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Our Global Hellhole 


Thanks for William Kowinski's excellent review of David W. Orr's "Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Change" (March 11), especially this quote from the book: "Climate change, like the threat of nuclear annihilation, puts all that humanity has struggled to achieve -- our cultures, art, music, literatures, cities, institutions, customs, religions and history, as well as our posterity -- at risk. Climate change, in other words, is not so much a problem to be fixed but rather a steadily worsening condition with which we must contend for a long time."

That puts everything else into perspective -- how a few thousand years of human history is suddenly bringing several billion years of life's evolution on this planet to a sharp precipice. The most immediate threat, of course, is deadly radiation released by nuclear weapons, power plant failure or terrorist use of fuel waste. But swiftly rising climate change is altering the earth's various habitats too quickly for most species to adjust, and many are close to extinction, boding ill for humanity.

One long generation -- my own -- has witnessed the automobilization of global society, with consequent urban sprawl and the wildly wasteful use of carbon-based fuels in transportation, housing and agriculture, not to mention the squandering of other resources, including vital topsoil, as well as massive removal of forests around the world. Population, doubling and redoubling decade by decade, has compounded the assault on nature, with young and old alike surviving in unprecedented number, made possible by modern science, technology and industry, guided jointly by government and corporate management. Humanity is rapidly exhausting its biological base. We have been living a miracle while abusing and exploiting one another, and presume it will continue indefinitely.

But what will it take to reframe our economic aspirations in terms of ecological sanity and toward more responsible forms of human fulfillment? I believe that the key word is, indeed, "responsibility." Just as the limits of human freedom are open-ended, so are those of our responsibility, to and for ourselves, others, and the world -- all because we are a species of social beings made self-aware by our capacity for language. Such personhood is the core reality of human experience, underlying all our achievements and evils. It has been expressed symbolically in religion; now science explores consciousness. One way or another, we must see through the illusions in of our common life before they destroy us and our wondrous world. Books like Orr's and reviews like Kowinski's show the way.

Chuck Harvey, Fieldbrook

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