Are We Humans a Virus to the Earth?
Sunday, December 29, 2019
Palm Springs, California
Are We Humans a Virus to the Earth?
After several days of escaping the city into the wilderness of the Pacific Crest Trail, a foolish walk along Palm Canyon Drive—Palm Springs’ main shopping street—brings dark comparisons of human beings to viruses to mind.
According to the Oxford English dictionary, a virus is defined as:
an infective agent that typically consists of a nucleic acid molecule in a protein coat, is too small to be seen by light microscopy, and is able to multiply only within the living cells of a host.
Let’s skip the nucleic, protein, or microscopy parts.
Instead, let’s consider the effect of our behaviors here on our host planet, Earth.
We humans consist of sets of living cells—organs, blood vessels, muscle and bone enwrapped in skin—yet another organ.
We need the earth to survive.
It is, quite literally, part of us.
We humans, specifically known as homo sapiens, have been residing on this planet for only around 100,000 years. Given the earth’s age of 4.5 billion years, we’ve barely arrived. If the earth’s age represented 24 hours, our species would have only existed here for less than one second.
Nonetheless, we’ve multiplied like crazy.
We now have some 7 billion of our kind roaming around, mostly in cities. Until the end of the 20th century, we humans mostly lived in rural areas. We did a lot of farming. Then, as technology developed and fewer jobs were available in the country, humans moved mostly into urban areas.
This trend continues throughout the globe, even in places like India and China. Cities are turning into megapolises—defined as cities overlapping into one another.
Delhi, India, the new air pollution center of the world, has more than 19 million people.
Shanghai, China, has more than 24 million people.
Whether concentrated in cities or not, we humans radically exploit the “living cells” of our host, Earth.
Earth has a limited number of “cells”—existing in plants, and animals and forests and all kinds of living things. It also limited amounts of inorganic matter, from oxygen to carbon, from uranium to water, and more.
We need those organic and inorganic materials to survive.
We have, thus far, in our relative one-second of presence, done enough damage for the analogy to a virus to clearly apply.
This tiny vacation community two-hours out of Los Angeles, Palm Springs, with its forgettable 50,000 inhabitants, shows signs of the same superficiality, the same wanton disregard for our gentle, blue-and-green planetary host.
We talking monkeys walking down Palm Canyon Drive see many of the same sights seen in any main street in the developed world.
Noisy, traffic clogged streets intermittently worsened by testosterone-poisoned idiots revving up their un-muffler-protected cars or motorcycles, loudly and frightfully speeding by .
Those streets are lined, or should I say littered, with standardized, box-shaped shops ranging from Rite Aide to CVS, from Restoration Hardware to West Elm, from Chipolte to Burger King, and from Coffee Bean to Starbucks.
Signs of new construction, evident in those grotesque little trailers, sporting hard hat warnings and jutting-out, rusted shanks of rebar, appear everywhere. They look like cancerous metastases, assuming similar structures regardless of country.
These are still more evidence of wildly multiplying cells, exploiting and destroying our host planet.
Perhaps places like Palm Springs thrive because they exist near gorgeous natural areas. Just to the west lies the San Jacinto Mountains, towering majesties of beauty. And, just to the north, stretches of desert extend into the mountains all the way to Big Bear Lake. You can hike the Pacific Crest Trail from here to Big Bear, or all the way up to Canada, inviting psychotic denial of the Anthropocene era.
(However, standard hiking guides point out how areas damaged by recent wildfires and floods have created more destruction than ever before in recorded history).
Talking monkeys can visit here.
They can imagine themselves as not-viruses.
They can take refuge in magical thinking, particularly since, on the way into Palm Springs, one passes fields of wind farms promising above-ground energy.
These are weak and insufficient signs of change.
They are almost certainly too late.
Just in the past few months, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) updated its predictions of just how damaging the Anthropocine era promises to be.
The IPCC was established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program. It creates environmental assessments which take up to six years to produce, prepared by more than 2000 scientists from all over the world. The report is not about policy or politics—it’s only about science. In fact, the IPCC is expressly barred from making policy recommendations.
When the IPCC concludes that—to a 90 percent probability—global warming is caused by human activity, it is not exaggerating.
