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An increasing world population exacerbates the crisis of Nature

“Overconsumption and overpopulation underlie every environmental problem we face today.” ~ Jacques-Yves Cousteau It has been stated many times that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is at best a poor indicator of humanity’s and the planet’s wellbeing. The Center for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy (CASSE) [www.steadystate.org] has always rejected the argument put forward by capitalism-driven economists, industrialists and most governments that growth is the key to better lives across the planet. In fact, perpetual growth is a recipe for runaway profits, ultimately promotes ecocide, and at its most aggressive, as it is currently, leads to the genocide of Indigenous groups and the poorest people. Sound like an unstoppable disease?  Though it is true that countless millions have been able to pursue healthier and fulfilling lives when pulled from extreme poverty, the way to get there is not through unlimited economic growth, which in turn is just smoke and mirrors and relies on an ever-increasing human population. Yes, contrary to the pronouncements of people like Elon Musk who believe that an ever-expanding human population is necessary if only to inhabit an utterly inhospitable planet like Mars, unlimited growth is the undisputed hallmark and madness of modern-day extractive colonialism. w The people at CASSE show that GDP is always linked to the ecological footprint of a country: the higher the GDP, the more land is consumed to facilitate that growth, and the less room there is left for biodiversity to flourish. And of course humans are part of the planet’s biodiversity. So, on a local level, if Sherbrooke’s Plan Nature will truly protect 45% of its land and thus limit growth, developers will tend to hate that plan because for them development, as part of an outdated economic paradigm of endless growth, is always a good venture and brings “wealth” to more people. Preserving and increasing habitat is fundamental for the survival of wildlife.  All of this brings me to reflect on UN World Population Day, held on July 11th every year since 1990. This year we contemplate the milestone of a human population of 8 billion. The focus in 2023 is on safeguarding the health and rights of women and girls, and on putting the brakes on Covid-19. With almost half of all pregnancies unintended, women and girls frequently find themselves in an untenable situation. Through the years, the UN has tried to foster open discussion regarding the rights of women and girls, always stressing the right to an education because this in turn lowers the pregnancy rate. It is equally important that men be educated too, as in many countries they are the ones who impede girls’ education. With the number of humans likely to exceed 10 billion before decreasing, the strong case to advocate for and celebrate the need to make people aware of the relationship between an increasing human population and ever-creeping consumption levels has not gone unnoticed by those who demand that our besieged ecosystems be protected. It has been calculated that the super-rich top 1%’s destructive ecological footprint is

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Western anti-Nature prejudice can be transformed

“O ruin’d piece of nature, this great worldShall so wear out to naught.” William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of King Lear When in 1951 Rachel Carson published her extraordinarily popular book The Sea Around Us, which galvanized huge interest in the oceans, she was not overly optimistic concerning humanity’s ability to be an engaged steward and partner to these vast and rich biologically endowed marine regions of the Earth. She said: “There has long been a certain comfort in the belief that the sea, at least, was inviolate, beyond man’s ability to change and to despoil. But this belief, unfortunately, has proved to be naïve.” Seventy years ago people thought the ocean was pristine, but in the intervening years it has lurched from one crisis to another. Carson amplified her urgent call to protect life on Earth with her revealing book Silent Spring, for she wished to whittle away a dangerous collective prejudice that has increasingly wrought havoc. Adding to the growing destruction of the fantastically fecund coral reefs brought on in large part by climate warming and the insatiable demand for the sea’s marine bounty, including its minerals, the newest concern is the level of plastics found in the ocean.  June 5 is World Environment Day, and this year its focus was on the ending of plastic pollution. Now, at last, a UN treaty on global plastic pollution based on the full life cycle of plastics is going ahead, with the details to be finalized by the end of 2024. We all know that there is great beauty, creativity—imagination, if you will—and intelligence in all sentient life forms. There are groups of people throughout the world who are striving to address an embedded ignorance of Nature, as there are also millions who share the recognition that the Earth’s biodiversity is unique in the universe. As we know, the prospects for the future on this planet grow dimmer with each year as biodiversity is lost, nuclear threats grow, and climate action never seems to take hold fast enough to hold off the sheer madness of a fossil-fuelled, irresponsible and unethical growth economy that is surely epitomized by gross domestic product (GDP). That homage to capitalism at its worst doesn’t care whether this growth economy encompasses the production of more armaments or the financing and reckless forging ahead with artificial intelligence. Nature is now given a price, but such intangibles as the inalienable right for humans and animals to have a healthy quality of life is looked upon askance and often shrugged off as some utopian pipe dream. Yet there is never a lack of ways for a person to wake in the morning and not feel beauty, even though the west would like to requisition it all by refusing to stop its extractive neo-colonial obsessions. In place of that unbridled greed courage, determination and education are fertile soil for a sense of agency that can grow vigorously. The David Suzuki Foundation announced recently that a long overdue overhaul of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act is finally

