Climate emergency brooks no delay

The UN has warned us that we are using over 30 per cent more resources than the planet can replace.

The grave financial crisis and the economic horrors besieging European societies are causing people to forget that climate change and the destruction of biodiversity remain the greatest threats to humanity, as they were reminded only last December at the climate summit in Durban, South Africa.

If we do not radically change the dominant modes of production imposed by economic globalisation, we will soon reach the point of no return, after which human life on the planet will become gradually unviable.

In barely fifty years, the number of inhabitants on the earth increased by a factor of 3.5, and for the first time ever, urban dwellers outnumber the rural population. Meanwhile, the planet’s resources are not increasing and a new geopolitical concern arises: what will happen when the shortage of certain natural resources grows worse?

In the course of the last decade, thanks to the population growth of certain emerging countries, the number of people who have risen from poverty passed 150 million. Isn’t this a fact to be celebrated? Yes, but it also brings with it serious responsibilities for all of us, because with the dominant consumerist model of life, the emergence of large numbers of people from poverty is incompatible with the survival of humanity on earth.

Our planet simply does not have enough energy resources for the entire global population to use without restriction. For the world’s 7 billion to consume energy at the rate of the average European, we would need the resources of two earths, while three would be needed to extend the American consumption level worldwide.

Overexploiting resources

Since the beginning of the 20th century, for example, the world’s population has quadrupled. In the same period of time global carbon consumption has risen by a factor of six. For a while now the UN has warned us that we are using over 30 per cent more resources than the planet can replace. The lesson is simple: we have to come up with ways of living that are much more frugal and less wasteful. While this would seem to be a common sense conclusion, it is clear it does not apply to the more than one billion people who live in a state of chronic hunger, nor to the 3 billion poor. An explosion of misery is a major threat to the world. This is not an abstract assertion. For example, in the time it takes to read this article -about ten minutes- ten women will die in childbirth, 210 children
under five will die of easily curable diseases, eleven because they drank unclean water.

These people are not dying because they are sick; they are dying because they are poor. If in coming decades food production expanded by 70 per cent to fill the legitimate needs of the growing population, the ecological impact on the planet would be devastating.
Moreover, this increase in production would not even be sustainable because of the resulting degradation of the soil, increased desertification, and increased destruction of biodiversity, not to mention the greenhouse gasses that would be released as a result.

A mere 13 percent of the energy consumed today is renewable and clean (hydro, wind, solar, etc). The rest is nuclear or from fossil fuels, the worst for the environment.

We are experiencing a massive extinction of animal and vegetable species. Each year between 17-100,000 living species disappear. A recent study showed that 30 percent of the marine species are on the verge of extinction because of overfishing and climate change. One fifth of all species on earth could be extinct by the year 2050.

Defending biodiversity is a defense of solidarity among all living beings. In the last three decades,  the excesses of neoliberal globalisation have accelerated this process and led to the emergence of a world dominated by economic terror in which the financial markets and giant private corporations have reestablished the law of the jungle, survival of the fittest.

Globalisation also encourages the pillaging of the planet. Many giant companies use massively destructive means to extract natural resources, making enormous profits while polluting with complete impunity the water, air, forests, rivers, soil, and oceans which are the commons of all humanity. How can this sacking of the earth be stopped? There are solutions:

- replacing the current model of production with a “solidarity economy” that would create social cohesion by distributing benefits not just to a few but to all people. This would be an economic system that would produce wealth without destroying the planet, exploiting workers, discriminating against women, or ignoring social laws;

- restraining globalisation by restoring regulation of damaging and perverse modes of free market activity;

- put the brakes on the fever of financial speculation that is forcing unacceptable sacrifices on entire societies, as we see in Europe where the markets have seized control. A tax on financial transactions is more urgently needed than ever;

- if we want to save the planet, avoid climate change, and defend humanity, it is urgent
that we move away from the logic of permanent growth, which in unviable, and adopt a path of reasonable reduction.

These four measures could restore a semblance of hope on the distant horizon as societies start to restore faith in progress. The question is: who would have the political will to impose them?

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