Persico Challenge:  Issue 2 – How Can We Save the Environment?

This is the second of three “Challenge” questions that my friend Jane Fritz and I agreed to reply to.  We each sent three questions to the other and we have 12 months to reply to each question.  I answered Jane’s first question on Feb 19th of this year.  (See American Exceptionalism).  This is her second question followed by my reply.

Second Challenge Question:

There is general agreement that man-made climate change is not only real but largely responsible for the alarming increases in extreme weather events around the world: devastating wildfires, historically intense hurricanes, cyclones, and tornadoes, punishing droughts, etc.  It appears that the world leaders have committed to too little, too late to save our planet, undoubtedly because of initial damage to economies if the needed transitions were made.  What creative (and acceptable) incentives can you imagine that could accelerate the needed transitions away from fossil fuels?

This question reminds me of the song “Que Sera, Sera” by Doris Day and Frank De Vol.  In English, it is “Whatever will be, will be.  The futures not ours to see.”  With all the doom and gloom that I see in the news and hear in the news, I have become very cynical.  Should I tell you Jane, that once upon a time there was general agreement in the world that the Earth was flat?  Or that the Sun was actually in orbit around the earth.  Or that no one would ever break four minutes per mile running.  “General agreement” is a dangerous trope.

Scientists now tell us that we have one last chance to stop the disastrous climate change that is afflicting the earth.  These are the same scientists who wanted to devise better and better ways to harness the weather and change weather patterns.  They are now advising us that it might be too late to avoid even worse weather patterns than we have already witnessed.  “Don’t bother getting out your divining rods, cause there ain’t no water down here.” 

Do I disagree with the “majority” of weather experts?  Do I stand with the minority and the Republicans who dispute the evidence that we have really screwed up the environment?  Is climate change simply a big hoax?

“No, no and several hundred other no’s.” 

It is not that I doubt that we have really messed up the planet earth.  It is more like I don’t know if I really care anymore.  Once upon a time I was sitting on a plane next to a woman who started to complain about the increasing natural disasters that were killing more and more people.  Her attitude was one which embraced the idea of human superiority and that in terms of evolution, we were clearly at the top of the heap.  I disputed these ideas and asked her “why she thought that humans had any more right to survive as a species than ants or termites?”  She gave me an angry look and did not say anything else to me for the remainder of the flight.

I think humans could destroy themselves as a species and that might be a good thing for the planet.  Perhaps, the human brain was not a very good evolutionary development.  Looking around at the people I see; it does not seem that it has resulted in truly positive benefits for humanity.  Over my seventy plus years, I have seen little growth in human intelligence.  In fact, given the level of stupidity that abounds today, it appears that intelligence is evolving in the wrong direction.  Humans tend to have short -sighted thinking and regard today as infinitely more important than tomorrow.

For example, here in Arizona this week, the House has passed a bill to remove taxes from firearms and ammunition.  The reasons given by the sponsor of the bill is that firearms are necessary for the health and safety of the population.  Gun deaths keep going up, violence with guns is an epidemic in the USA but we have people who believe that more guns will make us healthier and safer.

Another bill that was recently passed (way down here in Arizona) calls for parents to have access to school materials before they are given to students to ensure that parents approve of what the teachers are teaching.  God forbid that teachers might indoctrinate students with CRT or LGBTQ+ theory.  CRT is not a disease but a series of classes dealing with a modified version of American history which claims that slaves did not spend most of their time singing, dancing, and partying, much like some Americans actually believe.  Proponents of the bill want their kids to believe that slaves were having so much fun, they did not want to leave the plantation, even after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

As for LGBTQ+ theory, it would take more time than I want to devote to this issue to explain.  Just know that people object to having transgender people in cisgender bathrooms.  They believe that bathrooms were designed by the Founding Fathers and not Founding Mothers for cisgender people.  How do they know this fact?  Well, I am certain that they must have heard it on Fox News.  Somewhere either in the writings of Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Paine, our Founding Fathers stipulated who could use which bathroom.

So you see, I am not too impressed by the thought processes of either our current leadership or the people that voted them into office.  We have politicians bringing snowballs into Congress to prove that global warming is a myth.  Congress routinely scoffs at bills to promote environmental regulations or efforts for green energy.  Instead, oil, coal and gas companies continue to get obscene subsidies to look for more fossil fuels.  Somehow, more of what has already contaminated and is damaging Mother Earth will restore her health and vitality.

