29 March 2008

Apropos Global Warming: Can you remember?

... and act on this?

While watching a recent National Geographic broadcast on the issue describing in detail what would happen, if the global climate would increase by 1, 2, 3, ..., 6 degrees, one particular point - apart from the frightening consequences for life on earth - hit home really badly:
If you, like me, grew up in post-war Germany and were between 15 and 25 years old, in the late 1960's/early 1970's, chances are that you too had strong doubts where the rapid economic growth around the western world during the previous decade would lead to. In spite of being critical of the great values suddenly placed on material riches, most of us did not adopt a flower-power-hippy lifestyle and did not retreat into the fake alternative worlds of happiness and enlightenment promised by drugs and gurus. Instead we used our well-trained intellects honed to be wary of anyone and anything that was sold to us as the "a new god" to keep our lives on an even keel and to avoid falling into the consume-consume-consume trap set up by the profit-hungry corporations.

Unfortunately, our parent generation, most of them deprived by the war of just about everything that is good about being young and carefree, did not understand when we warned about the long-term impact such shifts in society away from human values to material values would have on each and every area of life. They shook their heads in disgust when we by choice stuffed our first own homes with second-hand furniture and opted for a simple lifestyle, one that included only a few carefully selected frills and luxuries but lots of quality time spent with friends and families.
Our parents were yearning to make up for pleasures missed, for hardships endured, for wealth and well-being lost as children and teenagers, during those crazy war years - as adults they found a new zest for life and used everything within their reach to forget and to ensure that nothing like that would ever happen again. They believed that growing economic stability and prosperity for everyone were the answers to all their prayers - if they ever asked about the price to pay at all, the last thing they wanted to hear were their children's answers that disregarded the past they had not experienced and only looked to the future.

No, we did not manage to stop the run-away train of the commercial revolution; our calls for caution and staying aware of the global picture remained unheard; we watched in horror how blindness towards the damages done in the process developed on a global level. It left our generation powerless, turned our newly won order and rights to freely express our views into a farce, at least in one most important aspect - progress became the key to everything and for almost everyone, no matter the cost, and those who questioned or even resisted "progress" became the targets of blame, since we too initially benefited from progress after all ... and to hell with the rest. I eventually stopped counting how often I and like-minded others were called dreamers or doomsday-prophets when we pointed out that much of the so-called progress was dangerous and orchestrated by those with an insatiable hunger for more money and more power that disrespected everything else.

Most of us eventually fell silent too but many never forgot and kept hoping that we would be proven wrong. Or, as in my case, took the decision to migrate to a part of the world where nature was still allowed to call the shots in many ways and would do so for a long time to come. I called my move to Namibia in 1987 "turning the clock back by 20 years", hoping to be able to enjoy more of what was important to me, and that I would not be around anymore when the paw-paw would hit the fan. Don't get me wrong here: I'm the last one to wish the "good old times" would return, which were not so hot after all and to advocate for another political order. I too enjoy a certain level of comfort, many of the things that advances in science and technology brought us, and I especially value that I did not have to endure the miseries of war thus far.
What I'm trying to say is: Our warnings a few decades back came true - we over-did it, we blew it! We blew our chances for making this a better world for all and sundry so badly that we are now staring into the face of its and our own destruction!

Does anyone out there, apart from some environmental scientists, REALLY get it already? We are nearing 1 degree global warming NOW, glaciers and polar ice caps are melting NOW at a frightening speed, we see destruction due to violent tornados and earthquakes NOW almost every year, heat waves and floods NOW kill thousands in normally moderate climate zones, .... this is happening while I'm writing this article, not in some perceived future scenario, and this is just the tip of the iceberg!

But there's more that greatly bugs me when I think about the messages in the recent TV broadcast on global warming:
I always held the view that a great deal of the "progress" we saw in the last four to five decades was meant to prepare mankind for major changes in the way we would live our lives in future, be it through the eventual contact with other forms of intelligence in a distant galaxy and/or a collapse of our natural environment forcing us to evacuate earth or to live separated from each other in some sort of protective bubbles. It did not surprise me that a boom in the production of sci-fi films and the invention of computers followed by the Internet coincided with the first clear signs that all was not as well as expected with planet earth. Instead of taking action back then, in the second half of the 20th century, in order to keep the destructive interferences at bay, profits made in the name of progress continued to be pocketed unchecked and at the expense of our environment. It was and still is cheaper for industries to pay fines when caught out polluting than investing into emission reductions, and to gobble up energy made from fossil fuels rather than investing into developing/implementing alternative energy sources.

