3E Intelligence

Two articles in the Guardian are worth spending a bit more time on today.

The first “Civilisation ends with a shutdown of human concern. Are we there already?” is by environmental journalist George Monbiot and deals with the UNEP’s recent report on the state of the planet. Read also my own recent comments on this very gloomy GEO-4 assessment.

Looking at the challenge to feed 9 billion people in the future with increasing phosphate, oil and water scarcity, Monbiot asks the very relevant question: “how, unless we engineer a sudden decline in carbon emissions, are we going to feed the world? How, in many countries, will we prevent the social collapse that failure will cause?”

But do we REALLY care and are we ready to act is his next question. Monbiot is pessimistic and also hits out at the media and in particular the BBC which drops an environmental programme for fear of breaching its impartiality guidelines but continues bringing shows on fast cars and big travel. “The media, driven by fear and advertising, are hopelessly biased towards the consumer economy and against the biosphere“, says Monbiot. I could not agree more.

In the end what is happening is a “hardening of interests, a shutting down of concern, is taking place among the people of the rich world. If this is true, we do not need to wait for the forests to burn or food supplies to shrivel before we decide that civilisation is in trouble“.

Of course, this “shutting down of concern” could also happen because people and politicians are getting fed up with the doom and gloom implications of climate change (and most of them are not even aware of the equally important danger of energy scarcity, although with oil prices moving within the next weeks to three figures, there might be a psychological shock). Maybe this denial is just an effective form of protecting yourself and being able to continue to function.

At political level, there is another reaction comparable to the 1930s appeasement of Hitler according to the second Guardian article written by economics editor Larry Elliott. One year after Blair presented the Stern report with a lot of urgency and political spin, the Labour government has not really delivered and there are signs that it will even water down its promises on renewables.

Elliott continues: “one way to characterise the government’s approach to climate change is to compare it to that of the Chamberlain government in the late 1930s. Once it became clear that Britain really could not do business with Hitler, rearmament began, but the process was half-hearted.

Right up until the moment war was declared, Chamberlain hoped something would turn up, that somebody else, Stalin perhaps, would do Britain’s dirty work for it. And, to be fair, he had public opinion with him. There was scant appetite in the Britain of late 1938 or early 1939 for war with Germany, just as there is now no great clamour from the public for the lifestyle changes that would be necessary to make the sort of drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions that Stern and others say are needed.”

The government has a choice, a very stark choice. It should be aware, though, that when it comes to climate change appeasement makes no more long-term sense than it did at Munich in 1938“, is Elliott’s strong conclusion.

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