We are all trust fund babies living off the wealth of our ancestors. I’m not talking Mommy and Daddy. I’m talking Barney. That cuddly T-Rex and all his dinosaur friends, along with those giant ferns and tiny trilobites, died millions of years ago only to become, very gradually, the energy that fuels our modern life. Until very recently, in geologic time at least, the earth held virtually all of that powerful carbon in a lockbox. “You can’t touch this buried treasure until you come of age,” the earth told humanity.
Lenin graces the cover of a recent issue of The Economist. The Financial Times is running an entire series on the “crisis in capitalism.” Francis Fukuyama, a recovering neoconservative, makes a plea in Foreign Affairs for the left to get its intellectual act together. And that noted class warrior Newt Gingrich has been assailing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for being a ruthless moneybags.
Excuse me? Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing? What parallel universe did we all just stumble into?
Virtually everything we read in novels and newspapers, not to mention the video games we play and the Hollywood movies we watch, reminds us that we’re steeped in violence and that it’s only going to get worse.
Everything, that is, except Steven Pinker.
I arrived at the UN climate summit in Durban, South Africa with the news fresh in my mind that 2010 was a record year for global warming pollution—and that if we don’t start reducing global emissions by 2017, we’re cooked.
I left Durban with a profound disappointment in the world’s leaders, and the growing conviction that it will take people putting their bodies on the line to steer society away from suicidal climate change.
The image of Nero fiddling as Rome burned—albeit apocryphal– has stuck as the metaphor for willfully irresponsible government. Government representatives, gathered at climate change talks in Durban, South Africa, have been fiddling for the past week. Of the hundreds of closed-door sessions, official meetings and informational seminars, all that’s come out so far is cacophony. By the looks of it, they plan to fiddle right through to the end, wasting one of the last opportunities to respond in time to a threat that affects not only their societies, but the entire planet.
The world’s population surpassed 7 billion on October 31. But except for perhaps the anti-family planning lobby, this was a milestone that few were in a mood to celebrate.
Global capitalism is in a deep, deep funk, with the center economies caught indefinitely in the iron grip of stagnation and high unemployment. Extreme weather events have become a fact of life, yet any move towards a successor to the Kyoto Protocol continues to elude the world’s governments. Agriculture seems to be at the limits of its productive capacity, prompting many to ask: Have we walked into the Malthusian trap?
Last month the journal Nature published a paper examining the link between local climate variations and civil conflict around the world. The first quantitative study of its kind, it has received a fair amount of attention for its conclusion that climate shifts do indeed correlate with greater violence. The authors found that the rate of armed conflict doubled — from 3 to 6 percent — during El Nino-associated climate swings, a statistically significant and sobering increase.
When the military’s green programs achieve real success in the form of jobs created, costs reduced, and lives saved, the military will have definitively demonstrated that a viable economy is not a casualty of climate preparedness.
Hopeless as swatting lies out of the White House
or trying to put out an oil field fire with a cup of water
is this war against the grasshoppers, who,
when I walk through weeds or rattle
the leaves on a pepper plant, leap
by the thousands to remind me
that power isn’t always held by Goliaths
but by the numerous and persistent.
Come October, Atlas won’t be shrugging, he’ll be groaning as global population passes the 7 billion mark. Until very recently, demographers predicted that these numbers would peak in 2050 at just over 9 billion and then start to decline. The latest research, however, suggests that despite declining fertility across much of the world, population will continue to rise through this century to over 10 billion people. With famine spreading in Somalia, another food crisis gripping North Korea, global food prices near a record high, and climate change threatening to reduce future harvests, the question continues to nag: are we outstripping our capacity to feed ourselves?