Environmental Acceptability as the driver of New Civilization

We are on a collision course with nature. And the underlying reason is that humans’ creative capacity has largely bypassed their adaptive capacity.

Due to existing trends in 10 years the world will be changed dramatically.

These trends will change the social standards and human behaviour patterns; shift “centres of gravity” from the West to East, from the North to South, and from nation-states to private actors; spur deep reframing of global governance; force us to develop new patterns of production, trade and consumer standards; advance human capacities to and possibly beyond the limits of the traditional definitions of humanity.

The development of new policies to manage these challenges and to respect the realities of the natural world offers a myriad of positive opportunities to generate the new ideas, new policies and new partnerships that are needed to overcome the present crisis by reorient­ing and restructuring our economies on a more sustainable, resource-efficient and inclusive path.

But, however important economics and technologies are, achieving the required level of global systemic change and overcoming the seemingly immovable implementation gap that is blocking progress will require political leadership, vision and courage, rather than an adaptive strategy of small steps, and a revitalized multilateral governance architecture adequate to meeting the interconnected challenges reflective of the 21st century.

Crisis is the most quoted term today. The notion of crisis ? multifaceted, systemic, on-going etc. ? is used to explain the need for a new civilization shift. However there is no such thing as climate crisis, water crisis, or economic crisis, because these are all but the demon­strations of a much deeper problem we are facing, and the problem is not about the world; it is about us, it is about our inability to change our eternal belief that we will always be able to shape the world according to our needs, while we are demanding more than the earth can sustainably provide.

We are on a collision course with nature. And the underlying reason, as I understand it, is that humans’ creative capacity has largely bypassed their adaptive capacity.

The problem is also related to the transformation of liberal values.

The modern market economy was a natural outgrowth of the rise of liberalism and political democracy in the West. The extension of freedom and democratic rights to every citizen has gradually led to the emergence of economic democracy as well, in which each individual casts monetary votes according to his individual needs and capacity. In the absence of basic human rights, economic life as we know it today is inconceivable.

But the further evolution of this value has played a trick with civilization. In this consumption driven world mentality of the people has more and more started to be characterized by the belief in economic prosperity as an organic part and the guarantee of human freedom. Material prosperity has become implicitly related to the extent of individual freedom. Personal wellbeing gradually has turned from a tool of liberal values into a competing goal, devaluing these values. That is why the threat to prosperity standards (leading to unbridled economic growth) is seen as the erosion of freedom.

As a result of human development, personal status has become hostage to economic success, distorting the basic civilisation’s ethical matrix.

However, due to existing trends and regardless of our acceptance, in 10 years the world will be changed so much that we will be surprised with our current concerns:

  • An integrated global economy functioning as a holistic entity will spur deep reframing of global governance;
  • IT and communications revolution connecting billions of people to rapidly expanding volumes of data will evolve into a Metaweb that will change social standards and human behaviour patterns;
  • A completely new balance of political, economic, and military power will shift “centres of gravity” from the West to East, from the North to South, and from nation-states to private actors;
  • A radically new relationship between the aggregate powers of human civilization and the Earth’s ecological systems on which humankind depends will force us to develop new patterns of production, trade and consumer standards;
  • A revolutionary new set of powerful biological, biochemical, genetic, and material science technologies, synthetic biology and human enhancement will advance human capacities to and possibly beyond the limits of the traditional definitions of humanity.

What are the immediate, predictable implications of these transformations?

Firstly it should be noted that 95 per cent of urban expansion in the next few decades would take place in the developing world, shrinking the population of the North to just 10% of the world’s.

From 1980 to 2009, the global middle class grew by around 700 million people, to 1.8 billion, from roughly 1.1 billion. Over the next 20 years, it is likely to grow by an additional 3 billion.

Exploding growth in the developing world has already created there a vast new middle class, 66% of which will live in Asia by 2030. That is a lot of new consumers! How will they live, eat, shop, and travel? Will they emulate the worst habits of the developed world, or lead the way as better stewards of the planet?

Secondly, current estimates of global GDP are around US$60 trillion and even at modest per capita growth rates in the emerging economies of the world to meet poverty targets we could easily see a world GDP (as we conventionally measure it today) closer to US$200 trillion by 2050. Three worlds sitting on our present one world but stretched to the limits with regard to consumption and production patterns.

During the 20th century, the world increased its fossil fuel use by a factor of 12, whilst extracting 34 times more material resources. Today in the EU, each person consumes 16 tons of raw materials annually, of which 6 tons are wasted, with half going to landfill. In absolute figures some 65 billion tons of raw materials entered the economic system in 2010, and this figure is expected to grow to about 82 billion tons in 2020.

As a result of our economic activity half the tropical forests in the world – the lungs of our ecosystems – are gone; by 2030, at the current rate of harvest, only 10% will be left stand­ing. Ninety per cent of the big fish in the sea are gone, victim to wanton predatory fishing practices.

We are polluting our lakes, rivers and streams to death. Every day, 2 million tons of sewage and industrial and agricultural waste are discharged into the world’s water resources.

A comprehensive recent global study, published in 2010 in Nature, reported that 80% of the world’s rivers are now in peril, affecting 5 billion people on the planet. Fully one-third of global water withdrawals are now used to produce biofuels, enough water to feed the world.

There is no possibility of proving the linkage between economic activity and natural disasters, but the frequency and intensity of the natural disasters have so increased in recent decades that it would be a little incautious to deny such a link. There were 78 recorded disasters in 1978; last year there were 385, and during the last two years we have already witnessed five mega-disasters. Recently, Hurricane Sandy was a reality check in the United States, putting a very clear climate change imprint on the results of the electoral campaign for the first time.

A lot has already been said about climate change, and I think we need to realize that if we fail to put a price on and reduce carbon emissions now, and if we continue to rely mainly on fossil fuels, we will damage our economy. This is not just an assumption; those who argue the converse are failing to account for the costs of damage already caused by climate change. Just five years ago, Stern Report assumed that by the year 2100, 1-2% of global GDP would be gone if temperatures increased by 2.5 degrees Celsius.

A 2012 study by the DARA group and the Climate Vulnerability Forum concluded that failure to act on climate change already costs the world economy 1.6% of global GDP amounting to US $1.2 trillion in forgone prosperity a year, while rapidly escalating temperatures and carbon-related pollution will double costs to 3.2% of world GDP by 2030 – rising to 11% of GDP for Least Developed Countries. Therefore, the costs of failing to price carbon and reduce emissions are already very real, not to say that climate change and the carbon-intensive economy are leading global causes of death today, responsible for five million deaths each year – 400,000 due to hunger and communicable diseases aggravated by climate change and 4.5 million carbon economy deaths, due mainly to air pollution.

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