“Every Night & every Morn,
Some to Misery are Born.
Every Night & every Morn,
Some are Born to sweet delight.
Some are Born to sweet delight,
Some are Born to Endless Night.”
“Whatever happens, we have got
The Maxim gun, and they have not.”
1 Intolerable economic inequality
The excessive inequality that we can see today, both within countries and between countries, has many harmful eﬀects, and these are experienced by both poor and rich. For example, crime, drug use, and mental illness. are much more common in very unequal societies On a global scale, the vast chasm of economic inequality between countries blocks eﬀorts to make the United Nations more eﬀective, since rich countries fear that a more eﬀective UN will rob them of their privileged position. We must also remember that inequality between nations is often maintained by means of military force, regime-change, and interference by powerful nations in the internal aﬀairs of weaker ones.
Oxfam’s report on inequality A recent report by Oxfam1 has revealed that the wealth of the poorest half of the world’s population has fallen by a trillion dollars since 2010, a drop of 38%. Meanwhile, the wealth of the richest 62 people in the world has increased to 1.76 trillion dollars. In fact, the wealthiest 62 individuals now own more than the poorest half of the world’s population.
Enormous contrasts exist today, not only between nations, but also within nations. Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam’s International Executive Director stated that “It is simply unacceptable that the poorest half of the world’s population owns no more than a few dozen super-rich people who could ﬁt onto one bus. World leaders’ concern about the escalating inequality has so far not translated into concrete action; the world has become a much more unequal place, and the trend is accelerating. We cannot continue to allow hundreds of millions of people to go hungry while resources that could be used to help them are sucked up by those at the top.” Speaking at the Davos Forum in Switzerland, she continued: “I challenge the governments and elites at Davos to play their part in in ending the era of tax havens, which is fueling economic inequality and preventing hundreds of millions of people from lifting themselves out of poverty. Multinational companies and wealthy elites are playing by different rules than everyone else, refusing to pay the taxes that society needs to function.
The fact that 188 of 201 leading companies have a presence in at least one tax haven shows that it it time to act.” Oxfam estimates that globally, 7.6 trillion dollars of individual’s wealth sits oﬀshore, and this includes as much as 38% of African ﬁnancial wealth.
Persistent eﬀects of colonialism
Part of the extreme economic inequality that exists in today’s world is due to colonial and neocolonial wars. The Industrial Revolution opened up an enormous gap in military strength between the industrialized nations and the rest of the world. Taking advantage of their superior weaponry, Europe, the United States and Japan rapidly carved up the remainder of the world into colonies, which acted as sources of raw materials and food, and as markets for manufactured goods.
Between 1800 and 1914, the percentage of the earth under the domination of colonial powers increased to 85 percent, if former colonies are included. The English economist and Fabian, John Atkinson Hobson (1858-1940), oﬀered a famous explanation of the colonial era in his book “Imperialism: A Study” (1902). According to Hobson, the basic problem that led to colonial expansion was an excessively unequal distribution of incomes in the industrialized countries. The result of this unequal distribution was that neither the rich nor the poor could buy back the total output of their society. The incomes of the poor were insuﬃcient, and rich were too few in number. The rich had ﬁnite needs, and tended to reinvest their money. As Hobson pointed out, reinvestment in new factories only made the situation worse by increasing output.
Figure 1: A late 19th century French cartoon showing England, Germany, Russia, France and Japan slicing up the pie of China. (Public domain)
Hobson had been sent as a reporter by the Manchester Guardian to cover the Second Boer War. His experiences had convinced him that colonial wars have an economic motive. Such wars are fought, he believed, to facilitate investment of the excess money of the rich in African or Asian plantations and mines, and to make possible the overseas sale of excess manufactured goods. Hobson believed imperialism to be immoral, since it entails suﬀering both among colonial peoples and among the poor of the industrial nations. The cure that he recommended was a more equal distribution of incomes in the manufacturing countries.
Figure 2: A cartoon showing Cecil Rhodes’ colonial ambitions for Africa. The thread in his hands represents a proposed Cape-Town-to-Cairo telegraph line. He wanted to “paint the map British red”, and declared, “If I could, I would annex other planets.” (Public domain)
In his book, Neocolonialism, The Last Stage of Imperialism (Thomas Nielsen, London, 1965), Kwami Nkrumah deﬁned neocolonialism with the following words: “The essence of neocolonialism is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory independent, and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from the outside. The methods and form of this direction can take various shapes.
For example, in an extreme case, the troops of the imperial power may garrison the territory of the neocolonial State and control the government of it. More often, however, neocolonial control is exercised through monetary means… The struggle against neocolonialism is not aimed at excluding the capital of the developed world from operating in less developed countries. It is aimed at preventing the ﬁnancial power of the developed countries from being used in such a way as to impoverish the less developed.”
The resource curse
The way in which the industrialized countries maintain their control over less developed nations can be illustrated by the “resource curse”, i.e. the fact that resource-rich developing countries are no better oﬀ economically than those that lack resources, but are cursed with corrupt and undemocratic governments. This is because foreign corporations extracting local resources under unfair agreements exist in a symbiotic relationship with corrupt local oﬃcials. One might think that taxation of foreign resource-extracting ﬁrms would provide developing countries with large incomes. However, there is at present no international law governing multinational tax arrangements. These are usually agreed to on a bilateral basis, and the industrialized countries have stronger bargaining powers in arranging the bilateral agreements.
Manufacture and export of small arms
Another important poverty-generating factor in the developing countries is war – often civil war. The ﬁve permanent members of the U.N. Security Council are, ironically, the ﬁve largest exporters of small arms. Small arms have a long life. The weapons poured into Africa by both sides during the Cold War are still there, and they contribute to political chaos and civil wars that block development and cause enormous human suﬀering. The United Nations website on Peace and Security through Disarmament states that “Small arms and light weapons destabilize regions; spark, fuel and prolong conﬂicts; obstruct relief programmes; undermine peace initiatives; exacerbate human rights abuses; hamper development; and foster a ‘culture of violence’.” An estimated 639 million small arms and light weapons are in circulation worldwide, one for every ten people. Approximately 300,000 people are killed every year by these weapons, many of them women and children.
Examples of endemic conﬂict
Figure 3: Children sleeping in Mulberry Street, New York City, 1890 (Jacob Riis photo) (Public domain)
In several regions of Africa, long-lasting conﬂicts have prevented development and caused enormous human misery. These regions include Ethiopia, Eritiria, Somalia (Darfur), Chad, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the Congo, the death toll reached 5.4 million in 2008, with most of the victims dying of disease and starvation, but with war as the root cause. In view of these statistics, the international community can be seen to have a strong responsibility to stop supplying small arms and ammunition to regions of conﬂict. There is absolutely no excuse for the large-scale manufacture and international sale of small arms that exists today.
The plight of indigenous peoples
Readers of Charles Darwin’s book describing The Voyage of the Beagle will remember his horrifying account of General Rosas’ genocidal war against the Amerind population of Argentina. Similar genocidal violence has been experienced by indigenous peoples throughout South and Central America, and indeed throughout the world. In general, the cultures of indigenous peoples require much land, and greed for this land is the motive for violence against them. However, the genetic and cultural heritage of indigenous peoples can potentially be of enormous value to humanity, and great eﬀorts should be made to protect them.
The resurgence of infectious disease
Figure 4: 20,000 children die each day from starvation. (Public domain)
Figure 5: Men from Bathurst Island in Australia’s Northern Territories. Indigenous people everywhere in the world are under great pressure from those who desire their land. Indigenous cultures and languages are in danger of being lost. (Wikipedia)
Endemic disease is strongly linked to poverty. Great improvements in reducing the eﬀects of diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria, schistosomiasis, trichoniosis, and river blindness could be made if pharmaceutical companies could be induced to do more research on tropical diseases and to provide drugs to developing countries at aﬀordable prices. Other important measures would be universal vaccination programs, and the provision of safe water to all. It is in the interests of developed countries to promote health in the developing world, because air travel can quickly spread epidemics from one region to another.
In 2004, there were approximately 39.4 million people living with HIV, 4.9 million new HIV infections, and 3.1 million deaths due to AIDS. It is estimated that in ﬁve populous countries, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russia, India and China, the number of people infected with HIV/AIDS will grow from 14-23 million to 50-75 million by 2010. 95% of those living with HIV/AIDS do not know that they are infected with the disease.
Approximately 2 billion people (one third of the world’s population!) are infected with TB, often in a latent form. 90% of the burden of TB falls on the developing countries; on India alone, 30%. Roughly 2 million people die from TB each year. It is the number one killer of women of childbearing age.
Every year there are 300 million cases of malaria, and it causes about one million deaths. There are roughly 10 new cases of malaria every second, 90% of which are in Africa. A quarter of all childhood deaths in Africa are due to malaria.
At the moment, the issue of debt slavery is very topical because of the case of Greece; but it is an issue that has a far more general signiﬁcance. Usury, the charging of interest on loans, has a history of being forbidden by several major religions, including not only the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but also the ancient Vedic Scriptures of India. Perhaps the reason for these religious traditions can be found in the remarkable properties of exponential growth. If any quantity, for example indebtedness, is growing at the rate of 3% per year, it will double in 23.1 years; if it is growing at the rate of 4% per year, the doubling time is 17.3 years. For a 5% growth rate, the doubling time is 13.9 years, if the growth rate is 7%, the doubling time is only 9.9 years. It follows that if a debt remains unpaid for a few years, most of the repayments will go for interest, rather than for reducing the amount of the debt.
In the case of the debts of third world countries to private banks in the industrialized parts of the world and to the IMF, many of the debts were incurred in the 1970’s for purposes which were of no beneﬁt to local populations, for example purchase of military hardware. Today the debts remain, although the amount paid over the years by the developing countries is very many times the amount originally borrowed. Third world debt can be regarded as a means by which the industrialized nations extract raw materials from developing countries without any repayment whatever. In fact, besides extracting raw materials, they extract money.
Child labour and child slavery
The reform movement’s eﬀorts, especially those of the Fabians, overcame the worst horrors of early 19th century industrialism, but today their hard-won achievements are being undermined and lost because of uncritical and unregulated globalization. Today, a factory owner or CEO, anxious to avoid high labor costs, and anxious to violate environmental regulations merely moves his factory to a country where laws against child labor and rape of the environment do not exist or are poorly enforced.
In fact, he must do so or be ﬁred, since the only thing that matters to the stockholders is the bottom line. One might say (as someone has done), that Adam Smith’s invisible hand is at the throat of the world’s peoples and at the throat of the global environment. The movement of a factory from Europe or North America to a country with poorly enforced laws against environmental destruction, child labor and slavery puts workers into unfair competition. Unless they are willing to accept revival of the unspeakable conditions of the early Industrial Revolution, they are unable to compete. Today, child labor accounts for 22% of the workforce in Asia, 32% in Africa, and 17% in Latin America. Large-scale slavery also exists today, although there are formal laws against it in every country. There are more slaves now than ever before. Their number is estimated to be between 12 million and 27 million. Besides outright slaves, who are bought and sold for as little as 100 dollars, there many millions of workers whose lack of options and dreadful working conditions must be described as slavelike. Enforcement, in all countries, of laws against child labor would help to stabilize the world’s rapidly growing population. When children are regarded as a source of income, or are sold into slavery or prostitution, parents aim for very large families. Thus, slavery or slavelike exploitation of children is a factor behind the global population explosion.
