The World as It Is–And the World as It Could Be
ANNOUNCEMENTS, 5 Apr 2021
John Scales Avery – TRANSCEND Media Service
A New Freely Downloadable Book
I would like to announce the publication of a new book, in which I have tried to contrast the world that we experience today, filled with terrifying existential threats, such as catastrophic climate change, pandemics, all-destroying nuclear war, and the threat of large-scale famine, with the world that we would wish it to be. The book may be downloaded and circulated free of charge from the following link:
The First Version Was Written in 1983
“THE WORLD AS IT IS AND THE WORLD AS IT COULD BE”, in its original form, dates from 1983, and it was the first article that I ever wrote about global problems. My close friend, Keld Helmer-Petersen, an important pioneer of photography as an art form, helped me by improving it and making a Danish translation. We had several hundred 5-page pamphlets printed both in Danish and in English, and we distributed them to our friends. This brought me into contact with a number of important Danish peace activists.
Later, I thought of making an illustrated version of the booklet, and asked several of my friends, who were artists, whether they might be willing to make the illustrations. But before any of my artist friends started on this project, I was able to find images on the Internet that worked quite well. The result was the 32-page version that appears at the end of this book.
Recently the famous Iranian scientist and author, Hassan Fattahi, suggested to me that the small book should be very much enlarged. His idea was the the enlarged book should contain 12 chapters and 365 images, one for each day of the year. The present book is the result of his excellent suggestion. I have approximately, although not completely strictly, followed his plan.
Below are the serious problems discussed in the much-enlarged book, which also proposes solutions.
We give our children loving care, but it makes no sense to do so unless we do everything in our power to give them a future world in which they can survive. We also have a duty to our grandchildren, and to all future generations. We must create a livable future world.
The amazingly rapid growth of science, technology, agriculture and industry has given the world many benefits, but indefinite growth on a finite planet is a logical impossibility, and we have now reached the point where the human success story has become a threat.
Today we are faced with the threat of an environmental mega-catastrophe, of which the danger of catastrophic climate change is a part.
The Climate Emergency
The central problem which the world faces in its attempts to avoid catastrophic climate change is a contrast of time scales. In order to save human civilization and the biosphere from the most catastrophic effects of climate change we need to act immediately, Fossil fuels must be left in the ground. Forests must be saved from destruction by beef or palm oil production. These vitally necessary actions are opposed by powerful economic interests, by powerful fossil fuel corporations desperate to monetize their underground “assets”, and by corrupt politicians receiving money the beef or palm oil industries.
However, although some disastrous effects climate change are already visible, the worst of these calamities lie in the distant future. Therefor it is difficult to mobilize the political will for quick action.
We need to act immediately, because of the danger of passing tipping points beyond which climate change will become irreversible despite human efforts to control it.
It is estimated that two thirds of the world’s peoples currently live under water stress for at least one month each year. Half a billion people now suffer from water shortages and stress for the entire year. Half of the world’s large cities are currently plagued by water scarcity, and the situation is expected to get worse.
The summer water supplies of both China and India are threatened by the melting of glaciers. The Gangotri glacier, which is the principle glacier feeding India’s great Ganges River, is reported to be melting at an accelerating rate, and it could disappear within a few decades. If this happens,the Ganges could become seasonal, flowing only during the monsoon season. Chinese agriculture is also threatened by disappearing Himalayan glaciers, and water tables in China are falling.
The Danger of Large-Scale Famine
Unless efforts are made to stabilize and ultimately reduce global population, there is a serious threat that climate change, population growth, and the end of the fossil fuel era could combine to produce a large-scale famine by the middle of the 21st century.
As glaciers melt in the Himalayas and the Andes, depriving India, China and South America of summer water supplies; as sea levels rise, drowning fertile rice-growing regions of Southeast Asia; as droughts reduce the food production of North America and Southern Europe; as groundwater levels fall in China, India, the Middle East and the United States; and as high-yield modern agriculture becomes less possible because fossil fuel inputs are lacking, the 800 million people who are currently undernourished may not survive at all.
The Need for a New Economic System
It is clear that our present economic system is unsustainable. It is based on fractional reserve banking, which is unjust at the best of times, and which fails entirely when economic growth falters. But never-ending exponential industrial growth on a finite planet is a logical absurdity. We are already using resources at a rate which it would take 1.6 planet earths to replace. We are already undermining the ecological systems which support all of life. Clearly we need a steady-state economic system, rather that one based on never-ending growth.
Our present economic system has led to an unbelievable degree of economic inequality. According to a recent Oxfam report, the 85 richest people in the world have as much as the poorest half of the global population. To to maintain this incredible degree of inequality, both between nations and within nations, military force is used, and democracy is replaced by oligarchy.
War Threatens Our Future
In the long run, because of the enormously destructive weapons, which have been produced through the misuse of science, the survival of civilization can only be insured if we are able to abolish the institution of war.
Because the world spends 1.8 trillion dollars each year on armaments, it follows that very many people make their living from war. This is the reason why it is correct to speak of war as a social institution, and also the reason why war persists, although everyone realizes that it is the cause of much of the suffering that inflicts humanity. We know that war is madness, but it persists. We know that it threatens the future survival of our species, but it persists, entrenched in the attitudes of historians, newspaper editors and television producers, entrenched in the methods by which politicians finance their campaigns, and entrenched in the financial power of arms manufacturers, entrenched also in the ponderous and costly hardware of war, the fleets of warships, bombers, tanks, nuclear missiles and so on.
Science cannot claim to be guiltless: In Eisenhower’s farewell address, he warned of the increasing power of the industrial-military complex, a threat to democratic society. If he were making the same speech today, he might speak of the industrial-military-scientific complex. Since Hiroshima, we have known that new knowledge is not always good. There is a grave danger that nuclear weapons will soon proliferate to such an extent that they will be available to terrorists and even to the Mafia. Chemical and biological weapons also constitute a grave threat.
