The Most Crucial and Exciting Time To Be Alive.
I want to argue through PS-Humanitas that we are now facing the greatest challenges humans have ever faced, yet, despite the overwhelming evidence and information that has never been so widely disseminated, most of us are still behaving as if we were living in normal times. Is it really sensible to ignore such dire warnings from climate scientists who are now pretty much unanimous and have spent their lives studying climate? Yet again, most people are not stupid, nor grossly irresponsible and if there is one thing they care about it is the future of their children. How can we explain this? And what can we do about it? Is PS- Humanitas a mad scheme? Or is it worth pursuing? If you have time I would be grateful if you would read at least the first two paragraphs of this post (about 3000 words) and let me have your reaction either through the contact form on this website or by messenger or e mail to email@example.com Would be great if I could be persuaded it is nonsense and I could concentrate on my garden with easy conscience. I am not crazy enough to think I am going to save the world. But I want to do what little I can to avert the immense horror that, I fear, is coming.
The scientists and environmental campaigners keep on issuing these dire warnings but are people listening? I want to try something different.
- I believe in Adam Smith’s dictum that if you want to spread what he called ‘the amiable virtue of humanity’ and ‘benevolence’, trading is better than preaching. So we’d sell pants and socks as a way of disseminating our message.
- The term was invented by Coleridge as a name for a community of idealists he wanted to start in America, but as they were mostly hopelessly impractical opium addicts, not least himself, it never got off the ground.
- We’d buy the stock as cheaply as we could but these garments would not be the cheapest because they are organic and fair trade. Cotton is extremely vulnerable to the cotton boll weevil which can easily be controlled by heavy pesticide use which, in turn, makes cotton a damaging crop to other wildlife. Growing it organically, especially if you don’t pay your workers pittances, or even worse use slaves, is neither cheap nor easy.
- All our packing and despatching would be done by unpaid volunteers and all profits go to good causes, such as feeding starving kids in Yemen.
- I see this as more than just trade but an experiment in the future. Automation is now advancing so fast within ten years half the current workforce could be unemployed. Traditionally, as industry became more automated redundant workers found jobs in service industries. But now the machines are taking them over as well. There is a programme called Stats Monkey that can write sports reports on a recent game indistinguishable from a human commentator, clichés and all. There are already sushi bars in Japan, and soon will be coffee bars here, totally innocent of human hand (see Martin Ford ‘The Rise of the Robots’). Even insurance companies will be almost totally automated. This could be a world of terrifying insecurity. But it could also open a future in which people don’t look to money and possessions as sources of their self-identity, but instead to becoming more generous and humane. Hopefully you’d be able to buy our pants and socks in shops or on line. .
I can hardly believe what I am writing. Surely this is doom and gloom gone mad. Or is it?
- We are about to enter the most crucial decade in human history. On the one hand the scientists are almost unanimously telling us, now with overwhelming evidence, that unless we can rein in fossil fuels we shall unleash unstoppable runaway global warming and bequeath an unliveable future to our children, and, even worse, in a couple of centuries climate change will inexorably lead to the extinction of human and most other forms of life. We have reached the crucial moment. With Trump’s fall President Biden has launched a new initiative to try to honour the Paris agreement. Even the major polluting countries have responded positively. But will they take the necessary action? Will all those Americans who voted for trump back Biden? His plans will not succeed unless they are supported by most of the world’s ordinary people. How many realise that half measures are useless? We have to go all out to resolve this or not at all.
- On the other hand, if we can only get over this hump there are so many wondrous inventions in the pipeline if we can only rise to this great challenge, our children will enter a truly wonderful new world. It is our fate to choose. Remarkably, most people don’t seem that bothered. You don’t hear much note of alarm about this crisis from the papers and there is little mention on TV. Yet most people aren’t stupid or grossly irresponsible and if there is one thing they care about it is the future of their children. How can we explain this?
Nor is global warming the only challenge coming our way in this remarkable decade that is about to unfold.
- Nuclear war. The world is now more dangerous than it was at the time of the Cuban missile crisis. More countries have nuclear weapons than they did then. Missiles are far more accurate and cyber warfare may well make it possible to disable another country’s defence systems before they can even launch their missiles. Are we really prepared with our 64 (?) nuclear warheads to take on China’s vast arsenal? Would the U.S. put its own security at risk to help the UK, any more than it did at the time of Suez? Yet we seem much less fearful of nuclear war than people were when they followed Bertrand Russell at the time of the Aldermaston peace marches. Have we gone to sleep? Or is the nightmare too terrifying? And what can we do to diminish the risk?
- Because humans are chopping down forests and coming into contact with new animal diseases to which we have no immunity, epidemiologists are warning us covid 19 might well not be the last pandemic. If bird flu learnt how to spread from human to human, as it well might given the rates of virus mutation, it is thought it would kill 20/30% of the world’s population. Are we as worried as we should be?
