Critical State of Our Mother Earth-Unprecedented, Unified Action Needed to Stop Runaway Climate Change
International Mother Earth Day
April 22, 2016
United Nations, New York City, New York
More than 40 years ago, during the early years of North America’s “new” ecological consciousness, Ihantkowan Dakota Spiritual Leader Vine Deloria Sr. had a conversation with one of his elder cousins on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. As his cousin loved to learn new words in English, he asked Vine Sr. to explain to him what the word “ecology” meant. “Well,” Vine Sr. said, “You know that we have places where you can learn to read, so you can study books and learn about life. Then you find out how to write about what you have read. Finally, you get to talk about what you learned to read and write about!
“This is how our young people of today learn about life. Some people have learned this way for many, many years. After they have read enough books, written about what they read about and talked about what they’ve written, after 18 or 20 years, are given a piece of paper that says they are a Doctor of Life.
“These Doctors of Life get jobs where they earn a lot of money, so they can read, write and talk some more. They have even invented machines that can look at things that are tiny and make them look very big. They’ve invented other machines that can look at things far away and make them look close.
“They put different parts of Mother Earth in containers and pour them back and forth so they can find out more about the truth of Mother Earth. They have spent a lot of time and money and studied Mother Earth for many years. From this work, they have made a discovery. They found out that everything is interrelated. They discovered that when you pollute the air, which all living things breathe, and pollute the water, which all living organisms drink, you poison all living things. What do you think about that?”
Vine Sr.’s cousin smiled and shook his head. “I was wondering when they would get around to this understanding! Just look at what we do to our beloved Mother Earth. We cut her hair where it should not be cut, rip up her skin where it should not be ripped up, and then we drill holes inside her and suck out her blood, put things inside of her, and blow her bones up.”
Then he looked deeply into the eyes of cousin Vine Sr., shook his finger and said, “And what would happen if you did that to your mother? She would die! And this is what is going to happen to all of us if we do not learn to respect and understand the Spirit and Sacredness of our Mother Earth.”
The Critical State of our Beloved Mother Earth
Fast forward more than 40 years, and it is clear that the prophecies from our wise elders and visionaries are now upon us. Our sacred Mother Earth – who gives life to all living things – is critically wounded, degraded, poisoned, and depleted by the misguided activity of our human family. Colonialism, industrialism, consumerism, and warfare are primary drivers of this relentless assault on our beloved Mother Earth.
Many people today feel what is happening. They are deeply moved by their love for the generations to come and for the splendor of all life on this planet. Perhaps you are one of us? Quick! Beyond blame and shame, each and every one of us is called upon to take the state of Mother Earth into our hearts and our daily lives for transformation.
Our personal and collective failure to honor the sacred nature of all life has bred materialism, greed, selfishness, ignorance and fear. Each one of us, who feels the truth of these statements, must now take personal responsibility to change the direction of humanity radically. Individually and collectively, we must choose to move away from materialism and consumption, away from the economic system that attempts to transform our Mother Earth into products for sale, and away from degrading the real wealth of productive ecosystems. Our movement is toward a thriving, just world for all our relations – human and non-human alike.
To achieve this, we propose that individuals, organizations institutions, nation states, and all members of our Human Family immediately take these urgent actions, with the full understanding that protecting and restoring our beloved Mother Earth begins with each one of us!
1. Restore the Sacred: We must remind ourselves and our Human Family, through living, sacred prayers, songs, ceremony and our ancient prophecies, that Mother Earth is our sacred provider of life, not to be treated as an endless storehouse, a limitless dump for our waste, and to satisfy our appetite for the material dimension of life. Including preserving and protecting sacred sites world-wide and returning heirloom sacred objects that have been taken from their rightful owners. To ensure that these sacred sites and objects may again be used for their original cultural and spiritual purposes.
2.Support the global emergence of the “Seventh Generation”, as promised, by fostering youth participation, leadership, and wisdom in all decision-making processes impacting all life on Mother Earth.
3.Reduce consumption: This reduction of consumption must start in the rich nations, among the wealthy and comfortable, to restore the values of simplicity and humility. Our Human Family can live much happier and more rewarding lives with less consumption of Mother Earth’s body and energy.
4.Restore women’s rights to stabilize human population: We’ve grown past Mother Earth’s capacity, and our human population just cannot keep growing. Our ancient relatives knew that their communities had to fit their habitat. Natural patterns of creation were practiced that resulted in extended families in balance with the natural world.
