I love nature shows. Too many scripted TV shows don’t do it for me, but that’s okay, there are always the nature shows. Of course there are some great TV shows like the Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men and many others and I like them a lot, but the nature shows have always been a hit in my house. But now these shows are making me sad, all of them.
It doesn’t matter if it’s about the glaciers, oceans, forests or anywhere else on the planet. It might have been about the tigers, polar bears, frogs or bees. It might have been about almost any animal or area on the planet. It doesn’t matter because all these shows mention the disappearance of whatever I’m seeing.
It might have been about the recently discovered run-off of formerly frozen water beneath the glaciers and how that accounts for the higher rate of glacial shrinkage than predicted, or how all the fresh water from those melting glaciers decreases the salinity of the oceans, which drives walruses, seals, dolphins, whales and all those fish and birds further from the feeding grounds they have lived on, traveled to and depended on for millions of years. We all know that the polar bears no longer have the ice-crusted hunting grounds that they’ve depended on for… well, you take a guess.
These shows may not emphasize the disappearances, as well as all the other shrinking habitats, but they’re always there. Sadly, I know it’s all true. We know it. All right-thinking people know it. But there’s so much information to absorb and we have so much in our lives already, and these depressing events are happening all over the planet, and so much of it is really bad, and life is already so hard, that I just can’t think about it. Probably like you. We all do. We don’t have the time, we don’t have the money or the influence. We don’t have the strength or the will. We all have our daily responsibilities and our jobs and our relationships. Getting the kids dressed and off to school, writing that report for your boss, paying the bills and there are so many problems, issues, concerns and needs in our lives, and we know that the problem is so big that none of us can do anything about it, and anyway, it’s not going to be my problem. Well, it not going to my problem: I’m 69, I’ve had three heart attacks and a quadruple bypass twenty years ago; I don’t have a wife or children, but for some of you with children, and especially grandchildren- coming or already here, maybe you should be thinking more about the changes they’re going to live with.
You know that list of the endangered species? It doesn’t say it, but I think we’re on it. We are, aren’t we? Because—exactly because—we are an aggressive, possessive, territorial species, an immodest species, we have spread out and used up much of the earth’s resources. We’ve used them greedily and polluted everywhere people live, including many areas where they do not. And we all know that, right? This is not news to anyone. Now almost everyone almost everywhere knows not to drink the water from the nearby lake, river or stream. The EPA has reported that already “more than half of our rivers are unable to support life.” We have already left this heritage for our children.
Every week you can find nature shows on television, and whether flora or fauna- the beauty of this or the marvel of that- you never see a show that does not mention the trouble its subject is in. All over the planet our animals live in observably shrinking territory due to development, logging, stripping and leveling mountaintops and valleys, polluting land and water, invasive species, both plant and animal, arriving in new territory with no natural predators and taking over. The population of the animal kingdom is shrinking steadily and observably.
Recently, U.S. Senator James Ihofe, described as “the Senate’s most powerful environmental leader” asked derisively how excess carbon in the atmosphere could be harmful if it occurs naturally and it’s everywhere? “It’s in your soda!” he said, proving his point, saying that climate change is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated against the American people. That was a U.S. Senator spouting absolute lunacy, and his comment passed virtually without repercussion. We’ve all seen other examples of this lunacy on the news. Here’s a deal for you climate change doubters: You pay me a dollar for every legitimate science-based, peer-reviewed study I provide that proves the legitimacy of human-caused climate change, and I’ll pay you a dollar for every study refuting climate change you provide that was not funded and conducted by the petroleum, coal or chemical industries or their representatives. The ideological Luddites bleating that more study is needed are lying. Ninety-Seven percent of legitimate climate scientists agree: the proof is in, the questions have been answered, and we can no longer afford such lunacy at the highest levels of our government. At any level of government.
You can easily find people who say they believe that the climate change under way globally is part of a natural cycle, and they might be right. But even if that were true, no- especially if that were true- why can’t they see the negative impact of adding another 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere annually? Even if we were in a naturally occurring warming cycle, why would we throw all that accelerant into the fire?
