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Attention Humanity: Wake Up and Innovate, or Face Annihilation

Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

I am going to be in Washington DC today to stand up for the planet.

I have never been much of a protest person.  I didn’t even go down to New York for the Occupy protests, although I followed them avidly on Livestream.

First of all, I hate crowds.  My element is alone, among the trees, or out on a deserted beach somewhere.

And I always had the feeling that one small body more or less could not possibly make a difference to whatever cause was being advocated.

I thought I’d be more useful as an active observer on the sidelines, using my writing and teaching to amplify the message.

But this time is different.

This week I watched Bill McKibben lead a group of about 50 people—not grubby hippies, but distinguished professionals like NASA scientist James Hansen and Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune—to  protest at the White House, submitting to arrest in a desperate bid to get some airtime for their pro-Earth movement.

This week I watched with relief as President Obama acknowledged in his State of the Union address that it is time to “do more to combat climate change,” and then was amazed and appalled to find the mainstream media pretending he had never even said anything about it, focusing their attention exclusively on the parts of his State of the Union speech dealing with the economy, jobs, and minimum wage.

In the mirrored echo chamber of the mediasphere, unless it’s a natural disaster, the environment doesn’t merit a second thought.  I had to search deep into the bowels of the New York Times site to find any mention of McKibben’s arrest and the upcoming climate rally.

In a week when a Carnival cruise liner the size of four football fields, filled with 4,000 people, found itself adrift without power in the Gulf of Mexico and it took four days to rescue the passengers and get them off the stinking, sweltering, rancid ship, I find the old Titanic coming back to me insistently as an emblem of where we are at as a human civilization.

The media is down in the ballroom frantically snapping photos and grabbing interviews with the rich celebrities as the inept captain and crew sail the ship straight into an iceberg.

When that crash comes, the glitter and glitz of the ballroom will go down just as surely as the shabby steerage quarters.

But this time there will be no safety net, no welcoming shelter from the good people of Halifax.  Or, to take the Carnival cruise as an example, no sturdy tug to tow the disabled ship to safety.

How many storms is it going to take before people wake up to the reality that we truly are at an environmental breaking point?

It is past time to focus on the fact that we face a planetary tipping point at which the concerns that most occupy our thoughts—jobs, romance, social justice, vacations, children, whatever—are going to fade away like morning dreams before the nightmare that it will be to live through the end of the Anthropocene, the human epoch.

No one wants to hear this.  No one wants to imagine that it could really happen.  But take a look at the latest charts just released by that terribly radical organization, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and you will see what should be dominating the headlines this week.

Please don’t take my word for it—go and see the data yourself.

I especially recommend the interactive graphic chart of global surface temperatures between 1884 and 2012.  If the glaring red swirling over the planet in 2010 doesn’t wake you up to the slow-motion nightmare we’re living through, well, see you on the other side.

I don’t honestly know if anything any of us can do right now will make a difference.

The poles are melting, and the methane being released from under centuries-old ice is going to dramatically speed up the warming trend over the foreseeable future.

At best, we’ve got to ADAPT to our new warmer environment, and quickly!

We need our government to stop bickering and sweating the small stuff and start focusing on the real challenge at hand: reengineering human civilization to survive a drastic change in our planetary climate.

There will be collapses of biodiversity, accompanied by population surges of some less savory species, like ticks, jellyfish, and bacteria.  There will be food shortages as croplands dry up or are flooded out.  Our 20th century electrical grid will be battered over and over by intense storms, which will also wipe out roads and bridges and eat away relentlessly at the coastlines.  There will be violence, as people start hoarding and fighting each other for increasingly scarce resources.

We need our government to start putting its might, muscle and treasure into the greatest battle of our time: surviving climate change.

President Obama tried to cast the challenge of adaptation in economic terms, talking about the potential sweet deals that could be made as we pivot to a green economy.

Sure, we need our engineers and inventors to get to work creating the tools we’ll need to survive.  We need our venture capitalists to get behind them, along with our research universities and labs.

But let’s be honest with ourselves about the situation we’re in.  We don’t have a choice between business as usual and innovation.

Our choice is between innovation or annihilation.

So I’ve finally overcome my own inertia to get myself down to Washington DC to stand with Bill McKibben and thousands of other protestors to insist that our President and Congress stop fiddling while the planet burns; stop sending up the smoke and mirrors to distract the populace; stop investing in fossil fuels and outdated technology; and start doing the work our generation must do to provide a livable future for the generations to come.


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Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez teaches comparative literature and gender studies with an activist bent at Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington, MA and blogs at Transition Times.

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