Environment Opinion

As the planet burns, the insane chase the almighty dollar

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(Image by Dan Jensen)

With a reliance on fossil fuels and the world's governments promoting neoliberalism, humanity is heading towards global extinction, writes Gerry Georgatos.

OUR MORTAL HOME is burning. Yet, we remain complacent as we burn the planet. Scientists are made out to be overreacting doomsayers. Stupidity argues climate change has always been the planet’s narrative. They aren’t looking at the rapidity of climate change, the trends, the math.

Jane Goodall once asked, ‘How come the most intellectual creature to ever walk Earth is destroying its only home?’

Humans are the planet’s village idiots. They think an awful lot of themselves but destroy by their own hand systematically no other Earthly creature ever has.

So, I beg to differ about humans as intellectual giants. I don’t know about how intellectual humans are because they can’t be that smart if they’re burning the planet. Math is in every stroke and the numbers don’t lie. The problem with humans is they maltreat the planet as if it’s their home alone — with total disregard for the billions of other species.

Humans systematically destroy the habitats of just about every species on this Earth. It’s backfired, to the point human extinction is possible and increasingly likelier. It can’t come soon enough for the suffering billions of species and if they could talk, they might tell us how sick of us they are.

The Earth is not some immutable solid rock in a celestial canvas of permanence. It is an imperfect storm of thin-density rock, basalt and granite layered over hot rocks that temper above molten rocks, where at the Earth’s core temperatures reach up to 4,400-6,000ºC.

In 2018, I was invited to make a couple of presentations at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival. I talked about two books that nurtured my consciousness of our responsibilities and obligations to the common good. Rachel Carson, an environmental scientist, wrote Silent Spring. It was published in the year of my birth — 1962. I read it when I was nine, after being inspired to learn more about our world following my multiple reads of the Dr Seuss booklet, The Lorax.

Carson documented adverse effects to the environment and to humans from the use of synthetic pesticides. She was shellacked by fierce rebuttals from the chemical companies. Carson would not live to see the nationwide U.S. ban on DDT — the toxic chemical compound, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, originally developed as an insecticide. It would still be decades later before DDT was effectively banned globally. Despite the U.S. nationwide ban, American chemical companies exported it to other nations.

Disinformation was a dangerous marketing tool to make massive profits for chemical companies. I often argue the ability to discover the truth is outstripped by the capacity to manifest deceit.

Carson’s posthumous legacy was to inspire an environmental movement, leading to the crafting of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In the 1970s, there was the brimstone shock of understandings forged, in that our planet was heating up. There was as much baseline understanding of this then as there is today but for two decades either side of this century, disinformation shellacked humanity as had been dished to Carson and her supporters. In the meantime, the planet’s atmospheric temperature increased by one degree Celsius.

There is no chance of significant reduction to carbon emissions by 2050. No math-grounded trends can justify such a projection. There is the guaranteed reality that the average temperature will increase by two to five degrees. What is not being discussed widely is as the atmosphere gets hotter, the Earth’s crust gets hotter and compound heat increases, it is likely to be twice as hot. So instead of an increase of two or three degrees, it could be four to six degrees hotter.

The Earth’s surface is drying, the seas warmer and rising and what we are doing to the planet’s lithosphere below us is yet to be fully understood. But we do know what we are doing to the Earth’s filament – the surface of its crust and the residue oceans, seas and rivers – and to its atmospheric strands.

How can we trust one another? Who will lead the way? “Godly” powers in the hands of humans have led to wars and abominations. Nagasaki and Hiroshima; the obliterative vanquishing of 200,000 human lives in seconds.

In our butterfly-brief lifetimes, we have seen more species extinction than ever before in human existence. We do not heed warnings. We do not heed rising temperatures — atmospheric and of the seas.

We do not heed the impacts of the maddening deforestation of the planet. We do not heed the veils and layers of human-made pollutive permanence.

There must be science-based leadership. Voice must be intertwined with education — the carrying of hearts and souls to the common good. For too long, there has been slagging and slogans but there have not been in our parliaments any bills proposed to address excess dangerous emissions, to procure the discursive, to educate the nation, to cut through to caveats, protections, calibrations, balances, legislation.

