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We Can’t Save The World By Destroying It

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By Julia Barnes, Director of the Award-winning motion picture, “Sea of Life”

We are in the midst of the 6th mass extinction of life on Earth, caused by industrial civilization.

Most of us wouldn’t know it because public discourse around the environment has been hyper-focused on climate change, emphasising severe weather, sea level rise, and increased storms as if those would be the worst or only outcomes. Climate change is just one symptom of a much larger problem. On a global scale we face a multi-faceted, interconnected existential threat.

The ocean, which is the foundation of life on the planet, is being destroyed.

Much of the carbon dioxide we release into the atmosphere doesn’t stay in the atmosphere. It gets absorbed into the ocean, making the ocean more acidici. In a more acidic environment, animals who build shells and skeletons can’t form. Ocean acidification has been attributed to 4 of the 5 mass extinctions in Earth’s historyii. Right now, the oceans are going acidic faster than in most of those extinctions.

The oxygen in two out of every three breaths we take comes from plankton in the ocean. Plankton populations have been diminished by 40% and are decreasing at a rate of about 1% per yeariii.

Industrial fishing has wiped out 90% of the large fish in the oceaniv. The fact that fish populations have been decimated is a huge problem in and of itself. It also exacerbates the acidification of the ocean. Fish sequester carbon in their bodies and they excrete things called “gut rocks” which make the ocean less acidicv. The removal of fish means those fish can’t play their role in keeping the ocean’s acidity in balance.

Runoff from agriculture has created ocean dead zones – areas devoid of oxygen where almost nothing can live. There are over 500 dead zones in the oceans worldwidevi. When fish swim into these dead zones they die because they can’t breathe.

Ocean warming is causing coral reefs to bleach and die at unprecedented ratesvii. Coral reefs are home to 30% of all species in the ocean at some stage in their life cycles. They are predicted to be wiped out by the middle of the century if ocean warming and acidification continueviii.

The destruction on land mirrors that of the ocean. 90% of the old growth forests have been wiped outix. 90% of the native prairies in North America were destroyed to make room for agriculturex. Wildlife populations are collapsingxi.

Extinction rates today are 1000 times higher than background rates of extinctionxii. 200 species are driven extinct every dayxiii.

We are losing the real world on which we depend.

“To this point, despite decades of activism, the environmental movement has failed to stop or even slow the destruction. The problems are accelerating. Everything is headed in the wrong direction.”

As the situation intensifies, more and more people are waking up and recognize that things need to change. The problem is, the mainstream environmental movement does not represent an effective model for creating the kind of change we need. Their tactics and their demands are seriously flawed.

The mainstream climate movement is pushing for a rapid rollout of 100% renewable energy. Even if their greatest ambitions are realized, the natural world will not be better off.

Solar, wind, hydro, and biomass are not solutions to our environmental problems; they are alternative ways of powering our destructive society at the expense of the natural world.

The idea that producing more energy from solar or wind will lead to less carbon emissions is the primary argument in favour of “renewable” technologies. Yet this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Solar panels and wind turbines have been called “alternative fossil fuels” because they require fossil fuels at every stage of production from mining, shipping and manufacturing, to installationxiv. And when energy from solar and wind is added to the grid, rather than displacing fossil fuels, it simply adds to the amount of energy at the disposal of civilizationxv. Environmentalists are calling it an energy “transition” but it should really be called an energy “addition” because that’s what it is.

Words like “clean”, “free”, “safe”, and “sustainable” are often thrown around when talking about renewable energy. Examining the processes involved in making these technologies reveals a very different picture.

A dystopian lake filled with toxic wastexvi, mountain-top removal copper mining, industrial steel manufacturing, global shipping, large scale habitat destruction, sand mining, and massive greenhouse gas emissions are essential parts of renewable production.

Renewable energy is just another industry that adds to the destruction of the planet. It does not deserve the “green” reputation it has garnered.

Unfortunately, greenwashing has become embedded in the movement to save the planet. The conversation around environmentalism has been flooded with oxymorons. “Sustainable development,” “sustainable cities,” “green growth”.

You have to be insane to think you can have infinite growth on a finite planet. So why do so many people – including environmentalists – still think and talk and act like we can?

Putting the word “sustainable” or “green” in front of something does not make it so. It does, however, make it easier for some people to avoid looking at the problem.

We are told that we can have our cake and eat it too. But that is a lie.

There is no surplus in nature. All of the comforts and luxuries we receive come at a cost which is paid by other species, other humans, and future generations.

We need to stop pretending that we can have this way of life without destroying life on the planet.

The push for alternative energies is a push to solve for the wrong variable. It takes our high-energy culture as a given and the natural world as having to conform to the insatiable demands of industrial civilization.

We cannot afford to waste time  we don’t have on solutions that will not work.

