Climate Strike! Act 5

Act 5
Thrilling Conclusion

One of Mary Oliver’s best known and best loved poems is “The Summer Day.”
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Well, Mary, one thing I plan to do with my one wild and precious life is oppose the oil companies that want us to keep burning fossil fuels. Here’s what the web site 350.org says:
“Even if we do manage to keep most of fossil fuels in the ground, a world that’s 1.5°C warmer [than preindustrial] is going to be a much different, scarier place. We’re only at +1°C now, and we’re already seeing more storms, flooding, heatwaves, drought, and island nations at risk of going underwater. The basic facts of climate crisis are grim: the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground for us to stay below 1.5°C of warming -- and fossil fuel companies aren’t going to do that without a fight. We know exactly what we have to do — keep fossil fuels in the ground and quickly transition to 100% renewable energy. The science says it’s still possible to stay under 1.5˚C – but we’ll need to halve emissions by 2030, and increase the share of solar, wind and hydro energy dramatically in that time. Renewable energy is getting cheaper and more popular every day. As renewables grow and provide more clean, free energy to replace fossil fuels, we’ve seen emissions decrease in many countries. We’re not alone — the worldwide movement to stop the climate crisis and resist the fossil fuel industry is growing stronger every day.”
Maybe there’s a realistic chance of keeping the temperature rise to within 1.5°C warmer than pre-industrial, or maybe there isn’t. I don’t think that matters. I mean, obviously the temperature increase will make a huge difference, but our odds of preventing it don't matter. What matters is that our joy and compassion call to us to put an end to fossil fuel use. What matters is that doing everything we can to put Exxon and Shell out of business is fun – whether in the end we put a dent on those behemoth corporations or not.

And when I say “fun,” I mean it’s joyous and compassionate to facilitate the transition of the beautiful and worthy human beings who work for those companies into vocations that do not stunt their spirits by paying them to harm themselves and others.

The toil of body and soul, we offer up to the universe, and what the universe makes of it is not ours to say.

Yes, strategizing is a part of doing. Goals and outcomes and plans for achieving them are the manifestations of compassion. It’s possible to plan for results, however, without expecting or needing them. Our hearts turn over to grace their labor, their sweat -- all that our hearts are and have. Grace has its own way of shaping what our hearts bequeath it.

So join me as part of the Climate Strike this Friday Sep 20. Three days before the UN Climate Summit in NYC, young people and adults across the globe will strike to demand action be taken to address the climate crisis. CUUC members will meet at Grand Central Station on Friday September 20, under the opal clock at 11:30am, or at the Starbucks by Foley Square before 1:00pm. We will join the march going to the Battery Park rally.

See the Action Network's info on the Climate Strike -- HERE.
See the info sheet for Metro New York area UUs is HERE.
CUUC members and friends, see HERE.

What else you gonna do with your one wild and precious life?

What else that would be as much fun – as joyous and compassionate?

* * *
Climate Strike! Act 1: Fermi's Question
Climate Strike! Acts 2-3: Truths Still Inconvenient. Polls.
Climate Strike! Act 4: Joy, Compassion, and the Big Picture

Climate Strike! Act 4

Act 4.
Joy, Compassion, and the Big Picture

Stop worrying. Seriously, climate anxiety is a real thing and it would be better not to suffer from it. Some people have gotten so stressed about reports of inevitable near-term social collapse due to climate change that they’ve gone into therapy. The American Psychological Association now recognizes “eco-anxiety” as "a chronic fear of environmental doom".

I know that fear can be a powerful motivator in the short term. Most of the politicians in office now got there by playing to fear. Fear works, in the short run, but it makes us miserable and stressed. We end up anxious and depressed. Let us take action to mitigate climate change, but not out of fear. We don’t need your fear, your anxiety, your stress, your worry, or your panic.

I know that Greta Thunberg – the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist – says she wants grown-ups to panic, but I disagree. What we’re after is sustainability, and panic is not sustainable.

And, no, we don’t need hope either – at least not the usual understanding of hope, which is often just fear trying to be optimistic. If you have hope, that’s fine, but it isn’t necessary. If you lose it, you can still happily carry on -- if you're spiritually prepared to. To begin that preparation, reflect on this: in a situation devoid of hope, caring for each other and our home is as worth doing as ever. We do it for its own sake -- not for the sake of a hoped-for outcome.

Maybe it’s the nature of intelligent life to destroy itself and maybe it isn’t, but even if it is, the point isn’t to last forever. Whether as individuals or as a species, the point is to have a good run while we’re here. Enjoy the bliss of existing for the instant we have – and when I say “we,” I mean both "you and me individually", and "humankind."

Our species, homo sapiens, has been around about 200,000 years. Our genus, homo, has been around ten times that long -- so the duration of the genus homo, so far, is 2 million years. Homo sapiens is the sole surviving species of that genus. The others have all come and gone. Some of the more significant or longer-lasting ones:
  • homo habilus (2 mya - 1.5 mya),
  • homo ergaster (1.8 mya - 1.3 mya),
  • homo erectus (1.9 mya - 0.14 mya),
  • homo antecessor (1.2 mya - 0.8 mya),
  • homo heidelbergensis (0.75 mya - 0.2 mya),
  • and most recently, homo neanderthal (0.24 mya - 0.04 mya)
Homo erectus lasted 6-8 times as long as homo sapiens has so far.

