Responsibility in the age of catastrophe

Even Pangloss from Voltaire’s Candide, with his incurable optimism, would find today’s world hard going. Nature and humanity have let loose their respective demons and no one can rein them in. In many areas, the earth has battered us repeatedly with cyclones, tidal waves, earthquakes, floods, and most recently the eruption of a volcano in Iceland that shut down airports across northern and central Europe. It is a sad and unprecedented spectacle.

Some — the rash and least discerning — will say that these are simply normal, natural occurrences. But for those who are 80 or older, as I am, and never saw or even heard of anything like this series of catastrophes, it is prudent to ask whether it is possible that man is to a certain extent responsible, having threatened the natural equilibrium of the planet, abusing and degrading it with his blind, unconscious actions.

Vested interests

The Climate Change Summit held in Copenhagen last December was supposed to condemn and address global warming but ended in total failure in the form of a suspicious agreement worked out at the last minute between China and the US. By coincidence — perhaps — these two great powers happen to be the largest polluters on the planet. They managed to stymie the European contingent, which they dismissed as of marginal importance, and various delegations from other continents who were expecting positive results from the meeting.

What is more worrying is that certain scientists have taken positions openly contrary to the overwhelming majority of ecologists and are asserting that global warming is not caused by human activity or the excessive use of hydrocarbons but is rather a natural phenomenon. This suggests to me that there are some people willing to pursue financial gain at any cost and place their immediate interests above any other consideration without a peep from their consciences — if they have one.

However, I am convinced that at the next World Climate Change Conference scientific truth will prevail and the major powers will be obliged to respect rules intended to radically contain global warming.

But the risks the planet now contends with are not just those considered natural catastrophes, which occur with clear and worrying frequency. Global terrorism continues to wreak havoc, since 2001. Too many nations have nuclear weapons. These must be limited. In this context, a remarkable development with very positive political and geostrategic ramifications is the agreement that Barack Obama succeeded in working out with Russia and China to reduce the three countries’ nuclear weapon arsenals and keep non-nuclear nations from obtaining them.

In a world as dangerous as ours — consider only the number of unresolved armed conflicts underway — it is essential that weapon sales be reduced and that a culture of peace, now tirelessly promoted by former UNESCO director-general Federico Mayor Zaragoza, be established and nourished. At the same time we must avoid and control to the greatest extent possible every form of incitement to violence that is constantly propagated via the media and especially television (consciously or not), now in a clear process of escalation.

All governments of the world that see themselves as upholding the rule of law and that must therefore respect and protect human rights have an obligation to adopt policies and  measures to create a culture of peace and repudiate systematically, with teaching, all of the forms of violence that enter our homes daily. We must do this for the health and survival of our descendants and the future of humanity.

The threats we face today come from various directions: uncertain and directionless political leadership, an unregulated economy waiting for the current crisis to pass, and the string of calamities. It is time for the people of the world to open their eyes, react, and demand solutions.

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