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The day after yesterday

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
June 10, 2004


"This is a beautiful planet, and not at all fragile. Earth can withstand volcanic eruptions, tectonic cataclysms, and ice ages. But this canny, intelligent, prolific, and extremely self-centered human creature had proven himself capable of more destruction of life than Mother Nature herself." — Michael L. Fischer

Ever since Shelley Winters swam into my heart in the Poseidon Adventure I have been a connoisseur of the cinematic genre know as the disaster film. Earthquakes, towering infernos, tornadoes, and tidal waves were Cowboys to my Indian in my overactive imagination. The ultimate in infotainment, disaster films taught me, among other things, Los Angeles is a disaster waiting to happen, elevators are unsafe, and there is no place to run on a cruise ship.

Perhaps this is what tuned my environmental awareness to such a high frequency.

Thirty-two years later fiction is now fact, and disasters are now global in perspective. Towering infernos will shape U.S. foreign policy for the foreseeable future in the name of national security, while little will be done to ensure the most basic of environmental securities. The long-term feasibility of western civilization is now in question, and rapid devolution a growing possibility. The data is staggering.

Clean air and water, if not downright impossible, is now are a luxury for most. Biodiversity is crashing around the world with extinctions occurring daily. No longer a perceived threat, climate change has been revealed as very real and very fatal. Human overpopulation is being expressed through religious wars, corporate wars, and equally hideous ethnic cleansings. Water scarcity is now the rule for most of the developed world, and effects of desertification spreading at a measurable rate. Are water wars far behind?

The Bush II Administration, and the extractive industries, has declared all out war on what little regulation stands between human utilitarianism and outright onslaught. The intentional disregard for sound science and basic environmental ethics has put the United State on a collision course with catastrophe of epic proportion. How many Americans remember the Dirty Thirties and the Dust Bowl? How about all those killed in Central American mudslides caused by deforestation and 1998's hurricane Mitch? Deforestation also played a major role in the catastrophic floods that recently devastated the border region between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

I found it oddly reassuring that on the weekend The Day After Tomorrow, the latest disaster film, opened nation-wide; Indiana was hit by hundreds of tornadoes. Although science fiction, there was enough science fact up on the screen to alarm most rational people. Sadly the entertainment industry is doing the work of corporate journalists, who are unable or unwilling to report on the growing evidence that human impact on the environment is bringing about climate change, the sixth great extinction, and toxic living conditions.

The concept of ecological decline is not new. Thomas Malthus, Henry David Thoreau, Rachel Carson, Jacques Cousteau, Daniel Quinn, Marc Reisner, Al Gore, and Winona La Duke, to name but a few modern day Cassandras, have all written significantly on the issue of environmental degradation. Yet the mainstream media obsesses over such trivial matters as celebrity garbage, tawdry murders and the latest gadget. As a culture we are in denial to the point of criminal neglect.

I don't know about anyone else, but I feel the growing corporate dominance over global water supplies is more important than who's screwing whom in Malibu. That which is now reported as news is nothing more than a diversion from the important issues that plague our on going survival. Bombarded with propaganda designed to support the status quo, the information could help individuals mitigate ecological crisis is passed over for helpful household tips and dinner recipes.

Considering The Day After Tomorrow opened with a record box office gross, I am heartened Hollywood will make more films dealing with environmental destruction resulting from human activity. Perhaps the next disaster film can be about firestorms devastating the west due to the lethal combination of drought, deregulation, and development.

Who knows the next reality show can be called "Environmental refuge" where viewers follow the efforts of displaced people trying to rebuild their lives. Kind of like Survivor but without the games and color-coded bandanas, Mark Burnett and Tiki torches.

Ladies and gentleman, the greatest disaster story ever told will be the one about how the species homo sapien sapiens brought it's on destruction due to a fatal case of misconceived entitlement, anthropocentric arrogance.

P.S. There doesn't have to be another morning after.

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