The other tragedy

IN my meeting with the CIEM economists on Tuesday, July 13, I talked of the excellent documentary by the French director Yann Arthus-Bertrand, with the participation of the most eminent and well informed international figures, on the other terrible danger to the human species which is taking place before our eyes: the destruction of the environment.

The documentary affirms in a clear and categorical way:

“In the great adventure of life on Earth, every species has a role to play, every species has its place. Not one of them is useless or harmful, they all balance each other. And here is where you, homo sapiens, intelligent human being, come into history. You benefit from a fabulous legacy of 4,000 million years, provided by the Earth. You are only 200,000 years old, but you have already changed the face of the world.”

“The invention of agriculture changed our history. That was less than 10,000 years ago.”

“Agriculture was our first great revolution. It resulted in the first surpluses and gave birth to cities and civilizations. Memories of thousands of years searching for food faded. Having made grains the yeast of life, we multiplied the number of varieties and learned to adapt them to our soils and climates. We are like all species on Earth. Our principal daily concern is that of feeding ourselves. When the soil is less than generous and water becomes scarce, we are capable of making prodigious efforts to extract enough from the soil to remain alive.”

“Half of humanity works the land, more than three quarters with their hands.”

“Pure energy. The energy of the sun, captured during millions of years by millions of plants more than 100 million years ago. It is coal, it is gas. But, above all, it is oil.”

“In the last 60 years, the population of Earth has almost tripled. And more than two billion people have moved into the cities.”

“New York. The first megalopolis of the world is the symbol of the exploitation of energy that Earth provides for human ingenuity. The workforce of millions of immigrants, coal energy, the indispensable power of oil. The United States was the first to ride on the phenomenal revolutionary power of ‘black gold.’ In the fields, machines replaced people. One liter of oil generates as much energy as 100 pairs of hands in 24 hours.”

“They produce sufficient grains to feed two billion people. But much of those grains are not used to feed people. Here and in other industrialized nations it is transformed into feed for livestock or into biofuels.”

“As far as the eye can see, fertilizer below, plastic above. The greenhouses of Almería, Spain are the orchard of Europe. A city of vegetables of uniform size waits every day for hundreds of trucks to take them to the supermarkets of the continent. The more developed a country, the more meat its inhabitants consume. How can the world demand be satisfied without having recourse to concentration camp-style farms? Constantly faster. Like the lifecycle of livestock that can never have seen a meadow.”

“In these food lots, packed with millions of head of livestock, not a single blade of grass grows. A fleet of trucks from every corner of the country takes tons of grain, food soy and protein granules to be converted into tons of meat. The result is that 100 liters of water are needed to produce one kilogram of potatoes, 4,000 liters for a kilo of rice and 13,000 for a kilo of beef. Not to mention the oil burned in the production and transportation process.”

“We know that the end of cheap oil is imminent, but we refuse to believe it.”

“Los Angeles. In this city spread out over more than 100 kilometers, the number of cars is practically the same as the number of inhabitants.”

“The day seems like no more than a pale reflection of the nights that convert the city into a starry sky.”

“Everywhere machines are excavating, removing and tearing out of the land little pieces of stars buried in its depths since its creation… Minerals.”

“…80% of this mineral wealth is consumed by 20% of the world population. Before the end of this century, excessive mining will have used up almost the totality of the planet’s reserves.”

“Since 1950, the volume of international trade has increased 20 times; 90% of trade goes by sea. Five hundred million containers are transported every year, sent to the largest centers of consumption…”

“Since 1950, the fishing industry has increased fivefold, from 18 to 100 million metric tons per year. Thousands of shipping-factories are emptying the oceans. Three quarters of the fishing areas are exhausted, finished, or in danger of becoming so.”

“Five hundred million humans live in the desert lands of the world, more than the whole combined population of Europe.”

“Israel transformed the desert into arable land. Although now these farms are drip irrigated, the consumption of water is still increasing alongside exports.”

“The once powerful River Jordan is now just a stream, its water has flown to the supermarkets of the entire world in crates of fruits and vegetables.”

“India is at risk of becoming the country that will suffer the most from lack of water in the coming century. Mass irrigation has fed its growing population and in the last 50 years, 21 millions wells have been sunk.”

“Las Vegas was built in the desert. Millions of people live there. Thousands more arrive every month. Its inhabitants are among the largest consumers of water in the world.”

“Palm Springs is another desert city with tropical vegetation and luxury golf courses. How much longer will this mirage continue to prosper? The Earth cannot support it.”

The Colorado River, takes water to these cities, is one of those rivers that no longer reaches the sea.”

“Scarcity of water could affect two billion people before 2025.”

“All living material is bound together: water, air, land, trees.”

“Primitive forests provide a habitat for three quarters of the planet’s biodiversity; in other words, of all life on Earth.”

