How to Avoid the Coming Environmental and Economic ‘Perfect Storm’ – It is quite possible that by the year 2100 human life will have become extinct or will be confined to a few residential areas that have escaped the devastating effects of nuclear holocaust or global warming. —Brian Barry
Evolution equipped us to deal with threats from dependably loathsome enemies and fearsome creatures, but not with the opaque and cumulative long-term consequences of our own technological and demographic success. As cartoonist Walt Kelly once put it, “We’ve met the enemy, and he is us.”
Deforestation, agriculture, and the combustion of fossil fuels have committed the world to a substantial and possibly rapid warming that will last for hundreds or thousands of years. Rising temperatures, whether gradual or sudden, will progressively destabilize the global climate system, causing massive droughts, more frequent storms, rising sea level, loss of many species, and shifting ecologies, but in ways that are difficult to predict with precision in a nonlinear system. These changes will likely result in scarcities of food, energy, and resources, undermining political, social, and economic stability and amplifying the effects of terrorism and conflicts between and within nations, failed states, and regions.
Action to head off the worst of what could occur is difficult because of the complexity of nonlinear systems, with large delays between cause and effect, and because of the political and economic power of fossil fuel industries to prevent corrective action that would jeopardize their profitability. Political leadership has been absent in large part because no government is presently organized to deal with the permanent emergency of climate destabilization. The effects of procrastination will fall with increasing weight on coming generations, making our role as the primary cause of worsening climate destabilization the largest moral lapse in history.
Climate destabilization is not just an issue of technology and policy, but a symptom of deeper problems rooted in our paradigms, philosophies, and popular delusions. In particular, a great deal of the conventional economic wisdom—including “neoliberalism,” the “Washington consensus,” and the prevailing faith in infinite economic growth—has been proved wrong in many ways and tragically so for the poorest.