We are witnessing the end of the world. Not of planet Earth, but of the world understood as the livable condition of human beings, the number of its individuals and their way of life, shaped by modernity and extended to all (21st century capitalism).
All the manifestations of this end of the world are already present for the most part: melting glaciers and polar ice caps, droughts and desertification, floods that exacerbate their effects, the sea seeping into groundwater, the drying up of aquifers, fires destroying forests, typhoons and new diseases that can no longer be controlled. These are all largely irreversible phenomena.
The ice will continue to melt and will not return for thousands of years, even if emissions cease tomorrow (which they won’t). Aquifers will no longer fill up, rivers will alternate between droughts and rainy periods that become floods. Summers will be increasingly scorching, making ever larger areas of the planet unlivable. Winters will be increasingly stingy with rain, with fires more and more extensive and violent. Today’s situation will worsen, with ups and downs, from year to year, driving more and more of Earth’s inhabitants out of their countries.
The first victims will be agriculture and food, already the main source of emissions (largely for meat production). Food will increasingly be a problem for a growing number of human beings. But industry will fare no better. Both nuclear and fossil energy need water, lots of water. And there is less and less of it available.
Many nuclear power plants are being stopped in France because there is no more water to cool them. In Italy and elsewhere, many gas- and coal-fired power plants will stop because of dry rivers. Without electricity, industry will also stop. We’re not even talking about the conversion from internal combustion to electric of the entire vehicle fleet: 1,300,000,000 cars. Where will the energy to move it and the materials to run it and manufacture it come from if industry won’t be able to work consistently?
What about tourism? What is the point of fabricating winter with artificial snow to produce a fiasco like the Milan-Cortina Olympics? When will traveling to distant lands no longer come with the guarantee of a safe return? What about the military industry, since weapons are the biggest business today? What about major public works? Of all the construction sites that will be opened up under the NRP, there will be nothing left in the end but debts to pay off. Who’s going to pay? All this will result in closures, layoffs, loss of income, with no alternative prospects for employment and production.
Did any of the politicians busying themselves with the fate of the Draghi government, starting with the incumbent himself, mention a single one of these issues while Italy was on fire? Or any entrepreneurs? Or any front page op-ed in a newspaper? Never have “servile praise” for Draghi and “cowardly outrages” against common sense sunk to such depths: a theater of the absurd. Instead, this is what we need to talk about.
If we did, things would take a different turn: no longer would the environment and climate be put at the tail end of the proverbial list of 9 points on which to base a governing program or an election campaign. It would finally be clear that in order to achieve those goals, climate needs to be tackled head-on. How? Each territory, each nation, each continent should strive to contribute to the ecological conversion. But there is a need to find the way to do so, which is not at all as clear as the goals to be pursued; and which is different from country to country, from individual to individual, from business to business.
The target of +1.5°C will not be achieved: we need to prepare for the lesser evil. And the lesser evil is called “adaptation.” That means saving what can be saved while there is still time and leaving behind what is least needed. Starting with organic, multicultural, grassroots agriculture and food, without intensive livestock farming. With caring for the land, reforesting it. With new ways of mobility, forever abandoning the idea of having “one mechanical horse” per person: sustainable mobility means vehicle sharing. And tourism, the world’s largest industry, should go back to being vacationing close by or adventure without comfort. Industry, too, will have to downsize, and with it both the assault on Earth’s resources to fuel it and the multiplication of services to find an outlet for it in consumption. Schools should become a center for training in coexistence and ecological conversion which would be open to all, and health care must shift its focus from treatment to prevention.
As part of such a vision, there would be room for everyone on what is left of the Earth, both to inhabit it and to ensure that each person has a role, an activity, a way to make themselves useful without bowing to the false god of “employment,” which always concerns only a part of the population. But who will have the courage to set out on this path?
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