Nazi racism was built on the idea that Aryans are superior to all other races. But who is to decide? Will not each ethnic group or nation always decide that they themselves are the “chosen people”, loved by God and superior to all others?
It seems to be possible for nations, and the majority of their citizens, to commit the worst imaginable atrocities, including torture, murder and genocide, while feeling that what they are doing is both noble and good.
According to the racist theories that supported these atrocities, it was the duty of philanthropic Europeans to bring civilization and the Christian religion to Africa. Similar theories were used to justify the genocides committed by Europeans against the native inhabitants of the Americas.
Meanwhile, in Europe, almost everyone was proud of the role which they were playing in the world. All that they read in newspapers and in books or heard from the pulpits of their churches supported the idea that they were serving the non-Europeans by bringing them the benefits of civilization and Christianity. On the whole, the mood of Europe during this orgy of external cruelty and exploitation, was self-congratulatory.
Can we not see a parallel with the self-congratulatory mood of the North American people and their allies, who export violence, murder, torture and neocolonialism to the whole world, and who justify it by thinking of themselves as “exceptional”?
The atrocities they committed by the “conquistadors” over the course of three centuries were far too many to be listed here, but there are some that stand out. In the Caribbean, most of the native populations were completely wiped out due to Spanish rapine and diseases. Atrocities against indigenous populations in Latin America continue today.
Later. the industrialized countries of Europe used weapons like the Maxim gun to assert their military dominance over the remainder of the world, which they rapidly carved up into colonies. Hence Hillare Belloc’s cynical couplet, “Whatever happens, we have got The Maxim gun, and they have not.”
Half of the population of Belgian Congo died during the genocidal rule of Leopold II (1825-1909), the king of Belgium who claimed the Congo as his personal property.
Fascism — Then and Now
There are many extremely worrying similarities between fascism in Europe in the 1930’s and the neo-fascism that we can see around us today. For example Donald Trump, according to his first wife, kept a book of Hitler’s speeches beside his bedside, and studied it thoroughly. Today, he imitates Hitler’s rhetoric. The white supremacist supporters of Trump have revived Nazi ideology, language and symbols. Neo-fascism and Neo-Nazism are not confined to the United States, but exist in many countries.
We can review the history of Hitler’s rise to power, and discuss the question of why Germany was allowed to rearm during the period prior to the Second World War. The answer that emerges is the elites and decision-makers in Britain regarded Hitler as a “bulwark against communism”. A revolution had occurred in Russia, and they feared that it might spread elsewhere. What members of the the upper class feared most was the loss of their own privileged positions.
Are there parallels today? In the United States, members of the Republican Party are often relatively wealthy people who fear that socialism would endanger their privileged financial position. Like Hitler and Mussolini, Donald Trump uses rhetoric addressed to the mob to guarantee the privileges of the elite. In return, he is supported by wealthy patrons and corporate oligarchs. Like Hitler, Trump appeals to racism and ultranationalism to gain support.
A World Federation
After the unspeakable horrors of World War II, delegates from 50 Allied nations met in San Francisco California. The purpose of the conference, which took place between 25 April and 26 June, 1945, was to set up an international organization that would be able to abolish the institution of war. However, the Charter which the delegates produced was too weak to achieve this goal. The present UN is a confederation. rather than a federation. It attempts to coerce states by imposing sanctions, a procedure that is neither effective nor just. By contrast, federations make laws that are binding on individuals. Historically, federations have proved to be extremely successful.
Examples of political federations include the European Union, the Federal Republic of Germany, the Swiss Federation, the Russian Federation, the Federal Government of the United States, and the governments of Australia and Brazil.
An effective World Federation would need to have the power to make laws that act on individuals. The International Criminal Court is an important step towards the establishment of a system of international law that acts on individuals rather than on states, and the ICC deserves our wholehearted support.
Ethics for the Future
Humans are capable of tribalistic inter-group atrocities such as genocides and wars, but they also have a genius for cooperation. Cultural evolution implies inter-group exchange of ideas and techniques. It is a cooperative enterprise in which all humans participate. It is cultural evolution that has given our special dominance. But cultural evolution depends on overwriting destructive tribalism with the principles of law, ethics, politeness and kindness. The success of human cultural evolution demonstrates that this is possible. Ethics can overwrite tribalism!
Today we live in a society where global communication is instantaneous, and where countries throughout the world interact economically. We need a global ethical system to match our technologically advanced global society. A society that is technologically advanced, but ethically primitive, will destroy itself. To avert the twin threats of catastrophic climate change and an all-destroying nuclear war, our economic system must be given both an ecological conscience and a social conscience. We must construct a system of international law and governance that is appropriate for a united world. And finally, we need an ethical system in which loyalty to our own family and nation is broadened into loyalty to the large human family that includes all nations and all ethnic groups.
On our small but beautiful earth – made small by technology, made beautiful by nature – there is room for one group only: the family of humankind.
Other Books and Articles about Global Problems Are on These Links:
I hope that you will circulate the links in this article to friends and contacts who might be interested.
John Scales Avery, Ph.D., who was part of a group that shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in organizing the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, is a member of the TRANSCEND Network and Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He is chairman of both the Danish National Pugwash Group and the Danish Peace Academy and received his training in theoretical physics and theoretical chemistry at M.I.T., the University of Chicago and the University of London. He is the author of numerous books and articles both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. His most recent books are Information Theory and Evolution and Civilization’s Crisis in the 21st Century (pdf). Website: https://www.johnavery.info/
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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 5 Apr 2021.
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