NOTE: I’m not putting in any pictures of dead creatures, malls, or rivers the color of fire. These are too depressing. There are plenty of pictures of slaughtered animals, poisonous rivers, dead malls.
If you have the stomach for it, look them up.
Forty years ago, I was the English-language editor at the University of Jerusalem’s Environmental Health Laboratory. I worked there for almost five years during which we addressed issues of wastewater, air and soil management.
The country was still quite small. I think we had maybe 7 million people at that point. The scientific staff traveled from kibbutz to kibbutz, then to any other area that was under cultivation. The goal was trying to explain why it was so critical we stop using nitrogen-enriched fertilizer and start managing wastewater while finding ways to use it.
No one listened. My boss predicted we’d lose our aquifer by 1985. He was wrong. It was dead by 1983.
The point to this is not that I knew something secret and important about our climate before most people were really up to speed on the subject. The point is that we have known about the danger to our environment for at least 100 years. We have had better science and statistics about it for at least the past fifty.
We can loathe Trump for taking a desperately bad situation and making it worse at every possible opportunity. But the reality is that with or without Trump, the planetary climate madness we are seeing was going to happen anyway, no matter who was in office. Because we didn’t do nearly enough. This issue did not begin in 2016. Much of the worst damage was done in 1916 when we casually and carelessly dumped poison into our air, water, and land.
Since the 1970s when we declared “Earth Day,” we’ve done some good stuff. We didn’t do nothing, but we didn’t do enough. Not here. Not in China. Not in Europe. Not in South America or Africa or Australia.
We improved car emissions. We knocked out the smog in some major cities. We cleaned up some horribly polluted rivers. Some of us did our best to manage recyclables. Some places did better than others. We didn’t build enough plants to deal with the plastic and paper and we charged extra for products made from recycled materials — which was not what people expected. Reality notwithstanding, we didn’t expect to be charged a premium for recycled goods. A lot of places — like where we live — do not have “real” recycling. We don’t even have a dump much less a recycling plant.
Despite all arguments anyone cares to make, WE DID NOT DO ENOUGH. If we had done enough, we would not be where we currently are.
The world’s population has grown exponentially everywhere. For every little green area we plow so we can build a condo or mall we don’t need, birds and other small animals die, often forever. In poor countries, you can’t blame them for trying to create farms to feed their people. Large mammals — like elephants — are antithetical to local farming.
Of course, most of the large mammals are murdered for worse reasons: fun. I have a venal hatred of “sport” killing. There’s nothing sporting about it and I think everyone who slaughters an animal that is disappearing deserves to die a similar death, but slower including a full understanding of why he is dying.
Then there’s all the drilling for oil — and the massive spillage in the arctic and the Gulf of Mexico — and add to that fracking. What could possibly go wrong with that?
I spent five years surrounded by nothing but environmental scientists. I edited their material, sent it to magazines for publication. Read the papers. Understood how important it was.
And for all of that, I didn’t understand. I didn’t imagine it would happen to me. That my world would change. That my birds would die. That insects that aren’t supposed to live in this climate would move in bringing with them diseases that would kill us. And our way of stopping the insects –which are the direct result of the climate change we’ve been denying or worse, ignoring — is poisoning everything.
It’s a planetary problem and it needs a planetary solution. It needs us to do the single thing we never successfully do. Work together for a common cause, even if we hate each other. It doesn’t matter how we feel or what our political system is. This is a planetary issue and we need a planet-size solution.
For all I know, we are beyond fixing it. Maybe we can ameliorate the process. Maybe we can stop building on every piece of ground we find. Maybe we can do something to create food for more people with less destruction to the earth. I don’t really have answers. I just know we are in serious trouble and aren’t addressing it.