Those who aired warnings or protested were ridiculed as bunny huggers but ... can anyone truly make head and tails of the fact that the conversion to solar power even just on household level remained unaffordable for most of us? We here in Southern Africa get so much sunshine that we could probably be completely independent by now from fossil fuels for heating, cooling, and other electricity requirements - yet we still battle with ever-increasing energy bills and since fairly recently even with scheduled "load shedding" (power cuts) because the equipment required for the generation of solar power is still further out of reach for people in our developing countries. About 75% of our populations hardly earn enough to make ends meet, most still cook food on open wood fire and use candles or petroleum lamps for lighting, which puts further pressure on nature.

All in the name of progress, I assume... or should we rather call a spade, a spade.... does this all happen only so that some can continue squeezing the last bit of money from the status quo before they take us to a new level of "progress", in all their "wisdom and generosity"? How on earth are people in developing countries supposed to ever overcome poverty and all its nasty side-kicks, if they can't even afford the basics that could help improve hygiene and health, nutrition, and similar?
Aren't the giants now playing the same game with global warming? Are we going to see the same old money-spinning machine activated to safe us from the brink of extinction? Why are we suddenly hearing about big lab tests with fusion power and other research projects aimed at saving Mother Earth that cost millions, if not billions, which might however turn out to be too little, too late? Why will power-saving light bulbs probably become a must while staying more expensive than conventional ones? Why are we still asked to pay more per litre of unleaded car fuel than for standard petrol, if the global warming situation is so critical that now every single human being is called upon to make contributions that could help prevent the worst-case scenario? Are we not going to be made to pay once again for our road to salvation, and to accept getting poorer in the process? For how long still will living a decent life be sold to us as a privilege even though our countries' constitutions and our religions call it a fundamental right?

I don't see myself join the ranks of those who claim that global warming is just another gimmick of the super-powers to make us all develop a collective single-minded conscience so that we can be ruled and manipulated even better than in the past.
I do however foresee a time, where daily life will be much tougher for most of us, on a planet that tries to recover in violent fits from decades of gross abuse, and where the absence of large-scale comfort zones will give us the opportunity to return to valuing basic human and nature's qualities higher than worldly possessions, as our ancestors did. There is in my mind only one way to achieve a truly balanced and thriving global community ... if we all understand and accept that we are an important part of and have to play our roles responsibly in a scheme far greater than we are as individuals, which is called life or nature, but that we are not and never will be its ruler.

As far as I'm concerned, we are about to learn a heavy-handed lesson in humility that will put us back into our place where we belong in nature, which is certainly not at the top of the food-chain and where the odds are equal for all living creatures. We are only able to play top-dog when it comes to applying brain power and intellect consciously, so why did we not use them in every aspect of live to avoid such a nasty situation like global warming? Well, we haven't even managed to eliminate poverty, illnesses, and wars, so I guess it's time to admit that we are not so great and powerful after all!

We would be well advised in finally listening to the RIGHT stuff, to the universal wisdom still found in the last remaining pockets of ancient people, like the Bushmen. They do know everything about living in harmony amongst themselves and with nature, and their respect for its powers is just as great as their skills in making it work in their favour when it comes to survival. They are living proof that humans can make it through the earth's ups and downs and extreme living conditions for tens of thousands of years, and I for one can imagine a time, when Bushmen will once again roam Africa's savannas in growing numbers, long after we modern editions of mankind will have been weeded out by evolution as unfit for having a place on this planet.
I do hope though, before this will happen, that we will finally and very, very soon learn some valuable lessons from those ancient cultures and combine them with the best of modern knowledge and inventions to find fast solutions to the teething global problems staring us into our faces TODAY!

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