Today, over a billion of our human relatives are hungry daily, and 10 million of these households starve to death every year. We must stabilize the population of our Human Family. It’s essential to ensure women everywhere have equal rights and respect. Wherever women have rights over their reproduction, and where contraception is freely available, the birth rate naturally declines. Universal education, social justice, and ecological justice allow communities to limit their population growth.
5. Transition to sustainable energy sources: We must take every action to reduce and eliminate hydrocarbon energy use — coal, oil, gas — and build the renewable energy infrastructure: solar, wind, and hydro power, where it is acceptable and is approved through a process of free, prior and informed consent. Conservation will be an important part of any genuine energy transition, using power modestly and carefully, to minimize rather than maximize energy consumption.
Nation states everywhere on Mother Earth need to remove all taxes and tariffs on solar technology and other proven alternative energy sources. Also, nation states must increase carbon taxes, eliminate subsidies to the petroleum industry, and use those revenues to subsidize renewable energy research and installation.
6. Restore natural ecological function on a planetary scale: Reverse the decline of forests, coral reefs, wetlands, and other productive ecosystems. We must replant, restore, and protect the wild forests to provide natural species diversity to grow again, and to supply human communities with materials and energy for modest lives connected to productive living systems. To achieve this, we require a paradigm shift in economics, a change from growth and extraction to the preservation of the real wealth: our natural ecosystems. Rather than attempt to monetize nature, we must do the opposite and naturalize the economy.
7. Permit only organic and traditional farming: End the industrial farming methods that have destroyed soils and spread toxins throughout our environment. For our people, organic farming is conventional agriculture.
8. Build a robust infrastructure for public transportation: Eliminate cars and restore efficient public transportation systems, light-rail, electric trains, and trolleys. Rebuild our communities so people can access their needs by walking and bicycle.
9. Build Peace: War is the greatest consumer of oil and energy, the most significant contributor to ecological destruction, and the most destructive force among the Human Family. War benefits only the powerful, the wealthy, and the weapons industry. We must make peace a global priority, refuse to fund war machines, refuse to participate in war-making, and stop glorifying war. Eliminate the weapons industry that lives off the misery of the victims among our relatives. The realization of world peace can only be established on the full spiritual awareness of the Oneness of the Human Family and the elimination of prejudice in all forms, including anything that causes a human being or society to feel superior to another.
10. Restore and Promote the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: The industrial economies have consistently pushed Indigenous communities from their productive land. By restoring the rights of all Indigenous communities, of all members of the Human Family, who know how to live in harmony with the natural world, we take a significant step forward in healing our Mother Earth. Including the full legal implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, with particular emphasis on the principle of free, prior and informed!
11. All Nation States and Multinational Corporations responsible for generating toxic waste — including nuclear, petroleum, chemical, agricultural, and any other toxic waste — immediately develop a global plan to eliminate those toxins from all ecosystems, air, land, and water, by 2020.
12. Implement universal gender equality: The realization of full equality among women and men is a prerequisite of peace. The denial of such equality is an injustice against half of the world’s population and promotes harmful attitudes and habits among men, from the family to the workplace, into political life and international relations. Ultimately, any gender discrimination, including gender violence, leads directly to a destructive relationship with Mother Earth. There are no grounds — moral, practical or biological — upon which such denial can be justified. Only when women and men are equally included in full partnership, in all fields of human endeavor, will we be able to create the moral and psychological climate to realize fully international peace.
13. Facilitate decision-making by leaders, so that decisions remain beneficial for seven generations into the future, a policy known by Indigenous people as “Seven Generations” decision-making. In the Ihanktowan Dakota Traditions, the thirteenth tepee pole is the women’s pole, around which the hide or canvas is wrapped. The other twelve poles are erected first, and then the thirteenth pole is lifted into place, and the skin of the tepee is unwrapped around the others, covering all. Without this pole, of course, there is no shelter.
Scientific evidence shows that the toxic pollution of industrial culture is poisoning the wombs of woman-kind, infecting our future generations, causing disease, diabetes, obesity, birth defects, and cancers. This is chemical violence. These toxics are breaking the thirteenth pole, harming our women and all women, endangering unborn children so that there may not be the seventh generation. Short-term decision-making for money is the opposite of seventh generation decision-making.
