The Big IFs: We are so unlucky that it has come to this. Especially when, had things worked out just a little differently we might have had a chance. If Florida’s voters had swung decisively behind Al Gore in the 2000 US Presidential Election. If the Baby Boom Generation hadn’t abandoned their idealism for cycling holidays in France and a renovated kitchen. If the Millennials possessed an attention span just a little bit longer than a goldfish’s. If the Internet hadn’t allowed us all to become so stupid.
NOBODY WANTS TO KNOW. That 150 academics have put their name to a letter urging the government to do something – anything – about climate change: nobody wants to know. The letter itself is a response to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). That report gives the world just 12 years to fundamentally refashion industrial civilisation or face runaway global warming. But, nobody wants to know.
We are so unlucky that it has come to this. Especially when, had things worked out just a little differently we might have had a chance. If Florida’s voters had swung decisively behind Al Gore in the 2000 US Presidential Election. If the Baby Boom Generation hadn’t abandoned their idealism for cycling holidays in France and a renovated kitchen. If the Millennials possessed an attention span just a little bit longer than a goldfish’s. If the Internet hadn’t allowed us all to become so stupid.
Al Gore would almost certainly have got Bin Laden before he got America. (The Democrats recognised Osama as a threat, the Republicans were more focussed on Iraq and Iran.) So, no 9/11. No War on Terror. No invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. A less crazed world. A real chance that the big global players: the USA, the UK, the EU, China, Japan and the Russian Federation might have trusted each other enough to come together around the science and take climate change seriously.
What would that have looked like? Well, if we’d been lucky, the Big Six would have pooled their resources and “internationalised” the fossil fuels industry. The slow and painful process of weaning the world off oil and coal could have begun – unimpeded by the oil industry’s denialist propaganda.
Encouraged by their success, the Big Six might then have embarked on an equally grand international effort dedicated to moving the world towards the adoption of renewable energy. Unburdened by ruinous levels of military spending, the leading economies would have been free to invest billions in the development of sustainable industrial processes.
The effect on the world’s peoples of all this global co-operation in the name of bequeathing a healthy planet to future generations is readily imagined. The audience for the promoters of jihad would have shrunk away to nothing – especially after the Big Six imposed a just territorial settlement on Israel and the Palestinians and then guaranteed the peace that followed. Rather than the disillusionment and despair that followed the world’s horror-filled descent into post-9/11 extremism, the example of the great powers working together would have engendered a global spring of hope.
Global finance would not have been happy but, in the new atmosphere of “can do” internationalism, the nostrums of neoliberalism would have lost much of their persuasive force. “Globalisation” would have acquired a new and extremely positive set of associations and the electorates of the world’s nation-states would have been quick to punish any political party which set its face against the humane and ecologically-informed values of the new era.
The United Nations, now lavishly funded by the Big Six, would not so much have assumed a greater role in global governance as had that role thrust upon it. At long last, the idea of a single world army was no longer being dismissed out-of-hand by the five permanent members of the Security Council. Indeed, driven by the Big Six, a new World Security Force, composed of contingents contributed by all of the UN’s member states, would soon be standing guard over the Pax Humanitas.
Not that there were very many enemies left to fight. With the production of weapons now a strictly controlled UN monopoly, the promotion and extension of human conflict was no longer a paying proposition. Indeed, because we had been lucky all those years before, the commemoration of World War I became the excuse for a very special international undertaking. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month 2018, the last nuclear weapon in the world was decommissioned.
Except, of course, we weren’t lucky. The world has not drawn closer together, it has grown farther apart. In the eighteen years since November 2000 the urgent remedial effort required to slow anthropogenic global warming has not taken place. The scientists see what’s coming. They’re begging us to, please, do something!
But nobody wants to know.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 23 November 2018.