Humanity is not at war with nature

Humanity is not at war with nature

“Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal. Nature always strikes back – and it is already doing so with growing force and fury. Biodiversity is collapsing. One million species are at risk of extinction. Ecosystems are disappearing before our eyes … Human activities are at the root of our descent toward chaos. But that means human action can help to solve it.”

António Guterres, UN General Secretary

During World War 2 at least 70 million people perished, economies collapsed and infrastructure was devastated. Military and civilian fatalities numbered over 50 million, with at least another 20 million deaths from war-related disease and famine. 

Food supplies were disrupted everywhere with rationing common. It was not until the early 1950s that most commodities came ‘off the ration’ and in the UK it took nearly a decade after the end of the war before food rationing ended. 

WW2 was a global disaster.

At the end of the War in 1945 with the horrors still fresh, representatives of 50 countries gathered at the United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco, California. After two months of discussion and negotiation, they signed the a charter to create a new international organization, the United Nations, designed to prevent another world war.

In 1945 the deprivation and chaos were raw, everyone had experienced it for themselves. No surprise that the UN Charter in Chapter 1 describes the purposes of the United Nations in Article 1 as 

To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace… 

Article 1, UN Charter

In the 75 years since the charter was signed, a cold war flared then ended with the collapse of soviet communism, simmering regional conflicts dragged on especially in the middle east and the Horn of Africa, and acts of terrorism have devastated communities but, so far, humanity has avoided WW3.

Indeed as Steven Pinker argues in his book Better Angels of Our Nature, humankind has become progressively less violent, over millennia and decades. The evidence for declines in conflict is compelling if controversial.

So why the language of waging war, force, fury and descent into chaos from Mr  Guterres, the main man at the UN overseeing the maintenance of peace and security?

Presumably, he thinks scare tactics are needed. Make the reality sound like a war to wake people up to the enormity of the challenge.

The truth is alarming enough. 

Unbridled exploitation of nature by 8 billion people has changed the planet eroding the essentials of nature that humanity relies on for 23 trillion kilocalories a day in food, not to mention clean water and fresh air. 

Biodiversity is in decline everywhere, especially in the soil where it is most vital for the production of all that food. 

In the Amazon, we are back to 81,000 ha of rainforest clearing every day or 40 football fields per minute.

Suicide perhaps but not WW3.

Destruction of nature is not a war 

War is defined as…

an intense armed conflict between states, governments, societies, or paramilitary groups such as mercenaries, insurgents, and militias. It is generally characterized by extreme violence, aggression, destruction, and mortality, using regular or irregular military forces.

In other words, a lethal conflict between the incompatible.

The Secretary-General, a career politician with an education in physics, says that “nature always strikes back – and it is already doing so with growing force and fury

Nature does not fight back because Gaia has no ability to recognise humanity from any of the other drastic climate and global changes that have reorganised nature in the evolutionary past. 

Recall there have been 5 other mass extinction events and a host of smaller ones that removed a huge proportion of lifeforms alive at the time. The physical and resource space created just allowed for more evolution. Nature filled the gaps with new lifeforms. All that is needed to generate diversity is disturbance, error and natural selection. 

Nature does not fight us. She has no disagreement worthy of lethal conflict. 

As far as nature is concerned the actions of expansive humanity with the knack of resource use is no different to any previous extinction event. 

Lifeforms are lost because conditions change and, after some time, new ones take their place.

Humanity is not at war with nature, we are just in the business of exploiting all the resources on offer with no thought for what that means for the future of those resources and the processes that generate them.

More like suicide than war

At the end of WW2 in Europe as the Russian army closed in on the Reich Chancellery in Berlin, Adolf Hitler, still deluded but defeated, shot himself. 

It was a cowardly response to avoid responsibility for actions that devastated a continent. 

Any history of the war struggles to describe this ending. The Third Reich was defeated but the main perpetrator slipped away from justice even before the world knew the full extent of his crimes.

Destruction of nature is not a war. 

It is suicide — the taking of our own life — and it smells like that airless Führerbunker in April 1945.

The man in the middle

The man in the middle

Photo by L.W. on Unsplash

A picture is worth a thousand words. 

As this one is worth a million of them, I will risk copyright infringement because it’s too good not to share with you.

A brilliant photograph by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images appears in an online article in The Guardian.

On the left of the unmasked man in somnolent posture is António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres, a career politician, former Prime Minister of Portugal and the Secretary-General of the United Nations — a 71-year-old white man in relaxed but attentive mode.

