Nov. 25th, 2015

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For as long as I can remember watching television, nature documentaries have always depicted animals and plants on the verge of extinction, and they've always ended on a hopeful note. "Just heed this warning, and there may be a chance to avert tragedy".

 I remember the science fiction convention where I attended a lecture and slide show about global warming, and I had to leave halfway through. No doubt, it ended on that same hopeful note, "If we just spread enough awareness, we can change things".

 Even after decades of this kind of message, I still see this idea being hammered on: We need to become more aware of the problem.

 I've come to believe that this is an irresponsible message to be spreading. It's based on the assumption that the united states is a true democracy, that if enough people speak, there will be a meaningful response. And that human beings are different from animals which will overgraze their habitat and starve to death.

 The cold hard truth is much more cruel than this. We know how to eradicate smallpox, and that's given us great hope for other diseases... yet we don't know how to stop MRSA. We know how to (in theory) eliminate child poverty and overpopulation and homelessness.... yet it's not considered an important enough problem to act on. And let's get real: Sandy Hook was enough of a wakeup call for any real democracy to respond to. The silence has been deafening.

 If my generation tasks itself with reversing five centuries of bad habits, we will only disillusion ourselves. I've stopped believing it's in our collective power to change our fundamental behavior when it comes to life support. It's not my job to change things. It's become my job to remember how things used to be, and bear witness to the great change.

 As a child I remember wandering the downtown Seattle waterfront, going out on a small public dock and looking in wonder at the sea life clinging to the piers, just barely out of reach. The last time I passed that place as an adult, it was closed off, boarded up, and a homeless person was camped out just on the other side. Now after starfish wasting diease has torn through elliot bay, it's not clear if that ecosystem will ever return. But it's important to remember what was once there.

In another corner of the sea, I recently got back from snorkeling in Hawaii. The bleached coral was almost as pretty as the live coral, and I had nothing to compare the fish abundance to- yet I have no reason to believe it will be any better next I visit.

 In _Chasing Ice_, James Balog gives us all a chance to witness the last big glaciers as they melt and calve off into the ocean. Can something this huge really be wished away?

 My younger self used to think of the problem as a kind of big graph on the wall, comperable to Al Gore's CO2 graph.(the one with a forklift at the end) Mine had a curve on one side depicting environmental degradation, and a curve on the other side, depicting people's social awareness. It was a simple, beautiful idea, that as things got worse, people would wake up. When enough aware people were mustered, the degradation would begin to reverse, and we'd reach some kind of equilibrium.

 World events have falsified my theory: As the sea ice melts, Big Oil is venturing farther north to accelerate the damage and monetize it before it all goes away. Even as the dangers of Frakking are well known, I still see natural gas powered busses bragging about how clean-running they are. The cheap chemicals coming out of these newer wells are making it economical to build new plastics manufaturing in North America for the first time since the war.

 And on the political front, Donald Trump is teaching me how hard it is to interest the voting public in the truth... about anything. The Syrian refugee crisis has its roots in a 2007 drought that is still being felt today. It seems easier to stir up fear of its victims, than more awareness of its cause.

 I guess my first exposure to human stubbornness of this type, was back in the 80's when the spotted owl was being blamed for the decline of the timber industry in Oregon. The fact that all the easiest, most profitable wood had already been harvested, had little impact on those who wanted to exploit what was left.

 We're just not very good, as a species, at rationally thinking about problems that are bigger than us.

 I don't want to be misunderstood: I have not given up hope. I still believe that an alternative exists to the corporate agenda, that people's voices should and do matter. It's the false hope I am giving up on. I no longer believe there is still time to avoid the worst of it. There is only time to say goodbye to the world that was, and build anew on what is.


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