The Real Threats We Face.

Our planet is facing a growing number of crises – any one of which could lead to a calamity that could end life as we know it.

Let’s begin with the threat of climate change. We’ve known about the impact of burning fossil fuels for many years. But our Republican politicians continue to allow the coal and oil industries to obstruct most attempts to switch to sustainable forms of energy. As a consequence, greenhouse gases continue to pollute our atmosphere and the planet continues to warm resulting in more severe storms and large scale droughts that are turning tillable land into desert. Already, this has caused the displacement of millions of economic refugees who are finding themselves increasingly unwelcome in other countries. Yet president-elect Trump has dismissed climate change as a Chinese-created hoax.

To make matters worse, climate change has led to the unprecedented melting of glaciers and sea ice. In fact, Arctic sea ice is now declining at the rate 13.3 percent per decade. The Antarctic ice sheet is melting at an alarming rate. And the melting of the Greenland ice sheet doubled between 1996 and 2005, receding more than 12 miles in just the past decade. That may not seem particularly catastrophic until you consider that just one of Greenland’s glaciers contains enough water to raise global sea levels by 18 inches. And, if the entire Greenland ice sheet, which covers more than 656,000 square miles, melts, it could raise sea levels by as much as 20 feet!

If our governments don’t act quickly and aggressively to slow and reverse the melt, many of the world’s largest cities will be under water within a few decades, displacing hundreds of millions more people.

In addition, our oceans are warming. This not only changes ocean currents, it’s placing stress on the coral reefs, which are home to the fish that sustain hundreds of millions of people. Already, 80 percent of the Caribbean’s coral reefs are dead. Large portions of the Great Barrier Reef are dying. And the reefs in the so-called Coral Triangle, which feed more than 380 million people, are stressed and over-fished. What are these people to do when the reefs are dead and the fish are gone?

As if that’s not bad enough, factory ships are cruising the oceans netting anything that swims. The oceans are also being inundated with oil, agricultural runoff and other toxins creating dead zones. What’s more, humans are using the oceans as trash dumps creating floating “islands” of plastics and other trash.

In the Amazon, the rain forest is being clear-cut to create grazing lands for cattle to meet the world’s rising demand for beef. And, in the South Pacific, rain forests are being cleared to grow palm oil to be used as an ingredient in a growing number of processed packaged foods. Not surprisingly, the loss of these rain forests leads to diminished rainfall and changing climate patterns. Moreover, the cattle release methane which further contributes to greenhouse gases and rising temperatures.

In Africa, the rain forests are also being destroyed and, on the savanna, the almost unabated poaching of large mammals, such as elephants, rhinos, giraffes, lions, leopards and tigers may lead to their extinction in our lifetimes. In particular, the loss of the apex predators will create a cascading effect by allowing the overpopulation of other species placing further stress on the environment.

Religious strife has led to wars and terrorism which have also displaced millions and further damaged the environment. Worse, they have distracted our governments from focusing attention on even more dire problems.

Finally, the growth of computerization, robotics and artificial intelligence threaten to eliminate roughly half of the nation’s jobs within the next 10-20 years. Yet, like most of the other crises, this has not even created a conversation by our politicians and news media.

As catastrophic as all of these things could be, they also represent opportunities. For example, addressing climate change by restructuring our economies around renewable energies could create millions of new jobs that could offset those lost to computerization. Rebuilding and modernizing infrastructure could also create jobs.

Limiting our consumption of beef, in addition to other meats, and changing our diets to include more grains and vegetables from sustainable agriculture could not only save our rain forests, it could improve our health and reduce the chemicals in our foods. It could also reduce the stress on our oceans. And reversing the recent trend of nationalism and learning to respect the beliefs of those with other religions and cultures could also help by reducing wars and terrorism.

Ultimately, saving our planet and humanity depends on educating ourselves about these complex issues and electing government officials who truly understand the daunting issues we face and who are willing to address them.