Political and geopolitical consequences of inequality
The intolerable economic inequality of today’s world is closely linked with the problem of war:
• Military force is used to maintain neocolonialism and unfair trade relationships between countries.
• Billionaires and corporations use their enormous wealth to dominate governments and media. When this happens, democracy is replaced by oligarchy, and motives of proﬁt take the place of social and ecological goals. The military-industrial complex also gains control of governmental budgets.
• The enormous amounts of money used for war could have been used for education, infrastructure, public health (including information and materials for family planning), sanitary drinking water, and social services.
• An eﬀective system of international law is needed for the abolition of war. But at present, economic inequality between countries is so great that rich countries fear eﬀective global governance because they fear taxation.
Beneﬁts of equality
Interestingly, TED Talks (ideas worth spreading) was recently under ﬁre from many progressive groups for censoring a short talk by the adventure capitalist, Nick Hanauer, entitled “Income Inequality”. In this talk, Hanauer says exactly the same thing as John Hobson, but he applies the ideas, not to colonialism, but to current unemployment in the United States. Hanauer says that the rich are unable to consume the products of society because they are too few in number. To make an economy work, demand must be increased, and for this to happen, the distribution of incomes must become much more equal than it is today in the United States. TED has now posted Hanauer’s talk, and the interested reader can ﬁnd another wonderful TED talk dealing with the same issues from the standpoint of health and social problems.
In a splendid lecture entitled “How economic inequality harms societies”, Richard Wilkinson demonstrates that there is almost no correlation between gross national product and a number of indicators of the quality of life, such as physical health, mental health, drug abuse, education, imprisonment, obesity, social mobility, trust, violence, teenage pregnancies and child well-being. On the other hand he oﬀers comprehensive statistical evidence that these indicators are strongly correlated with the degree of inequality within countries, the outcomes being uniformly much better in nations where income is more equally distributed. Warren Buﬀet famously remarked, “There’s class warfare, all right. But it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” However, the evidence presented by Hobson, Hanauer and Wilkinson shows conclusively that no one wins in a society where inequality is too great, and everyone wins when incomes are more evenly distributed.
We must decrease economic inequality
Figure 6: In his Apostolic Exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium”, Pope Francis said: “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality.”
In his Apostolic Exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium”, Pope Francis said: “In our time humanity is experiencing a turning-point in its history, as we can see from the advances being made in so many ﬁelds. We can only praise the steps being taken to improve peoples welfare in areas such as health care, education and communications. At the same time we have to remember that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences. A number of diseases are spreading.
The hearts of many people are gripped by fear and desperation, even in the so-called rich countries. The joy of living frequently fades, lack of respect for others and violence are on the rise, and inequality is increasingly evident. It is a struggle to live and, often, to live with precious little dignity.” “This epochal change has been set in motion by the enormous qualitative, quantitative, rapid and cumulative advances occurring in the sciences and in technology, and by their instant application in diﬀerent areas of nature and of life. We are in an age of knowledge and information, which has led to new and often anonymous kinds of power.” “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.
How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the ﬁttest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people ﬁnd themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.” “In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been conﬁrmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.” In a recent speech, Senator Bernie Sanders quoted Pope Francis extensively and added: “We have a situation today, Mr. President, incredible as it may sound, where the wealthiest 85 people in the world own more wealth than the bottom half of the world’s population.”2 The social epidemiologist Prof. Richard Wilkinson, has documented the ways in which societies with less economic inequality do better than more unequal societies in a number of areas, including increased rates of life expectancy, mathematical performance, literacy, trust, social mobility, together with decreased rates of infant mortality, homicides, imprisonment, teenage births, obesity and mental illness, including drug and alcohol addiction.
We must also remember that according to the economist John A. Hobson, the basic problem that led to imperialism was an excessively unequal distribution of incomes in the industrialized countries. The result of this unequal distribution was that neither the rich nor the poor could buy back the total output of their society. The incomes of the poor were insuﬃcient, and rich were too few in number.
Figure 7: Zaatari refugee camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan which only contains a population of 80,000 out of the 1.3 million in the country. It is expected that climate change will contribute to the refugee crisis and the problem of famine. International cooperation is needed to meet this emergency. (Public domain)
Figure 8: A tubercular lung. The amount of money needed to eﬀectively combat diseases such as tuberculosis is a tiny fraction of the colossal sums spent on wars and armament.
Figure 9: A village school. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child guarantees the right to education for all children. Global inequality denies them this right.
2 Climate change denial
The October 2018 IPCC Report
The world’s leading scientists met at the Forty-Eighth Session of the IPCC and First Joint Session of Working Groups I, II, and III, 1-5 October 2018 in Inchon, Republic of Korea and openly declared that civilization is on track for collapse because of reckless use of fossil fuels, unless immediate action is taken to drastically cut the extraction and use of fossil fuels. The report ﬁnds that limiting global warming to 1.5oC would require “rapid and farreaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050.
In a recent article, climate expert Dr. Andrew Glickson wrote: “The train has left the station and global heating is advancing toward +2 and then toward+4 degrees Celsius, as projected by the IPCC and in the words of Joachim Hans Schellnhuber, Germany’s chief climate scientist, signiﬁes the breakdown of civilization. Largely ignored or watered down by much of the mainstream media , betrayed by most political parties, including those who used to regard climate change as “the greatest moral issue of our time”, the population continues to be distracted by bread and circuses. Nowadays even some of the Greens appear to consider plastic bags and the tampon tax as greater vote winners than the demise of the biosphere.” Why did Professor Noam Chomsky call the US Republican Party “The most dangerous organization in the history of the world”? In the primary that preceded the 2016 presidential election, every single Republican candidate with a chance of being nominated was a climate change denier. All received amazingly generous checks from giant fossil fuel organizations. When elected, Donald Trump not only pulled the United States out of the Paris Agreement; he also sabotaged the Environmental Protection Agency to such an extent that the carefully collected facts on climate change that the agency had accumulated had to be secretly saved by scientists to prevent their destruction by the Trump administration. Furthermore, Donald Trump not only subsidizes giant coal corporations. He also has sabotages renewable energy initiatives in the United States.
Figure 10: Is this the person to whom we ought to entrust the future of our planet? When elected, Donald Trump not only pulled the United States out of the Paris Agreement; he also sabotaged the Environmental Protection Agency to such an extent that the carefully collected facts on climate change that the agency had accumulated had to be secretly saved by scientists to prevent their destruction by the Trump administration. Furthermore, Donald Trump’s administration not only subsidizes giant coal corporations. It also has sabotages renewable energy initiatives in the United States.
Figure 11: Donald Trump has also contributed to the growth of racial prejudice and a culture of violence.
3 The fossil fuel industry’s denial campaign
The Wikipedia article on climate change denial describes it with the following words: “Although scientiﬁc opinion on climate change is that human activity is extremely likely to be the primary driver of climate change, the politics of global warming have been aﬀected by climate change denial, hindering eﬀorts to prevent climate change and adapt to the warming climate. Those promoting denial commonly use rhetorical tactics to give the appearance of a scientiﬁc controversy where there is none.” It is not surprising that the fossil fuel industry supports, on a vast scale, politicians and mass media that deny the reality of climate change. The amounts of money at stake are vast. If catastrophic climate change is to be avoided, coal, oil and natural gas “assets” worth trillions of dollars must be left in the ground. Giant fossil fuel corporations are desperately attempting to turn these “assets’ into cash.
According to a recent article published in “The Daily Kos”, companies like Shell and Exxon, knew, as early as the 1970s, how their combustible products were contributing to irreversible warming of the planet, became public knowledge over the last few years. A series of painstakingly researched articles5 published in 2015 by the Pulitzer-prize winning Inside Climate News revealed an industry totally aware and informed for decades about the inevitable warming certain to occur as more and more carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels was released into the atmosphere. The article states that “In fact, the oil industry, and Exxon in particular, had the best climate models available, superior to those relied on by scientiﬁc community.6 And armed with the foreknowledge developed through those models, Exxon and the other oil companies planned and executed an elaborate, cynical long term strategy: to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a comprehensive propaganda eﬀort designed to raise doubts about the existence and cause of climate change, a phenomenon they well knew was irrefutable, based on their own research.
By 2016 the industry’s lobbying to discredit the science of climate change had surpassed two billion dollars. “Meanwhile, as newly discovered documents reported in The Guardian7 attest, the same companies were preparing projections of what type of world they would be leaving for the rest of humanity. In the 1980s, oil companies like Exxon and Shell carried out internal assessments of the carbon dioxide released by fossil fuels, and forecast the planetary consequences of these emissions. In 1982, for example, Exxon predicted that by about 2060, CO2 levels would reach around 560 parts per million – double the preindustrial level – and that this would push the planet’s average temperatures up by about 2oC over then-current levels (and even more compared to pre-industrial levels).”
Existential Risk to Human Civilization
Here are some excerpts from a 44-page report entitled What Lies Beneath: The Understanding of Existential Climate Risk, by David Spratt and Ian Dunlop9:
“In 2016, the World Economic Forum survey of the most impactful risks for the years ahead elevated the failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation to the top of the list, ahead of weapons of mass destruction, ranking second, and water crises, ranking third. By 2018, following a year characterized by high-impact hurricanes and extreme temperatures, extreme-weather events were seen as the single most prominent risk. As the survey noted: “We have been pushing our planet to the brink and the damage is becoming increasingly clear.
“Climate change is an existential risk to human civilization: that is, an adverse outcome that would either annihilate intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential. “Temperature rises that are now in prospect, after the Paris Agreement, are in the range of 3-5 oC. At present, the Paris Agreement voluntary emission reduction commitments, if implemented, would result in planetary warming of 3.4 oC by 2100, without taking into account “long-term” carbon- cycle feedbacks. With a higher climate sensitivity ﬁgure of 4.5 oC, for example, which would account for such feedbacks, the Paris path would result in around 5 oC of warming, according to a MIT study. “ A study by Schroeder Investment Management published in June 2017 found – after taking into account indicators across a wide range of the political, ﬁnancial, energy and regulatory sectors – the average temperature increase implied for the Paris Agreement across all sectors was 4.1 oC.
“Yet 3 oC of warming already constitutes an existential risk. A 2007 study by two US national security think-tanks concluded that 3 oC of warming and a 0.5 meter sea-level rise would likely lead to “outright chaos” and “nuclear war is possible”, emphasizing how “massive non-linear events in the global environment give rise to massive nonlinear societal event”. “ The Global Challenges Foundation (GCF) explains what could happen: ‘If climate change was to reach 3 oC, most of Bangladesh and Florida would drown, while major coastal cities – Shanghai, Lagos, Mumbai – would be swamped, likely creating large ﬂows of climate refugees. Most regions in the world would see a signiﬁcant drop in food production and increasing numbers of extreme weather events, whether heat waves, ﬂoods or storms. This likely scenario for a 3 oC rise does not take into account the considerable risk that self-reinforcing feedback loops set in when a certain threshold is reached, leading to an ever increasing rise in temperature. Potential thresholds include the melting of the Arctic permafrost releasing methane into the atmosphere, forest dieback releasing the carbon currently stored in the Amazon and boreal forests, or the melting of polar ice caps that would no longer reﬂect away light and heat from the sun.’ “Warming of 4 oC or more could reduce the global human population by 80% or 90%, and the World Bank reports “there is no certainty that adaptation to a 4 oC world is possible. “Prof. Kevin Anderson says a 4 oC future ‘is incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable’.