14.Proclaim and implement Bioregional Marine Sanctuaries throughout Mother Earth as soon as possible.
Bioregional Marine Sanctuaries are named areas of Earth, Water and Air where natural animal populations are protected and restored to more than 50% of historic levels as soon as possible. Water quality and forest biomass levels are also protected and restored to very high concentrations.
Bioregional Marine Sanctuary boundaries correspond to natural features, such as watershed topography, vegetation types, oceanic continental shelves, and margins. All rivers, creeks, lakes, ponds, estuaries and aquifers included.
15. Commit to reducing the large-scale farming of animals. The role of animal agriculture in climate change has been largely ignored during climate conferences despite livestock being the world’s leading emitter of methane. Further, the increased demand for raising animals for human consumption is leading to the destruction of both our rainforests and also the rural land many of our brothers and sisters call home, causing human rights abuses, poverty, and violence. We will hold the factory farming industry and the governments who shelter them with laws accountable for these tragedies, and we will play our part in protecting Mother Earth from further destruction.
16. Hold governments and corporations responsible for making genuine progress to solve the growing challenge of Climate Change. Historically, after 21 years of climate conferences, governments and corporations have accomplished nothing to solve the climate challenge and have, in fact, subsidized the petroleum energy industry that increases climate change. While we will hold governments and corporations responsible for making genuine progress, we will not rely on them to restore the harmony and balance of life. The majority of the work to protect and restore the sacredness of life remains with each and every one of us.
The Critical State of our Mother Earth-Clear Evidence from Science
We recommend these immediate actions because scientific studies since 2002 — analyzed and integrated below — make it crystal clear that we are on the brink of runaway climate change! If we do not take immediate, unprecedented, and unified action now, our survival and the survival of future generations will no longer be in our hands. Please remember as you read the following, up-to-date, summary of the Critical State of Mother Earth that there is a principle-centered pathway to Protect and Restore our Beloved Mother Earth if we take immediate, unprecedented action based on the 16 points outlined above! These are the heart -wrenching facts of the Critical State of Mother Earth!
== 2002, Business Council for Sustainable Development report: A decade ago, the Business Council for Sustainable Development in Antwerp, Belgium, calculated: “Reductions in the Industrialized World – in material output, energy use, and environmental degradation – of over 90% will be required by 2040 to meet fairly the needs of a growing world population” within Mother Earth’s ecological means.
== 2005 United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: Prepared by 1,360 scientists and UN contributors; reviewed by UN member governments and independent experts, determined that:
Nearly two-thirds of all natural services that our Mother Earth provides to humankind are in decline.
The world’s fish stocks are depleted and in dire condition.
Some 2 billion people living in dry regions are vulnerable to the loss of fuel, food, and water supplies.
Our Mother Earth faces a growing threat to ecosystems from climate change, toxic pollution, and the disruption of nutrient cycles.
Human activities have caused massive species extinctions, threatening the well-being of all members of the Human Family.
The pressures on ecosystems will increase globally in coming decades unless human attitudes and actions change dramatically.
To restore and protect our Mother Earth’s natural systems will require coordinated efforts across all sections of governments, businesses, international institutions, and communities.
== 2009 Planetary Boundaries: A report by 28 international scientists – including Johan Rockström from Stockholm University and the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Will Steffen from the Australian National University, Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen, Goddard Institute climatologist James Hansen, and the German Chancellor’s climate adviser Hans Joachim Schellnhuber – in the science journal Nature, showed that human activity has pushed nine critical systems – biodiversity, temperature, ocean acidification, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, land use, fresh water, ozone depletion, atmospheric aerosols, and chemical pollution – near or beyond critical tipping points. The report warned that natural system feedbacks drive additional change and endanger other limits. The scientists warned that when human ecological impact passes certain thresholds – tipping points – we risk “irreversible and abrupt environmental change,” and that these changes risk human communities and all life on our Mother Earth. Their scientific research shows that since the Industrial Revolution, human actions have become the main driver of global environmental destruction.
They found that four critical systems – climate change, species loss, nitrogen cycles, and phosphorus cycles – have already crossed the safe, tipping point boundaries. These systems now change in ways that cannot be reversed by human intervention. Meanwhile, we are fast-approaching a climate tipping point that could set in motion runaway global heating.