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Young people go to the courts to protect their future

“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” – Martin Luther King Jr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote those words in 1963 while he was in jail in Birmingham, Alabama for instigating a coordinated campaign of protest against desegregation. Was he referring only to humans, or did he acknowledge the ecological web of being too? It wouldn’t surprise me if he had had the extraordinary prescience to point out to us the interconnectivity of all life and not just focus on human relationships, as the ecology movement was about to get started with the publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring. And I have no doubt that if King were living today he would say that those same inexplicable but vital pulses of mutuality across Nature are being increasingly frayed. On April 22nd, millions of people celebrated Earth Day. The UN calls it “Mother Earth Day,” and it was celebrated within the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which resolves “to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean. It can help to end poverty, combat climate change and prevent a mass extinction.” [www.decadeonrestoration.org/] This resolution partners with the Convention on Biological Diversity, whose recent summit in Montreal I reported on last December. However, the resolution speaks to all of us, and calls out to each of us to do our part.  In the past I have celebrated Earth Day by attending Earth-themed concerts and protests and by propagating seeds; this year it was sweet peas. I also read the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) report, State of the Global Climate 2022[tinyurl.com/WMO-climate-indicators], published on April 21st this year. One of its key messages is: “The years 2015 to 2022 were the eight warmest in the 173-year instrumental record. The year 2022 was the fifth or sixth warmest year on record, despite ongoing La Niña conditions.” As the three main greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide—rise to new levels, so temperatures increase, along with intensified flooding and droughts, rising sea levels and the loss of glacial ice. The report looks in depth at global climate indicators and key drivers of climate breakdown. There is no dearth of peer-reviewed reports on the biodiversity/climate crisis. The WMO report amplifies with frightening graphics what we already know will come: a “death sentence,” as the Secretary-General of the UN bluntly calls it, is rapidly approaching and will be upon us unless all people give immediate attention to the crises. This report is aided by an interactive and simplified overview version, which I highly recommend: tinyurl.com/WMO-stories These accelerating ecosystem disasters in the last two decades have caused young people to launch many legal challenges around the world to force governments to move on the climate crisis. Young people in Canada, Norway, US states—Hawaii and Washington—Pakistan, Peru, Portugal and the Netherlands have brought cogent arguments to the courts. The urgency for young people lies in the universal truth that climate

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Now is the perfect time to replace your lawn for a glorious garden.