Based on the results of the past election, we failed miserably.

Rules Of War?

The assumed response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons raises an obvious question: Where do we draw the line in warfare?

Following World War I and World War II, the world came together at the Geneva Conventions which banned the use of chemical weapons and torture. They also provided for the humane treatment of prisoners of war. The Geneva Conventions did not, however, ban nuclear weapons (the US is still the only nation to use them). They did not ban carpet bombing of cities. They did not prohibit incendiaries that can level cities in a firestorm. They did not ban attacks on food supplies and infrastructure that can turn large populations of civilians into starving refugees. In fact, they did not control many weapons and techniques that are now routinely used in modern warfare.

Why draw the line on one type of weapon of mass destruction while ignoring others? Are unarmed civilians any more dead from a chemical attack than from a remote-controlled bomb? Is it more painful to die from a nerve gas attack than from explosives?

Long ago, many cultures romanticized warfare and bound it by rules of honor. But, with the development of weapons of mass destruction (including automatic weapons, artillery, bombs, chemical and biological weapons, and nuclear devices) today’s warfare has become a glorified video game in which those most at risk are unarmed, innocent civilians.

How absurd that it’s okay to kill masses of people in one way, but not another! How senseless that, although some forms of torture are banned, others are not! How idiotic that we can allow despots in Rwanda and Cambodia to murder tens of thousands, but draw the line in other countries.

Truth is, there has been no real honor between warriors for centuries. No country or culture that willingly participates in warfare has a corner on ethics and morality. The development of ever more lethal weapons has turned today’s warriors into breathing, bleeding killing machines. Is it any wonder, then, that these machines we create have such difficulty adapting to so-called polite society following their service?

What has happened in Syria is awful. But why is a red line drawn at the use of chemical weapons? If we level Damascus and its population with unseen missiles and bombs, is that better than allowing them to be killed by an unseen gas? What will be the outcome of our choosing to participate in this civil war? What will be the benefit?

Personally, I see none.

The Dismal State Of Our Union.

Upon listening to the last day of Neal Conan’s Talk of the Nation on NPR, I was surprised by Ted Koppel’s response when asked about the future. Turns out, Koppel shares many of the same concerns as I do. For what it’s worth, here is a compilation of my own views of the current state of our union and its future.

Civil Rights – How depressing that people are still struggling for civil rights nearly 150 years after the end of slavery! The Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act was a huge setback, unleashing red states to suppress minority votes.

Abortion – Although abortion was made legal in 1973, women are still fighting to wrest control of their own bodies from the old men who control our political system. Amazingly, women are now forced to fight for access to contraception!

Environment – Most Americans say they’re concerned about our environment. They just don’t act like it. Most refuse to sacrifice anything on behalf of our planet’s future.

Hunger – In the richest nation on Earth, 50 million people are unsure of where they’ll get their next meal. That includes 17 million American children!

Energy – Nearly 40 years after President Carter had solar panels installed on the White House, we’re still addicted to fossil fuels. We spill more oil than most other countries use.

Healthcare  – The dirty secret is that we have no healthcare system. We spend more than twice as much as other advanced nations, yet achieve worse outcomes. And we spend more on pharmaceuticals than the rest of the world combined.

Wall Street – Greed has turned large banks into high stakes casinos. Their gambling habit not only cost individuals and pension plans trillions…many families lost their homes. Yet any attempt to regulate these banks has been undermined by millions in lobbying efforts.

Income Disparity – The US ranks among the world’s worst nations for income inequality. 400 Americans control more wealth than half of our population, and the gap is growing. Yet Republicans believe that 47 percent are sponging off the rest!

Jobs – Simply put, we don’t have enough of them. And far too few of them pay enough to support a family. Corporate leaders and politicians, on the other hand, each make enough to support dozens of families.

Privatization – We’ve privatized prisons, prison healthcare, schools, our military, even our intelligence efforts. Although all of these efforts have proven to cost more than publicly run institutions, Republicans are pushing for even more privatization.

