Credit: Elias Castillo/flickr

William H. Schlesinger: Patriotism in a globalized world

On a full planet, how we divide up finite resources, may well define our future—as one of conflict or one of enlightenment.

When photographed from space, the Earth appears as a blue planet, with swirls of clouds passing over its surface that circulate its atmosphere from pole to pole and top to bottom, mixing it over time periods of a few months.


The history of oceanography shows a circulation of the seas that matches the mixing of the atmosphere. The physics of these fluids on Earth recognizes no political boundaries, such as we have been prone to delineate on land.

Defending boundaries on land is the realm of traditional patriots, who have often had isolationist beliefs.

It is comfortable to think that a fence surrounding our yard or a wall surrounding our country will keep out undesirables, however we might define them.

But, the air we breathe, the climate we experience, and the rain that falls on sovereign lands derive from the larger biophysical circulation of our planet, which does not recognize such boundaries.

When the world had fewer people, it was practical to fence off and isolate local areas, so the sustenance of life could be obtained within. On a full planet, where every nation can affect the global climate, isolationism is not relevant.

Climate change wrought by any nation can cause drought and crop failures half a world away, stimulating the migration of local peoples to the borders of foreign lands.

The carbon dioxide emitted from Denver or Dubai has an equal effect in melting polar ice and flooding the coastal areas of nations worldwide.

Toxic mercury, pesticides, and radiation are carried globally in the atmosphere and ocean currents.

A world linked by immediate air transportation is linked by the arrival of diseases, pests, and pathogens across sovereign borders. In today's world, it is not patriotic to shun a global view; indeed the successful patriot will be a globalist who recognizes and works to reduce conflict and increase cooperation across boundaries everywhere.

We live in an integrated system that spans only a thin "peel" about 20 kilometers thick on the surface of planet Earth. How we manage that arena will determine the persistence and quality of life for every one of the species that now inhabit this planet with us.

Some species are likely to disappear; others will proliferate globally, bringing huge changes to daily life that we have long regarded as "normal." Homo sapiens will be the supervisor of this arena.

On a full planet, how we divide up finite resources, such as oil, water, phosphate and the fishes of the sea, may well define our future, as one of conflict or one of enlightenment.

We can manage the biosphere well, we can manage it poorly, or through purposeful actions of terrorism and war, we can poison Eden.

When the playground is full, it pays to play well together if we expect the game to go on.

William H. Schlesinger is one of the nation's leading ecologists and earth scientists. He has served as dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University and president of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. This article originally ran on Translational Ecology, Schlesinger's science-based blog offering analysis of current environmental topics.

How Biden and Kerry could rebuild America’s global climate leadership

Strengthening partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.

John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader.
Keep reading... Show less

Get our Good News newsletter

Get the best positive, solutions-oriented stories we've seen on the intersection of our health and environment, FREE every Tuesday in your inbox. Subscribe here today. Keep the change tomorrow.

insideclimatenews.org

As Special Envoy for Climate, John Kerry will be no stranger to international climate negotiations

The Kigali Amendment is a little-known climate accord meant to phase out the use of super-polluting hydroflourocarbons. Kerry helped make it happen.
insideclimatenews.org

The first African American Cardinal is a climate change leader

Wilton Gregory, as archbishop of Atlanta, asked for an action plan in 2015 to help boost Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change.
www.msnbc.com

What we should know about Biden's appointment of Kerry as climate czar

If we want livable futures for our children, we must constantly criticize and question those who are tasked with providing them.
www.nytimes.com

As hiking surges during the pandemic, so do injuries

Novice hikers and climbers have flocked to the outdoors, but some are unprepared for the dangers on the trails.
talkingpointsmemo.com

Trump races to weaken environmental and worker protections, and implement other last-minute policies, before Jan. 20

This story first appeared at ProPublica. ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter...
www.theguardian.com

Climate ‘apocalypse’ fears stopping people having children

People worried about the climate crisis are deciding not to have children because of fears that their offspring would have to struggle through a climate apocalypse, according to the first academic study of the issue.