“This is a commonly-held sentiment amongst climate scientists. A recent study by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre found that if the global temperature rose 4 oC, then extreme heatwaves with ‘apparent temperatures’ peaking at over 55 oC will begin to regularly aﬀect many densely populated parts of the world, forcing much activity in the modern industrial world to stop.
“In 2017, one of the ﬁrst research papers to focus explicitly on existential climate risks proposed that ‘mitigation goals be set in terms of climate risk category instead of a temperature threshold’, and established a ‘dangerous’ risk category of warming greater than 1.5 oC, and a ‘catastrophic’ category for warming of 3 oC or more. The authors focussed on the impacts on the world’s poorest three billion people, on health and heat stress, and the impacts of climate extremes on such people with limited adaptation resources.
They found that a 2 oC warming ‘would double the land area subject to deadly heat and expose 48% of the population (to deadly heat). A 4 oC warming by 2100 would subject 47% of the land area and almost 74% of the world population to deadly heat, which could pose existential risks to humans and mammals alike unless massive adaptation measures are implemented.’ “A 2017 survey of global catastrophic risks by the Global Challenges Foundation found that: ‘In high-end [climate] scenarios, the scale of destruction is beyond our capacity to model, with a high likelihood of human civilization coming to an end.’ “84% of 8000 people in eight countries surveyed for the Foundation considered climate change a ‘global catastrophic risk’. “Existential risk may arise from a fast rate of system change, since the capacity to adapt, in both the natural and human worlds, is inversely proportional to the pace of change, amongst other factors. In 2004, researchers reported on the rate of warming as a driver of extinction… “At 4 oC of warming ‘the limits for adaptation for natural systems would largely be exceeded throughout the world. “Ecological breakdown of this scale would ensure an existential human crisis. By slow degrees, these existential risks are being recognized. In May 2018, an inquiry by the Australian Senate into national security and global warming recognized climate change as a current and existential national security risk… deﬁned as ‘one that threatens the premature extinction of Earth-originating intelligent life or the permanent and drastic destruction of its potential for desirable future development’”.
4 The refugee crisis
Climate change as genocide
Climate change does not aﬀect all parts of the world equally. The harshest eﬀects of the extreme weather that we are already experiencing are disproportionately felt by the poorest people of the world. In March, 2017. the Security Council was informed 11 that 20 million people in four countries, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, were in danger of dying unless provided with immediate help. The cost of the necessary aid was estimated to be $4.4 billion. The developed world’s response has been a shrug of indiﬀerence. By the midsummer. 2017 only a tenth of the amount needed had been raised.
Figure 12: A starving child in Somalia.
Conﬂicts and famine are interlinked. The struggle for food produces conﬂicts; and famine is often used as an instrument of war. Food aid, when available, is often deliberately blocked or destroyed by warring factions. Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabaab in Somalia, assorted militias and the government in South Sudan, and Saudi-backed forces in Yemen all interfered with the delivery of aid supplies. In the future, the eﬀects of rising temperatures and reduced rainfall will disproportionately aﬀect poor farmers of Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Latin America. If the more aﬄuent parts of the world continue to produce greenhouse gasses in a businessas-usual scenario, and if they continue to ignore calls for help from starving people, these actions will amount to genocide.
The United Nations High Commission on Refugees
In an article on Climate Change and Disasters the United Nations High Commission on Refugees makes the following statement: “The Earth’s climate is changing at a rate that has exceeded most scientiﬁc forecasts. Some families and communities have already started to suﬀer from disasters and the consequences of climate change, forced to leave their homes in search of a new beginning. “For UNHCR, the consequences of climate change are enormous. Scarce natural resources such as drinking water are likely to become even more limited. Many crops and some livestock are unlikely to survive in certain locations if conditions become too hot and dry, or too cold and wet. Food security, already a concern, will become even more challenging. “People try to adapt to this situation, but for many this will mean a conscious move to another place to survive.
Such moves, or the eﬀects of climate change on natural resources, may spark conﬂict with other communities, as an increasing number of people compete for a decreasing amount of resources. “Since 2009, an estimated one person every second has been displaced by a disaster, with an average of 22.5 million people displaced by climate- or weather-related events since 2008 (IDMC 2015). Disasters and slow onsets, such as droughts in Somalia in 2011 and 2012, ﬂoods in Pakistan between 2010 and 2012, and the earthquake in Nepal in 2015, can leave huge numbers of people traumatized without shelter, clean water and basic supplies.”
Populations displaced by sea level rise In a recent article12 discussed the long-term eﬀects of sea level rise and the massive refugee crisis that it might create. By 2060, about 1.4 billion people could be climate change refugees, according to the paper, and that number could reach 2 billion by 2100. The lead author, Prof. Emeritus Charles Geisler of Cornell University says: “The colliding forces of human fertility, submerging coastal zones, residential retreat, and impediments to inland resettlement is a huge problem. We oﬀer preliminary estimates of the lands unlikely to support new waves of climate refugees due to the residues of war, exhausted natural resources, declining net primary productivity, desertiﬁcation, urban sprawl, land concentration, ’paving the planet’ with roads and greenhouse gas storage zones oﬀsetting permafrost melt.” We should notice that Prof. Geisler’s estimate of 2 billion climate refugees by 2100 includes all causes, not merely sea level rise. However, the number of refugees from sea level rise alone will be very large, since all the world’s coastal cities, and many river deltas will be at risk.
Populations displaced by drought and famine
Climate change could produce a refugee crisis that is ”unprecedented in human history”, Barack Obama has warned as he stressed global warming was the most pressing issue of the age. Speaking at an international food conference in Milan, the former US President said rising temperatures were already making it more diﬃcult to grow crops and rising food prices were “leading to political instability”. If world leaders put aside “parochial interests” and took action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by enough to restrict the rise to one or two degrees Celsius, then humanity would probably be able to cope.
Figure 13: This ﬁgure shows an alarming upward turn in the average global temperature
Failing to do this, Mr Obama warned, increased the risk of “catastrophic” eﬀects in the future, “not only real threats to food security, but also increases in conﬂict as a consequence of scarcity and greater refugee and migration patterns”. “If you think about monsoon patterns in the Indian subcontinent, maybe half a billion people rely on traditional rain patterns in those areas,”
Populations displaced by rising temperatures
A new study published in Nature: Climate Change has warned that up to 75% of the world’s population could face deadly heat waves by 2100 unless greenhouse gas emissions are rapidly controlled.13. The following is an excerpt from the article: “Here we conducted a global analysis of documented lethal heat events to identify the climatic conditions associated with human death and then quantiﬁed the current and projected occurrence of such deadly climatic conditions worldwide. We reviewed papers published between 1980 and 2014, and found 783 cases of excess human mortality associated with heat from 164 cities in 36 countries. “Based on the climatic conditions of those lethal heat events, we identiﬁed a global threshold beyond which daily mean surface air temperature and relative humidity become deadly. Around 30% of the world’s population is currently exposed to climatic conditions exceeding this deadly threshold for at least 20 days a year. “By 2100, this percentage is projected to increase to 48% under a scenario with drastic reductions of greenhouse gas emissions and 74% under a scenario of growing emissions. An increasing threat to human life from excess heat now seems almost inevitable, but will be greatly aggravated if greenhouse gases are not considerably reduced.”
Populations displaced by war A recent article in The Guardian15 discusses the relationship between climate change and war, Here are some excerpts from the article: “Climate change is set to cause a refugee crisis of ’unimaginable scale’, according to senior military ﬁgures, who warn that global warming is the greatest security threat of the 21st century and that mass migration will become the ’new normal’. “The generals said the impacts of climate change were already factors in the conﬂicts driving a current crisis of migration into Europe, having been linked to the Arab Spring, the war in Syria and the Boko Haram terrorist insurgency. “Military leaders have long warned that global warming could multiply and accelerate security threats around the world by provoking conﬂicts and migration. They are now warning that immediate action is required. “’Climate change is the greatest security threat of the 21st century,’ said Maj Gen Muniruzzaman. “Muniruzzaman, chairman of the Global Military Advisory Council on climate change and a former military adviser to the president of Bangladesh. He said one meter of sea level rise will ﬂood 20% of his nation. ’We’re going to see refugee problems on an unimaginable scale, potentially above 30 million people.’ “Previously, Bangladesh’s ﬁnance minister, Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, called on Britain and other wealthy countries to accept millions of displaced people. “Brig Gen Stephen Cheney, a member of the US Department of State’s foreign aﬀairs policy board and CEO of the American Security Project, said: ’Climate change could lead to a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. We’re already seeing migration of large numbers of people around the world because of food scarcity, water insecurity and extreme weather, and this is set to become the new normal’.
Political reactions to migration
Across the developed world, the reaction to threatened migration of refugees from climate change has been less than generous, to say the least. The recent decision of Britain to leave the European Union was motivated largely by the fear of British workers that EU laws would force their country to accept large numbers of refugees.
Swings to the right in Europe
In Germany, Angela Merkel’s generous policies towards refugees have cost her votes, while an openly racist party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, has gained in strength.
Frauke Petry, 40, the party’s leader, has said border guards might need to turn guns on anyone crossing a frontier illegally. The party’s policy platform says “Islam does not belong in Germany” and calls for a ban on the construction of mosques. In September, 2017, eight people from the neo-Nazi Freital Group were put on trial in Dresden for bomb attacks on homes for asylum applicants. Hundreds of similar assaults occur in Germany every year, but they had never before been tried as terrorism in a federal court. In the German election, which took place on Sunday, October 1, 2017, Angela Merkel won a fourth term as Chancellor, but her party won only 33% of the votes, a percentage much reduced from the 41% won in the election of 2013. Angela Merkel was paying a high price for her refugee-friendly policies. Meanwhile the far right anti-immigration AfD party made a historic breakthrough, winning 13.5% of the vote, thus becoming the ﬁrst overtly nationalist party to sit in the Bundestag in 60 years. The Greens have already complained that “Nazis have returned to parliament”. In fact, members of the AfD party have begun to say that Germans should stop being ashamed of their country’s Nazi past. In France, the National Front is a nationalist party that uses populist rhetoric to promote its anti-immigration and anti-European Union positions. The party favors protectionist economic policies and would clamp down on government beneﬁts for immigrants.
Similarly, in the Netherlands, the anti-European Union, anti-Islam Party for Freedom has called for closing all Islamic schools and recording the ethnicity of all Dutch citizens. In early November, the party was leading in polls ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections.
Other far-right anti-immigrant parties in Europe include Golden Dawn (Greece), Jobbic (Hungary), Sweden Democrats (Sweden), Freedom Party (Austria), and People’s Party – Our Slovakia (Slovakia). All of these parties have gained in strength because of the widespread fear of immigration.
Populism in the United States
The election of Donald Trump, who ran for President in 2016 on an openly racist and anti-immigrant platform, can also be seen as the result of fear of immigration, especially on the part of industrial workers.
