UN Chief Says Humans Are “Waging War On Nature”

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UN Secretary General António Guterres made a presentation at Columbia University this week to spotlight a new report by the World Meteorological Organization which warns that 2020 may qualify as the hottest year on record once all the data is in on this disaster filled year. “To put it simply,” Guterres said, “the state of the planet is broken. Dear friends, humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal. Nature always strikes back and it is already doing so with growing force and fury.”

Cats know enough to bury their waste products. How is it possible that humans don’t know this? Are we less aware of our surroundings than the average feline? How can we look at the foul crud pouring into the skies from smokestacks and celebrate? How can we accumulate millions upon millions of gallons of industrial and livestock waste and feel proud? Where did we ever get the notion that polluting our waters, our land, and our skies was a wise thing to do?

Here’s a thought that seems especially relevant in a year when the Covid-19 virus is rocketing around the world. In the movie The Matrix, released 20 years ago, there is one scene that seems particularly relevant today. In it, Agent Smith says,

“I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You’re a plague and we are the cure.”

When you think about it, the human beings as virus analogy works pretty well, not that that’s something we should be proud of. It is not a reason to high five each other all the time. It is to our eternal shame that we have taken our beautiful world, our fragile little blue lifeboat at the far edge of the known universe, and turned it into a toxic waste dump. That’s really not something to be proud of, is it? It’s not something we should brag about to our kids, is it?

When the final chapter is written, humans will find their downfall was a sacrifice made on the altar of convenience. Ever since James Watt shared his steam engine with us, we have built our societies around the idea that machines can make life easier. Machines drive us to work and to the mall, machines fly us to the far corners of the Earth in a matter of hours, and machines transport the consumer goods we crave across the oceans. Virtually all those machines are powered by the energy we get from burning fossil fuels — gasoline, diesel fuel, or natural gas. Call them liquid death, for that is what they are.

If we stopped burning coal, gasoline, and natural gas tomorrow, global emissions would drop precipitously but our economy would crash. Pretty soon we would be back to the Middle Ages where we all slept with the barnyard animals to keep warm. One would think that with all the brain power of billions of people connected by the internet, we would be able to devise a plan to save ourselves from our worst impulses but to date, no one has. Oil companies keep drilling, beverage companies continue despoiling nature with billions of plastic containers, car companies keep touting the wonders of their new gas powered models, and politicians keep finding ways to make flowery pronouncements without actually accomplishing anything.

Global temperatures 2020 WMO
Image credit: World Meteorological Organization

The new WMO reports repeats all the things we already know  about — ocean heat waves, raging forest fires, melting permafrost, disappearing glaciers, more frequent and more powerful storms, too much rain here and too little rain there. It is impossible not to recognize what is going on around us but our desire for convenience overrides our common sense.

I am not going to regurgitate the WHO report. You can read it for yourself and if you can’t be bothered to do so, shame on you. But here is a taste to whet your appetite.

Professor Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization writes,

This year is the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. We welcome all the recent commitments by governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because we are currently not on track and more efforts are needed.

Record warm years have usually coincided with a strong El Niño event, as was the case in 2016. We are now experiencing a La Niña, which has a cooling effect on global temperatures, but has not been sufficient to put a brake on this year’s heat. Despite the current La Niña conditions, this year has already shown near record heat comparable to the previous record of 2016.

2020 has, unfortunately, been yet another extraordinary year for our climate. We saw new extreme temperatures on land, sea and especially in the Arctic. Wildfires consumed vast areas in Australia, Siberia, the US West Coast and South America, sending plumes of smoke circumnavigating the globe. We saw a record number of hurricanes in the Atlantic, including unprecedented back-to-back category 4 hurricanes in Central America in November. Flooding in parts of Africa and South East Asia led to massive population displacement and undermined food security for millions.

The time for excuses is over. The time for perseverating about the Deep State or Democratic cannibals who prey on young children is over. It’s time to put on our big boy and big girl pants and do the right thing for our planet. Lots of people say if you really are concerned about climate change, you shouldn’t own a car or heat your home or turn on the lights after dark. Horse puckey! What you should do is write, call, and e-mail your elected officials at the state and local level incessantly. Let them know you support making polluters pay for their sins and that you will hold them accountable when you vote in the future. Do it over and over again. Hammer them with your concerns. Believe it or not, politicians do respond to input from their constituents.

The upshot is that we are destroying the only home we will ever have. To those who say terrestrial temperatures always go up and down, the answer is yes they do. But that doesn’t mean we should assist in accelerating the process. Get angry. Raise hell. And don’t back down. Remember, if the people will lead, their leaders will follow.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

Steve Hanley has 5411 posts and counting. See all posts by Steve Hanley