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“There’s No Economy on a Dead Planet”: Reflections on a Missing Election Issue


Listening to Mitt Romney and Barack Obama wonk back and forth on how to spark economic growth (a doctrinally sacred goal of American presidential candidates) during their first televised debate last week, I was reminded of a handmade poster held by a young woman protesting outside the global climate meetings in Copenhagen in December of 2009. “There’s No Economy,” the poster read, “on a Dead Planet.” [1]


 

 

There’s something missing from the presidential campaign, including the first presidential debate last week – the fate of the Earth.

 

Well, not the Earth itself, really. The planet we currently inhabit will outlive us if current trends towards anthropogenic ecocide are not halted. What’s really at stake is livable ecology – the existence of a natural environment consistent with a decent and desirable future for humanity and other sentient beings.

 

“We’re Losing the Earth’s Air Conditioner”

 

Here we should make no mistake. The Earth, understood in this sense (as livable ecology), is in crisis thanks to catastrophic climate change and a related broader unfolding environmental apocalypse According to research released last June by the science journal Nature, humanity is now facing an imminent threat of extinction – a threat caused by its reckless exploitation of the natural environment. The report reveals that our planet's biosphere is steadily and ever more rapidly approaching a “tipping point,” meaning that all of the planet’s ecosystems are nearing sudden and irreversible change that will not be conducive to human life. "The data suggests that there will be a reduction in biodiversity and severe impacts on much of what we depend on to sustain our quality of life, including… fisheries, agriculture, forest products and clean water. This could happen within just a few generations,” wrote lead author Anthony Barnosky, a professor of integrative biology at the University of California-Berkeley. “My colleagues who study climate-induced changes through the Earth's history are more than pretty worried,” co-researcher Arne Mooers, a professor of biodiversity at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, said in a statement. “In fact, some are terrified.”[2]

 

The leading (though hardly the sole) ecological threat is climate change. The great northern ice sheet is withering ominously. The melting of Arctic ice replaces a shiny white mirror that reflects the sun’s rays back to space “with a dull blue ocean that absorbs most of those rays.”  Inland glaciers and snow-packs in the Himalayas, Andes, Sierras, and Rockies are retreating, threatening local and global water and food supplies. They are “melting very fast,” the ecological writer and activist Bill McKibben noted two years ago in his chilling book

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