On World Environment Day (WED), June 5, there will be the usual exchange of greetings such as on a birthday or Valentine’s Day. More needs to be done, not least because apart from serious climate change issues, we often have conflicts like the one between Ukraine and Russia, which can spiral out of control and cause serious damage. Therefore, rather than celebrating WED like any other important day, it should be a day of reflection on the serious issues we face.
The climate change we face due to concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) is causing environmental changes in the biosphere, the part of the earth that contains life. Assuming that life can exist down to a depth of 11 km, which is the deepest point of the marina trench, roughly at the height of Mount Everest, we can assume that the biosphere is about about 20 km. The radius of the earth is 6,371 km and life only exists on 0.3% of its radius.
If we assume that the earth is a potato and we peel it, we will always have the potato without the skin and in the case of the earth, it will be lifeless. It is the gaseous composition of the atmosphere (21% O2 and 78% N2) that keeps current life forms alive. In addition, the constituents of the atmosphere continue to change over time. A major change in oxygen levels would mean that current life forms might not survive. A very thin biosphere subject to change is the crux of the matter.
Any major disruption to Earth’s climate will upset the delicate balance in which life exists. This is why climate change, temperature rise, sea level rise and permafrost methane are considered serious issues.
It is also well established that climate change has been caused by human activities, just like many other problems such as loss of forests, loss of biodiversity, loss of rainforests, massive causeway all over the world, dwindling grasslands, endangered species, depletion of fish stocks, major disruptions to the food chain or food web and increasing rates of extinctions – all add up to a complex and global attack on the part living on this planet. The future is full of known and unknown risks and we don’t know where we are headed. However, one thing is certain. The more we strive to reduce GHG emissions, the better we control the issue of climate change.
Now, in the midst of this global climate crisis, we have a major conflict that has erupted, almost in the center of Eurasia. This conflict, although on the borders of two countries, Ukraine and Russia, has wider ramifications for the entire planet. First, a war of this magnitude, wherever it occurs, has disastrous consequences for the ecosystem and the climate. In addition to mass destruction, the carbon dioxide from fires and toxic gases from explosions combined with the movement of war machines result in many higher than normal GHG emissions, but no one knows by how much. While we are already fighting against global warming and have reached the limits, a war, any war, is useless.
The war between Russia and Ukraine also brings us very close to complete annihilation. War itself can subside and disasters averted in months or years, even decades. However, unless we realize and address a much deeper problem in modern human society, the threat does not go away. We can avoid it, we can delay it, but it will always come back to us. Moreover, these conflicts can erupt in one part of the world or another – and one day it may be too hot to handle.
The deep-rooted problem mentioned above, paradoxically, manifests itself in “the state of modern society.” It is within the economic constraints of our “ways of life”.
Many of us can barely think about it, but our lifestyles are mostly aided by machines such as vehicles, airplanes, generators, escalators, air conditioners – and so on. In all these machines, metals are the crucial inputs in the manufacturing of the machine. For example, rare earth metals or special metals and substances that improve the properties of steel, etc. These machines need energy to run – and if that’s a fossil fuel source, we also have a serious climate change problem. These minerals must be mined but are not evenly distributed around the world. While extraction and processing cause serious environmental problems, it is possible that the need to access these reserves and resources could lead to all kinds of conflicts in many parts of the world.
Therefore, even if we end our dependence on fossil fuels and nuclear energy, the problem is not solved. We still need a massive amount of minerals for all sorts of industrial products, from something as small as toothpaste to luxury cars. The other part of the problem is our “lifestyle” which is dictated by the retail market economy – with its sub-components – branding, marketing campaigns and the financing of all kinds of products. Any amount of sermons won’t stop people from shopping around and buying what they want, no matter what the implied climate damage.
As long as there is demand, materials will be sourced and hitting shelves and showrooms. In this whole chain that supports our system, we not only need the mines and other types of extraction areas, but also the shelves and showrooms where the finished products must be placed. In short, we also need markets. From the Far East to the Far West, this is the economic system followed. There are no political blocs but there are economic blocs which often compete and struggle for dominance. Competition for access to markets and resources can lead to conflict, tension and even war.
The whole economic system, even if it is not physically seated anywhere, works like a global machine.
Modern human society has somehow clung to these economic systems – “Economic Being(s)”. I call them “Economic Beings” because these economic systems evolve and thrive as a “being”. Each of us specializes in something or the other that ultimately fuels economic being. Fortunately or unfortunately, we cannot get rid of this system. We have become a part of it and a part cannot exist without the whole.
No war is good; it continues with the ecological disaster on the one hand, and the misery of the populations on the other hand. In today’s world, a war is not fought for territory but for economic resources, ie natural resources, markets and strategic entry points. If an ‘ABC’ location in Africa suddenly lands with a discovery of massive reserves of rare earth metals or something, then that location is where the next war could take place. The problem is complicated by nuclear weapons.
If we are to solve our problems, which are not lacking and which are a real mess, we will have to tame these “economic beings”. However, if we can’t do anything about it, then we are headed towards a status of “Species that couldn’t survive” or even worse, “the only planet where life broke out and died out” because for at least one of the thousands of light years around us, there is no sign of life, let alone a full-fledged advanced, nuclear, space civilization that we have on earth today.
So what can be done? With regard to the conflict in Eurasia, it is important to realize that it is a manifestation of the conflicts in the economic system. The loss of life and hardship suffered by people is deplorable and highly condemnable. But condemnation in itself is not a solution. To find a solution, you have to go to the root. To tame the “economic Being”, the key players who compose it must have a “meeting of minds”. Therefore, like the Conference of the Parties (COP) on climate change, we need a COP of Economic Being – only more effective in making binding decisions, which should provide for reducing risks for the planet, its life forms and human civilization.
With regard to climate change, an important part of the larger problem, it has been well studied and understood and the solution is well in the eyes of all, which is renewable energy combined with storage systems , hydrogen, etc. This part of the problem must be dealt with as quickly as possible.
(The author is the vice president of the World Wind Energy Association)