In fact, it is rather conservative in its predictions.
The latest report will make living in denial more difficult than ever.
Because only six of the major points made in the IPCC’s most recently updated report should permanently impair your capacity to fall asleep at night.
That report must be viewed as a call for action because, absent extremely aggressive interventions, we human monkeys will in fact destroy our host planet just like viruses in humans can cause death.
In this case, however, death is almost certain—the end of the human species—unless aggressive action is taken NOW.
Here are the six major conclusions of the latest IPCC report:
- We humans must limit warming to 1.5 degrees C, not the 2 degrees to which most countries strive. Limiting warming to 1.5 °C compared to 2 °C has clear and considerable benefits, such as significantly reducing the risks of water scarcity, ill-health, food insecurity, flood and drought, extreme heat, tropical cyclones, biodiversity loss, and sea level rise.
- Only “deep and rapid emissions reductions from all economic sectors” will allow global warming to remain below 1.5 degrees C. We are on pace to hit 1.5 °C global warming by 2030. Imagine: That’s only ten years away. To stay below this level, we humans will need to reach net zero emissions around midcentury. We must immediately initiate carbon dioxide removal mechanisms. While the transitions in energy systems, land, transportation, infrastructure, and industries would be unprecedented in scale, they also need to be unprecedented in rapidity.
- Radical reductions in use of oil, hydrocarbons, black carbon, and other ‘super-pollutants,’ will vastly increases the chances of staying below 1.5 °C. If the emissions of non-CO2 pollutants are not curbed, there is a 66% likelihood of surpassing the 1.5 °C threshold.
- Waiting to cut emissions will have severe, irreversible effects on the planet. How? Long-term warming scenarios depend upon carbon dioxide, a gas whose emissions build up in the atmosphere. Even temporarily overshooting 1.5 °C will have irreversible impacts on our natural systems, including biodiversity loss and pushing past various climate tipping points.
- Failure to reverse, or at least mitigate, global warming will result in literal catastrophe. Vulnerable communities will be affected by food insecurity, income loss, health impacts, population displacement, and increased international conflict.
- More ambitious efforts, certainly more than any currently planned, will be required to remain below the recommended 1.5 degree C increase. Even if all countries fulfilled their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) as outlined in the Paris Agreement (from which Donald Trump has stupidly withdrawn), it is highly likely the world will reach 1.5 °C warming by mid-century and remain above this threshold through year 2100.
These findings require we talking monkeys to break-through our universal, psychotic levels of denial and take action NOW.
Here are just a few ways you can personally prevent the dire IPCC warnings from coming to pass:
- Get rid of your hydrocarbon-burning vehicles. Trade them in for hybrid or, better, all electric cars;
- Begin using refillable containers to purchase all food items, from vegetables to cereals;
- Boycott highly polluting fast-food outlets, like MacDonalds or Burger Kings, which create immense amounts of solid waste;
- Consider having only one child, or none, preventing the virus from spreading in a way certain to destroy our host, the planet Earth;
- Join Greta Thunberg’s call for Friday strikes in schools and workplaces. Protests absolutely exert influence over politics. Serbians ousted a dictator through nonviolent resistance, and Egyptians followed in kind ten years later. In 2018, teachers throughout West Virginia went on strike during a nine-day protest that resulted in a 5% increase in pay. It inspired additional teacher strikes in other states. The teenage survivors of the Parkland high school shooting created a national movement holding government officials and and businesses accountable for measures to increase responsible gun control. Protests and, especially, STRIKES work!
In other words, the time has come to ACT.
One of Greta’s more compelling questions has been to ask, of all of us talking monkeys alive today, why we failed to take action to prevent the destruction of our planet?
Whether living in denial in Palm Springs or Pasadena, California, or in Shanghai or New Delhi, the time has come to:
WAKE UP AND DO SOMETHING!
The era of denial and dissociation has come to an end;
We have now entered the era of ACTION.
Ignoring taking decisive steps towards reducing global warming will affect generations to come.
REALLY, WE HAVE NO OTHER CHOICE.
TOGETHER, LET’S WAKE UP AND MAKE CHANGE HAPPEN.
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