Do we have enough time and wisdom to avoid catastrophe?

Human being is perfectly capable of an imprudent and insane behavior; from now on, we may fear all, absolutely all, even the annihilation of human species. 

On August 8, 2021, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its report, which is made every two years, on the Earth’s climate situation, the result of the research of more than one hundred experts from 52 countries. Never has the document been as clear as it is now, unlike previous reports. It was previously stated that it was 95% certain that global warming was anthropogenic, that is, of human origin. Now, it is supported without restrictions that it is the consequence of human beings and their way of inhabiting the Earth, especially due to the use of fossil fuels (oil, coal, and gas) and other negative factors.

The setting is dramatic. The Paris Memorandum of Understanding specifies that countries must “limit warming below 2˚ C, and strive to limit it to 1.5˚ C”. The current report hints that it will be difficult, but that we have scientific knowledge, technological and financial capacity to face climate change, if everyone, countries, cities, companies and individuals commit themselves seriously now.

The current situation is worrying. In 2016, global greenhouse gas emissions amounted to about 52 gigatons of CO2 annually. If we do not change the current course, in 2030 we will reach 52-58 gigatons. At this level, there would be a tremendous destruction of biodiversity and a proliferation of bacteria and viruses like never before.

To stabilize the climate at 1.5 centigrade, scientists say, emissions would have to be cut in half (25-30 gigatons). Otherwise, with the Earth on fire, we will know frightening extreme events.

I am of the opinion that science and technology alone are not enough to reduce greenhouse gases. It would be to believing too much in the omnipotence of science that until today has not been able to confront Covid-19 fully. Another paradigm of relationship with nature and the Earth is urgent, which is not destructive but rather friendly and in subtle synergy with the rhythms of nature. This would force a radical transformation of the current, capitalist, mode of production, which still operates largely with the illusion that Earth’s resources are unlimited and that they therefore allow a growth / development project that is also unlimited. Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Sì: on the care of the Common Home (2015) denounces this premise as a “lie” (No. 106): a limited planet, in an advanced degree of degradation and overpopulated, does not tolerate an unlimited project. Covid-19 in its deepest meaning requires us to put into action a paradigmatic conversion.

In the encyclical Fratelli tutti (2021) Pope Francis understands this warning of the virus. He opposes two projects: the current one, of modernity, whose paradigm consists of making the human being a dominus (owner and lord) of nature, and the new one that he proposes, that of making him a frater (brother and sister), including everyone, humans and other beings in nature. This new paradigm of the planetary frater would found a fraternity without borders and a social love. If we do not make this journey, “no one will be saved” (No. 32).

The big question is this: does the globalized capitalist mode of production show political will, does it have sufficient capacity and reasonableness to allow this radical change? This capitalist system has become dominus (maître et possesseur for Descartes) of the Earth and all its resources. Their mantras are the highest possible profit, achieved by fierce competition, accumulated individually or corporately, through a devastating exploitation of natural goods and services. This mode of production originated the climate lack of control and, what is worse, a culture of capital, of which in some way we are all hostages. How do we get out of it to save ourselves?

We have to change, if not, according to Zygmunt Bauman, “we are going to swell the procession of those who are heading towards their own grave.”

Logically, this urgent paradigm conversion takes time and implies a transformation process, since the entire system is greased to produce and consume more. However, time for change is expiring. Hence, the sentiment of the world of big names, whose unquestionable credibility is not one of simple pessimism, but of well-founded realism. I quote some of them:

The first one is Pope Francis who warned in the Fratelli tutti : “We are in the same boat, either we are all saved or no one is saved” (No. 32).

The second one is the formulator of the theory of the Earth as a living superorganism, Gaia, James Lovelock, whose last title says it all: Gaia: final alert (Intrinsic, Rio 2010).

The third is Martin Rees, Royal Astronomer of the United Kingdom: Our final hour: will the 21st century be the last of humanity? (Critic, 2004); comment is unnecessary.

The fourth is Eric Hobsbawm, one of the most renowned historians of the 20th century, who at the end of The Era of Extremes (Companhia das Letras, SP 1995) says, “We don’t know where we are going. However, one thing is clear: if humanity wants to have a meaningful future, it cannot be by prolonging the past or the present: if we try to build the third millennium on this basis, we will fail. And the price of failure, that is, of change in society, is darkness” (p. 562). This warning applies to all those who think of the post-pandemic as a return to the old and perverse normality.

The fifth is the well-known French geneticist Albert Jacquard with his book, Has the countdown already begun? (Le compte à retours at-il commencé?, Stock, Paris 2009). He states, “We have a limited time, and by having worked against ourselves we run the risk of forging an Earth in which none of us would like to live. The worst is not certain, but we have to hurry” (quarter cover).

Finally, one of the last great naturalists, Théodore Monod in his book And if the human adventure were to fail (Et si l’aventure humaine devait échoure , Grasset, Paris 2003) affirms: “Human being is perfectly capable of foolish and insane behavior; from now on we can fear everything, absolutely everything, even the annihilation of the human species ”(p. 246).

The cosmogenesis and anthropogenesis processes also led to the emergence of faith and hope. They are part of the total reality. They do not invalidate the aforementioned warnings, but they open another window that assures us that “the Creator created everything out of love because he is the passionate lover of life” (Wisdom 11, 26). That faith and that hope allow Pope Francis to speak “beyond the Sun” with these words: “Let us walk singing, that our struggles and our concern for this planet do not take away the joy of hope” (Laudato Sì, no. 244). The hope principle overcomes all limits and keeps the future always open. If we cannot avoid climate runaway, we can take precautions and lessen its most damaging effects. It is what we believe and hope.

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