[The Sai Baba narrative will continue in next blog].
Having listened to his masterly Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, and not having that much choice in the Blind Society’s digital library, I thought I would try Paul Kennedy’s Preparing for the 21st Century, written over 20 years ago. Not only is he uncannily percipient regarding the problems we are now facing, his chapter on climate change is the best and most thorough discussion of the topic I have ever come across. Furthermore, his bibliography reveals serious warnings in scientific journals dating back to the mid-1980s [even National Geographic magazine ran a very comprehensive article in 1993], meaning that governments have ignored for over 30 years the worst problem faced by this planet since the end of the last Ice Age. Kennedy acknowledges the counter-arguments, also noting that they come mainly from scientific sceptics out of their field, or from economists innately opposed to the measures necessary for reducing carbon emissions. He states, unequivocally, that global warming is a transnational issue, affecting us all.
We are now so accustomed to the nation state that we tend to forget it only came into being a millennium ago, with the advent of Spain, France, and England consolidating central rule over a mosaic of minor kingdoms, dukedoms, and duchies. Indeed it was the Hapsburg Empire which first established actual frontiers for the territories it claimed to own. Like Charlemagne before him, Napoleon dreamed of a united Europe, with vassal kingdoms ruled by an Emperor in Paris. Had anyone studied the problems he faced, the current disaster of a European Union would have been aborted.
One of global warming’s main features is that it will afflict the poorer countries far more than the richer ones. It is also natural for countries like India and China, still in the throes of their industrial revolutions, to object when complained about by nations which did what they are currently doing over a century ago. Each country has its own atmospheric emission problems, and some have to feed a billion people with rice that will not grow if the average temperature exceeds 35 degrees Celsius. If sea levels rise, as they are doing, 8 million people in both Egypt and Bangladesh will become refugees. Others, like inhabitants of the Maldive Islands, will lose their homelands entirely. These are all people who cannot afford the protective measures developed nations can, but their problems will be ours too. With 5% of the world’s population, the US uses 15 times as much energy as, say, Brazil, which objects to being told to cease cutting down rain forest by a country that destroyed two thirds of its forests over the past 300 years. Indeed, while every country has its specific responsibilities, the US is by far the most profligate in having all the problems, from excessive car emissions to heavy industrial pollution. But business always trumps common sense there, so it is little wonder that developing nations resent being told to halt development by the world’s worst polluter and most powerful state.
Developed nations may suffer less, but they will suffer. Venice and other coastal cities will probably vanish; and places like Holland and the lower Rhine lands will experience devastating troubles. Just building a sea wall to protect America’s Barrier Islands would cost over 100 billion dollars; and flooding would remove some 20 thousand square miles of US land. Much of the south would become desert, no crops able to grow in, for instance, Oklahoma. Northern countries, like Canada or Norway, might actually benefit from extra warmth. Where I live, in the mountains of Quebec, would be able to become an agricultural haven – except the constant fall of pine needles has made the soil too acidic for much to grow. There are many imponderables. For example, no one is sure if additional heat would attract menacing insects up from the tropics, or whether crops grown in dramatically altered soil would kill them. What is known is that trees absorb carbon dioxide, and by clear-cutting them, not to mention burning them, we are increasing the greenhouse effect tremendously. In fact, all of the effects Kennedy predicted over 20 years ago – freak weather, rising sea levels, melting glaciers etc – have already occurred. Indeed, it may well be too late to reverse something that will be as catastrophic as the Deluge. When transnational governments hold a conference you know the issue is serious. But the measures discussed or agreed upon are pathetically insufficient. We need to cease carbon and other gas emissions entirely, no matter how it affects the economy – which won’t be very important if the planet heats up another three degrees. We also need to fund the poorer countries in developing green energy sources, like photovoltaic devices. Instead of buying increasingly expensive weapons – a trillion dollars for the latest fighter jet…each – we ought to spend this preposterous fortune on developing renewable energy sources. To achieve this will require a multi-national body committed to the task and powerful enough to pass binding international laws impervious to national governments and their self-interested objections. It would, I suppose, be a step towards world-government, which, when saving us all from possible extinction is at stake, seems to be a rational move. The pitiful ideas, like cap and trade, might have helped 30 years ago, but they will do nothing now, except keep industries afloat. The boat is sinking, however, and our only hope is to build life-rafts.
This earth was once a closed, self-sustaining system, which our population’s sudden expansion – from around a billion to seven billion in a mere century – along with its needs and demands has damaged, perhaps irreparably. Attempting to repair this damage and save the only home we have ought to be the sole concern of every government, since there may well be nothing to govern within 50 years.