Saturday, April 21, 2012

EARTH IS NOT A SOCCER BALL - so stop kicking it around

What has Earth Day really become now? At this time in man's history we stand enlightened more than ever of the potential dangers our earth faces. Humanity has matured, we have identified a history of abuse unwittingly committed in the name of development. Our history has such subheadings as the Industrial Revolution, The Space Age, The Nuclear Age and now the world of wonder with computers and the internet. We do like subheadings it seems to put an order to things, even history. Art together with historical photographs depict the Industrial Age as dirty with chimney stacks spewing out black smoke. Monkeys in space suits looked cute and The Space Age brought science fiction into reality, now Jules Verne and Isaac Asimov no longer taken as kooks but as visionaries.

Together with the shining space suits came the promise of discovery and hand in hand The Nuclear Age. Although its images of the horrors of detonation and human destruction have been put aside, still the uncertainty lingers around nuclear reactors. Japan has shown us how vulnerable we are without a despot's finger on the proverbial button. Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and their ilk have taken humanity and thrown it into the washing machine, and we have indeed shrunk. Communication now only takes seconds from one corner of the earth to the other, information stored on computer chips and retrievable within nanoseconds rather than a room of filing cabinets. Entertainment in all shapes and forms opening doorways to unstoppable imagination. Yet at what cost has man's maturity affected our planet and our environment?

Unlike our material goods, even our newest technology, our earth cannot be replaced. Countries that had remained in the dark whilst others developed now want their share of the promised better life. China now has the chimneys and it is spewing out the horrors at an incredible state, so much so that they have the top place in the world for carbon emissions, beating out the most developed country in the world, the United States. Japan who suffered the wrath of the developing nuclear age with unforeseen human devastation decided that money spent on maintenance for a nuclear power plant was best utilized elsewhere. The result will remain as part of human history and the true magnitude of the effects still to be discovered. It is enough to say that Japan will suffer for many more years and the rest of us wait for the 'fall out'.

Our maturity as a race of beings eager to discover, even risk life and death for that thrill has also lead to an addiction that puts it all on the line. The fist combustion engine brought with it now only freedom but also slavery to last dozens of decades, without an end in sight. Travel is becoming faster, more efficient and comfortable. To satisfy this insatiable need man drills anywhere for oil, whether the desert sands or the rolling oceans. Oil has become an enormous wealth maker for an individual or country. Wealth commands power and humanity's lust for both is infinite.

As we have matured we have come to understand that our planet has limitations and many of our natural resources may be depleted. What we thought as a never ending blanket of protection that earth was wrapped in has proven to be fragile, even at risk to breaking down. Certain gasses that we emit through our daily routines damage our protective blanket and the result has been clear with polar ice caps melting, strange climactic shifts in temperatures, even the air that we took for granted can be dangerous to breathe. Our addiction to oil and the need to produce more and more of it comes at a price. Production of oil requires a great deal of energy output and this huge energy output produces carbon emissions that damage the earth's ozone layer, creating climate change.

There are those who attempt to fight this, they do so with knowledge and research, and many in the environmental field understand the potential threat before us. The opposition claims that it is all a hoax, that the earth simply has its own maturing cycle and nothing more. As one reporter Lorrie Goldstein wrote that there was a time in New York City when horse drawn carriages were the only means of transportation and the excrement left by the horses created serious health risks. The same reporter claimed that with the advent of the horseless carriage not only New Yorkers but people all over the world were able to breathe easy. With the massive growth of numbers of the horseless carriage and our addiction to its convenience, air quality has diminished to a point where warnings are needed to safeguard the population against possible health risks, even death. Is this a sign of development or simply an exchange of one dilemma for even a greater one?

Planet Earth is truly resilient and it has weathered and endured many changes through millions of years. None more challenging than man's development and maturity. We have taken and continue to take a great deal from it. Now is the time to come to a realization that we must give back, that we must protect our Earth. If we do not it may be possible that it will not be able to sustain us any longer. As each generation follows another we are responsible for what we leave behind for the next. That has become more apparent now then ever before. Drawing lines in the sand between environmentalists and government is not the solution. Working together has to be the only productive course to take.

Quite seriously we have no real or viable alternative to oil. If we were to appease the hard core environmentalists and cease all production our civilization would simply grind to a halt. That is reality and no one can escape it at this time. People themselves need to want to change and if we can't find a way to lead them to that desire then we only face the potential of disaster. When electric vehicles began production and found a place in auto dealership showrooms many hailed it as the dawn of a new era, an environmental win. Reality came crashing down and one vehicle has been dropped from production in North America from poor sales. The sales volume of the few others left is not too promising either.

The business of environment has become just that, big business and selling the earth for its 'own good' has become a gimmick. Whether it is Earth Day, Earth Hour or Water Day the general public care little. To the public all of this is no less commercial than Christmas or the Easter Bunny. How can we find a doorway that can bring those who can make a difference into the same space, to understand colour-coded recycling bins is not really enough to make a difference. This is not an easy dilemma to overcome as a recent study in the US showed that more of our young feel helpless in being able to make a change for the future. At the same time simply look at the parking areas of high schools and count the number of cars driven by students. A more alarming question is, who really wants to make a change?

