How to check "Save the World" off your bucket list?
Welcome to Chapter 21 of Planet Republyk!
This is the eighth of 10 chapters of the third and final part of the Planet Republyk project.
If you were to read only one part, it would be this one.
Chapter 21: The chaos that hangs over us
To convince, it is enough to speak to the mind; to persuade, one must go to the heart.
Henri François D'Aguesseau
And this predicted chaos could happen sooner rather than later. Our fossil fuel-centered civilization could even collapse as early as 2028, according to the analysis of the world-renowned American economist Jeremy Rifkin in his essay The Global Green New Deal[i].
A growing number of scientists associated with the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are claiming loudly and clearly that they have for decades completely underestimated the strength, but especially the speed, of climate change. Robert Watson, who chaired the organization from 1997 to 2002, explains it in these terms:
"We are currently experiencing some events that scientists did not foresee before the end of the century. All this is due to the domino effect of the "tipping point" after which the changes accelerate. The melting in Antarctica, a continent that was not expected to be affected until 2100, of 3,000 billion tons of ice since 1992 and in Greenland of 5,000 billion tons during the same period has literally doubled the predictions for sea level rise by the end of the century. And this melting has a massive impact on ocean circulation, which governs the air currents that govern the climate. So each specific global event has an amplifying effect on all others[ii]."
The IPCC now estimates that the domino effect of a temperature increase beyond 1.5°C will lead to a series of upheavals whose magnitude and duration cannot be predicted, while already in 2020, its scientists estimated that the global average temperature had reached 14.9°C, i.e. 1.2°C (± 0.1°C) above its pre-industrial value (period 1850-1900). [iii] In July 2020, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) estimated a 20 percent chance of exceeding 1.5°C in at least one year of the 2020-2024 five-year period.
One of the most important consequences of these upheavals will be the scarcity of foodstuffs, which will cause a major imbalance in supply and demand, leading to price inflation that the world's poorest people will not be able to afford.
Water scarcity, also to be expected, will worsen the situation, as demonstrated by the 2019 UN report on the state of the world's water resources: "if degradation of the natural environment and unsustainable pressures on global water resources continue, 45% of global GDP and 40% of global cereal production will be at risk by 2050[v]."
In 2021, the UN estimated that by 2025, 2/3 of the world's population will live in areas where freshwater is scarce and that by 2030, more than half of humanity will not be able to meet their basic needs[vi]. In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) had already revealed that the improvement of water supply, sanitation and hygiene could prevent the death of more than 300,000 children under 5 years of age each year[vii].
Ironically, in December 2020, at the initiative of the hedge fund Black Rock, water was listed on the Chicago Stock Exchange[viii] even though 10 years earlier the United Nations General Assembly had adopted a resolution recognizing water as a common good and a universal human right[ix]...
The safeguarding of our human world is nowhere else but in the human heart, the human responsibility...
As has been the case in other troubled periods of history before ours, these necessities may well be the sparks that set the world on fire: the catalyzing substance of a great social chaos on a global scale fueled by some 250 million climate refugees[x] forced into exile by 2050 precisely because of climate disruption. The 2019 UN report on the state of the world's water resources already notes, moreover, a significant increase in water-related conflicts[xi]. Between 2000 and 2009, there were 94. Between 2010 and 2018, this number rose to 263.
And to all of this, unfortunately, we can add the medium and long-term impacts of COVID-19, which will not help. In April 2020, the World Food Programme (WFP) sounded the alarm, estimating[xii] that more than 30 countries could be hit by famine and that the pandemic would double the number of people facing acute food insecurity. Its executive director, David Beasley, estimated at the time that the year 2020 would be catastrophic:
In my conversations with world leaders over the past few months, even before the coronavirus became an issue, I said that 2020 would see the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II for a number of reasons[xiii].
Unemployment rates in both emerging and mature economies are also expected to reach stratospheric levels not seen in nearly a century as the International Labor Organization (ILO) revealed in its second edition of the ILO Observatory, The COVID-19 and the World of Work, that by April 2020, 81% of the world's workforce was affected by total or partial workplace closures[xiv].
And that since 1.25 billion of the world's 3.3 billion workers are employed in the informal economy (mostly in emerging and developing economies), where lack of social protection, high population density and low government capacity to act prevail, this poses serious health and economic problems.
The Director-General of the ILO, Guy Ryder, therefore felt that : "This is the greatest test of international cooperation in over 75 years. […] [We must aim to build back better so that our new systems are safer, fairer and more sustainable than those that allowed this crisis to happen."
To all this, we must of course add, soil depletion[xvi], fertilization problems due to the extinction of pollinating insects[xvii], the multiplication of incendiary episodes, droughts, floods, epidemics that heavily impact the production of many commodities including wheat, rice, corn, soybeans, quinoa, nuts, coffee, chocolate as well as some fruits and vegetables; and this from Argentina to North Korea.
In 2020, in the Horn of Africa[xviii] and in India[xix] the worst locust invasions in decades, devastated hundreds of thousands of hectares of cultivated land. Due to the appalling drought Australia experienced in 2018, this fifth largest wheat exporter on the planet had to import wheat in 2019.
The same thing happened to rice in the Philippines, this time caused by devastating floods. Although in 2018 the archipelago ranked as the world's seventh largest rice producer,[xx] the following year it again became the world's largest importer. African swine fever forced China, the world's largest pork producer, to slaughter millions of head in 2018. The following year, it was to double its pork imports[xxii].
When countries that are among the largest producers of a commodity begin to import it on a massive scale, it means that many citizens around the world no longer have access to this food at a reasonable price.
