Can we rescue humanity from the Suicide Pact of the 7 Billion?

 -  -  1



Renuka Bisht

Advertisement

When someone is diagnosed with cancer, we often see the extended family pull together and get organised with incredible speed. The mami who spends the night in the hospital, the neighbour who looks after the children at home, the nephew who musters up the blood donors, nobody shirks their part – especially after multiple doctors have agreed on the diagnosis and the essential course of treatment.

The doctors are agreed that saving the planet needs cutting emissions. IPCC assesses that human-induced warming reached approximately 1°C above pre-industrial levels in 2017, and it is against this backdrop that we must understand the goal of keeping global temperature increase limited to below 1.5°C by 2100. That we are currently on track for a 3.2°C to 3.9°C rise instead, indicates the scale of present failure and future threat.

Overall greenhouse gas emissions are still rising, nitrous oxide has reached 123% and atmospheric methane 259% of the pre-industrial level. Helped along by how it remains in the atmosphere for centuries, carbon dioxide levels are higher than they have been in 4,00,000 years. The Anthropocene era is already experiencing a very different climate from what our ancestors knew and heading for much worse.

To any alien observer our inability to pull together, to do what the doctors have prescribed, must look like the Suicide Pact of the 7 Billion. It is widely reported that the impact of the warming will fall on the poor and vulnerable, but by no means will they be the only ones with a severely stressed quality of life.

Illustration: Chad Crowe

If that were the case, we would have been talking about a murder pact. Sure, Dhaka is barely 4 metres above sea level with surrounding areas being even more low-lying, so the prospect of a 3.9°C rise gives it a sinking feeling. But this will also make a tinderbox out of California and rain the fury of many Hurricane Katrinas on New Orleans and spread the wrath of heatwaves through Australia and Europe. Btw in the 2003 European heatwave Paris recorded an excess death rate of 141%.

There is really nowhere to run no matter how rich you are. It’s like when Delhi is in November hell and loose talk about migrating to other cities happens. As Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan writes, “Get out of Mumbai, see that you do, the sea is coming for me and you. Get out of Bangalore I’d recommend, before the water comes to an end. Move to Goa? It’s pretty dire, you might end up dead in a garbage fire … So get out? Why bother? Just choose your tomb.”

In disparate movements like Fridays For Future and Extinction Rebellion, it is really no surprise that young people are at the forefront of protesting the current state of affairs. Consider that the children born today will actually live to see the 3.9°C nightmare, no matter how rich their country. In this sense Greta Thunberg is absolutely right, young people are bearing the brunt of leaders’ failures. The adults have signed them onto the suicide pact by proxy.

Of course there are also several misgivings when the Extinction Rebellion talks up drones shutting down Heathrow airport or when Thunberg’s prohibitively expensive sailing trends so much flight shaming in her country that the Swedes even coin a word for it: flygskam. It smacks of very elite Luddism. Without having met many Scandinavians i have still managed to meet a few who have travelled to 50 countries, while countless Indians have yet to come within 50 km of an aircraft.

Beneath the binary surface there is actually lot of meeting ground here. This is not in turning off the twin engines of capitalism and technological progress but in a historical and scientific view of things, where the EU is responsible for 40% of cumulative emissions, the US 22% and India 2%. As the adults have lived expansively at the expense of the future generation, so the developed world has partied like no developing country now can. Those who have created the largest share of the mess must shoulder a larger burden of cleaning it.

In his eye-opening book More From Less, Andrew McAfee showcases how rich economies are dematerialising. In the US there is now a decreasing consumption of many things from metals to water for irrigation, and even total energy use is peaking. It is in everyone’s interest for similar decoupling between growth and consumption of Earth’s resources to take place in less rich countries too. Saving the planet needs the developed bloc to follow through on promises of meaningful assistance to the developing bloc, especially in new technologies.

Think in terms of opportunities not sacrifice, including the chance to live in a peaceful and ecologically fecund world rather than a barren one riven by infernal conflicts between the haves and have-nots. Flying itself could become greener with say synthetic jet fuels and electric planes. The Matrix was fiction. In real life AI and deep learning will help improve agriculture, weather forecasts, renewable energy management, heat mitigation et al exponentially. Profaning the gods of science and technology is the worst disservice humanity will do itself. Next only to ignoring the cry of the children.

This will hurt you, no matter how high up in the clouds is your castle. In the hit teen drama 13 Reasons Why, one suicide unsettles the lives of all the persons her life touched. In the event of a mass extinction, those who survive humanity’s suicide pact will also be twisted as beyond recognition as a 3.9°C warmer Earth.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.



via TOI Blog

comments icon 0 comments
0 notes
bookmark icon