The enemy deep within
Rampaging floods in Mindanao, along Europe’s famed Danube, in large tracts of Canada, and in America’s Midwest. Toxic smog in Singapore, Malaysia, and China’s industrial heartland. Disappearing glaciers in the Alps, Himalayas, Greenland, the Andes, and the Arctic. These are not isolated but inseparable, interconnected events, and the distress signals of our ailing planet, the Earth. Our only home.
Global warming is way past the debate stage. Its effects are dramatically and dangerously upon us. We know what has to be done to arrest the Earth’s rising temperature and rising seas, before the process becomes overwhelming, irreversible and beyond solution. Yet humankind seems petrified in inaction. Like the treatment of human ailments, the solutions of most governments are focused primarily on how to cope with the symptoms of global warming, not its real cause, namely the depletion and accelerating weakening of the Earth’s protective umbrella of ozone, due to massive and relentless carbon emissions from industries, vehicles, slash-burning of entire forests, and other pernicious manmade activities. All done in the name of livelihood and progress.
So Manila’s answer is more of the same: Clean up the Pasig River and clogged esteros. Improve the drainage system. Relocate squatter colonies that use the waterways as their garbage dump. New York’s own response is Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s $20-billion master plan of state-of-the-art megadikes, drainage tunnels, and levees—a variation on a theme from those of London and the Netherlands. Under this plan, if the seas keep rising, then simply make the dikes and levees wider and higher!
Meanwhile, it’s business as usual in the 21st-century world. Spoiled and conditioned by decades of a lifestyle based on abundant and cheap carbon-based products—from fuel to household items—the conventional, deeply entrenched fossil-based energy and manufacturing drivers of commercial industries keep spewing the ozone destroyers while the sunrise eco-friendly, alternative energy systems struggle to find a viable market of users. Cutthroat capitalism still reigns supreme.
While governments around the world vacillate, consider the following: Every week, as much as a thousand species of life are exterminated by man’s activities, such as hunting, animal trade, food industry, industrial pollution, and explosive urbanization. All told, tens of millions of species are now extinct, due to man’s insatiable appetite for food and material gain.
Rainforests, home to the ecological biodiversity that is crucial to the balance of nature, and which provide healing, medicinal compounds to injured or ailing lives, are disappearing at an alarming pace and their replenishments are insufficient to reverse the depletion rate.
A 2011 United Nations-Food and Agriculture Organization report warns that despite aggressive reforestation campaigns by governments, nongovernment organizations and private groups, an estimated 13 million hectares of tropical trees—about the combined size of Luzon, Samar, and Leyte—are still lost annually worldwide.
It is a shocking, sobering thought that a single-run Sunday edition of The New York Times purportedly requires newsprint from an equivalent of 75,000 felled trees (that may never be replaced). To date, the Times has been silent on this astonishing (2009) information provided by environmental groups in the United States and Canada.
Another authoritative UN report said that during the last four decades, the Earth’s coral reefs, the nursery of the ocean’s marine life, have been reduced by as much as 55 percent, thanks to global warming, industrial pollution, illegal fishing, and illegal sale of corals. Add to these grim statistics an expanding world population approaching the 7.4-billion mark, and you have all the ingredients for an apocalyptic, Darwinian “water world” scenario. Just like in the Hollywood movie. Man, the terminator species, has indeed become the Earth’s worst nightmare.
The list of our uncontrolled excesses and bad habits speaks volumes about the human condition and human destiny. It is very clear that at this critical stage, in our disjointed, mostly piecemeal efforts to save our disparate civilizations, our most formidable antagonist is no less than ourselves. Lying deep within our very souls, our combative, ambitious, and avaricious spirit, which sets us apart from one another, pits us violently against each other—and against Mother Nature.
I believe we still have time left to change our course to avert a global catastrophe. We have the knowledge and wisdom—and the tools of technology and science—to help us. But it will require an extraordinary kind of leadership, courage, will, social discipline, sacrifice, and cooperation—on a planetary scale. At stake is no less than human survival. We cannot afford to fail.
Narciso M. Reyes Jr. ([email protected]) is a former journalist and diplomat. He holds an MA from Georgetown University and is the author of the book “The God in Einstein and Zen.”