By Professor Richard A. Byron-Cox
In 1947, two years after the USA had dropped atomic booms on Japan -confirming that “The Manhattan Project” had discovered how to end all life-, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists established the Doomsday Clock measuring our proximity to Armageddon, midnight being when all is blown to “Thy Kingdom come.” The hour hand is permanently at midnight, while the minute hand changes depending on tensions between states with nuclear weapons. In January 2020 the Clock showed 100 seconds to midnight; a terrifying reminder that our world is de facto a nuclear-weaponized minefield where lit torches abound!
For 6 decades the Clock’s mechanism was powered by threats of nuclear holocaust as the single source of doomsday. With the Anthropocene in full bloom, beginning 2007, climate change helps energize the Clock’s minute hand galloping to midnight, aided by the active if unwitting push of most of the world’s population, and the absurd notion that capitalist markets can fix this!
The Anthropocene or Sixth Extinction sees us destroying this planet at a rate unprecedented save when that meteorite struck earth and made the dinosaurs history. I am no alarmist. But truth is, the scale and pace of our destruction of Earth is a highway to omnicide. Yet we seem to think that this is of no consequence, and time is on our side. We speak of the “coming” environmental crisis. Wrong. This crisis is not somewhere out on the horizon wondering if to head ashore. It has landed!!
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment found 15 out of 24 ecosystems studied, degraded or being used unsustainably including capture ﬁsheries, water supply, waste treatment and regulation of air quality. The status of air, land, water and everything in between shows we have determined that the environment is dispensable, proving Dostoyevsky right that humans bring destruction wherever we go.
Our war on the planet results in excess of three species disappearing every hour; i.e., at least seventy five every single day!! Since 1900, we have disposed of 500 animal species. Fish stocks such as Newfoundland’s Atlantic Cod have totally collapsed. A look at the endangered animal species list terrifies the reasonable. Plant extinction is at least twice that of animals and 500 times the preindustrial-revolution levels, with way over 600 spices annihilated in the last 250 years. And all this is less than half the tip of this planet-sinking iceberg!
We put 90 million tons of earth-warming substances in the atmosphere every 24 hours! Empirical evidence shows that ½ to 2/3 of all inputs to production in the industrial world, returns to the environment as waste within one year. We are poisoning everything, including ourselves as pollution kills three times more people than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.
It’s not just plants, animals and land. Aquifers are dying like flies. In the past score years close to 1000 lakes have died up in Africa alone. Oceans are 30% more acid than in preindustrial times, while some areas are covered by blankets, spread by the 8 million metric tons of plastic, we dump into the seas annually. The Artic, once considered pristine, is everywhere violated with plastic. And, I could write more letters than Paul to the climate change unbelievers. Suffice to say that the destruction wont by storms, floors and drought on the Caribbean over the last 15 years, should remind these doubting Thomases that “a still tongue keeps a wise head.”
The minute hand of the Clock will out sprint Usain Bolt when global population reaches 10 billion around 2050, leading to drastic increases in demands for water, food and energy, while pollution could reap havoc!! Yes, I understand you are flummoxed; but it’s all true.
This brings me to our children.
Every society with formal learning, teaches children two disciplines: numeracy and language. The synopsis presented above screams, “We must NOW make avoiding planetary catastrophe the third foundation discipline of EVERY primary school in this world!” The Caribbean must set the example. Life comes before counting and spelling. For hundreds of years black people in these Americas were completely illiterate, just chattel. Yet, we now sing Redemption Song. Life is the first right.
Carl Sagan’s wisdom that this is the only planet in the known multiverse that supports life must be a rule of thumb guiding how we treat it. We have no other! Its protection MUST of necessity be taught to ALL children. The experiences of our Caribbean dictate that for our own sake, we MUST appreciate “the fierce urgency of (acting) now,” leading the planet away from doomsday through refusing to venerate to the status quo preached by the greedy self-appointed Brahmins of this world. Our children must know that greed and nobility are eternal enemies. And, if mankind still has some reason, they will follow our Caribbean schools in saving not just humanity; but the planet.
Professor Richard A. Byron-Cox Ph.D. is an internationally recognized sustainable development expert, a discipline he teaches at universities around the world