== 2012, State Shift in Earth’s Biosphere: In 2012, Nature published “Approaching a State Shift in Earth’s Biosphere,” by 22 international scientists led by bio-paleoecologist Anthony Barnosky from the University of California. This international scientific team warned that human activity is likely forcing a planetary-scale transition, far beyond simple global heating, with the potential to transform Mother Earth “rapidly and irreversibly into a state unknown in human experience.” They warn that averting a planetary ecological crisis requires the unprecedented effort of our Human Family. Canadian co-author, biologist Arne Mooers, said: “humans have not done anything crucial to staving off the worst. My colleagues … are terrified.”
== 2012, Planetary Overshoot: Dr. William Rees, creator of “ecological footprint” analysis at the University of British Columbia, has compiled data to show that humanity now uses at least 50% more resources each year than the Earth can replenish. In “The Way Forward” in Solutions Journal, Rees warns: “Climate change is just one symptom of generalized human ecological dysfunction. A virtual tsunami of evidence suggests that the global community is living beyond its ecological means. The human enterprise has already overshot global carrying capacity,” says Rees, “and is living, in part, by depleting natural capital and overfilling waste sinks,” including our Mother Earth’s atmosphere. “Solutions,” writes Rees, require that we “rewrite global society’s cultural narrative” to replace an “economic growth fetish.”
== 2014, Global Warming, Climate disruption: According to the United Nations scientific panel on climate change, based on research from thousands of international scientists, our Mother Earth is now locked into an “irreversible” course of climatic disruption from the buildup of carbon-dioxide and other human waste gasses in the atmosphere. The planet faces a future of extreme weather, rising sea levels, melting glaciers, forest decline, and habitat loss for all our relatives on Mother Earth. The UN scientific panel warned: “Continued emission of greenhouse gasses will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts.” In the last five years, we have witnessed the melting permafrost that emits ancient methane into the atmosphere, a warming gas 25-times more potent than carbon dioxide. The gas is now causing explosions in Siberia, creating giant methane craters in Siberian rock.
== 2015, chemical toxins and human health: In September 2015, 17 medical doctors, led by Endocrine Society president Lisa H. Fish from the University of Minnesota, released a scientific statement on endocrine-disrupting chemicals throughout the ecosystems of Mother Earth. These oil-based industrial compounds chemically resemble the body’s hormones and trick receptor cells with false messages that cause common developmental disorders, including modern epidemics of diabetes, obesity, cancer, birth defects, liver, and thyroid dysfunction, learning disabilities, and sexual dysfunction in humans and other animals. These chemicals are especially dangerous to developing fetuses, and a 2011 study by the University of California found these chemicals in 99% of pregnant women.
These, and other, scientists confirm what our Indigenous spiritual leaders, visionaries, and other members of the Human Family, who live close to our Mother Earth, have been warning us about for centuries: Our Mother Earth has limits. All members of the Human Family must humble themselves to the limits of our natural world so that we and our future generations may enjoy the continuing bounty of our natural world; we must share the world’s resources with all of the humanity in harmony with all our non-human relatives.
What follows is a summary of what these scientists have discovered.
Summary of the Critical State of Our Mother Earth, December 2015
Forests: Humanity has leveled over half the world’s once-great forests. Over 6-billion hectares (15-billion acres) of mature forests once stood on Mother Earth, and now we have about 3-billion hectares left. But it is worse: We have taken the best wood first and left behind degraded forests. We have taken 80% of the original, ancient forests. We are losing about 15-million hectares (37.5-million acres) of forest every year, an area about the size of Nepal. The remaining wood quality has declined.
Deserts: Because of industrial agriculture, global warming, logging, draining aquifers, and redirecting river water, some 6-million hectares (15-million acres) of productive land turns into desert every year. The Sahara desert, once fertile grassland, grows at about 48km (almost 30 miles) per year. The Syrian Desert was once a beautiful cedar forest. The once great Aral Sea, full of fish and able to support many communities, is now mostly desert.
Soils: Industrial agriculture destroys soils. Throughout our Mother Earth, we have depleted over half the carbon and nutrients from the soils, polluted soils with toxins, and washed topsoil into the sea. In North America, for example, industrial agriculture has mined over half the carbon from the soils, from 6% carbon to under 3% carbon. In the past century, we have lost some 500-billion tons of topsoil. Meanwhile, we now lose about 26-billion tons of soil every year.