A more humane response to the refugee crisis
In the long-term future, climate change will make the refugee crisis much more severe. Heat and drought will make large regions of the world uninhabitable, and will threaten many populations with famine. The severity of the refugee crisis will depend on how quickly we reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While making many parts of the world uninhabitable, long-term climate change will make other regions more suitable for human habitation and agriculture. For example, farming will become more possible in Siberia, Greenland, the Canadian Arctic, Alaska and Patagonia. A humane response to the refugee crisis could include the generous opening of these regions to refuges. The global population of humans is currently increasing by almost a billion people every decade. Global population must be stabilized, and in the long run, gradually reduced. Money currently wasted (or worse than wasted) on armaments could be used instead to promote universal primary health care, and with it, universal access to the knowledge and materials needed for family planning. Finally, reduced consumption of meat, particularly beef, would shorten the food chain thus make more food available for famine relief.
5 The role of the media
Throughout history, art was commissioned by rulers to communicate, and exaggerate, their power, glory, absolute rightness etc, to the populace. The pyramids gave visual support to the power of the Pharaoh; portraits of rulers are a traditional form of propaganda supporting monarchies; and palaces were built as symbols of power. Modern powerholders are also aware of the importance of propaganda. Thus the media are a battleground where reformers struggle for attention, but are defeated with great regularity by the wealth and power of the establishment. This is a tragedy because today there is an urgent need to make public opinion aware of the serious problems facing civilization, and the steps that are needed to solve these problems. The mass media could potentially be a great force for public education, but often their role is not only unhelpful – it is negative. It is certainly possible to ﬁnd a few television programs and newspaper articles that present the facts about climate change in a realistic way. For example The Guardian gives outstanding climate change coverage. However, the mass media could do very much more. One has to conclude that the media are neglecting their great responsibilities at a time of acute crisis for human civilization and the biosphere. The same can be said of our educational systems at both both the primary and advanced levels. We urgently need much more public education about the severe dangers that we face today.
Television as a part of our educational system
In the mid-1950’s, television became cheap enough so that ordinary people in the industrialized countries could aﬀord to own sets. During the infancy of television, its power was underestimated. The great power of television is due to the fact that it grips two senses simultaneously, both vision and hearing. The viewer becomes an almost-hypnotized captive of the broadcast. In the 1950’s, this enormous power, which can be used both for good and for ill, was not yet fully apparent. Thus insuﬃcient attention was given to the role of television in education, in setting norms, and in establishing values. Television was not seen as an integral part of the total educational system. It is interesting to compare the educational systems of traditional cultures with those of modern industrial societies. In traditional societies, multigenerational families often live together in the same dwelling. In general, there is a great deal of contact between grandparents and grandchildren, with much transmission of values and norms between generations.
Old people are regarded with great respect, since they are considered to be repositories of wisdom, knowledge, and culture. By contrast, modern societies usually favor nuclear families, consisting of only parents and children. Old people are marginalized. They live by themselves in communities or homes especially for the old. Their cultural education knowledge and norms are not valued because they are “out of date”. In fact, during the life of a young person in one of the rapidly-changing industrial societies of the modern world, there is often a period when they rebel against the authority of their parents and are acutely embarrassed by their parents, who are “so old-fashioned that they don’t understand anything”. Although the intergenerational transmission of values, norms, and culture is much less important in industrial societies than it is in traditional ones, modern young people of the West and North are by no means at a loss over where to ﬁnd their values, fashions and role models. With every breath, they inhale the values and norms of the mass media. Totally surrounded by a world of television and ﬁlm images, they accept this world as their own.
Neglect of climate change in the mass media
The predicament of humanity today has been called “a race between education and catastrophe”: How do the media fulﬁl this life-or-death responsibility? Do they give us insight? No, they give us pop music. Do they give us an understanding of the sweep of evolution and history? No, they give us sport. Do they give us an understanding of the ecological catastrophes that threaten our planet because of unrestricted growth of population and industries? No, they give us sit-coms and soap operas. Do they give us unbiased news? No, they give us news that has been edited to conform with the interests of powerful lobbys. Do they present us with the urgent need to leave fossil fuels in the ground? No, they do not, because this would oﬀend the powerholders. Do they tell of the danger of passing tipping points after which human eﬀorts to prevent catastrophic climate change will be useless? No, they give us programs about gardening and making food.
A consumer who subscribes to the “package” of broadcasts sold by a cable company can often search through all 95 channels without ﬁnding a single program that oﬀers insight into the various problems that are facing the world today. What the viewer ﬁnds instead is a mixture of pro-establishment propaganda and entertainment. Meanwhile the neglected global problems are becoming progressively more severe. In general, the mass media behave as though their role is to prevent the peoples of the world from joining hands and working to change the world and to save it from thermonuclear war, environmental catastrophes and threatened global famine. The television viewer sits slumped in a chair, passive, isolated, disempowered and stupeﬁed. The future of the world hangs in the balance, the fate of children and grandchildren hangs in the balance, but the television viewer feels no impulse to work actively to change the world or to save it. The Roman emperors gave their people bread and circuses to numb them into political inactivity. The modern mass media seem to be playing a similar role.
Climate change denial in mass media
The Wikipedia article on climate change denial describes it with the following words: “Although scientiﬁc opinion on climate change is that human activity is extremely likely to be the primary driver of climate change, the politics of global warming have been aﬀected by climate change denial, hindering eﬀorts to prevent climate change and adapt to the warming climate. Those promoting denial commonly use rhetorical tactics to give the appearance of a scientiﬁc controversy where there is none.” It is not surprising that the fossil fuel industry supports, on a vast scale, politicians and mass media that deny the reality of climate change. The amounts of money at stake are vast. If catastrophic climate change is to be avoided, coal, oil and natural gas “assets” worth trillions of dollars must be left in the ground. Giant fossil fuel corporations are desperately attempting to turn these “assets’ into cash.
Showing unsustainable lifestyles in mass media
Television and other mass media contribute indirectly to climate change denial by showing unsustainable lifestyles. Television dramas show the ubiquitous use of gasoline-powered automobiles and highways crowded with them. just as though there did not exist an urgent need to transform our transportation systems. Motor racing is shown. A program called “Top Gear” tells viewers about the desirability of various automobiles. In general, cyclists are not shown. In television dramas, the protagonists ﬂy to various parts of the world. The need for small local self-sustaining communities is not shown. Advertisements in the mass media urge us to consume more, to ﬂy, to purchase large houses, and to buy gasoline-driven automobiles, just as though such behavior ought to be the norm. Such norms are leading us towards environmental disaster.
Luckily, the mass media do not have a complete monopoly on public information. With a little eﬀort, citizens who are concerned about the future can ﬁnd alternative media. These include a large number of independent on-line news services that are supported by subscriber donations rather than by corporate sponsors. YouTube videos also represent an extremely important source of public information. Below we discuss a few outstanding people who have made extremely important YouTube videos on climate change.
Figure 14: Al Gore. 45th Vice President of the United States (Wikipedia).
Albert Arnold Gore Jr. served as the 45th Vice President of the United States from January 1985 to January 1993. He then ran for the oﬃce of President, but was defeated by George W. Bush in a controversial election whose outcome was ﬁnally decided by the US Supreme Court16. Al Gore is the founder and current Chairman of the Alliance for Climate Protection. He was one of the ﬁrst important political ﬁgures to call attention to the problem of steadily increasing CO2 levels in the atmosphere and the threat of catastrophic climate change. He produced the highly inﬂuential documentary ﬁlm An Inconvenient Truth17. Because of his important eﬀorts to save the global environment, Al Gore shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with the International Panel on Climate Change.
Al Gore’s TED talk: The Case for Optimism on Climate Change In 2016, Al Gore gave an important talk to a TED audience18. in which he pointed out the an economic tipping point has just been passed. Solar energy and wind energy are now cheaper than energy form fossil fuels. This means that economic forces alone can drive a rapid transition to 100% renewable energy. Investors will realize that renewables represent an unparalleled investment opportunity.
Sir David Attenborough
Figure 15: Sir David Attenborough: “Disaster. It’s a terrible thing to say, isn’t it?”
In a 2011 interview in The Guardian, Sir David Attenborough was asked: “What will it take to wake people up about climate change?”. He replied “Disaster. It’s a terrible thing to say, isn’t it? And even disaster doesn’t always do it. I mean, goodness me, there have been disasters in North America, with hurricanes, and one thing and another, and ﬂoods; and still a lot of people would deny it, and say it’s nothing to do with climate change. Well it visibly has to do with climate change!” Sir David Attenborough’s almost unbelievably enormous and impressive opus of television programs about the natural world have helped to raise public awareness of the importance of the natural environment. He also has made a number of television programs speciﬁcally related to questions such as saving threatened species, the dangers of exploding global populations, and the destruction of forests for the sake of palm oil plantations. Let us return to The Guardian’s 2011 interview with Sir David.
Had it been made in the autumn of 2017, the interview would certainly have included a discussion of recent hurricanes of unprecedented power and destructiveness, such as Harvey, Irma and Maria, as well as 2017’s wildﬁres and Asian ﬂoods. It is possible that such events, which will certainly become more frequent and severe during the next few years, will provide the political will needed to silence climate change denial, to stop fossil fuel extraction, and to promote governmental policies favoring renewable energy. Although the mass media almost have entirely neglected the link between climate change and recent disastrous hurricanes, ﬂoods droughts and wildﬁres, many individuals and organizations emphasized the cause and eﬀect relationship. For example, UK airline billionaire Sir Richard Branson, whose Caribbean summer residence was destroyed by Hurricane Irma said: “Look, you can never be 100 percent sure about links, But scientists have said the storms are going to get more and more and more intense and more and more often. We’ve had four storms within a month, all far greater than that have ever, ever, ever happened in history, Sadly, I think this is the start of things to come. Climate change is real. Ninetynine percent of scientists know it’s real. The whole world knows it’s real except for maybe one person in the White House.” May Boeve, executive director of the NGO 350.org, said “With a few exceptions, the major TV networks completely failed to cover the scientiﬁcally proven ways that climate change is intensifying extreme weather events like hurricanes Harvey and Irma. That’s not just disappointing, it’s dangerous. We won’t be able to turn this crisis around if our media is asleep at the wheel.” Commenting on the destruction of Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria, historian Juan Cole wrote: “When you vote for denialist politicians, you are selecting people who make policy. The policy they make will be clueless and will actively endanger the public. Climate change is real. We are causing it by our emissions. If you don’t believe that, you are not a responsible steward of our infrastructure and of our lives.” When interviewed by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, musician Stevie Wonder said: “… we should begin to love and value our planet, and anyone who believes that there is no such thing as global warming must be blind or unintelligent.”
Another well-known musician, Byonc´e, added: “The eﬀects of climate change are playing out around the world every day. Just this past week, we’ve seen devastation from the monsoon in India…and multiple catastrophic hurricanes. Irma alone has left a trail of death and destruction from the Caribbean to Florida to Southern United States. We have to be prepared for what comes next…” In her September 2017 publication Season of Smoke19, prizewinning author Naomi Klein wrote: “We hear about the record-setting amounts of water that Hurricane Harvey dumped on Houston and other Gulf cities and towns, mixing with petrochemicals to pollute and poison on an unfathomable scale. We hear too about the epic ﬂoods that have displaced hundreds of thousands of people from Bangladesh to Nigeria (though we don’t hear enough). And we are witnessing, yet again, the fearsome force of water and wind as Hurricane Irma, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded, leaves devastation behind in the Caribbean, with Florida now in its sights. “Yet for large parts of North America, Europe, and Africa, this summer has not been about water at all.
