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Changing the Climate of Complaceny

by David Krieger

Representatives of governments and civil society organizations are gathered in Cancun to take action on the climate change that is threatening our beautiful but beleaguered planet. The changes, which are resulting in global warming, pose extremely dangerous threats to quality of life and even survival for people today and in the future. We must heed the warnings of scientists who are examining this phenomenon and change our habits with regard to fossil fuel consumption and carbon emissions. We must dramatically lower our fossil fuel consumption and our carbon imprint on the planet and this must be undertaken immediately and seriously by the over-industrialized nations that are the worst energy and resource abusers.

There is another way in which the term "climate change" may be used. That is, to refer to "climate" in the sense of "ambiance." There is a strong need to change the climate of our thinking, specifically the passive acceptance of the abuse of our planet and its myriad species, including our own. In this sense, humanity lives far too much in a "climate" of ignorance and indifference. We have organized ourselves into consumer societies that demonstrate little concern for our responsibilities to the planet, to each other and to the future.

There are many ongoing problems in the world that deserve our awareness and engagement. The fact that these problems receive insufficient attention and action speak to the change of climate that is needed. Many of these problems were identified in the eight Millennium Development Goals: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality; reducing child mortality; reducing maternal mortality; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and establishing a global partnership for development.

While these major problems on our planet are not adequately addressed, the world is wasting more than $1.5 trillion annually on its military establishments. Many states are attempting to create military security at the expense of human security. The poor people on the planet are being marginalized while countries use their scientific resources and material wealth to produce ever more deadly and destructive armaments. In a climate of complacency, the military-industrial complexes of the world fulfill their gluttonous appetites while the poor and politically powerless of the Earth are left to suffer and die.

At the apex of the global order, the countries that emerged victorious in World War II anointed themselves as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. They continue to flaunt international law by their reliance upon nuclear weapons and by failing to engage in good-faith negotiations for the elimination of these weapons as required by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Because these countries behave as though their power and prestige are built upon these weapons of mass annihilation, other countries seek to emulate them. Nuclear proliferation is thus encouraged by the very states that seek to set themselves apart with these weapons.

Large corporations that stand to profit from a "renaissance" of nuclear power are promoting large nuclear energy projects as an alternative to using fossil fuels. They are trying to make nuclear power appear to be green. But they have not solved the four major problems with nuclear power: the potential for nuclear weapons proliferation; the failure to find any reasonable solution to storing the nuclear wastes, which will threaten the environment and humanity for tens of thousands of years; vulnerability to terrorism; and propensity to dangerous accidents.

If the large global corporations have their way, the Earth will become home for thousands of nuclear power plants, nations will seek to protect themselves with nuclear weapons (an impossibility), the threat of nuclear annihilation and global warming will continue to hang over our collective heads, extreme poverty in its many manifestations will persist, and we will follow either a slow path to extinction or a rapid one.

This is why we must change the climate of indifference and complacency that currently prevails upon our planet. We humans have the gifts of consciousness and conscience, but these gifts must be used to be effective. We must become conscious of what threatens our common future and we must care enough to demand that these threats be eliminated. The only force powerful enough to challenge the corporate and military power that is leading us to catastrophe is the power of an engaged global citizenry. This remains the one truly great superpower on Earth, but it can only be activated by compassion and caring.

If we do not care enough about the future to engage in the fight to save our species from catastrophe and our planet from omnicide, we need only to continue our complacency and leave the important decisions about protecting the environment and human life to powerful corporations and the world's militaries. They have a plan, one based upon dangerous technologies and plunder. Their plan is shortsighted, designed to further enrich the already overly rich. To be silent is a vote for their plan.

As Albert Camus, the great French writer and existentialist, wrote in the immediate aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing: "Our technical civilization has just reached its greatest level of savagery. We will have to choose, in the more or less near future, between collective suicide and the intelligent use of our scientific conquests. Before the terrifying prospects now available to humanity, we see even more clearly that peace is the only battle worth waging. This is no longer a prayer but a demand to be made by all peoples to their governments - a demand to choose definitively between hell and reason."

Let us stand with Camus in waging peace. Let us stand with Camus in choosing reason. Let us raise our voices and choose peace and a human future. Let us fulfill the responsibility of each generation to pass the world on intact to the next generation. We may be the only generation that has faced the choice of silence and annihilation, or engagement and rebuilding the paradise of our exceedingly precious planet, the only one we know of in the universe that supports life.

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