We must protect by legislation and not walk in minefields of intentions, pledges and promises.

But sadly, not enough is being done soon enough. Cataclysmic catastrophes are mounting.

The Australian Parliament should be ashamed of itself for the decades of absence of bills to scale back carbon and methane emissions. The absence of bills is mindboggling. There should have been bill after bill, categorical to the half-score human-induced emission types that are heading our unborn and all life on this planet to the darkest tumults and catastrophes.

The catchcries of political parties – major and micro – begging voters to blindly believe in their slogans and slagging, assume they have no understanding of what democracy means. The calling to a political life should always be about voice and education. We desperately need discursive and collaboration. We need arbitrators seasoned with expertise. We need leaders who understand the premise: ‘First, do no harm’. If leadership is not soaked in this premise, then hope is lost.

Methane is 50 to 100 times more toxic to the environment than carbon dioxide. Still, many people do not know this. Where are our parliamentarians on methane emissions? The horrific levels of exploitive animal agribusiness produce the equivalent of 5.7 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide annually – accounting for 15% of greenhouse emissions – more than the aggregated emissions of all motor vehicles, planes and all other types of transports.

Animal agribusiness-generated emissions, if not challenged, in the decades ahead, are projected to produce half the world’s greenhouse gases. We are heading into an abyss, fast. Sixty billion of the world’s 80 billion farmed animals are factory farmed — the majority cruelled into miserable lives.

A decade ago, coal-based emissions needed to be limited to less than 550 gigatonnes by 2050 to stay within the prospect of a two-degree rise in temperature end of the century. However, at the time we had incurred a surplus of 3,000 gigatonnes of effectively in-wait coal-based emissions.

Our world has so many pressing issues, a multitude of unfairness and inequities to address. But the most pressing issue is the evident human-induced impacts on our planetary home. The best of democracy is education. It is the way forward and our collective salvation; educate the nation, understand the science and “math”.

Thirty years ago, I reflected on and wrote about our global economies as pyramid schemes — as criminally unsustainable and fraudulent. A few years ago, Nobel laureate Steven Chu published a short paper similarly arguing the world economy is a pyramid scheme. He also compared modern economies to Ponzi schemes. Greenhouse gases enveloping the planet are like a Ponzi scheme, a colossal economic lie that pretends to improve the human condition when in a macabre tale it is doing away with our home.

Mathematical modelling cannot lie, but the math is diluted by madness. If we die out altogether, we will have marched to the tune. Life is butterfly brief, so the demented choose self-centred senseless greed.

Human beings are proving not just disastrous to themselves but also to other species and to the planet.

Disaster economics is the most significant cause of the now relentless tsunami of increasing mental unwellness. People are miserable. Family life has no balance. Toddlers are rushed off to daycare so both parents and the single parent can work. Children are incarcerated for 13 years in schools. What schools offer can be dished out in several years and in kinder, less degrading ways.

I often write of the lowest quintile of income comprising the most significant proportion of suicidality and of the suicide toll. Increasingly, they are bare to levels of impoverishment and social factored economics that have become crushing. But there are also more socioeconomic stressors than ever before in the other quintiles. People work to survive.

I often remind, in 1983, of the immediate former boss of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), Bob Hawke, who became Prime Minister. The Hawke-Keating era oversaw wage accords locked in that would lead to wage stagnancies and real wages dip in the decades ahead. They oversaw the implementation of a “neoliberal” concord. They removed domestic economic market protections, swiftly went about wild deregulations, sold off capital assets, weighed in privatisations and scaled back hard-won workers’ rights.

Successive governments have tracked along with more damage — the real cost in human lives, drudgery, miserableness, pile-high unresolvable stressors, mental unwellness, absence of hope. Cost-of-living increases protect heavy-duty investors. Inflation is not just a lever. It is a tool misused, to exploit.

