Thursday, June 23, 2011

Choices We Face

One of the remarkable insights provided by Christopher Lasch's The Culture of Narcissism was the prevalence in the mid- to late-1970's of what Lasch called "survival literature". The category "survival" permeated every aspect of American life - from cooking to politics to business. The apocalyptic sentiment was rampant at a time of declining wages, stagnant economic growth, and the beginning of the decline of American post-WWII international political hegemony. The choices, it seemed, were no longer accommodation to a new set of realities. Instead, the choices were either ignore the reality and pretend we were a powerful nation still growing, still full of possibility or surrender to the inevitable collapse, eking out whatever meager remnants could be salvaged from the wreckage.

I wonder what Lasch would have made of our times? With our economy in a shambles, shuffling through stagnation to the edge of collapse; our political system deadlocked on trivia and irrelevancies; entrenched yet already irrelevant power structures demanding the maintenance of the political and economic and social status quo or risk the threat of the collapse that always seems to be around the next corner. Unlike forty years ago, when the problems we currently face were still either nascent or perhaps even theoretical, the challenges we currently face are, in fact, quite dire, limiting our choices should be desire to continue to exist, even if in a different form.

Among the many pieces of the puzzle challenging us to decide to act or not for our common survival is the release a few days ago from a group called the International Program on the State of the Oceans (IPSO). The summary of a recent workshop held at Oxford University, the IPSO report is dire, indeed.
The 3 day workshop, co-sponsored by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), looked at the latest science across different disciplines.

The 27 participants from 18 organisations in 6 countries produced a grave assessment of current threats — and a stark conclusion about future risks to marine and human life if the current trajectory of damage continues: that the world's ocean is at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history.

Delegates called for urgent and unequivocal action to halt further declines in ocean health.
The report summary is available as a .pdf document, but the main findings include the effect of human activity upon warming, acidification, and anoxia. Further, while the changes the scientific literature tracks are consistent with the IPCC findings, some are actually more rapid than predicted, presenting a grave threat, including mass extinction.

Cheery thought, that.

So, as with so much else, we are presented with evidence that is forcing us to make serious choices. Yet we do not have any structures in place - not politically, not socially - to deal responsibly with the choices with which we are confronted. At some point, when the worst does begin to occur, someone, somewhere, will insist, "How could we have known?" Well, we did know. It is up to us, the people, to lead on this, if we care anything at all about all life on this planet doing more than just surviving.

Virtual Tin Cup

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