Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Pondering peaks

Photo of two caribou bulls with locked horns, from http://trondekheritage.com/our-places/

(First posted at www.highupintherollinghills.blogspot.com January 3, 2014)

As another year slides into the past and a new one challenges me in my winter cocoon to shape up and be more energetic, efficient and productive than ever, the world we inhabit remains challenged on many fronts. I am reminded on a passage from my book, High Up in the Rolling Hills:

“I ponder whether I have reached the maximum rate of return after which returns enter a terminal decline—peak life? Have living standards for many of us reached peak abundance? Is the big bubble about to burst? My generation has certainly borrowed much from the future and from the planet. The debts to be repaid are astronomical, and it is certain that they cannot be fully retired, at least at current punitive interest rates and current accelerated rates of destruction. Governments and mega-corporations—now in the developing world as well as the developed—plough through finite natural resources like there is no tomorrow.

Intensified industrial technologies have been aggravating unintended consequences for the ecosystem: air pollution, nuclear waste, radiation contamination, extreme weather events, desertification, acidification of the oceans, ravaging of fossil-fuel reserves, poisoning and depletion of soils and farmland, loss of flora and fauna habitat (and biodiversity). With these upheavals and losses go peak food, peak soils, peak health. It is simply not feasible for us to maintain our general well-being by turning our backs on the natural world. The truly wondrous biodiversity and plenty that recent generations inherited in short order by feverish greed in the quest for short-term gain. Long gone are those vast herds of bison roaming the wide-open North American grasslands, great auks patrolling the seas and passenger pigeons swarming in the skies. Wild salmon, cod, whales, sharks and turtles are disappearing from the oceans. Domesticated and farmed surrogates of wild creatures are no real substitute. With the animals and plants goes the heritage of ancient cultures, languages and whole ways of life that had been passed down over millennia. Which species is next to be rendered extinct by this orgy of wastefulness? The caribou? The hippopotamus? The rhinoceros? The elephant? The panda? The gorilla? The tiger? The polar bear? The penguin? The whale? The tuna? The butterflies? The bees? The frogs? All of the above?

"Humans have been killing other animals and slaughtering our own kind for as long as we have stood upright. But only in the last half century or so have we developed the capacity to extinguish not merely a species or a tribe, but whole floras and faunas. With the burning of fossil fuels, the splitting of atoms, the synthesizing of chemicals unknown in nature, the genetic engineering of organisms, and the headlong growth of our own population, we are disrupting all the life-sustaining processes on Earth. As our actions throw into disarray the conditions that have nurtured humankind for hundreds of thousands of years, what conditions will replace them?" (Scott Russell Sanders, Buffalo Eddy)

What are we learning from the tsunamis, the earthquakes, the volcanoes, the floods, the droughts, the tornadoes, the typhoons, the hurricanes? We should react to these extreme workings of nature with some humility and a determination to rebuild and adapt. When we witness melting glaciers, ice sheets and polar caps; massive oil spills; radiation leaks from damaged nuclear plants; and extreme weather volatility across the planet, we would be wise to take a hard look at our world, size up the gravity of the situation and set out systems to mitigate the severity of the threats. As we witness the poisoning of our bodies and the poisoning of our planet’s lands and oceans, it only makes sense to make substantive changes to the way we live our lives. Our governments, drowning in debt and consistently sucked in by unrestrained multinational corporations, are driving us not away from but into the storm dragging us in a downward spiral. In tandem, governments and corporations lead us toward the brink, just as the herders led the buffaloes to the cliff to jump to their fate.”