“I teach self-reliance, the world’s most subversive practice. I teach people how to grow their own food, which is shockingly subversive. So, yes, it’s seditious. But it’s peaceful sedition.”  Bill Mollison This is a magical time of the year. When I heard the first robin sing the other day, I realized how desperately quiet winter had been. When I see new birds arrive at the bird feeder who weren’t there two weeks ago, it’s clear that all animals are celebrating the arrival of spring. It doesn’t matter that there may be a little snow on the ground, because suddenly there are creeks that have come alive and rivers are rising with the breakup of ice. Canada geese are on the wing, and vultures hover overhead riding the warmer air. We also emerge from our wintry habitats, change our shoes and adorn ourselves with spring apparel, and open windows to fresh air and perhaps new ideas. As the price of food rose 10% last autumn, did it occur to you to consider starting a garden, but then to ask where? Why not put the garden where presently there is a patch of grass? There are so many reasons to do so. It’s hard to beat freshly picked peas, spinach or tomatoes, and a parade of sweet pea flowers adds fragrance and colour; no lawn offers that. Besides, a liberated area of earth allows for a plethora of beneficial insects to enter the space. Furthermore, biodiversity flourishes when the garden is an organic one. Organic horticulture respects the soil and the creatures who live there; harmful herbicides and pesticides are not used. Although organically grown seeds are slightly more expensive than others, they are the foundation for any garden, as they are free of chemical residues that contaminate the land. It’s also fun to save seeds from your organic produce. In the depths of winter the joyful and hope-filled arrival of the seed catalogue kicks off the flurry of dreams, plans and actions for our awakening. You might have discussions with others about what to include that is new to the garden. A gardening plan makes sense, but spontaneity is important too, and it doesn’t matter if all you have is a sunny patio to start your garden paradise. A collection of different potted pepper plants, for example, will enliven any space with their elegant shapes and fruits. During April and May there are many seedlings that can be propagated in the house. In fact, I start basil—the tender leaves are a treat to eat in April—and snapdragons in early February. As you will probably know, supermarkets and hardware stores sell both vegetable and flower seeds. Right now is the perfect time to buy a selection of seeds, or, better, to use the seeds you have collected from last year’s harvest. If you use open-pollinated varieties, you will have many possibilities to save seeds. This gives you independence from buying what you can instead nurture yourself. Growing garlic is an example of

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Long-awaited UN synthesis climate report tells it like it is. We’re on thin ice.

“Humanity is on thin ice—and that ice is melting fast… Concentrations of carbon dioxide are at their highest levels in at least 2 million years. The climate time bomb is ticking… Today’s IPCC report is a how-to guide to defuse the climate time bomb… It is a survival guide for humanity.” Video UN Secretary General António Guterres During the last few years I have often quoted UN Secretary General António Guterres in these articles. As the leader of the UN he should inspire people and countries to take notice of grave humanitarian and ecological situations. He advises us to act on impending crises. His voice is one for solidarity and the courage to face existential threats. But who listens to him? Certainly not global north societies. This is a source of great sadness for me and many others who have recognized for decades the looming encirclement of a multitude of crises that are now at the point of being unleashed full-blown upon this world. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that was released a week ago is being called a “survival guide.” This is NOT hyperbole. “The choices and actions implemented in this decade will have impacts now and for thousands of years,” the IPCC declares.  The recent first water conference given by the UN in 50 years points us to the immediate task of giving urgent relief to the accumulative wrongs wrought against the most needy. The IPCC points out the extreme scenarios that are gaining higher and higher scientific confidence, whereby the global south finds it increasingly difficult to cope with the many cascading crises, including sea level rises, that will upend already fragile communities. The IPCC report published this month links achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals to the immediate reduction of carbon dioxide levels: “Climate change has reduced food security and affected water security due to warming, changing precipitation patterns, reduction and loss of cryospheric elements, and greater frequency and intensity of climatic extremes, thereby hindering efforts to meet Sustainable Development Goals.” Goal 6 targets clean water and sanitation. Places like Africa cannot meet clean water and sanitation goals unless the rich nations get their act together. The report is a must-read! Bill McKibben’s book The End of Nature, published in 1989, was the first book aimed at raising public awareness of the catastrophic direction in which the accumulation of carbon dioxide pollution would take us: where we are now, on the cusp of ecological and societal collapse. (Tellingly, the secretive scientific papers written by fossil fuel companies had laid out the dangers back in the 1970s.) Now that McKibben is over 60 years old, he has co-founded Third Act (thirdact.org), the purpose of which is to bring the wisdom and huge financial clout of the richest living generation to put pressure on governments and financial institutions to stop loaning obscene amounts of money to the oil and gas industries that in turn accelerate new levels of production. It is well known that institutions such

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Electrification of everything will bring many benefits

