Saving the Planet and Ourselves

Columban Fr. Shay Cullen lives and works in the Philippines.
December 5, 2011

It’s hard  to imagine 600 sq. miles of woodlands burned to cinders, that’s  about the size of Ireland or Northern Luzon, in the Philippines. It happened in Arizona, USA a few weeks ago. It’s the second worst fire in living memory. Gigantic cyclones and tornados have swept through the southern states and left entire towns devastated and hundreds dead. Massive floods in Australia, China and elsewhere have destroyed the livelihood of millions. Gigantic hurricanes have battered the Caribbean in recent months and above all, the Arctic ice caps and the glaciers of Greenland are melting like ice cream on a hot summer day.
Nothing like this has happened for millions of years and when it did, the earth was uninhabitable, even animals could hardly survive and thousands of species became extinct. It’s happening again all because of us humans, the species with the big intelligent brains who should know better. We do know better but action does not follow knowledge. Many politicians and corporate bosses especially in the developed economies refuse to face and admit the truth of global warming and dangerous climate change simply because of corporate greed, the love of comfort and money, and to retain political power and economic growth.

The near absence of political will and the blindness of denial are allowing the planet’s temperature to creep upward to the maximum allowable temperature increase of 2 degrees before disaster strikes. Even this, the experts say, is already a calamity. An increase of .75 degrees is causing the death of the coral reefs – the life giving food of thousands of species of fish upon which millions of families depend for a daily meal.

The wanton destruction of the Philippine black corals of Mindanao is shocking and is the result of corporate and local government corruption. Good the traders were caught but too late for a huge area of corals. They take a long time to recover. Besides, the oceans are absorbing all the CO2 they can and they are becoming more acidic. Global fish stocks are threatened as a result.

There will be more massive crop failures, drought, floods, rising sea levels, greater forest destruction and massive population migrations. The prices of food commodities are increasing at an alarming rate and as production drops, famine could once again kill millions in some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. It sounds all gloom and doom, it is, and we have to take serious action to stop it. The deadline is 2016 before a tipping point of global temperature is reached that could make the warming irreversible.

Besides, the earth is already warmer and vast tracts of marsh lands in Siberia and near the Arctic Circle are melting releasing billions of tons of methane into the atmosphere adding to the blanket of gas that is insulating the planet and preventing the heat from escaping while the sun beats down cooking us like hams in an oven. Winters will be harsher, colder and more prolonged as happened this year again in the Northern hemisphere.

Here in Bonn, Germany, the experts and political negotiators at the Bonn Conference on Climate are trying to work out an international agreement for all counties to cut back on the rising level of emission of CO2 that is causing global warming. Before the industrial revolution, carbon dioxide levels were around 280 parts per million (p.p.m.), now the level is close to 400 p.p.m. An hour away from here in Bonn, corporate lobbyists are also trying to block progress in the interests of the oil and coal industry and others like auto-makers who benefit from burning fossil fuels.

If we humans continue destructive behaviors, like destroying forests and burning fossil fuels in coal plants to make electricity and populating the world with billions of methane-making cattle, we are going to make big trouble for ourselves and the rest of human kind. The forests are threatened. In Western North America, the warmer climate has allowed a wood-eating beetle to thrive and destroy up to 70 percent of the trees.

Ordinary humans can march, demonstrate and do much lobbying by letter-writing to push politicians and corporate tycoons to stop building more coal plants and turn to non-destructive and renewable ways of making electricity such as geothermal, solar and wind power.  We must persuade politicians and tycoons to stop blocking progress on limiting CO2 emissions by an international agreement.

We too can change our lifestyles by protecting our local environment, stop logging, planting trees, recycling, and establishing  organic food gardens to feed ourselves and eat less meat. We have to be good guardians of the planet and save it for the next generation.