This article is a supplement to Nachaya's upcoming review of Susan Bauer-Wu's new book, A future we can love (2023). In this article, Nachaya provides an overview of the big issues raised in Bauer-Wu's volume, from the climate crisis to global economic trends to society.
I recently had the pleasure of seeing A future we can love, the new book by Susan Bauer-Wu. Susan Bauer-Wu is the director of the Mind & Life Institute and has written a book expanding on a meeting the Institute hosted between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Mrs. Greta Thunberg, as well as leading climatologists Susan Natali and William Moomaw. After discussing the book with Susan, my mind was flooded with related thoughts on issues such as the climate crisis, the environment, and social change. Some of these thoughts are what constitute this essay.
In the early 2000s, the most radical thing I felt I could do was move my young family from the unhealthy environment of French cities to a rural life in the idyllic countryside. For a long time we lived in this 400 year old mud (daub) house, with local spring water and an off-grid setup and as self-contained as possible. Here we are, 20 years later, and I've been alive long enough to remember the waves of climate-related doomsday headlines over the years. I can't shake the lingering memories of them. My thoughts have also been triggered by the media's actions of some who, although well-meaning, appear to be provoking a backlash. Negative responses with good intentions, one might say. We simply cannot afford the current inertia at this rate.
I wish to pose several difficult, concerning and frustrating and contradictory opinions. I offer them to you, dear reader, to consider in your own life, and to ask yourself what changes we can all make starting today.
We know that the use of fossil fuels is limited and disastrous for the health of the individual and the planet. When burned, carbon from millions of years ago is released into our atmosphere. There was great hubris within the industrial revolution with no understanding of the resulting damage, or limited resources, and people acted as if it would be forever. So much damage has been inflicted in so few years.
There has been a growing focus on electric cars and solar panels over the past few decades, and I can see why. Yet, there is conflicting information and varying opinions about them. For example, solar panels are loaded with toxic chemicals, and increasing cash incentives to keep “upgrading” them lead to a staggering amount of hazardous landfills. (Harvard Business Review) Similarly to electric cars, depleted EV batteries not only end up leaking toxic waste if thrown away, but the lead, nickel, cobalt and lithium all need to be extracted. , and these mines have an unimaginable impact on the people, many of them children, involved - and don't get me started on the impact of modern slavery and planetary abuse on our technology, including the smartphones that we all hypocritically use, as well as cosmetics. A “1 pound EV battery is equivalent to mining and processing 000 pounds of soil”. (Manhattan Institute) But not least, the electricity to recharge the batteries always has to come from somewhere.
On the other hand, we know that we cannot continue to use fossil fuels as we do.
Electric vehicles are far preferable to diesel and petrol in the long run, but are there viable alternatives? How can you improve the way you travel?
In his essay in A future we can lovee, Diana Beresford-Kroeger suggests that we should plant as many trees as possible. This is a sentiment I absolutely agree with and did it myself, but if trees aren't possible, grow some herbs on your windowsill, which I do too. As we know, industrial agriculture is a major factor in deforestation and desertification, aggravating the albedo effect, a direct consequence of our eating habits.
How can you better modify your diet and food or shopping choices to reduce the impact of mass farming? Should we also pay more attention to the oceans?
Algae beds contribute significantly to the effects of water vapor and "cloud loops". We know that our relationship with fish and seafood, until our cats eat it, is destroying the oceans, inevitably the result of deep sea trawling. This is a disaster, not only for marine life but also for algal blooms, and of course there are the carbon implications. (Smithsonian Magazine) One acre of algae can remove up to 2,7 tons of CO2 per day. (Parametric Press) Some companies have combined modern technology and AI to "harness" algae and create controlled bioreactors that claim to be 400 times more efficient than trees. And with diets in mind, studies have shown that a single hectare of algae pond generates 27 times more protein than protein crops such as soybeans.
What changes can you make that will affect the oceans?
