Two Minute Screed              Essays That Matter
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                                    You Knew


I love nature shows, always have. Too many scripted TV shows don’t do it for me, but that’s okay as there are always the nature shows. Of course there are some great TV shows like the Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men and many others that I like, but the nature shows are always hits in my house. But now these shows are making me sad.

It doesn’t matter if it’s about glaciers, oceans, forests or anywhere else on the planet. It might be about the tigers, polar bears, frogs or bees. It might be about almost any animal or area on the planet, but they now make me sad because all these shows mention the disappearance of whatever I’m seeing. 
It might be about the recently discovered run-off of formerly frozen water beneath the glaciers and how that accounts for the increased rate of glacial shrinkage, or how the fresh water from those melting glaciers decreases the salinity of the oceans, which drives bears, walruses, seals, dolphins, whales and all those fish and birds further from the feeding grounds they have traveled to and depended on for untold millions of years. We all know that due to the thin-ness of polar ice—or its outright disappearance—polar bears no longer have the hunting grounds that they’ve depended on for… well, take a guess.

These shows may not be about the disappearance of the ice caps or all the other shrinking habitats, but they’re always mentioned. Sadly, I know it’s all true and we all know it, too. There’s no secret memo I’m getting that you’re not; we know it. All right-thinking people know it. 

But there’s so much information out there to absorb, and we have so much going on in our lives already, and these depressing climate 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. Probably like most of us. We don’t have the time, we don’t have the money or the influence, and the price of serious change is just too great. 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, finishing that report for your boss, paying the bills, and there are so many problems, issues, concerns and needs in our lives already, 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 70, I’ve had three heart attacks and a quadruple bypass twenty years ago; I don’t have a wife or children, but for those of you with children, and especially grandchildren- coming or already here, maybe you should be thinking more about the changes they’re going to have to live with.

You know that list of 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 taken them greedily and polluted the air and water everywhere people live and many places 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 recently reported that “more than half of our rivers are unable to support life.” The oceans have become 30% more acidic since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. We have already left this heritage for our children, lamely hoping that it is not too late.

My TV schedule shows a surplus of nature shows. I know they’re there because I look for them.
Whether regarding 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. Never. 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. Except for the domesticated or invasive species, populations of the animal kingdom are shrinking steadily and observably. 

Recently, U.S. Senator James Imhofe, 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, thinking he was proving his point 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 challenge or repercussion. Scott Pruitt, the president’s new Secretary of the Environment is clearly and demonstrably in the pocket of the coal, oil and gas industries. He has taken huge amounts of money from those industries, and in 2014, when Pruitt was suing the EPA, he sent a thousand-word comment letter to the government that was actually drafted for him by energy industry lawyers, and he has already pushed for deregulation of the fossil fuel industries, saying, “scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connections to the actions of mankind.” 

An adviser on the environment to Donald Trump dismissed the warning of the steadily increasing warming by saying that “most people prefer less severe winters,” and on his first day in office, President Trump took the climate change site off the white house website and placed a ban on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees from posting about their work on social media and from talking with reporters. Even major polluters China and India signed the Paris accord, but Donald Trump would not sign it, leaving us alone in the world with Syria and Nicaragua. We’ve all seen other examples of this lunacy on the news. This is state-sponsored insanity. 

Here’s a deal for you climate change deniers: 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—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 every year? Even if we were in a naturally occurring warming cycle, why would we throw all that accelerant onto the fire?

And the rest? What doesn’t settle onto the land as Acid Rain or cause the catastrophic acidification of the oceans 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 we’ve all 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 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 storage and more space for and recreation areas, and… 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. And I won’t bring up the poor bees, or ask what we’re going to do without them. 

Nope, not gonna mention fracking, oil spills, chemical run-offs, the several oceanic trash zones or the dead ocean zones, or the loss of biodiversity or all the sustainable land and water we’ve destroyed. 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 too few years from now show us soaking in bathtubs? “You filled up a tub and just sat in it?” they’ll demand. “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, some of you are gonna have some ‘splainin’ to do…

We’ll have the nature programs 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 natural wonders in them will have withered and disappeared. The shows about the heroic efforts to climb the mighty snow-bound mountains will change into respectful reminiscences of the past as the snows on them retreat, and then are gone. Coastal cities like Miami, New Orleans and others, gone…  

And outside your door right now? Every month is now the hottest month on record. So what’s coming? Near the end of October, 2016, these stories appeared:

Exxon Mobil is embroiled in a bevy of legal fights, notably with a handful of state attorneys general who are investigating the company for spending decades covering up the role of burning fossil fuels in global warming. The firm has repeatedly insisted such probes are politically motivated, and claimed that subpoenas seeking internal documents on climate change violate its constitutional rights.
In a more recent investigation, the Center for International Environmental law uncovered documents showing that the oil industry, including Humble Oil (now Exxon Mobil), was aware of the potential link between fossil fuels and carbon emissions no later than 1957. And it was “shaping science to shape public opinion” as early as the 1940s, the probe found.
A pair of studies by researchers at NASA and the University of California at Irvine (UCI) show that glaciers in the continent’s western region are growing thinner ― and retreating at the fastest rate ever observed.

Besides President Trump’s chosen protector of the environment being a climate change denier, his Secretary of State used to run Exxon. A few years ago, Exxon gave Russia 500 Billion dollars for the drilling rights in 64 million acres of remote Russia. Russia cannot access the oil, so the deal was good for both until President Putin invaded the Ukraine, which led to sanctions against doing oil business with Russia. With 500 Billion invested and creating no return capital, Exxon wants that land released for drilling, and ex-Exxon president Tillerson is now the man tasked with our running our foreign policy. Want to know what’s coming? Denied for now, but do the math.

The U.N. has calculated that the number of severe storms, floods and heat waves worldwide is five times greater than it was in 1970, and Donald Trump’s pick as head of the EPA is a strong climate change denier who has said that “the climate change debate is far from settled.”

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 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 it will be or was, 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. Look, I know it’s too overwhelming and too frightening to think about. I understand that. But as someone observed: “Anyone who thinks that they’re too small to make a difference has never tried to fall asleep with a mosquito in the room.” 

And you can’t get involved? 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 those nature films. You know they will. They’ll see oceans alive with uncountable creatures of unimaginable beauty and diversity. 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 how much is ending, but most of us do. Of course you know it, and certainly all of our leaders know it. 

I’m not going to tell you what to do; I’m not going to urge you to organize anything, and I’m not going to tell you how to vote. I’m leaving soon, so I can’t tell you what you should do. All I’m saying is that your grandchildren will know then what you know now, 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 we didn’t fix it, or really try. “You knew,” they’ll say, “why didn’t you do something?” 

They may be talking about the country or the planet. But they’ll be looking at you when they ask, and they’ll want to know what you did about it. 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.

What will you say when 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, and we did nothing? They’ll ask, if we all knew what was coming, why didn’t we do it? Wasn’t it worth it? Wasn’t all this worth it? 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? Why didn’t you do something?

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 how you respond, because they’ll always say, “But why didn’t you stop it? You knew!” 
Yeah, you knew.