Species: Humanity is now causing the fastest rate of species collapse in 64-million years, since an asteroid hit our Mother Earth, wiping out the dinosaurs and over 3/4 of all species on Mother Earth. Today, we are the asteroid, causing some 100 species extinctions every single day. Since 1974, terrestrial species biodiversity has dropped by 40% and since 1990, in twenty years; the marine species index has declined by 21%. Today, over 30% of all remaining mammals and 20% of all birds are endangered with extinction. Since we are destroying natural habitats, new species development has collapsed, except for micro-organisms and bacteria. Humanity is causing an Earth-changing species extinction disaster. With each lost species, we lose a magnificent gift of our natural world that has been entrusted to all of us by our Creator.
Fish: The world’s fish are in crisis from over-fishing and pollution. We have depleted most of the large commercial species by 60-80% and some species by 90%, including the tuna, marlin, swordfish, cod, and halibut. We destroyed the North Atlantic cod fishery and now face the demise of west coast salmon. We have destroyed fishing communities around the world, in Africa, Asia, Europe, and throughout the Western Hemisphere.
Bees Colony Collapse: Bees pollinate most of the world’s food crops and other flowering plants, but world bee populations are plummeting. Since 1960, the United States has lost half its bee population. Bee colonies are dying off in Europe, Central America, Asia, and elsewhere around Mother Earth. The die-off has been occurring for a long time and results from multiple causes, including pesticides, industrial gasses, urbanization, and habitat and food destruction.
Global heating from industrial gasses: The amount of carbon-dioxide in our Mother Earth’s atmosphere has increased by 43% since preindustrial days, from 280 parts-per-million (ppm) to nearly 400 ppm. During that same period, methane – a more potent, shorter-lived greenhouse gas – has more than doubled (from 0.78 ppm to 1.76 ppm, +125%). Other industrial greenhouse gasses include carbon-monoxide, halocarbons, volatile gasses, and the black carbon from burning wood and diesel. After 20 years of climate conferences, including the1992 UN Earth Summit, with 255 governments participating, 144 sending their heads of state or government, along with some 2,400 representatives of NGOs and 17,000 people at the parallel NGO “Global Forum”, who had UN Consultative Status; annual gas emissions have been greater and greater every year, not less.
Almost half the summer arctic ice is gone. The oceans are 30% more acidic because of these industrial gasses in the atmosphere. Mother Earth now experiences land, air and water temperature increases, drought, deluge, flooding, forest fires, desertification, insect migrations, dying forests, and violent storms caused and aggravated by global heating from industrial activity. With Hurricane Sandy simply being the latest demonstration of the growing impact of global warming, with much more yet to come.
Runaway global heating: Meanwhile, the heating is now creating system feedbacks that cause more heat. The warmer atmosphere is now melting the polar permafrost, which releases methane, causing more warming. Receding forests store less carbon, reduced ocean algae stores less carbon, disappearing ice failed to reflect as much heat and added water vapor increases the greenhouse effect. We now face the real threat of runaway global heating beyond anything that human actions could reverse. Scientists now warn of “irreversible” changes to our Mother Earth’s climate.
Coral reefs: We have lost over a third of Mother Earth’s coral, and most of the remaining coral reefs are in danger of complete destruction over the next few decades. Because of hotter and more acidic oceans caused by industrial CO2, destructive drag net fishing, and pollution, our world’s coral is dying. In 1998, in a single year, we lost 16% of the ocean’s coral reefs, which are the oceans nursery. By killing the coral reefs, we destroy marine biodiversity and productivity.
Material Limits: We have depleted virtually every non-renewable industrial and economical natural material in the world including wood, aluminum, copper, phosphorus, nickel, tin, zinc, platinum, and so forth. Humanity took the best, cheapest, easiest materials first, so the remaining stores are more expensive to extract, with greater energy requirements, and with more significant human and ecological destruction.
Power limits: For the first time in our human history, humanity struggles with declining energy resources. We have reached the peak of net energy input into society. More and more energy is drained away in efforts to retrieve the deeper, more expensive, dwindling energy stores. Conventional oil production has peaked and is in decline.
In one century, humanity used up the best of our Mother Earth’s store of readily available hydrocarbons – representing 500-million years of solar energy stored as biomass and oil in our Mother Earth’s crust. Meanwhile, we have destroyed half the forests that once supplied human communities with energy. This energy storehouse has been squandered on wars, over-heated buildings, unneeded lighting, and other forms of wasteful consumption. The remaining oil is dirty and expensive. Today, we use so much energy to find energy, which some oil fields can no longer produce a net energy flow. The net energy available to our human society from one-barrel invested in producing energy has dropped from 100 barrels in the early 1930s oil fields to only three barrels in today’s tar sands and two or less in many fracking schemes and deep oil wells.
