--Chuck Roe, President, Southern Conservation Partners
Our hearts go out to all the communities recently impacted by catastrophic hurricanes and floods. The magnitude of devastation is shocking. Many of us are contributing to disaster relief funds, and wondering what more we can do. As climate change contributes to more intense storm events, there will be increased need for land conservation and water protection groups to be involved in community-based disaster preparedness and emergency response, and also in proactive conservation planning and public education to reduce vulnerabilities to flood and storm disasters. Many land and water conservation groups already are collaborating across sectors to build resilient ecological and social systems that mitigate the impact of natural disasters before they occur.
--Chuck Roe, President, Southern Conservation Partners
Renowned journalist and commentator Thomas Friedman published “Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations” last year. After reviewing the accelerating environmental damages, stresses, and desperate condition of the Earth (“Mother Nature,” in his terminology) and its ecological systems and climate, Friedman quotes oceanographer Sylvia Earle’s succinct summation: “What we do right now, or fail to do, will determine the future—not just for us, but for all life on Earth.”
Friedman’s own conclusion, upon reviewing our current state of phenomenal, unparalleled accelerations in technological, socio-economic, and environmental changes, is that, with our insults to the natural environment and human population TRIPLING in size in only 60 years (and with, currently, 1 of every 122 people on Earth a displaced refugee), we are on the verge of irreversible alteration of the Earth’s ecological balances and are at risk of wrecking our global climate, biodiversity, oceans, and ecosystem stabilizers and boundaries. "Without compounding, multiplicative commitments along all fronts that are commensurate with the magnitude of the challenge we face, we stand NO chance –zero--of preserving a stable planet when there will be so many more people, armed with so many more powerful tools, propelled by a supernova [that of electronic and digital technologies; and the internet information cloud] … I will keep saying … as long as I have the breath: we are the first generation for whom ‘later’ will be the time when all of Mother Nature’s buffers, spare tires, tricks of the trade, and tools for adapting and bouncing back will be exhausted or breached. If we don’t act quickly together to mitigate these trends, we will be the first generation of humans for whom later will be too late.”
Friedman directs us to use Mother Nature as a mentor for societal and political adaptation and resilience, and to embrace diversity and change. With hopeful optimism he suggests we can learn from and employ experiences from local communities, such as his home town in Minnesota, that have overcome challenges effectively and have embraced and grown from social, ethnic, and economic diversity. There is no better time than now to pause, find your community and place in which to join with others, and get to work.
--Chuck Roe, President, Southern Conservation Partners
E.O. Wilson concludes his latest impassioned appeal for the defense and survival of the Earth’s biodiversity this way:
We should forever bear in mind that the beautiful world our species inherited took the planet 3.8 billion years to build. The intricacy of its species we know only in part, and the way they work together to create a sustainable balance we have only recently begun to grasp. Like it or not, and prepared or not, we are the mind and stewards of the living world. Our own ultimate future depends upon that understanding. We have come a very long way through the barbaric period in which we still live, and now I believe we’ve learned enough to adopt a transcendent moral precept concerning the rest of life. It is simple and easy to say: Do no further harm to the biosphere.
In his 2016 book, “Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life" . . .
As much progress as we have made to safeguard our natural heritage and defend our environmental resources, our present situation seems grim and the future is uncertain, particularly with the twin perils facing us in the domestic political arena and the dramatic consequences of world climate change. I am reminded of the fact that, despite our many gains, our situation is not all that different from what U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt observed more than 75 years ago when he dedicated the new Great Smoky Mountains National Park in an address at Newfound Gap, on the North Carolina – Tennessee border, on September 2, 1940:
We used up or destroyed much of our natural heritage just because that heritage was so bountiful. . . . We slashed our forests, we used our soils, we encouraged floods . . . all of this so greatly that we were brought rather suddenly to face the fact that unless we gave thought to the lives of our children and grandchildren, they would no longer be able to live and to improve upon our American way of life.
In 1940 President Roosevelt and the country were preparing for entry into World War II. Even while preparing for war, FDR’s favorite slogan was, “Conservation is a basis for permanent peace.” He was fundamentally concerned for America’s environmental “infrastructure” and future security and well-being.
