It 's taken almost 50 years for environmentalism to hit critical mass, from Rachel Carson 's Silent Spring in 1962, to Time Magazine 's April cover story on global warming, declaring "The Debate is Over ", even as its every ink drop promotes excess. (Full page ads: Toyota Formula 1, Rolex Oyster Perpetual: $US16,400, Peugeot 407 "starts at just " $US51,990, Mercedes Benz ...). "The US needs to reduce its emissions ", Sunita Nurain, director of New Delhi 's Centre for Science and Environment tells Time, "It is unacceptable and immoral that the US doesn 't take the lead on climate change ". Actually, the US does take the lead on climate change as its prime cause. The average American emits 20 times more carbon than the average Indian. Yet the greening of Time marks a turning point, just like its famous 1966 cover, which asked, Is God Dead? Today we ask: Is the Earth dying? And are we dying with it?
Yes, "billions will die before the end of the century, " according to James "Gaia " Lovelock, who believes "civilisation as it is known is unlikely to survive " - . So what kind of civilisation will take its place? While we have witnssed global warming and the increase in wild weather events, it is depressing to realise that a dozen or so other threats are stalking the future: the Great Wealth Divide, the Oil Peak, the Groundwater Peak, Hyper Consumerism, Mass Media 's False Reflection, War Without End, Nuclear Revivalism, the Spread of Megacities, Pandemics, the Rise of Lethal Ideas, the Decline of Free Speech and Toxic Leadership. In the next few days I plan to post on my site a pdf on these issues for those whp wish to embark on a dark night of the soul, stiff drink at hand, Gotterdammerung at full bore. Although maybe not, owing to the gaining momentum of the truth versus empowerment paradox. Key experts want to yell, WAKE UP, climate change may have accelerated to such a degree that it will be impossible to reverse or contain. Others want to whistle a happy tune and rave on about hydrogen fuel, organic pears and a carbon neutral lifestyle. Sometimes these are the same person.
IS THE SHOPPING RELIGION MUTATING INTO A GLOBAL SUICIDE CULT?
When mingling with climatologists, and hearing of the plight of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, there comes a point when I ask something crass: yes, but how do you really feel about our chances? Reactions are strikingly similar. Furtive glances, hand across mouth, a muted tone: "We 're fucked ". Then comes a bleak cascade of data, until I interrupt: Why don 't you say this publicly? "You 've got to give people hope ". But I wonder why can 't truth and hope be friends?
It 's lying that 's led us to the brink. We who are citizens of the incredible shrinking coalition of the formerly willing are awestruck at the deceptions of today 's democracies. Both the US and Australia have tried to gag climatologists. Both have lied about the situation in Iraq. We suffer a culture of deceit that starts at the top and filters down, until it meets a whistle blower. Whenever Major Michael Mori, a lawyer for the Marines and the US Navy appears on TV to defend the rights of Guantanamo Bay inmates, it is a reminder that nobility still flourishes down the line, a long way down the line in the case of the Pentagon. In 2003, Major Mori 's boss, General Richard Myers, famously said that his forces had only fired off 1,500 cluster bombs in Iraq, injuring just one civilian. In fact,13,000 cluster bombs were used, according to Human Rights Watch - http://hrw.org/doc/?t=arms_clusterbombs - and over 1,000 Iraqi civilians were killed, mostly children. In their inner selves, are Coalition leaders ashamed of running a blood bath in Iraq, now spilling into a civil war? There 's a whiff of a clue that they might be, which I 'll float below in a post script. Now let 's return to the issue at hand the truth/empowerment paradox.
BLINDED BY SCIENCE, TRAPPED IN A PARADOX
Last month in a boardroom on the edge of Sydney Harbour, the cruise ships gleaming in the midday sun, a leading climatologist presented the latest stats on the global predicament. "Worse than we feared ", he said, displaying mysterious graphs. I asked how long before he expected a significant rise in sea levels? (The usual answer is a hundred years). "Perhaps as soon as a decade ", he said. Okay, now what? On top of this, there 's an energy crisis. Princeton 's eminent petroleum academic, Kenneth Deffeyes, has already put a date on the oil peak last November. He has expressed a "strong conclusion that the oil fields we have already found contain 94 percent of all the oil we are ever going to find". Black gold fuels 90% of all transportation. It is involved in the production of 95% of all the goods in shops, including 95% of all food - produced as it is, mainly by industrialized means and shipped halfway round the world. In the sixties, a poster urged us to Plant a Flower Child Today, but now it might be wiser to plant fruit trees. Except that fresh water could be as scarce as hens teeth, which will indeed be scarce if bird flu strikes.
So to all those bright young things studying advertising, marketing, tourism, urban architecture, food technology, fashion, fine arts and so on, what should environmentalists be saying? That tomorrow 's shopping malls will be off the grid and T-bone steaks harvested in Petri dishes? That WallMart will re-invent itself as a farmers market, cars will run on hemp and desalinated Coke will get us through the night. Sure. Or will true leadership emerge on the world stage, extracting the West from its psychopathic imperial vortex in time to deal with a dramatic shift of priorities? The sun is indifferent to national boundaries. Aquifers are sinking. "Hungry oceans gain advantage on the kingdom of the shore. " It 's not a dumb duality of us against them, Mr President, or good against evil, at least not yet. In the longer term, everyone on Earth faces the same threats, so it makes sense to switch collectively from exploitation to regeneration. If politicians keep putting the national interest before the interest of the globe, then we may as well start hoarding baked beans and candles.
POST SCRIPT: DO WARMONGERS FEEL SHAME?
Estimates of the total number of civilians who have been killed or maimed as a result of our intervention in Iraq are hardly ever mentioned in the media or by those who barracked for war. When pushed, George Bush recently suggested 34,000. The source of this figure is Iraqi Body Count, http://www.iraqbodycount.org, which does not claim to provide a tally of total deaths. As explained by Dahr Jamail and Jeff Pflueger - http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/041306j.shtml - this figure derives from a patchy record of war-related violent deaths that have been reported by "two approved international " English language media sources, whose correspondents are thin on the ground during midnight bombing sorties. Reports from over 500 Arabic and Persian news outlets are excluded. Iraqi Body Count acknowledges that "thousands of deaths go unreported in its data base ". More thorough compilations are available.
On October 29, 2004, The Lancet published its findings of casualty rates in Iraq: 100,000 deaths, "and more ". Eighty-four percent of the deaths were caused by the actions of Coalition forces, and most of the victims were women and children. The lead author of the Lancet report, Les Roberts, has elsewhere concluded there could be double this number of civilian deaths - http://www.alternet.org/story/31508. An Iraqi humanitarian group released a report last July, counting 128,000 violent fatalities and specified that it included "only deaths confirmed by relatives, omitting the large numbers of people who have simply disappeared without trace amid the ongoing bloodletting ".
Why are these shocking statistics ignored in the West? Is it from a sense of shame, or from a fear of further inflaming the public distaste for our meddling? Journalists who keep citing the discredited figure of 34,000 are merely only quoting each other, and thus engaging in propaganda.