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Coronavirus and ecological/climate breakdown are interconnected.

“For years, normality has been stretched nearly to its breaking point, a rope pulled tighter and tighter… Now that the rope has snapped, do we tie its ends back together, or shall we undo its dangling braids still further, to see what we might weave from them?” – Charles Eisenstein charleseisenstein.org/essays/the-coronation/ What can our future look like, now that the business-as-usual mode of living is currently broken? Have we now seen a glimpse of a more egalitarian future these last few weeks through a broken window? True, all economic groups can catch the virus, but people living from paycheque to paycheque will disagree that future universal health care is there for them. Will Medicare for All finally become a reality in the USA? We have certainly witnessed some inspiring actions. In Britain, arms companies are making ventilators. Across the world, pollution levels are drastically lower. The UN secretary-general called for a global ceasefire. Italians are singing on their balconies, and people around the world are dancing online (tinyurl.com/stayed-home). A visit to the supermarket revealed that bakers-to-be had bought up all the yeast for that first loaf of bread they’d dreamed about creating. The responses of governments towards the novel coronavirus in the first month certainly tell us what their priorities are. Protecting oil, coal and gas interests and the industries that rely upon them reflects the same mentality that led to the 2008 bank bailouts: big business safety nets are always chosen over people’s health and wellbeing. The right-wing ‘leaders’ of the US and Brazil continue to use delay and brazen lies to help large corporations instead of their own people. There are many parallels and links between the coronavirus and the biodiversity/climate emergency. In the name of capitalism, humans have obliterated many of the world’s wild places, built roads through them, plundered irreplaceable forests for exotic woods, destroyed rivers through mining and pesticide use, set fire to pristine places to raise cattle and produce palm oil, captured wild animals for foreign markets and thereby brought new diseases within easy proximity. If governments had not allowed oil, coal and gas multinationals to contaminate huge undisturbed areas, the world’s inhabitants would not be suffering now. Industrial governments’ denial of the impact of the biodiversity/climate crisis on future generations has left their moral leadership in tatters. With the coronavirus, however, these politicians have an immediate problem: it’s the older generations that keep them in place. The over-55s are the most likely demographic group to die from the virus; alienate them, and you’ve lost power. Certainly the UK and the US governments are risking this. Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, said recently: “We are intimately interconnected with nature, whether we like it or not. If we don’t take care of nature, we can’t take care of ourselves. And as we hurtle towards a population of 10 billion people on this planet, we need to go into this future armed with nature as our strongest ally.” For many ‘leaders’, however,

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Living, reading and gardening in the time of coronavirus

Stone walls do not a prison make,Nor iron bars a cage:Minds innocent and quiet takeThat for an hermitage.If I have freedom in my love,And in my soul am free,Angels alone, that soar above,Enjoy such liberty. Richard Lovelace, 1642 Amidst the suffering and uncertainty that have been abundantly revealed throughout the world, the coronavirus has forcefully encouraged many of us to be more reflective and to pursue simple pleasures. There is a multitude of paths to choose from. This article speaks of some of my pursuits. Daily reading, walking, gardening, music and chess, as well as video calls with overseas friends, have sustained me these last months. Here is a chronicle of these contemplative activities. Enjoy Nature. The amaryllis is blooming quite miraculously, with five astonishingly stunning flowers. The bulbs have been with me for years. Just let them keep their green leaves after they bloom to give vital energy for the following spring. In this year of crisis they allow us to celebrate an engaging Nature that many of us were too busy to notice before. By January I had received my vegetable seeds in the post after joyfully perusing the informative seed catalogues. Is hope another name for a seed catalogue? For over 45 years my delight in finding a box filled with life has brought much anticipation, but particularly this winter. (Brian Creelman’s website seedsforfood.net is a great source of seeds from the Eastern Townships, and Clarke & Sons in Lennoxville is also excellent for your gardening needs.) I set up the ultraviolet lights and began preparing to sow the seeds in containers of various sizes. Ah, the joy of having soil on my hands again! Rejuvenation! A real ritual. Aubergines, peppers, parsley, parsnips, onions, leeks, basil for pesto, brussels sprouts, kale and many varieties of lettuce were in pots by the end of February. Each year I make a point of discovering a new vegetable, and okra is the ‘vegetable of the year’ for my garden this season. Last year it was the European broad bean. Swiss chard is to be sown in a few weeks. Spinach I will sow directly into the garden later this month. Each April I grow sweet peas so that the garden will be bathed in unsurpassed colour and fragrance. From my observations, I suspect that this spring will be warmer than last year’s, so the tomatoes and several squash varieties are next to be put into mini-greenhouses inside my house. They do not tolerate any hint of cold weather, so they are welcome guests indoors till June. I like growing a small pot of basil or thyme on the windowsill. These herbs are easy to grow and fun to watch. Sunflower seeds collected last October are now ready for sowing. Peas and especially watercress will be happy in the wetter part of the plot. Pole and bush beans love warm soil, so June 10 might be a good day for them to meet the earth, but I’ll consult the biodynamic calendar

