Friday, December 02, 2011

War of the World

"The rise of the human neocortex is the only example of evolution providing a species with an organ which it does not know how to use."---Arthur Koestler

That the international climate crisis talks in South Africa are being universally ignored in U.S. media, including the progressive shows and sites, and even including such climate sites as Climate Progress, speaks volumes not only about how unproductive these talks are expected to be, but about the dire state of human civilization at this stage in its lifecycle.

All the news coming out of the conference (which is being reported, if you look for it) is of a downward spiral of conflict.  Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy on climate crisis, is blaming China and India for not joining in binding agreements (though you know not in a bad way) so the U.S. won't either.  So-called Third World countries are blaming the U.S.( saying in an echo of charges against the Bush team, that the U.S. is not a leader but a barrier) and going after Canada for some severe retrenching from Kyoto promises, and for burying its head in the tar sands.   And the poorer countries are going after everybody, including China.   It's even worse than no new agreements. Old agreements, even promising ones made at just the last conference, are unraveling.

Meanwhile the evidence behind the scientific consensus keeps getting stronger, including a study which further confirms the determinative role of greenhouse gases--especially CO2--in heating the climate.  The news of what's happening just keeps getting worse--on releasing methane, on the warming Arctic, on rapidly degrading environmental base to human civilization and the life of the planet.

In fact, once you get outside whatever news bubble you live in--from social networks, sports sites, political porn, entertainment etc.--and click on an environmental story on say, the BBC site, you are confronted with a list of other stories that sounds like a countdown to doomsday.

Long ago in the 1890s when Darwin's work was relatively new and some Europeans were already worrying about decadence in western civilization,  H.G. Wells was beginning to make the case that the survival of the human species--or at least of civilized humanity--was going to depend on global self-government, on governing the world as a whole.  He saw even before the invention of the airplane that mechanized warfare was going to push civilization into destroying itself as long as nations pursued self interest first and foremost.

After the immense devastation of the Great War, and again after the even more widespread destruction of World War II which ended with atom bombs, the practicality of an international body governing common interests was grudgingly recognized.  But Wells was making a larger point: that in order to govern themselves as a planet, civilized peoples were going to have to think of themselves as planetary citizens.  They would have to deeply feel that war was a global problem, and so were the causes of war.

Now we face a global threat requiring a global solution, though in not such a simplistic way as an invader from another planet or a giant asteroid on its way.  The Climate Crisis requires that we understand that we are truly all in this together.

Yet at this crucial point, we aren't even at the stage of political mindset we were after World War II. In the U.S. at least there is more suspicion of international agreements and the UN that at any time in my memory, precisely when international action is most necessary.  And it will be necessary in part for exactly the same reason that H.G. Wells said.  The effects of the Climate Crisis are going to be longlived and extreme, but uneven.  There are going to be nations that are suffering from drought, and nations that have plenty of water (though maybe too much.)  And there are going to be wars over resources, which not only can have--but will have--dire effects everywhere in this delicately interconnected world, with greater vulnerability than I've ever seen thanks to our dependence on trade and transportation (and therefore energy), and on electronic communications. 

  As Todd Stern says, all these nations at the climate crisis conference are pursuing their self interests, which he doesn't find all that upsetting apparently.  A certain amount of what's going on is understandable, given the state of the world economy and the problems in individual countries, including the U.S.  But instead of so easily giving in to this, it is the time to emphasize how serious this is by transcending it.

It seems that the human mind is capable of grasping the concept of global problems, but apparently not enough minds share it, or can overcome their own darker and dumber selves.  About the only words of significance out of this conference so far that I've seen referenced came from Bishop Desmond Tutu, who called for concentrating on confronting the Climate Crisis as a moral imperative as important as fighting apartheid was. "Now we are facing another huge, huge enemy. And no one, no country can fight that enemy on his own... an enemy called global warming, climate change...We have only one home. This is the only home we have. And whether you are rich or poor, this is your only home... you are members of one family, the human race."

The statement is significant because of Tutu's moral authority in the fight against apartheid in South Africa, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize, and his subsequent efforts in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  And perhaps for the fact that he was a voice in the wilderness at first, but that there were relatively sudden changes that ended apartheid.  Now these words, so simple and yet so scientifically as well as morally profound, are not yet heeded--perhaps not even in South Africa, where he spoke before only a few hundred people.  If time has not already run out for human civilization moving on from this level to greater fulfillment, it soon will.  Enormous changes at the last minute may still be possible, but it is far from certain that even such a fantastic turn would be soon enough.  

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