As a reader of the New York Times, its Sunday edition and Maureen Dowd’s column — I seldom recommend columns, or columnists, but Sunday, July 25 is an exception. It’s a wakeup call. It’s why I’m writing this.
Sixty years ago, I was a senior at Bloomington High School. One afternoon a scientist from the University of Minnesota came to do a special presentation. I don’t recall the presenter’s name, or the full details of his remarks, because it was 60 years ago, but I do remember the subject was energy and the earth’s environment and how, sometime in the middle of this century, we would — if the then current trends continued — exhaust our supply of fossil fuels and find ourselves smothered in carbon dioxide gas — the end product of our consumption.
His talk wasn’t well attended. It was held in a small classroom used for film presentations. When you’re 17, his subject, especially, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, seemed remote, unlikely and irrelevant. Most of the attendees left with a shrug — their thoughts on the prom or an upcoming football game. I signed up on the recommendation of my biology instructor, with whom I conspired over my then, controversial, now politically incorrect, views on the works of Charles Darwin. That was 1962.
The presenter was pessimistic, and, ironically, he turned out to be wrong. Sixty years later, we didn’t run out of fossil fuels. We found more and kept right on guzzling — pumping still more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As John Holdren, a professor of environmental policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government is quoted in Dowd’s column, “Everything we worried about is happening, and it’s all happening at the high end of projections, even faster than the previous most pessimistic estimates.”
Today, California is burning, Germany is drowning, Minnesota is a desert and an iceberg half the size of Puerto Rico just broke away from Antarctica. It’s called climate change and it’s coming fast. What was predicted for 2150 is here, now. It used to be the TV weather forecast was a footnote. Now, every day, it’s a horror show.
Should we be surprised?
In 1972, the Club of Rome, a group of 100 world leaders, scientists, industrialists, educators, economists, high-level politicians and government officials, came together and published “The Limits to Growth.” It warned economic growth could not continue, that we were running out of resources, that the lines were coming together on the graph, and that catastrophic environmental change would force a massive dislocation of our lives on planet earth. The report sold 30 million copies in 30 languages. It was the best-selling environmental book in history. It was a warning, but did it make a difference?
If it did, we would not be where we are today. Cars and homes keep getting bigger. We buy more stuff. Our landfills look like mountains. Species face extinction. Trees are under threat.
The Amazon Rainforest, the largest on the planet, is being cut down and burned for “agricultural” interests. These are the trees that take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turn it into oxygen. It’s called photosynthesis.
The Boston Globe ran a story about Warfield Place, a tiny L-shaped Street in Northhampton, Massachusetts. Northhampton is about 90 miles west of Boston. The residents of Warfield Street, many of them academics from nearby Smith College have come to blows with stodgy city officials and highway engineers who want to cut down 50-year-old cherry trees and destroy boulevard plantings so they can repave and widen Warfield Street. The city and traffic engineers argue the street is unsafe and doesn’t meet current standards — sound familiar?
In Ramsey County the Audubon Society and conservationists struggle over a 77-acre county-owned parcel adjoining the county workhouse. Conservationists want it conserved and incorporated in Battle Creek Regional Park. The county wants to use it for affordable housing.
Prior Lake is planning a much-needed reconstruction of Pleasant Street. It was once Highway 13 and the main route through town. It had a large, leafy elm canopy — a casualty of Dutch Elm Disease. The elms are gone and the few trees remaining will be cut down during reconstruction, and, like Northhampton, Pleasant will be widened — supposedly to conform to a state standard. A variance is possible, but there’s nothing in current plans, just like there’s no mention of restoring boulevard trees or ornamental plantings.
Pete Seeger asked, “When will we ever learn?”