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Jakarta Post

Global war on environmental disaster

  • Anis H. Bajrektarevic

    The Jakarta Post

Vienna   /   Thu, December 10, 2015   /  04:49 pm

Speaking in Paris on Dec. 7, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has again reminded world leaders that: '€œMore than 1 billion people worldwide live without electricity.

'€œNearly 3 billion people depend on smoky, dangerous traditional fuels for cooking and heating. Access to modern, reliable, affordable clean energy is equally important for ending extreme poverty and reducing inequality ['€¦] The clock is ticking toward climate catastrophe.'€

Nihilists, professional optimists, or status quo conservators would call it '€œenvironmental alarmism'€. What really is the state of our planet?

Back in the 1990s, there was a legendary debate between two eminent scientists: Carl Sagan, astrophysicist, and Ernst Mayr, evolutionary biologist. The issue was the question of all questions: Is there any intelligent life out there? Sagan '€” closer to mathematics '€” by counting the stars and the worlds attached to them, argued that with innumerable planets like ours, life must flourish on many of them.

Quite a few of them, he claimed, must have developed advanced forms of living beings.

Mayr '€” on the other hand '€” argued the opposite. His pessimism was coming from his profession, not from his character, which was as vivid and optimistic as Sagan'€™s. As Prof. Noam Chomsky beautifully reminds us on this great episode, Mayr took our mother planet as an example to illustrate his claim.

The so-called biological success of species could be measure by their numbers, configurations and durability. By all three parameters, Prof. Mayr stressed, the most adaptive systems are those doing fast (non-cognitive) mutations caused by any environmental stress (e.g. varieties of bacteria, creatures stuck in fixed ecological niches, like beetles or some sea biotas), and surviving even larger crises, including cataclysmic events.

But, as we go up the scale of what we assume to be intelligence, the systems are less adaptive and scarcer in number, configuration and durability. Arriving at the top (as we classify the tip of the intelligence pyramid), from low mammals to higher primates, apes and homo sapiens, the species tend to offer a rarifying picture '€” by all three biological success parameters.

By Mayr'€™s account, the average lifespan of upper-intelligence echelons is only around 100,000 years. Out of billions of species that have inhabited and are still inhabiting our planet, we '€” along with other higher primates '€” are late arrivals and temporal '€œaccidents'€. He attributes this to our intelligence, labeling it a '€œlethal mutation'€ '€“ not a blessing but a curse.

Mayr'€™s finding is intriguing: The higher the intelligence, the more likely the species is to end up in self-destruction, once past a certain transition on the curve of initial development.

Our dangerous patterns might seal off the fate for untold numbers of generations and sorts of species to come.

Indeed, our environmental, financial and politico-economic policies and practices created the global stress for us and all other species. Deep and structural, this must be a crisis of our cognitivity. Do we want to prove Mayr right with our global jihad against the cognitive mind?

From Copenhagen, Durban and Rio+20 to the Paris COP21, our conclusion remains the same: We need principles and accorded actions as this is the only way to tackle the grave problems of this planet.

We are lacking the elementary consensus over the Bretton Woods institutions, on the Tobin tax initiative, in the WTO Doha Development round, on nuclear non-proliferation, on the Middle East and the '€œregime change mantra'€, in the IPCC, on the post-Kyoto negotiations and, finally, on the alarming state of the environment. Ergo, on a global scale we fundamentally disagree on the realities of this planet and the ways we can address them.

I am neither moralizing and idealizing, nor agonizing. The world based on agreed principles and commonly willing actions is not a better place. It is the only way for the human race to survive.

We place ourselves in the center of a materialistic world '€” which we perceive as a universe of dead matter. Therefore, what we euphemistically call climate change is actually a brutal war against (living) nature. It is a covert armed conflict since we are predominantly using the so-called monetizing-potent '€œtechnologies'€ instead of firearms.

This armed insurgency is waged against most of what is beautiful and unique on Earth '€” on the planet that gave us time and space enough to survive as a species and to evolve as cognitive life. Thus, the known sustainability matrix of three maximums (of good, of species, and of time) becomes the minimum species, the minimum time with the maximum harm.

Intentionally or not, it is a synchronized attack: We are steadily and passionately polluting our public sphere with the diverting banalities manufactured by the so-called social networks, reality shows, '€œcelebrities'€ and the like '€” trivializing the contents of our lives. At the same time, we are massively contaminating our biosphere (waters, lands, air and near outer space) with non-degradable and/or toxic, solid or aerosol particles, radiation and noise '€” irreversibly harming our habitat.

We pollute time as well, turning it into a cross-generational battlefield: Our dangerous patterns might seal off the fate for untold numbers of generations and sorts of species to come. No wonder our corrosive assertiveness has time-space parallels: acidifying oceans and brutalizing our human interactions, as well as over-noising both of them, are just two sides of a same coin.

Seems we pay for our space (linear possessions) with our time (future). Therefore, our crisis cannot be environmental, as it was never financial '€” our crisis must be a moral one. This is a cognitive deficit crisis, which we eagerly tend to spend in a limbo of denial.

Nature does not change. Change (as a cosmic constant) is nature itself. Still, as even Heraclitus understood, this force is never eruptive nor destructive (explosive), but eternally gradual and constructive (holistic and implosive).

We are drifting, dissolving and retreating on all levels and within each and every organic (marine and continental biota) or inorganic (soil, glaciers, water, polar caps, etc.) system. For the grave and burning planetary problems, our human race needs an urgent and lasting consensus that presupposes bravery, virtue, vision and creativity.

All this will not result from fear of coercion, or from further military ('€œwar on terror'€) confrontations, but from the universally shared willingness to accord importance to our common planetary cause. Cognitive minds can do it all.

Let'€™s start our global war on terror, but this time make it a war on the terror of the global environmental holocaust caused by our cognitive deficit crisis.

The writer is professor in international law and global political studies, Vienna. His book Geopolitics '€“ Energy '€“ Technology, published by LAP in Germany, was just released.

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