Clearly, we have a catastrophic problem on our hands. But climate change isn't it. In fact, climate change isn't a problem at all – to be precise, climate change is merely a very acute symptom of a much, much larger matrix of problems that, if left undiagnosed, will rapidly lead to limitless, albeit unnecessary, suffering for every living creature on the planet.
Ironically, the climate change debate itself is an extremely potent anesthetic for those on all sides of the argument. Pose the question to any good scientist or well-informed environmentalist, "Is the extreme weather we're having this summer caused by climate change?" and we can give you only one definitive answer: maybe. Even if we could convince the majority of the public that all the terrifying math in the world is real...then what?
In a culture that habitually treats symptoms without examining the underlying causes of a disease, it's really no wonder that even the world's foremost environmentalists remain fixated on the warning light while the engine seizes. On another level, perpetual misdiagnosis of a problem gives us all a very convenient excuse not to participate in the solution. As with the overpopulation argument, it's easy to understand how discussions of climate change can so easily segue into that classic bit of cul-de-sac logic, "Well, there's nothing I can do about it anyway..."
So, what is the problem, who is to blame, and how can it be solved? To understand our current predicament, we'll need to back up a bit....
Slowly but surely throughout the course of history, a small faction of power-hungry über opportunists have taken control of the main systems that sustain our basic needs – food and fuel – and commodified them. In other words, a few enterprising masterminds have successfully identified the most critical things that people need to survive, and found ways to profit by controlling them. If these influential individuals had been altruistic rather than covetous, they might have developed and implemented what are known as "appropriate technologies" – solutions that are adapted to conditions, materials, and labor at hand, and designed to maximize efficiency and minimize cost, waste, and environmental impact. As we know, when altruistic geniuses such as Buckminster Fuller and Nikola Tesla do come along, the über opportunists have their ways of discrediting, undermining, and negating their ideas.
The über opportunists are also über marketing specialists. They have manufactured needs for their products and planned for their obsolescence. They have cornered markets, so that the very same company that sells electricity sells products that use electricity – the less efficient the product, the more money the company makes. The sicker we are, the more the pill-makers earn. Under the guise of feeding the world, the chemical industry thrives while small farmers perish. The opportunists' PR campaign is so successful that we have even come to refer to these manufacturers of global inequality, waste, and disease as "job creators" when the jobs they create serve only to gild their own lilies, not to serve the families, communities, or environments in which we live. It is in their interest to keep us fighting amongst ourselves. The less united we are, the more we have to struggle, the less time we have leftover to think about where we're headed.
So here we are, a good ways down the road the über opportunists have laid out for us. We are all looking around as a global society, all coming to the realization that we've been duped. Collectively, we know we must stop going down this road...but how, when we've come to rely so heavily on the system that the über opportunists have created? How, when an entire culture is structured around consumption, inefficiency, and waste – and when so many of us rely on the flawed system for our livelihoods – can we suddenly change course?
There are no easy answers. Realizing that there is a problem is a critical first step. The next one is to correctly identify it. Many of us can see for ourselves, without any additional scientific evidence, that pollution is a major cause of ill health. Toxins in our air, food, and water cause cancer and a host of other diseases. Whether or not humans are changing the climate, it's very easy to understand that humans are causing pollution, and pollution is making us sick...not "maybe", not in 5 years or 100 years – NOW.
Who is to blame – the über opportunists who are the architects of the current system? The people who unwittingly (or not) build and maintain the system? It doesn't really matter. What matters now is that we hone in on the solution...
The obvious but rarely articulated solution – impeccable environmental stewardship – is as complex as the problem, and strategies for its achievement will be as diverse as every single individual who participates in it. It is a tragic irony that willingness to join in the solution is inversely proportional to the amount one is contributing to the problem.
Another critical obstacle to the immediate implementation of this solution is a fundamental sense of alienation from nature that has been intensifying since the 17th century when people first began to study the world through the lens of the telescope and microscope. These marvelous tools lent early scientists a profound sense of separation from their subjects. Suddenly the world was broken into parts that could be deciphered using mathematics, physics, astronomy, and biology. We have been slowly forgetting that we were once part of nature, that we can study ecosystems using math, but the environment is not math – it is us.
Until we come to the collective, visceral realization that by harming nature we are doing very direct harm to ourselves, all the data in the world – including dramatic images on the TV news or even right outside our window – will do little to move us to action. Before enough of us can become inspired to participate in impeccable environmental stewardship on the scale necessary to recover from the damage already done, we'll need to remember that we are nature.
Let's just drop all the numbers for a while and take in the smell of a blade of grass or the sound of a cricket. Please hurry - we don't have much time.