Twenty Nine Reasons People Need To Pull Their Heads Out Of The Sand
By Wanda Marie Woodward
17 May, 2008
When money speaks, the truth keeps silent.
All it takes for evil to exist is for good people to do nothing.
Corporations have been enthroned…An era of corruption in high places will follow and the money power will endeavor to prolong its reign by working on the prejudices of the people…until wealth is aggregated in a few hands…and the Republic is destroyed.
Less than two years ago, I sent an email to an acquaintance regarding some pressing topic like global environmental degradation, erosion of habeas corpus in America, or the millions of women and girls around the world who are being sold as sex slaves, victims of female genital mutilation, raped, beaten, and murdered. The response from the acquaintance shocked me, especially since she was highly educated, is a mental health professional (supposedly with lots of compassion), and has two small children who will, of course, inherit the legacy of the condition in which she and I and 6.6 billion others will leave this world. To paraphrase, she said: “Oh, I can’t read this stuff. I bury my head in the sand because there is so much and I can’t do anything about it.”
I read an article recently by a gentleman who has proposed a new diagnostic label for people who are apathetic, indifferent, or otherwise not predisposed to engage in some kind of activity to assist others who are suffering, disadvantaged, unempowered, and/or oppressed (White, 2004). The diagnosis is called “Political Apathy Disorder” and it is defined as “failure to develop a social conscience” and its “essential feature is a pervasive pattern of failing to help reduce human suffering in the world combined with overconsumption of society’s limited resources” (p. 47). Being a psychotherapist and someone who stays informed about the overwhelming challenges and dangers which are facing our planet, I was unsure whether to laugh or cry. Actually, I did both.
This acquaintance that dismissed my email was using the common defense mechanism called denial as a way to avoid the threats to her sense of well-being as well as her relatively comfortable lifestyle. It is something that people all over the world do and, while it is an understandable desire to want to avoid pain and suffering and to seek comfort, safety, and happiness, in today’s world to do so without also simultaneously helping others less fortunate will have dire effects on the entire globe. A hundred years ago, when nations were fairly isolated from each other, the consequences of indifference and inaction towards helping disadvantaged people were minimal to the person who responded with disregard. Life could go on as usual, maintaining the status quo, ignoring the long-term effects. In Buddhist lingo, the karma would take a long time to rebound. Today, that karma due to apathy and indifference is swiftly reverberating all around us, like a boomerang that just whizzes around and comes back to hit us before we can escape it. There will always be those whose very nature is to reach out to help others. We call these people altruistic. They want to help others merely for the sake of helping others, nothing else to be gained from it other than it is inherent in the nature of that person’s being to want to alleviate another person’s suffering.
It is a moral and existential imperative that we unite to overcome the greatest adversaries which confront us: ignorance, apathy, hatred, prejudice, greed, and evil. In fact, with the current state of the world, greed is synonymous with evil. There are three essential areas that I refer to as the Triad of Destruction: 1. overpopulation, 2. consumerism, and 3. capitalism. This triad is the genesis of global warming. Undergirding this triangle is a duality of avarice and ignorance. Capitalists fall into the camp of unbridled greed, some of whom are ignorant, but many are fully aware of the deleterious effects that consumerism has upon the Common Good. Most people fall into the camp of the uninformed, many of whom are so physically and psychologically drained by the day-to-day burdens of earning a dwindling living just to pay for the essentials that they either lack the time to stay educated on current events, they avoid reading more depressing news because it is too emotionally and mentally taxing or, like the acquaintance at the beginning of the article, they feel helpless and hopeless.
1. According to a Washington Post article in 1998, a poll was conducted by the New York Museum of Natural History which found that seven out of ten scientists from the American Institute of Biological Sciences are convinced that a mass extinction is underway and that within 30 years, one fifth of all living species could become extinct (Warrick, 1998). In 2005, respected scientist Professor Peter Raven, Director of the Missouri Botanical Garden, stated that, unless humankind changes behaviors, as many as two-thirds of world species could be extinct by 2100 (Collins, 2005).
