Once a wraith shrouded in the mists of the future, climate change has emerged as a threat to humanity that is too disturbing to contemplate. Beginning with the first reports of the World Meteorological Organization in the late 1960s, every succeeding report has said essentially the same thing: that the world is growing warmer at a historically unprecedented rate, and that an accumulation of carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gases released by the burning of fossil fuels, is the main cause.
Today, with each of the last 18 years having been hotter than its predecessor, and unprecedented weather events having become routine, the room to doubt that it has begun, and may even be accelerating, has shrunk till there is almost none left. The threat is very real, we already have the capacity not only to arrest it, but to create, in the process, a cleaner, more egalitarian and, above all, a more peaceful world.
The key to doing this lies in shifting our energy base out of fossil fuels within the next half-century at most. If we do this, we will not only limit the climate change to a level that human beings and most other living species will be able to adjust to, but also eliminate most of the causes of the conflict that is racking the world. Which of these two legacies we will leave for our grandchildren will depend upon the choices we make in the next decade. Tarry longer, and the choice will be made for us.
The sense of urgency has begun to creep into the public’s awareness. But with no credible solutions on offer it has been bitterly criticised on the ground that it can only sow panic. The desire to avoid this is also the reason why not only the governments of the largest countries of the world but also the scientific community whose consensus views have been presented to the world by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have been extremely conservative in their projections of the likely impact of global warming, so far.
Another, more deep-seated, reason for our conservatism is that human beings are biologically conditioned to react only to immediate and tangible threats. Even with the acceleration that seems to have set in, climate change does not fit this bill. But there is a third, so far barely acknowledged, reason for our reluctance: The very same ‘civilisation’ that has bestowed unimaginable affluence upon humanity, and so greatly widened the frontiers of knowledge that we now have a pretty accurate idea of what the universe looked like a mere 300,000 years after it was born, has also enslaved our minds and made us blind to the dangers it is now spawning. Its moving force today is the market economy.
The competition inherent in it is responsible for the dizzying acceleration of science and technology that has brought the world where it is today. In the past, human beings thanked God for ‘rest and home and all things good’, and looked to Him to save us from misfortune. Today we have transferred most of that faith to the market. This has robbed us of the capacity to control the market even when the way it works is patently driving humanity ever closer to suicide.
The grim truth is that so long as the population keeps growing, incomes keep rising and people continue to aspire to a better life, using fossil fuels more efficiently will only postpone the fifth mass annihilation of species that we are in the midst of. Only this time we will be among the victims. Climate change is not the only threat that humanity faces.
A more immediate one is that fossil fuels are getting harder to find all the time. The struggle to do so and to control their use is therefore intensifying and taking the world closer to war.
ser to war.
— (Excerpts from ‘Dawn of the
Solar Age: End to Global Warming
& Fear’ by Prem Shankar Jha)
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