Instead of asking “how can we maintain the systems we have without harming the planet?” (answer: we can’t), the primary question we should be asking is “what does the world need?”

Below is a list of demands that are more in line with physical reality.

  • Reduce emissions by 20% per year beginning with the most non-essential luxuries. (i.e. Retractable stadium roofs, leaf blowers, lawn mowers, useless consumer goods, air travel, and so on). Only count actual emissions reductions, not “net zero” which is turning out to be a carbon laundering shell gamexvii.
  • Contract the global economy. It should be obvious that infinite growth is incompatible with life on a finite planet.
  • Encourage families to have fewer children, especially in affluent countries. Make all forms of reproductive control freely available to allxviii.
  • De-industrialize everything.
  • Localize the production of food. Move from annual monocultures to perennial polycultures. Stop the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Phase out a large percentage of animal agriculture. Restore the land that was previously used to grow feed crops for animals (which accounts for 77% of agricultural landxix) back to native prairies or forests or whatever it was before it was destroyed for agriculture. Stop growing cash crops (including for biofuel) and restore that land to native habitats.
  • Make pollution illegal.
  • No new construction or “development”. Cement alone is responsible for 8% of global emissionsxx
  • Stop subsidizing destructive activities (i.e. fossil fuels, industrial fishing, industrial agriculture, etc.)
  • Moratorium on all commercial fishing. Fish sequester carbonxxi and excrete “gut rocks” which make the ocean less acidicxxii. Many fish populations are close to collapsing, but we could see them recover if we let them. Industrial fishing is also the leading cause of plastic pollution in the oceanxxiii.
  • Immediately halt all extractive and destructive activities. (i.e. fracking, mountaintop removal, tar sands, deforestation, nuclear power, offshore drilling, expansion of the grid, global shipping, the manufacture of “renewables”, electric, hybrid, diesel, and gasoline cars, trucks, etc.)
  • Completely protect all remaining native forests, prairies, wetlands, and mangroves.
  • Restore all damaged lands.
  • No new dams. Begin a dam removal program for currently existing dams, removing roughly 6-10 dams per day. Dams have been called “methane factories” because they produce so much methanexxiv. Some dams produce more greenhouse gasses per unit of energy than fossil fuel power plants. Dams also destroy rivers and kill anadromous fish, which is reason enough to remove them.

i https://www.pmel.noaa.gov/co2/story/What+is+Ocean+Acidification%3F

ii https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00338-008-0381-8

iii http://wormlab.biology.dal.ca/publication/view/boyce-d-lewis-m-worm-b-2010-global-phytoplankton-decline-over-the-last-century/

iv http://wormlab.biology.dal.ca/publication/view/myers-ra-worm-b-2003-rapid-worldwide-depletion-of-predatory-fish-communities-nature-423280-283/

v http://www.seaaroundus.org/OtherWebsites/2009/EnvironmentalResearchWeb_FishGutRocksSolvePuzzle.pdf

vi https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jan/04/oceans-suffocating-dead-zones-oxygen-starved

vii https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/08/explore-atlas-great-barrier-reef-coral-bleaching-map-climate-change/?fbclid=IwAR2wmzXFkMOFAB3McABaAS0kSOgDsB8FzbasmhZ-M8WmfPvEgqn3Jg-Xxok

viii https://www.nature.com/articles/nature07051

ix https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/old-growth-forests-help-combat-climate-change/

x https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170720103131.htm

xi https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/29/earth-lost-50-wildlife-in-40-years-wwf

xii https://science.sciencemag.org/content/344/6187/1246752

xiii https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/aug/16/nature-economic-security

xiv https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0096340212459037

xv https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214629618312246

xvi http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150402-the-worst-place-on-earth?ocid

xviihttps://vtdigger.org/2014/05/07/suzanna-jones-betraying-environment/

xviii https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/07/best-way-reduce-your-carbon-footprint-one-government-isn-t-telling-you-about

xix https://ourworldindata.org/agricultural-land-by-global-diets

xx https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-46455844#targetText=Cement%20is%20the%20source%20of,behind%20China%20and%20the%20US.&targetText=To%20do%20this%2C%20annual%20emissions,at%20least%2016%25%20by%202030.

xxi https://theconversation.com/sea-creatures-store-carbon-in-the-ocean-could-protecting-them-help-slow-climate-change-108872?fbclid=IwAR3HEpu4Kg7BbVh1koFHB0ZoSLgxBTsr2Lpu-GzRnpMzi0b5E51G0Psfdec

xxii https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16432-fish-an-ally-against-climate-change/

xxiii https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2018/03/great-pacific-garbage-patch-plastics-environment/

xxiv https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn7046-hydroelectric-powers-dirty-secret-revealed/

Julia Barnes is the Director of the Award-winning Motion Picture, Sea of Life

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