Sharp Edges

Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist. He can be reached at rewrite@shaw.ca

‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” So said the inscription at the entry to hell, in Dante’s Inferno.

Dante was an optimist. He saw hell as some other place, from which he could return safely to his everyday world.

I’m afraid that our world — this world, the one we live in, the one our grandchildren will live in — is becoming its own hell.

Please don’t send messages worrying about my health. Physically, I’m fine. Despite an 83rd birthday this week, I can still go up stairs two at a time; I run; I cycle, I cross-country ski in winter.

My emotional health is mixed, though. I am boundlessly optimistic about individual relationships. I have yet to meet anyone who would refuse to help another individual in need. Race, education, and wealth don’t seem to matter IF — and it’s a big “if” — there’s genuine contact, person to person, soul to soul.

At the same time, I am profoundly pessimistic about humanity as a whole.

Collectively, we humans persist in seeking short-term solutions. Our corporate mindset is incorrigibly greedy, seeking our own benefit even if it harms others. Yes, even if it will harm us, farther down the line.

By “corporate” I mean any large grouping that subsume individual ethics. That includes governments and non-profit corporations, as well as multinational business corporations.

Corporate entities are utterly amoral. They care only about their own welfare. Individuals within that organization may have consciences. They may object to some policies or products. But they’re crushed by the corporate road-roller, denounced as whistleblowers, or fired.

And the corporate body will deny — to the planet’s dying day — that they did anything wrong.

I have yet to see a corporation that chooses NOT to make a profit because their product or service might cause harm.

Pharmaceutical companies made opioids anyway. The U.S. made atomic bombs anyway. Monsanto made Roundup anyway. Wall Street bankers crashed world money markets anyway. Big Tobacco promoted cigarette smoking anyway. Telecom giants flush us with radiation anyway.

And Big Oil went on a fracking binge anyway.

“Fracking” is the short form for “hydraulic fracturing.” By injecting high pressure water into shale deposits deep underground, petroleum drillers splinter the rock into fragments that allow trapped oil and natural gas to flow to the surface.

Fracking also releases large amounts of methane gas.

We’ve all heard, endlessly, that carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere have been rising dramatically for the last 200 years, trapping heat and contributing to global warming. And that global warming threatens the survival of millions of species, including us humans.

You may not have heard that methane is 86 times as potent at trapping heat than CO2. And that methane levels have been rising dramatically since 2000.

A team at Cornell University was able to track the source of this increased methane by analyzing its carbon isotopes. They concluded that most of the increase derives directly from fracking.

So far, fracking has taken place almost entirely in North America. Shale fracking made the U.S. nearly self-sufficient in oil production, and drove Canadian crude oil prices to bargain basement levels.

But North America makes up only 16% of the world’s land area. Which leaves 84% of the world that Big Oil has not yet fracked.

And dammit, they will.

Because they can. Because the survival of this planet matters less to the corporate mindset than fulfilling their god-given mandate to extract oil wherever it is.

Exactly the same mindset applies to the wildfires ravaging the Amazon jungle.

We all know that the tropical rainforests are the lungs of the planet. They produce more oxygen, and absorb more carbon-dioxide, than any other living thing.

Yet Brazil’s mini-Trump president actually encourages clearing and burning the Amazon jungles. So that the land can be used to raise cattle. Who will also produce methane. So that we can all enjoy barbecued steaks and burgers.

The fires have already consumed, according to some current reports, 20% of Amazon forests. That’ s like having one entire lobe of your lungs surgically excised.

And similarly damaging fires are destroying the tropical forests of Central Africa and Indonesia.

Can you see why I’m pessimistic?

Unlike the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, I don’t think we have 12 years to turn global warming around. I think we’ve already passed the point of no return. Simply because we humans are so blindly, stubbornly, headed down the path of destruction that I don’t think we can, or will, change our nature.