Getting back to Ms. Fritz’s question of what can be done, if anything, to further mitigate environmental damage from climate change, I am not really avoiding the question Jane.  It is just one that I am taking less and less seriously each day.  Call me selfish but I have only about ten years to live, given present actuarial tables, and if I can make it through the heat, tornadoes, snow, floods, drought, hurricanes, and earthquakes for another ten years, I will pass GO and collect my just rewards, whatever they may be.  I am quite certain that I will be free from worrying about climate change.  As for the people left on the planet earth, “They have made their bed, so let them lie in it.”  They will drive around the ruins of our planet with their gas guzzling trucks looking for food that is not too contaminated to eat.  And as they say, “Lots of Luck.”

Unfortunately, too many people on this planet are suffering from climate change who had nothing to do with causing it or contributing to it.  It has been the richer nations in the world with their bloated economies and militaries who have been hell bent on ignoring the repercussions of unbridled capitalism, consumerism, and militarism.

The people who live in the less developed parts of the world as well as millions of the world’s poorest people are suffering disproportionally from the disastrous impacts of the changes taking place in our weather systems.  It is no fault of these people that countries like the USA have done more of the damage to the earth’s environment.  The USA and other developed countries pursue policies that ignore negative environmental impacts from efforts to increase Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at any cost.  Led by greedy leaders who have little concern for the future and are only concerned with the price of their stocks, the earth has become a cesspool contaminated by fossil fuels, pollutants, pesticides, herbicides, rampant development, and endless tons of garbage.  Our politicians are the Pied Pipers who instead of exercising ethical leadership instead pander to the public giving them what they want but not what they need.  Anything to get reelected has become the slogan of politicians in USA America.

If I could only send the “guilty” people to hell to suffer from fire and droughts, I surely would.  I would start with those who have chosen to lead us down this unsustainable road.  The common people elect their leaders in the mistaken belief that they will do their best to represent their interests.  The average person erroneously believes that their leaders have their best interests at heart.  Nothing ever believed by the human race could be more mistaken than to think that the interests of the rich and the greedy are aligned with the interests of the less fortunate.  There may be no true innocents in the theater of climate change, but business leaders, political leaders and even educational leaders are more guilty than others.  The innocent will suffer along with the guilty as our earth disintegrates into a place that in a not-too-distant future will no longer be habitable for humans.

What would I do to stop the damage we are now doing to Mother Earth?  This was Jane’s original question.  Here are five things I would do today:

  1. Cut Oil, Gas and Coal subsidies to zero for the fossil fuel industry.

As long as the fossil fuel industries continue to be subsidized, they will have less incentive to migrate to more sustainable energy sources.  Much of the subsidies to these industries have simply resulted in insane profits that benefit the rich and wealthy who own these industries.

“Fossil Fuels Received $5.9 Trillion In Subsidies in 2020, Report Finds. Coal, oil, and natural gas received $5.9 trillion in subsidies in 2020 — or roughly $11 million every minute — according to a new analysis from the International Monetary Fund. Explicit subsidies accounted for only 8 percent of the total”. –  Oct 6, 2021

  1. Create financial incentives for employers that allow workers to work from home.

For many years, I preached the economic benefits to workers, employers, and the environment from allowing people to work from home.  Most often my words fell upon deaf ears.  It took the pandemic for some people to finally wake up and realize the savings in time, money, injuries, and mental health that could accrue from more liberal work at home policies.  Unfortunately, many employers want to roll back the clock and are now talking about bringing their employees back to the office.  This is short-sighted and stupid in the extreme.

“Sixty-one percent of workers said their productivity increased from working remotely, according to an Upwork survey. And an Upwork survey of hiring managers found 32.2% of them said they saw overall productivity rise as of late April, compared to 22.5% that felt it decreased.” – 5 ways remote work is changing the economy for the better

  1. Create financial incentives for people to buy solar cars and participate in other “green” efforts.

If we can provide incentives to the fossil fuel companies, there is no reason we cannot provide incentives to people to buy solar cars, to practice recycling and to start making sustainability a part of their lives.  Living down here in Arizona, you have only to look at hundreds of golf courses spewing water on Kentucky bent grass fairways, housing developments with ponds and fountains draining water that is quickly evaporated into the atmosphere.  Here in my area, the recycling bins were recently removed because they cost the county too much.  Many people who could not afford garbage removal were dumping their garbage in the recycling bins.   Perhaps, if the average people had more access to funds and subsidies we could begin to create a mindset that valued recycling, reducing and reuse.