Environmentalists push the same rhetoric which in itself is loosing the general public's attention. Those in this field who have media access and attention are run like any business, even though their status is of a non-profit nature. Raising money whether through campaigns aimed at the public, government grants or grants from charitable foundations, one motivation remains equal to all, the need for more money. Too many of these big environmental groups have forgotten the reason why they began this work. Their voices are now used to attempt to influence politics and at times to simply become an obstacle to development without logic or a willingness to compromise. Lately we have seen an escalation in what can only push the public further away from listening to environmental concerns than ever before.

Canada is standing in a potential position of becoming a real world power with its tar sands. No longer simply the best friend to the world, who was trusted as a peacekeeper or as an adviser. Now we have the third largest reserve of oil that brings with it immense wealth and power. As Canada looks at developing and selling its tar sands oil, the world prepares for potentially increasing disaster, CLIMATE CHANGE. It is an issue that must concern all whether here on the North American continent or across the world in China. Developing Alberta's tar sands oil will undoubtedly bring immense wealth, but it will also push our earth further into a precarious position. The tar sands require a massive output of energy to be developed, that in turn releases huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. All of us now fully understand that the fall out of Japan's horrendous nuclear accident will have repercussions around the globe. Whatever we do in Canada's development of the tar sands will be felt the world over as a corresponding affect on climate change, there is no escape of that fact.

Still the tar sands will be developed, there is no question about it. Our insatiable need for oil has no end. China is claiming the right to develop its economy as did the West in the past. The United States' addiction to oil is evident in each and every corner of the nation. Families can't survive without two cars now, even with gas prices rising to record levels, food budgets are more likely to be trimmed to permit the four wheels to keep on rolling. Canada is not far behind with those kinds of attitudes, I simply look at my 70 plus year old neighbour across the road. He gets into his red truck four times a day, every day, to simply ride to the convenience store to buy his peeling lottery tickets.

Sadly there is a realty that none of us can escape, regardless of whether we call ourselves environmentalists or not, our addiction to oil is completely consuming. Whether it is the oil fields of the Middle East or South America, whether it is the offshore drilling of our oceans, or the potentially disastrous development of Alberta's tar sands, we need oil. There is no real or viable alternative, and without the oil the world would simply grind to a halt, and my neighbour across the road would miss out on his little peeling lottery tickets.

So do we accept all the current rhetoric about the horrors of the tar sands and face the inevitable end? That is what many of the big environmentalists are pushing, even the 'father' of climate change Ian Hansen said the development of the tar sands would mean “game over” for climate change. The answer is simply no, this is not true. Yes the tar sands are a threat to our earth and to our environment, but not the only threat we face. It is possible to do so much more than just look for headlines in the press for the newest warnings at how the environment will suffer because of the tar sands.

In Canada and the US we have a natural wonder with a supply of fresh water that makes many in the world envious. Yet it is not ever ending, nor is it magical, constantly replenishing itself. It is our responsibility to protect our lakes and to find ways to ensure that contamination is reduced, at whatever cost. Simply take note of the water bans that have been announced in England, or the rationing of water use in California throughout summer, to understand the true value of this wealth that we possess. As human beings it is our nature to take for granted what we should value.

In the end the question lingers, what is EARTH DAY? Is it only another advertising executive's brainchild, designed for some unknown purpose? Are people fed up with all the demonstrations and speeches fighting the tar sands? How does Earth Day impact anyone anywhere, did it really have any impact from the beginning? No definitive answer can be reached, though a great deal of opinion and supposition mixed with emotion will be bounced around. Those big environmentalists who hang out a shingle and pass around the collection plate all sing the same song, that discussion and awareness are the key, and then ask for a 'small contribution'. Yet empty words are simply recycled sounds polluting the air.

Harsh as these sentiments may sound but discussion and awareness without action is simply a patronizing gesture. People make the real difference even against insurmountable odds, that too has been the history of man. If only a few in each town across each country change what they do, then Earth Day is a success.

An on-line conversation through Facebook that I had with a gentleman who began his stand with a totally opposing position to what I said, changed to exemplify the real potential in a struggle to protect our combined future. Mr. John Rebelo of British Columbia had his opinions of the tar sands, even of the resilience of the Earth to weather changes through the millennia, yet agreed that there is much we can do to protect our future and our environment. The last words in our conversation were John Rebelo's: “You are welcome Alexander, I SINCERELY MEANT what I said. The environment is NOT an infinite provider of wealth and well being. WE MUST care for it and treat it with utmost respect or else it will fail us! Because we all have different ideas we'll never reach a consensus but let's keep the dialogue going and find a way to do what's right!”

John Rebelo was correct we are all different with varying motivations for what we do, and a true consensus is extremely difficult to achieve. Yet to accept the fact that our environment is not the “infinite provider of wealth and well being” then we have room to develop the necessities of life such as oil (and we need to be honest enough to admit oil is a necessity at this time in our history), and reduce its impact on our Earth, our future. There are so many more avenues available for us and our government's to take real action to protect our environment. Perhaps Earth Day indeed has a purpose that is more than an empty greeting quickly forgotten as the sounds of the words dissipate in the air.

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