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UN climate summit failure worries young people

The placard of a protester attending the Madrid climate conference currently taking place says, “The climate is changing. Why aren’t we?” So far the UN summit has been bogged down in technicalities, as each of the wealthy countries tries to manoeuvre into a position that reflects its own aspirational ‘commitments’ sung so eloquently at the 2015 Paris summit. You may recall Justin Trudeau’s enthusiasm prior to that conference when he declared, “Canada is back!” This was meant in part to be a pledge to work diligently with the rest of the world to vigorously lower greenhouse-gas pollution after Stephen Harper’s anti-science agenda. Canada has failed miserably to reach its climate goals, both for individuals and as a government. Will the government exacerbate this situation by approving the proposed open-pit tar sands development that would cover an area as large as the city of Vancouver?  December 13 is the final day of the Madrid summit, and ministers from the world’s governments arrived in Madrid only a few days previously to negotiate where this 25th UN meeting will lead us. These global conversations have been going on for a long time, yet we are still no closer to stopping a rise in global temperature of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius—or more probably a catastrophic increase of 3 degrees. The aspirational concoctions laid out in the Paris summit have led us nowhere. The pledge of US$100 billion yearly for a decade in 2009 to help the poorer nations to adapt and manage in the face of climate change still hasn’t materialized, apart from a mere trickle of valid commitments. Meanwhile, to the utter shame of the Spanish government, the Madrid conference is being sponsored by the very corporations that have contributed most to our ecological crisis: the oil and electric companies and the banks that finance them. Foxes welcomed into the hen house? As sponsors, they go on to influence the negotiations taking place. The ultimate greenwash? Although half a million people came out in Madrid to protest about the slowness of negotiations, individual countries are loath to pledge to push forward an authentic agenda that will tackle the emergency and stabilize the Earth’s climate. At the same time, scientific reports and disasters are documenting daily the unfolding catastrophe. Major Australian fires, ecological tipping points and expanding oxygen-depleted dead zones in the oceans head the list this week. Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! has been following the situation in Madrid and speaking with young climate activists attending an alternative conference called the Social Summit for Climate. She pointed out that the International Monetary Fund estimates that globally governments subsidize the fossil fuel industry to the tune of $5.2 trillion annually. During her conversation with activists from Chile (where the conference was to be held until that government cancelled) and Uganda, it became apparent from their testimonies that unprecedented droughts and floods are causing huge suffering. Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg addressed the people in Madrid’s streets, saying, “The change we need is not going to come

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Alliance of World Scientists Issue Bleak Warning

