As the World Burns

“If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly.” “What must be done ultimately should be done immediately.” Thus spake two of history’s most infamous murderers, Macbeth and Henry Kissinger. Macbeth was contemplating the regicide of Duncan, his Scottish king. In which of his geopolitically justified assassinations or mass killings, Kissinger made his statement doesn’t matter much to the various victims of his megalomania. At least Macbeth had the benefit of Shakespearean introspection. On the other hand, in Richard the Nixon, Kissinger found the perfect employer, a character so tragically flawed that he could have been penned by the great playwright
Beyond the self-serving and deadly context which inspired this pair of quotes, there is much wisdom. It is very much in the composition of many of us to put off until it is too late what should have already been done, before its undoing became undoable. 
 
It has been argued by critics that Hamlet thought not too much but too well. The majority of us cannot lay claim to either. We don’t think too much unless it is about ourselves and it is rare that we think too well. Like the journalist whose only goal is to turn out a column for the next day’s paper, with no context, little understanding, no responsibility, and the hubris to assume an entirely different position based on subsequent results, we are prone to the march of folly, endlessly repeating the same mistakes though they lead to our downfall. Unless something is imminent or obviously affecting the way we live, we put off corrective measures until the opportunity to effect change has passed.
 
The homework that should have been done in stages is hastily, often poorly, banged out at the last minute. We eat things we know to be bad for us or smoke or drink too much – until we are stopped by diabetes, a heart attack, lung cancer or liver disease.  Some, let off with a warning instead of death, continue the same irrational behavior that brought them to the edge of doom.
 
As a society we also ignore the vital signs. We are suckers for the hucksters who tell us we can have everything without paying for it. That is until our infrastructure crumbles, sometimes into a river, or a plane crashes when its demise could have been prevented with more investment in safety or our schools don’t turn out the students we need because we are unwilling to fund them. When something traumatic happens it is often the same people who were willfully blind to its build-up who cry the loudest. The ones who avoided the ounce of prevention now scream for the pound of cure. Well, a pound might be too expensive, maybe half a quid.
 
And so it with the celestial body on which we reside. We are clearly too many. We need a cull. I have prepared my list. It waits for only for an address. Meanwhile the flat earthers, who reside on cable TV, in vested interests or religious cults, mock those who see the damage, or pay off their buddies in government or encourage their tribes to have more members. The world is already bursting at the seams but it doesn’t matter to the ignorant, the greedy, or god’s ministers of procreation.
 
While I have a tendency to believe scientists who, without any agenda beyond increasing our understanding of the natural world, spend most of their lives dedicated to advancing the human condition, I didn’t need their learning to appreciate that the planet has changed dramatically over the last thirty or forty years. I recall boating a couple of miles off the coast of my grandparents’ property. Among a few of us, in a morning’s fishing with hand lines, we would bring in a catch of cod that would last for months. There were some lunkers I was too scrawny to bring from the bottom without help. Many exceeded forty or fifty pounds. 
 
Going out these days would mean hours of pulling your jig with little if anything to show. The cod, the halibut and the haddock don’t exist in such numbers and what is caught now is so small that you feel compelled to throw it back. The inshore fishermen did their share of overfishing but the real culprits are the factory ships that lie just off territorial boundaries, borders that are unrecognized by the fish. The fish and other life forms are swept up in non-discriminatory nets that trawl vast spaces while coincidentally destroying the underwater ecosystem. Such cataclysmic devastation is happening in coastal waters all over the world, eliminating entire species of fish, decimating others and ravaging the habitat necessary for their survival.
 
A few miles down the road from my grandparents’ place was a rushing salmon stream. The leeching of minerals from farming and mining has made the river uninhabitable. This alteration to the environment has happened up and down the coast, preventing the salmon from reaching their traditional breeding waters. For the salmon and cod and other important edible fish, we have created conditions for fish genocide. Their depletion continues unabated around the globe. 
 
Because ocean fishing was a treat, done but occasionally as part of summer holidays, I also spent a lot of time wandering on the ocean front property. Even when the tide was in there was ample shoreline to skip rocks or find clams and other mollusks. On my braver days, unconcerned as I was then with shrinkage, I would even wander out into the frigid water. These days because of the melting of Arctic ice, the sea levels reach well up the bank and the shoreline has disappeared. There is still shrinkage but now it’s permanent.
 
