Thursday, October 17, 2019

TIME Magazine's Special Climate Issue 23 September 2019

I don't usually read magazines. But when I saw TIME Magazine's Special Climate Issue in the airport shop when I was returning from Cyprus last month, I felt I had to read it. I spent the wait in the airport and the flight home reading it. It wasn't a light read. The environment and the impact human beings have on it is an issue I've taken very seriously since I was a teenager. The irony of reading a paper magazine on a plane wasn't wasted on me, either!

The magazine addressed many aspects of the climate crisis and many parts of the world. It also featured biographies of 15 women who are changing the world. I want to share a few of the important messages that spoke to me.

In "From the Editor", Edward Felsenthal wrote the following:

Notably, what you will not find in this issue are climate-change skeptics. Core to our mission is bringing together diverse perspectives. Experts can and should debate the best route to mitigating the effects of climate change, but there is no serious doubt that those effects are real. We are witnessing them right in front of us. The science on global warming is settled. There isn't another side, and there isn't another moment. (p. 4).

I was very pleased to read this evidence that journalism is moving away from the misleading idea of "balance", as though all opinions are equally valid and worthy of representation. There is actually such a thing as truth and reality, and those who choose to deny it for reasons of ideology, religion, or financial gain don't deserve to have equal representation in the public sphere.

In an article entitled "Why I have hope for the climate-change battles to come", Al Gore concluded by noting the grass-roots activism, often involving teenagers and young adults:

Saving the future of humanity is a heavy burden for teenagers and 20-somethings to bear. But they are embracing the challenge as if their lives depend on it. The rest of us must follow their lead and act before it's too late. (p. 23).

I have been impressed by the increase in young activism, though I believe that there have always been young, idealistic people involved in environment-related issues. Some people have grown up from teenagers to middle-aged or elderly within the green movement. The reason young people are so active now is that the point of no return is rapidly approaching and they will live with the consequences for longer than the older generations.

Aryn Baker visited Jacobabad, Pakistan, in a piece entitled "The hottest city on earth", and noted:

If the planet continues warming at an accelerated rate, it won't be just the people of Jacobabad who live through 50 ͒ C summers. Everyone will. (p. 26)

As a person who dislikes heat, I find this particularly alarming!

Jane Goodall wrote an insightful essay, "The devastation of climate change is real. But there are reasons to be hopeful". She lists four problems and then four solutions.

In order to slow down climate change, we must solve four seemingly unsolvable problems. We must eliminate poverty. We must change the unsustainable lifestyles of so many of us. We must abolish corruption. And we must think about our growing human population. There are 7.7 billion of us today, and by 2050, the UN predicts there will be 9.7 billion. But I believe we have a window of time to have an impact. (p. 46).
She then lists her four solutions: The resilience of nature; The human brain; Social Media; and the power of young people.

I found it interesting that this was one of the few mentions of the growing human population in the entire magazine. And I wasn't surprised that it came from a conservationist who's highly aware of the impact of habitat loss on all the non-human species of the planet. I think this issue should be taken more seriously by anyone concerned with our future survival.

Michael E. Mann wrote about the balance between individual efforts and the responsibility of corporations and governments in a piece with the pithy title "Paper straws alone won't save the planet".

There is a long history of industry-funded "deflections campaigns" aimed to divert attention from big polluters and place the burden on individuals. Individual action is important and something we should all champion. But appearing to force Americans to give up meat, or travel, or other things central to the lifestyle they've chosen to live is politically dangerous: it plays right into the hands of climate-change deniers whose strategy tends to be to portray climate champions as freedom-hating totalitarians. [...] We need systemic changes that will reduce everyone's carbon footprint, whether or not they care. (p. 52)

I have taken various actions throughout my life, and especially recently, to reduce my impact on the environment. However, I am acutely aware that individual actions are not enough, and that the greed of corporations and the reluctance of governments to intervene in ways that might reduce established industries' profits has a greater negative impact than can be balanced by individuals refusing plastic bags, plastic straws, and single-use bottles (or other such steps). Since corporations are motivated by short-term greed and not a long-term vision of the planet's future, the only way to change things on a large scale is for governments and international bodies to regulate their behaviour.

Angelina Jolie explored the issue of population displacement in "No person is an island". Once again, the relocation of populations from devastated countreis to safer places will need to be solved by governments through international cooperation. She ends her piece:

[...] standing on the sidelines of global efforts is not a morally neutral position: it will negatively affect the lives of millions of people. A nation of use only to itself is not a leading country. As Americans, we have rarely feared exercising our influence on global questions affecting the peace and security of the world as well as our own prosperity. A changing climate should be no different. In the past, America has been a country defined by vision. That still must be our greatest asset. (p. 91)

I wish I could be optimistic about the chances of this happening!

 The issue ends with "A 30-year to-do list" (p. 103), which includes the following 6 goals:
  • Phase out natural gas and eliminate coal;
  • Grow renewables;
  • Chart a path on nuclear;
  • Remove carbon from the atmosphere;
  • Change our agriculture and support trees;
  • Make our energy use more efficient.
Then it explains "How we get there":
  • Government commitments;
  • Corporate commitments;
  • Individual commitments;
  • Encourage innovation.
Once again, I was disappointed not to see any mention of population reduction in this vision. Of course, this should be achieved through individual commitments, not through government intervention such as a one-child policy enforced by law. I just hope our society can become more accepting of the idea of people choosing not to have children, or to have just one child. We can no long afford to apply the biblical injunction "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth". Human beings have filled it to overflowing, at the expense of other species. Now it's time to think about the size of our population as a whole and the size of our families.

This was a thought-provoking magazine, and I would encourage everyone to seek out information and opinions about various environmental issues. This is something we all can and should address in various ways, before it's too late.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Cyprus, Part Five: Cats of Cyprus

Cyprus likes to call itself "the Island of Love", claiming to be the birthplace of Aphrodite, goddess of love. But it could equally be called "the Island of Cats".

There are cats everywhere: in cities, villages, and archaeological sites. In fact, there are more cats than humans on the island: the human population is about 1.2 million, while the estimated number of cats is 1.5 million!

During our visit, we came across two interesting stories relating to cats in Cyprus. In Limassol Archaeological Museum, we saw a cast of the skeleton of one of the earliest domesticated cats, which was buried with a human. The remains are dated to 9500-9000 B.C.E., which is about 5,000 years earlier than the well-known domestication of cats in Egypt. This discovery is relatively recent, and while it has been mentioned in some cat books I have read, such as The Lion in the Living Room by Abigail Tucker, this came as a surprise. I always look for cat-related items in museums, and most often find depictions of lions or Egyptian cat art. This time, one of the first items we saw was the cat skeleton with its explanation. This really made my day.

The other story was that cats were introduced to Cyprus by St. Helena in 328 C.E. to hunt the venomous snakes that were overpopulating as the result of a drought. There is a monastery called St. Nicholas of the Cats, where the cats are considered the descendents of these cats. It's hard to believe that cats would be effective in eradicating the snake population, but they were probably beneficial in hunting various types of vermin.

While tourists like me who love cats enjoy seeing, photographing, and sometimes touching cats while travelling, this situation is not actually in the cats' best interest. Like other Mediterranean locations, Cyprus is clearly experiencing cat overpopulation, and most of the cats end up suffering. I hope that there will be increasing awareness of the need to implement TNR and support managed community cat colonies.