Remember that post from November 7? And this quote from my friend and colleague? “Do you ever feel that whatever problems our community senses, whether it is being on the radar at the White House or on the campaign platform of candidates, are our own making?” She was referring to our own community…those folks engaged in Earth observations, science, and services.
But she would probably agree that we might well apply the same sense of personal responsibility to our role in the larger society.
Why bring this up today? Because I’m getting ready for the last day of meetings of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, reading the weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal in the hotel lobby, and catching up on last week’s issue of The Economist. And in one of those confluences, the meeting, headlines and articles are all communicating the same message. Here’s what I mean:
From The Economist: A lengthy article about this agonizingly long-lived flooding in Bangkok, Thailand, which has made the headlines for weeks. From abroad, it’s hard to appreciate fully just how long-lived and painful this has been. A flood? Surely a natural hazard! But for Bangkok, a city “the Europeans once called the Venice of Asia,” the focus is on the performance of the relatively-new prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, and her government. No one is blaming her for the rising tide. But they are faulting the government for failure to develop a coordinated plan across all the local and regional jurisdictions to manage better the impacts.
And, continuing to come in from Japan, depressing news about the struggles to clean up around the Fukushima reactors and to minimize further radiation release. The physical and engineering challenges by themselves are daunting. But the code of silence within Tepco, and failure of the government and Tepco to work out payment schemes for those who have lost their homes is raising hackles. Then there’s the account of the risks forced on cleanup workers at the site, who include some of the poorest and most vulnerable of Japanese society.
From The Wall Street Journal: An article by Jim Carlton chronicling how deterioration and environmental issues threaten America’s dams and local economies. Another article entitled First the bad news: we can cause earthquakes, by Matt Ridley. The article speaks to a recent USGS study and other sources pointing to fracking, geothermal energy projects, gas drilling, and dam building and other human activities that apparently trigger swarms of very small earthquakes. Ridley, like my friend, points out that with such knowledge comes responsibility. Interestingly, he cites the death of an African child whom we fail to get oral rehydration therapy as on us…thanks to the mass media, we all now know about these things!…and that plays in to the last thread…
Here at the American Philosophical Society, this morning’s set of talks on food security, sustainability, and climate justice (there may be more on these talks in the next post).
Bottom line? As members of a community that develops much of this information, we share the responsibility of getting the word out to the larger population, but our burden does not end there. We need to see these and similar issues through. This work starts one person at a time. But we’re not going to succeed by proceeding in a fragmented way, in isolation, with no larger strategy. So please take some time for reflection this weekend. Start thinking through your ideas for how we might adopt a more effective approach to improving societal conditions.
And in that strange and wonderful way life works, as soon as we take such a first step, we’ll find new doors opening…
Gotta run to the sessions.