And perhaps most importantly, world food production is stagnating[xxiii] when it should be increasing due to the growing world population. We were heading straight for a food security wall even BEFORE we added climate change and global pandemic to the equation. All the conditions are in place for food prices to explode.
Wheat, rice, corn, sorghum, millet, potatoes, sweet potatoes, soybeans and sugar provide more than 75 percent of the world's plant-based food energy. This hyper-concentration[xxiv] of plant-based caloric sources is a recipe for disaster.
Yet there are more than 250,000 plant varieties suitable for cultivation. Of these, humanity cultivates only 7,000, because long before being a homo sapiens, the human being is, according to Bourdieu's formula, a homo habitus: "a being of habit", as we have seen previously in the irremovability of its political structures.
Already in 1972, the first Meadows Report (which we talked about in episode 13), commissioned to researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) by the Club of Rome, estimated that the beginning of the collapse of economic, social and ecological systems, precipitated by the overstepping of sustainable thresholds (agriculture, energy, drinking water, raw materials), should manifest itself during the 2020-2030 decade.
The 2012 reissue of the MIT report confirmed[xxv] the 1972 conclusions.
One of the most striking graphs in the 1972 report, on scenarios of overshoot and collapse of the planetary equilibrium, combines five interrelated factors of the growth crisis (growth in population, need for food, industrial production, resource extraction and pollution).
It shows that all the curves that have been rising since the end of the Second World War are suddenly reversed in the present decade[xxvi] ...
That's it for Chapter 21!
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[i]Jeremy Rifkin, The Green New Deal, LLL Les liens qui libèrent, Paris, 2019, 304 pp.
[ii]Seth Borenstein, The Associated Press, "Global warming has been underestimated for too long," The News, November 29, 2018.
[iii]World Meteorological Organization (WMO), press release, "2020 is one of the three warmest years on record," January 15, 2021.
[iv]World Meteorological Organization (WMO), press release, "New climate forecasts of global temperatures for the next five years," July 8, 2020.
[v]WWAP (UNESCO World Water Assessment Programme) United Nations World Water Development Report 2019: Leaving no one behind. Paris, 2019, p. 8.
[vi]United Nations, Onu info, Humanitarian Aid, "Without faster progress, billions will not have access to safe water and sanitation by 2030," July 2, 2021. https://news.un.org/fr/story/2021/07/1099562 ( Accessed January 19, 2022).
[vii]World Health Organization(WHO), Media Center, Key Benchmarks, details, "Water," June 15, 2019.
[viii]Bloomberg|Quint, "California Water Futures Begin Trading Amid Fear of Scarcity," Kim Chipman, 06 Dec 2020.
https://www.bloombergquint.com/business/water-futures-to-start-trading-amid-growing-fears-of-scarcity (accessed January 19, 2022).
[ix]United Nations, "Assembly 'Recognizes' Right to Clean Water as Fundamental Right, Appoints Carman Lapointe of Canada as Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight," 2010. https://www.un.org/press/fr/2010/AG10967.doc.htm (Accessed January 19, 2022).
[x]Onu Info, "Climate: 250 million new displaced by 2050, says UNHCR," December 10, 2008. https://news.un.org/fr/story/2008/12/145732-climat-250-millions-de-nouveaux-deplaces-dici-2050-selon-le-hcr
[xi] WWAP, ibid.
[xii] Press Release, World Food Programme (WFP), "Covid-19: Number of people facing food crisis will double if action is not taken soon," April 21, 2020.
[xiii] Press Release, United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), "Statement by the Executive Director of the World Food Programme to the United Nations Security Council," April 21, 2020.
[xiv]International Labor Organization, ILO Observatory. "The COVID-19 and the World of Work. Second edition. Updated estimates and analysis. April 7, 2020. https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/documents/briefingnote/wcms_740982.pdf
[xvi]Susan Cosier, "The world needs topsoil to grow 95% of its food - but it's rapidly disappearing," The Guardian, 30 May 2019.
[xvii] Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, Kris A.G. Wyckhuys, "Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers Biological Conservation", Biological Conservation,Chapter 4. Discussion, Fig. 2. annual rate of decline of the three major taxa studied and of insect biomass, Elsevier, April 2019 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320718313636#s0115
[xviii]UN Info, "Alert to locust increase in the Horn of Africa," FAO, January 29, 2020. https://news.un.org/fr/story/2020/01/1060762
[xix] AFP News Agency, "Crops destroyed as India faces 'worst locust attack in 27 years,'" Aljazeera.com, May 26, 2020.
[xx] Paul Manuel Godoy Hilario, Major rice producing countries in the world 2017-2018, Statista, October 2, 2019. https://fr.statista.com/statistiques/564280/principaux-pays-producteurs-riz-monde/
[xxi] Karl R. Ocampo, "PH is world's biggest rice importer for 2019," Business Inquirer, November 12, 2019.
[xxii]AFP Dispatch, "Swine fever: China doubles its pork imports," Le Figaro, November 28, 2019.
[xxiii]Nafeez Ahmed, "Dramatic decline in industrial agriculture could herald 'peak food'," The Guardian, December 19, 2013.
[xxiv] Canada, International Development Research Centre (IDRC), "Facts and Figures on Food and Biodiversity," Communications Division, December 23, 2010. https://www.idrc.ca/fr/recherche-en-action/fait-et-chiffres-sur-lalimentation-et-la-biodiversite
[xxv] Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jorgen Randers, William W. Behrens III and the MIT Project Team, The Limits to Growth. A report for the Club of Rome's project on the predicament of mankind, Universe Books, New York, 1972, 205 p. Online version: http://www.donellameadows.org/wp-content/userfiles/Limits-to-Growth-digital-scan-version.pdf
[xxvi] Ibid, Figure 35, World model standard run, p.124.