On the right of the reclining dude is Sir David Attenborough, the internationally renowned broadcaster, naturalist and author who is 95 years young. 

Sir David has been busy his entire life and has remained prolific and added activism to his resume in his retirement years. Finally able to speak his mind as one of the very few people on the planet old and travelled enough to see the change in the planet’s biodiversity with his own still sharp eyes. He is also wise enough to interpret what he has seen for what it represents — a massive impact from human beings on the rest of the planet. 

The gentleman in the middle is understandably a little tired. 

He had to jet down from Glasgow to London to attend a dinner at The Garrick Club in the West End. This gentleman’s club, a simple euphemism for men only, was founded in 1831 and currently has a seven-year waiting list of new candidates. Gentlemen prospects must be proposed by an existing member and elected in a secret ballot, the original assurance of the committee being “that it would be better that ten unobjectionable men should be excluded than one terrible bore should be admitted”.

Our napping chap had to fly down to the club for a reunion of Daily Telegraph journalists. Naturally, there would be revelry and a complete absence of boredom in an exhilarating dinner date.  Such a foray would knock any big-hearted galoop about a bit.

However, duty is a demanding mistress. 

This opportunity for a kip is at the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It came just after one’s cabinet colleague delivered a budget promoting air travel by reducing taxes on domestic passenger flights. Jetting about shows leadership by example.

The colleague, Mr Sunak, may or may not be in line for club membership given he has something about him that may have come from his Punjabi Hindu parents. On the plus side has an obscenely wealthy spouse. This conundrum will mean assurances of the committee come after more than one round of Graham’s 1972 single harvest port. 

Duty and revelry are ready reasons to excuse dozing off.

The absent mask, not so much.

How many words would capture the thoughts running through the REM sleep of the man in the middle? 

The picture suggests something like this:

I am a pig in shit, and I don’t give a fuck about anything else that is going on. I’m just enjoying the adulation and how everyone laughed at my jokes.

Why the baby boomers had it good

Why the baby boomers had it good

Photo by Esther Ann on Unsplash

I was born in 1961 as one of the last Baby Boomers, the demographic cohort that came about from a spurt of fertility following WW2. 

The world of the 1960s was very different to today. 

There were far fewer people for starters, technology had not reached everyone, there was no internet, no streaming, and a long-distance phone call cost over $1 a minute. There was also no Covid.

My grandma bathed her children in a tin tub in front of a coal fire. I always had access to instant hot water. 

My father bought his first car, a third hand Austin A40 the size of a peanut when he was in his 40’s. I am lucky enough to buy a new car with a turbocharged engine and big enough for five adults.

Image source: Morse Classics

Personal computers, mobile phones, the internet, global travel, gastronomic delights, and Netflix have arrived in the lifetime of the Baby Boomers. So many things have changed over the last 60 years that my infant self would never have imagined my future. 

I have experienced so much that I need to pinch myself to be sure it all happened.

Cmglee, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Alpha generation 

What of the babies born today, the Alpha generation? What will they experience in their lifetimes?

If the Boomers went from landlines to Facetime, maybe the Alphas can expect holograms, space travel for the masses, and bionic body parts. They could also have to pinch their virtual selves.

Only they will have more to do than the Boomers.

We know that their generation must solve many problems made from the successes of the previous generations. They will be faced with issues of food security, water security, wealth discrepancies, refugees, and any number of technology transitions, especially with energy. 

Oh yes, and Covid or its derivatives. 

They will also be impacted by changes to the climate.

Here are some of the numbers based on a warming scenario should we meet the Paris agreement targets and see a global average of 2.7℃ of extra heat

This is a lot of extra disasters.

The WHO describes heatwaves as the most dangerous of natural hazards. From 1998-2017, more than 166 000 people died due to heatwaves, including more than 70 000 who died during the 2003 heatwave in Europe.

The Alpha generation can expect over 600,000 heatwave related deaths every decade.

A golden age

The Boomers parents and grandparents did it tough too — nobody goes through a global war unscathed.

So I am lucky to be born a Boomer and forever grateful.

However, my generation has done a lousy job of preparing for the future. We have not curtailed population or consumption but promoted both. Nature has buckled under our excesses, and the natural resources we leave for the Alphas are either depleted or dangerous to use.

The Baby Boomers had it good because we were born at just the right time, the golden age of technology and wealth. We tapped the sun’s ancient energy for a cheap fix and a costly legacy.

It will take a lot to make a platinum age from what we will leave behind.


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