We all know about the sordid machinations of big tobacco when they kept the public in the dark about the huge dangers associated with smoking. Just look at all the films produced throughout the 20th century that typically show cigarette smoking to be perfectly acceptable and indeed glamorous. How can we forget about television commercials showing doctors smoking most contentedly while giving medical advice? The same criminal activity happened with the oil industry when their lobbyists and politicians declared climate change to be nothing more than an ongoing natural occurrence, just as they had refused to act on their own scientific evidence in the 1970s regarding the accumulation of carbon dioxide emissions. They would no doubt say that acceptance of the data would have put them out of business decades ago – and that is never allowed, no matter how nefarious the operation. As Québec phases out the installation of new domestic oil furnaces and the repair of older ones for a host of health reasons, including valid climate concerns, we must ask what comes next. “Oil-fuelled residential heating systems generate about one million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, the equivalent of the greenhouse gas emissions of 300,000 light vehicles, according to the provincial government. The combustion of home heating oil also generates nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide, and pollutes the air with fine particles.” Furthermore, “oil is 1.4 times more polluting than natural gas and 102 times more polluting than hydroelectricity as a heating option.” The news that gas water heaters and gas stoves are next on the list for removal for similarly valid reasons has the natural gas (but let’s call it what it is, please – fossil gas) crew up in arms. Right-wing politicians, funded and greased by those same companies, are crying foul. Never mind what the science says, they declare, there is a conspiracy to shut off the spigots of oil and gas in favour of renewable energies such as wind, solar and historically controversial hydropower. We now know that for 50 years gas companies have disregarded their own research for the same unethical and reprehensible reasons that were accepted by oil corporations. “In recent months, studies have found that gas-burning stoves are responsible for nearly 13 percent of childhood asthma cases in the United States, and that they leak methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and benzene, a cancer-causing chemical, even when they’re shut off.” Powered by renewable energy, electrification of our homes, businesses, farming, transportation –everything – has emerged as one of the best ways to drastically reduce fossil fuel emissions and is being committed to by countries around the world. The International Energy Agency has made it clear that the electrification of transportation and the heating of both residential and commercial buildings is making a huge contribution to the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Electrification also has an immediate and long-term effect on biodiversity loss in that pollution and habitat loss will lessen considerably. Climate heating, massively exacerbated by burning fossil fuels, has a direct link

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The Montreal biodiversity agreement offers us a better chance for survival.

The Montreal biodiversity agreement offers us a better chance for survival.

“Nature is our ship. We must ensure it stays afloat” Virginijus Sinkevičius, EU Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries “Forget the dreams of some billionaires. There is no planet B.” António Guterres “This global agreement is a win for people and the planet. We are pleased that it recognizes the need to protect much more land and ocean, and equally that Indigenous leadership and quality of protection is key to success.” Sandra Schwartz, National Executive Director, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society The UN biodiversity summit in Montreal (COP15) has now come to a close. Governments, corporations and individuals must see the resulting Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) for 2030 as a floor and not a ceiling for humanity’s resolve to stop biodiversity loss and then accelerate immediately the commitments to include strong levels of implementation. So, for example, Target 3 of the GBF requires that 30% of both land and oceans be protected by 2030, but as the great biologist E.O. Wilson pointed out, the planet can only truly rebound and be a safe haven for Nature if we vigorously protect 50% of Earth, while emphasizing that Indigenous knowledge and inclusion in biodiversity agreements be sacrosanct. Because of the very real possibility that the entire biodiversity framework would have failed without it, I thought it vital to include the full text of Target 3 here: “Ensure and enable that by 2030 at least 30 per cent of terrestrial, inland water, and coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services, are effectively conserved and managed through ecologically representative, well-connected and equitably governed systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, recognizing Indigenous and traditional territories, where applicable, and integrated into wider landscapes, seascapes and the ocean, while ensuring that any sustainable use, where appropriate in such areas, is fully consistent with conservation outcomes, recognizing and respecting the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities including over their traditional territories.” Equally important is Target 22: “Ensure the full, equitable, inclusive, effective and gender-responsive representation and participation in decision-making, and access to justice and information related to biodiversity by Indigenous peoples and local communities, respecting their cultures and their rights over lands, territories, resources, and traditional knowledge, as well as by women and girls, children and youth, and persons with disabilities, and ensure the full protection of environmental human defenders.” After the murder of thousands of Nature defenders the inclusion in this target has great significance. Many of the targets are cause for celebration. Please take the time to read the document linked at the end of this article, as only an informed society can move us to an ecologically based civilization. Although the Montreal–Kunming agreement is not legally binding, governments will be tasked with showing their progress towards meeting the targets through national biodiversity plans, akin to the nationally determined contributions countries use to show progress on meeting the goals of the Paris climate agreement. You may be entirely justified in