Now worldwide climate change--largely human caused--is threatening us. Elsewhere on our ConservationSouth website, you will find links to numerous resources that may help in the effort to respond and adapt to climate change. For further inspiration, we direct you to Bill McKibben's August 2016 article in the New Republic, “A World at War.” McKibben, Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and co-founder of the climate group 350.org, has issued an important call to arms.
--Chuck Roe, SCP President
All evidence now confirms that we humans have dramatically, and likely irreversibly, altered the Earth’s climate, and that the negative consequences are widespread, dramatic, and fearsome. There is little cause for optimism that our national or international leaders are willing to take the necessary actions to control and curtail the activities that continue to generate the fossil fuel emissions largely responsible for altering the world’s climate. Our natural ecosystems and human health and welfare are all at risk.
We do not know what all the consequences will be or what will befall us, as carbon emissions into the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans exceed all bounds of sustaining our climate and life-support systems, and continue to accumulate beyond the capacities of the atmosphere and oceans to withstand profound alteration. Over the past three centuries we humans have indulged in profligate extraction and emissions that are about to put the Earth’s natural systems “over the edge.” Scientists now report that each month is the warmest on record and in known time, exceeding only the worldwide temperatures of the previous year. And atmospheric temperatures are climbing, while likewise the temperatures and surface levels of the oceans are rising ever higher.
We are in deep trouble.
Our societies and political leaders seem locked into practicing violence on the Earth, without regard for the future—that is, the long term well-being or even survival of people, society, ecology, or ecosystems. Carelessness is at the core of the prevailing economics that have brought us this plight. Our economic model assumes endless growth and this, in turn, relies on “extractivism”—a term used to describe economies based on the removal of ever more raw materials from the earth, usually for export to more affluent countries and the traditional colonial powers, where so-called “value” is added. Extractivism allows unlimited taking of the earth’s natural resources, by strip mining, mountaintop removal, old-growth forest clearcutting, subsurface fracking, and more. Extractivism assumes and establishes “sacrifice zones” in places populated by human and natural communities that “don’t count” by the values of the engineers of “progress.” The sacrificed places, and their inhabitants, can be poisoned, ravaged, drained, or otherwise destroyed for the supposed greater good of economic progress—or at least for the wealth of the exploiters. Those “sacrifice zones” of extensive resource extraction and exploitation (or areas downstream or downwind of them) are the lands of lost people and lost natural ecology.
But we now know that this resource-depleting economic model is inherently flawed and unsustainable . . . and is about to bring us disaster. Nature is fragile and resilient but has its limits. We are now passing those limits. We are all in the same sinking boat, though poor people and people of color are closest to the hole.
There is a growing literature about our world’s changed climate, the causes and response strategies. But I do recommend for your reading Naomi Klein’s 2014 book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate (Simon & Schuster). --Chuck Roe, President SCP
Human impact on Earth is so profound and all pervasive that many conclude we have caused a new geological epoch called the Anthropocene or Human Age. We humans, with our world population approaching 9 billion people, have become a geologic change agent. Our technological effects, immense resource consumption, widespread pollution of land and water, vast landscape and climate impacts, and our sheer numbers and ubiquitous presence have altered the entire planet. There remain no parts of the Earth’s landscapes, no body of water, and no wildlife and natural places, that are untouched and unaffected by humankind. No place is so remote not to bear evidence of and impacts by humans. We could even say that nature is no longer “natural.”
There is a growing public awareness of these difficult truths, which are being reported more frequently by our media (though seldom with enough of a sense of urgency). The National Geographic Society for some years has been attempting to raise public awareness in its publications, documentary films, and online articles, including its November 2015 special issue on climate (“Cool It”), which explains that dramatic changes are happening now and will likely accelerate. Without drastic alteration in human practices and behaviors, things will likely get much worse for most of the world’s human and natural communities. One hopes a catastrophic, worldwide “Pearl Harbor” or more Katrinas and Fukushimas will not be needed to wake up humanity to the urgent necessity for an overhaul in our economies and behaviors. Earth is our only home, and for our lasting well-being we had better figure out how to achieve harmony with it. Does humankind have the ability and will to change/ameliorate our Earthwide, oceanic, and atmospheric impacts?
Over 70 years ago, Aldo Leopold wrote, "Conservation, viewed in its entirety, is the slow and laborious unfolding of a new relationship between people and land." That unfolding continues in our work.
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