Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"The wisdom to follow nature’s example..."

These were my statements to the press today for the National Wildlife Federation's call for more sustainable action:

Thank you for coming today.

It is my great joy to say that the Centre region gifts us with abundant rainfall, mountain gap streams, deep wells, fertile soil for agriculture, gorgeous forests, and wildlife that brings rich experiences to all lives. As a modest gardener and naturalist (and I do mean modest), mountain biker, teacher, and father I love this place so much.

By disposition, I am an optimistic person. What isn’t to love about the Seven Mountains or the fields of the Penns Valley? Just go to Allen Seeger or Penn’s Creek and you will know what I mean.

But by forecasts and data, I am a pessimist. I doubt our collective ability to get out of this mess. As a nation, we are failing to act responsibly in the brotherhood and sisterhood of nations. As a wealthy community, much of whose wealth comes from the dizzying success of Penn State University, we are failing to act responsibly in the brotherhood and sisterhood of interconnected Pennsylvania communities. Why?

If you look at the data of the recent past and the experience of too many people in Pennsylvania and the American northeast you find troubling trends.
- Pennsylvania, according to an assessment released last year by Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Governor’s office, generates 1% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions though we only house a smaller portion of that global population.
- We see fish kills in rivers because of rising temperatures that make life great for fish parasites and awful for fish. Fishermen can tell you this. This is climate change in action.
- If you listen to farmers, like my Uncle Tony from Whitney Point, New York you know that hay crops come in almost a month earlier than they did in the 60s. And it’s not because of advances in fertilizers. Steadily rising seasonal temperatures.
- If you listen to the Union of Concerned Scientists you’ll see that temperature spikes caused by climate change hurt everything from the hemlock tree susceptible to bark beetles to dairy cows who have trouble thermoregulating in extreme heat let alone produce milk under duress. Many of us eat beef and drink milk. This will be a challenge.
- If you examine the wake of our fuel consumption, you see tragedy. Whether it’s the TVA coal ash spill almost two years ago, the Gulf oil gash and geyser, or the natural gas tragedies across the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and the delinquent companies that run them, we are confronted with the limits of our progress at the expense of people and the places where they live with the plants and animals that support them

All of these things align with the sad and quite certain statement contained in the National Wildlife Federation’s 2010 report.

Let us speak plainly. Poor and weak people and the non-human environment have paid, are paying, and will increasingly pay for our way of life. These may seem like radical statements but they are corroborated by too much data to be waved away.

If we want to live with something approximating the standards of living we enjoy, we need to act now to maximize our collective welfare in a way that stops doing what President Lyndon Johnson called an experiment with the atmosphere. This is no longer an experiment. Today, the United States plays a game of chicken with other “developing nations” that is running millions of humans off the road, runs over thousands of non-human species a year, and is in a collision course with the physical limits of our planet. The United States, for all its power and might, cannot overcome planetary physics. Nature limits us.

We rely on fossil fuels the way that dope fiends rely on heroin. We all do. In this room almost every piece of technology that we use relies on coal, natural gas, or petroleum. They will run out. Everyone knows this. You. Me. Ed. Dr. Mann. We all know. And yet we do not collectively act to change it knowing that we are driving ourselves right over an abyss. It’s like we are the alcoholics on the Titanic who’d rather fight for the last bottle of bourbon when we know that we can survive if we just drop it and get on the lifeboat…if we only knew where the lifeboat is.

I think we do know where it is. It is in a more sustainable way of life. To start, and only to start, it lives in the reduction of our dependence on the obviously disastrous path before us that will bring us to 600 ppm CO2. In part, that means a retooling of our national economy, our industry, and our education systems away from fossil fuels and focus them on the sources that have fueled organisms on this planet for billions of years – plants have harnessed the sun and birds and insects have taken flight on the wind and we all need water. With all of our ingenuity and intelligence, I hope that we can have the wisdom to follow nature’s example and sustain ourselves without eating ourselves, and the rest of nature, in the process.

Thank you. (Peter Buckland)

1 comment:

  1. awesome...right on!...your critique is perfect!