In 1972 the first United Nations Conference dedicated to the state of Nature took place in Stockholm. It spoke of the fragility of the planet’s ecosystems and helped spur the expanding interest in conservation. The UN Environment Programme was created in the same year to promote sustainability and stewardship for the Earth. Seven years later, amidst growing concern about greenhouse-gas emissions, the First World Climate Conference was held in Geneva. This event was important because it laid out the internationally recognized concerns about climate change. Its Declaration stated: “Having regard to the all-pervading influence of climate on human society and on many fields of human activities and endeavour, the Conference finds that it is now urgently necessary for the nations of the world: (a) To take full advantage of man’s [sic] present knowledge of climate; (b) To take steps to improve significantly that knowledge; (c) To foresee and prevent potential man-made [sic] changes in climate that might be adverse to the well-being of humanity.” Over the next nine years there were further gatherings of scientists and governments, culminating in the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. tinyurl.com/history-climate-activities Forty years after the Stockholm Conference, the Alliance of World Scientists (AWS) came together to issue a warning to the people of the world to take action. They expressed their concern in a preliminary paragraph: “Scientists have a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat and to ‘tell it like it is.’ On the basis of this obligation and the graphical indicators presented below, we declare, with more than 11,000 scientist signatories from around the world, clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency.” tinyurl.com/aws-warning It is some of those graphical indicators that I wish to share with you. They are important because they speak about more, much more, than just atmospheric change, which until now has received most of the attention. The graphs are divided into two groups: the first sets out the human activities that have changed our climate, and the second focuses on the impacts of those activities. A human population graph begins the first list. In 1979 there were 4.4 billion people on Earth, and now there are almost 7.8 billion, spelling out massive hurdles for our planet’s ability to sustain life as we know it if we continue on this trajectory. Total fertility rate has dropped considerably since 1979 but is beginning to rise again. More than 220,000 babies are born each day – over 80 million each year. There are close to 4 billion ruminant animals (cows, sheep and others), belching huge quantities of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Per capita meat production has risen sharply since 1979 (causing huge biodiversity loss). World Gross Domestic Product has risen 80.5% every 10 years – but remember that this reflects every kind of ‘product’, including cleaning up the devastation and pollution following disasters such as hurricanes and fires. And the graphs go on, covering tree loss globally and, specifically, in the

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Questioning the Hypnotic Lure of Black Friday

Time magazine is famous for the ‘Person of the Year’ who adorns its cover each January, but in 1988 it decided to feature instead ‘Planet of the Year’: Endangered Earth. The image is of an embattled-looking Earth held together with twine. The precious Earth is frayed. The accompanying article, written by Thomas A. Sancton, is entitled ‘Planet of the Year: What on EARTH Are We Doing?’ These words could almost have been written today: “Now, more than ever, the world needs leaders who can inspire their fellow citizens with a fiery sense of mission, not a nationalistic or military campaign but a universal crusade to save the planet. Unless mankind [sic] embraces that cause totally, and without delay, it may have no alternative to the bang of nuclear holocaust or the whimper of slow extinction.” – Time, January 2, 1989. [tinyurl.com/time-what-on-earth] By 1989, Bill McKibben’s book The End of Nature was spelling out the unfolding crisis of climate change. NASA climate scientist James Hanson had already told the US congress that greenhouse gas emissions were increasing as a result of the burning of fossil fuels and that this must stop. At the same time, trade deals were being signed and governments were more and more being asked by corporations to sideline climate-mitigation projects. So-called neo-liberalism and the advent of the outright hostility of extreme corporate capitalism (as well as Soviet-style communism) towards Nature and social justice has at its core the inability to end this climate emergency. We must recognize this! Thus it was that the 1992 Rio Summit turned into one more world conversation that ultimately did not move governments to act on solutions to save our endangered planet.  Naomi Klein’s new book, On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal, documents the unswerving attempts by corporate power to hamper efforts to ultimately save our planet and our last chance to find a just response to corporate greed through the Green New Deal that is being heralded by many as a solution for many of our ills. Here we are at the end of 2019, and fires are ravaging Australia. Australia’s government ‘leaders’ refuse to discuss the clear connection between climate breakdown and those deadly fires. On Fire also looks at our ingrained behaviour that fosters a constant reaffirmation and perpetuation of globalization and capitalist greed as well as the rise of the far-right nationalism, racism and ecocide of ‘Trump and company’: “Climate change demands that we consume less, but being consumers is all we know. Climate change is not a problem that can be solved simply by changing what we buy — a hybrid instead of an SUV… At its core, it is a crisis born of overconsumption by the comparatively wealthy, which means the world’s most manic consumers are going to have to consume less so that others can have enough to live.” With Black Friday (November 29) a few weeks away, the world is about to enact the grim spectre of overconsumption in hyper-mode. To counter this frenzy of buying things, Buy Nothing Day was conceived. And