In fact it has been about its absence; it’s been about land so dry and heat so oppressive that forested mountains exploded into smoke like volcanoes. It’s been about ﬁres ﬁerce enough to jump the Columbia River; fast enough to light up the outskirts of Los Angeles like an invading army; and pervasive enough to threaten natural treasures, like the tallest and most ancient sequoia trees and Glacier National Park. “For millions of people from California to Greenland, Oregon to Portugal, British Columbia to Montana, Siberia to South Africa, the summer of 2017 has been the summer of ﬁre. And more than anything else, it’s been the summer of ubiquitous, inescapable smoke. “For years, climate scientists have warned us that a warming world is an extreme world, in which humanity is buﬀeted by both brutalizing excesses and stiﬂing absences of the core elements that have kept fragile life in equilibrium for millennia. At the end of the summer of 2017, with major cities submerged in water and others licked by ﬂames, we are currently living through Exhibit A of this extreme world, one in which natural extremes come head-to-head with social, racial, and economic ones.”
It seems likely that the climate-linked disasters of 2018 and 2019 will be even more severe than those that we have witnessed during 2017. But will such disasters be enough to wake us up? The BBC has recently announced that Sir David Attenborough is currently producing a new series, Blue Planet II, which will focus on environmental issues.20 “My hope is that the world is coming to its senses … I’m so old I remember a time when … we didn’t talk about climate change, we talked about animals and species extermination,” Sir David told Greenpeace in an interview, “For the ﬁrst time I’m beginning to think there is actually a groundswell, there is a change in the public view. I feel many more people are concerned and more aware of what the problems are. Young people – people who’ve got 50 years of their life ahead of them – they are thinking they ought to be doing something about this. That’s a huge change.”
Figure 16: Leonardo DiCaprio as a young actor.
Leonardo DiCaprio has won many awards for his work as an actor, writer and producer in both television and ﬁlms. These include 50 awards from 167 nominations. DiCaprio has been nominated for six Academy Awards, four British Academy Film Awards and nine Screen Actors Guild Awards, winning one award each from them and three Golden Globe Awards from eleven nominations. In accepting his Best Actor award at the 2016 Oscars ceremony, DiCaprio said: “Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating. We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters, but who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous people of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people out there who would be most aﬀected by this. For our children’s children, and for those people out there whose voices have been drowned out by the politics of greed.” Leonardo DiCaprio has used his great success as an actor in the service of environmental causes.
In 1997, following the box oﬃce success of Titanic, he set up the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which is devoted to environmental causes. He chaired the national Earth Day celebrations in 2000 during which he interviewed US President Bill Clinton, with whom he discussed the actions needed to avoid catastrophic climate change. In 2007 he had a major role in The 11th Hour, a documentary about people’s relationship to nature and global warming. He also co-produced and co-wrote the ﬁlm. DiCaprio’s most inﬂuential ﬁlm on climate change is Before the Flood21. This ﬁlm, released in 2016, is a 1 hour and 36 minute documentary in which Leonardo DiCaprio travels to many countries to let viewers observe the already visible eﬀects of global warming. He also talks with many of the world’s leaders, including Pope Francis I, US Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Figure 17: Thom Hartmann speaks to the 2010 Chicago Green Festival (Wikipedia).
Thom Hartmann was born in 1951 in Lansing Michigan. He worked as a disk jockey during his teens, and, after a highly successful business career, he sold his businesses and devoted his energies to writing, humanitarian projects and public education. His inﬂuential book, Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight was published by Three Rivers Press in 1997 and republished in a revised edition in 2004. In 2013, Hartmann published another extremely important book on the same theme: The Last Hours of Humanity: Warming the World To Extinction22. Hartmann has hosted a nationally syndicated radio show, The Thom Hartmann Program, since 2003 and a nightly television show, The Big Picture, since 2008. Concerning Hartmann’s radio show, Wikipedia states that “As of March 2016, the show was carried on 80 terrestrial radio stations in 37 states as well as on Sirius and XM satellite radio. A community radio station in Africa, Radio Builsa in Ghana, also broadcasts the show. Various local cable TV networks simulcast the program. In addition to Westwood One, the show is now also oﬀered via Paciﬁca Audioport to non-proﬁt stations in a nonproﬁt compliant format and is simulcast on Dish Network channel 9415 and DirecTV channel 348 via Free Speech TV.
The program is carried on Radio Sputnik in London, England.” “Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) appears every Friday during the ﬁrst hour of the show titled ’Brunch with Bernie’. Ellen Ratner of the Talk Radio News Service provides Washington commentary daily. Victoria Jones who is the White House correspondent for Talk Radio News Service appears occasionally as does Dr. Ravi Batra an economics professor at SMU.” Together with Leonardo DiCaprio, Thom Hartman recently produced and narrated an extremely important short ﬁlm entitled Last Hours23. This ﬁlm, draws a parallel between the Permian-Triassic mass extinction, and the danger of a human-induced 6th mass extinction. Various experts who appear in the ﬁlm conﬁrm that our release of CO2 into the atmosphere is similar to the greenhouse gasses produced by volcanic eruptions prior to the Permian event. The methane hydrate feedback loop is also discussed. The ﬁlm should be seen by everyone concerned with the future of human civilization and the biosphere. Concerned citizens should also urgently see Hartman and DiCaprio’s short ﬁlms Carbon, Green World Rising and Reforestation, also available on YouTube .
Figure 18: Prof. James Hansen
James Hansen was born in 1941 in Denison, Iowa. He was educated in physics, mathematics and astronomy at the University of Iowa in the space sciences program initiated James Van Allen. He graduated with great distinction. The studies of the atmosphere and temperature of Venus which Hansen made under Van Allen’s supervision lead him to become extremely concerned about similar eﬀects in the earth’s atmosphere. From 1962 to 1966, James Hansen participated in the National Aeronautical and Space Administration graduate traineeship and, at the same time, between 1965 and 1966, he was a visiting student at the Institute of Astrophysics at the University of Kyoto and in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Tokyo. Hansen then began work at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in 1967. He began to work for the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in 1967. Between 1981 and 2913, he was hear of the Goddard Institute of Space Studies in New York, and since 2014, he has been the director of the Program on Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. Hansen continued his work with radiative transfer models, attempting to understand the Venusian atmosphere. Later he applied and reﬁned these models to understand the Earth’s atmosphere, in particular, the eﬀects that aerosols and trace gases have on Earth’s climate. Hansen’s development and use of global climate models has contributed to the further understanding of the Earth’s climate. In 2009 his ﬁrst book, Storms of My Grandchildren, was published. James Hansen has reﬁned climate change models, focusing on the balance between aerosols and greenhouse gases. He believes that there is a danger that climate change will become much more rapid if the balance shifts towards the greenhouse gases.
Hansen’s Congressional testimony leads to broad public awareness of the dangers
In 1988, Prof. Hansen was asked to testify before the US Congress on the danger of uncontrolled climate change. The testimony marked the start of broad public awareness of the seriousness of the danger, and it was reported in a front page article by the New York Times. However, Hansen believes that governmental energy policies still favor fossil fuels. Therefore he has participated in public demonstrations and he was even arrested in 2011 together with more than a thousand other activists for protesting outside the White House.
James Hansen’s TED talk and book
In 2012 he presented a TED Talk: Why I Must Speak Out About Climate Change. This talk is easily available on the Internet, and it should be required viewing for everyone who is concerned with the earth’s future. Hansen’s book, Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About The Coming Climate Catastrophe, and Our Last Chance To Save Humanity was published in New York by Bloomsbury Publishing in 2009.
6 Ethics for the future
The Encyclical of Pope Francis
Despite the worrying nature of the threats that we are facing, there are reasons for hope. One of the greatest of these is the beautiful, profound and powerful encyclical that has just been released by Pope Francis. When he accepted the responsibility for leading the world’s 1.2-billion-strong Catholic Church, Cardinal Bergoglio of Argentina adopted the name Francis, after the universally loved Saint Francis of Assisi, whose life of simplicity, love for the poor, and love of nature he chose as the model for his Papacy. The Pope’s inspiring encyclical letter “Laudato Si’ ” takes its name from a canticle of Saint Francis, that begins with the words “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our sister, mother Earth, who sustains and governs us…” We can remember that Saint Francis regarded birds and animals as his brothers and sisters. He even thought of the sun, moon, clouds, rain and water as brothers and sisters. Like his chosen namesake, Pope Francis stresses the unity of all of nature, and our kinship with all of creation. Francis appeals to love. We can be saved through love. His encyclical is addressed not only to Catholics, but also to all men and women of good will, and almost all of its 102 pages appeal to moral sensibilities and rational arguments that can be shared by all of us. Pope Francis stresses that the natural world that sustains us is in grave danger from our ruthless exploitation and greed-driven destruction of all the beauty and life that it contains: animals, forests, soil, and air. Pope Francis tells us that the dictates of today’s economists are not sacred: In the future, if we are to survive, economics must be given both a social conscience and an ecological conscience. Nor are private property and proﬁts sacred.
They must be subordinated to the common good, and the preservation of our global commons. Less focus on material goods need not make us less happy. The quality of our lives can be increased, not decreased, if we give up our restless chase after power and wealth, and derive more of our pleasures from art, music and literature, and from conversations with our families and friends, Please read this great encyclical in its entirety. It can give us hope and courage as we strive to make the changes that are needed to avert an ecological mega-catastrophe. Don Joao Mamede Filho is the Bishop of the Diocesis of Umuarama, commented: “ ’Laudato Si’, considered by environmentalists all around the world as the Green Encyclical, has become a work read by Christians and non-Christians alike in all corners of the world. In it, Pope Francis calls on us all to take care of our ‘Common Home’ and all that exists in it. “In his call, the Pope reaﬃrms that the planet is a common good that must be preserved and guarded. Therefore, it is our duty to refrain from any human activity that may degrade, pollute or pose any kind of threat or risk to our planet and those who inhabit it. “’Laudato Si’ also presents a strong and persisting plea for a shift towards a new energy and development model, leaving fossil fuels behind.
Since these energy sources are responsible for the highest emissions of greenhouse gases, they pollute, render climate changes more intense, bring on diseases, and kill. “It is important to remember that, at the beginning of Creation, an organic relationship between all living beings was established. All that exists is connected and coexists in a sustainable and wholesome manner. However, by choosing dirty energy sources such as fossil fuels, which leave trails of destruction behind them, we disconnect ourselves from our surroundings and ignore the harm they may cause us and to our fellow creatures.”
The message of Henry David Thoreau
In the distant future (and perhaps even in the not-so-distant future) industrial civilization will need to abandon its relentless pursuit of unnecessary material goods and economic growth. Modern society will need to re-establish a balanced and harmonious relationship with nature. In preindustrial societies harmony with nature is usually a part of the cultural tradition. In our own time, the same principle has become central to the ecological counterculture while the main-stream culture thunders blindly ahead, addicted to wealth, power and growth. In the 19th century the American writer, Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), pioneered the concept of a simple life, in harmony with nature. Today, his classic book, Walden, has become a symbol for the principles of ecology, simplicity, and respect for nature. Thoreau was born in Concord Massachusetts, and he attended Harvard from 1833 to 1837. After graduation, he returned home, worked in his family’s pencil factory, did odd jobs, and for three years taught in a progressive school founded by himself and his older brother, John. When John died of lockjaw in 1842, Henry David was so saddened that he felt unable to continue the school alone.
