9. Towards Moral Singularity

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Start by doing what’s necessary, then what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible
— St. Francis of Assissi

At present, we are being bombarded with apocalyptic stories predicting doom and gloom based on the linear extrapolation of our recent history. But we forget that our past is littered with nonlinear transformations that completely changed the linear course of history. For instance, I recall that in 1995 Newsweek ran an article asking if the Internet was going to go anywhere[1]? It was an extremely discouraging article for someone who was deep in the trenches of the internet revolution at that time. But ten years later, I overheard someone say that he couldn’t live without the Internet!

Almost everyone agrees that the current global human population cannot be sustained forever. Biomass considerations alone preclude that. The current human biomass of 500 MT is 2.5 times larger than the biomass of all megafauna that the planet can be expected to sustain on a long term basis[2]. Therefore, a significant reduction in human population is called for, in the long term.

Given that such a population reduction is in order, a linear extrapolation into the future does indeed look apocalyptic in the current socioeconomic system, based on consumption as an organizing value. It’s as if the Caterpillar, knowing that it has to become a Butterfly in order to reach sustainability, is imagining that a suitable liposuction followed by the grafting of some lightweight plastic wings might do the job, without truly undergoing a metamorphosis in the chrysalis. Such linear thinking explains the global inaction on climate change, biodiversity loss and desertification, the three major environmental problems that the UN Rio Summit had identified in 1992. As Elliott Sperber wrote recently[3],

“Instead of regarding the inability to act on climate change as a result of inertia or incompetence, perhaps we should begin to regard it as willful. After all, who now sincerely doubts that pollution and greenhouse gases create the conditions that produce the ecological calamities that largely harm the poor? And how can we overlook the related fact that the owners of the world have a substantial incentive in ridding the planet of the billions of people whose existence alone threatens their property and privileges? Indeed, allowing climate change to kill the poor would not only be more convenient than policing, fighting, locking out and locking up billions; by claiming that it’s inevitable, the owners of the world can watch the ecological holocaust unfold with a relatively good conscience. When one considers this, along with the fact that the affluent classes dictate social policy as well as the regulation of the pollutants responsible for the climate calamities bombarding the (mostly) poor, we may begin to see that the failure to halt the proliferation of notoriously toxic gases is comparable to a type of passive chemical warfare. Isn’t that what it amounts to? And, relevantly, there is a World War II precedent for just this type of inaction as well. While the Red Army was losing millions in their march toward Berlin, the US intentionally delayed invading Europe in order to allow the Nazis to further weaken the USSR, which the US, Britain, and others regarded as a threat to their property (and the rule of money) ever since the October Revolution.”

The people of the global South are at the receiving end of this strategy of inaction since poor countries are expected to be most impacted by climate change[4]. Besides, if the world has reached a point where people are dying in the billions, we can be sure that global ecosystems would have collapsed as well. Therefore, this strategy of inaction doesn’t bode well for all Life on Earth, not just for the downtrodden global South.

[1] Originally entitled, “The Internet? Bah!,” Newsweek has re-titled the article, “Why the Web Won’t be Nirvana,” and it can be found here: http://bit.ly/18Bpo4k

[2] Barnosky, A., “Megafauna Biomass Tradeoff as a Driver of Quaternary and Future Extinctions,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 105, suppl. 1, pp. 11543-11548, 2008, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0801918105, http://bit.ly/2bDbfZ0

[3] Elliott Sperber, “Clean, Green, Class War: Bill McKibben’s Shortsighted ‘War on Climate Change’,” Counterpunch, Aug. 22, 2016, http://bit.ly/2bFBzqu

[4] Hallegatte, S., et al., “Shock Waves: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty,” World Bank report, 2015, http://bit.ly/1MjUDl1