- Soil degradation is now increasing so fast even The Farmer’s Weekly carried a headline in October 2104 “Only 100 Years of Farming Left in the UK”. According to the Soil Association the world is losing 2 soccer pitches of top soil a minute. Climate change, chemical farming and over-cropping are destroying our future capacity to feed ourselves. But is it true that if we eat less meat and turn back to organic farming, organic could easily feed the world despite much mythology to the contrary? What are the rights and wrongs of organic?
- Climate Change. The scientists are now warning us, virtually unanimously, that unless we act far more urgently to halt global warming we are preparing a terrifying future – severe floods and searing droughts, terrifying category 5 even 6 hurricanes, sea level rises that will drown coastal cities and much of the world’s most fertile land, hundreds of millions, yes hundreds of millions they say, of climate refugees. Are most people striving urgently before all else – should they be? – to halt the rise in emissions before we trigger runaway climate change? Once that takes hold feedback mechanisms will cause each increased degree of heat to lead to the next, and inexorably to the end of human and most forms of life. (see Mark Lynas “Six Degrees: our Future on a Hotter Planet”). Or is all this exaggerated? In any case, judging from social media and the papers, we’re not that bothered it seems. According to the International Energy Agency carbon emissions are set to soar by the second biggest margin in history in 2021. No matter? Too far away? In the future?
- Species loss. We are heading for a sixth global extinction of life, this time caused by humans. At present rates, at least 40% of species will be lost by the end of the century. According to the 2020 State of Nature report we are ‘tearing apart the tapestry of life’. Living forms are so intricately inter-connected, we are signing our own death warrant too. Destroying in a few decades so many beautiful life forms that took millions of years to evolve is surely the worst crime humans have ever committed and we’re all indirectly involved. But just like the frequenters of coffee houses in the eighteenth century who enjoyed sugar in their coffee and thought little of the slaves who produced it, or the Germans who didn’t know and didn’t want to know about the Holocaust, we lament but do little about the demise of the rhino and the elephant and the steep decline in British bees and butterflies. But we do little. That’s the way humans are. Or does it have to be?
- The internet. You would have thought the internet would have widened peoples’ horizons but it has also done the opposite. All too often we live in twitter ghettoes in which people only confirm each others’ prejudices. Conspiracy theories and fake news are rife. You don’t know who to believe any more and politicians have not been slow to exploit this confusion and bewilderment. Truth has been deeply wounded, concerted and decisive action are fatally compromised. How can we deal with this problem?
But on the other hand –
A most wonderful future is opening before us if we can only get over this present hump. Nuclear fusion may well not be now so far off, totally environmentally safe electricity really will be too cheap to meter. Lab cultured meat and fish will be on the market within ten, even five, years and is already being sold in Indonesia. It sounds pretty disgusting but it will improve. There could be a farming future in which most farms grow organic vegetables and a few specialists very high-grade grass-fed meat (grass stores carbon). At least some of the UK could return to forest and wild life would flourish. There will be artificial bacteria doing all sorts of jobs, not least cleaning up the carbon that is already in the atmosphere. High rise towers in cities could become green oases growing trees on the balconies, there are already examples in Milan. Tomatoes are already being grown in the Australian desert using piped desalinated sea water. Israel has already developed desalination plants that are delivering fresh water to most of its population. Electric cars will be ubiquitous and dirty air in cities a thing of the past. Electric cars are on the verge of using batteries that can be charged up in five minutes. In a time of mass automation, we would have more time for each other and even cultivating our sensibilities through the arts. Progress is even being made on hydrogen planes. It’s never going to be as good as kerosene. Passengers will be fewer and cargo less, and long-haul flights will have to be done in stages, but we will still fly, and who knows what inventions there will be that nobody has as yet even thought of? Scientists are already making progress on developing enzymes that break down plastic. We could clean up the seas and the creatures of the ocean so currently under threat will flourish. Yet none of it will happen if the world is overtaken by runaway climate change, and we continue to tear down forests, don’t abandon fossil fuels, keep on polluting the oceans with plastic waste and pathetically stand by as the bees and butterflies die. But it doesn’t have to be like that. We have the technology we need but we must want to use it if we are to radically change course. I want to inspire you. We can still make this great turn around. But we have to want to do it and be prepared to make sacrifices meantime. We can save the world for our children. How exciting is that?
What Can We Do?
- You might well feel that these problems are so vast the ordinary person can do little about them. This is a mistake.
Despite fire walls, in the age of the internet even ordinary people can reach across the globe. We can all make a contribution. If we are to save ourselves we need to create a more tender, more feeling world, both for each other and the other plants and animals with whom we share the planet. We have to start loving the earth and all its inhabitants instead of exploiting it. It is ourselves that we should most earnestly consider.