Nonviolent civil disobedience
Thoreau refused to pay his poll tax because of his opposition to the Mexican War and to the institution of slavery. Because of his refusal to pay the tax (which was in fact a very small amount) he spent a night in prison. To Thoreau’s irritation, his family paid the poll tax for him and he was released. He then wrote down his ideas on the subject in an essay entitled The Duty of Civil Disobedience, where he maintains that each person has a duty to follow his own individual conscience even when it conﬂicts with the orders of his government. In his essay, Thoreau said: “A common and natural result of an undue respect for law is that you may see a ﬁle of soldiers, colonel, captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys, and all marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the wars, against their wills, ay, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it very steep marching indeed, and produces a palpitation of the heart. They have no doubt that it is a damnable business in which they are concerned; they are all peaceably inclined. Now, what are they? Men at all? or small movable forts and magazines, at the service of some unscrupulous man in power?” “Under a government that which imprisons any unjustly”, Thoreau wrote, “the true place for a just man is in prison.” Civil Disobedience inﬂuenced Tolstoy, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and it anticipated the Nuremberg Principles.
Harmony with nature
Thoreau became the friend and companion of the transcendentalist writer Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 1882), who introduced him to a circle of New England writers and thinkers that included Ellery Channing, Margaret Fuller and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Nathaniel Hawthorne described Thoreau in the following words: “Mr. Thorow [sic] is a keen and delicate observer of nature, a genuine observer, which, I suspect, is almost as rare a character as even an original poet; and Nature, in return for his love, seems to adopt him as her especial child, and shows him secrets which few others are allowed to witness. He is familiar with beast, ﬁsh, fowl, and reptile, and has strange stories to tell of adventures, and friendly passages with these lower brethren of mortality. Herb and ﬂower, likewise, wherever they grow, whether in garden, or wild wood, are his familiar friends. He is also on intimate terms with the clouds and can tell the portents of storms. It is a characteristic trait, that he has a great regard for the memory of the Indian tribes, whose wild life would have suited him so well; and strange to say, he seldom walks over a plowed ﬁeld without picking up an arrow-point, a spear-head, or other relic of the red men, as if their spirits willed him to be the inheritor of their simple wealth.”
Walden, an experiment in simple living
Figure 19: Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862). Public domain, Wikimedia Commons
At Emerson’s suggestion, Thoreau opened a journal, in which he recorded his observations concerning nature and his other thoughts. Ultimately the journal contained more than 2 million words. Thoreau drew on his journal when writing his books and essays, and in recent years, many previously unpublished parts of his journal have been printed. From 1845 until 1847, Thoreau lived in a tiny cabin that he built with his own hands.
The cabin was in a second-growth forest beside Walden Pond in Concord, on land that belonged to Emerson. Thoreau regarded his life there as an experiment in simple living. He described his life in the forest and his reasons for being there in his book Walden, “Most of the luxuries”, Thoreau wrote, “and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. With respect to luxuries, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meager life than the poor. The ancient philosophers, Chinese, Hindoo, Persian, and Greek, were a class than which none has been poorer in outward riches, none so rich in inward.” Elsewhere in Walden, Thoreau remarks, “It is never too late to give up your prejudices”, and he also says, “Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a diﬀerent drummer.” Other favorite quotations from Thoreau include “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth”, “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes”, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation” and “Men have become tools of their tools.” Thoreau’s closeness to nature can be seen from the following passage, written by his friend Frederick Willis, who visited him at Walden Pond in 1847, together with the Alcott family: “He was talking to Mr. Alcott of the wild ﬂowers in Walden woods when, suddenly stopping, he said: ‘Keep very still and I will show you my family.’ Stepping quickly outside the cabin door, he gave a low and curious whistle; immediately a woodchuck came running towards him from a nearby burrow. With varying note, yet still low and strange, a pair of gray squirrels were summoned and approached him fearlessly. With still another note several birds, including two crows ﬂew towards him, one of the crows nestling upon his shoulder. I remember that it was the crow resting close to his head that made the most vivid impression on me, knowing how fearful of man this bird is. He fed them all from his hand, taking food from his pocket, and petted them gently before our delighted gaze; and then dismissed them by diﬀerent whistling, always strange and low and short, each wild thing departing instantly at hearing his special signal.”
Thoreau’s views on religion
Towards the end of his life, when he was very ill, someone asked Thoreau whether he had made his peace with God. “We never quarreled”, he answered. In an essay published by the Atlantic Monthly in 1853, Thoreau described a pine tree in Maine with the words: “It is as immortal as I am, and perchance will go to as high a heaven, there to tower above me still.” However, the editor (James Russell Lowell) considered the sentence to be blasphemous, and removed it from Thoreau’s essay. In one of his essays, Thoreau wrote: “If a man walk in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing oﬀ those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.”
Figure 20: Gandhi with Jawaharlal Nehru, during a meeting of the All India Congress, Bombay, India. Today, it is Nehru’s economic policy of industrialization and urbanization rather than Gandhi’s that dominates India, but it is Gandhi’s model that is sustainable. Author: Credited to Dave Davis, Acme Newspictures Inc., correspondent. Photo taken by Max Desfor, who gave it to Dave Davis. Wikimedia Commons
In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi says: “Three moderns have left a deep impression on my life and captivated me: Raychandbhai (the Indian philosopher and poet) by his living contact; Tolstoy by his book ’The Kingdom of God is Within You’; and Ruskin by his book ’Unto This Last’.” Ruskin’s book, “Unto This Last”, which Gandhi read in 1904, is a criticism of modern industrial society. Ruskin believed that friendships and warm interpersonal relationships are a form of wealth that economists have failed to consider. He felt that warm human contacts are most easily achieved in small agricultural communities, and that therefore the modern tendency towards centralization and industrialization may be a step backward in terms of human happiness.
While still in South Africa, Gandhi founded two religious Utopian communities based on the ideas of Tolstoy and Ruskin, Phoenix Farm (1904) and Tolstoy Farm (1910). Because of his growing fame as the leader of the Indian civil rights movement in South Africa, Gandhi was persuaded to return to India in 1914 and to take up the cause of Indian home rule. In order to reacquaint himself with conditions in India, he travelled tirelessly, now always going third class as a matter of principle. During the next few years, Gandhi worked to reshape the Congress Party into an organization which represented not only India’s Anglicized upper middle class but also the millions of uneducated villagers who were suﬀering under an almost intolerable burden of poverty and disease. In order to identify himself with the poorest of India’s people, Gandhi began to wear only a white loincloth made of rough homespun cotton. He traveled to the remotest villages, recruiting new members for the Congress Party, preaching non-violence and “ﬁrmness in the truth”, and becoming known for his voluntary poverty and humility. The villagers who ﬂocked to see him began to call him “Mahatma” (Great Soul). Disturbed by the spectacle of unemployment and poverty in the villages, Gandhi urged the people of India to stop buying imported goods, especially cloth, and to make their own. He advocated the reintroduction of the spinning wheel into village life, and he often spent some hours spinning himself. The spinning wheel became a symbol of the Indian independence movement, and was later incorporated into the Indian ﬂag.
The movement for boycotting British goods was called the “Swadeshi movement”. The word Swadeshi derives from two Sanskrit roots: Swa, meaning self, and Desh, meaning country. Gandhi described Swadeshi as “a call to the consumer to be aware of the violence he is causing by supporting those industries that result in poverty, harm to the workers and to humans or other creatures.” Gandhi tried to reconstruct the crafts and self-reliance of village life that he felt had been destroyed by the colonial system. “I would say that if the village perishes, India will perish too”, he wrote, “India will be no more India. Her own mission in the world will get lost. The revival of the village is only possible when it is no more exploited. Industrialization on a mass scale will necessarily lead to passive or active exploitation of the villagers as problems of competition and marketing come in. Therefore we have to concentrate on the village being self-contained, manufacturing mainly for use. Provided this character of the village industry is maintained, there would be no objection to villagers using even the modern machines that they can make and can aﬀord to use.
Only they should not be used as a means of exploitation by others.” “You cannot build nonviolence on a factory civilization, but it can be built on selfcontained villages… Rural economy as I have conceived it, eschews exploitation altogether, and exploitation is the essence of violence… We have to make a choice between India of the villages that are as ancient as herself and India of the cities which are a creation of foreign domination…” “Machinery has its place; it has come to stay. But it must not be allowed to displace necessary human labour. An improved plow is a good thing. But if by some chances, one man could plow up, by some mechanical invention of his, the whole of the land of India, and control all the agricultural produce, and if the millions had no other occupation, they would starve, and being idle, they would become dunces, as many have already become. There is hourly danger of many being reduced to that unenviable state.” In these passages we see Gandhi not merely as a pioneer of nonviolence; we see him also as an economist. Faced with misery and unemployment produced by machines, Gandhi tells us that social goals must take precedence over blind market mechanisms. If machines are causing unemployment, we can, if we wish, and use labor-intensive methods instead.
With Gandhi, the free market is not sacred; we can do as we wish, and maximize human happiness, rather than maximizing production and proﬁts. Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu extremist on January 30, 1948. After his death, someone collected and photographed all his worldly goods. These consisted of a pair of glasses, a pair of sandals, a pocket watch and a white homespun loincloth. Here, as in the Swadeshi movement, we see Gandhi as a pioneer of economics. He deliberately reduced his possessions to an absolute minimum in order to demonstrate that there is no connection between personal merit and material goods. Like Veblen, Mahatma Gandhi told us that we must stop using material goods as a means of social competition. We must start to judge people not by what they have, but by what they are.24 Gandhi’s vision of an “India of villages” rather than an “India of cities” has much in common with the Transition Town movement, which we will discuss next.
Figure 21: Totnes, Devon, England: a transition town. Author: Manfred Heyde, Wikimedia Commons
The Transition Town Movement of today is a response to the end of the fossil fuel era and the threat of economic collapse. It can be thought of as a modern branch of the Cooperative Movement. In 2006, the Transition Town of Totnes in Devon, England was the ﬁrst to use this name, which implied a transition from globalism, consumerism and growth to a sustainable, local and self-suﬃcient economy. The ideal was to produce locally all the necessary food for the town, and as much of other necessities as possible. In this way, the energy expenditures involved in transportation could be avoided. Today there are more than a thousand Transition Towns and they are located in 43 countries. Many of them have local currencies which are legal tender within the town. If the pioneers of this movement are right in saying that this is the only sustainable model for the future, we may wonder whether mega-cities will be able to survive in the long-term future.
We must not use possessions for social competition!
There is something ethically wrong with using material goods for the purpose of social competition at a time when excessive consumption is destroying our planet. Also, in our century, the world’s resources are nearing exhaustion, and roughly 40,000 children die every day from starvation or from poverty-related diseases. The whole structure of western society seems designed to push its citizens towards ever-increasing levels of consumption. The mass media hold before us continually the ideal of a personal utopia ﬁlled with material goods. Every young man in a modern industrial society feels that he is a failure unless he ﬁghts his way to the “top”; and in recent years, women too have been drawn into this competition. Of course not everyone can reach the top; there would not be room for everyone; but society urges all us to try, and we feel a sense of failure if we do not reach the goal. Thus, modern life has become a struggle of all against all for power and possessions.