Humanity has high-graded everything. We took the best land, best trees, best oil, best fish, and so forth. We now have to make do with the lower-quality materials, energy, and natural bounty.
Water: Over 1.2-billion members of our Human Family lack adequate water every day. Over 2.3-billion people, 1/3 of our human population, require fresh, clean drinking water. We have polluted and drained our Mother Earth’s aquifers and rivers. Water tables have dropped by 50 meters (more than 164 feet) drops in Mexico City, Beijing, and Madras. Over half, the lakes are gone in Qinghai China, some 2,000 lakes. Since glaciers are melting from global heating, many rivers don’t reach the sea. The Aral Sea has been drained to water cotton plantations, and former fishing fleets sit idle in growing deserts.
Human Population: There are now over 7-billion members of our Human Family, and we add 75 million every year. Over 1 billion of our human relatives go hungry every year, and 30,000 starve to death every single day. The good news is that wherever women have equal rights, and where contraception is available, the population naturally stabilizes.
Social Injustice: About 1 billion members of our Human Family consume 85% of our Mother Earth’s material and energy bounty. The poorer 6 billion of our Human Family must make due with 15% of the materials and energy. The richest 2% of our Human Family owns half the world’s wealth while a billion of our relatives live on the edge of starvation. This growing scale of injustice and failure to practice common human decency is leading to greater and greater human conflict, and floods of homeless refugees.
Warfare: The wealthy industrial nations spend some $2-trillion each year on weapons and military destruction, at the cost of millions of lives, destroyed communities, and devastated ecosystems. Imagine if these resources were instead expended on uplifting our Human Family.
Industrial Disasters: These human and ecological disasters are not “accidents.” They occur daily, witnessed in oil spills, toxic dumping, mine tailings, and other normal operations of the industry. In “cancer villages” of industrial China, for example, virtually every inhabitant suffers from cancer, birth defects, or other diseases. The following are a few examples of the ongoing destruction of Mother Earth and innocent human communities:
1928-68, Minamata, Japan: The Chisso Chemical Corp. dumped mercury in Minamata Bay for decades, poisoning an entire village. By 2001, 1,784 people died, and over 10,000 people suffered birth defects and other disabilities.
1952, London smog: Over 12,000 people killed, over 100,000 suffered from respiratory illness.
1920–78, Love Canal: Hooker Chemical Company dumped dioxins and other toxins near the community and sold the land to the School Board. The chemicals caused birth defects, enlarged limbs and heads, deafness, miscarriages, retardation, and sight illness.
1975, Banqiao Dam, Hanan, China: During record rains, 62 dams collapsed; 26,000 people died at the time, and 145,000 died from resulting epidemics and famine. Six million buildings collapsed, and over 11-million people were displaced.
1976, Seveso Italy, Dioxins: A runaway reaction at a chemical factory poisoned four towns and 100,000 people with toxic, cancer-causing dioxins. Villages were evacuated, thousands of animals died, and children were hospitalized. People suffered skin lesions, diabetes, and some later died from cancer, immune dysfunction, and cardiovascular and respiratory disease.
1984, Bhopal, India: Union Carbide Chemical Company leaked toxic, lethal methyl-isocyanate gas. Some 8,000 people died within weeks; thousands more died in the following months, and over 500,000 people were severely injured. a The community was virtually destroyed.
1984, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy: In the United Kingdom, the crowding of cattle led to a new disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy or “mad cow disease,” a progressive neurological disorder of cattle infected by a mutated protein.
1986, Chernobyl: Nuclear plant explosion and fire, irradiated millions of people locally and at least 1-billion people worldwide. Cancer deaths caused by the radiation have been estimated from 25,000 to one million.
1991, Sea Island, Kuwait oil spill: During the Gulf war, attacks on oil fields spilled 8 million barrels of oil – 345 million gallons – into the Persian Gulf.
1991, Ixtoc oil spill, spilled 3 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, killing sea life over hundreds of square kilometers; oil remains in the substrate to this day.