2. According to World Wildlife Fund Director-General, James Leape, we would need a total of five planets to sustain the world’s population if everyone on the planet had the same consumption rate as America. This finding was reported in the 2006 Living Planet Report which is the outcome of an annual study that has been conducted since 1998 to determine the rate of change in global biodiversity and the pressure on the biosphere which manifests from the human consumption of natural resources (World Wildlife Federation, 2006a). The 2006 Report also noted that in 2003, the world exceeded biocapacity by 25%. This means that with a global population of 6.6 billion people, the world is currently consuming at a rate of 25% more than what the earth is capable of regenerating. What will that rate be when the world has 10 billion people?
3. The world’s population in 1600 was at 500 million (Leakey & Lewin, 1995). Two hundred years later in the year 1800, it had doubled to one billion. By 1940, another 140 years, the global population tripled to 3 billion. From 1940 to present day, 66 years later, the world’s population has more than doubled to 6.6 billion. It is projected to be around ten billion by 2050.
4. Global greenhouse gases due to anthropogenic causes have increased 70% between 1970 and 2004 with carbon dioxide, the most significant greenhouse gas, having increased 80% between the same 34 year period. Two other green house gases, methane and nitrous oxide, have also increased substantially and rank high in terms of a negative affect on the environment. If global average temperature exceeds 3.5 degrees Celsius, it is projected that between 40-70% of species will be at risk for extinction. Eleven of the past twelve years (1995-2006) have been the warmest years of record for global surface temperature since 1850 (IPCC, 2007, p. 1). Global warming is creating changes in the migratory patterns of animals, altering the timing of plant flowerings, causing changes in the flow of the Gulfstream, and creating changes in the ocean and the atmosphere which increase the occurrence of natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes. The primary causes are fossil fuel use (gasoline to power cars, boats, etc.) and agricultural and land use changes (deforestation, multinational farming methods, soil erosion, etc.).
5. The IPCC report says that, by 2080, 1.1 to 3.2 billion people will experience water scarcity, 200-600 million will be starving, and 2 to 7 million people each year will experience coastal flooding (cited in Vidal, 2007). As many as one billion people, or 17% of the world’s population, may be forced to abandon their homes over the next 50 years and migrate to another more habitable geographical area. Most of these people will be from poor and undeveloped countries. A combination of social, civil and military conflicts, large-scale development projects, and global environmental decline will make life inhabitable for hundreds of millions of people, mostly from Africa, south Asia, and the Middle East where, ironically, the least amount of consumption takes place.
7. When oil and gas senior executives speak to lawmakers and the public, they report smaller profit margins (around 8 to 10 percent) than when they speak to Wall Street analysts and shareholders (Slocum, 2006).
8. On a global scale, there was an average species decline between 1970 and 2000 of 40% with species in rivers, lakes and marshlands having declined by 50% during the same period (Global Biodiversity Outlook 2, 2006). Research points to declines in amphibians, African mammals, birds in agricultural lands, corals, and common fish species. The World Conservation Union, or IUCN, Red List of Threatened Species is recognized as the most reliable evaluation of the world’s species. According to the 2007 Red List, life on earth is disappearing fast and the extinction process will continue unless urgent action is taken. There is a total of 41,415 species on the Red list (IUCN, 2007). Last year, 16,118 were facing extinction and now 16,306 are threatened. The aggregate number of extinct species is 785. The Red List reports that 25% of mammals, 13% of all birds, 33% of all amphibians, and 70% of the world’s assessed plants are now threatened with extinction. One of the most disturbing statistics is that of the vertebrate family which includes mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes. The entire vertebrate family saw an increase in threatened species jump from 3,314 in 1996 to 5,742 in 2007. Life in the ocean is in peril. According to the 2007 IUCN Red List, there are some 41, 415 species of marine life listed and, out of that, 30% are at risk for extinction. Some other vertebrates facing extinction are the tigers in India which are now thought to total no more than 1,500. In 2002, there were 3,642. Of particular concern is the rapid loss of plant species. From 1996 to 2007, the number of critically endangered plant species jumped from 909 to 1,569 and the number of endangered during the same period rose from 1,197 to 2, 278. The number of vulnerable plants during that period rose from 3,222 to 4,600. Altogether, the number of plant species that are threatened jumped from 5,328 in 1996 to 8,447 in 2007. Twenty percent (20%) of the earth’s reefs have been destroyed over the past thirty years and another 50% are endangered by human activity.
9. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, electric power plants caused 67% of the total sulfur dioxide, more than 25% of the nitrogen oxides, 33% of the mercury, and 40% of the carbon dioxide emissions in the United States in 1998 (Natural Defense Resources Council, 2003). Approximately 120 million Americans live in areas with unhealthy air.
10. The use of toxins, pesticides, and chemicals over the past sixty years has posed a substantial problem for wildlife and humans. Between 1930 and 2000, the global production of man-made chemicals skyrocketed from 1 million to 400 million tons per year (World Wildlife Federation, 2006b). Since the middle of the 20th century, the amount of pesticides sprayed on crops has increased by 26%. Because these pesticides seep into the soil, the crops that are grown absorb it. Humans eat the crops which are absorbed in the body.
12. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans discarded 246 million tons of municipal solid waste in 2005 and businesses threw away 7.6 billion tons of industrial waste in the same year (EPA, 2007). This is an increase of 60% since 1980. Municipal residential waste includes items such as paper, yard trimmings, food scraps, plastics, metals, rubber, leather, wood, glass, sofas, computers, and refrigerators. It excludes industrial and hazardous waste. About 11% of landfills are made of plastic waste, a total of 26.7 million tons. Thirty five percent (35%) is made of paper, a total of 83 million tons. The amount of plastic thrown away increased from less than 1% in 1960 to 11.3% in 2003. The amount of paper discarded increased three fold between 1960 and 2003. The majority of municipal solid waste is comprised of containers and packaging followed by nondurable goods such as clothing, shoes, and other textiles. Globally, humans use 1.5 million tons of petroleum-based plastic to make bottles on an annual basis. It takes one million years for glass bottles to decompose. For aluminum cans, it takes 80 to 100 years while tin cans take 50 to 100 years. It takes a plastic coated milk carton five years to decompose and cigarette butts take anywhere from one to 12 years to degrade. It is a 25 to 40 year decomposition process for leather shoes and a 30 to 40 year process for nylon fabric. Environmentalists say that it will take 50 years for all the oil from the Exxon Valdez spill to finally degrade.
13. The World Wildlife Federation (2007) reports that the use of toxic man-made chemicals has increased from 1 million to 400 million tons between 1930 and 2000. They are seeping into the soil and into the food chain of all animals which, ultimately, ends up in the human body.
14. The tropical rainforest is a rich biosystem and contains the greatest diversity of species of biomes on earth which is why there is so much attention given to its preservation. This system is a home for 50-90% of all living organisms and to 90% of primates. It provides home and sanctuary to 50 million creatures that are unable to survive anywhere other than in the tropical rainforest. Serious threats from deforestation, road construction, clearing the land for agricultural purposes, and climate change are decimating it and its flora of animal wildlife. The logging industry needs the wood from forests to provide products such as paper, wood for home and commercial construction, packaging, and a host of others.
McDonald’s needs 800 square miles of trees to make the amount of paper that they need solely for their packaging of products. As more and more people eat hamburgers and steaks, factory farms are necessary to grow the livestock. In the South American Amazon region, there are 100,000 beef ranchers. Norman Myers, the Oxford University environmentalist and expert on biodiversity, was the first to bring widespread attention to deforestation when he wrote The Sinking Ark in 1979 in which he estimated that more than 80,000 square miles per year of forests are being felled. This amounts to one acre per second being cut down. In the Amazon, there is an average of 1,500 acres of forest cut down each day.
