By Ralph Nader
March 8, 2019
Citizens challenging the towering threat of climate crisis should never underestimate the consequences of our dependence on fossil fuel corporations. Real engagement with the worsening climate disruption means spending more of our leisure hours on civic action. The fate of future generations and our planet depends on the intensity of these actions.
This was my impression after interviewing Dahr Jamail, author of the gripping new book, The End of Ice, on my Radio Hour. Jamail, wrote books and prize-winning articles, as the leading freelance journalist covering the Bush/Cheney Iraq war and its devastating aftermath. For his latest book, Jamail went to the visible global warming hot spots to get firsthand accounts from victims of climate disruption. His gripping reporting is bolstered by facts from life-long specialists working in the regions he visited.
Readers of The End of Ice are taken on a journey to see what is happening in Alaska, the mountain forests of California, the coral reefs of Australia, the heavily populated lowlands of South Florida, the critical Amazon forest, and other areas threatened by our corporate-driven climate crisis.
Jamail, an accomplished mountaineer, precisely illustrates the late great environmentalist, Barry Commoner’s first law of ecology. Namely, that “everything is connected to everything else.” Jamail makes the connection between the rising sea levels and the untold catastrophes engulfing forests, mountains, and the wildlife on land and in the sea. Jamail is not relying on computer models. What he is seeing, photographing, and experiencing is often worse than what the models show in terms of accelerating sea level rises and the melting ice of the glaciers.
Jamail’s trenchant conversations with bona fide experts who have spent a lifetime seeing what mankind has done to the natural world, presents a compelling case of the threat the climate crisis poses to human survival.
Jamail, near the end of his narrative, writes: “Disrespect for nature is leading to our own destruction… This is the direct result of our inability to understand our part in the natural world. We live in a world where we are acidifying the oceans, where there will be few places cold enough to support year-round ice, where all the current coastlines will be underwater, and where droughts, wildfires, floods, storms, and extreme weather are already becoming the new normal.”
If you don’t know that melting ice and permafrost is a big tragedy, then that is all the more reason to read this book and immerse yourself in its vivid prose.
His chapter on south Florida and its millions of residents is probably the one scenario that will bring the alarming message home to people in coastal communities worldwide. South Florida could be underwater in fifty years or less. Many of the houses, buildings and infrastructures are located only a few feet or yards above sea level. Engineers and some city officials see Miami Beach as doomed and say Floridians must prepare for evacuations.
There are other more approaching, intermediate dangers. As Jamail writes: “One major source of concern is the Florida aquifer. Once that water is contaminated by saltwater, it is over.”
Already, some banks will not provide 30 year home mortgages for vulnerably located houses. Some home values along the ocean are starting to be adversely affected. Insurance companies are reluctant to publicize their projections but their actuarial tables are not, shall we say, consumer friendly.
Then there are the lethal-storm surges during major hurricanes as sea levels and high tides rise relentlessly.
Most businesses, people, and municipalities are looking the other way. Two-term Governor Rick Scott (a corporate crook) even prohibited state employees from uttering or writing the words “climate change” in any state documents. It is admittedly hard to face such catastrophe while the sun is shining and most normal life continues. In 2017, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave Florida Power and Light, the go-ahead to build two new nuclear power plants (they’re too expensive and won’t be built) to join its aging plants on the beach. Shades of the Fukushima disaster in Japan 8 years ago.
None of these warnings are recent. Climate scientists warned President Lyndon Johnson about the dangers associated with carbon release in the atmosphere in 1965. President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore released a detailed, urgent, report, with pictures and graphs, about climate disruption in 1993 to demonstrate that the clock was ticking. Unfortunately, in the following seven years, they mostly did what the auto industry wanted them to do—nothing.
Some of the most poignant passages in Jamail’s book are the informed cries and worries of the onsite specialists he interviewed. People you have never heard of, but who should be heard all the time. One of them, Dr. Rita Mesquita, a biologist with the largest research institute in Brazil for the Amazon forest says, “We are not telling the general public what is really going on.” While the general public is spending more time in virtual reality and, with growing urbanization, becoming estranged from nature, this ominous disconnect is widening.
The new president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, has openly vowed to bolster more commercial development in the Amazon and on indigenous tribal land.
How will India’s billion plus people get their water if its rivers dry up because the glaciers in the Himalayas have melted? How do you relocate 30 million people from Mumbai from rising sea levels? How do you head off spreading diseases due to habitat destruction? Meanwhile, 100 corporations (e.g. ExxonMobil, Shell, and state entities) continue to be the source of 71% of total global carbon dioxide emissions.
There are 600 cable channels in the U.S. transmitting largely junk programs. How about one percent of them (six) being dedicated to the global stories and urgencies of climate catastrophes, and to how movements like Drawdown (of greenhouse gases) are succeeding in cutting these menaces (see Drawdown by Paul Hawken) around the world?
Think about what we should be doing with some of our time for our descendants so as not to have them curse us for being oblivious, narcissistic ancestors!
We can start with instructing our Congress to deploy its transformative leverage over the economy. The only reason Congress has been an oil, gas, and coal toady, instead of an efficient, renewable energy force, is because we have sat on the sidelines watching ExxonMobil be Congress’ quarterback.