May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields,
And, until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand. (Irish Blessing)
The phrase “confluence of influences,” if memory serves, came across my ears first from a Russian professor of Comparative Education, Prof. Ramunas, at the University of Ottawa.
It rises like a long-forgotten time-capsule, as we all watch and listen to the convergence of factors around the globe that pose a threat to the existence of humanity. Perhaps it is the very size and force of the confluence, comparable to the most compelling cataract, Niagara Falls, or Victoria Falls, that, surveyed from the safety of cordoned walkways, simply takes one’s breath away. Magnificent, awesome, powerful, somewhat miraculous, magnetic, memorable, epic, stunning and also picturesque…worthy of the best and most creative photographers and also of the most dramatic layouts in the world’s most treasured glossy magazines, (think National Geographic! for example) Water from smaller tributaries merge with other tributaries, and glide over landscapes that generally slope downwards, sometimes even from north to south, culminating in an encounter with a rock formation like a cliff, a chasm, a canyon and literally tonnes of H2O thunder over the rocks in a white blizzard of roaring vapour.
Spectacular, for sure! Unforgettable, absolutely! Dangerous, definitely!
And yet, few rarely attempt the quixotic leap into the ‘beyond’ of that danger, knowing full well, and fearing their own demise at the hands of nature’s unforgiving power.
We can see, hear and even feel the multiple stimuli from those cataracts; we can wrap a camera lens around parts of the scene and sound bowl; and we can stay safe while in their presence.
A rather difference ‘confluence of influences’ seems to be gathering energy, from the flow of multiple streams, rivulets, creeks, and rivers that, from this vantage point, seem to be coming together in a political, cultural, social, economic, environmental and biological river that, without considerable collaborative urgent measures to slow the pace of each of these forces, bring with it a destructive power that could, and likely will, impact every man, woman, and child on the planet. And, given that these ‘streams’ are not restricted to the ‘unconscious’ in some quarters, but are very much at the forefront of the consciousness of some, there is a gaping divide between the perceptions, attitudes, beliefs and actions of those who take this confluence seriously, and those who prefer a nonchalance, an insouciance and a kind of indifference (is it arrogance or fear?)
A shared planet’s resources, a phrase encapsulated in clichés of rhetorical propaganda, by those whom many consider(ed) tree-huggers, or catastrophizers, is little more than a passing ‘fad’ for those whose daily lives depend on the mining, drilling, pumping, trucking, transporting, shipping, selling, burning and building on the strength of the energies that the earth’s coal and oil reserves provide. All of the men and women whose lives and families rely on the maintenance of all of the structural, legal, economic and even ethical pilings that western societies have been driving into the ground of our collective governments and consciousnesses for generations. Capitalism considers the earth to be at the heart of the pulse of their activities, even potentially regarded by many as inexhaustible and also manageable, from the perspectives of worker health and planetary ecosystems. Preserving an economic, political, cultural and ethical system that relies on the bounty of the earth, directly and indirectly, is a religious creed, sanctified by decades of benefits, deeply embedded as both needed and life-giving.
At the same time as these rivulets of political consciousness continue to flow and to gather younger generations of disciples, advocates and dependents, there is another stream of political, social, cultural and ethic consciousness that ‘sees’ things very differently. These folks are convinced that the future depends on the reduction, if not the actual elimination of those gases from the atmosphere that the earth’s coal and oil and gas emit, in their mining and drilling and fracking to ‘dig’ them out, and in their processing and refining, and also in their final burning in power generating stations, transports and airplanes, ships, automobiles, busses streetcars and ambulances…not to mention in the furnaces and air-conditioning of many if not most of our buildings, including hospitals, schools, churches, libraries, universities, sports stadiums, arenas and our homes.
Transferring the bulk of our energy needs from one carbon-centric group of fuels to an enviro-friendly, renewable group of fuels like wind and solar and battery (although their final destination seems somewhat uncertain) and also nuclear (although the final resting place/use of spent radioactive nuclear rods is still under research investigation) is a shift that many, especially those dedicated to the ‘tradition’ of fossil fuels, find both traumatic and worthy of their boldest resistance. To those who fervently believe that only in and through the transformation will our grandchildren be able to survive, given the potential rise in temperatures being predicted by qualified and credible climatologists from around the world.
“Follow the money trail” is a chorus that the fourth estate chimes at some time in many of the stories they investigate, especially when they are attempting to uncover and lay bare activities that endanger people, both individuals and large groups. As the fossil fuel corporations have amassed mountains of profits and investments, they continue to have a large “hand” to play in this high-stakes poker game. And given the absolute dependence on truck-loads of case needed for political campaigns, those seeking elected office find their steps leading them into the boardrooms of those fossil-fuel executives, who are ready and eager to fund supportive (and also dependent) political candidates. Naturally, the predictable next step is for those fossil-fuel-funded candidates to utter the words, attitudes and values of their benefactors, both in their campaigns and in their legislative functions, following elections.
Start-ups in the environmentally friendly sector, naturally, have far less profit and investments, and thereby have less to “offer” to political candidates who could/would support their attitudes, beliefs and values on behalf of a protected environment. And while their ethic is no less strongly held and supported, their capacity to give it ‘legs’ is considerably reduced compared to the fossil fuel lobby.