15. Today, 50% of the forests that originally covered 48% of the earth are gone (NRDC, 2004). Americans use 27% of the worldwide consumption of commercially harvested wood yet only 5% of the world’ population is in the United States. The United States is the largest consumer and producer of industrial wood and the world’s largest importer of wood (Shugart, Sedjo, & Sohngen, 2003). In the construction industry, approximately 1/6 of the wood that is delivered is never used. It is predicted that, by the year 2050, global wood consumption will increase by 50%. In the U.S., more than 50% of the coastal temperate rainforests that once covered areas from California to Alaska have been destroyed. Mexico is losing an estimated 600,000 to 2.5 million acres of forests each year. Most of the mahogany exported from Peru is illegally logged by corporations, a major threat to forests all over the world. Canada provides 80% of their forest products to U.S. consumers. Only 8% of Canada’s valuable boreal forest is sufficiently protected.
16. The United States has lost over 50% of the wetlands in the lower 48 states. The rate of loss is predicted at 60,000 acres per year. Louisiana has lost 500,000 acres of wetlands since the 1950s (Pew Oceans Commission, 2003).
17. Humans have wiped out 90% of the ocean’s large fish (World Wildlife Federation, 2006) and exploited 52% of the world’s fish populations. Of the remaining fish population, 24% are overexploited, depleted or making a recovery from collapse. The world now has only 17% of the ocean fish that it had 100 years ago. In 2004, 156 million tons of seafood was consumed, three times the average amount of per person seafood eaten in 1950 (Worldwatch Institute, 2007). During the 1980s and early 1990s, scientists estimated that 25% of the fish that were caught (60 billion pounds each year) were discarded (Pew Oceans Commission, 2003). It is clear that the 19th century biologist, Thomas Huxley, was mistaken when he made the statement that all the sea fisheries were inexhaustible. The global industrialized fishing fleet is currently 2.5 times larger than what the ocean can sustain. What that means is that humans are consuming 2.5 times more than what the oceans can regenerate.
18. Invasive species is largely a man-made act in which one species is purposely moved from its natural environment and transported to another environment resulting in the extinction of species. Few people are aware that invasive species is one of the most serious global environmental challenges that we face today. Hundreds of extinctions have resulted from invasive species. The impact of alien invasive species is immediate and, in most cases, irreversible. Some species relocate unintentionally, but it is still through man-made intervention such as when a species attaches itself to the bottom of ships and is transported to another area. When foreign species are imported into the U.S., it does generate billions of dollars for the economy, but it also poses threats to agriculture and the environment (Schmitz & Simberloff, 2005). Global trade is a direct contributor to this threat to nature.
20. Paul Krugman (2002), an economist at MIT and regular columnist for The New York Times, reports that in a 29 year period between 1970 and 1999, the average annual salary in America rose ten percent (10%) whereas, during the same period, according to Fortune magazine, the average real annual compensation of the top CEOs in America rose more than 1,000 times the pay of ordinary American workers and, according to a 2001 Congressional Budget Office study, between 1979 and 1997, the after-tax incomes of the top 1 percent of American families rose 157 percent (157%). Krugman (2005) reports that the average income of the top one percent (1%) of Americans has doubled since 1973 and the income of the top 0.1% has tripled. According to the United Nations Development Report (United Nations, 1999), the net wealth of the ten wealthiest billionaires is $133,000,000,000 (133 billion dollars), more than 1.5 times the total national income of the least developed countries. Doug Henwood (1998), in Wall Street: How It Works and for Whom, writes that the richest 5% of Americans own 95% of all stock shares and the top 1% of the population owns 25% of the productive capital and future profits of corporate America. In Henwood’s (2003) After the New Economy, he exposes that the richest 10% of Americans possess over ¾ of all the wealth in America and the bottom 50% has almost none of the wealth, but notes that they do have substantial debt. In a government study, the group which had the largest growth in total income between 2000 and 2005 was the top 0.001% individuals who make $1 million or more and which grew by more than 26% during these five years (Johnston, 2007). In the recent government report of the top 0.001% who make $1 million+, that group not only walked away with almost 47% of the total income gains in 2005 compared to 2000, but, according to Citizens for Tax Justice, they captured 62% of the savings from the reduced tax rates on long-term capital gains and dividends for the wealthy that President Bush signed into law in 2003 (Johnston, 2007). If the richest 5% of Americans own 95% of all stock shares and the top 1% of the population owns 25% of the productive capital and future profits of corporate America, it does not take a math genius to deduce that President Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy have overwhelmingly benefited 5% of Americans and have resulted in vastly deteriorated economic outlooks for the other 95%. The Citizens for Tax Justice reports that out of 134 million American taxpayers, those who make $10 million or more—a total of 11,433 taxpayers---saved almost $1.9 million each and reaped 28% of the investment tax cut savings. As an aggregate, these 11,433 Americans saved $21.7 billion in taxes on their investments as a direct result of President Bush’s tax cuts for the top wealthiest in America while the other 90% of American who make less than $100,000 a year saved an average of $318 on each investment.