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Climate strike students praised by EU President

“I am glad to see that young people are taking to the streets in Europe to raise visibility of the issue of climate change. Their movement has spread to many cities and can bring about change. Our goal is to allocate a quarter of our budget to climate change mitigation.” Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission What do the following organizations have in common?  Earth Strike, Fridays For Future, Global Climate Strike, 350.org, Sunrise Movement, Extinction Rebellion, The Climate Mobilization… They are all asking us to join or support the global school and general climate strikes on Friday, September 20 and Friday, September 27. (On September 27, 1962 Rachel Carson’s powerfully illuminating book Silent Spring, detailing the destruction of the natural world by human activity, was published.)  Global Climate Strike says: “This September, millions of us will walk out of our workplaces and homes to join young climate strikers on the streets and demand an end to the age of fossil fuels. Our house is on fire — let’s act like it. We demand climate justice for everyone.” In the European Union, the equivalent of US$250 billion will be spent on climate change mitigation each year for seven years, starting in 2021, but Greta Thunberg, the youth activist and school climate striker, who was speaking to the President of the European Commission last February, said that there is more to do and that we cannot wait. Act now, she demands. We must drastically cut Europe’s emissions. Otherwise we will not be able to keep the warming of the globe under 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030, she explained. She went on to say, “There is simply not enough time to wait for us to grow up and become the ones in charge.” Meanwhile, more than 12,000 students marched in Brussels. The science certainly agrees with Thunberg, but why then has Canada been such a climate action lagger? Why have adults in Canada been so reluctant to embrace the climate science? Many activists will say that we’re so enmeshed in the consumer-capitalist system that we do not know how to extricate ourselves from a ruinous pathway. The thought of a degrowth, ecologically based way of life is anathema to the vast majority of Canadians. Canada’s fossil fuel consumption continues to grow more rapidly than our politicians would have us believe, while the EU and Russia have significantly lowered their use. In 2016, individual Canadians used more than five times the global average of energy, 29% higher than the average American. These energy facts are contained in Canada’s Energy Outlook, a recent report by J. David Hughes, one of Canada’s foremost energy experts: energyoutlook.ca For an excellent, accessible critique of Hughes’ report, see award-winning journalist Andrew Nikiforuk’s article ‘Nine Uncomfortable Canadian Energy Facts’: tinyurl.com/9-uncomfortable-energy-facts While adults flounder and procrastinate, young people are demanding that governments tell the truth about the climate emergency. Around the world, students of all ages are responding in their millions to confront the apathy and half-measures implemented by governments.  In the Sherbrooke area, plans are under way in

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Climate rebel dispatches from around the world

From Sherbrooke to Sydney, Rio to Delhi, climate protesters are demanding that governments act now to save us from extinction. Here in Sherbrooke Extinction Rebellion launched its first action on October 12 and La Tribune and CBC covered the event. See tinyurl.com/xr-action-sherbrooke We wanted The Record to be able to report on what is happening in Sherbrooke. I took part in the Extinction Rebellion ‘slow swarm’ that gathered at Jacques-Cartier Park. What is a slow swarm? It is a way of getting people to take notice without disrupting the movement of the public too much. On October 12, 50 people took their climate placards and walked to the traffic lights at the intersection of Boulevard Jacques-Cartier and Rue King Ouest. Each time the pedestrian light turned to green, a group would cross to the middle of the road and stand facing the cars to show their placards. When the light changed to green for the cars, the group would wait on the sidewalk and hold their signs up for the people in the passing cars to see. A huge proportion of drivers honked their horns in approval. This went on for over an hour. Some of the protesters were nervous to begin with, but they were soon delighted with the response. Many of the students had not participated in a demonstration before, and they were clearly empowered by their first action. Before the ‘slow swarm’ there was a palpable sense of purpose, particularly amongst the under-35s, a group that will feel the effects of climate breakdown most acutely. Meanwhile, around the world Extinction Rebellion (XR) had a strong and at times very moving presence in many cities and towns. See rebellion.earth/act-now/events/news/ for images and reports. The decision this week by the police to impose a London-wide ban on XR actions was highly criticized by Amnesty International, lawyers and politicians. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said, “I believe the right to peaceful and lawful protest must always be upheld.” In response to the ban, XR continued to hold non-violent civil disobedience actions while their lawyers went to court to oppose the decision. The ban brings up an ethically important question: what are the responsibilities of democratic governments to permit lawful and non-violent protest? The British Tory government claimed that protesters are not justified in continuing to occupy streets or monuments. “While we share people’s concerns about global warming, and respect the right to peaceful protest, it should not disrupt people’s day-to-day lives,” a spokesperson announced, but XR say that their actions are justified because of the urgency of the situation, and point out: “We have proven to the world that this rebellion is a truly global movement, growing rapidly within and between nations, and comprised of people with the selflessness, the creativity and the courage to resist the madness of this ecocidal system.”  It is the business-as-usual ‘everydayness’ of the perceived right of banks, governments and financial corporations to finance by loans or subsidies the well-oiled machinery of accelerated climate chaos

