We live in truly nonsensical times. If humans were the logic-driven species we fancy ourselves to be, this dramatic problem would be the only thing we would be talking about.
Our planet is dying.
This mass-extinction is accelerating (insects—like, all of them—are now facing possible extinction in the next 100 years), and the consequences of removing pillars of our biological reality will upend human society as we know it, as a new U.N. study reports. Per the New York Times:
The 1,500-page report, compiled by hundreds of international experts and based on thousands of scientific studies, is the most exhaustive look yet at the decline in biodiversity across the globe and the dangers that creates for human civilization. A summary of its findings, which was approved by representatives from the United States and 131 other countries, was released Monday in Paris. The full report is set to be published this year.
Its conclusions are stark. In most major land habitats, from the savannas of Africa to the rain forests of South America, the average abundance of native plant and animal life has fallen by 20 percent or more, mainly over the past century. With the human population passing 7 billion, activities like farming, logging, poaching, fishing and mining are altering the natural world at a rate “unprecedented in human history.”
“For a long time, people just thought of biodiversity as saving nature for its own sake,” said Robert Watson, chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which conducted the assessment at the request of national governments. “But this report makes clear the links between biodiversity and nature and things like food security and clean water in both rich and poor countries.“
If you don’t have food and water, you don’t have a society. Millennials and Gen Zers are going to die on a fundamentally different planet than their parents were born on to, and that is the ultimate legacy of the generations which oversaw the late 20th century. This is something like the apocalypse. Eight of the ten most populous cities in the world are on coasts. Forty-four percent of the globe’s population lives within 92 miles of a coast—roughly the distance between my alma mater in western Massachusetts, UMass, and where I lived near the ocean for nearly a decade afterwards, Boston. The straightforward threat of rising sea levels is going to dramatically reshape most life on Earth here, let alone the threat wiping out entire species poses to our food and water ecosystems.
And yet, we largely get crickets or generic platitudes out of our political and economic system on this subject, instead of treating it like the dire emergency that it is. Millennials and Gen Zers, the generations who will oversee the consequences of our parents’ 20th century legacy, value a habitable planet above everything but health care in the 2020 election, and yet the leadership of the supposed “liberal” party in America cannot even fully get on board with a true grassroots movement endorsed by most of the 2020 Democratic presidential field.
This isn’t about some hippie notion of saving the Earth, but the basic survival of modern society. Mankind needs a rich, robust environment around us to thrive. A previous report by this same group of scientists estimated that nature provides $24-trillion of non-monetized benefits to humans in the Americas each year (“non-monetized benefits” meaning like purifying water, absorbing carbon dioxide, and providing the basis of medicine).
To put that $24 trillion figure in perspective, every country in the Americas south of the United States had a combined GDP of $10.5 trillion last year, the United States clocked in at $19 trillion, and Canada raked in $1.6 trillion. That means that nature provides humans, free of charge, 77% of what the entire economies of every country in the Americas provides—while most of wealth created by human economic activity goes to a select few at the top. Eight men control the same amount of wealth as 50% of mankind by destroying the planet.
Or to put this in words that American politicians can understand:
Each and every one of us is “freeloading” off the Earth to the tune of $24 trillion, while the bureaucracy of human economic activity provides a slightly better monetary benefit that almost all goes to the wealthy—a monetary benefit equivalent to roughly four and a half months of annual U.S. GDP. That $24 trillion “welfare” payment provided to every one of us by the Earth is dwindling because of human activity, and the only way to stop it is to dramatically reverse course on the current path we find ourselves on. And yet, things still get worse each and every day despite American media finally injecting this issue into the mainstream and only now acknowledging it as the problem it has always been. More and more mainstream critiques of capitalism deem it to be a “death cult,” and given the rapidly deteriorating reality of both the economic and climate math surrounding this issue, it’s difficult to call that critique anything other than an informed observation of the conscious choices that our society is making.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.