Since 1983, real labour costs have been reduced by 24%, while the net share of national income consigned to profits increased to its present record high of 32%. This statistical narrative is increasingly out there but human drudgery continues, the revolution to demand putting the planet first is yet to have legs. It has become too late but if change were to occur at the rate it should, there is still time to turn things around despite the morphing of the human species and of other life on the planet to what we can’t even imagine adequately presently that will occur to say our great-grandchildren by 2100.

Humanity consumes and devastates to excess. The world’s animal populations have suffered an average decline of nearly 70% since 1970. The math screams of a living planet as a fast-approaching mass graveyard.

Math is in every stroke of life, every stroke of the cosmos. All the math of our generation points to the largest mass species extinction ever known. Many scientists argue we are seeing before our eyes the sixth mass species extinction and at the rate it’s going, the largest ever.

The math points to soon-to-be-realised future generations of crushing poverty and famines on a relentless basis the likes never known before. They are only a few generations away. Poverty wars and volatilities and tumults we assume unimaginable. But what we see as fiction today, the math sees as inevitable.

Weavers of speeches tell us of beauty, blinding us to the surrounds of the aggrieved and injured. They yield us to presumptions of the self and make faint the light on others.

I have often written of the horrendous lie of our generation. It is a lie we are lifting people from poverty; however, media by government and transnational organs have us believing people are being lifted from poverty the world over.

One in four of humanity around the world lives on less than $4.54 daily. One in two live on less than $7.56 while four in five live on less than $13.75 daily. One in ten lives on less than $2.61.

The World Bank sets the international poverty lines. In 2015, it revised them. Extreme poverty had been people living on US$2.50 (AU$3.93). They revised it to US$1.90 (AU$2.98). With the 60-cent reduction, suddenly, hundreds of millions of sisters and brothers were supposedly lifted from extreme poverty.

Our souls are battlefields waging wars against each other.

Humanity itself faces the prospect of extinction. It will not be by an asteroid or large-scale volcanism but by omnicide — by the anthropogenic hand. There is always the possibility of global nuclear annihilation where there exists such capability, which it does. There is always the possibility of biological warfare where there exists such capability, which it does. There is enormous research on the likelihood of human extinction by its own activities.

At the current and projected rates of energy usage, all oil and gas will run out in four decades. We need to move along with responsible and reliable energy generation. Oil is the most consumed primary energy fuel in the world. There are only a few decades left to bring on new technologies to ensure the long-term electrification of our human habitats.

The scale of the energy transition we need in the decades ahead is vastly different to the last century.

The greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane, ozone and nitrous oxide but also industrially processed gases, such as sulphur hexafluoride, nitrogen trifluoride, perfluorocarbons and hydrofluorocarbons.

Greenhouse gases absorb and emit energy within the thermal infrared range.

Sulphur hexafluoride is a synthetic fluorinated compound. Known as SF6, it is used in electric power systems for voltage electrical insulation and among other needs, it is used in the transmission and distribution of electricity. But it is also the most toxic greenhouse gas ever known. SF6 is more than 22,000 times more effective at trapping infrared radiation than equivalent amounts of carbon dioxide.

SF6 has an atmospheric lifetime of 3,000 years. If SF6 continues to be used in the component of electrification of human habitats such as cities, in the transition from other future energy sources to ensure electrification, the even greater use of SF6 in decades to come will have catastrophic impacts on our atmospherics.

Science is the mathematician’s measuring stick. Today’s conduct is not just tomorrow’s memory but its reality. The math is in every stroke.

I could have closed this article at several junctures but the crisis burning with the scent of human extinction, smouldering with the fact of mass species extinctions, with the pyre of habitat destructions, we are obliged to raise the tenor. We have not exercised common sense since the grimness of the Chernobyl disaster and the Fukushima tragedy.

Nuclear energy, radiation centrifuges, ageing infrastructure, which can fall apart from their own concord, or have no defence to the volatile filament that is the Earth’s crust, the molten lava below it, as an earthquake, a tsunami have warned. Yet, we persevere with nuclear fission, the desire for fusion and the cataclysmic end to what is known as the unknown, oblivion. If we do not listen to the math – not the physics, the sciences alone – we are no more than a time bomb.

Gerry Georgatos is a suicide prevention and poverty researcher with an experiential focus on social justice.

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