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Climate Strike!

CLIMATE STRIKE! Friday, September 27, 1:00 pm Université de Sherbrooke 2500, boulevard de l’Université, Sherbrooke, J1K 2R1 act.350.org/event/globalclimatestrike/19583 Climate reporter Barry Saxifrage’s article in Canada’s National Observer on July 31 this year has a headline that tells us where we are in combating climate change: “Fossil fuel burning leaps to new record, crushing clean energy and climate efforts”. The graphs spell out the bad news, with one (“Fossil fuel burn per capita: G20”) showing Canadians at second highest among the G20 nations, just behind Saudi Arabians in our fuel usage! tinyurl.com/saxifrage-fossil-fuel-burning When Sir David King, a former chief scientific adviser for the UK government, called the acceleration of climate change destruction “scary”, many in the scientific community were taken aback. The reason for this is that emotive language has never been part of the scientific lexicon. Peer review and painstaking accuracy via mathematics, statistics and graphs as well as precisely verifiable fieldwork have always been the hallmark of the scientific community. As the crises facing our climate and biodiversity have become indisputable, so, too, has the desire by scientists to somehow reach the public’s heart and influence the world’s people to respond to the growing global threat. Of foremost concern is the need to radically expand this conversation to a community that we are part of: western and rich (by any global standards), and… energy gluttons. The tragic inability to confront our climate chaos goes back to Hobbes and Locke and a mechanistic view of Nature. Governments wish our scientists to use a language that will never allow the general public to connect with dry scientific research. Until the last 10 years, scientists were muzzled. “Heart” and “scary” are among the new words being used to collectively lift us off our La-Z-Boy and Girl recliners and prod us to influence each other as well as our equally lazy and corrupt governments.  Many people claim that using emotive vocabulary depresses us and we’ll simply shut out the call to action; that children will become so overwhelmed that they will become paralyzed with fear. But Joanna Haigh, Emeritus Professor of Atmospheric Physics at Imperial College London, said: “David King is right to be scared – I’m scared too. We do the analysis, we think what’s going to happen, then publish in a very scientific way. Then we have a human response to that… and it is scary.” But are children overwhelmed? I think not. Just look at the huge response of school-age students to their fellow student, Greta Thunberg, who will be visiting Montréal for the September 27 community strike. Finally they have one of their own who hasn’t participated in being part of the climate problem, if only by being too young to pollute excessively as we do so obsessively in North America! When the planet’s most famous climate scientist, James Hansen, wrote his book Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity, it was a very human appeal by a great scientific mind reaching out to the

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Youth has become the inspiration for ecological stewardship

