Climate change will not wait: Will humans survive?

This paper is intended to articulate my perception of the need to
transform our society from a dominator model characterized by a
strong authoritarian hierarchy, “ranking . . . one half of
humanity [men] over the other,” and by war (Eisler, 1987/1995,
pp. xvii, 35) back to a partnership model of egalitarianism (p. 28).
I see this need as urgent and could argue it from any of a number of
perspectives including the current political situation in the United
States; the futility of endless war, in which a list of U.S. military
engagements compiled by Roger Lee (2009) leaves only sixteen calendar
years in which the country has not had its military forces engaged
somewhere, somehow; or the slide towards fascism that Naomi Wolf
(2007) attributes to the George W. Bush administration and which
Barack Obama has not reversed (Greenwald, November 27, 2009). But
today, in this very brief paper, I make this argument from the
perspective of food and global warming.

There is, in fact, considerable question as to how humanity can
continue to feed itself and where the species will find the natural
resources needed to sustain life and lifestyle. Thomas et al. (2004)
estimate that climate change may doom up to a quarter of species in
certain ecosystems, particularly scrublands and temperate forests, to
extinction by 2050. In 2003, the Food and Agriculture Organization
reported that agriculture, as currently practiced, introduces large
quantities of the greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, and methane into
the atmosphere; that as cropland goes out of production, sequestered
carbon will be released into the atmosphere; and that climate change
will impact the distribution of arable land and growing conditions.
While the organization forecasts an increase in the amount of land
suitable for raising crops and was optimistic about the effects of
technological improvement, it acknowledged considerable uncertainty
and it further acknowledged that developing nations faced increased
food insecurity (pp. 78-81). Projections of global warming and its
effects have grown more dire since (Boutin, October 17, 2005,
Eilperin, September 25, 2009; Reilly, March 17, 2009) and the
diversion of crop land from food production to biofuel production,
commodities speculation, and structural adjustment that makes
agriculture uneconomic in poor countries and favors corporate farming
have already combined to produce a food crisis, particularly in the
developing world (Bello & Baviera, 2009). Finally, the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forecasts that the
temperature change predicted as an outcome of the Copenhagen climate
treaty negotiations will result in decreased agricultural production
at all latitudes (Monbiot, December 21, 2009; Schneider, et al.,
2007, p. 790).

Questions about food security, particularly in developing countries,
and environmental quality accompany a projected rise in the world’s
population to anywhere from nine to twelve billion people by 2050.
Much of that growth will occur in less developed countries
(Population Reference Bureau, 2009) and a number of developing
countries, including some with food security issues, have largely
Islamic populations (Basri, November 10, 2009). This may exacerbate a
long history of conflict between the West and Islam which already
conflates issues of religion, “terrorism,” militarism,
and nuclear weapons. It has happened before: Riane Eisler (2007)
describes how the formerly “lush green” Sahara was
transformed into a desert in a cycle of receding grasslands that led
herders to war for surrounding territories (pp. 134-135).

In the meantime, the war already being fought in Afghanistan and Iraq
and a “hostile image” of Islam in a right/wrong dichotomy
serve another purpose: just as it formerly used Communism, the West
now uses Islam (Küng, 2004/2009, pp. 3-6; see also Slater, 2009,
pp. 138-139) to support the propaganda of a “seemingly
permanent military threat” that privileges a militaristic
worldview (Mills, 1958/2005, p. 141). This in turn rationalizes
exorbitant military spending—taking up two-thirds of U.S.
discretionary spending in the President’s proposed fiscal year 2011
budget—that exceeds the sum of the next highest spending
nineteen countries combined (Comerford, February 28, 2010; U.S.
Department of State, 2005).

Part of that spending pays for the maintenance of a vast arsenal of
nuclear weapons. President Obama is reportedly planning dramatic cuts
in “redundant” nuclear weapons, but will refuse to adopt
a “no first use” policy. While failing to explain whom it
needs “a credible deterrent” against or how such a
deterrent would actually deter, the U.S. may modernize its stockpile
and its weapons laboratories (Arms Control Association, n.d.; Barnes,
October 29, 2008; Sanger & Shanker, February 28, 2010). But the
context of climate change offers an answer: when billions of starving
and desperate people are on the move, seeking food wherever it may
remain, war may be inevitable, and it is far from out of the question
that a nuclear-armed society facing an overwhelming onslaught may
resort to the use of nuclear weapons in a final act of desperation.
That could well mean the end of our species.

So we the people, as a species, face a profound question. Will we
change our relationships with each other and with the earth on which
we live? In a longer paper—this one is supposed to only be two
or three pages—I could show (and in fact have done so in the
past) that the authoritarian dominator model is bankrupt; it has led
us to crisis in a multitude of respects. In this paper, I have argued
that our attitude towards the earth threatens our survival and leads
to a crisis that exacerbates our tendencies to war. The relationships
between rich countries and poor countries and between humans and the
earth have predominantly been of the dominator model. A partnership
would never have allowed such disparities between rich and poor to
develop, nor would it have been so reckless with the earth. But we
have chosen exploitation and domination and this choice has led us to
a conflict between a recognition of an error that has perpetrated so
much suffering and the greed which perpetuates it.

At this writing, I can only fear that it will be the latter which
will prevail.


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