And the need for economic pragmatism
-If not for environmental consciousness-
Extractivism: The process of removing/extracting materials from their natural environment, like wood, metals and so on. In an environmental context, the term ‘extractivism’ is used -often with a negative connotation – to describe the way(s) in which we are exploiting earth’s natural resources.
It is commonly known and widely accepted that the greenhouse effect, i.e. the continuous increase of global temperatures, has now entered into an uncontrollable trajectory. The global temperatures observed in the years of 2015 and 2016 have rocked the boats of even the most optimistic scientists. Specifically, the last 14 months have been the hottest months recorded since the 19th century, with June 2016 being characterised as the warmest month of that time period. Of the 16 warmest years on record, 15 belong to the 21st century.
The unprecedented Paris agreement, signed by 177 countries on November of 2015, states that in order to avoid a large scale environmental crisis, increase in global temperatures must not exceed the limit of 1.5οC. In the intervening 8 months global temperatures have risen by 1.3οC. The global scientific community is now contemplating the ominous, albeit more realistic limit of 2οC with future outreach to negative emission technologies (i.e. machines and appliances that absorb, instead of emitting CO2).
What do all these – admittedly complex or boring – figures show?
They show that we are officially witnessing an unpredictable, unthinkable and potentially irreversible environmental crisis. I understand that data with a mathematical or scientific quality do not usually impress the average individual. I also understand that that same individual has by now become so familiarised with warnings of a failing planet that he has stopped paying attention. I claim nevertheless that all anyone has to do in order to be convinced is look:
Whether they look at India, which has recently experienced historically unprecedented high temperatures. Or at Pakistan, where predictions for the summer temperatures were so ominous that Pakistani authorities preemptively dug graves in preparation for the people expected to die during the heatwave.
Whether they look at Australia where the biggest corral reef in the world, known as ‘The Great Barrier Reef’ has undergone almost complete bleaching of its corrals due to the increasing ocean temperatures.
Whether they look at China, where atmospheric pollution is so immense that in cities like Beijing kids are not allowed to play in outdoor places.
Whether they look at the islands of the Pacific, which are sinking due to the rising of the water levels, caused by the melting of the polar icebergs. The most telling example: a complex of 33 islands named Kiribati with its 103,000 inhabitants, which has already passed in history as a living monument of what has been coined as ‘environmental refugee’.
Whether someone looks at the Arctic cycle, which is estimated to be ice-free in the September of 2016 for the first time in 100,000 years. And the consequences? They are summed up perfectly in the following photograph, dubbed as “The future of the polar bear in one photograph”.
India, Pakistan, Australia, China, Kiribati islands. Exotic places, safely distanced from Europe. A steady increase in extreme weather incidents inside the European borders, nevertheless, has left this feeling of ‘safety’ crumbling.
And what about the dystopias that all these examples foreshadow? For the vast majority they are as tangible as a movie with good special-effects (Remember that Mad Max was partly filmed in Australia), or as real as a novel by JG Ballard of sunken cities.
But why are we so consciously numb and impressively indifferent?
Indifference comes depressingly enough from the young, the present student body to which I belong. Each of us trapped inside a bubble of self-assurance, inside of which the only things that matter are pop culture (and its virtual extensions), music festivals, sex and the occasional smoke. Too busy with our recent break up, or perfecting our summer beach photos, we tend to forget that our actions have an impact beyond our personal Instagram account. We turn a blind eye or pretend that we are taking part in something by offering a ‘like’ here and there, whilst waiting for environmental activism to become cool and for someone, somewhere to find the Solution.
As for the inertia of older people: They are still philosophising the smooth transition from an economy of fossil fuels and factory farming to a new economy of renewable sources of energy and new, safe investments. And they babble on and on about economic pragmatism while the snake of capitalism keeps eating its tail.
Let us talk ‘pragmatically’ then about how climate change is expected to wipe out 2.5 trillion dollar worth of financial assets from the global economy, with annual reductions in global GDP in the scale of trillions of dollars.
It is indisputable that the gradual, yet decisive, transition from an extractivistic economy to its ‘green’ alternatives, which already exist (and are enhanced on a daily basis), will provide benefits not just for the inhabitants of the sinking Pacific islands, but also for the global economy. The latter is also presently sinking, just not in such a spectacular way.
Climate change does not exclusively concern political, scientific and activist agendas. It is a phenomenon that affects each and every one of us, no matter our age, gender, skin colour, profession, religious beliefs or economic background. This is why people, platforms and organisations of every level (from grassroots to corporate) are trying to raise awareness on the dangers of a warming planet.
It may be easier to take our children to a zoo, instead of having to explain to them why polar bears went extinct. But it will definitely not be easier to explain to them why we just stood by, numb and inert.
I don’t think that an extravagant or sonorous epilogue is needed. The message is simple. And so is reality.