1996, Marcopper Mining, Corp., Philippines: Placer Dome Mining subsidiary Marcopper Mining, dumped 84-million tons of toxic mine waste into Calancan Bay, Philippines, poisoning thousands of people and virtually killing all life in the Boac River system. Toxic spills caused floods, isolated five villages, and buried the town of Barangay Hinapula under six feet of toxic mud. Local drinking water was contaminated; fish, shrimp, and pigs died; and 20 villages were evacuated.
1999, Tokai nuclear plant, Japan: A runaway nuclear reaction burned for 20 hours at the uranium enrichment plant owned by Sumitomo Metal Mining Co. Ltd., releasing radiation. Two workers died from radiation sickness, and 68 other workers were irradiated. The public received radiation doses, and the company paid out over 7,000 damage claims.
2000, Romania, Baia Mare cyanide spill: The Aurul Company gold mining operation leaked cyanide into the Someş River, which polluted the Tisza and Danube rivers, killing fish from Hungary to Yugoslavia. Toxins contaminated drinking water for 3 million people. In sections of the Tisza River, all fish and animals died; in the Serbian part, 80% of aquatic life died. Foxes, otters, ospreys and other wildlife died after eating contaminated fish. Hungarian fish catches in the rivers dropped by 80%.
2009, BP Deepwater oil spill: Three blow-out protectors failed, the deepwater well exploded, and dumped 5-million barrels – 210-million gallons – of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven workers died instantly; birds, fish, marine mammals and other sea life perished; the region’s fishing and tourism industries collapsed.
2011, Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown: Following an earthquake, the equipment failed, water boiled away, nuclear fuel rods melted, and three reactor cores melted down. Radiation contaminated air, water, and land in Japan, and moved with wind and tides across the Pacific. Two workers died immediately, over 300 workers suffered high radiation exposure, and over sixty elderly and infirm patients died during disorganized hospital evacuations. Future cancer deaths remain unknown, but will likely exceed several hundred, or possibly thousands.
The Canadian Tar Sands ecological disaster: The development of the Canadian tar sands may be the largest, most devastating environmental disaster in world history. The tar sands development starts with the destruction of the boreal forest, scrub plains, lakes and wetlands, and the displacement of the animals and the peoples that live there. The project drains and pollutes water tables and the Athabasca River. Toxins are released into the air. Local communities – primarily Indigenous communities, who have lived in this region for thousands of years – suffer from respiratory disease, cancers, and toxic poisoning of their food and water. Boreal lakes are turned into black sludge pits where all life dies, where migrating birds mistakenly land and perish.
The project requires so much energy to produce the bitumen (tar) that they need gas pipelines from the British Columbia gas fields to Alberta, gas which is retrieved by fracturing the geological substrate of northern British Columbia. The bitumen is so thick and toxic that it has to be diluted to move through a pipeline. The project imports liquefied gas condensate to mix with the tar. The diluted bitumen is then sent down pipes, which routinely spill onto land and into wetlands, river systems, and ultimately our aquifers. The thick bitumen crude oil is then loaded on oil tankers in Vancouver Harbour for shipment, via the Salish Sea, to China and the US, endangering the entire west coast of Canada and the US.
The recent bitumen spill in Michigan demonstrates the level of damage from a bitumen crude oil spill:
Kalamazoo River spill: In July 2010, a 30-inch bitumen pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy, burst, spilling 20,000 barrels of tar sands bitumen into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. The challenges of tar sands bitumen shocked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Costs of even partial cleanup soared to more than ten times historical crude oil costs. “I don’t think anyone at the EPA anticipated that,” said EPA Incident Commander, Ralph Dollhopf. “I don’t think anyone in the industry expected that.” Now Enbridge is proposing a pipeline and related tankers through one of the last pristine temperate Rain Forests. The huge tankers they propose to carry the bitumen oil to China will have to travel through narrow channels and treacherous waters in some of the most delicate ecosystems on Mother Earth.
Bitumen is a particularly dense, toxic version of crude oil. Bitumen, diluted with solvents, separates in the marine environment. Volatile gasses – toluene and carcinogenic benzene – rise into the air, causing headaches, nausea, coughing, and fatigue among the local population. One may fairly assume all other animals experience similar symptoms.
After the Kalamazoo River spill, toxic fumes remained for weeks and could be smelled 50 kilometers away. Two years later, 30 miles of the river remained closed to fishing, swimming, or even wading in the water.
