In 2005 I wrote an anguished piece for Counterpunch based on a visit to the Virgin Islands, "Cathedrals in sea decline: Reef should show how creation is knit together." This is what I wrote:
So what am I for?I'm back in the Caribbean and it hasn't been a very good eight years to judge by the beaches. One guide points, framed by signs of serious erosion, "Oh yes, the beach used to go out to there." Another, "See the groins (rock piles) out there? You used to be able to walk on the sand to them." The rock piles are submerged fifty feet from a narrowing strip of sand.
I am for the common wealth of society. I am for our common wealth, the coral reefs, rivers and streams, the Everglades, the clean air and clean water life requires.
I am for fair and equitable assessment of costs to growth, so that the road paved with good intentions and concrete made from limestone is not also a six-lane highway to perdition.
I am for the coral reef and every action that washes one generation after the next, unguided by human hand. I am for Jerusalem that is, like the coral reef, an edge of a place.
Without an edge of a place to penetrate the mystery of creation, we are lost, and Jerusalem is nothing but a city expressing mankind’s most crippling tendencies.
So when people ask what I am for, my answer has to do with space and breathing room, and the urgency of returning economic imperatives and false statistics to the lower rungs of the ladder we climb to reach a useful and productive life, measured not by consumption of valuable possessions but by appreciation, respect and caring for the gifts we have been given as caretakers and stewards for future generations.
In South Florida, stories about washed away beaches and US Army Corps projects to put sand back are routine. It's big business mining sand in the Bahamas and elsewhere. The Chambers of Commerce and hotel associations are adamant about the importance of renourishing the beaches, even if it costs -- and it does -- hundreds of millions of taxpayer and visitor dollars.
We all have our favorite beaches, and most of us are concerned about climate change, but it never occurred to me until this visit to the Caribbean that everywhere I've traveled, beaches are disappearing. I've seen erosion on the beaches of Orissa at the Bay of Bengal and in my backyard in coastal Maine. For thirty years on Vinalhaven I've witnessed my small sea grass meadow vanish under the pressure of strange weather, winds and tides.
My friends who are disinclined to acknowledge global warming and our role, point to cycles in time where things change. But a world without sand beaches? When did that last happen?
Our friends at the CLEO Institute in Miami showed us two websites, we can share. It's not a pretty picture:
Blog-Guy McPherson -Climate-change summary and update – Nature Bats Last
The Dangerous Myth That Climate Change Is Reversible | Common Dreams
The observation that sand beaches around the world will disappear within our closest future generations leads to a further observation. It is really more of a question: will political leadership to confront the climate crisis ever appear? The answer, in short, is "no". Not hurricanes, tornadoes, or tsunamis will budge our immoral politics.
Our political leaders, at least those who acknowledge climate change deserves strong policy responses, (in other words, not Florida Senator Marco Rubio) would answer the question by saying we are "taking steps" in many areas of public policy. But as climate experts observe, we aren't really confronting the crises arising from seasonal variations and extreme weather events around the globe. We will react, and then react some more.
The outlines to the answer are available, even if they do require interpretation: political leadership will manage our way through climate change, without ever addressing or requiring behaviorial modifications. The reactionary forces (Fox News, the fossil fuel industries) will seize -- as they are seizing now, in re-framing their opposition to climate change legislation -- the argument that nothing can be done. So the virtue, in a way that borrows more from Orwell than Ayn Rand, will gradually migrate from the Rush Limbaugh/ Glenn Beck crazies toward a "more reasonable steady as she goes" protective of the extraordinarily small fraction of the world's wealthiest who control the political levers. Somehow they too will survive the crises as they unfold, the thinking goes.
Efforts to change laws of industrialized economies that rely on commodities and 'free trade', or of aspiring Asian nations clawing their way to our patterns of consumption, will be vilified straight to the end.
There is honor in efforts to change course. There is more honor in speaking truth to power. (This criticism goes to the mainstream media, whose limp efforts to highlight the consequences of climate change -- and media ownership's sensitivity to "balance" with the radical right -- did enormous damage during the decades in which the evidence accumulated.)
The collapse of climate stability is the final immorality of mankind. The lasting moral imperative is jeer the laggards, down.