Still, we had a good run. If the measure of flourishing is population numbers, we've flourished, particularly in recent centuries. If the measure is the overall well-being of the members of our species, we were doing OK for the first 90% of our 200,000-year run, but took a bit of a hit 12,000 years ago when the agricultural revolution allowed the rise of the centralized state, concentrations of wealth, large standing armies, slavery, oppression, and a considerable boost in the proportion of us in misery. But we've also taken some strides toward equality that suggest that maybe in another century or two -- if we were to last that long -- we might work out the kinks of the agricultural revolution and enjoy its benefits more than we suffer its downsides. Moreover, even amidst our atrocities, we did some amazing stuff: art, literature, music, science, and spiritual practice. If this is the end of the run for the species -- and, indeed, the genus -- to which we belong, let us face that demise with the same equanimity and quiet pride with which we hope to face our individual demise, when that time comes.

The Earth has seen five mass extinctions. The first one was 444 million years ago: the Ordovician extinction. 86% of all species went extinct. Then life bounced back. New and different species emerged and flourished.

Then 69 million years after the first mass extinction – that is, about 35 times as long as the genus homo has existed – another mass extinction hit: the Devonian extinction of 375 million years ago. 75% of all species went extinct. Again life bounced back – new species proliferated.

124 million years went by – that’s 62 homo durations. Then the third mass extinction: the Permian extinction of 251 million years ago. This one was a real doozy: 96% of all species ended. From the 4% that were left, new life forms again sprang forth and filled the earth – this time for 51 million years.

The fourth mass extinction, the Triassic extinction of 200 million years ago, wiped out 80% of the species of the time. This time life bounced back with the age of the dinosaur – about 700 species of which we’ve identified so far, though paleontologists think there were lots more we haven’t discovered yet.

Dinosaurs owned this planet for 134 million years – about 67 homo durations – until they, along with 76% of all species then in existence – were wiped out in the fifth extinction: the Cretaceous extinction 66 million years ago.

Five mass extinctions. The time between them was anywhere from 51 million years to 134 million years -- and the last one was 66 million years ago. So if we’re heading into the sixth great extinction, that would be within the schedule range.

My loyalty and identification is with life itself. My heart’s devotion, inspiration, faith, hope, and love lie with all of life – not the DNA that defines me as an individual, nor the DNA that defines my species, nor that which defines my genus, order, class, phylum -- or even kingdom. Rather, my belonging is to the beauty and the wonder of life, always finding a way. Consider the stand of aspen trees that is actually all one plant, one root system, one organism that can live, possibly, for 100,000 years. Or the slime molds that work in tandem, signaling to each other to join and form a multicellular mass, like a “moving sausage.” Or the vast and bizarre varieties of mushrooms. We – and this time when I say “we,” I mean “we living things” – will find a way. We always bounce back.

Life. Is not that the God that is a mighty God? Is not that the love that will not let us go?

We don’t need fear or hope, but we do need two things: joy and compassion. We need as deep a sense as we can reach of the joy there is in this wonderful mystery of being alive. We may not have tomorrow, so, friends, let us delight in today. And let us reach out in compassion to do everything we can in the time left to us to ease what suffering we can.

Joy and compassion. Those are the qualities that make for a good life in a world that faces no environmental dangers. It turns out they are also the qualities that make for a good life in this world that does face environmental dangers.

* * *
Climate Strike! Act 1: Fermi's Question
Climate Strike! Acts 2-3: Truths Still Inconvenient. Polls.
Climate Strike! Act 5: Thrilling Conclusion


Climate Strike! Acts 2-3

Act 2
Truths Still Inconvenient

It’s been 13 years since the 2006 release of “An Inconvenient Truth” – the slideshow that brought so much attention to climate change that it earned Al Gore an Oscar and a Nobel Peace Prize. The predictions back then are all coming true – in some cases faster than predicted.

Through most of the 200,000 year history of homo sapiens, CO2 levels have been around 280 ppm. 350 ppm appears to be the upper limit of what the planet can handle without becoming a very different sort of planet. Above 350, NASA said, you couldn't have a planet "similar to the one on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted." The journal Nature said that above 350
"we threaten the ecological life-support systems that have developed in the late Quaternary environment, and severely challenge the viability of contemporary human societies." (McKibben, Eaarth 16)
By 1960, we reached 320 ppm.
By 1980: 341 ppm.
We passed the 350 mark in 1987 – 32 years ago.
By 2000, we were at 370 ppm.
By 2010: 392 ppm.
As of 2019 May, we’re at 415 ppm of CO2, still adding another 2 or 3 ppm every year.

