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We can’t just sit, watch and hope
Stormy ongoings in the teacup that is Trinidad and Tobago are both an indicator of and distraction from the major hitch facing us today. That hitch is lack of institutional accountability in state and corporate governance of our planet.
Such accountability cannot be secured by either technological or technical fixes, though they may counter crises. Such accountability is totally a matter of politics, meaning political will and public power driven by a fearless demand for human responsibility, justice and truth.
Elections are of little relevance here, for the damage is ground into our bodies and our generations, while being both hidden and denied, in the years between voting a party in and then voting them out. As we all know, we pay the costs with debt and blood.
How can we persuade the young that what the report, Global Catastrophic Risks 2017, calls “striking exponential developments” such as species extinction and carbon dioxide poisoning of the earth will not be solved simply by invention when the challenge is to quicken care, conviction and collective action?
Nuclear warfare risk, for example, is best contained by controlling proliferation, creating decision-making paths that slow the chance of use, and replacing a deterrence model with one banning all nuclear weapons. “Seems utopian,” said my students, when I read them the Bandung position that world peace required disarmament, made in April 1955 when ex-colonies came together to declare their vision for a world other than that dictated to them.
Nonetheless, the fact is that planetary movements of ordinary people can insist we reduce warfare risk, even as it has expanded into chemical and biological weapons, as used in Syria up to this year. The threat isn’t just from rebel terrorists, but from states’ use of non-deadly chemical weapons for “domestic riot control purposes, counter-terrorism operations, international peacekeeping operations…and standby offensive chemical weapons capability.” People somewhere fought for the Biological Weapons Convention of 1975, which has not yet been empowered sufficiently.
The climate change crisis is much the same with solutions widely proposed to keep global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius through a Carbon Law that aims to halve emissions every decade to around zero by 2050. We saw what happened when Trump’s “America First” policy led to his pull out of the 2015 Paris agreement. This means we can’t simply be a world watching to see whether political leaders will commit to fossil fuel phase out and renewable energy.
Indeed, states have “consistently disregarded the high-end scenarios that could lead to abrupt, irreversible or runaway climate change” despite evidence of a tipping point, the likelihood of a four degree rise, and effects such as starvation, displacement and ecological collapse. Sweet T&T has historically had a fossil fuel phase in combined with a what-else-we-go-do approach, that is not only short-term and short-sighted, but lethal, and on which all political parties agree.
Such is the Anthropocene, a geological era when we are impacting the habitability of the planet at an accelerating pace. The current situation is one where nine planetary boundaries that underpin the stability of the global ecosystem were identified. These included ozone depletion, fresh water use, ocean acidification, and biosphere integrity which includes species diversity.
We’ve exceeded safe limits for four of the nine, which means it’s past time, as the Global Catastrophic Risks 2017 report recommends, to integrate the valuation of ecosystems into economic decision-making, reduce pollution, change consumption patterns, monitor national and corporate reporting, and co-operate globally in recognition of the fact that these risks cross national boundaries. Who can make this happen? Only you and me, with our insistence multiplied by millions.
Within the university, I’m struck that students don’t seem to realise the fate in front their eyes, nor the urgency required of them to overthrow business as usual, nor the fact that they will be the first global generation in history whose parents have robbed them of a secure future.
Innovation won’t drive change without a sense of will, care, capacity, anger, commitment and immediacy. Yet, I struggle to successfully and sustainably teach these or even to connect our small-island, headline squabbles with irresponsible elites and institutions to similar governance catastrophes whose unjust implications are now planetary.
Diary of a mothering worker Entry 245
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