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