Hallucinatory world: Governments blind as multiple catastrophes besiege human civilisation

Oct 27, 2023
World Heat Storm and Global Heat Crisis and rising world temperatures .

Life on Earth is under siege. A chain of tipping points with catastrophic consequences for everyone are being unleashed. Yet governments worldwide remain indifferent to the danger. Indeed, many continue avidly to stoke the very furnaces that will consume our civilisation.

The first two statements above are from two new scientific reports, issued this week – one from the United Nations and another from the same group of 15,000 scientists who gave us the world climate warning in 2020. Yet governments globally didn’t bat an eyelid. It was as if they do not occupy the same planet as the rest of us, but some hallucinatory world where everything is fine.

Before exploring why this is so, and what can be done about it, let me first summarise the key messages from these two latest studies.

The 2023 State of the Climate Report by William Ripple and colleagues states “Life on planet Earth is under siege. We are now in an uncharted territory… Unfortunately, time is up. We are seeing the manifestation of those predictions as an alarming and unprecedented succession of climate records are broken, causing profoundly distressing scenes of suffering to unfold.”

The team examined 35 vital indicators of planetary health – and found twenty of them to be in the red zone of extremes. This year Earth experienced its hottest temperatures for 100,000 years. The figures indicate we may smash the +1.5 degree planetary temperature barrier as early as 2024.

Yet governments globally continue to pour money into fossil fuel companies, doubling subsidies from half-a trillion to over US$1 trillion in just three years. Forests continue to be felled at 22m ha a year, while wildfires consume still more. Climate disasters are multiplying and world hunger is rising.

However the human existential emergency, as the Council for the Human Future has warned, is far larger than just climate change – which is only one of ten catastrophic threats we face, as described by Prof. Bob Douglas in his recent article, A War for the Human Future.

The United Nations University’s 2023 Report on Interconnected Disaster Risks examine six of these catastrophic risks, warning “we are moving perilously to the brink of multiple risk tipping points”. These include (1) a chain reaction of collapsing ecosystems and extinctions (2) failure of groundwater supplies serving 2 billion people (3) unbearable heat in many places (4) an uninsurable future (5) melting mountain glaciers and (6) destruction of the space industry by its own debris.

All of these will affect critical systems that supply humanity with food, water, transport, information, trade goods and clean air. “Tipping points can have irreversible, catastrophic impacts for people and the planet”, the UNU warns.

Neither report covers the crisis in global poisoning, the overpopulation threat, the dangers of global disinformation, the risk of new pandemics, the emerging scarcity of key resources and new technological threats like Artificial Intelligence.

The indifference of governments worldwide and the economic elites they serve to this catalogue of impending disaster is almost inexplicable.

Indeed, nations such as Australia, Canada, the United States, Britain, Russia, China and India are doing their best to accelerate the crisis and increase the risks by encouraging fresh fossil fuel expansion that will bake the Earth still hotter. Their tepid support for renewable energy and verbal commitments to sustainability disguise an utter indifference to the fate of humanity – or an utter inability to grasp what is being said to them.

One of the problems is that politicians mostly exist in a world where the truth is never tested, as it is in science, and retested, objectively. For most of them, like Donald Trump, the truth is whatever they want it to be. The political mind has little ability to discern between a genuine warning, based on sound evidence, and the sort of vested-interest nonsense that lobbyists heap on them every day. They thus end up in an awkward compromise between trying to save the planet and doing what industry says it needs, to destroy it.

Secondly, this is a world crisis – and most governments figure there is not much they can do about it, so they choose the easier path of doing little or nothing. But that does not immunise them against the consequences.

One only has to read the desperate calls by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to realise he is a man confronting a cataclysmic global crisis which most of the UN’s member nations decline to recognise or act upon: “We are a divided world. We can and must be united nations.” The problem is that most nations consider their role is to compete with other nations – not help one another. And until that thinking is purged, the fate of all is at risk.

Another recent scientific report estimated as many as a billion people may die in the unfolding climate crisis alone. A billion. Let than number sink in. It includes your family, your neighbours and friends, your colleagues. And it includes politicians, though it mainly applies to the poor.

There is no more telling metric of the scale of a disaster than fatalities. We apply it to wars, famines, pandemics, natural disasters and accidents. We now need to apply it to the measurement of global catastrophe so nobody is in any doubt of the price we pay for indifference.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has been established to investigate and try individuals charged with the gravest crimes of concern to the world community: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression. Most of these crimes involve far fewer fatalities than those claimed by the ten catastrophic threats.

Is killing a billion people with climate, or 13 million a year with toxic chemistry, or 24 million in a pandemic, any less of a crime? Yet somehow these far larger crimes against humanity remain outside the law. This must change.

Until the responsibility for these atrocities is sheeted home legally to the politicians, the governments and the corporations that caused it, they will continue to get away with murder on a stupendous scale. It is high time the brief of the ICC was expanded to investigate and prosecute such delinquencies.

Only when they know their signature on a new coal or oil lease carries the same penalty as a war crime will politicians start to think twice.

That’s the stick side. On the carrot side, one positive solution is the Earth System Treaty proposed by the Council for the Human Future and Common Home of Humanity. This is a worldwide agreement by nations, corporations and individual citizens to tackle all of the catastrophic threats together.

Besides having legal force, a Treaty is a highly visible instrument for what must be done, and a pattern for every government to follow.

Governments such as Australia’s or Canada’s will no longer be able to play ducks and drakes by mouthing green platitudes while quietly working to burn up the planet with fresh carbon pollution.

And finally, citizens worldwide must unite against the growing tendency of governments to turn our law courts and police forces against the young and those who protest the deadly impact of these crimes. Their cries for intergenerational justice must be heard – and gagging and imprisoning them is itself a crime against humanity.

The crisis is real. We need no further scientific reports to emphasise that fact. The time for action is upon us.

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