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Humanity At crossroads: Attitudes
And Climate Change

By Abdul Basit

30 July, 2008

The huge commotion, wide ranging research and intellectual discussions about the collapse of the civilization due to climate change has created apprehension and confusion about the directions humanity should take to overcome the challenges to its existence. The variety of solutions recommended range from technological fantasies to pessimistic resignation about the complete destruction of humanity. The solutions also include invading new planets, as well as constructing polar cities and Noah's model of ark, to sustain life on earth. Most of the solutions are based on the assumption of total collapse, along with the end of civilization and human existence.

Despite these thought-provoking discussions about the influence of climate change on human existence and the solutions to tackle it, we are nearing, as time passes, the verge of a major disaster and the options for solutions are declining. The increasing natural calamities, the concern about the tipping points due to further carbon emissions and its effects on the habitability on earth have created great concerns.

The recent report by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has mentioned that the rate of climate warming over northern Alaska, Canada and Russia could more than triple during the periods of rapid sea ice loss. This has raised concerns about the thawing of permafrost resulting in potential consequences for sensitive ecosystems, human infrastructure and additional release of greenhouse gases. According to IPCC Chairman, Mr. Rajendra Pachauri, "If there is no action before 2012, that's too late. What we do in the next two or three years will determine our future."

Moreover, to aggravate the already precarious situation, the recent global recession starting with mortgage crises in the US, the worldwide fall in share markets, the plunging value of currencies and the rising prices of fossil fuels have all created great uncertainty and concern about bankruptcy and serious economic consequences on society. This has also resulted in the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots.

The depleting natural resources, including water and agricultural yield that are essential to sustain life, have resulted in rising food prices, poverty, inflation, refugee crises and food riots in many countries. The knee-jerk reaction to counter climate change that has resulted in many countries investing large portions of land for biofuel cultivation has also influenced the global food crises and price rise. The reducing carrying-capacity of earth due to rising population and over exploitation of the natural resources due to capitalist model of economic development and consumer culture have also added to the crises. The unrestricted profit-driven lust of multinational companies and corporations notwithstanding the pollution and damage caused to air, water and land by their activities has also added to the crises.

The arrogant policies of the world's sole superpower and uncertain political atmosphere in the International Arena, the resulting wars in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, and the looming war against Iran have affected societies and environments around the world. This policy of economic exploitation and military subjugation of weaker nations by the powerful nations with the assistance of international organizations have created lots of inequalities and conflicts. Deteriorating relationship between the different religious, racial and ideological communities, as well as the growing social fragmentation and sectarian divisions in different parts of the world, have resulted in civil wars, violence and social unrest. The controversy created by Danish cartoons and the movie by Wilders in the name of freedom of expression and the counter reactions from the Islamic world have created further hatred and suspicions among different religious communities.

Taking into consideration the above factors and in spite of the ever growing deterioration to the habitability of earth due to climate change and its consequences on the existence of humankind, the action to counter the crises have not yet started due to the concepts and attitudes that are prevalent in the modern society, such as the competition and hatred that influence the relationship between individuals, societies and nations.

The important question is that, if all these incidents are signaling the gathering storm that will indeed lead to the collapse of civilization and in turn the end of human existence on this planet, what are the obstacles that are hindering actions to confront this crises?

Attitudes and Climate Change

Once we explore in-depth into the present predicament, we realize that all the problems mentioned above are interrelated. And the fundamental reasons for these problems and inertia for taking actions to counter climate change are due to the human attitude and concepts that have in turn influenced his relation with nature.

The pollution and climatic changes that we see in the environment are due to the human actions since the industrial revolution. The fundamental outlook about life, the materialistic ideologies that influenced the thought process, western concepts of economic development, the individual conditioning through the education system, influence of the prevalent money oriented mind-set on the society, the fascinating scientific and technological strides that changed the way of life and improved standard of living have all played a major role in evolving the human attitude. Due to these reasons, over-exploitation of nature and natural resources were considered as means to attain economic and individual prosperity without any consideration to the well being of the environment. The blessings bestowed by nature were considered to be unlimited that will never get exhausted. This attitude resulted in the climate crises that we are facing.