The Earth has seen CO2 levels this high before – but not for at least 2.5 million years – in other words, not in Quaternary Period, and not when there were any people or civilizations or mass populations depending on agricultural and finely tuned economic systems. The longer we stay above 350 – and the further above 350 we go – the more and stronger hurricanes, floods, and droughts; more sea level rising; more dying of coral reefs.

Even if rich countries adopt draconian emissions reductions, it is improbable that we will be able to stop short of 650 ppm of CO2. As Bill McKibben notes,
"Even if you erred on the side of insane optimism, the world in 2100 would have about 600 parts per million carbon dioxide. That is, we’d live if not in hell, then in some place with a similar temperature."
Right now, annual global average temperatures are about 1 degree Celsius hotter than pre-industrial temperatures. Because of the climate change that has already occurred, increased frequency and severity of heatwaves and floods have reduced global grain yields by 10%. That’s already happened. Over 1 million people living near coasts have been forced from their homes due to rising seas and stronger storms. That's already happened.

We will probably see the annual global average temperature reach 1.5 degrees Celsius hotter by the year 2030 – and some time around mid-century, we’ll hit 2 degrees C higher than pre-industrial. The difference between 1.5˚C and 2˚C could mean well over 10 million more migrants from sea-level rise.

Act 3

Americans may be warming to the concept that the planet is warming. On Thursday September 12, the Washington Post reported results of a poll conducted by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation. (The WaPo article is HERE. A PDF of the full poll report is HERE.)
“The poll finds that a strong majority of Americans — about 8 in 10 — say that human activity is fueling climate change, and roughly half believe action is urgently needed within the next decade if humanity is to avert its worst effects. 38% -- nearly 4 in 10 -- now say climate change is a “crisis,” up from less than a quarter five years ago.”
Another 38% say it’s a major problem but not a crisis. 15% say it’s a minor problem. Only 8% said, “not a problem at all.”

So, what are we willing to do about it? How about increase federal gas tax by 25 cents a gallon? Only 25% supported that.

A 2-dollar tax on monthly residential electricity bills is supported by 47% of us – almost half. A 10-dollar tax on electricity bills, however, garners only 27% support.

On the other hand, 60% of us are in support of “raising taxes on companies that burn fossil fuels even if that may lead to increased electricity and transportation prices.”

The most popular approach: raise taxes on the wealthy households. Over two-thirds of respondants – 68 percent – were in favor of that.

* * *
Climate Strike! Act 1: Fermi's Question
Climate Strike! Act 4: Joy, Compassion, and the Big Picture
Climate Strike! Act 5: Thrilling Conclusion

Climate Strike! Act 1

Act 1.
Fermi's Question

I think often of Enrico Fermi (1901-1954) – the great Italian physicist. He asked an intriguing question. He looked out at the stars and asked: Where is everybody?

Number 1: Our Sun is a young star. It's 4.6 billion years old, while most of the 200 billion stars in our galaxy are about 10 billion years old or older.

Number 2: There is a high probability that some of these stars have Earth-like planets which, if the Earth is typical, may develop intelligent life. Fermi could only make a rough guess about the number of Earth-like planets in the galaxy. Since getting the data from the 2013 Kepler mission, our current best estimate is that there are 40 billion Earth-sized planets in the Milky Way with surface temperatures conducive to life.

Number 3: These older stars with Earth-like planets would be way ahead of us in developing interstellar travel – some of them billions of years ahead of us.

And number 4: Given that one-tenth the speed of light should be achievable, and that a ship going that speed could get from the far edge of the galaxy to the opposite far edge (a journey of 105,700 light years) in just over a million years, the galaxy could be completely colonized in a few tens of millions of years. Given billions of planets that have billions of years of head start on us, a few tens of millions of years is nothing.

So: where is everybody?

Scientists have offered a number of possible answers to Fermi’s question. Maybe the probability of life forming from nonliving matter -- or the chance that life would, within a few billion years, develop to the point of space travel -- is much lower than Fermi imagined. Or maybe extraterrestrials have swung by, but are too clever to have been detected. Maybe.

But the answer that haunts me is this conjecture: It is the nature of intelligent life to destroy itself.

Intelligence emerges in response to competition for scarce resources. If resources are plentiful, or species don’t need to outsmart other species to get them, then all species remain comparative simpletons. So wherever intelligence emerges, it necessarily comes with aggressive, instinctual drives.

When that ancient competitive, aggressive drive to consume resources, extend longevity, and reproduce is suddenly paired with powerful new technology: boom. The species destroys itself through environmental destruction or super-powerful weapons, or at least blows itself back to a pre-technological stage. That's the conjecture: that any species on a trajectory of evolving increasing intelligence will necessarily figure out how to destroy itself before it figures out how not to.

If true, it would explain why no extraterrestrials have colonized the galaxy. Perhaps this self-destruction has already happened on billions of planets. Perhaps it is now happening here.

* * *
Climate Strike! Acts 2-3: Truths Still Inconvenient. Polls.
Climate Strike! Act 4: Joy, Compassion, and the Big Picture
Climate Strike! Act 5: Thrilling Conclusion