Environmental Justice

Cannibalizing the Planet

June 15, 2017 – By Michael Drohan

In 2014 a tragic event took place off the coast of Newfoundland, when nine rare blue whales became trapped in ice and died. Surprisingly, two of these whales were washed ashore in Trout River and Rocky Harbor, in Newfoundland and Labrador respectively. Normally blue whales sink to the bottom of the ocean when they die but for unknown reasons these two were washed ashore.

Blue whales are the earth’s largest mammal, weighing up to 200 tons and 100 feet in length. The 2014 whale deaths could be directly attributed to global warming, and specifically to a portion of the Arctic ice shelf breaking off and preventing the whales from rising to the surface to breathe. This tragedy of the blue whales is, however, but a potent symbol of the deleterious effects of human-caused climate change on all forms of life, including human, on planet earth.

This latest blue whale tragedy followed more than a century of whale fishing, which had already drastically reduced the number of blue whales in the oceans. When the Norwegian Svend Foyn invented a special harpoon fitted on a steamboat for killing blue whales, it is estimated that 350,000 of these magnificent creatures inhabited the oceans. But after a century of whaling, their numbers have been reduced to an estimated 10,000. Clearly, blue whales are highly endangered, even though whaling is outlawed since 1966. Climate change is the new threat to their survival.

In a recent interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, Noam Chomsky made the claim that “the Republican Party is the most dangerous organization in human history.”. To substantiate his apparently outrageous statement, Chomsky asked, “has there ever been an organization in human history that is dedicated , with such commitment, to the destruction of organized human life on earth?”

Chomsky further bolstered his case by observing that all the Republican candidates for President in the 2016 elections were climate change deniers. Moreover, nearly 100 percent of Republican House members and Senators are also climate change deniers and opponents of any control on fossil fuel consumption and pollution. This allegation of Chomsky and others, however, does not alter the truth  that the Democrats and Democratic Party are also no great shakes in the climate change stakes. In the Paris Climate Change Accords of 2016, at the behest of the US and President Obama, the agreement was whittled down to voluntary standards and commitments that each country designed for itself.

With the election of Donald Trump as President in 2016 and his accession to office, it seems fair to say that climate change denial is now the official policy of the US. The go ahead has been given to the Dakota Access Pipeline. Trump’s proposed budget greatly reduces funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, and a man who argued for the abolition of the organization, Scott Pruitt, has been named its Secretary. The new Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is a former CEO of Exxon Mobil. So it is hardly an exaggeration to say that access to and control of oil resources will be at the center of foreign and domestic policy. Case in point is the choice of Saudi Arabia as the country chosen for the first foreign visit of President Trump. His visit glows with symbolism and spells danger to Mother Earth and all forms of life on earth.

The latest development in this descent into the abyss is the decision of President Trump to withdraw from the Paris Accords on June 1, 2017. “In order to fulfill my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord… but begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris accord or an entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers,” Trump stated. It is difficult not to be shocked by the cognitive dissonance of this pronouncement and its overtones of George Orwell’s 1984: “War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength”. In Trump’s world, to protect America and its citizens is to ensure that the earth will not be able to sustain life. In the age of Trump we might add to Orwell’s 1984 dictum: Life is Death and Death is Life.

It would be dishonest to allege that the calamity that is upon us and the planet was an invention of Trump and his associates, enablers and sycophants. Nor is it true to say that the US is the only culprit for the present predicament. It is fair to say, however, that the US and the other developed countries have been the principal polluters and consumers of fossil fuels and should therefore be the leaders in undoing the wrongs done. Our task at this juncture in history is to fight back in every way possible to preserve the planet and its wonderful diversity of life.

Michael Drohan is a member of the Editorial Collective and the Board of the Thomas Merton Center.

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