“…in just 40 years, the largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon, has been reduced by 20%, has given way to livestock ranches or soy farms; 95% of this soy is used to feed livestock and poultry in Europe and Asia. Thus, a forest is transformed into meat.”

“More than two billion people, almost one third of the world population, still depend on charcoal. In Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world, charcoal is one of the principal consumer goods of the population.”

“In the hills on Haiti, only 2% of the forests remain…”

“Every week, more than one million people increase the population of the cities of the world. One human out of every six is now living in a precarious, unhealthy and overpopulated environment, without access to daily necessities, like water, drainage, electricity. Hunger is extending again, it is affecting almost one billion people. Throughout the planet, the poor are fighting to survive, while we continue excavating for resources without which we can no longer live.”

“Our activities liberate gigantic volumes of carbon bioxide. Without realizing it, molecule by molecule, we have affected the climatic balance of the earth.”

“The Arctic icecap is melting due to the effect of global warming, the icecap has lost 40% of its thickness in 40 years. In summer its surface is shrinking year by year. It could disappear during the summer months by 2030. Some say 2015.”

“By 2050, a quarter of land species could be threatened with extinction.”

“…as Greenland is warming rapidly, the freshwater of an entire continent is flowing toward the salt water of the oceans.”

“The ice of Greenland contains 20% of all the fresh water on the planet; if it melts, the sea level is going to rise by close to seven meters. The atmosphere of our planet is one indivisible whole. It is a asset that we all share.”

“In Greenland, lakes are beginning to appear in the landscape. The icecap is melting at a speed that not even the most pessimistic scientists foresaw 10 years ago. More and more rivers fed by glaciers are joining together and emerging onto the surface. It was believed that the water would freeze in the depths of the ice. On the contrary, it is flowing under the ice, carrying the ice crust toward the sea, where it breaks, turning into an iceberg.”

“The expansion of water on heating caused, in the 20th century alone, a rise of 20 centimeters. Everything is becoming unstable. The coral reefs are extremely sensitive to the slightest change in the water temperature; 30% have disappeared. They are an essential link in the species chain.”

“If the sea level keeps rising faster and faster, what will the great cities do, those like Tokyo, the most populated city of the world?”

“…in Siberia and in many parts of the world, it is so cold that the ground is constantly frozen. This is known as permafrost. Under this surface is resting a climatic time bomb: methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more powerful than carbon bioxide. If the permafrost melts, the release of methane could cause the greenhouse effect to go out of control with consequences that nobody can foresee.”

“Twenty percent of the world population consumes 80% of its resources.”

“The world invests 12 times more in military expenditure than in aid to developing countries.”

“Five thousand people die every day from drinking polluted water, one billion people do not have access to drinking water.”

“Close to one billion are suffering from hunger.”

“More than 50% of the grain marketed in the world is used for animal feed or biofuels.”

“Species are dying a thousand times more rapidly than the natural rate.”

“Three quarters of fishing areas are exhausted, reduced or in dangerous descent.”

“The average temperature of the last 15 years has been the highest ever registered.”

“The ice cap is 40% thinner than 40 years ago.”

In the final minutes of the documentary, the director Yann Arthus-Bertrand softens the language in order to praise some positive actions of countries which, without any spirit of offending or wounding, he felt obliged to mention.

His final words were:

“It is time for us all to come together. What is important is not what has gone, but what remains. We still have half of the world’s forest, thousands of rivers, lakes and glaciers, and thousands of successful species.

“Today we know that the solutions are here. We all have the power to change. So, what are we waiting for?

“It depends on us to write what comes next. Together.”

The subject that has occupied the major part of my efforts: the imminent danger of a war that would be the last of the prehistory of our species, to which I have dedicated nine Reflections since June 1st, constitutes a problem that is becoming daily more aggravated.

As is logical, 99.9% of people are sheltering the hope that an element of commonsense will prevail.

Unfortunately, given all the elements of the reality that I perceive, I no longer see the most minimal possibility of that being so.

For that reason, I think that it would be much more practical for our peoples to prepare themselves to face that reality. Our only hope consists of doing that.

The Iranians have done precisely that, as we did in October 1962, when we opted for disappearing before giving in.

Yesterday was like today, by the designs of chance, not merits of intelligence or the individual history of any one of us.

The news arriving every day from Iran is not moving one millimeter from the position affirmed by them to sustain their just rights to peace and development, with one new element: they have already succeeded in producing 20 kilograms of uranium enriched by 20%, sufficient for constructing a nuclear artifact, which is even further maddening for those who, a while back, decided to attack them. That is what I analyzed on Friday the 16th with our ambassadors.

Not even Obama could change that, nor has he demonstrated at any time the decision to do so.

Fidel Castro Ruz
| castro signature | MR Online
July 18, 2010
4:28 p.m.

Translated from the Spanish by Granma International