Monday, February 25, 2019

Another "boring" wake-up call...what will it take?

Some of the things we learned just this past weekend make it troubling for many to sleep soundly, breathe deeply and relax fully.

A new book “Earth Uninhabitable” sounds the panic alarm about the already present and indisputable evidence of climate change and global warming and the need to take dramatic action now.

Two transport trailers of food and medicine were torched on the Venezuela/Columbia border.

The rise of authoritarianism and extremism around the world poses serious threats to democracy itself, regardless of geography, nationality, ethnicity or GDP.

Italy and France are in turbulence, if not open conflict, about the future of the European Union.

The Brexit vote, and the divorce of Great Britain from the EU, casts a dark shadow of uncertainty over, not only the “hard border” between Northern Ireland and Ireland, but also the future of the EU itself, in the face of upcoming elections to the European parliament.

Antisemitic violence, on both sides of the Atlantic, has spiked in recent months.
The rising tide of evangelical Christian homophobia and vehement opposition to abortion is being documented in Cuba and South America.

The occupant of the Oval Office is on his way to Hanoi, (his first visit to that country, having sought and acquired deferred enlistment in the war against that country) to meet with Kim Jung Un, promising de-nuclearization of North Korea, that he knows, as do we all, is a flagrant lie.

Not attempting to connect the dots on these files does not preclude exploring the convergence of these stories. It is not so much that they are linked in a cause-effect relationship; however, they do in sum point to a few observations.

There is little evidence that an effective collaborative political approach is being taken to address the seriousness of these issues, which may yet prove to have some spill-over between the files. The environmental existential threat to humanity cannot help but cast a pall over all discussions everywhere, private, public, national, international. The tidal waves of refugees, (3.4 million from Venezuela into Columbia), and continuing across the Mediterranean into Europe, continues to flag what environmentalists are flagging as mass migrations of starving people before the end of this century. If we cannot and do not address the issue in these proportions, how can we expect to have the strategies and systems, the infrastructure and the resources to address it in epic proportions. (BTW, every country has “refugees” on the streets of our towns and cities, commonly referred to as “homeless” without adequate attention, policy alternatives, government commitment and public resolution to eliminate this tragedy!)

Appearing on GPS with Fareed Zakaria yesterday, David Wallace-Wells, writer at New York Magazine says (excerpted from transcript of GPS with Fareed Zakaria, Feb. 24, 2019)

If we don’t change course on fossil fuels, by the end of the century we’ll get to about 4 degrees of warming. That would mean total global economic damages of $600 trillion, which is double all the wealth that exists in the world today. The U.N. says it would mean hundreds of millions of climate refugees, perhaps as many as a billion climate refugees. It would mean twice as much war as we see today because there is a relationship between temperature and conflict. And that happens at the national level. It also happens at the individual level. So rates of murder and rape would go up. It has an impact on agricultural yields. It has an impact on public health because mosquitoes will be flying ever farther afield….
More than half of all the carbon that we’ve put into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels has come in the last 25 years.. Twenty-five years ago we were in a relatively stable climate. Now we’re on the brink of catastrophe….
IF you feed cattle seaweed, it reduces their methane emissions by as much as 95 percent, or even 99 percent…
The impacts are everywhere you look, And we need a truly global system but also a local system dealing with it at every level. It’s a big problem. It touches every aspect of modern life.

According to Chris Hedges, writing today in

The British-based group Extinction Rebellion has called for nonviolent acts of civil disobedience on April 15 in capitals around the world to reverse our ‘one-way track to extinction.’
Quoting Roger Hallam, co-founder of Rebellion Extinction, Hedges also writes:
People have to go to the capital city. That’s where the elite is, the business class. That’s where the pillars of the state exist. That’s the first element. Than you have to have a lot of people involved. They have to break the law. There’s no point in just doing a march. They have to literally close down the streets. They have to remain nonviolent.. That’s absolutely crucial. Once you get violent, police and the state have an excuse to remove you. It’s got to be cultural. You make it into a sort of Woodstock affair. Then thousands more people come onto the streets…..
We’ve got three demands—the government tells the truth, the carbon emissions go to zero by 2025…and we have a national assembly which will sort out what the British people want to do about it….
For 30 years we’ve had one political metaphysic, reform. You either reform or you are irrelevant. But now we have two massive exponentially increasing structural faults-the inequality problem and the climate problem.

If we go back to the fire burning in those transport trucks sending black smoke into the air at the border of Columbia and Venezuela, we see poverty, mal-administration, greed and lawlessness at the heart of that human, political, economic furnace. The rising tide of refugees, immigrants, asylum-seekers from Syria and North Africa in the face of over-stretched political structures and political leadership has played a significant role in the Brexit vote and in the yellow-vests protesting on the streets of Paris, as well as in the incipient conflict between Italy and France. Similarly, the rise of authoritarian, extremist political actors is riding a tide of fear, anxiety and foreshadowed joblessness and poverty that follows the wave of immigrants pouring into Europe.

The rising tide of religious bigotry, including both the evangelical fanaticism focused on homophobia and the elimination of therapeutic abortions as well as the virulent antisemitism. From GPS yesterday, we also learned that in eastern France close to 100 graves in a Jewish cemetery were desecrated with swastikas early this week….The French ministry of the interior said anti-Semitic incidents were up a staggering 74 percent last year….A U.K. charity that tracks anti-Semitism reported a new record for last year, more than 100 anti)_Jewish incidents every month…Anti-Semitic offences are also on the rise in Germany. The newspaper Der Tagesspiegel reports that physical attacks were up 60 percent in 2018.

It is not alarmist to ask whether there might be a growing fire of disease, discontent, fear, supremacy, authoritarianism and extremism in the world’s shared “cauldron” having additional fuel added every day, in many quarters. As people face what they consider existential threats, especially threats that are being denied, ignored and dismissed by the political class, or worse lied about distorted and manipulated to serve the political agendas of “strong men” whose place in power has emerged from those same fears, anxieties and in some cases hopelessness, we begin to cower, adopt a “grab-what-you-can-now” approach to narcissism.

Approaches to international collaboration to renew vows and commitment to democratic principles and to update them, such as the document to that end from Madeline Albright and others, presented to the Munich conference last week, will continue to face high winds of foundational inequities, insecurities and distrust that continue to grow at the street level in many quarters.

If we are to become social, political cultural activists, we might take inspiration from people like Ed Thompson, a pharmaceutical (PMRS) executive who is taking the FDA to court, claiming it actively enhanced the opioid epidemic in the United States through a simple label change from effective for  “short term” to effective for “daily, around-the-clock, long-term…treatment”. Thompson told Scott Pelley on CBS’s 60 Minutes last night, “There are no studies on the safety or efficacy of opioids for long-term use.”…And also, “A drug’s label is the single most important document for that product. It determines whether somebody can make $10 million or a billion dollars.”

Thompson regrets that it took him 4 years to become fully aware of the FDA’s complicity in the opioid epidemic. Nevertheless, he has begun to take what amounts to a serious case against the FDA. Although we are all “late” to come to the urgency of the existential threats we all face, it is nevertheless not too late to waken, to summon the same kind of courage and to join those forces that, like us, have already wakened to our shared realities.

Stepping up to the plate, as the baseball Spring season opens, is not restricted only to people like Vadimir Guerrero, the new star of the Toronto Blue Jays. Home plate is beckoning each of us to “step up”….not to hit a home run, or even a single…but just to waken the political class to their responsibilities. 

Are we up for it?


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