The consumerist lifestyle, competition and fragmentation that are the products of capitalism influenced individual, social and national life. These influences, along with overexploitation of the resources, resulted in chaos, hatred and wars that negatively impacted humanity and nature alike.

To sum up, we can conclude that the various forms of pollution, climatic changes and many of the crises faced by the humanity are due to the pollution that was embedded into the human mind by the western materialistic ideologies. Even though with scientific and technological progress humanity was able to control the air, land and oceans, as well as conquer far off planets, it failed to control its own mind set and thought processes that, while the source of many wonderful scientific and technological inventions, created many negative traits that infected our society. As a result, these advancements were used in creating hatred and consumer culture. They also were used in manufacturing weapons of mass destruction and enhancing the overexploitation of natural resources and polluting environment. This is the basic reason for the present predicament humanity is facing. If we have to change, the change must come in the mind set within ourselves. The solution to climate crises requires lots of sacrifices in our lifestyle and consumerist culture. The attitudinal changes that affected different sections of the society can be classified as follows:

Individual Level

Due to the transformation in the individual outlook of life and economic prosperity of 20th century and especially after the end of cold war and the influence of the capitalism, globalization, consumerist model of life, economic activities became a way of life instead of means of sustenance,. The technological advancement and improvement in the standard of living provided opportunities and, at the same time, enhanced the economic activities of the individuals for improving the standard of life and attaining those opportunities.

Meanwhile, economic activities got preference over other activities. Creativity and spirituality got sidelined and were degraded to serve as tools for attaining monetary and material benefits. The career oriented education system further ensured the belief and commitment to these economic activities. The perspective of life that developed through this education system and resulting social setup are some of the major reasons for the present predicament. What has been hitherto taught from preliminary schooling onwards is the methods of moneymaking and attainment of material benefits as aims of life, irrespective of the effect of our activities on the earth and its environment.

This dominant perception that the hectic pursuits and desire for monetary and material earnings are the basic aim of life is the root cause for all problems and is the greatest hindrance to any actions to counter the consequences of climate change. This perception is also the main reason for the failure of world leaders in convincing their citizens to make hard, unpopular decisions to implement policies to reduce carbon emission in order to counter climate change. We cannot expect the required actions and reforms from leaders like George Bush, who are part of this dominant mentality and who are in no way willing to sacrifice the so-called economic growth in order to take measures to reduce carbon emission and dependence on fossil fuel.

So if we have to find solution to the pressing problems facing humanity, it is binding on us to create a right perspective of life. To confront the dominant materialistic mentality, we have to find answers to some fundamental questions about life and create the right perspective about the basic concept and attitude of life on this planet. As a transit point between birth and death, what should be the aim of individuals on this planet? Is our existence on this planet only for the aggressive pursuit of material benefits with disregard to the nature and other co-species? Or do we have something beyond materialistic pursuit that will provide the true fulfillment and meaning to our life? As the consumerist competition and the fragmentation in the society have created all-round suffering to humanity and environment, what is the true path and method of sustainable development that will rescue the humanity from the present crises?

Social & National Level

Due to the lack of time and the magnitude of crises that is to be addressed, we don't have the time and resources to wait for the benevolence of every individual to reform in order to implement measures and policies to counter climate change. So, it is essential that the communities and governments frame and implement policies to regulate the individual's consumerist lifestyle and their consumption habits. By this, it does not infer that we install an autocratic regime to implement totalitarian policies. As the magnitude of the crises involves the very existence of human race, it is essential that we sacrifice and regulate most of our comforts to reduce carbon emissions and its impact on the climate. This is essential for sustaining human existence and for the well being of the future generations. The governments and community leaders have a major role to play in this regard. Yet the question remains as to whether they have a vision and resolve to take the required measures.

