Will Citizens of the World Act in Time to Save Ourselves and the Planet from Global Climate Emergency?


Because the world’s political leaders—for the most part—have abdicated their responsibility to reduce global carbon emissions, it is up to average citizens to demand actions.  As individuals, and as a collective political force, it is time for each of us to take steps in our personal and political lives to lead the way.

Look at what is happening in the United States.  The administration has pulled us out of the Paris Climate Accord;  Bolsonaro in Brazil has opened the door to increased cutting and burning of the Amazon rainforest;  the air pollution in India has rendered that country uninhabitable; Australia is on fire and is drying out.  The Arctic ice sheets are melting at an alarming rate.  None of these are good signs for the future of the world.

Here at home in the U.S. the trump administration has rolled  back one environmental protection after another.   The White House wants to open us vast new acreage to oil and gas drilling, at the same time it puts the squeeze on endangered species such as the sage grouse.

From e360.yale.edu. is the report that across the US States thousands of environmental protection jobs eliminated since 2008. Click here for the report.

How should citizens respond to the global climate and environmental crisis?

With alarm. Immediately.  With conviction, determination, and a sense of purpose.  

For starters, get off of fossil fuels.  Let the un-mined coal and un-pumped oil stay in the ground.  Leave the car at home.  Walk, take the bus or ride a bike.

We all will need to pitch in.  We are talking about what it will take to save the Earth.  Restoration ecologists (more about this later) need to step up.  We know how to take bold action.   And, we know how to restore ecosystems that will thrive into the future. 

In the words of former Secretary of State John Kerry, “we should not be spectators in shaping our own future, or the world’s.” (NYT 12.10.19).  Kerry believes that there is still time to act—say within the next 11 years—to get off of fossil fuels and to achieve a  cleaner, green energy system.

Here are a couple of examples of positive action that each of us can support. One is the 30 X 30 initiative that proposes that 30% of the planet be protected and restored by 2030.

Or Elizabeth Warren’s Blue New Deal, her plan to address ocean conservation and boost offshore wind energy. https://www.ourdailyplanet.com/story/elizabeth-warren-

State of the Climate Emergency

Wait no longer, it has arrived.

Time is running out.

“Our world is on fire. The arsonists are in charge.  Liberals propose to tinker and return to a past that is gone for good.  The future belongs to the bold.”   Naomi Kline: Tweet on 12.09.19.

Australia is experiencing an unprecedented drought and a wildfire season like no other.  The Sydney Opera House and the waterfront skyline hidden is a haze of smoke that stretches for miles up the coast. The air quality is so bad that it is unhealthy to breath.  Drought has hit The Outback especially hard, with rivers, and watering holes drying up and drinking water in short supply.

Amazon Also on Fire

The Brazilian Amazon has experienced a rapid increase in deforestation—a 30% increase over last year and the highest rate since 2008.  Nearly 4000 square miles have been cut and burned to clear the land or soybeans and beef cattle since Jair Bolsonaro became president.

Experts predict that when 25-30% of the Amazon rainforest is lost, it will reach a tipping point and will begin to self-destruct and convert to savanna; right now estimates are that 17% of the forest is gone.  It may have already reached that tipping point.  We will know for sure only when it is too late.

The new climate math: the numbers just keep getting more frightening. 

From Bill McKibbin and YaleEnvironment 360 comes this warning: 

Click here for the new math.

“First: 11,000, as in the number of scientists who just signed a manifesto that declares the world’s people face “untold suffering due to the climate crisis” unless there are major transformations to global society. “We declare clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency,” the manifesto, released earlier this month, states. “To secure a sustainable future, we must change how we live. [This] entails major transformations in the ways our global society functions and interacts with natural ecosystems.”

Climate Tipping Points

Ecologists have identified a list of nine ecological or climate “tipping points”  in e360.yale.edu.   A tipping point is that state beyond which there is no return to the former “normal” condition.  “These tipping points can form a cascade, with each one triggering others, creating an irreversible shift to a hotter world. A new study suggests that changes to ocean circulation could be the driver of such a cascade.” (Yale Environment 360)

Coral Reefs—Large Scale Die-offs

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is another global tipping point.  The reef is dying—almost one-half is already dead, lost since 1985—as ocean waters warm,  the waters acidify, and pollution increases.

How Should Ecological Restoration Respond to the global climate crisis?

It is going to take more than the excellent and routine work that restoration ecologists have done for 80+ years.  We are loosing ground: for every acre restored, many thousands of acres are clear cut, burned, built over or otherwise degraded. Ecological restoration will be necessary—but it is not sufficient—to  save the Earth.  In the words of John Kerry, “we should not be spectators in shaping our own future, or the world’s.” (NYT 12.10.19).  Kerry believes that there is still time to act—say within the next 11 years—to get off of fossil fuels and to achieve a  cleaner, green energy system.

The effort to save the Earth the effort will require many, global restoration plans that focus on social, cultural, and environmental justice, as well as on restoring prairies and savannas.  

Despite many thousands of restoration projects over since the first restoration projects in Australia and the US in 1934—and the hundreds of thousands of hectares conserved, and restored, it has not been enough.  For every hectare we restore and protect, the agricultural/industrial complex destroys another 1000.   They are clear cut, bulldozed, and burned.  We are going backwards.

Last year, The American Farmland Trust estimated that between 1992 and 2012 the United States lost 31 million acres of farmland to so-called “development”—something that is more accurately called destruction.   Remember, that this lost farmland also represents the lost opportunity of potential restoration projects. https://modernfarmer.com/2018/05/10-numbers-that-show-how-much-farmland-were-losing-to-development/

Diversity on the Restoration Team is Needed

A diversity of skills, outlooks, socio-economic status, and ethnicity is needed.

