Paris: A Sense Of Proportion Is Urgently Needed
By John Scales Avery
24 November, 2015
For more than a week after the terrorist attacks in Paris on 13 November, every television news program of any kind was completely dominated by non-stop day-and-night coverage of the “breaking news”. The attacks, in which 130 people were killed and 80-99 seriously injured, were presented by our mass media with such a concentration of hysteria that they blotted out every other type of news from the public consciousness. The rather small number of people killed or injured by the attackers did not seem to matter. Our corporate-controlled mass media succeeded in robbing us of our sense of proportion.
With the extremely important Climate Conference COP21 starting in the same city, Paris, on 30 November, we urgently need to regain our lost sense of proportion. Is terrorism a great danger to human civilization and the biosphere? Or is it something very small, that has been blow up to a completely disproportionate size by our perfideous mass media in order to sell wars, sell weapons, to undermine civil liberties, and to disenfranchize ordinary citizens?
What are the real dangers? What is their comparative size, in terms of numbers of people involved? Science is unanimous in telling us that out-of-control climate change, thermonuclear war, and large-scale famine are the real threats.
Consider what would happen if the change from fossil fuels to 100% renewable energy is not completed within a few decades: We know from the geological record that there have been 5 mass extinction events during each of which more that half of all living organisms became extinct. The largest of these was the Permian-Triassic event, during which 96% of all marine species became extinct, together wit 70% of all terrestrial vertebrates.
If we do not quickly shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy, we will be in danger of passing a tipping point, beyond which human efforts to control climate change will be useless because feed-back loops such as the albedo effect and the methane-hydrate feedback loop will have taken over. If we do not act quickly and globally to change from fossil fuels to renewable energy, there is a danger of a human-caused 6th mass extinction. The human species might survive such an event by moving to polar or high mountainous regions, but the global population would then be measured in millions rather than in billions. The family trees of most humans living today would die out. Added to this tragedy, would be the tragic loss of most of the animal and plant species which we value today and strive to protect.
Is a shift from fossil fuels to 100% renewable energy possible? Such a shift must come within a century or so because of the exhaustion of coal, oil and gas resources. However, it is vitally important that the change should come quickly, within a very few decades, to avoid a tipping point beyond which climate change would become uncontrollable. Hope that this energy revolution is indeed technically possible comes especially from the current extremely high rates of growth of wind and solar power. If these growth rates are maintained, the transition to renewable energy can be accomplished within two decades.
It is important that the governmental subsidies that are currently paid to fossil fuel corporations should be discussed at COP21. In 2011, these subsidies amounted to more than $500 billion globally, compared with only $88 billion given to support renewable energy initiatives. These proportions must be reversed. In fact, subsidies to fossil fuel corporations ought to be abolished entirely. Given a more level playing field, renewable energy can win simply by being cheaper than fossil fuels.
Let us turn next to the danger of thermonuclear war. Unless nuclear weapons are completely abolished, there will be a continual danger that a catastrophic war of this type may occur by accident or misccalculation. In any given year, this danger is finite, but over a long period of time, the chance that a disaster will not occur becomes vanishingly small. Such a war would be an environmental catastrophe, affecting neutral countries as well as belligerants. Agriculture might be damaged to such an extent that the resulting global famine could involve a large fraction of the world's human population.
Finally, we must consider the threat of a global famine partly due to climate change, but also due to explosively growing human populations and the end of fossil fuels, on which modern high-yield agriculture depends.
Let us hope that attention of the world and the focus of the deligates at the Paris Climate Conference will not be distracted by pseudo-threats, and will instead look seriously at the real threats which the world is facing. We urgently need a sense of proportion.
John Avery received a B.Sc. in theoretical physics from MIT and an M.Sc. from the University of Chicago. He later studied theoretical chemistry at the University of London, and was awarded a Ph.D. there in 1965. He is now Lektor Emeritus, Associate Professor, at the Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen. Fellowships, memberships in societies: Since 1990 he has been the Contact Person in Denmark for Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. In 1995, this group received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. He was the Member of the Danish Peace Commission of 1998. Technical Advisor, World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe (1988- 1997). Chairman of the Danish Peace Academy, April 2004. http://www.fredsakademiet.dk/ordbog/aord/a220.htm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org