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Op-eds

Our lethal penchant to fiddle needs a rethink

  • Geoff
The threat to human life from climate change renders archaic the disputes about religion, power and territory over which we traditionally fight. A strange “benefit” of the climate crisis is that now nobody can deny humanity is one: either we work together to solve it, or we die together.
by GEOFF SIFRIN | Nov 14, 2019

But the human being is a creative species and, as dire as the situation is, there are already imaginative attempts to address it. This is epitomised by the Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg, who became the world’s climate leader with a potent address to United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres and UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa at the 2018 climate negotiations.

She condemned the world’s political leaders for being in the grip of a “political economy” of exponential growth economics, and banking and multinational corporate interests that are destroying the earth’s capacity to support human life for money’s sake. Thunberg is a brilliant example of the youth, who may lead the way against so-called leaders sacrificing their children and life on earth.

What does this emergency mean for local community life? There are more questions than answers. Must it be made a public pillar of a community – any community? Clearly, communities cannot continue caring only for their own needs, as if the world will take care of itself.

The threat is pervasive and requires communities to act in co-operation, including individuals, business people and others. Schools could be brought in, enabling people to understand that all activities, big or small, are part of their carbon footprint.

In some cases, these requirements may affect communities’ rights to follow traditions and customs; for example, inward-looking communities whose population growth is often exponential, such as some in third world countries. Mormons, for whom any birth control is forbidden; and Haredi Jews, for whom every increase in their population is regarded as a blessing. The planet cannot support so many people.

People worldwide did not always understand themselves as being part of a global community that needed to act together. Attitudes changed partly with NASA’s spaceflights and Neil Armstrong’s 1969 moon landing, as people saw not just their own house but the entire planet. A sense of belonging to a worldwide community increased. Events in one place resonated elsewhere: John F Kennedy’s assassination, the rise of Margaret Thatcher, Watergate.

Awareness of global warming took off in the 1970s. The “hole in the ozone layer” was the buzz. It rose in South Africa too, but at the height of apartheid there were other issues. Today, ethnic nationalism threatens the global approach to a solution, with its emphasis on separateness exemplified by United States President Donald Trump. But the climate crisis may be the thing to defuse it. Even the nationalists might see that the recent migration crisis from the Middle East will be nothing compared to mass migrations caused by rising sea levels plunging large tracts of land under water.

Some of the problem’s sources are obvious, such as burning fossil oil – Thunberg says 100 million barrels are burned every day. Oil has long been fundamental to industry in developed countries. This became starkly clear in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries such as Saudi Arabia, reduced supplies to Europe and the US for collaboration with Israel. Oil prices quadrupled, British industry was reduced to a three-day work week, and US gas stations ran dry. But the prospect of stopping oil use was considered unthinkable.

With today’s understanding, however, everyone will have to examine their lifestyle and priorities for humanity’s future.

 

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