There’s much talk of separation, of invisible spaces that brew resentment and overflow hearts, minds, and airwaves with passions that at once divide and unite. It’s disorienting. There are those that advantage themselves in this tumultuous environment. They needle at dissenters, stoke fury, and paint a grim picture of the future to fulfill their agendas. But there are also those who inspire hope, sow solidarity, and dream of a world unified.
These tenacious optimists use a variety of analogies, metaphors, and statistics to make tenable the assertions of commonality and synthesis. There is one commonality that I seldom see raised, however. It’s odd. I’d go as far as to say that there is no greater commonality than this one, no greater dependency or contingency, no greater common denominator. It is the ground we walk on, the air we breathe and the water we drink. It is Earth. What ubiquity supersedes the planet we inhabit and upon which our continued existence rests?
So while the media, politicians, and advocates debate the scientific reality of environmental decline, and pundits feud over how to coalesce disparate identity groups and political coalitions along socio-economic lines, Earth is actually being reshaped in a destruction now termed the ‘fifth extinction.’ And that very environmental negligence ignores not just Earth but also our inverse relationship to the land.
As the Earth declines our precariousness increases; as does the likelihood of social and economic turmoil resultant from shrinking coastlines, drought, vegetative mortality, displacement, tainted water supplies, respiratory illness, and more. There is no either-or. It’s all inextricably connected.
This emergent reality isn’t easy to envision, let alone internalize. Life is tough. It’s difficult enough to make a living and help the people around you. Add empathy for plants, animals, and large stretches of seemingly inanimate land to the load and your empathy threshold hits rock bottom. But there are people in our very country whose lives have changed because of environmental disaster. Shouldn’t we consider them? To do so we must humanize the problem of environmental neglect rather than talk in abstract geological and meteorological terms.
So when I say Earth, I also mean Humans. I mean Us.
The past two weeks were not good for Earth.
A quick rundown:
- On February 1, House Republicans voted to halt a rule regulating coal mining debris from being dumped in nearby streams. Relatedly, House Republicans also voted to revoke a rule that required companies disclose payments to foreign governments for mining and drilling, a measure that grew out of Dodd-Frank to increase transparency.
- That same day, 76 arrests were made at the contested Dakota Access pipeline site in North Dakota. The arrests were made one week after President Trump issued an executive order reinstating the advance of both the Dakota Access and the Keystone XL pipelines. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe vowed to dispute the order, claiming it puts the government and the oil company, Energy Transfer Partners, in direct violation of indigenous treaty rights. Under the Obama administration, the Army Corp of Engineers was instructed to conduct an environmental review to determine an alternative path for the DAPL. The Army has abandoned that project entirely, further inflaming water protectors at the site and environmental advocacy groups. This was barely covered by American media. Both the arrests and the decision to abandon the environmental review. A quick Google search of either keyword revealed that most of the coverage came from small liberal and foreign media.
- On February 7, the army approved the easement of the patch of land that sits less than a mile away from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation. The pipeline will run directly under the Missouri River and will pump roughly 470,000 barrels of oil daily. Robert Speer, the acting secretary of the Army, expressed readiness to offer Energy Transfer Partners a 30-year easement.
- That same day, the New York Times published research showing that a crack in Antarctica’s fourth-largest ice shelf is advancing speedily and is getting close to a full rupture. According to data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, the crack extends by five football fields each day. Once the shelf breaks, it will create “one of the largest icebergs every recorded.” The shelf is a buttressing force that holds ice further inland in place, virtually halting further ice flow into the ocean and increasing sea levels. The shelf constrains enormous glaciers that comparatively add much more water of the overall sea level, a problem for coastal cities, such as Boston, that have already poured millions into bulwarking their coastal infrastructure in the wake of water-borne damages to residential, commercial, and public properties.
I won’t deny the challenge of wrapping one’s mind around how these events impact daily living: A few disgruntled natives and activists in North Dakota, some dislodged ice in Antarctica, a hundred or more coal-mining towns’ waters polluted, and your life is unperturbed. You barely felt it. But the accrual effects are grave.
Take, for example, the issue of sea level rise. Some of the country’s economic centers are located on coasts. Manhattan is literally surrounded by water. Every square foot of water that encroaches on the 26,593.1 square foot circumference of Manhattan is worth $37,230,340 (unless my math is off). From a free-market, capital-driven perspective, that’s considerable, to say the least. And it’s merely the real estate cost. That calculation doesn’t include what’s on the island. So foot-by-foot, we lose—a lot.
If you do nothing else, please stay abreast of issues in environmental decline and demand that our media outlets cover these tragedies. Then, demand that our politicians pay attention too. We need to stop debating and start protecting.