Moreover, we have to address the attitudes that have/are influencing societies and governments. As the influence of capitalism has been omnipresent and omnipotent, it has not left any part of human activity or human society untouched. While individuals were trained and conditioned to materialistic lifestyle, the governments played their part by modifying the social structure and by installing profit-driven materialistic system and propagating consumerist lifestyle. The success of communities and nations depended upon how far they exploited nature and cleared forests to construct multiple lane highways, industrial parks and high rise skyscrapers. The economic growth depended upon the amount of pollution released in the atmosphere by ever increasing number of factories and power stations. Nations had to pollute the environment to alleviate poverty and for economic and social development. The recent economic growth of emerging giants like China and India and their increased pollution and emission proves that the economic development is directly proportional to pollution and environmental degradation. The farmlands and forests were converted to concrete jungles. We polluted air, water and agricultural land that are essential for basic existence to manufacture secondary and luxury products. And despite the damage of these industries on nature, we are in no mood to sacrifice. The choice now in front of us is between the whether we are willing to sacrifice all these comforts, gadgets and automobiles for the sake of our very existence or to not do so. The future of humanity depends upon how far we regulate our consumerism and change our lifestyle.

Taking into account the seriousness of the situation, governments and community leaders should overhaul their policies and restructure the societies in order to reduce carbon emissions. The delaying tactics like the decision at the G-8 conference in which they decided to reduce carbon emission by fifty percent by 2050 will not help the humanity in any way. As Al Gore mentioned, we have to have ZERO carbon economy within ten years to counter the serious climatic fluctuations. Yet contrary to this, what we see is the ever increasing demand for fossil fuels, further exploration in the Arctic locations for crude oil by US, Russia, Canada, Norway and Denmark, along with growing industrialization. So the question remains about the path that we can take to reduce carbon emission.

A sustainable system of economic development can only be attained if we get rid of the materialistic economic system and replace consumerism, materialism and fragmentation to instead build a society based on simplicity, cooperation and mutual understanding. We have to reassess our goals and means of individual fulfillment with more emphasis to creativity and spirituality over economic activities. This reassessment is especially important to address the serious issues of climate change, especially at a time when reports have hinted that many species are becoming extinct every day and the ice cap of the North Pole will disappear very soon.

Beyond technological solutions, the only alternative is to conduct comprehensive awareness about the importance of taking austerity measures and change in lifestyle. This should be followed by implementing policies to regulate economic activities and consumerist lifestyle.

Hatred & The freedom to Extinction

The hatred and conflicts that have influenced the relationships between individuals, societies and nations comprise one of the major obstacles in addressing the crises faced by humanity. Even though, most of the world leaders and International organizations are aware of the climate crises, instead of addressing the issues, their attention is diverted to conflicts and petty disputes that have inflicted irreparable damage to our societies and nations.

While consumerism and materialistic competition has influenced relationship between individuals, the ideological, racial, religious and national interests have created strife between nations and social groups. Although these divisive conflicts dates back to the origin of human existence, the major conflicts, including the two world wars, the cold war of the last century and the recent wars in the Middle East have had a devastating affect on the environment and societies.

The wars and conflicts, especially of the last two centuries, are one of the major reasons for the current predicament of humanity. Along with aggressive economic development, nations enhanced their national identity by subjugating other nations through wars and sanctions. Major share of the national budgets of many countries are invested on defense and for manufacturing WMD and arms race to exhibit their national power. The September eleventh incident and many following incidents prove about how the world will suffer if the national pride of a powerful nation state gets tarnished.

Yet with looming crises of climate change and the new challenges we face, the important question is can we continue to face the challenges to our existence by emphasizing on national and religious identity? Can we address the climatic crises by addressing ourselves as Americans, Arabs, Israelis, Iranians and so on or as Christians, Muslims, Jews? Or should we create a united front above all national and religious confine to address and confront the burning issues that humanity as a whole is facing? Do the national and racial identities have any relevance or meaning while the very existence of humanity is at stake?

The attitudinal change about the stress on national, racial and religious identities and the resulting tensions has led to many conflicts and social chaos. If we want to overcome the challenges, it is highly essential to create a united front to end these conflicts so that we can concentrate our resources and energy in countering climate change. Otherwise we will see great contradictions in the international arena, where, on the one hand, G-8 conference decides to reduce carbon emissions by fifty percent and, on the other hand, some nations like Iran and Israel are preparing for new round of dangerous conflicts by conducting military rehearsals and missile tests.