Government intervention, through tax subsidies long-ago established in favour of the fossil fuel industries, continue, and require political vigilance in order to preserve them. Similarly, government intervention to support sustainable-renewables, has the uphill climb as the ‘new-kid-on-the-block’ from a political perspective, and we all know how rookies far in a new team’s locker-room. However, high-tech insurgent corporations, having established a strong foot-hold on the flow of revenues in most western countries, tend to follow the play-book of established corporations, in a manner that a rookie athlete will admire, emulate and hold in awe an established ‘star’. Their divided loyalties, between the corporate model (based largely on the fossil fuel models) and the new economy of the digital information age, has not yet seen a deep bow to the environmental-protection lobby, given their fixation on keeping and preserving their distance from and independence from government intervention in their businesses, including the question of personal privacy and security.
Clearly, the question of government intervention in the affairs of the fossil-fuel corporates, in any attempts to require environmental protections increasing costs and potentially reducing profits, as well as restricting leasing agreements for new fossil-fuel exploration, is one that continues to ‘fire’ the engines of both fossil-fuel executives and their lobbyists, as well as the legislatures in which their elected officials work. Government intervention in the private lives of individuals, especially in the United States, although the issue is raising its ugly head in other jurisdictions as well, is anathema to those who define their personal freedom from the hill-top of “the least government is the best government” no matter what the issue may be.
Enter, in late 2019 and in early 2020 THE COVID-19 pandemic, infecting now millions, and killings hundreds of thousands, irrespective of geography, culture, language, social and political status, education, wealth or even increasingly age. A once-in-a-century pandemic, comparable only to the Spanish flu of 1918, when science and communications were very different. Doubtless, the anxiety of our grandparents’ generation was no less than our own, although they would not have listened to or read hourly reports of the scourge of their time and place, as we do today, from every corner of the globe. Vaccinations, therapeutics, treatments, ventilators, antibodies, RNA research and the capacity to generate, test, evaluate, approve, distribute and inoculate are all processes that have exponentially exploded in scope and speed, in funding and in credibility over the last century.
However, given another social and cultural bedrock of western civilization, the penchant, if not the actual addiction to and affirmation of a masculine trait of “above and beyond” all of the threats (similar to the climate-deniers’ dubbing global warming a hoax perpetrated by China), fear of the spectre of rising temperatures, draughts, fires, tropical storms, hurricanes, is flicked off, disdained, almost defiantly by many, as just another of nature’s normal behaviours as seem from the last several centuries. And here is the spot on the pavement of the freeway on which all of us drive, (in every country and county and town and city on the planet)…the spot where the rubber of defiant denial, insouciance, ignorance, avoidance and personal bravado meets the asphalt of science: rising temperatures, rising death rates, rising rates of viral variants.
And the implications of the deniers, both of environmental disaster, as well as of COVID death and destruction (it is after all imperceptible, and spreads from one to another without either knowing the spread was happening, ) refusing to listen to the warning signs, to take them seriously, and to act as if those warning signs actually meant something worthy of serious consideration, and even committing to learning more about how we can each play our part in “healing the world” are epic and potentially catastrophic.
No one is catastrophizing to witness and to describe the confluence of these rivers of social and political influence represented by two competing strong rivers of public opinion. Respectively, they are those that seek to move in the direction of personal health and wellness, as well as supporting that process for all others, and those who seek to deny negative symptoms on not only the body politic but also the body-planet. Both of those rivers and bodies now must demand the proactive and shared commitment not only to wearing masks, to maintaining social distance, to agree not to gather in large groups both indoors and out, and also to seek and to acquire one of the vaccines that have been approved to slow and hopefully to stop the spread of a virus that threatens each and every one of us. Both of those rivers also must come to a deep and lasting and profound agreement that carbon dioxide and methane continue to threaten the life of the planet and the lives of our grandchildren.
We need the rivers of science and political activism for positive change, along with the river of tradition, preservation, the establishment, and the monied interests to finally converge in a giant cataract that will overflow the resistance of insouciance, bravado, indifference, fear and anxiety, in order to find a way to behave our planet out of this confluence of existential crises.
Israel, the nation, frequently notes their existential fear of extinction at the hands of Iran. This is a real, genuine and legitimate fear. And the people of Israel walk in and through the tunnels of that anxiety every day. The west, on the other hand, seems to consider the compound threat of global warming and the pandemic, even taken together, NOT to be an combined existential threat to all of us. To be sure, our shared threat does not have a ‘face’ and a geography; it is not able to the contained on any world map, as a piece of land, a body of water. It is however, clear to all, that the implications of both of these existential threats now have taken a foothold on every continent, in every country, among all religions, languages, cultures, economies and ideologies. There is no single person, and no group, and no political party, and no faith community that is not already suffering from the collective impacts of these two forces.
No longer can the old shibboleth of “man’s domination of nature” be considered with biblical proportions. No longer can man’s hubris that accompanied that concept be either sustained or justified. And the question of whether or not we individually and collectively value our life enough, or not, and consider our life bringing with it the decision to leave a legacy that can and will sustain the lives of our grandchildren, can no longer be either denied or avoided. Even those who for centuries have been gifted by the beneficence of nature’s resources that have already killed millions, will have to accede to nature’s cry for help…and just as we have all helped to make her very ill, we also have the opportunity to relieve much of that global illness.
Can and will we accept the challenge and the opportunity?