Bitumen contains sulfur, paraffin’s, asphaltic, benzenes, and other toxic compounds. Animals and plants are suffocated and poisoned. In water, the die-off starts at the foundation of the food chain, obliterating the bacteria, micro-organisms, and vital biofilm that provide food for shorebirds and amphibians. Bitumen moves with wind and tides kill bottom life, mixes with the intertidal sediments, and kills shellfish, ocean plants, fin fish, and marine mammals. Toxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (“PAHs”) dissolve in the water and kill micro-organisms. Most of this damage could not be “cleaned up” at any price.
These incidents are only a few of the most dramatic. We could add in the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown, the industrial deaths of coal miners, lead poisoning of ethyl-gasoline workers, mercury and dioxin poisoning from pulp mills in Canada, Lyme disease outbreak in the US, industrial radiation poisoning, world-wide cancer epidemics, and of course ongoing starvation, malnutrition, and deaths from water-borne disease.
Connect the patterns: More people, hotter climate, fewer forests, depleted soils, melting glaciers, dry rivers, drained aquifers, disappearing species, acidic oceans, toxic pollution, dirty energy, and depleted material resources. Not only is each one of these environmental and related challenges before us monumental in themselves, but when we understand that they are intimately related and are rapidly meeting at an inevitable crossroads, it may seem almost overwhelming.
Yet if we don`t take urgent, bold, courageous and unprecedented unified action to mediate the depth and degree of these interrelated catastrophes, locally, regionally and globally — recently illustrated by Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Patricia, and other storms — there will be grave and irreversible consequences for ourselves, our future generations, and all life.
Overshoot: The industrial model of life, fueled by greed, ignorance, and fear, is now in a state that ecologists call “overshoot.” Successful species tend to exceed the capacity of their habitat until the natural cycles of Mother Earth restore the balance. If a wolf pack consumes too many deer or other game, wolves go hungry, and the population declines until a balance is restored. When locust consumes all the grain and reproduces beyond the capacity of their environment, they die off. Nature’s way. Humans, driven by industrial power and unfettered desire, have overshot Mother Earth’s capacity to provide resources and process our waste. If we do not want to experience nature’s remedies, then we must take wise, unprecedented, unified action ourselves to limit our impact.
The New Vision is an Ancient Vision:
It is clear that piecemeal ecology isn’t working. We must recognize, as our wise Elders who walked the Path before us, that we are all parts of a dynamic, interrelated, living system. Our reckless industrial activity now disrupts these natural systems at their fundamental core. We are unraveling the very web of nature itself. Our Mother Earth is resilient and will endure, but our careless actions are destroying life for millions of other species and ultimately for ourselves. We must remember that the “Hurt of One is the Hurt of All, and the Honor of One is the Honor of All!”
We have critical decisions before us. Will we continue to walk the destructive path that has brought us to these growing global challenges or will we choose to walk the life-preserving, life enhancing, the principle-centered path of protecting and restoring the Human Family, our future generations, and our beloved Mother Earth?
The path we choose has clear consequences, and the choice is ours. Our Mother Earth is in a Critical State. We can opt to take unprecedented unified action to protect and restore our beloved Mother Earth, or we will witness the end of life as we know it for ourselves and our future generations. As the age-old realization of the Oneness of the Human Family and all life returns with greater and greater understanding, it is evident to see that by choosing to walk the Red Road of love, forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation, and by standing up for our beloved Mother Earth we have the opportunity to realize fully the fulfillment of the prophecies, long foretold by our Wise Elders and Spiritual Leaders. If we take such action, we may manifest the vision of our elders, “the Day that will not be followed by Night!”
With Warm Love and Greeting,
The Ihanktonwan Dakota Treaty Committee, Choctaw Musgokee Yamassee Nation, Tsleil Waututh Nation, Brave Heart Society of Ihanktowan, International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, Consejo de Visions-Guardianes de la Tierra, Four Worlds Europe, Embassy of the Earth, Fundación Cuatro Mundos, Front Siwa Lima,Salish Sea Foundation, Netherlands Centre for Indigenous People, Compassion Games International, UNO Foundation, World Conscious Pact, the Global Wisdom Summit and the Four Worlds International Institute
With the editorial support from Chief Phil Lane Jr., Ihanktowan Dakota, and Chickasaw Nations, and Chairman of the Four Worlds International Institute, and Rex Weyler, Co-Founder of Greenpeace, author, and ecologist.