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Business As Usual

By Emily Spence

11 April, 2007

The future for the whole Earth looks horribly bleak. If worst case scenarios transpire, an inordinate number of people will die, during this century, due to the effects of global warming. In addition, up to one fourth of all species, in the same time span, will become extinct for identical reasons. As it is, 160,000 people, annually, die from its consequences, according to World Health Organization (WHO) and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. In addition, this number of deaths could reach, according to them, almost double each year starting around 2020. Moreover, up to a billion individuals, mostly children, are expected to suffer from severe malnourishment and chronic hunger indirectly caused by our planet's increasing heat.

Yet, are any of these predicted outcomes new other than the high numbers involved? No. Indeed, the main difference between these current times and many prior ones, simply, is that the human impact globally is more extensive than in earlier periods.

Other than this, life carries on as always. In suggesting this, I mean that people, throughout history, have always annihilated their own and other species for personal profit without much consideration of the tremendous suffering and ecological devastation that result. Indeed, capitalism is founded on this practice successfully taking place. Put another way, those with access to resources have always obtained their personal gain based on decimating other people and species.

One simple case in point wherein this process can readily be seen involves deforestation. For example, Nigeria's annual rate of deforestation is 11.1 %, which is appallingly high considering that the global average is .8 % (still dreadfully high). However, the outcomes are roughly the same in both cases. Generally the topsoil, no longer anchored in place by massive root systems, runs into waterways to increasingly cause them to be devoid of life (except for bacteria and other pests that cause illness). Parched earth incapable of holding moisture and supporting plants is left in place of the trees, wild fires often ensue, and some entrepreneur made a quick, dirty profit off of advertising flyers, newspapers, lumber and other wood based products. Meanwhile many from the surrounding population either die off or migrate away from the sterile land that can no longer support them.

With globalization of industry and increasing privatization of many kinds of property (not just land), economic growth has expanded despite that environmental ruin frequently does result from such ventures. In other words, myriad eco-niches utterly fail after having been torn apart faster than they can replenish themselves. Local people, plants and animals die in the process and, as always, a self-serving industrialist makes off with a huge fiscal coup as a result.

Another case in point involves worldwide fisheries. Currently, 71-78 % of these are 'fully exploited', 'over exploited' or significantly depleted' according to the United Nations. In addition, many species of aquatic life are on the verge of total extermination.

All the same, we cannot expect the owners of huge fishing trawlers to, willingly, give up their stupendously lavish earnings based on caring about future fish for the world or the fact that, right now, impoverished fisherman living in small coastal communities are, literally, starving to death, along with their families. Why should they care? After all, business is supposed to be competitive and snapping up fish is just like snapping up foreclosed homes and commodities futures. It's all in a day's work.

In the same vein, why should owners of those mega-companies -- ones like Walmart, Gap, Nike, Disney, MacDonald's or Starbucks -- dependent on sweatshop laborers and impoverished farm workers around the globe be troubled that, largely thanks to them, three billion people presently live on less than $2 a day? After all, it's just business as usual.

Meanwhile, that this way of operating is lucrative has not escaped notice from many fresh financiers, ones who would love to join the ranks of the ultra-wealthy. Indeed, many newcomers have done just that!...

Individuals with a net worth of at least $1 million in all holdings (excluding "primary residences") amounts to 8.7 million people according to the 2005 data in "World Wealth Report," compiled annually by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini. While this represents an increase of 6.5% over 2004, the information relative to 2006 points to even larger extremes in BOTH asset accumulation AND the number of rich people extant.
So, why wouldn't information pertaining to global warming not be considered in the same vein? Why should car manufacturers, industrial tycoons whose companies depend on massive outlays of energy for product manufacturing, oil laden countries and nations heavily invested in oil based economies care about the assorted impacts from global warming? Indeed, many from these groups want to undercut findings that mention the severity of damage caused by warming. For example, China and Saudi Arabia wanted to decrease the level of scientific confidence in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. The reasons for this choice should be obvious.

It should, also, be clear that those individuals who stand the most to gain from dependence on oil and coal will to everything in their power to continue dependence on these two energy sources because they will always have bountiful air conditioning in the summer and ample heat in the winter, the possibility to move to new regions if their gated communities and remote vacation homes wind up being in "uncomfortable" climate zones, ability to always afford a plethora of fashionable clothing and cars in whatever amount that they choose, as many jet and yacht vacations as they wish whenever and to wherever they want regardless of the carbon loading that such excursions require, and anything else that they voracious crave.

Meanwhile, how can we possibly expect them to be concerned about the future of humanity or the world in general when they, currently, don't care about miners' heath, poverty stricken masses in their own countries, smog related deaths, their employees receipt of inadequate wages, droughts, famines or any other signs that their decisions are, ultimately, immoral, grotesque and greedy?

At the same time that scientists, at the Worldwatch Institute, suggests that it would take five worlds to supply the bounty of resources that are used by America, alone, it makes no difference to them. Why? Until any ecological crisis hits home in such a way as to be personally relevant, you cannot expect them to be sufficiently motivated to change their behaviors. After all, they have the biggest losses to subsume if the warming warnings are seriously heeded.

Until then, Gore or anyone else pleading "Are you ready to change the way you live?” (as posed in a frame of "An Inconvenient Truth") holds no meaning. Indeed, one's giving up any money-based personal privilege for the sake of ethics, social justice, compassion, the welfare of humankind and other species would be just too radical a departure from prior choices concerning matters of conscience. So, don't expect a mea culpa or acts of contrition any time soon.

The saddest part of all of this whole situation, of course, is that if we all had deliberately chosen to exist reasonably well rather than focused on a hedonistic obsession for accumulations and/or big families, humans could have made a paradise on earth for practically all living entities, including many from other species now doomed to being wiped out due to humankind's avarice. Instead we face a looming hellish inferno and hardly anyone with the capacity to effect sufficient remedies has the slightest urge to do so. This orientation is nothing short of being hideously depraved and thoroughly tragic.

Emily Spence lives in MA and deeply cares about the future of our world.


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