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.
I seem to remember future-imaginer Faith Popcorn saying that nesting was going to feature largely in a large number of USA citizens' lives. So house renovations etc.
Kia ora Chris
Your regret and anguish over the course of world events in this century are perfectly understandable. However it betrays a fundamental problem in the thinking of the left - the idea that a capitalist political system can deliver outcomes that benefit the world at the cost of capital.
Global economic and environmental problems will be ameliorated and the position of the working class improved if there are clear benefits to global capital and the power of imperial states. In our era those conditions are not met, and so the capitalist world is in a state of pending crisis.
The mistake is to imagine that events would have taken a dramatically different course if Al Gore had defeated George Bush, or, indeed, if left-leaning candidates had taken office throughout the capitalist world. A radical leftist government did not make a great difference in Greece, Barack Obama did not change the course of US politics, and David Lange, Roger Douglas and Helen Clark did nothing to make New Zealand a kinder, fairer and more responsible society.
"Put not your trust in princes" the Gospel tell us. Rather we should trust God and our own agency. That will not change the world overnight, but neither will a democratic election. It may be that for many years the only change we will see is the revolution in our own state of mind and our personal relations to the world. But it is a way forward which does not end in a sense of deep disappointment and helplessness.
Absolutely right in only a few dozen words. The neoliberal money-making elite reject any suggestion of anthropogenic climate change. Almost universally politicians are reluctant to rock the growth boat. The mass of the population in the developed world are happy to continue to continue with their obscene consumption.
To now arrest the decline to global Hades would now take a focused and determined revolution, but who will man the guillotine?
Don't despair Chris, in the overall scheme of things it's not that bad. The planet has dealt with many changes during its existence and will have to deal with many more. Humanity's problem is that we don't see ourselves as a part of the natural world anymore. We are just a virus out of control, and nature, the universe, will deal with it. The only difference with other plagues, say possums in NZ, is that we can see it coming and potentially can influence things to a certain degree. But, unfortunately, despite our intellect we are not a rational species.
I am not heartened to find myself a dot on a timeline of zillions of years. I do hope the world goes on and we can change to help the birds and animals that live unknowing what has been done to the world. We are so irrational yet filled with hubris at ourselves, usually at something that somebody else has achieved.
Our stubborn self-important controllers and leaders can't make the decision to allow us to decide when to die; we are treated like helpless babies until our servant body gives up its last gasp. Well-thought-out euthanasia laws that enable a civil end when we choose, either for people already dying, or people who wish they were dead would be good for our wellbeing. More pleasure and happiness while we are ticking over alright, and going at the right time would be good for the environment as a ton of pill chemicals per day? not adding to our pollution levels.
We are so unready to take on responsibility for the world we have created underpinned by capitalism. It has been a poisoned chalice from beings who have ended up as cunning little shits instead of reaching a higher level of knowing and equanimity.
"Put not your trust in princes" the Gospel tell us. Rather we should trust God and our own agency. That will not change the world overnight, but neither will a democratic election.
Youre right Geoff but (as I know you recognise) we Christians still have a duty to stand up for what is right and call out bad stuff. To do otherwise is to lapse into fatalism and let evil take its course.
Looking at Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five again, and one of his pithy comments related to Christianity is worthy of mentioning at this point.
Andrew Nichols - ...we Christians still have a duty to stand up for what is right and call out bad stuff. While doing this worthy thing, we should also take some time for rumination about Christian hubris, which is far too high, and try to amend this within ourselves by appropriate actions.
Vonnegut's Kilgore Tout wrote about a visitor from outer space...[who,which?] made a serious study of Christianity, to learn, if he could, why Christians found it so easy to be cruel. He concluded that at least part of the trouble was slipshod storytelling in the New Testament. He supposed that the intent of the Gospels was to teach people, among other things, to be merciful, even to the lowest of the low.
Then I am not sure what I think about the next few lines:
But the Gospels actually taught this:
Before you kill somebody, make absolutely sure he isn't well connected.. So it goes. Cynical, sarcastic; or the reality behind many actions. first invoking Christ's favour?
Greywarbler - it is the deliberate, multifarious - (not just the naturally inborn, as e.g. with hibernation) - resorting to capitalism by humans, which is the basic difference of human behavior compared to that in the rest of the animal kingdom.
Without capitalism (saving and investment)we would be still primitive hunters and gatherers.
Probably if we were primitive hunters and gatherers, without constant fear of other humans stealing our stuff and wiping us out, we would be happier.
If we stuck to bartering accompanies by wider agreements with other in-groups it would have kept our desires and fancies more grounded. Now we have a discussion about our successful Mars exploration and the possibility of installing human habitation there, using this living Earth's resources to the point of disaster comparable to the aftermath of an atom bomb. Our curiosity and cupidity has become uncontrollable based on capitalism and its useful ability to be either physical or abstract. WE have got to the point that Orwell imagined and expressed in his book 1984:
‘To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy’.
Just on the evidence of your commenters! individualism -- the froth of the poured drink of our great surplus -- is deeply subversive of the unity needed to deal with the ruling class's pursuit of their short-term self-interest.
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