- Above all we should not despair but address this unparalleled situation. Human beings are capable of almost anything once they put their minds to it. We need to think in terms of a new attitude to life. As the machines take over more and more of our lives we need to cultivate our humanity and in a globalized world we need to reach out to all humanity. While there are any communities on earth decimated by pandemics the whole of humanity is at risk, but this applies to more than pandemics. As never before we are all in this life together.
- Most importantly, we need to change our attitude to animals, not biological machines to be manipulated solely for our benefit but fellow inhabitants of the earth.
- We need to think more about our history, for the present was made by the past. In the UK we can do little directly about the climate crisis, for we are only a minor polluter. But we can lead the world in developing a more determined attitude to it, and a new kind of life. But we cannot compromise. Our Government on the one hand announces sweeping green plans for the future, but on the other cuts tax on domestic flights and has abandoned its plans to create greener homes. We cannot afford to allow politics to continue to be the art of saying one thing and doing another. The slave trade was surely up there with the Holocaust as the worst crime in history. When it was abolished compensation was given not to the slaves who received nothing but to their former owners, who invested the vast sums they received in the burgeoning Industrial Revolution which was the basis of Britain’s imperial wealth and the origin of the climate crisis of today. Few people have even heard of the Benin and Mossi and the great pre-colonial African empires. True, they practised slavery before we did. But they were not uncivilized. In 1697 the Portuguese captain Lourencon Pinto reported:
Great Benin where the king resides is larger than Lisbon, all the street are straight and as far as the eye can see. The houses are large, especially that of the king, which is richly decorated and has fine columns. The city is healthy and industrious. It is so well governed that theft is unknown and the people live in such security that they have no doors to their houses.
Compare London at the same time. Ron Eglash, author of African
When Europeans first came to Africa they considered the architecture very disorganized and thus primitive. It never occurred to them that the Africans might have been using a form of mathematics they hadn’t yet even discovered.
The Mossi Empire in today’s Burkino Faso was a great trading empire straddling the trade routes of Africa, with a highly organized administrative system and remarkable art works.
The Benin empire, already well in decline, was finally destroyed by British and French soldiers in 1897, the countries they colonized, in the name of Adam Smith’s free trade ironically and hypocritically enough, turned into market gardens for the benefit of their conquerors and their art looted. If the western countries had only traded as Adam Smith wanted instead of siesing them at the muzzle of the Maxim gun, what great civilizations might they have again been today?
- We have a lot to apologize for. The evil that men do lives after them and history does not die. If you do not want to be its victim you must own it in order to escape from it. But we did a lot of good things too and there is little value in beating our breasts. Yet precisely because we have such a questionable past, in Britain we are in a unique position to own it in a penitential frame of mind and move on to a better future. The major polluters would argue that they must use fossil fuels to make their people happier. But in doing so they are going to make them, and us too, unhappier than anybody has ever been. We can set an example to the world of a new attitude to life. If most people in the country thought like this the politicians would act in accordance. Governments in other countries, if not their peoples, are even more wilfully blind than we are. But, even if they are shutting their eyes and repressing their fears, they too know the perils that lie ahead. If one country took a lead others would soon follow.
How Would It Work?
There are plenty of excellent organizations campaigning for more action on climate and more protection for the environment, so there is little point in re-inventing the wheel. I want to concentrate on the moral aspect of the present situation, for this is key to everything else. I want to persuade people that great as the problems are they can be overcome, provided we are prepared to do it. I want to inspire people to believe that this is the most exciting time to be alive there has ever been. But we have to accept that in the short term we are going to have to make sacrifices. Above all our hearts have to catch fire in determination to save the earth for our children. Could anything be more worthwhile?
Either Humanitas won’t catch on in which case let it be consigned to a pauper’s grave (along, all too probably, with the hundreds of millions of starving climate refugees and most of the world’s population). Or it will, in which case how would it work?
- Hopefully, local groups would form, connected on the internet.
- It’s good to concentrate on one issue at a time, especially when the scenario of danger is so vast. There would be six week time sessions, each concentrating on one thing: e.g. what can be done about nuclear weapon proliferation, then butterfly decline, then the (much misunderstood) greenhouse effect, how can organic food be made cheaper, why are people so unconcerned about climate, recipes for vegetarian meals, etc. etc. Each would be accompanied by podcasts or videos. Groups would be encouraged to hold exhibitions, write on local websites on the current topic, get down experts to give talks, hold parties. Above all disseminate concern, determination, optimism and hope.
- It would be good too if they could sell our pants and socks in their localities with message attached.
(Details about Pantisocracy to follow)
Will this work? We can only wait and see.