21. One investment bank has commented that the current period for corporations is “the golden era of profitability” (Greenhouse & Leonhardt, 2006, p. A.1) with corporate profits climbing to the highest amount since the 1960s. Even though productivity levels have risen by double digits in the past decade, American workers’ pay increases have risen by less than 2%. As Herbert (2007) describes it this way: “If your productivity increases by 18% and your pay goes up 1%, you’ve been dealt a hand full of jokers in which jokers aren’t wild” (p. A.19). Most productivity gains have gone straight into the pockets of corporate executives. The savings rate for middle and poor class is now negative and more Americans are filing for bankruptcy than they are for divorce (Herbert, 2007). Moreover, 30 million Americans, or 25% of the U.S. workforce, make less than $9.00 per hour, or just $17,280 per year and, according to 2004 U.S. Census Bureau statistics, 37 million Americans now live in poverty (Hartmann, 2006).
22. Multinational corporations own animal patents to clone animals. The first animal patent that was issued was in 1988 for the “Oncomouse,” a genetically manipulated mouse to develop cancers that mirror human diseases. The research was conducted at Harvard University, but it was DuPont that was awarded the European Patent 169672 on the mouse in 1992. More than 660 animal patents have been issued in the United States since 1988. This means corporations have power over the DNA structure if cloning is not banned. If there is no ethical and moral line to be drawn with cloning of animals, how long will it take until humans are cloned? What happens if another Hitler or Stalin assume power?
23. More than 75 percent of workers in most of the industrial nations are performing work that is primarily simple and repetitive (Rifkin, 2004). In the United States, out of 124 million workers, more than 90 million jobs are at risk for replacement by machines. Currently, 3.6 billion out of 5.4 billion people in the world lack adequate cash or credit to purchase goods and services (Barnet & Cavanagh, 1994). Human androids are being made that will, one day, be indiscernible to a real human being (Whitehouse, 2005). Will they have a conscience? Not only will these androids take over work because of their slavish, blind obedience to authority and the wealthy capitalists, how will billions of unemployed real human beings survive and how will a real human being know if they are marrying a human being or an android? Will androids have legal and political rights? If so, without a conscience, how will they vote and what will they demand? If they become leaders, what will become of the world?
24. Corporations and individuals now own patents on 20 human pathogens (Crichton, 2007). This allows the owner of the patents to halt research, prevent medical testing, and to withhold vital information from a patient or doctor. A corporation can charge any amount for tests related to that disease. The owner of the genome for Hepatitis C is paid millions of dollars by researchers to study the disease. Not surprisingly, researchers turn to studying other less expensive diseases. When SARS was spreading around the world, medical researchers were reticent to study it because of the patent concerns behind it. The inhibition of innovation and research makes the patenting of human genes particularly insidious. Corporations literally have the power to prevent the finding of cures for disease. Perhaps the most disturbing patent is that of U.S. patent 5,476,995 on Tracey the sheep. Tracey had human genes injected into her mammary glands to produce a certain protein. The alteration of her genetic make-up allows the two companies which own her, Pharmaceutical Proteins Ltd. and Bayer, to describe her as a human invention. This takes the concept of Orwellian doublespeak and turns it into the more accurate phrase: diabolical deception.