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An interview with several world youth who protect biodiversity

“You are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody!” Jean-Jacques Rousseau As the time approaches for the critically important UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) summit (COP15) in Montreal this December, I have had the fortunate opportunity to speak with youth leaders from around the world, some of whom will be attending the summit. I met Jonas Kittelsen on a Zoom conference call in September. As members of the Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN), he and other young Norwegian activists have a working relationship with the CBD, which strongly advocates the inclusion of young people in decision-making. Jonas and his fellow global activists Shruthi, Swetha and Sudha are knowledgeable and passionate about protecting Nature, and I was honoured to discuss with them their thoughts and actions to protect Earth’s biodiversity, of which humans are a part. The GYBN website makes it very clear that there is a global biodiversity emergency. The organisation is asking all young people to rally for biodiversity. Has Norway’s biodiversity youth network succeeded in rallying its peer group? Jonas: Unfortunately, there is no specifically Norwegian biodiversity network, but we have a Nordic youth biodiversity network, which aims to bring young voices to the forefront at UN negotiations for Nature. Our Nordic Youth Biodiversity Paper carries the voices of several thousand Nordic young people, who have articulated what they think politicians must do, and we will use this to push policymakers to take responsibility for this acute emergency. However, I wish more young people rallied for biodiversity, as the crisis is existential, and there are still very few of us working with these issues firsthand. Why did you feel compelled to join GYBN? Are you a member of other climate/biodiversity groups? What is unique about GYBN? Shruthi: GYBN is the first climate/biodiversity group I joined. The reason I wanted to join was the capacity building that they did around the CBD, which was my source of understanding this complex process, something I always wanted to do. The capacity-building training was my introduction to GYBN and the community. GYBN is unique in that they don’t just organise campaigns and awareness marches. They really make the effort to involve young people’s opinions and voices in discussions about policy and to get up to speed regarding these important negotiations. They are involved in a wide range of activities that engage artists, young people, decision makers, governments and international bodies. The fact that they have 40+ national chapters and several subnational ones speaks of the reach of the GYBN community. The global youth climate/biodiversity movement has gained much-needed momentum. However, the term “youth-washing,” whereby a corporation, government or the UN uses its seemingly engaging relationship with young people to foster its own agenda, is of concern for groups such as yours. For example, Egypt’s repressive regime, which is hosting November’s Climate summit (COP27), is going to have a Children and Youth Pavilion there. Greta Thunberg has said,

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We are in the fight of our lives

