about the arrival of winter. Night time temperatures should be -10C, not +5C. The lakes should have frozen over a month ago, and there should be at least two feet of snow on the ground. It should feel like Christmas, not Easter!
Now it’s all a crap shoot before January. White Christmases are no longer guaranteed.
She wants to know, while we watch the 6 o’clock news, why the journalists covering the Paris Accord discussions only focus on the jobs that would be lost in the oil fields if we switched our economies off oil and gas, and why don’t they ever find time to talk about all the jobs that would be created in the new renewable energy industry? Or about the lives that would be saved if the air was less polluted with hydrocarbons? Or the forests and the oceans that would be saved if we returned the planet to its former temperature?
We wonder together why the media has so much trouble seeing any future that is not the socio-political status-quo?
My father was very much in line with the thinking of the historian Howard Zinn, and so my parents both understood early on in their marriage who owned the media, and for what purposes mainstream media is used for, so my mother’s questions are purely rhetorical – they reflect both her understanding of the problem, and her impotence at being able to do anything about it.
So we watch together as environmental marchers are tear-gassed and water-cannoned off the Paris streets – watch as riot-gear’d police play out their sad little cliché of being the lackey musclemen of the corporate/state power structures.
Did you know that corporations that were willing to pay the quarter million dollar registration fee, were able to address and have input at the Paris conference, but actual environmental groups were barred from participating in the proceedings? (They were also banned from gathering in the streets.)
So, with great media fanfare, it has been announced today that the governments of the world will work together to try their best to keep the temperature of the planet from rising another 2C by the end of the century. Primetime newscasters smiled into the camera while they told us the good news, and from their warmth and affection you almost felt that we had miraculously brought ourselves back from the brink of environmental self-destruction.
(If you in fact actually felt that way, then my friend in south-Miami has a condo she would like to off-load on you.)
But the problem is this: even if we stopped all oil and gas burning tomorrow – even if we somehow eliminated the entire livestock industry (that accounts for 55% of all new greenhouse gases) – if we magically 100% stopped it all – if we beached every cargo ship, grounded every jet, made everyone cycle to work tomorrow – if we could eliminate all the military apparatus of the world (the second largest greenhouse producers in the world) – if we all immediately became vegans and could make all the cows and pigs and chickens and mono-crops grown to support them disappear – if we all became self-sustainable organic farmers – the temperature of the world is already slated to rise 2C this century just from the hydrocarbons and greenhouse gasses that we have already put into the air.
In fact, NASA basically called “bullshit” on today’s accord (although more politely stated), saying that it was enormously too little, too late – because the scientific data suggests that given current patterns of human economics and lifestyle choices, and taking into account the speed at which we are thinking about implementing environmental change, we will be lucky if we get out of this century with only a 5C increase in temperatures. Some scientists say it could be closer to 10.
The data also indicates that we have already passed the brink of no return, that we are in the rapidly evolving opening chapters of a mass extinction, that Mother Nature has already begun to apply chemotherapy to rid herself of a cancer that has radically advanced over her body.
The data suggests that life as we know it on this planet, will be gone in less than two centuries.
It’s not the first mass extinction to ever occur on the planet, and it surely won’t be the last. Mother Earth has already lived an Eternity (by our perspective), and has an Eternity yet to live. The era of the “modern man”, however, is but 35,000 years – a mere spot of time on a planet that has seen eco-systems last 100’s of millions of years before ever changing. 35,000 years on a planet 4 billion years old is but a half-blink of the eye. (.000875% to be exact.)
I once read a Chinese chronicle written around 1,000 BCE about a monk who had wandered upon an ancient graveyard – a cemetery already so old that almost all traces of its existence were lost. If not for his sharp eye, he said he would not have seen it at all. He had no idea from what ancient time the dead must have inhabited the world, for he could not understand the traces of writing he found on the tombstones. “How old, these ancient civilizations must be!” he thought to himself in fascination.
Three thousand years from now, perhaps that will be all that is left of the human experience on the planet.
There will be nothing but near-invisible and unintelligible traces of “some-thing”,
that once existed along the shorelines of the great oceans,
and scattered amongst the great plains of the continents.