“With market incentives, sources of pollution can see an economic value in reducing pollution because doing so saves them money. Consequently, the difference between a traditional regulatory system and economic incentives can lead to several public health, environmental, and economic benefits.”   The United States Experience with Economic Incentives for Protecting the Environment

  1. Develop a campaign of “Anti-Consumerism.” Make it patriotic to stop buying so much junk and to start saving. 

Everyday USA Americans are bombarded with advertisements for things that you could not even imagine.  Consumers are inundated with ads that tell them how much smarter they will be, how much healthier they will be, and how much happier they will be if they only bought this or that product or service.  Not one of the great religious prophets ever told anyone that buying something or owning something would make them happier.  However, the consumer religion in the USA sports such mantras as, “shop till you drop,” “bigger is better,” and “he/she who has the most toys wins.” Years ago, we started being exposed to more and more slick Madison avenue advertising.  Much of it was shrewdly designed to play to the fears of the average person.

“Fast forward to 2021, and although there are no official figures, the average person is now estimated to encounter between 6,000 to 10,000 ads every single day. With the figures nearly double that of 2007, how exactly did we get here? And how did the figure increase so much?” — How Many Advertisements Are We Exposed to Daily?

We need to create a campaign to help people understand that it is a patriotic duty if not to the world at least to their country to help create a sustainable environment for future generations.

  1. De-Militarize the economy

Last and hardly least, we have a budget for the next ten years that will provide more than 3.2 trillion dollars to develop weapons and military hardware to keep the USA safe.  The belief that safety lies in having the most guns or the biggest guns has been spread by what Eisenhower called the Military Industrial Complex.  It is offensive in the extreme to realize that both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans almost unilaterally voted to increase the military budget over the next ten years.  It took months to try to pass Biden’s “Build it Back Better” plan which ultimately was pared down to a trickle but in less than a few weeks, the military budget was not only passed but increased.  The US military budget is now greater than the next nine largest military budgets in the world COMBINED.

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”  — Eisenhower’s farewell address

Do we have the will or the leadership to make these changes to current policy?  Can we make the hard choices that will save our environment for the future?  I doubt it.  To date, we have continued to make choices for the short term.  Given a brain and incentives that seek short-term goals and benefits over long term goals and benefits, I do not see a light at the end of the tunnel where change might start to take place.  True, here and there a few seedlings seem to take root, but these exciting efforts are soon choked out by the weeds that abound in our societies.   These weeds start with greedy leaders more concerned with their own short-term interests than with the constituents who elected them.  Shame on voters for being so stupid, but more shame on the leaders who promise and promise but actually deliver lies and lies.

PS:

It is always gratifying to hear one’s remarks vindicated by those who have more credentials and expertise. Yesterday morning, NPR was interviewing Rachel Cleetus of the Union of Concerned Scientists, about the latest U.N. climate report which is focused on ways to combat climate warming. Here is brief excerpt from their talk:

RACHELL MARTIN: We know that the world is way off track from meeting the goals that were set out in Paris in 2015. What do IPCC experts say is necessary in order to turn things around?

CLEETUS: Yeah, the IPCC report that was released yesterday is a stark warning that global emissions, heat-trapping emissions, are far off track. We’re poised to exceed 1.5 C and even 2 degrees Celsius if we stay on our current path. But it’s also a source of hope, because the report says that we can cut emissions in half by 2030. We have the solutions at hand. They’re within reach. What’s been missing is political will. So we are in this dire climate crisis right now because of decades of failure in global leadership. Fossil fuel companies focus on their profits. This is what has got us in this quandary. But we can get ourselves out. The solutions are there.

This interview was on National Public Radio two days after I wrote my blog. In my blog, I also blamed political leadership or lack thereof for the climate crisis we are now in. For the full interview you can go to https://www.npr.org/2022/04/05/1090992355/the-latest-u-n-climate-report-is-focused-on-climate-warming-solutions

The full interview is about five minutes and worth listening to.

16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jane Fritz
    Apr 03, 2022 @ 15:34:06

    Oh my gosh, John, this response is one of your best of the best. Bravo! It’s difficult not to share your cynicism and despair these days, and I say that as someone who for most of her life was an optimist. Mankind has just proven me wrong too many times lately, to my sorrow. Greed and short-term self-interest prevail. (Your example of the proposed tax exemption for guns and ammo is beyond the pale.) I’ve been toying with which of my 2 remaining challenges to start next. I’d better make a choice and get moving!