“The clock is ticking,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told participants. “We are in the fight of our lives. And we are losing. Greenhouse gas emissions keep growing. Global temperatures keep rising. And our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible…It is either a Climate Solidarity Pact or a Collective Suicide Pact.” He added: “We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.” The 27th UN conference on climate change, known as COP27, is currently taking place in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. There are topics that cannot be thrown down the to-do list for next year. The delegates know that they must follow through on lowering fossil fuel pollution. Period. Last year’s summit in Glasgow, Scotland made it clear that if world temperatures are to stay below 2 degrees Celsius – or better, much better, 1.5 degrees Celsius – implementation of the aspirational goals set there must translate into signed and sealed legal agreements. Rachel Kyte, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University and a UN climate adviser, says: “Putting off to tomorrow that which needs to be done today has come back to bite us… Decades of under-investment in infrastructure, of too-slow progress on protecting Nature, faltering responses to rising inequality, undervaluing energy efficiency. Now we find ourselves scrambling to swing away from fossil fuels, ramp up renewables, respond to famine and food price shocks, and with inflation on the rise and growth stalling, and very little of the policy frameworks we need to make the transitions move smoothly at speed. 2021 was about ambition – 2022 is about following through.” If there were ever a summer to prove that speedily implemented decisions to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions and the subsidies given to oil and gas, 2022’s months of drought, floods and forest fires surely would convince anyone. Demands from non-G7 nations to finally receive for climate adaptation the billions of dollars promised by those wealthy industrial countries that almost single-handedly caused the climate crisis will feature prominently at COP27. But the hypocrisy of countries like the US and Canada that subsidise or promote new fossil fuel projects while not doing nearly enough to accelerate the production of renewable sources of energy fuel projects will also be highlighted. With the spotlight now on Africa, as COP27 is taking place there, transitioning away from oil and in particular ending new fossil fuel projects will be a key barometer of this year’s conference. But are countries like the US really interested? Please see tinyurl.com/US-Africa-fossil-fuels Two other focal points will be aimed at having debt as well as loss and damage to developing countries examined. Massive debts that have grown in these countries must be rescinded, since those debilitating debts to rich countries stop them from initiating climate adaptation, including building infrastructure that can withstand the new reality of climate breakdown such as the devastation caused by flooding in Pakistan. Take a look at this summer’s catastrophes through this video:

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A summer of climate upheaval propels the world to autumn action

“The populous and the powerful was a lump,  Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless—  A lump of death—a chaos of hard clay.  The rivers, lakes, and ocean all stood still,  And nothing stirred within their silent depths…” – from ”Darkness” by Lord Byron The English poet Lord Byron wrote the poem “Darkness” in 1816 to describe the horrors of not having sunlight and adequate atmospheric heat to grow crops after the eruption of Mount Tambora in present-day Indonesia the previous spring. The year 1816 is known as the “the year without a summer” because the dust in the sky blotted out the sun and caused temperatures to plummet. There was widespread famine in eastern Canada as a result of crop failure, as elsewhere in the world.  Clearly a stable climate matters if life is to flourish, and although 2022 has had quite a different sort of summer than 1816, its own set of catastrophic events rival what happened across the world in 1816. Unlike the natural event brought on with the eruption of Mount Tambora, our global woes are intrinsically linked to the fossil-fuel-addicted industrial countries, whose governments refuse to rein in oil and gas profits and stand up for young people’s right to a future. (Just twenty of the biggest oil and gas producers are projected to spend $932 billion by the end of 2030 on developing new oil and gas fields if they have their way.) Remember that global temperature is now 1.2°C higher than it was in 1816. This summer’s multi-disasters have brought into stark relief what chaos awaits us if we disregard broadly accepted scientific reports predicting what confronts us with an increase of 2–3°C. Exceeding even 1.5°C of global heating could trigger multiple climate tipping points, warns Johan Rockström, joint director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. Climate tipping points such as sudden enormous water releases from Greenland’s ice sheet would engender a global emergency and are openly researched and debated. Many scientists believe that a 1.8°C rise is the most optimistic chance we have. After this summer, when 1.2°C has caused such mayhem, what global hell awaits the living at 1.8°C? If this summer hasn’t made abundantly obvious and with added urgency the imperative for industrialized countries to shut down the oil and gas schemes for energy reliance, civil disobedience will scream its way to the halls of power. We do this to ourselves. The poet John Donne, born in 1572, expresses this self-afflicting tendency of humans well: ”Nothing but man of all envenom’d things doth work upon itselfe, with inborne stings.”  What started with drought has moved to unprecedented flooding in Pakistan, putting a third of the country under water and displacing 32 million people. Two-thirds of Europe is suffering drought, and major rivers are becoming unnavigable for commercial craft. France relies on its rivers to cool its nuclear reactors, which produce most of its electricity, but those rivers are experiencing drastically diminished water flow. China’s summer of unprecedented heat waves has caused rivers there

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