Though I need no scientist to tell me that we are having a significant and harmful impact on the natural world, my observations support my general belief in the work of honest discovery untainted by agenda. Global warming and climate change are part of the larger environmental damage we inflict on the only home we have. 
 
It is infuriating to hear the vehement denials, voodoo science and religious narrow-mindedness, the shrill voices which taunt those sounding the alarm. The denier ignorance, whatever its motive, smug in its wrong-headed and contra science predisposition, is on a scale of catastrophic culpability that ranks with the worst calamities in our history. 
 
It is not only the phony scientists on the payroll of big oil or big coal or big fuck you; it is not only the Glen Becks and the Rush Limbaughs and the other lying windbags whose hot air compounds climate change in a manner equal to cow flatulence, it is all of us who over-consume or refuse to pay more for environmental protection, who vote for politicians whose only concern is ever lower taxes. Taxes are the glue that binds us together as a society yet in the grubby hands of rapacious demagogues, taxes are nothing more than big government wasting your hard-earned money. The world sighs and absorbs.
 
The Cheney presidency eviscerated the EPA. If Cheney, coward that he always has been, had gone to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, he would have seen that much of the reason for the shattering of the moody city was the reduction of the marsh lands and outer banks of the gulf coast. These crucial breeding grounds served as a buffer against the swells of big storms. As is his modus operandi, he dared not view or acknowledge what his negligence had wrought.
 
Norway and Japan, the former rich beyond its belief due to offshore oil, the latter the second largest economy in the world, ignore a UN embargo on whale hunting even as the whales, which face numerous challenges in the dying oceans, decline towards extinction. The Chinese government is only too willing to export the contempt by which it operates. In everything from its massive numbers, to its contravention of human rights, to its support of the most corrupt and cruel regimes, to its total disdain for the earth and water, the Chinese are the world’s most dangerous environmental enemy. The next time you think of Eastern mysticism, think of the Chinese government. It may alter your pursuit of other worldliness and focus your attention on this one.
 
Even Canada, as recently as a few years ago, considered a progressive global participant, ships asbestos, banned in its own country, to the developing world. Asbestos now kills poor people who have no choice but to work with it – the selling of the Canadian soul. Canada was one of three or four countries to vote against the abolition of deep sea trawling which is turning the sea bed into a desert. The oil sands development in Alberta is an uncontrolled ecological disaster. There would be consolation in the knowledge that the oil that resulted from dinosaur remains of eons past will eventually be replaced by the dinosaurs currently roaming the province but by then, if the race is still on, it won’t be needed. 
 
If it were not for the prescient and brave among us waving their arms and warning us as best they can that disaster looms, we would be killing and dying in even greater numbers. The Great Lakes of North America, saved at the last minute yet still under threat, would be like the Dead Sea, itself on the verge of being deader. The once mighty Aral Sea deprived of its sources is now as dry and useless as the Holy See. The forests of the world, essential to our existence, are being harvested at Haiti-like speed. 
 
I could ramble on listing grievous examples of how we are plundering our planet, the world’s greatest home invasion, but to what point? Those who care already realize such things. Those who don’t have either sneered their lip or fallen asleep. 
 
In the movie Starman, Jeff Bridges, whose father once roamed the seas looking for bad guys, said “that man is at his best when things are at their worst.” It’s a nice sentiment but sadly untrue. Crisis draws out the best in the best people but reveals the worst in many more. The worst of the worst can’t or won’t admit that catastrophe beckons. They are the spoiled brats who didn’t get knocked out of the high chair enough as children. 
 
Democracy is failing us on this, the greatest threat to our survival. Like a parent who orders us to do our homework, or a doctor who demands we stop smoking, or a society that says we can’t murder people, we need something more powerful than ignored accords and deceptive press releases from the G-8. We need an omnipotent earth doctor; Mother Nature’s pissed off spouse.  
 
For the laggards who never act until they reach the past due date, a slap upside the head is what the mad doctor should decree. For the Cheneys and Limbaughs and Becks, the grinning pseudo-scientific quislings of big money, and the self-appointed agents of non-existent sky gods who advocate human proliferation, a more robust prescription is required – a deep, hard kick in the nuts, repeat as necessary.
 
Copyright © 2009 Paul Heno
 
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