This is a speech I prepared to deliver at the Solidarity Media Awards
This award was bestowed upon Countercurrents.org and me for the courageous interventions in human rights and citizen’s rights. Let me make it very clear, I do not have any such claims. I’m doing whatever little I can in my limited capacity for humanity and other species on earth. Since the organizers have bestowed upon me such a heavy responsibility, let me share my insights about the past, present and future of human rights.
Let me make it clear at the outset that human beings are just one of the species in our eco system. Humans do not have any special rights. Humans have only equal rights in our eco system like all other species. Rather, humans being the dominant species have the responsibility to protect the rights of all other species. It’s only because humans have the capability to demand for their rights that the concept ‘human rights’ exists. Even these rights face unparalleled threat now from multiple sources,
- Climate Change
- Resource Depletion
- Limits to Growth
The flood that Kerala witnessed recently made one thing clear. It’s not just the Western Ghats as professed by some environmentalists is an ecologically sensitive area, but all parts of Kerala are ecologically sensitive. If we extend this concept it would be clear to us that the whole world is an ecologically sensitive area, which means that we’ve nowhere to escape to in the face of a flood, drought or a hurricane!
The paper called ‘Hot House Earth’ was published almost at the same time Kerala was under water. According to this paper, if we do not take urgent action to prevent global warming, mean temperature would rise to 5 degree Celsius and the sea level would rise to 10 to 60 feet from the mean level. On October 5 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC) published a special report. According to this report we’ve just 12 years to prevent catastrophic warming. Unless we take actions by 2030, 1.5 degree Celsius warming would be a foregone conclusion. For the first time IPCC admitted that sea level rise by the end of the century would be at least one meter higher than the mean level.
When Countercurrents.org was founded in 2002 the CO2 level in the atmosphere was 370 ppm. Now it’s around 410 ppm. According James Hansen, the father of Climate Change science, this is the CO2 level that prevailed in the Eemian period about 1,25000 years ago. Paleoclimate studies reveal that during that period sea level was 7 to 9 feet higher than it was today. This means that we are moving into unchartered territories in our climate. Global warming is not just a phenomenon that affects the sea coast, that many cities would be under water by the end of the century. The reality is that Climate Change would bring devastating floods, droughts, hurricanes, snow storms and such extreme weather events. If humans can not live in this planet, what’s the point of human rights?
- Resource Depletion
The second issue I’m raising is that of resource depletion. According to International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook report published in 2010, conventional oil (easily extractable oil) peaked in and around 2005. The shortage was met by the extraction of unconventional oil through fracking, tar sands extraction, deep sea wells etc. It would be interesting to note that in July 2008 oil reached a record peak price of $147.27/barrel. It would also be interesting to note that global financial crisis occurred during this period.
You may ask, what’s the relation between the phenomenon called ‘Peak Oil’ and human rights? There’s only one answer. Energy is the underlying source of modern civilization. Fossil fuels are the cheapest source of energy that can be easily handled. It’s with this source of energy we built the modern civilization, with its infrastructure, hospitals, schools, universities, factories, technology…… It’s just not the fossil fuels, but almost all other minerals and metals have been extracted by human beings to the maximum and are peaking. It’s also interesting to note that human population exploded when we had cheap energy. For instance when India attained freedom from the British in 1947 the population was around 300 million. Now 70 years later, the population stands at 1.3 billion!
During most part of human civilization, population was steady, hovering just around one billion or below. Just after the industrial revolution, when humans started using fossil fuels, the population began to increase. With the discovery of crude oil and its wide usage, human population just exploded. When it’s gone, the population that grew with it too will be gone. The graph will be flattened. The trauma of that catastrophic event is beyond the comprehension of most of us. Billions will die. It’s not just numbers, but humans in flesh and blood! Relationships will be gone! We can’t handle even the death of a dear one. How about billions of deaths? It will also bring in political churnings. When humanity faces a crisis, authoritarian forces would emerge to take control. Fascism will raise its head once again. Chaos will prevail. In fact, it’s already happening. Whither human rights?
Optimists may say there will be alternative energy or technological fix to prevent such chaos. Scientists have been searching for that magical energy source to replace the dirty fossil fuels. According to my knowledge, no headway has been made so far. I do not have any hope that such breakthrough would come soon enough. Even if a technological breakthrough is made, there is the catch that we’ve used up most of our resources to sustain our humungous population for another century or more.
3 Limits To Growth
The 1972 Club of Rome report ‘Limits to Growth’ has confirmed that economy cannot grow forever. A 2014 update to this report also confirmed this reality. The capitalist economic system is based on the assumption that economies will grow forever. Today, except may be for Cuba, most of the nations of the world are imitating the capitalist model. It’s dangerous. Once economic growth comes to a standstill, as described above, whole system will collapse like a house of cards. Banks would fail. Industry would come to a grinding halt. Jobs would be a dream.
The cumulative effect of all these factors point to one thing. Humanity is heading towards a collapse. Prof. Ugo Bardi of University of Florence has termed it, The Senecca Cliff. Drawing from the philosophical premises of Roman philosopher Senecca, Dr. Bardy says that the ‘growth would be slow, but the fall would be quick.’
Jared Diamond in his famous book ‘Collapse- How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive’ has analysed many collapsed civilization. His terrifying conclusion is that at the end of most societies humans resorted to cannibalism. He came to this conclusion by analyzing the faeces of the last survivors of the collapse.
If we end up in cannibalism what’s the point of human rights?
Yes, we are heading to a collapse. We’ve just 12 years left to save our home, our beautiful earth. Here are some practical suggestions to avoid a collapse there by protecting human rights and the rights of all other species on earth.
- Force our governments to take global warming seriously, so that whole of humanity make radical changes in social as well as personal lives
- Force our governments to shift to renewable energy sources
- Shift our economic model from perpetual growth to a sustainable economy
- Demand equitable redistribution of capital, wealth and resources
- Force our governments to implement family planning
- Make climate change/global warming a topic in school curriculum
- Pass a “Law of the Rights of Mother Earth” like Bolivia and Ecuador have done
The list of course is incomplete. You can add more. Discuss and debate and take action. That’s the only way for us to avoid a catastrophic collapse and save our mother earth and all its species.