Message from the President of Science for Peace

A task for Science for Peace, a small organization of hard-working and vocal people, is to pick and choose how to best channel our talents and concerns. The more I learn about the urgent time frame posed by climate change, the more convinced I am that the innumerable severe problems we face need to be understood and acted upon in the context of climate change.

James Hansen’s book, Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and our Last Chance to Save Humanity, covers the most recent research findings from satellite observations, paleoclimate and ocean core research, and climate modelling. There is now not only certainty about anthropogenic causes of climate change, but there are also clear correlations between atmospheric CO2, ice sheet melting, sea levels, and mass extinctions. An important uncertainty is the rate of change, estimating the nearness of irreversible tipping points, since the ever-increasing rate of current emissions, plus the fact that huge emissions are sustained over many decades (vs. one-time volcanic explosion), is unprecedented.

So far there is a very wide divide in North America and in Europe over addressing environmental vs. socio-economic-human rights problems. Hansen, Yale University environment dean James Gustave Speth (author of The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability), and the 35,000 people meeting in Cochabamba for the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth (Bolivia April 2010) – all speak to the absolute inadequacy of response by governments (with their corporate sponsors) and ENGOs. For the most part, the North American and European response is in the direction of incremental technological change that pales in comparison with investment in non-renewables and business as usual. Social justice movements in Europe and North America appear to be oblivious to the requirements posed by climate change.1

Hypocritically, the United States and Canada prepare full-well for climate change, all on the wrong side of it. The perception of starving hordes vying for food and water and “our way of life” is an excuse for beefing up the military with ever more lethal weapons, a proliferation of military bases and surveillance, closed borders, the omnipresent “security” state. Here we have the utter debasement of the “other”.

Impressionistically, what often comes to my mind is the description of the waning of an era by historian J. Huizinga (1924. The Waning of the Middle Ages). He writes of the preoccupation with death and “the violent tenor of life”, the Manichaean perceptions of the world – often identified by colours (greens, reds, orange, purple of today), the distancing from reality with a resort to symbolism, the emptying of forms that were originally functional and an often grotesque exaggeration of their stylistic attributes.

I think now we need to size up the waning of the nation state. In the 20th century, fascism, communism and capitalistic democracies destroyed innumerable socio-ecosystems and in various ways caused hundreds of millions of premature deaths, generally for greedy and narcissistic ends. International human rights expert Richard Falk writes of the Westphalian period of law in which sovereignty passed from religious authority to the state in 1648. He asks whether the end of the current era can possibly lead to workable global good governance.

With such huge threats it is necessary to realistically size up everything. Copenhagen 2009 represents the failure of the nation state system, while Cochabamba 2010 represents a collaborative form of decision-making to realistically address climate and economic reality. Leadership at the nation-state level characteristically fails. There is an incapacity to collaborate, to comprehend ecological reality, and to assume personal responsibility. From a psychological standpoint, it is now acceptable in the seemingly developed world to expect less from leaders and followers than from kindergarten-age children. It is certainly the time to work very hard. And all university students and faculty need to read Hansen’s book.

1 See graphs on atmospheric CO2, N2O, CH4, ozone depletion, loss of tropical rain forest and woodland, amount of domesticated land, global biodiversity, floods, fully exploited fisheries Speth’s book p. XX-XXI, or  ^

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