Race to the Edge

Posted March 06, 2018

Dr. Conway's Climateside Chat, March 6, 2018

For my inaugural post for the new year — late, I know — I’d like to do something a little more personal than I’ve done in the past. I want to write about why I am here, sharing my thoughts and feelings with you. My reason for doing so is to try to open up a different dialogue about climate change, one that cuts to the heart of why we as a nation and as a world are racing toward this particular cliff’s edge.

Over the past 15 years, I have spent most of my waking hours thinking, writing, speaking, and acting on environmental issues. When you immerse yourself in one thing for long enough, you often begin to pick up on the underlying currents that move and shape it. I can’t help but think of my long-time literary favorite, Sherlock Holmes, as he first became aware of the arch-villain Moriarty though his secret influence on a hundred petty crimes. The detective likens him to a spider in his web, sending out and picking up sinister vibrations and influences without ever exposing himself. I see the same patterns popping up again and again, in elevated cancer risks over here and spikes in missing and murdered indigenous women over there.

So who — or, more accurately, what — is America’s villain?

The United States was built, and still stands, on the idea of unlimited growth through exploitative energy. First it was on the backs of murdered and enslaved peoples; now oil, coal, and gas. These cursed powers left indelible marks on our now-divided country: greed, racism, inequality, injustice, destruction, murder, rape, pillage, war, genocide.

Even now, as the seas rise, ice caps melt, and the world’s experts tell us we are racing toward certain disaster, America’s addiction to oil is worse than ever. We seem almost eager to cast ourselves off this cliff — only we can’t be brought back by popular demand.

I believe the cause of this self-destructive behavior is rooted deep in the fabric of who we are as a nation. I was raised being told that this was the land of the free and the brave; what I found is a land of want — a land of more, and faster. America sold its soul to the god of greed and made it look so damned good that the rest of world queued up behind us, already spilling blood to sign on the dotted line.

It’s past time for us to tear up the contract. Limitless growth in a limited world is inevitably suicide — self-inflicted cancer. More immediately, our unquenchable thirst for more has left our country vulnerable to hijacking by our fellow signatories (I’m looking at you, Putin). Donald Trump was not democratically elected, and yet he and the metastasized petrostate he represents remain in power — in part due to racial tensions that are an echo of the slave trade. He is, in my mind, the embodiment of all toxic aspects of America. Trump holds the keys to the kingdom in his tiny racist hands, but, because he also represents the failures of the American education system, he barely has any idea what to do with them.

A weak leader — especially as one as ethically and morally repugnant as Trump — is a powerful stimulus for resistance in a time of crisis. And resisting we are! More and more of us are realizing that now is the time to grow up and take responsibility for our deeds, for our children, and for the next hundred generations. We must become wise, lest we perish by our wit.

Gathering up the dead at the Battle of Wounded Knee, South Dakota. 1890. Source.


Raid on Wounded Knee, South Dakota. 1973. Source.

Raid on Last Child Camp, North Dakota. 2016. Source.

There are those who will try to convince you that you don’t need to take action on climate change because “the science is not settled,” or that natural variations can explain all of the climate changes we are now seeing. Every single argument I have seen against our climate catastrophe falls apart under scrutiny; lies either willfully or ignorantly given. Fossil fuel industry representatives like Scott Pruitt, Trump’s head of the now inappropriately-named EPA, would have you believe that the threat of climate change is something that needs to be debated by politicians and shills. The oil industry lost its right to debate about the scientific validity of anthropogenic climate change when it actively disseminated misleading information for decades despite knowing full well the eventual consequences of its behavior.

This is why I am writing to you today. It’s not for money, or fame, or power. It’s because I want our human family to stop, walk back from the edge, and thrive into the next century. I grok that the climate change crisis we have created is antithetical to that goal, so therefore we must end this delusion of infinite economic growth before it ends us. While we can’t avoid everything climate change is going to throw at us in the coming decades, many of us work together to find solutions that will save as many lives as possible while making sure this doesn’t happen again. And we need your help.

To that end, I have a brief message to anyone out there who has doubts, or flat our denies, that our species is really influencing the climate to a dangerous degree: 

Please, step away from the edge.

I, and so many others around the world, have told you our species faces an existential threat. If you are reading this, you must decide if you are going to accept what we and the planet are saying and take action, or if you will choose to place yourself against all of us who wish to see human life prosper and thrive. There are no other options.

When neutrality leads to the same consequence as malice — in this case the suffering and death of potentially billions of people over the next hundred years — inaction becomes immoral. The Earth is telling us that the time for debate and discussion passed long ago; now we must act. If you are unsure about climate change, you need to further educate yourself.

We who are fortunate enough to have easy access to modern information have a responsibility to our loved ones, our descendants, our country, the world, and any loving god or deity we believe in to confront the reality of the current human-caused climate change catastrophe. In the age of the internet, ignorance alone is no longer an acceptable excuse for the privileged to remain inactive.

There comes a point in every conflict — and if you don’t think this is a conflict you need to start paying attention — where the middle ground disappears, and you’re left on one side or the other, whether you like it or not. This is not a red against blue issue, rich against poor, white against non-white. It’s life against death.

Which side are you on?

— Jon Conway, Ph.D., Greenpower Research Director

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