One of the central problems in reducing consumption is that in our present economic and social theory, consumption has no upper bound; there is no deﬁnition of what is enough; there is no concept of a state where all of the real needs of a person have been satisﬁed. In our growth-oriented present-day economics, it is assumed that, no matter how much a person earns, he or she is always driven by a desire for more. The phrase “conspicuous consumption” was invented by the Norwegian-American economist Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929) in order to describe the way in which our society uses economic waste as a symbol of social status. In “The Theory of the Leisure Class”, ﬁrst published in 1899, Veblen pointed out that it wrong to believe that human economic behavior is rational, or that it can be understood in terms of classical economic theory. To understand it, Veblen maintained, one might better make use of insights gained from anthropology, psychology, sociology, and history. The sensation caused by the publication of Veblen’s book, and the fact that his phrase, “conspicuous consumption”, has become part of our language, indicate that his theory did not completely miss its mark. In fact, modern advertisers seem to be following Veblen’s advice: Realizing that much of the output of our economy will be used for the purpose of establishing the social status of consumers, advertising agencies hire psychologists to appeal to the consumer’s longing for a higher social position. When possessions are used for the purpose of social competition, demand has no natural upper limit; it is then limited only by the size of the human ego, which, as we know, is boundless. This would be all to the good if unlimited economic growth were desirable. But today, when further industrial growth implies future collapse, western society urgently needs to ﬁnd new values to replace our worship of power, our restless chase after excitement, and our admiration of excessive consumption. The voice of Henry David Thoreau is also a useful and wise one. “Most of the luxuries”, Thoreau wrote, “and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. With respect to luxuries, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meager life than the poor. The ancient philosophers, Chinese, Hindoo, Persian, and Greek, were a class than which none has been poorer in outward riches, none so rich in inward.”
Culture and internationalism
Cultural and educational activities have a small ecological footprint, and therefore are more sustainable than pollution-producing, fossil-fuel-using jobs in industry. Furthermore, since culture and knowledge are shared among all nations, work in culture and education leads societies naturally towards internationalism and peace. Economies based on a high level of consumption of material goods are unsustainable and will have to be abandoned by a future world that renounces the use of fossil fuels in order to avoid catastrophic climate change, a world where non-renewable resources such as metals will become increasingly rare and expensive. How then can full employment be maintained? The creation of renewable energy infrastructure will provide work for a large number of people; but in addition, sustainable economies of the future will need to shift many workers from jobs in industry to jobs in the service sector. Within the service sector, jobs in culture and education are particularly valuable because they will help to avoid the disastrous wars that are currently producing enormous human suﬀering and millions of refugees, wars that threaten to escalate into an all-destroying global thermonuclear war.
Human nature has two sides: It has a dark side, to which nationalism and militarism appeal; but our species also has a genius for cooperation, which we can see in the growth of culture. Our modern civilization has been built up by means of a worldwide exchange of ideas and inventions. It is built on the achievements of many ancient cultures. China, Japan, India, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, the Islamic world, Christian Europe, and the Jewish intellectual traditions all have contributed. Potatoes, corn, squash, vanilla, chocolate, chilli peppers, and quinine are gifts from the American Indians.27 We need to reform our educational systems, particularly the teaching of history. As it is taught today, history is a chronicle of power struggles and war, told from a biased national standpoint. We are taught that our own country is always heroic and in the right. We urgently need to replace this indoctrination in chauvinism by a reformed view of history, where the slow development of human culture is described, giving credit to all who have contributed. When we teach history, it should not be about power struggles. It should be about how human culture was gradually built up over thousands of years by the patient work of millions of hands and minds.
Our common global culture, the music, science, literature and art that all of us share, should be presented as a precious heritage – far too precious to be risked in a thermonuclear war. We have to extend our loyalty to the whole of the human race, and to work for a world not only free from nuclear weapons, but free from war. A war-free world is not utopian but very practical, and not only practical but necessary. It is something that we can achieve and must achieve. Today their are large regions, such as the European Union, where war would be inconceivable. What is needed is to extend these. Nor is a truly sustainable economic system utopian or impossible. To achieve it, we should begin by shifting jobs to the creation of renewable energy infrastructure, and to the ﬁelds of culture and education. By so doing we will support human solidarity and avoid the twin disasters of catastrophic war and climate change.
Caring for our children
We give our children loving care, but it makes no sense do so and at the same time to neglect to do all that is within our power to ensure that they and their descendants will inherit an earth in which they can survive. We also have a responsibility to all the other living organisms with which we share the gift of life. Inaction is not an option. We have to act with courage and dedication, even if the odds are against success, because the stakes are so high. The mass media could mobilize us to action, but they have failed in their duty. Our educational system could also wake us up and make us act, but it too has failed us. The battle to save the earth from human greed and folly has to be fought in the alternative media. Hence this book, printed by a small peace-oriented Swedish publisher, and hence urgent the tone of this ﬁnal chapter. We need a new economic system, a new society, a new social contract, a new way of life. Here are the great tasks that history has given to our generation: We must achieve a steady-state economic system. We must restore democracy. We must decrease economic inequality. We must break the power of corporate greed. We must leave fossil fuels in the ground. We must stabilize and ultimately reduce the global population. We must eliminate the institution of war. And ﬁnally, we must develop a more mature ethical system to match our new technology.
Conversion to renewable energy
The worst dangers from a disastrous increase in global temperatures lie in the distant future; but to avoid them, action must be taken immediately. In the long-term future (in several hundred years) climate change threatens to produce ocean level rises which will drown most of the world’s coastal cities, and which will wipe out countries such as Bangladesh and Holland. At the same time, increases in temperature will make large parts of the Middle East, India and Africa uninhabitable. Even eﬀects that will occur in the near future will be highly damaging. The prices of solar power and wind energy have been falling at dramatic rates for decades, and are continuing to do so. In many places, renewables are now cheaper than fossil fuels. At present, the price of fossil fuels grossly underestimates the actual costs. If the long term costs to human society and the ecosphere were taken into account, the price of fossil fuels would be nearly inﬁnite; but even if a small fraction of the true cost were factored in, renewables would already be dramatically cheaper than fossil fuels.
However rather than correcting for this error in pricing, governments across the world are doing the opposite. They are instead subsidizing the fossil fuel industry at approximately half a trillion USD per year. The main thing that the world needs to do is to abolish these subsidies and to factor in the externalities to correct the price of fossil fuels. At the same time, governments should actively support renewable energy infrastructure. The price correction could take the form of a carbon tax. If this is done, then economic forces alone will produce the rapid transition to renewable energy which we so urgently need to save the planet. In fact renewable energy infrastructure represents an unprecedented investment opportunity. Hope that catastrophic climate change can be avoided comes from the exponentially growing world-wide use of renewable energy and from the fact prominent public ﬁgures, such as Pope Francis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Elon Musk, Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein and Al Gore, are making the public increasingly aware of the long-term dangers. Short-term disasters due to climate change may also become suﬃciently severe to wake us up.
We can also gain hope from the fact that a number of countries, including India, Germany, France, Norway, Netherlands, have announced plans to ban vehicles powered with internal combustion engines. Meanwhile, the highly successful inventor and entrepreneur Elon Musk has made massive investments in factories manufacturing electric vehicles, improved lithium ion storage cells, and photovoltaic panels. It is extremely important that the public should receive accurate information about anthropogenic climate change, because misinformation is being circulated by fossil fuel corporations and by politicians inﬂuenced by them. There exist a many excellent studies of climate change, a few of which are cited in references.
As glaciers melt in the Himalayas, depriving India and China of summer water supplies; as sea levels rise, drowning the fertile rice ﬁelds of Viet Nam and Bangladesh; as drought threatens the productivity of grain-producing regions of North America; and as the end of the fossil fuel era impacts modern high-yield agriculture, there is a threat of wide-spread famine. There is a danger that the 800 million people who are undernourished today will not survive an even more food-scarce future. People threatened with famine will become refugees, desperately seeking entry into countries where food shortages are less acute. Wars, such as those currently waged in the Middle East, will add to the problem. What can we do to avoid this crisis, or at least to reduce its severity? We must urgently address the problem of climate change; and we must shift money from military expenditure to the support of birth control programs and agricultural research. We must also replace the institution of war by a system of eﬀective global governance and enforcible international laws. Sir Partha Dasgupta of Cambridge University has pointed out that the changes needed to break the cycle of overpopulation and poverty are all desirable in themselves. Besides education and higher status for women, they include state-provided social security for old people, provision of water supplies near to dwellings, provision of health services to all, abolition of child labor and general economic development.
Achieving a steady-state economic system
Endless economic growth on a ﬁnite planet is a logical impossibility. Just as population growth is limited by ecological constraints, so too is the growth of resource-using and pollution-producing industrial production. Culture, of course, can and should continue to grow. A number of economists have studied this problem, and in particular, outstanding contributions have been made by Frederick Soddy, Nickolas Georgiescu-Roegan and Herman Daly. These authors have taken into account the role which entropy plays in economics.
Our duty to the biosphere
We need to learn from long-established cultures
The era of colonialism has left the industrialized countries with a rather arrogant attitude towards other cultures. Although formal political colonialism has almost entirely vanished, many of the assumptions of the colonial era persist and are strongly supported by the mainstream mass media. It is assumed by many people in the industrialized North that if the developing countries would only learn mass production, modern farming techniques and a modern lifestyle, all would be well. However, a sustainable global future may require a transfer of knowledge, techniques and attitudes in precisely the opposite direction – from pre-industrial societies to highly industrialized ones. The reason for this is that the older societies have cultures that allow them to live in harmony with nature, and this is exactly what the highly industrial North must learn to do. Industrialism and the rapid development of science and technology have given some parts of the world a 200-year period of unbroken expansion and growth, but today this growth is headed for a collision with a wall-like barrier – limits set by the carrying capacity of the global environment and by the exhaustion of non-renewable resources. Encountering these limits is a new experience for the the industrialized countries. By contrast, preindustrial societies have always experienced limits. The industrialized world must soon replace the economics of growth with equilibrium economics. Pre-industrial societies have already learned to live in equilibrium – in harmony with nature. Like biodiversity, cultural diversity is an extremely valuable resource, and for similar reasons. A large genetic pool gives living organisms the ﬂexibility needed to adapt to changes in the environment. Similarly, cultural diversity can give humans the ﬂexibility needed to cope with change. In the changed world of today (changed by the invention of thermonuclear weapons and by the extraordinary growth of global population and commerce) we urgently need to learn to live in harmony, in harmony with ourselves, in harmony with nature, and in harmony with other members of our species.
We can do this if we draw on the full human heritage of cultural diversity. We can draw not only on the knowledge and wisdom of presently existing societies, but also on the experiences and ideas of societies of the past.
• The Pythagorean concept of harmony: In the ancient world, the concept of harmony was developed to a high level by the Pythagoreans. The Pythagoreans used the idea of harmony to understand medicine, music, mathematics and ethics.
