Back in March, Tom Engelhardt had a stimulating article at TomDispatch.com on the wounding of planet Earth. He also made mention of the Covid-19 pandemic. And as I read his piece, I thought of Mother Earth suffering from a human-made pandemic. A virus of humans. A human-made flu of fevers (heat waves and fires), chills (freezes in the South), coughs (turbulent weather), thirst (droughts out West), and pain (nearly everywhere).
But, sadly, there’s no vaccine for Mother Earth. All we humans can do is relieve the symptoms by changing our behavior. Mother Earth is already infected with us; now we need to leave her alone, let her rest, allow her to recover. But we don’t. We keep stressing her with our actions (and inaction on climate change) and making her symptoms worse.
The only problem: When Mother Earth dies, we all die.
We’re on the fast track to dystopia, which puts me to mind of a recent Splinterlands trilogy written by John Feffer. His latest and last volume is called Songlands, which he writes about here at TomDispatch.com. For a dystopic trilogy, I found it strangely uplifting, for Feffer still sees hope in humans who are willing to sacrifice to save our planet. I urge you to check it out.
It’s amazing to me that ultra-rich billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are saluted for their “investment” in space exploration, as if we humans are going to save ourselves by building stations on the moon or Mars. If Bezos and Musk truly wanted to give back to humanity, they’d be focusing on reducing consumption here on Earth while fighting for preservation and conservation. But their space trips are really ego trips, and their fuel has always been money.
Here’s hoping humanity rejects the “final frontier” nonsense of Bezos and Musk and turns its attention to what really matters: the health and welfare of this wonderful yet fragile world of ours.
For if we refuse to honor Mother Earth, it may be the last sin we humans commit.
Is it possible the U.S. hit a peak of sorts in 1969? I know – 1969 was a Nixon year, another year of destruction in Vietnam, though the music in those days was far better than today. But I’m thinking of Apollo, as in our landing on the moon in July of 1969. Having recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, that momentous event is still on my mind, especially when I think of the old poster I had on my bedroom wall that showed the Apollo journey from earth to the moon, its various stages and maneuvers. It was all bewildering to a young boy caught up in the space program, but at least I knew my country was at the forefront of science.
In 1969 America reached the moon! We respected science. Many Americans were trying to end a disastrous war in Vietnam. People marched for civil rights, they fought for equal rights, there was a sense America’s potential was nearly limitless.
WTF in 2020? Many Americans, including our president, don’t respect science. We fire doctors for calling out quack medical cures. We put a breeder of labradoodles in charge of our Covid-19 pandemic response. Wars just go on forever with little resistance. We’re sliding backwards in rights for minorities, for women, for workers. And the space program? Moribund in the USA. We’re very much stuck on earth, an earth that is less hospitable to life than it was fifty years ago.
The years 1970-2020 has defined a half-century of American decline. Perhaps we might speak of five bad “emperors”: Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Shrub Bush, and Obama, now joined by Trump, our very own blend of Nero and Caligula. He fiddles and diddles while America burns.
Joe Biden and the establishment Democrats are hardly the answer. Even Jesus isn’t the answer unless we start taking His words about the rich (and so much else) seriously. The Jesus of my youth had no use for greed and money and material goods – He taught us our treasure was in heaven, gained by righteous living through faith while manifesting love. That sacrificial message is drowned out today by the so-called prosperity gospel, preached by ministers who are cashing in even as they tell their followers that wealth is the most legitimate form of God’s grace. Back in the Catholic church of my youth, such ideas would have been blasphemous. At my church I recall the example set by Sister Emily and Sister Jane Elizabeth – they sure weren’t living in luxury. Forgive them, sisters, they know not what they do.
Here we are, in 2020, in a land of un-truth, in a universe of alternative facts, in belief systems where money matters more than anything, where even ministers stoke conflict, and we wonder why we can’t come together and develop a clear, coherent, and coordinated response to the coronavirus crisis.
How to change this? How about letting experts lead us? You know the saying: it ain’t rocket science. But Apollo was rocket science, and so we deferred to experts, and they got us to the moon and back six times and patched together an amazing rescue of Apollo 13 when it went wrong. To beat Covid-19, we can’t listen to Trump and his band of grifters and losers. We must listen to the scientists, the doctors, and act collectively based on sound medical science. The “rocket scientists” will get us through this, together with the humanists and the selfless efforts of so many medical workers and (mostly) nameless others.
Longer term, we need to re-create our government, because it has, quite simply, betrayed most of us. Simultaneously, we need to move beyond nationalism and think and act on a global scale to save our earth. If Apollo taught us one thing, it’s the wondrous value of our own planet. The moon may be a place of magnificent desolation, but who wants to live permanently in desolation? We need global vision and action, not only to help prevent future pandemics, but also to preserve our planet as a viable biosphere for a global population projected to top ten billion people in the coming decades.
Nobody said it would be easy; yet if we stay on our current course, just about anybody can guess humanity’s fate. But if we can put a man on the moon, surely we can come together to create a better future for ourselves and our children.
The year was 1969, and this song by the Youngbloods went gold: “Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another right now. Right now. Right now.” It wasn’t – or shouldn’t be — just hippie dreaming. Indeed, it’s the essence of true Christianity.
The other day, I was watching a typical truck commercial on TV. It showed trucks literally tearing up the backroads, along with ATVs spinning and jumping and chewing up the countryside, all synonymous with “adventure” and “freedom.”
I remember those old Coors commercials featuring Mark Harmon. They were set in Colorado (I think) and featured him quietly extolling the virtues of barley and clean water. Now most Coors commercials are about self-indulgent partying (but please drink responsibly).
My point? We need a change in mindset — one that values nature and its preservation. We’re doomed if we keep selling the idea “you can have it all,” so go party and tear up nature — who cares as long as you’re having fun?
We act as if we have many planet earths, but we have only one. And we’re slowly and surely making our planet less habitable for humans.
Our planet is already having its revenge. As Tom Engelhardt wrote about in a recent article about “Emperor Weather,”
Of course, his [Emperor Weather’s] air power — his bombers, jets, and drones — would be superstorms; his invading armies would be mega-droughts and mega-floods; and his navy, with the total or partial melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, would be the rising seas of the planet, which would rob humanity of its coastlines and many of its great cities. His forces would occupy not just one or two countries in the Greater Middle East or elsewhere, but the entire planet, lock, stock, and barrel.
Emperor Weather’s imperial realms would be global on an awe-inspiring scale and the assaults of his forces would fragment the present planet in ways that could make much of it, in human terms, look like Syria. Moreover, given how long it takes greenhouse gases to leave the atmosphere, his global rule would be guaranteed to last an inhumanly long period of time unchallenged.
Heat (think burning Australia today, only far worse) would be the coin of the realm. While humanity will undoubtedly survive in some fashion, whether human civilization as we now know it can similarly survive on a planet that is no longer the welcoming home that it has been these last thousands of years we have no way of knowing.”
Wars will doubtless follow in the wake of disruptions by Emperor Weather, which will only make matters worse for humanity. Think of all those weapons that run on fossil fuels — ships, planes, and tanks. All those weapons that pollute the earth while consuming valuable resources that could be used for alternative energies (solar panels, for example).
It’s time to beat our weapons into wind turbine blades, and to make war no more, either on ourselves or on nature.