By Ignacio Ramonet
Climate change and the destruction of biodiversity remain the main dangers that threaten humanity. Our planet does not have enough natural or energy resources for the entire world population to use them without restraint.
The serious financial crisis and the economic horror suffered by European societies are making us forget that - as recalled last December by the Durban Climate Summit in South Africa - climate change and the destruction of biodiversity continue to be the main dangers that threaten humanity. If we do not rapidly modify the dominant production model imposed by economic globalization, we will reach the point of no return from which human life on the planet will gradually cease to be bearable.
A few weeks ago, the United Nations (UN) announced the birth of the seven billionth human being, a Filipino girl named Dánica. In just over fifty years, the number of Earth's inhabitants has multiplied by 3.5. And most of them now live in cities. For the first time the peasants are less numerous than the urban ones. Meanwhile, the planet's resources do not increase. And a new geopolitical concern arises: what will happen when the shortage of some natural resources worsens? We are discovering with amazement that our "wide world" is finite ...
In the course of the last decade, thanks to the growth experienced by several emerging countries, the number of people lifted from poverty and incorporated into consumption has exceeded 150 million… (1) How can we not be happy about it? There is no more just cause in the world than the fight against poverty. But this carries a great responsibility for everyone. Because that perspective is not compatible with the dominant consumer model.
It is obvious that our planet does not have enough natural or energy resources for the entire world population to use them without restraint. For seven billion people to consume as much as an average European would require the resources of two planets Earth. And to consume like an average American, those of three planets.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, for example, the world's population has multiplied by four. In that same period of time, the consumption of coal has done so by six ... The consumption of copper by twenty-five ... From 1950 until today, the consumption of metals in general has multiplied by seven ... That of plastics by eighteen ... That of aluminum by twenty ... The UN has been warning us for some time that we are spending "more than 30% of the replacement capacity" of the terrestrial biosphere. Moral: we must start thinking about adopting and generalizing much more frugal and less wasteful lifestyles.
This advice seems like common sense but it is clear that it does not apply to the one billion chronically hungry people in the world, nor to the three billion people living in poverty. The bomb of misery threatens humanity. The huge gap that separates the rich from the poor remains, despite recent progress, one of the main characteristics of today's world (2).
This is not an abstract statement. It has very specific translations. For example, at the time of reading this article (ten minutes), 10 women in the world are going to die during childbirth; and 210 children under the age of five will die of easily curable ailments (100 of them from drinking poor quality water). These people do not die of illness. They die for being poor. Poverty kills them. Meanwhile, aid from rich states to developing countries has decreased, in the last fifteen years, by 25% ... And around 500,000 million euros a year are still being spent on armaments ...
If in the coming decades we had to increase food production by 70% to respond to the legitimate demand of a larger population, the ecological impact would be devastating. Furthermore, this growth would not even be sustainable because it would mean greater soil degradation, greater desertification, greater scarcity of fresh water, greater destruction of biodiversity… Not to mention the production of greenhouse gases and its serious consequences for climate change.
In this regard, it should be remembered that some 1.5 billion human beings continue to use polluting fossil energy from the combustion of firewood, coal, gas or oil, mainly in Africa, China and India. Only 13% of the energy produced in the world is renewable and clean (hydraulic, wind, solar, etc.). The rest is of nuclear origin and especially fossil, the most harmful for the environment.
In this context, it is worrisome that the large emerging countries adopt predatory, industrialist and extractivist development methods, imitating the worst that the current developed states did and continue to do. All of which is producing a very serious erosion of biodiversity.
What is biodiversity? The totality of all varieties of everything living. We are verifying a massive extinction of plant and animal species. One of the most brutal and fastest that Earth has ever known. Every year, between 17,000 and 100,000 living species disappear. A recent study has revealed that 30% of marine species are on the verge of extinction due to overfishing and climate change. Likewise, one in eight plant species is threatened. One fifth of all living species could disappear by 2050.
When a species becomes extinct, the chain of living things is modified and the course of natural history is changed. Which constitutes an attack against the freedom of nature. Defending biodiversity is, therefore, defending objective solidarity among all living beings.
The human being and its predatory model of production are the main causes of this destruction of biodiversity. In the last three decades, the excesses of neoliberal globalization have accelerated the phenomenon.
Globalization has favored the emergence of a world dominated by economic horror, in which financial markets and large private corporations have reestablished the law of the jungle, the law of the fittest. A world in which the pursuit of profit justifies everything. Whatever the cost to humans or the environment. In this regard, globalization favors the plunder of the planet. Many large companies take nature by storm with inordinate means of destruction. And they make huge profits polluting, in a totally irresponsible way, the water, the air, the forests, the rivers, the subsoil, the oceans ... which are the common goods of humanity.
How to stop this looting of the Earth? The solutions exist. Here are four urgent decisions that could be made:
- change the model inspired by the “solidarity economy”. This creates social cohesion because the benefits do not go only to a few but to all. It is an economy that produces wealth without destroying the planet, without exploiting workers, without discriminating against women, without ignoring social laws;
- put a brake on globalization through a return to regulation that corrects the perverse and harmful conception of free trade. It is necessary to dare to reestablish a dose of selective protectionism (ecological and social) to advance towards deglobalization;
- curbing the delusion of financial speculation that is imposing unacceptable sacrifices on entire societies, as we see today in Europe where markets have taken power. It is more urgent than ever to impose a tax on financial transactions to put an end to the excesses of stock market speculation;
- If we want to save the planet, avoid climate change and defend humanity, it is urgent to get out of the logic of permanent growth, which is unfeasible, and finally adopt the path of a reasonable decrease.
With these simple four steps, a glimmer of hope would finally appear on the horizon, and societies would begin to regain confidence in progress. But who will have the political will to impose them?
Ignacio Ramonet - January 2.012 - http://www.monde-diplomatique.es
(1) In Latin America alone, as a consequence of the social inclusion policies implemented by progressive governments in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Venezuela and Uruguay, close to eighty million people were lifted out of poverty.
(2) Around the world, some 100 million children (mostly girls) are out of school; 650 million people do not have drinking water; 850 million are illiterate; more than 2,000 million do not have sewers, or toilets ...; some 3,000 million live (that is, they eat, stay, dress, transport themselves, take care of themselves, etc.) on less than two euros a day.