Tuesday, November 2nd is election day and promises to be one of the most important dates in recent history.
As you know, Physicians for Social Responsibility came into being during the Cold War. Our first and foremost mission was to stop what was then the ultimate global threat, unlimited thermonuclear war between the US and Soviet Union. Although nuclear weapons remain a terrible menace, environmental problems may incrementally bring about what hydrogen bombs failed to accomplish in a flash.
Speaking at PSR-LA’s membership dinner in January, Dr. Jared Diamond soberly posited that human beings have a mere fifty years remaining in which to turn the tide, reduce human impact on the environment or face extinction.
Even the Pentagon is worried. Their recent study, “An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and its Implications for United States National Security,” projects polar ice-caps melting within the next few decades, decreasing the Atlantic Ocean’s salinity to the point that the Gulf Stream veers from its present course, turning Europe into a second Siberia.
Other scientists dispute whether Europe is primarily warmed by thermohaline circulation without the oceans. The Pentagon report contemplates other cataclysmic changes: heat waves, month long dust storms and massive hurricanes.
Even one of the world’s largest insurance companies, Swiss Re, recently warned that the costs of natural disasters, aggravated by global warming, threaten to spiral out of control. In ten years, they conjecture, such disasters may double in cost to $150 billion a year, hitting insurers with $30-40 billion in claims, or the equivalent of one World Trade Center attack annually. Correspondingly, a commission within the conservative World Bank has called for the phase-out of fossil fuels within the next eight years. And Hollywood’s taking notice. This summer’s blockbuster “The Day After Tomorrow,” promises to sensationalize global warming’s devastating effects.
Changes in our climate are real and they are underway. Everybody seems to get it.
Well, almost everyone. The current administration, many of whom are oilmen by trade, have enacted policies that frankly resemble the problem more than the solution. The current administration killed the Kyoto Treaty. Early on they expunged the phrase “global warming” from government documents. They shelved prior commitments to cut carbon emissions. They now permit coal-fired power plants to operate without scrubbers. And one could argue that their Middle East policy is conducted in such a way that favors oil interests over those of national security.
Clearly there is a relationship between the health of the planet and human strife. Imagine if current trends continue. Imagine what will happen when potable water becomes more scarce, when forests lose their last trees, and when global warming shatters ecosystems. Already a full sixty percent of the world’s 43 million refugees are today homeless because of environmental disasters.
The relationship between plough shares and bombs run the other direction as well—war and strife in turn take their toll on the environment. In the 16th century Ireland’s great oak forests were cut to build Her Majesty’s ships. Here, today, in California, the military is by far the single greatest polluter.
Imagine then if a foreign government or terrorist threatened to melt the polar ice-caps or poison LA’s water supply or put radioactive materials in baby strollers. The response would be immediate and overwhelming. But when the threat is slow-moving, and when industry or the military itself is responsible for the pollution, the government will likely fail to protect. You best cook a lobster by slowly turning up the heat.
And in case you already didn’t know, here in California we do have rocket fuel (perchlorate) in our drinking water. And Cold War radioactive materials have been recycled, with the government’s blessing, into consumer products.
The upcoming election presents two widely differing philosophies on how the world’s most powerful nation will relate to the environment and how it will conduct its foreign policy. Participating in this process is critical. And yet it is merely a first-step. The problems we face are of such magnitude that regardless of who wins, there will be considerable work to do after the election.
You can make a difference. PSR-LA is doing voter registration at LA’s medical school campuses as well as get out the vote activities. We encourage you to get involved. Please call Candice Kim at (213) 386-4901 x125.