Restoration ecologists must recruit others to join our team.  The team needs people with skills as community organizers, social workers, and humanitarians.  The restoration team can use social service workers, local office holders, and natural history teachers; as well as philosophers, police officers, and construction workers.

We must stop being (mostly) silent witnesses and paralyzed bystanders to our self-inflicted crimes against Earth, its climate, humanity and civilization, the results of which will be our own demise.

We must become active participants in our own salvation by stopping the causes of climate disruption; mitigating the impacts; and reversing the disruption of climate change.  Rather than being paralyzed bystanders we must take charge of our own fate.

That is to say, we must continue to be restoration ecologists who work to heal the world’s  physical wounds, and repair damage to its biological systems.  Beyond that we must join with other Earth inhabitants, and global citizens who strive to end human rights violations, work to lift people out of poverty, act to stem climate change, and put a stop to war and suffering.  It’s all part of the same problem.  

Restoration ecologists assume that many parts and processes of the Earth are damaged, destroyed or missing.  As a result, The Earth’s natural capital (the total accumulation of the goods and services provided by global ecosystems) is diminished, to the detriment of the well-being of the planet and its human and non-human inhabitants.  

“One assumption that drives restoration ecology is that many parts and processes of the Earth are damaged, destroyed, or missing.  As a result, the Earth’s natural capital (the total accumulation of goods and services provided by global ecosystems) is diminished, to the detriment of the well-being of the planet and its human and non-human inhabitants.  Restorationists assume that solutions exist to repair the damage to ecosystems and their value to the world.  Restorationists (and I am one) also assume that people have some capacity for caring for the planet and repairing damaged parts of the Earth’s systems, thereby at least stabilizing the natural capital.” Page 22 Howell, Harrington, and Glass 2011.

Up to this point restoration ecologists have confined our attention to the air, land, and water.  We can no longer be bystanders to what is happening to our fellow citizens.

As long as people are suffering and there are human rights abuses (look at the immigrant children in cages along the US Southern border, for example), the Earth itself will continue to be misused.  Repairing the Earth and mending social and cultural systems are all part of the same mission. We can no longer deny what is happening to the Earth and to ourselves.  The restoration job is too large, the time too short, and the stakes too high for any of us to relax and let our neighbors do the caring for the earth and its people.  We must each of us get busy with the healing and mending.  

We must all become not only citizens of the Earth, but also those who work to save it.  This is to say, I will no longer be a bystander in the face of global climate disruption and 
will do everything I can to care for the planet and repair and reverse the damage.   The need is that urgent.

We must assume—as restoration ecologists do—that solutions exist to repair the damage to ecosystems (and the Earth itself) and their value to the world and that humans have some capacity for caring for the planet and repairing the damage that our activities have caused.  We must assume that there are solutions to repair the social and cultural fabric.

If not, will we continue to be collaborators, or facilitators—in the destruction of the Earth by human activities and climate change?

That is to say, do we want to pitch in to help stave off the coming climate change catastrophe or do we twiddle our thumbs as society has done for the past 50 years?

How can we continue to stand idly by and watch as the climate is disrupted, ice sheets melt, sea levels rise, droughts increase, and people move mass migrations to find a habitable ?  

How can we continue to ignore the fact that immigrant children are separated from their parents and caged in Texas?

How can we sit by and allow the NRA to prevent any meaningful gun safety legislation while our fellow citizens are slaughtered by our fellow citizens as they go about their daily lives?

If we take no action—either as individuals or through collective political activity—then we are being complicit bystanders to an actual assault on the Earth in the form of climate change; species extinctions, destruction of entire ecosystems, and an increase in human suffering.  

These are disruptions of which we are the cause.  They are assaults on the Earth’s people in the form of human rights abuses, continued racism and slavery, and destruction of a healthy environment.

We must cease our predatory relationship with the only home we will ever know.

There is no Planet B.


About Steve Glass

The blogger is a restoration ecologist, Certified Ecological Restoration Practitioner (#0093 SER) and writer living in the Midwestern United States.
This entry was posted in Brazilian Amazon, climate change, Climate Change Impacts, Global climate emergency, Restoration ecology, Social Justice. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Will Citizens of the World Act in Time to Save Ourselves and the Planet from Global Climate Emergency?

  1. adam says:

    Steve,

    Your words of alarm are on point. Progress many days seems painfully slow, and incumbents with no interest other than running out the clock to their retirement are stonewalling the necessarily mobilization.

    It is partly generational perhaps, but I have not found age to be a predictor of whether someone “gets it.” My spiritual-ecological mentor is 80+ and works every day as if the lives of my yet-to-be-born grandchildren depend on it.

    We do need to be working at all scales. Time being short, I think each of us needs to consider where we are or are not effective within our particular sphere of influence, from the backyard to city hall to congress.

    Here are a few encouraging data points from e360:

    https://e360.yale.edu/features/could-abandoned-agricultural-lands-help-save-the-planet

    Looking forward to see you next spring.

    • Steve Glass says:

      Hi Adam, thanks for your reply and for the link to the e360.yale.edu article on abandoned agricultural land. There is plenty of this kind of land in Wisconsin, which is loosing family farms at an alarming rate–over 700 in 2019 alone. Using these abandoned farms for restoration as the article suggests might make for an interesting symposium or workshop at one of our SER MWGL annual meetings.

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