President Biden signed the Cut Inflation Act, but he also signed his approval for the $8 billion Willow project, with drilling alone estimated to produce the same carbon emissions as 2 million fossil fuel cars per year. All based on the assumption that there could be 160 billion barrels of oil and 30% of the planet's gas under the Arctic ice. (BBC News) With no international treaty actively protecting the Arctic from economic development, the United States is not the only country exploiting the region. Canada, Russia, Greenland and Norway have been drilling for years. Clearly, it's a disaster.
We also have evidence of Earth's climate fluctuations throughout the Cenozoic Era. Core samples from the Holocene indicate the precession of the equinoxes, Earth's warmest periods - the Hadean, Late Neoproterozoic, Cretaceous Hothouse, PETM - occurred before humans exist (I have in mind the 1500 year Bond cycle, the Younger Dryas up to the 4.2 ka event).
Can President Biden, or many other world leaders, be more reliable than those who dismiss the current climate crisis as a “normal fluctuation”? Green cities, including Nottingham here in the UK, are making huge strides towards eradicating carbon emissions, but taxes on car emissions and squeezing those who can't afford a new, cleaner car , for example, are being hit hard and based on the angry reactions to these initiatives, it is clear that some view these exhortations to “localized living” as threats to public liberty.
Yet, traditionally, humans live in local communities. Anyone who lives in a healthy community knows how invaluable support is and how vital an extended family is for physical and emotional well-being. What can cities, countries and individuals do to better make these transitions to a sustainable future without creating inertia, or even worse, backlash and metastasized opposition?
Is there a concern that too many of our young people just don't care enough? After all, we face several major crises of trust: a combination of misinformation, confusion, distrust of mainstream information, and the overall vacuity of pop culture and social media. All generations, but especially young people, face social and economic pressures, and these factor into calculations about material gain and a hopeful future, not to mention the question of self sustainable.
Here in the UK, protest groups like Insulate Britain blocked parts of the M25 in 2021, frustrating thousands of commuters who were just trying to stay afloat in their own lives, leading to the 'promise' of preventive arrests by Scotland Yard – a very worrying trend in my view – and a combination of anger and ridicule from the press and general public. This led to a “poor crybaby” attitude as opposed to one of support and positive engagement. We know the cynical rhetoric: “People protest, arrive by fossil means, create havoc and go back to their daily jobs 24 hours later, and nothing changes.
YouTuber and streamer Konstantin Kisin's now infamous speech at the Oxford Union debate, 'Woke Culture HAS Gone Too Far', brought other considerations to the table, citing that the UK was responsible for 2% of global carbon emissions, making the country's impact virtually negligible – so why would Brits care? – while the biggest contributors come from the countries of the South, where the driving imperative is daily survival. "One hundred and twenty million people in China don't have enough food," he said. “They are malnourished. A third of all children living in extreme poverty in the world live in India. There isn't a loving parent in the world who wouldn't put their child first, above any potential long-term factor that seems too abstract to be of immediate, individual concern. What right does the Global North have to deny this to the Global South, especially from a position of power, privilege and comfort?
He continues to claim that this younger generation is being "brainwashed into believing they are victims" and that all they can do is complain and protest instead of working, creating and build. A possible generalization, of course, but it is worth asking whether the protests really lead to negative responses. Are we falling for a gallows humor response thanks to the relentless flood of doom and apocalyptic sadness we are constantly bombarded with? This may be what has led to apathy and skewed opinion polls on the climate crisis.
What can we do to invest real action in people, especially the younger generation, so that they don't feel victimized?
If protesting is not the only way, how can we better excite, engage, educate and empower the next generation to work, create and build a better future?
The Dark Side of Solar Power (Harvard Business Review)
Mining, Minerals and “Green” Energy: A Reality Check (Manhattan Institute)
What 'glacier blood' in the French Alps tells scientists about high-altitude climate change (Smithsonian Magazine)
Tiny Algae and the Political Theater of Planting a Trillion Trees (Parametric Press)
Who Owns the Arctic and Should They Drill for Oil and Gas? (BBC News)
BDG Related Features
What is your role in these times of crisis?