While the arrangements between nation states are deteriorating towards more conflicts, there is a meaningless attempt to complicate relations, as well as create tensions and hatred between different religious groups, in the name of freedom of expression. The cartoons that came in the Dutch newspapers about the prophet of Islam to provoke the Muslim community and the reactions from the Muslim countries are a matter of great concern. These so called apostles of freedom of expression and religious bigots are inflaming the already self-consuming hatred. These hate mongers are in fact enemies of humanity and are ensuring the extinction of humanity. Their activities are diverting attention from the serious issues and creating strife among communities, which will only further complicate and create hindrance in finding solutions to climate crises and lead us to the route to extinction.

The unity of different religious communities including Christians, Muslims, Jews and Hindus are essential to address the serious issues affecting humanity. It must develop now.

American Elections

The world is closely watching the American elections after experiencing one of the most disastrous administrations in the history of American and world politics. The extensive damage caused by the eight years of misrule by the Bush administration has not only worsened the situation of the American people and shaken the very foundation of American nation, but it has also caused sufferings to people of different countries much beyond its borders, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. The so-called war on terrorism has only created insecurity and tension.

As the sole superpower, whose policies and actions have influenced and affected the societies and nations world over, the major responsibility for changing the attitudes and policies of consumerist lifestyle and the capitalist culture that has been propagated through globalization lay in the shoulder of the American people and the leaders they elect. This is obvious.

So, taking into account the different aspects of the current crises, including environmental, economic, conflicts, and other related crises, it is important how the next President of the United States addresses these issues. Despite the adverse and supportive comments about Barack Obama, can he deliver on his promise for change? Can he unite the International community and address the serious challenges faced by climate change? Can Obama end the hatred and assorted strife that have affected the relationship between nations and religious societies? Can he unite the world to address the serious challenges to everyone's existence?

The Role of International Organizations

The international organizations have a major role to play in creating awareness about the serious consequences due to climate change and helping national governments in framing policies to reduce carbon emission, as well as to regulate the consumerist lifestyles in the societies. In order to play a neutral and proactive role, they should also overcome the dominance of the interests of certain superpowers and address the core issue of guiding humanity through these existential crises.

The double standards on certain issues due to permanence of some nations in the Security Council have negatively affected the image of the international organizations. These organizations can no longer act as agents of superpowers in that they must take a major role in saving humanity from the climate crisis. The world body, including organizations like the United Nations, should represent the interests of all the nations and reduce conflicts between nations and religious communities, as well as play a mediatory role on the basis of justice for all. Preventing conflicts, reducing strife and friction between nations, along with enhancing relations based on mutual understanding between religious communities is essential and uniting them to face the challenges of our time are some of the important functions that the UN and other influential groups have to take up as a central responsibility. Along with that, the UN, through the IPCC, can provide information and policy guidance to counter climate change, provide encouragement towards creation of zero-carbon emission and pose ways to develop sustainable and eco friendly economies for its member nations. Most important of all, it can compel nations to take speedy measures before it is too late.

The Future of Humanity

Our generation has been the most pampered in the history of human kind due to technological and scientific developments, along with new inventions, that improved productivity and lifestyle. And this same generation has been assigned the defining task of sustaining life on this planet.

Humanity is at crossroads. Gone are the days of extravaganza due to the unlimited supply of natural resources from nature and the habitable and comfortable climate that we had taken for granted. If we continue with the same attitudes and policies that we hitherto followed we are on the road to self-destruction.

If we change our attitudes, lifestyle and policies to take necessary measures in order to create a society based on equality, sustainable development and peace, we still have the chance to maintain life on this planet. Beyond superficial steps, we need a total change to face the challenges of climate change. Dr. Rajendra Pachauri had recently advised the world to change lifestyle by implementing certain measures, including riding a bike and being a frugal shopper in order to help brake global warming. It is about time that the world takes immediate steps to bring this huge profit driven capitalist system to a grinding halt and peddle our way back to a bright and sustainable future.


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