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.