Dustbin Earth: Planetary Pollution

China air quality

Humanity’s continued existence is in jeopardy. We have treated Planet Earth like a dustbin, throwing out our rubbish, our toxins, polluting the soil, water and air with scant regard for the long term cumulative effect. It’s made no difference if the government is capitalist or communist; the goals of all governments have been to increase productivity, prosperity and power. These goals must change if humanity is to survive. Long term ecological sustainability and global social justice must become the twin principles by which all policy is framed, investment made and action taken.

The macro level indicators are not on our side. Atmospheric Co2 has risen from 285 to over 400ppm and as the latest IPCC reports show we are clearly on course for catastrophic climate change. The ozone hole over Antarctica appears once more to be a concern as more chemicals than the original 13 governed by the Montreal Protocol are thought to be causing damage, or the banned ones are still being used illegally. Ocean acidification continues to grow to existential proportions, yet barely makes the news headlines. The oceans are full of plastic which breaks down and makes its way back up the food chain and into our bodies.  The air is becoming unbreathable in countless cities and regions caused by everything from forest fires to car exhaust, coal fired power stations to factory emissions. Of course these incidents of local pollution are linked to global atmospheric pollution. The media still talk about everything in silos: the air quality in Northern Chinese cities as a threat to the Chinese Communist Party as if the party that governs any individual country was really of that much significance, when what really is of significance are these interrelated macro ecological indicators. In the end we all breathe the same air. This is one thing where we truly are ‘all in it together’.

Technologically, philosophically and theoretically there is much that we as a species could do to save ourselves. There is precious little evidence that the political will exists for the fundamental changes required. Our collective addiction to wealth and to power, and the shear inertia of the system, will probably cause our species’ extinction, and probably within a shorter time frame than many people would like to contemplate. This is unbearably heart breaking.

The only hope I find is in the millions of people who do understand the fundamental changes required and are prepared to work their socks off to bring about radical systemic change. Their views are not represented by mainstream media or political parties in most countries, yet they are increasingly linked together on the streets and on the internet. The challenge before us is immense. If we manage to turn this thing around it will undoubtedly be the greatest achievement in human history. The stakes could not be higher.

Guardian on latest IPCC report http://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2014/apr/14/ipcc-report-scientists-world-seize-opportunity-roadmap

The film Trashed is well worth watching http://www.trashedfilm.com/about/

BBC on air quality in China http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-china-blog-26333744