We may have a livable planet, or we may have unlimited growth. We cannot have both.
Photo by Vincent Yu/AP
I could tell you that the global population in 1955, the year my father was born, was 2.7 billion people. I could tell you that that at the time of writing, the world’s human population is estimated at 7.4 billion. For the first time in our history, a single species has become a global collective force powerful enough to transform the climate of the entire planet.
I could site endless stats about CO2 levels or projections on how long we have to turn things around, but this is not an article to convince you, the reader, of scientific reality.
We are the only species on the planet that has the ability to write, and with that gift we have chosen to use our words to codify the willful and purposeful destruction of our own living environment for the religion of economic growth.
I could tell you that Sweden’s highest peak has lost a metre of ice per year and now stands 24 metres shorter than it did in 1995. I could tell you that the July 2019 European heat wave killed 868 people in Paris and one person in Belgium. I could tell you that the same heat wave moved over to Greenland, melting 12.5 billion tonnes of ice in just one day, and 197 billion tonnes in a single month (producing shocking footage). I could tell you that Tuktoyaktuk, an Inuvialuit hamlet in the Northwest Territories, is now losing its coastline through melting permafrost and erosion. The town of fewer than 1,000 people is now considering a $10 million plan to prevent further damage.
I could tell you that Iceland held a funeral for their first glacier that has disappeared, and that the country’s prime minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, was present. She commemorated the event with a plaque that reads “In the next 200 years all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.”
The memorial plaque honours the first glacier lost to climate change in Iceland. Photo by Jeremie Richard/AFP/Getty Images.
I could tell you that the Amazon rainforest is on fire, and that since 1970, over 700,000 square kilometres of its biodiversity-rich landscape have been destroyed. I could tell you that JBS, a meat packaging company in Brazil, slaughters 13 million animals per day. So it goes.
I could tell you that since 1950, humans have created 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic, only 9% of which gets recycled. I could tell you that governments continue to put more money into recycling programs promoting ‘eco-consumerism’, rather than banning all single-use plastics outright.
I could tell you that neonicotinoid legalization has devastated the bee population, and that it took Canada years to begin phasing them out of use. Rachel Carson gave us Silent Spring in 1962 and Canada banned DDT in 1985, yet we are slow to learn the lessons of unleashing massive amounts of chemicals into our environment. I could tell you that the Anishinaabeg of Robinson Huron Treaty land have seen forests bombarded with aerial applications of glyphosate that decimate animal populations. The Government of Canada OK’d the use of the chemical and continues to insist that glyphosate is not harmful.
I could tell you that Canada’s spy agency, CSIS, monitors environmental activists and gives those reports to the fossil fuel companies they are protesting. I could tell you that the Premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney, created an anti-environmentalist war room and, shortly after declaring a win on the repeal of the carbon tax, was forced to re-schedule the vote after forest fire smoke flooded the legislature. This is, somehow, not satire. Kenney has decided that $30 million taxpayer dollars is best used to fight environmentalists.
I could tell you that Australia had to invent a new colour for the weather map, because the outback hit 49 degrees celsius. Yet after it snowed in Australia during their winter in August, Dinesh D’souza - US Republican provocateur - tweeted to his 1.3 million followers, “Global warming comes to Australia. Unless you want to believe your lying eyes!” As if the half-baked expertise of a convicted fraudster is proof positive that climate change is some sort of liberal-scientist-generated hoax.
Ours is a culture that doesn’t seriously consider the environmental impacts of our actions; that says it doesn’t matter if one day the most massive forest ecosystem in the world is wiped out. After all, we needed beef, we needed soy. It doesn’t matter if we melt the ice: it “opened up” new resources. It doesn’t matter if we filled the oceans with plastic and filled our air and water with micro plastics, or deluded ourselves into thinking recycling makes it all go away: it was convenient. It doesn’t matter that governments are surveilling environmentalists and Indigenous peoples as threats: they are threats to our business partners. It doesn’t matter that Australia added a new colour to its weather maps: it still snowed and conservatives got to troll liberals for part of one day’s news cycle. It doesn’t matter that we poisoned everything to protect our crops: we needed stronger chemicals because the bugs evolved after repeated applications, and that meant the old chemicals didn’t work anymore.
It is as if we do not want to imagine life without products that have only existed for several decades, or even more daring—to adopt new ways. We all walk through the grocery store and are disgusted by the mountains of plastic created by food packaging. We all know what needs to be changed. Alternative and compostable solutions already exist.
Despite our advances, despite our knowledge, despite our ability to to look back on what we have done and project a horrifying future—despite all that—we still cannot use the power of our words or our laws to label what needs to be labelled and protect what needs to be protected. In our media and this age of memes, we absorb the broadcasts of those denying scientific facts or acting in the interest of industries that stand to lose profit should the world begin to finally move on from fossil fuels. We watch election cycles in which leading candidates claim to support the environment, but in practice do nothing of the sort.
We do not respect our planet, we do not respect our environment, and we show it every day: in our daily lives, in our culture, in our consumerism and in our political narratives. We are subservient to the most corrupt aspects of capitalism that insist if things don’t stay the same, and the world’s wealthiest are unable to accumulate capital at the expense of our planet and our health, that our society and economy will collapse.
We have silenced and suffocated potential emerging technologies in favour of continuing subsidies for highly dangerous and destructive fossil fuel companies that contribute to the human-caused shift in the composition of our atmosphere.
We need to decide what we value more: a healthy planet in which our natural bounty is harnessed to protect the ecosphere and sustain a livable home for all, or the sale of that bounty to the highest bidder, and the destruction of our collective ecosystem in the name of economic development. Both of these choices have consequences. Only one of them leads to a better future for the rest of humanity.
Graham Hnatiuk is a farmer, artist and environmentalist, who is currently running a third generation market gardening farm with his father in Manitoba. He is the frontman of indie rock band Hearing Trees.