• The concept of harmony in Chinese civilization: Chinese civilization is very ancient, and it has made many extremely important contributions to the cultural heritage of the world – for example, the invention of paper, ink, printing and the magnetic compass. Agriculture began in China as early as 6,000 B.C. The art of working in bronze was developed in China during the Shang dynasty (1,500 B.C. 1,100 B.C.) and it reached a high pitch of excellence in the Chou dynasty (1,100 B.C. – 250 B.C.). In the Chou period, many of the cultural characteristics which we recognize as particularly Chinese were developed. During this period, the Chinese evolved a code of behavior based on politeness and ethics. Much of this code of behavior is derived from the teachings of K’ung Fu-tzu (Confucius), a philosopher and government ofﬁcial who lived between 551 B.C. and 479 B.C.. The “Golden Rule” was known to K’ung Fu-tzu, but was formulated in a negative way: “Do not do to others anything that you would not like them do to you”. The rational teachings of K’ung Fu-tzu were complemented by the more mystical and intuitive doctrines of Lao-tzu and his followers. Lao-tzu lived at about the same time as K’ung Fu-tzu, and he founded the Taoist religion. The Taoists believed that unity with nature could be achieved by passively blending oneself with the forces of nature. On the whole, politicians and scholars followed the practical teachings of K’ung Fu-tzu, while poets and artists became Taoists. The intuitive sensitivity to nature inspired by Taoist beliefs allowed these artists and poets to achieve literature and art of unusual vividness and force with great economy of means. The Taoist religion has much in common with Buddhism, and its existence in China paved the way for the spread of Buddhism from India to China and Japan. Taoist and Confucian teachings each emphasized a particular aspect of harmony. Taoism emphasized harmony with nature, while Confucianism taught harmonious relationships between humans. Thus in China, harmony became an ideal advocated by both traditions. The Chinese respect for harmony as an ideal can be seen, for example, in the beautiful Temple of Divine Harmony in Beijing.
• India: Evidence of a very early river-valley civilization in India has been found at a site called Mohenjo-Daro. However, in about 2,500 B.C., this early civilization was destroyed by some great disaster, perhaps a series of ﬂoods; and for the next thousand years, little is known about the history of India. During this dark period between 2,500 B.C. and 1,500 B.C., India was invaded by the Indo-Aryans, who spoke Sanskrit, a language related to Greek. The Indo-Aryans partly drove out and partly enslaved the native Dravidians. However, there was much intermarriage between the groups, and to prevent further intermarriage, the Indo-Aryans introduced a caste system sanctioned by religion. According to Hindu religious belief, the soul of a person who has died is reborn in another body.
If, throughout his life, the person has faithfully performed the duties of his caste, then his or her soul may be reborn into a higher caste. Finally, after existing as a Brahman, the soul may be so puriﬁed that it can be released from the cycle of death and rebirth. In the 6th century B.C., Gautama Buddha founded a new religion in India. Gautama Buddha was convinced that all the troubles of humankind spring from an excessive attachment to earthly things. He felt that the only escape from sorrow is through the renunciation of earthly desires. He also urged his disciples to follow a high ethical code, the Eightfold Way. Among the sayings of Buddha are the following: “Hatred does not cease by hatred at any time; hatred ceases by love.” “Let a man overcome anger by love; let him overcome evil by good.” “All men tremble at punishment. All men love life. Remember that you are like them, and do not cause slaughter.” Both Hindu and Buddhist traditions emphasize the unity of all life on earth. Hindus regard killing an animal as a sin, and many try to avoid accidentally stepping on insects as they walk. (The Hindu and Buddhist picture of the relatedness of all life on earth has been conﬁrmed by modern biological science. We now know that all living organisms have the same fundamental biochemistry, based on DNA, RNA, proteins and polysaccharides, and we know that our own human genomes are more similar to than diﬀerent from the genomes of our close relations in the animal world.)
The peoples of the industrialized nations urgently need to acquire a non-anthropocentric element in their ethics, similar to reverence for all life found in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, as well as in the teachings of Saint Francis of Assisi and Albert Schweitzer. We need to learn to value other species for their own sakes, and not because we expect to use them for our own economic goals. The Buddhist concept of karma has great value in human relations. The word “karma” means simply “action”. In Buddhism, one believes that actions return to the actor. Good actions will be returned, and bad actions will also be returned. This is obviously true in social relationships. If we behave with kindness and generosity to our neighbors, they will return our kindness. Conversely, a harmful act may lead to a vicious circle of revenge and counter-revenge which can only be broken by returning good for evil.
However the concept of karma has a broader and more abstract validity beyond the direct return of actions to the actor. When we perform a good action, we increase the total amount of good karma in the world. If all people similarly behave well, the the world as a whole will become more pleasant and more safe. Human nature seems to have a built-in recognition of this fact, and we are rewarded by inner happiness when we perform good and kind actions. In his wonderful book, “Ancient Wisdom, Modern World”, the Dalai Lama says that good actions lead to happiness and bad actions to unhappiness even if our neighbors do not return these actions. Inner peace, he tells us, is incompatible with bad karma and can be achieved only through good karma, i.e. good actions. There is a great deal of similarity between the Buddhist concept of karma and some of the ethical principles of Christianity, particularly principles that appear in the Sermon on the Mount. Also Buddha’s saying “Hatred does not cease by hatred at any time; hatred ceases by love” echoes the Christian principle of returning good for evil. Both are aimed at stopping vicious circles of revenge and counter-revenge, such as those that can now be observed in the Middle East.
• Bhutan Before the doors of Bhutan were cautiously opened to visitors in 1974, the country remained aloof from the modern world. One of the most striking characteristics of the ancient Bhutanese culture was that most of the actions of its citizens were done from a sense of duty and tradition, rather than for economic reasons. The citizens of Bhutan derived great happiness from these actions. For example, caring for the elderly was to them not only a duty but also a great source of pleasure. It is doubtful whether modernization will increase the happiness of the Bhutanese.
• Harmony with nature in the Native American culture: The attitude towards nature of the Sioux can be seen from the following quotations from Land of the Spotted Eagle by the Lakota (Western Sioux) chief, Standing Bear (ca. 1834 – 1908):
“The Lakota was a true lover of Nature. He loved the earth and all things of the earth… From Waken Tanka (the Great Spirit) there came a great unifying life force that ﬂowered in and through all things – the ﬂowers of the plains, blowing winds, rocks, trees, birds, animals – and was the same force that had been breathed into the ﬁrst man. Thus all things were kindred and were brought together by the same Great Mystery.” “Kinship with all creatures of the earth, sky, and water was a real and active principle. For the animal and bird world there existed a brotherly feeling that kept the Lakota safe among them. And so close did some of the Lakota come to their feathered and furred friends that in true brotherhood they spoke a common tongue.” “The animal had rights – the right of man’s protection, the right to live, the right to multiply, the right to freedom, and the right to man’s indebtedness – and in recognition of these rights the Lakota never enslaved the animal, and spared all life that was not needed for food and clothing.” “This concept of life was humanizing and gave to the Lakota an abiding love. It ﬁlled his being with the joy and mystery of things; it gave him reverence for all life; it made a place for all things in the scheme of existence with equal importance to all. The Lakota could despise no creature, for all were one blood, made by the same hand, and ﬁlled with the essence of the Great Mystery.” A similar attitude towards nature can be found in traditional Inuit cultures.
• St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) and Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948): There are similarities between the doctrines of these two great ethical teachers. Both came from wealthy families, but during the course of their lives they acquired strong sympathy with the poor and rejected excessive attachment to worldly goods. Both dressed in the simplest possible rough homespun clothes. (Gandhi said, “Live simply that others may simply live.”) Both taught peace between humans and kindness to all life. St. Francis is said to have preached sermons to the birds; Gandhi personally took care of sick animals in his ashram.
• Respect for nature in African cultures: In some parts of Africa, a man who plans to cut down a tree oﬀers a prayer of apology, telling the tree why necessity has forced him to harm it. This pre-industrial attitude is something from which the industrialized North could learn. In industrial societies, land “belongs” to some one, and the owner has the “right” to ruin the land or to kill the communities of creatures living on it if this happens to give some economic advantage, in much the same way that a Roman slaveowner was thought to have the “right” to kill his slaves. Pre-industrial societies have a much less rapacious and much more custodial attitude towards the land and towards its non-human inhabitants.
• Preservation of the land for future generations: Many traditional agricultural societies have an ethical code that requires them to preserve the fertility of the land for future generations. This recognition of a duty towards the distant future is in strong contrast to the shortsightedness of modern economists. For example, John Maynard Keynes has been quoted as saying “In the long run, we will all be dead”, meaning that we need not look that far ahead. By contrast, members of traditional agricultural societies recognize that their duties extend far into the distant future, since their descendants will still be alive.
The pre-industrial societies and ethical teachers mentioned above have much to tell us about how to achieve harmony with ourselves, harmony with nature, and harmony with other members of our own species. Of course is is necessary to learn from the best aspects of each culture and not the worst. Also we must remember that the population of the world is now so large that a complete return to a pre-industrial way of life would not be possible. However, some of the values and attitudes of pre-industrial cultures can help us to an awareness of what it will take to achieve a truly sustainable global society. The advertising-driven orgies of consumerism that characterize modern market economies cannot be extended into the distant future because of limitations that will be imposed by exhaustion of non-renewable resources and by the limited carrying capacity of the global environment. Therefore we need to stop using material goods as a measure of merit. Gandhi deliberately reduced his possessions to a minimum in order to demonstrate that merit and goods are not synonymous. St. Francis did the same. We can learn from them, and from the values of pre-industrial societies, to stop worshiping the false ideals, Power, Dominance, Growth, and Proﬁt. Instead we must learn to live in Harmony.
Education for a harmonious future
Our educational system must reﬂect the kind of world that we want for the future. What kind of world do we want? We want a world where war is abolished as an institution, and where the enormous resources now wasted on war are used constructively. We want a world where a stable population of moderate size lives in comfort and security, free from fear of hunger or unemployment. We want a world where peoples of all countries have equal access to resources, and an equal quality of life. We want a world with a new economic system, not designed to produce unlimited growth, but aiming instead at meeting the real needs of the human community in equilibrium with the global environment. We want a world of changed values, where extravagance and waste are regarded as morally wrong; where kindness, wisdom and beauty are admired; and where the survival of other species than our own is regarded as an end in itself, not just a means to our own ends. In our reverence for the intricate beauty and majesty of nature, and our respect for the dignity and rights of other humans, we can feel united with the great religious and philosophical traditions of mankind, and with the traditional wisdom of our ancestors. Pictures sent back by the astronauts show the earth as it really is – a small, fragile, beautiful planet, drifting on through the dark immensity of space – our home, where we must learn to live in harmony with nature and with each other.
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A freely downloadable book
A new 418-page book entitled “A World Federation” may be downloaded and circulated gratis from the following link:
John Scales Avery is a theoretical chemist at the University of Copenhagen. He is noted for his books and research publications in quantum chemistry, thermodynamics, evolution, and history of science. His 2003 book Information Theory and Evolution set forth the view that the phenomenon of life, including its origin, evolution, as well as human cultural evolution, has its background situated in the fields of thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, and information theory. Since 1990 he has been the Chairman of the Danish National Group of Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. During his tenure The Pugwash Movement won a nobel peace prize. Between 2004 and 2015 he also served as Chairman of the Danish Peace Academy. He founded the Journal of Bioenergetics and Biomembranes, and was for many years its Managing Editor. He also served as Technical Advisor to the World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe (1988-1997).