Saturday, May 10, 2014

Today’s Depressing Thought

Back in February when we had summery weather in the Bay Area, I was walking home with my trusty bicycle. It was a sunshiny afternoon. Temperatures were in the low 70s in Oakland. I was wearing shorts and a light sweater. As I approached a cross street, a honeybee hovered past my head about a foot from me. It floated in front of me as I pushed my bicycle up the hill. With the sun out, a cheery tune playing through my headphones, a bee chillingly cruising past me, unafraid of my presence, I couldn’t help but smile. Maybe this unseasonable warmth wasn’t so bad? (While a few of my Bay Area Facebook peeps embraced the summer-like weather in February, I found it troubling. Droughts aren’t something to celebrate.)

And then, as I was about to step off the curb, I saw the bee descend lower and lower until it fell to the crosswalk.
I stopped to stand over it. Its wings lay on the concrete, its legs wiggling in the air. Oh no I thought, that smile wiped off my face. I hesitated, ready to put out my bike’s kickstand to step over to a nearby patch of shrubs to try to find a fallen leaf so I could scoop the little guy off the street and rest him on the grass where he could hopefully recuperate instead of get run over or stepped on. (I guess it’s worthwhile to mention that by default, although I catch myself now, I automatically think of most bugs and critters as dudes.) But then I thought: what’s the point? You can try to save one but there are so many others you can’t save. Just weeks before I had seen four dead honeybees lying on the sidewalk of one residential block in Fremont, something I had never witnessed in my childhood. Mass bee die-off, a.k.a. Colony Collapse Disorder, is in our modern lexicon. I kept walking up the hill, leaving the bee to die though it didn’t feel right. (It’s worthwhile to mention that the one time I have been stung by a bee is when I was a boy, swimming in a pool. I noticed a bee floating atop the chlorinated water so I cupped my hands beneath it to lift it out of the pool when the bee stung me.)

As I cycled home, I had a fleeting thought: what if our newest generation of parents—several of whom are my friends or colleagues—will become the last generation of grandparents on Planet Earth?

The future is far from bright and promising. Personally, I think you either have to be in complete denial or utterly foolish to hedge your bet on humanity surviving and thriving past this century with our 21st Century way of living. I think you have to be an idiot to believe that humanity can concoct and manufacture high technology solutions to solve the predicaments we face. That form of thinking—that we can somehow outsmart Mother Nature—is one of the principle reasons why our species has arrived to the dire state we find ourselves in.

Our planet is an organism that will continue on long after we peace out and join the extinction list (which we’ve done a bang-up job of populating in our cameo on this planet). Western Civilization has expanded and lasted too long with a core belief that nature is supposed to be this entity we are in opposition with instead of truly understanding that we’re merely a part of it.

There’s too many of us. Too many of us sucking up and depleting the world’s resources, which is basically what humans do. (I’ve been reading Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed and it’s been sobering to read that this has been characteristic of our species for thousands of years at practically every corner of the world we’ve inhabited.) At our current global growth rate, how can we possibly attain enough freshwater to sustain all 7 billion-plus-of-us-and counting especially when corporations, mining companies, and nuclear power plants continue to pollute our freshwater sources with their money-grubbing endeavors? We can't even do that now; according to UNICEF, over 768 million people lack access to clean water. And sure, the United States can keep its gas prices down by waging illegal wars with petroleum-rich countries, 1 but who will we bomb for water? Warfare over the attainment of power and influence in petroleum-rich regions has been rather serious, but can you imagine what it’s going to be like when humans are fighting over a natural resource we actually need to subsist? That’s gonna be ugly.

From Colony Collapse Syndrome to receding glaciers 2 to higher mean temperatures at the global level to a dearth of originality in the arts (from music to visual art, it seems like humans are stuck in a constant feedback loop where what we’re mostly producing is recycled art or creating shit that has no heart because we’re afraid of being emotionally vulnerable at the most vulnerable juncture in our collective history), Mother Nature is providing us with signs that there is something terribly awry with our way of living. Our bodies do the same, providing us with signals of pain and discomfort to warn us that something is wrong.

Too many of us still aren’t paying attention, lost in the fog of the interwebs and our modern technologies, and it’s probably too late now.

1 Back in 1850, there were an estimated 150 glaciers in Glacier National Park in Montana. Today, there are only 25 glaciers in the park according to this U.S. Geological Research Survey webpage.

2 In May 2014, according to , Americans pay .97 cents per liter. In Australia the price is $1.41 per liter, $1.62 in Chile. The European country with the cheapest fuel prices is Poland which pays $1.78 per liter.

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