Why the London Protesters Are on the Right Side of History
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When this hinge-point in human history is remembered, there will be far more sympathy for the people who took to the streets and rioted than for the people who stayed silently in their homes. Two global crises have collided, and we have a chance here, now, to solve them both with one mighty heave -- but our leaders are letting this opportunity for greatness leach away. The protesters here in London were trying to sound an alarm now, at five minutes to ecological midnight.
Many commentators seemed bemused that the protesters focused on the climate crunch as much as the credit crunch. What's it got to do with a G20 meeting on reviving the global economy? Why wave banners saying "Nature Doesn't Do Bail-Outs" today? Because both crises have their roots in the same ideology -- and both have the same solution.
We are facing a collapsed economy and a rapidly warming world because an extreme ideology has dominated world affairs for decades. It is the belief that markets aren't just a useful tool in certain circumstances; they are an infallible mechanism for running human affairs. If the economy ebbs, the market will put itself right by punishing wrong-doers. If the climate begins to unravel, business will rectify its own behavior voluntarily. Now we know how well this market fundamentalism works.
The climate is currently going the same way as the banks. Last month, the world's climate scientists gathered in Copenhagen to explain we are facing "devastating consequences" -- not in some distant future, but in my lifetime and yours. Unless we swerve fast, we are soon going to hit global temperatures that no human being has ever lived through. We don't have much time. By 2015, we will have belched so much carbon into the atmosphere that we will cross the Point of No Return: the climate will start to unravel as all its natural cooling processes breaking down one by one, guaranteeing we become hotter and hotter. Once we hit an increase of 4 degrees, much of the world will become uninhabitable, and there will be vast wars for what remains.
This isn't the warning of apocalyptic wackos: it's the judgment of the climate scientists who have consistently been proven right up to now. Steven Chu, the Nobel Prize winning scientist who has been appointed Energy Secretary by Barack Obama, says: " I don't think the American public has gripped in its gut what will happen. We're looking at a scenario where there's no more agriculture in California. I don't actually see how they can keep their cities going either." Goodbye Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego. And that, he stresses, is only the start.
The distinguished environmental scientist James Lovelock warns that climate changes tend not to happen gradually, inch-by-inch. They suddenly flip -- in our case from a cool world to a very hot one. He believes the hotter new world we are bringing into being could support, at best, a billion people. That would require 84 percent of the world's population to die off.
That's why the protesters were talking about the climate. It should be the number one issue at every global meeting. And the way out of the climate crunch and the credit crunch is the same -- a Green New Deal.
Our leaders are divided about whether we need a fiscal stimulus at all. Obama, Gordon Brown, and the Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso are leading the charge for a burst of big government spending to jump-start the global economy, while Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy, David Cameron and the U.S. Republicans are arguing this will simply be a debt-funded splurge to nothing.