Swedish school student Greta Thunberg didn’t believe that her one-person strike in front of the parliament in Stockholm less than a year ago would have much of an effect on her government’s climate change policies, but her frustration with the rate of meaningful climate action by governments convinced her to protest. Last August she stayed away from school to engage people on climate action possibilities. Her reasons for not going to school were simple: why bother going to classes if her very future was being completely compromised by accelerating climate chaos? Her implacable view was that unless she did everything she could to push back this chaos a formal education was worthless for herself, her generation and future generations. Has her one-person climate action brought change? Resoundingly, but not in the way that you might think. The election last September didn’t prove to be a game-changer for climate policy in Sweden. “The politics that’s needed to prevent the climate catastrophe—it doesn’t exist today. We need to change the system, as if we were in crisis, as if there were a war going on,” Greta told The NewYorker magazine last October. Although many politicians and even Pope Francis, a climate action crusader, have met with her and expressed their solidarity and admiration for her resolve as well as her courage, what Greta’s school strike in front of parliament did was to galvanize the world’s students. Many readers will remember the strike in Sherbrooke on March 15 this year. Several thousand people came out to walk from the Université de Sherbrooke to City Hall. Multiply that one action thousands of times across the globe, and you have the makings of a true youth civil disobedience climate action movement. Last week I had the honour to speak with a class of high school science students. I wanted to hear from them how they viewed the biodiversity/climate crisis. Several students felt invigorated by the global student strikes and were planning next autumn’s civil disobedience actions. One student told me that the surge of support from her fellow students had given her a new purpose in life. Many students have felt betrayed by older people. For example, although adults speak about caring about and loving their children and grandchildren, they fly often and sometimes even compound that massive greenhouse gas pollution by then taking a cruise ship—unquestionably one of the foulest vacation choices possible. There doesn’t appear to be any carbon emissions budget that adults adhere to. Some buy electric cars to ‘offset’ their absurdly grotesque energy consumption, and thereby attempt to assuage their guilty consciences with one more purchase. Perversely, the over-fifty crowd, born to consume more than any other generation before them, through their political power, politics and life examples are the harbingers of worsening ecological chaos. The teenagers I met resent this deeply. Where are older people in the climate action movements? Besides the traditional groups such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, which have helped forge a Green consciousness, Extinction Rebellion

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Climate justice and ethics: some thoughts

“We must use this moment as crucial leverage to push the planet in a new direction. Let us try. If we succeed, then we have risen to the greatest crisis humans have ever faced and shown that the big brain was a useful evolutionary adaptation. If we fail—well, we better to go down trying.” Climate activist Bill McKibben After experiencing a record-breaking heatwave of 45.9C in France last week, scientists have concluded that the heatwave was at least five times more likely because of climate change. The climate crisis is real, so here’s a question: in order to achieve climate justice, since most people seem reluctant to change their damaging habits, what if individually and nationally we put into law strict carbon budgets? For example, if you flew frequently, your budget to indulge would be used up more quickly. Once you had depleted your budget, if you wished to continue to travel by air, either a massive tax of, say, 1,000% would be levied on each ticket, or you’d simply be prohibited from flying. Nationally, one more pipeline carrying dirty oil would exceed Canada’s carbon budget. The world’s population will be close to 10 billion by 2050 – World Population Day is on July 11 – and the individual carbon budget would need to shrink accordingly. In the short term, before there is a mandatory budget for climate justice, should we begin to speak about the criminal liability of governments and individuals for excessive use of fossil fuels? If this sounds too radical, consider that this conversation has already started in the USA with a group of young people suing the federal government for just that reason. We each need to question our own engagement in activities that will accelerate the breakdown of our climate, irrecoverable loss of biodiversity, and the impoverishment of billions of people. The term ‘climate apartheid’ is being used to describe how the wealthiest 10% of the population is ruining the lives of the other 90%. The urgency with which this conversation needs to take place becomes clear with a NASA report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last month that a massive shrinking of sea ice is occurring in Antarctica, raising sea levels. It’s as if we delegate our ethical responsibilities to our representatives in government to fix the problems of this world after voting them into power, thereby absolving the individual of doing anything. Back in 1992, 1,670 world-renowned scientists signed the World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity, which concluded with these words: “A new ethic is required – a new attitude toward discharging our responsibility for caring for ourselves and the earth. We must recognize the earth’s limited capacity to provide for us. We must recognize its fragility. We must no longer allow it to be ravaged. This ethic must motivate a great movement, convincing reluctant leaders and reluctant governments and reluctant peoples themselves to effect the needed changes.” In 2018 over 15,000 scientists endorsed a second Warning to Humanity.

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