According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), we have just turned the page on the third-in-a-row worst year on record for widespread climate and weather disasters. The US alone suffered damage exceeding 306 billion dollars, and in January, the US has already surpassed many temperature records.
California’s present precipitation is up 400% over normal, causing devastating mudslides in the terrain swept clear of forest roots and underbrush from the record wildfires of December. At the same time, the continent’s southeast is still waiting on winter as drought conditions delay snow and foretell dry soils during spring planting season.
Smog descended on India and Pakistan throughout November, King tides caused flooding in Florida, hurricane-force winds are hurling waves 45 feet higher than ever in Tofino, BC as I write this, and there are thousands of square kilometres of open ocean in the Arctic where solid ice would normally be. Cape Town, South Africa—the most unequal place in the world— is the first major city on the planet to run out of water. This changes everything. The water wars have begun. The next chapter of this real life story is entirely in our hands.
It is a mistake, however, to believe that we can engineer our way out of this mess. Species survival is an entirely biological issue, not a rational issue, and a society that permits biology to become an engineering discipline—that allows science to slip into the role of changing the living world before it understands it—is a danger to itself.
We cannot, after all, swim to another island to escape the eruption. On some level of awareness, modern society knows that it desperately needs to learn how to live in harmony with the biosphere. Today more than ever we are in need of a biology that helps us do this—that shows the way. An engineering biology might just show us how to get there; it just doesn’t know where “there” is. (Carl R. Woese, American Society for Molecular Biology, June 2004.)
Any expectation that scientists can gerrymander the elements is entirely misplaced.
It falls on each person to do the one thing humans can do that will make a difference in the conditions for life and the fate of the planet. We can change our behaviour, and any beliefs that motivate the status quo, such as the block-headed idea that there is “white DNA.”
Personal choices to eliminate not only single-use plastic bags but all kinds of (gas and petroleum-based) non-biodegradable plastic, may make an incremental difference where we live, but they raise awareness in a cascade of consequences. For example, if we refuse to ever take another plastic straw or cup from Starbuck’s, it won’t take long before other customers recognize the power of their influence. In short order, the products will change to biodegradable paper, and the economics of positive public response can create environmental harmony where there was harm.
This positive public influence empowers organizations like Food & Water Watch and Food & Water Action—the first national environmental organization in the US to call for a ban on fracking. As the Trump Administration does everything in its power to trash the environment and ignore the tsunami sirens, Food & Water Action has introduced a political platform called Off Fossil Fuels For a Better Future Act (OFF), and invited members of Congress to step onboard.
The timing is right. The 2018 congressional elections come up in November, and already, more than 100 US congressmen and senators have pledged support for this campaign to combat climate warming.
The OFF Act was introduced by Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. It is the strongest, most aggressive piece of climate legislation ever introduced in the US Congress. It sets a requirement of 100% clean renewable energy by 2035.
This proposed legislation recognizes the next 10 years as absolutely critical to the possibility of human survival. In that light, it has determined an interim benchmark of 80% clean renewables by 2027. It also places a moratorium on new federal fossil fuel projects. It eliminates subsidies for the oil and gas industry. It creates a fund for a just transition. It eliminates exports of oil and gas and also determines that all of the US transportation systems need to move to 100% renewable energy.
This aggressive, ambitious legislative revolution is precisely what is required by the science that increasingly demonstrates the urgent need for people to act on climate warming right now.
As Food & Water Watch director Mark Schlosbrg has noted, “We don’t have time to wait until 2050, 2080 or beyond. We need to act now in the next 10 years. The science tells us it is really quite critical.”
Congresswoman Gabbard’s proposed legislation is producing a groundswell of support in New York, Virginia, Maryland, Colorado, and elsewhere at the state level. An increasing number of people running for Congress are getting on board this revolutionary life raft. Last year the US Council of Mayors also recommended commitments at the civic level in the direction of 100% renewables by 2035. In a forest of third-growth Trumpian idiots, these politicians are veritable Redwoods of upright political will.
The recent nightmare in Hawaii, of the “incoming ballistic missile” warning, brought Tusli Gabbard onto centre stage as the first authority to announce it as a mistake. And as this voice of reason, she was then interviewed on the ABC show This Week by George Stephanopoulos about her speedy (12 minutes) response to this apparent threat to US national and world security. It was in this exchange, with one of the well-known talking heads of television infotainment, that we see the real pith and moment of Tulsi Gabbard, Major US Army veteran and Congresswoman from Hawaii.
“The leaders of this country need to experience that same level of visceral understanding of how lives are at stake,” she said, about the failed leadership of her country.
“What I’m saying is that Democrat and Republican administrations for decades, going back over 20 years, failed to recognize the seriousness of this threat, failed to remove it. And we know that North Korea has these nuclear weapons because they see how the United States, in Libya for example, guaranteed Gaddafi, ‘we’re not going to go after you; you should get rid of your nuclear weapons.’ He did, then we went and led an attack that toppled Gaddafi, launching Libya into chaos that we are still seeing the results of today.
North Korea sees what we did in Iraq, with Saddam Hussein, with those false reports of weapons of mass destruction. And now seeing in Iran how President Trump is decertifying a nuclear deal that prevented Iran from developing their nuclear weapons, threatening the very existence and the agreement that was made.
So yes, we’ve got to understand North Korea is holding on to these nuclear weapons because they think it is their only protection from the United States coming in and doing to them what the United States has done to so many countries throughout history.”
It is in the light of these televised level-headed comments about the American failure to protect the planet against self annihilation, that we should see Congresswoman Gabbard’s proposed legislation to put the brakes on global warming, which is the other form of nuclear annihilation.
Like the Canadian astronaut—now Governor General—Julie Payette, Tulsi Gabbard brings a level of insight to her public service born of her life’s experience about human nature and the fragility of the planet. At this moment, on this precarious threshold, this is the only kind of leadership that gives us the possibility of survival.
Publishers Note: Judith Stapleton is a writer in the fields of science and medicine.