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More thoughts on “Six Degrees”

Richard S. (Dick) Stein

I very much agree with the guest column by the Rev. Andrea Ayvazian concerned with the book, “Six Degrees” by Mark Lynas.  I join her belief that this is a “must read” book. I had read it two weeks ago and my reaction was very similar. The prospect it points out that is well documented is that there is a high probability that our civilization will not last this century and that we only have about seven years (from 2008 when the book was written) to act to try to prevent this. This means that today, we only have one year left. I hope we have more as the chances of doing something in a year are quite small. It is sobering to think that the civilization may be lost during the lives of my great grandchildren! It makes the problems we are concerned with today seem trivial. It would be the greatest of crimes to allow our civilization and its rich heritage, thousands of years in the making, to be lost as a result of our apathy for a few years. I hope I will never have to account for this crime. The book should be read by our politicians, preached about in our churches, and be required reading in our schools. The extinction of a civilization is a much more serious matter than the crime of genocide involving the attempt to destroy people of a particular race or country. If such is to be damned, the loss of a civilization is far more serious. It is difficult to understand why much of the public and the media ignore this. While they may be figuratively having “their heads in the sand”, the probability is high that they might actually end up doing it.

As pointed out, I join her in my disappointment that this authoritative book, published by the National Geographic Society in 2008, is not better known. It presents a strong case for the high probability that our civilization will not survive the century unless action is taken within the next few years. This is a highly alarming prospect that should be a leading subject for much discussion by the world’s population. It is a disgrace that our politicians and the media have not sounded the alarm and made a call for action.

I believe that a principal cause for this inaction is because of the influence of an affluent small segment of the population. They are anxious to maintain the status quo and retain the profitability of their ventures. These often focus on present earnings without sufficient regard to the status of the less fortunate, both in the US and elsewhere, and concern for those in future years when the economic picture may be very different. Many politicians are dependent on their contributions and the media increasingly depend on income from advertisements from their organizations. It becomes increasingly difficult for their efforts to be opposed. Much money has been spent on propaganda that has had much influence on many. Those of less education and living in more isolated areas are particularly susceptible. It is noted that the fraction of deniers of the problems among those in such groups is high.

A problem is the discouragement of those more pessimistic who suffer “burn out” and feel that the problems are too big to solve and become resigned to focus on survival. It is like the view of some toward banks – that “they are too big to fail”. I believe this attitude is self-defeating. If one does not work for change, it will not occur and the perpetrators of actions leading to problems will win.

A note of optimism is that such difficult times have been faced in the past such as during the periods of slavery, segregation, and the depression of the 1930’s. Recovery occurred and was greatly facilitated by the remarkable efforts of strong leaders. It is a hope that such leaders will emerge today.

I believe that our problems are technically solvable, but dealing with them presents political and social problems. There are encouraging changes such as growth of farmer’s markets, increased use of alternate energy means such as solar and wind, emphasis on localization, changes toward more energy efficient cars and growth of public transportation. No one of these will be the “magic bullet” that well solve our problems. We need them all and more! We are confronted with a time challenge. If action is not taken soon enough, some believe there will be a “tipping point”, beyond which further actions will be ineffective. Thus we cannot procrastinate. We MUST act!

Words are not enough, and there is a saying that “money speaks louder than words”. Corporations depend upon investments and sales to customers for success. Thus, efforts to divest and to buy from well-behaved producers can have an influence. Such may not seem presently financially attractive since investments in ill-performing companies may be currently more profitable and their products may be somewhat cheaper. This may true now, but may not always be. One must consider the “big picture” and realize that such advantages sometimes occur at the expense of environmental damage and by exploiting vulnerable workers. If this can be understood, it may become apparent that current costs should be regarded as an investment that could lead to a better future. Public pressure can have great effects, but it must occur by educating people about these matters. Fortunately, with means such as the internet, there are tools that can be used, and I urge that strong efforts be made to engage them.

Many corporations have mastered the skills to affect attitudes and those of us who have different aspirations need to also learn to employ them. We CAN win but it will not be easy.