25. Millions of birds, cats, dogs, farm animals, fish, mice, monkeys, rats, rabbits and a host of other domestic and wild animals are subjected to animal testing by psychologists, biologists, biochemists, physiologists, and geneticists. In a 2005 study, it was reported that the United States used 1.14 million animals (excluding rats, mice, birds and cold-blooded species), and an estimated 100 million mice for research (PETA, 2006a). Of these, it is known that 84, 662 animals suffered pain without pain relief. In the same study, it was found that Canada used 2.32 million animals for research and 167,000 animals were subjected to experiments that cause severe pain. In Great Britain, a total of 2.45 million animal experiments were conducted.
26. The military testing of weapons in which they use animals as subjects is a particularly horrible practice, but the public remains largely uninformed about it. According to PETA (2006b), the U.S. military uses AK-47 rifles, biological and chemical weapons, and nuclear blasts to test on animals. In 2001, the Department of Defense (DOD) reported that more than 330,000 dogs, cats, guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, nonhuman primates, rats, mice, dolphins, fish, and other animals had been subjects in their military tests. This excludes the experiments conducted by nongovernmental organizations in which sheep, goats, and pigs are shot in wound experiments, so the aggregate number of military tests in which animals are used is likely underreported.
27. President George W. Bush has backed out of important treaties since gaining power. He backed out of the Kyoto Treaty after assuming office in 2001 which meant he refused to honor commitments to work with over 100 other countries who had signed the treaty in addressing global warming. That was troubling enough. Then in December 2001 Bush announced that the United States would no longer honor the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that the U.S. signed with Russia in which there was a sort of balance of powers established. This withdrawal marked the first formal unilateral withdrawal of a major power from a nuclear arms treaty and it also triggered Russia to withdraw from its commitments under the START II arms reduction treaty. If that wasn’t alarming enough, in 2002, the Department of Defense presented the Nuclear Posture Review to Congress which expanded the range of situations in which the U.S. could use nuclear weapons allowing the option of using nuclear weapons against non-nuclear nations. This was another withdrawal from an agreement the U.S. had made in 1995 when it said it would not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon parties unless they attacked the U.S. while allied with another nuclear-weapon country. The Nuclear Posture Review to Congress also allowed pre-emptive attacks and permitted the development of nuclear warheads. In November 2006, Bush posted plans on a public website stating intentions to build nuclear weapons. Immediately following, six Arab nations made formal announcements that they were launching nuclear programs of their own. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced that Saudia Arabia, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, the United Arab of Emirates, and Egypt had revealed their nuclear ambitions the prior month and were giving formal notice of those plans. Arms experts called this announcement a “stunning reversal of policy” in the Arab world because of a long past of commitments to a nuclear free Middle East. While the six countries told the IAEA that their intention was the pursuit of nuclear energy, not nuclear weapons, it is clear that nuclear energy technology can be turned into weaponry. Then in mid 2007, Bush announced he was going to build a missile shield in Eastern Europe. Vladimir Putin responded by notifying NATO governments that Russia would suspend its obligations under the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, a cold war treaty that limited arms proliferation. Putin said that the bullying of President Bush was forcing Russia to make this move particularly with two major moves: the combination of the U.S. backing away from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and its intention to rearm Eastern Europe.
28. There are currently (as of April 2008) nine countries that have nuclear weapons: United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, North Korea, China, India, Pakistan and Israel.
29. Following the bombing of Japan, a group of American atomic scientists published an article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) establishing the Doomsday Clock and set it at 7 minutes before the close of midnight. It was intended to be a stark symbol of how close the world was approaching total obliteration. In 2006, the BAS directors and affiliated scientists met to reassess what the most grievous threats to life on the planet are today. The decision was made that global warming is second only to nuclear annihilation and so the Doomsday clock was moved up by two minutes. It is now set at five minutes before midnight.
The informed, compassionate, and active are tasked with daunting and overwhelming challenges. It is imperative for us to build bridges and remain connected during these profoundly troubling times. Let us persevere, stay informed, remain sober and realistic, and act with moral conscience on the scientific information that is available to us. And let us keep hope alive.
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