Jonathan Cloud December 10th, 2007
The world today is facing an unprecedented set of crises.
The most recent to burst upon public awareness is that of global warming, and it is indeed a matter of urgency and of critical importance. We have, according to the latest scientific estimates, only seven years in which to level off our greenhouse gas emissions – and then begin to reduce them sharply – if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. This alone requires a massive transformation of our infrastructure, our economy, our energy use, our way of life, our society.
But the climate crisis is not occurring in isolation, as if it were an asteroid hurtling toward the earth. It is a consequence of many other factors: resource extraction and fossil fuel use, industrialization and massive population growth, scientific and technological immaturity, and the willful perpetuation of ignorance and superstition. It is not separable from the many other crises that we see occurring on the planet, from the growing disparity between rich and poor, the violence and conflict that afflict many parts of the world, the fear and oppression visited upon our own people as well as upon our so-called adversaries. To solve the climate problem, we will need to address some other difficult issues as well, including the demands of other nations to reach our level of economic development and their willingness to imitate us in the unlimited pollution of our environment.
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Jonathan Cloud December 1st, 2007
It seems a strange thing to say, but we no longer live in “normal” times. By “normal” I do not of course mean “idyllic”; anyone who has any understanding of history knows that humans have been at war with each other, and with a large number of other species, pretty much since we emerged on the earth. But it is only around the middle of the last century that we discovered how to annihilate ourselves, and along with such annihilation destroy much of the rest of life on the planet. Remarkably, given our history, we have so far not chosen to do so; and most of us still regard it as a miracle that we did not blow ourselves up during the era of MAD (“mutual assured destruction”).
Of course, it could still happen. There are still enough nuclear weapons scattered around the U.S. and the former Soviet Union, not to mention China, India, Pakistan, Europe, Israel, North Korea, and perhaps a few other countries to destroy the planet a dozen times over, and it would only take a rather trivial accident (like a plane crash, or a major oil spill, perhaps) to trigger a completely unanticipated and uncontrollable launching of these aging weapons of mass destruction. But at least we understand the threat, and have learned to cope with it, and have put in place some hopefully effective fail-safe mechanisms to prevent it. It requires eternal vigilance, but not by all of us, and as long as no one makes a mistake or goes haywire we can get on with the business of life, having babies, quarreling with our neighbors, making a living.
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