Why and How Climate Response Needs a Paradigm Shift

Nuclear Explosion 1
A mushroom-shaped cloud and water column from the underwater Baker nuclear explosion off the Marshall Islands, July 25, 1946. (Pictures from History/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Two basic aspects of climate change are well-established—one that it is a very important, existential issue and second, that a huge reduction in fossil fuels is essential to check climate change.

While both these facts are entirely true, these are best understood as parts of a wider reality and when this wider reality is neglected, then these two rather obvious facts, seen alone, can be considered only as half-truths.

What then is the wider reality? The wider reality is that humanity as well as other forms of life are faced with nothing less than a huge human-made survival or existential crisis of which climate change constitutes only a part—an important part but nevertheless only one part.

On the other hand a comprehensive understanding of the survival crisis consists of three important aspects—firstly, nearly a dozen or so serious and inter-related environmental problems; secondly accumulation of weapons of mass destruction, increasing use of AI/ robotics for weapons plus militarization of space; and thirdly, the failure of present-day world leadership to evolve and present a rational, credible response to the serious human-made threats that endanger all forms of life on earth.

The frequent tendency to focus attention mainly, sometimes only, on climate change as existential threat is at best a highly inadequate half-truth about the true existential threat. What can be saved by decades of most committed response to climate change can be destroyed in a few days or perhaps just a few hours of a war that uses weapons of mass destruction.

What is more, response to climate change so far has lagged far behind set targets, has been unjustly used against farmers and weaker sections as well as poorer countries, and has been distorted by ‘greenwashing’ tactics as well as false and dangerous solutions ranging from geo-engineering and weather modification to genetically modified crops and insects. The increasing presence of fossil fuel and related corporate lobbyists at climate conferences tells its own tale. The UNFCC appears now to be more a symbol of belied hopes than of timely solutions.

So on the one hand our endangered world needs a much wider and integrated response to the survival crisis, and on the other hand, we also need a new way of looking at climate change.

To take up the more limited challenge of just climate change first, while certainly a big reduction of fossil fuels is needed and all efforts for this should continue to increase, much more than this is also needed.

Through climate change, through unprecedented adverse weather and disasters, in a way nature is trying to say something, convey an important message that humanity needs to understand. Nature is telling us—Please do not impose such a big burden on me. Please understand my limits. Please stop hurting me.

The big question is whether humanity will listen to nature and make all the important changes needed in response to this. If this is done, then we can check not just climate change but most other environmental problems as well.

Humanity must find a future without wars as wars and war preparations taken together constitute the biggest and worst pollutant. Very high luxury, highly wasteful products and products harmful for health, which also impose a very heavy and eminently avoidable burden on nature, should be reduced in a big way with the help of public education campaigns. Rural life should be promoted more with emphasis on organic, natural farming by small farmers and protection/ nurturing of increasing forest cover by rural communities, while urban life too should have many more green spaces and environment-friendly habitats and life-styles. Largely self-reliant communities and production closer to consumption should be encouraged. Education at the level of schools and colleges as well as communities should be based on values of environment protection, peace, justice and life-style based on simplicity, voluntarily reduced consumption and improved social relationships.

While renewable energy should get increasing importance, overall energy consumption should also be reduced by cutting down on all wasteful consumption.

Such sincerely promoted and highly prioritized changes will not only help to check climate change, these will also help to check most environmental problems. In addition, in a world without wars, or much reduced possibilities of wars, the reasons for stocking weapons of mass destruction and pursuing such hugely destructive enterprises as militarizing space will reduce very substantially. Hence it will become much more possible to create a world without weapons of mass destruction.

The wider challenge must be seen in terms of evolving a comprehensive response to all aspects of the survival threat. Firstly, very substantially reducing all environmental problems including GHG emissions. Secondly, eliminating all weapons of mass destruction, reducing in a big way all highly destructive weapons, banning AI and robotic use in weapons, giving up all thoughts of militarizing space. Thirdly, taking up such governance, institutional, educational and other reforms as will very significantly improve the prospects of humanity acting in more rational and significantly improved ways to substantially reduce and avoid all existential threats.

These are the tasks that should get the highest priority at the world level so that an adequate, credible and rational response to the survival crisis can emerge with the involvement of tens of millions of people, within a framework of justice, peace and democracy.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Protecting Earth for Children, Planet in Peril, A Day in 2071 and Earth without Borders.  

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