And the rest? What doesn’t settle onto the land as Acid Rain or into the ocean- causing catastrophic acidification- sticks around in our atmosphere, where we know it holds heat for 100 years, turning our atmosphere into a greenhouse. That’s not guesswork, that’s science. And you’ve heard the word “greenhouse” for years and it’s true and we’re letting it slide. We decimate the rain forest—a primary source of oxygen—by thousands of square miles every year, and add insane amounts of chemicals to the land and the oceans; we take unsustainable amounts of fish out of the ocean every year, killing off the top predators like tuna and sharks- shark fins for soup!- so that the balance of life in the oceans is altered, the effects of which are unlikely to be beneficial to humans, which is poor timing as we add to the planet’s population in wildly exponential numbers, every person of whom will want more space, more air, more food, more clothes, more energy, more area for more garbage and more waste and more… everything.
And I’m not going to mention the methane problem, where warming land under the sea and in the arctic Tundra is now releasing unprecedented amounts of methane into the atmosphere which is twenty times more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide.
Nope, not gonna mention fracking, oil spills, chemical run-offs, the several oceanic trash zones and dead zones, or the loss of biodiversity or all the unsustainable land and water we’ve produced. And I’m not even gonna mention the coming water wars. And as I’m not mentioning water, what are you going to say when films show us soaking in bathtubs? “You filled up a tub and just sat in it? All that water? You stood in the shower for ten minutes while it just rolled off you and down the drain? You let the water run while you brushed your teeth?” Oh, people, you’re gonna have some ‘splainin’ to do…
It’s all so true and it’s all so overwhelming that most of us can’t deal with it, and those that try to do something about it are too few and have too little influence. Even after Al Gore recently raised awareness to an unprecedented level, nothing really happened, and I don’t know if we’ll get another warning—another chance—like that before it’s too late, if it isn’t too late already. Now almost everyone knows what the phrase “tipping point” means, and while no one can know with exactitude when that is, some experts in the field, accredited scientists all, have said that it has already passed; others think maybe not, but none of those think it is far off. I know it’s too overwhelming and too frightening to think about. I understand that. But as somone observed: “Anyone who thinks that they are too small to make a difference has never tried to fall asleep with a mosquito in the room.”
We’ll have the nature shows and films that show the magnitude and beauty of our natural resources forever. They’ll be on television this week and next week, and they’ll be played and replayed on screens unto perpetuity for your grandchildren and their children and for generations far into the future when the pristine natural wonders in them will have slowly withered and disappeared. The shows about the heroic efforts to climb the mighty snow-bound mountains will change into the respectful reminiscences of the past as the snows on them disappear too, and then are gone. Coastal cities like Miami, gone…
Are you too frightened to think about the future? Is looking ahead 100 years too much? Okay, how about 50 years? Your grandchildren will see these films. You know they will. They’ll see oceans alive with uncountable creatures of unimaginable beauty and diversity, and coral reefs that used to line the shores of islands in the oceans. They’ll see the animals that used to live in and around the reefs, they’ll see the jungles and the forests and mountains and plains and the miraculous diversity of life that populated them, and they’ll wonder at the beauty and the mystery and the majesty of it all… And they’ll wonder why the people of our time let them disappear. That’s what I don’t understand. Maybe not all of us know all this, but most of us do. You know it, and certainly all of our leaders know it.
This is 2016, and some of the people around now will be around in 100 years, when all that beauty and wonder and abundance is gone, and when someone who was born into the coming barren-ness asks an old person like you why we did nothing, I don’t know how you’re going to answer. And that’s what I’m wondering right now. I wonder how you’re going to answer when your grandchildren ask you why. “You knew,” they’ll say, “why didn’t you do something?” Everyone in the future will know that we knew. They’ll have all that footage and they’ll know about all the warnings. They’ll know then what we know now, and they’ll know we did virtually nothing.
Everyone in the future will know that we knew it would have taken an unprecedentedly massive effort to fix it, to stem the coming tide; but if we all knew what was coming, why didn’t we do it? Wasn’t it worth it? Why didn’t we try? We knew the consequences. When they ask, are you going to say that we thought the economic cost was too great? That the political will wasn’t there? We know it’s going to be an epic economic struggle, and they’ll know that, but how far will the economic argument carry you in 100 years?
They’ll say “Screw the economic cost of stopping the coming catastrophe.” They’ll know we knew it and still did nothing. The cost? You knew what was coming and you did nothing because of the fucking cost?
And if you’ll excuse a facile indulgence, I hope you live long and prosper, and I hope you’re around 100 years from now. But if you are, and they ask you that question, and they will, what will you say? And it won’t matter what you say, because they’ll always say, “But why didn’t you stop it? You knew!”
Yeah, you knew.