The definition of apathy, according to my Oxford American English dictionary, is the state of indifference; lack of interest or feeling. Surely this is an important word for our times, given the woeful state of current affairs in our world. The majority of Earth’s citizens, especially in the industrialized world, are in a state of apathy towards our global plight and the changes that urgently need to happen in order for our planet’s living populations to survive, and even to thrive.
Today is May 16th, and I took the opportunity to bring my laptop into the eighth grade class where I teach English, and together we sat and watched the film Do the Math, by the environmental group 350.org. It was a sobering main lesson for them, and an important one, I felt. Eight Danish teenagers and I watched as Bill McKibben, 350.org’s founder and one of the leading environmentalists on Earth today, explained to us just how serious the problem of the fossil fuel industry’s grip over the world’s economics really is.
The numbers are staggering, dear Readers. In a nutshell, then: The world’s scientists and leaders have agreed that raising the Earth’s temperature over 2 degrees celsius will have devastating consequences for all life on the planet. The next number, 565 gigatons, means that they believe that the Earth’s atmosphere can only hold a maximum of 565 Billion tons of CO2 and once there is more than that (and that is a whole lot of carbon dioxide sitting around the Earth, folks) then all of nature, including us, will be unable to live, basically. The third number, 2795, refers to the amount of gigatons of CO2 that is ALREADY in the world’s existing fossil fuel reserves under the Earth at this very moment: five times as much carbon dioxide than the world can tolerate, without any further exploration, drilling or otherwise locating yet more of this deadly stuff. Oh, and here are a few more important numbers to consider: The top five producers of oil in the world made 137 Billion dollars in profit last year; that is 375 million dollars a day. The top guy at Chevron makes a cool hundred thousand dollars a day himself, not bad for a day’s work. So each time you fill up your gas tank, consider the consequences of that small act, for they are Huge indeed.
This film, Do the Math, takes about 45 minutes to watch. After we had watched it today, I stood up before my sweet, innocent Danish pupils and spoke to them. I asked them if they understood basically what the film was about. They nodded, silently. They all looked very somber as I told them a bit more from the movie, especially about what the Keystone Tar Sands pipeline project is, what it means to extract oil from tar sand, and how it would travel from the Native people’s lands in Alberta, Canada, down through the entire length of the United States to the gulf of Mexico, to the oil refineries there.
Then I explained to them that, although this situation is threatening to take place in North America, and we are up here far away in Denmark, it is a global problem. I told them that this Earth is theirs, as much as anyone’s. That it matters very much what happens, that it is extremely important to stop this, to change from an oil-based global economy to one of renewable resources, for their and their children’s and grandchildren’s sake.
It is the future of humanity, along with all of Nature, which is at issue now. As one of the people in the film stated, “What is at stake now is civilization itself.” Bill McKibben and his colleagues lay out the main points to change the direction of Earth’s economy thus: 1) Divestment of stocks from Big Oil and Coal companies; 2) make them pay for polluting the world and stop government subsidising of their business; 3) make the leap to Renewable Energy, by investing tax dollars in clean energy sources; 4) the world’s citizens must stand up and voice their desire for change, in order to restructure the world’s energy sources in the next decade. In other words, civil disobedience is absolutely necessary, because we have a moral catastrophe on our hands, and it is up to us, The People of Earth, to do something about it. And we can, it is not impossible.
This environmental movement of The People is gaining momentum. When 350.org held their first World Action day in 2009, over 5200 demonstrations took place in 170 countries. By now, they are working in 188 countries. People are slowly waking from their apathetic sleep as more and more realize just how serious this situation truly is. Especially when someone finds out they want to bulldoze their property to run a tar sand pipeline through your backyard, well that’s a pretty big wakeup call.
Dear Readers, I can imagine that all of you who take the time to read my blog will agree that the times are calling for action, for raising our voices in loud unison, for saying firmly to the fossil fuel industry: No Thanks, we want to live, we want to preserve our planet for our children’s children. I encourage all of you to make your voices heard on this issue from this day forward. Organize in your town or join an ongoing environmental group. Start with your church, your kid’s school, your local gardening group, whatever it is, but Do it. We simply no longer have the luxury of sitting idly on the sidelines, meekly filling our gas tanks and denying that we have any responsibility towards these changes. Do anything, but do Something. Apathy means Big Oil and Coal keeps winning, keeps destroying, keeps getting ever-richer and ever more monstrous. My last blog was about words and silence. Today I say that some things in this life have to be spoken aloud, they are far too important to remain silent. This is one of those.
Please take the time to watch Do the Math, and then forward the link to all your friends around the world.
- Do the oilsands threaten our safe climate? Hansen’s “game over” vs Oliver’s “minuscule amount” (vancouverobserver.com)
- Students, Community Protest Utah Tar Sands Conference (southwestearthfirst.wordpress.com)
- IBI Watch 5/12/13 (ibiwatch.wordpress.com)
- The tar sands’ best friend (sunsetdaily.wordpress.com)
- ‘Cooking the Books and the Planet’: Report Slams State Dept. KXL Findings (commondreams.org)
- Earth Day 2013: Say No to KXL Tar Sands Pipeline (switchboard.nrdc.org)