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    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      Apr 03, 2022 @ 19:09:48

      Thanks Jane, I look forward to reading your 2nd challenge issue. I hope I can do as insightful an analysis of yours as you have done with mine. You are not only a great writer but you are a wonderful reviewer. I wonder how any of us can keep being optimistic. It is certainly a trial. John

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      Reply

  2. Wayne Woodman
    Apr 03, 2022 @ 17:37:56

    Wow, this is really good and unfortunately so true! I have to agree John as I share the same feelings of mostly pessimism tinged with a little optimism. However, I just spent a couple of weeks with my middle aged son and family and in spite of their intelligence and professional careers they spend very little time if any thinking about the climate or the consequences of potential changes. I do understand they have very busy lives with 3 super active kids aged 9-13 and they do live in Northern Ontario where it may not be as evident but still?
    Based on this I think the majority of Western populations of this age just don’t have or take the time to really think about it. I understand it is mostly our generation and maybe our parents who have been the biggest contributors to the malaise in our society and maybe it is us who should be taking up the gauntlet and helping in any way possible to mitigate the results and slow down the tide? Maybe we could start with downsizing our lifestyles and our consumption and hopefully pass along some of that knowledge?

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    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      Apr 03, 2022 @ 19:18:05

      Hi Wayne, I wonder if the Madison avenue geeks have just done too good a job at brainwashing us in believing that more and more is better and focusing on the short term. I have to say that visiting Spain and France in September, I saw the same “conspicuous consumption” that I see daily in the USA. The “shop till you drop” was evident in both Barcelona and Paris. Is it possible to un-brain wash people who see thousands of ads daily designed to play to feelings of inferiority and greed. I guess we just keep doing the best we can and hope that something we are doing will have some value in making a better world. Hard to feel that way many days though. Good to know I am not the only one. I was taught that optimistic people were somehow better than pessimistic people. Thus many days, I feel somewhat depressed and worry about drowning in a sea of pessimism that only alienates me from the human race. Who wants to be near anyone who is doom and gloom every day. John

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  3. Wayne Woodman
    Apr 03, 2022 @ 17:39:58

    Reblogged this on Musings and Wonderings and commented:
    This mirrors my thoughts very closely and certainly provides lots of thoughtful material, thanks John.

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    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      Apr 03, 2022 @ 19:11:19

      Always appreciate it Wayne when you feel that my thoughts are worth sharing. It makes writing worthwhile and I can feel like perhaps I am making a small contribution to a world that seems crazy at times.

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  4. barryh
    Apr 04, 2022 @ 11:02:41

    That’s a great post, John. Sums things up pretty well. The prevailing wind of human sentiment, led in US, has got us into this mess, and despite the various COPs there has been little change of overall direction. Indeed, things are getting worse. It is disasters themselves that will force change, and maybe ‘too late’, whatever that means.
    Current politics is about keeping the rich and powerful in charge and keeping the masses compliant. The last people who can do anything about it is the middle classes bringing up families – as you say they are far too busy. Us oldies have time to reflect and support the right causes, but it never seems enough.
    None of us know how long the status quo can last. And maybe the situation will provoke the emergence of new technologies and new sorts of politics that will mean we wonder why we were so worried at the beginning of the 21st century…

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    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      Apr 04, 2022 @ 15:27:37

      Barry, you sum it up in much fewer words and right on the mark. I wish I had your sense of brevity. I am not sure but maybe you are right about salvation through technology. I suppose being humble means never thinking that we are 100 right. I hope for future generations we are dead wrong. If so though, some of the “worrying about nothing” would be a nice change that my soul could sorely use from the ever present bad news about just about everything in this country. Bad politicians. Bad Billionaires, Bad Trumpists. There is not much for the 24/7 news to jump up and rave about. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Thoughful comments like yours mean a lot to a writer whose sole reward is knowing that some other people find value or insights or confirmation to their own ideas in what I am writing. John

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      • barryh
        Apr 04, 2022 @ 16:32:10

        Thanks, John. It largely seems as bad the other side of the pond, too. But we can always choose the way we look at things. Son has drinking glasses labelled Pessimist, Optimists and some others. I always aim for the Optimist glass!

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