Pensions – We lost tens of thousands of employee pensions over the past 40 years, replaced by IRAs and 401Ks which were originally intended to supplement defined benefit pension plans. The money once used for employee benefits now lines the pockets of CEOs, executives and investors.

Politics – Our politics have continued to move to the right, even though our population hasn’t. When Republicans are in control, they unabashedly cram through partisan legislation. When Democrats are in control, they tentatively nibble around the margins instead of doing what they were elected to do. Both parties rely on large corporations to finance their political campaigns.

Tea Party – This is a relatively small group that has had a large impact. Based on lies and meanness, it seems its goal is to take us back to the 16th Century.

Surveillance – Following 9/11, we traded privacy for increased security. The NSA tracks records of our phone calls, search engine terms and emails. Banks and credit card companies track our purchases. And surveillance cameras are everywhere.

Guns – While the NRA works to increase the availability of guns, even for criminals and the mentally ill, manufacturers make guns ever more lethal.

Education – Thanks to conservatives, public education is underfunded and teachers are woefully underpaid. Enough said.

Science – Many now claim that evolution is merely a theory. But so is gravity! Of course, these people also deny man’s affect on climate change. (See education.)

Religious Intolerance – Islam is not the only religion with extremists. The intolerance of all religions seems to be growing.

Anger and Pettiness – Within 20 years of the end of the Fairness Doctrine, 91 percent of talk radio was conservative…mean, angry, venomous Rush Limbaugh-style conservative… and it’s getting worse. (See Tea Party)

War – There’s no denying it. The US absolutely LOVES war. We glorify soldiers and their war machines with military-style ceremonies and flyovers at nearly every large event. And we spend hundreds of billions on “defense” to build bigger, badder war toys.

Iraq – Iraq cost us trillions of dollars and thousands of lives. The result of our sacrifices is that we have turned Iraq into a vassal state of radical Iran.

Afghanistan – Despite setting a deadline for withdrawal, there is no clear outcome for this war. We may leave the country no better off than it was when we arrived.

Syria – Yet another opportunity to dive into a war with no real reason or plan. But it is a war and some of our politicians don’t want to be left out.

War on Drugs – This “war” may have ruined more lives than the drugs themselves. It disproportionately affects minorities, filling our prisons to overflowing. Indeed, we have a larger prison population than any other nation.

Militarization of Police – As our soldiers return from war, they’re increasingly hired by police departments. As a result, police become ever more militarized…with assault weapons and assault vehicles…and further removed from ordinary citizens.

Journalism – In the 1980’s, TV networks began measuring the success of their news organizations by ratings which instantly sensationalized the news and created the “sound bite.”  Worse, most news groups have lost their independence as they were gobbled up by conglomerates.

With all this, it’s difficult to be optimistic about the future, but the pendulum may soon swing the other way. I hope so.

Let’s Sit This War Out.

By my calculations, the US has been at war all but 33 years of our existence. And that doesn’t even include many of the “police” actions and minor intrusions into other nations.

Now many in Congress are beating the war drums again. They want us to do more to help depose Syria’s al-Assad by creating a no-fly zone and providing even more weapons to the rebels. But which rebels? Al Qaeda? Hezbollah? Those who cut out the hearts of their enemies and dined on them?

Fact is, there are some very bad actors involved in the Syrian killing fields, including President al-Assad’s forces. Moreover, Russia has decided to support al-Assad by providing more sophisticated weapons, including ground-to-air missiles.

Do we want to provoke a conflict with Russia? With neighboring Iran? Do we want to embroil the entire region in the conflict? Do we want to sacrifice the lives of even more of our soldiers? Do we want to pour billions more of our taxpayers’ money down a Middle Eastern rat hole? I think not.

It’s not cowardice to refuse to fight a war that lacks a clear objective and a predictable outcome.