Imagine a world in which we had no fear of changing climates, rising seas and temperatures, mass extinctions, or the obscene income inequality we see today. Imagine a world in which everyone had enough, but no one too much. Not everyone earns the same, but the opportunities are there for everyone. Imagine a world in which we had no wars over resources.
Does this sound like a Utopian dream? Maybe it does, but it is no more unobtainable than the world we live in now.
It is not compulsory for us to destroy the ecosystems we rely on for life. It is not mandatory for some to get rich off the backs of others. It is not obligatory for us to melt the ice caps. We are choosing these paths, or more to the point we are being led down the garden path to extinction by the people who now stand in the way of us challenging the climate crisis.
2020 has been humanity’s annus horribilis with the spread of Covid-19. More than 765,000 have succumbed to the virus worldwide with more than 21 million being infected. But the virus will come and it will go, although what leaders do in the coming months will decide just how many people suffer and die as a result.
Unfortunately, as the world grapples with the invisible virus, the very visual signs of our unravelling ecosystems are apparent all around us. Greenland has passed a point of no return according to findings posted in Nature Communications Earth and Environment. The amount of ice flowing into the open ocean is now greater than the amount of new snow accumulating each year. Until 2000, as the glaciers lost ice to the sea, it was replenished by snowfall. This, according to the research, from now will only be possible every 100 years. In just a few months in 2019, ice melt from Greenland resulted in worldwide sea levels rising by 2.2 millimeters. The total amount of ice on Greenland is enough to raise sea levels by 5-7 meters. As the bright reflective ice melts, more of the sun’s energy is absorbed by the darker surface water or land left behind. This acts as a positive feedback loop as temperatures further increase without human intervention.
Greenland isn’t the only place on Earth visibly displaying the breakdown of our ecosystems. In Canada, its largest ice shelf collapsed in late July. The Milne ice shelf was 4,000 years old and equivalent in size to Manhattan. Temperatures in the region are around 5°C higher than the 1980-2010 average.
In Siberia, record temperatures hit 38°C on June 20th, beating out the sunny states of Florida and California. These extreme temperatures have led to sea ice melting and huge forest fires which have triggered another positive feedback loop in ash from the fires settling on top of snow and the darker area absorbing more heat which in turn increases temperatures further. This adds to the burning itself which further increases CO2 and in turn temperatures.
At the other pole, in addition to the melting ice sheets, methane has begun to leak under Antarctica. Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 and there is about twice as much stored under frozen ground than humans have emitted since the industrial revolution. As the permafrost and ice melt, this dangerous gas will be added to the atmosphere.
Further tipping points are being crossed away from the poles. The Amazon is reaching a point of no return as forests are burned by Bolsonaro’s beefy bravado. Seventeen percent of the forest has been lost since the 1970s and scientists believe the tipping point, where the forest starts to become savannah, may lie between 20-40%.
The turn of the year also brought huge forest fires in Australia where it is thought billions of animals either burned to death or died in the aftermath. The fires doubled Australia’s annual carbon emissions and will likely continue as Australia continues to fuel China’s growth on ancient coal reserves.
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Let us be honest. We owe our children that. We are in perilous times. The word unprecedented does not do our predicament justice. Never before in the history of anything has one species led to the extermination of life on an entire planet. So, what can we do?
"We are in perilous times. The word unprecedented does not do our predicament justice. Never before in the history of anything has one species led to the extermination of life on an entire planet."
Well, we could begin with nationalization. Nationalization is not a 20th century concept. In 1775, during the American Revolution, postal roads in the thirteen colonies were placed under the control of the U.S. by a certain Postmaster General, Benjamin Franklin. In India, in 1858, after the Indian “Rebellion”, the British government nationalized the East India Company. In WWI, all U.S. railroads were operated by the Railroad Administration as a wartime measure. Shortly after the war, in Britain, all hospitals and medical services were made free by the National Health Service Act. There is no shortage of precedent when nationalizing private gain for public good.
So, which companies should be privatized for the public good? Well, we could start with the company which has become a global behemoth by utilizing our private information, Google. Their slogan is “Do no evil” so I’m sure they’ll be down with the people owning their own information. People may be wary of the government having access to all that information. Heads up, they already do. If the company was nationalized, it could be overseen by an independent organization funded by taxpayers. The owner Alphabet Inc could then be broken up with public ownership of Google Search which had revenues in 2019 of $160 billion. Google could be used to promote greater well-being by providing important information regarding search items.
Who should be next? Another tech company that relies on using our information to sell us more and more products, Amazon. Let’s face it, Jeffrey Preston Bezos won’t likely notice as he attempts to spend some of his $189 billion. The annual GDP of Greece is $206.9 billion so it is safe to say that the annus horribilis for humanity hasn’t reached Jeffrey yet as his wealth increased by a staggering $74 billion in 2020. In just one day, he set a new record for selfishness as he increased his wealth by $13 billion as the world battled to control a deadly pandemic. I’m sure Mr. Bezos will be more than happy to help humanity in its time of need. During the pandemic, he has donated $125 million (0.05% of his fortune) to Feeding America and Washington State. That is a huge amount of money, but it is akin to one of us donating $85. It’s worth noting that Jeffrey spends almost ten times this amount each and every year on his schoolboy space project, Blue Origin. To put it into context, the second richest person, Bill Gates, has donated $50 billion of his vast wealth to charity. In the first six months of 2020, Amazon reported sales of $164 billion.
Nationalizing Amazon is not only good for Jeffrey Bezos as he would overnight go from despised villain to Earth superhero, but it would offer us the use of an incredible infrastructure, already paid for by you and me. We could use the existing Amazon structure to provide rental goods to people who cannot afford or simply do not wish to own goods. It could become the ultimate library of goods, offering all of us the opportunity to read books for free or use tents for one weekend a year instead of just dumping after use. Thanks to Mr. Bezos, the infrastructure has been put in place to provide humanity with goods and services at the click of a button. This is an emergency and we should use it.
"Nationalizing Amazon is not only good for Jeffrey Bezos as he would overnight go from despised villain to Earth superhero, but it would offer us the use of an incredible infrastructure, already paid for by you and me."
The third company that should be nationalized for the good of humanity is Facebook. Again, the concern (and rightly so) is that the government will have access to user’s information. The reality is that they already do, so through bringing the platform into public use, an independent watchdog could regulate Facebook, unlike at the present time. Facebook has grown so powerful that it now helps to decide elections across the world. Through privatization, we could and should allow Facebook to do what it claims to be its mission:
Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.
Mr. Zuckerberg would definitely approve of this plan. In fact, he should be placed in charge of writing a slogan. With $18.7 billion of revenues in the second quarter of 2020 alone, our continued use of a nationalized Facebook in each country would be a massive gain for humanity and our fight against extinction.
Google operates in around 50 countries while Amazon is operational in 17. If we add Facebook’s 1.79 billion regular users we would be raising massive amounts of money in the countries which consume the most. This money should then be spent mitigating the climate crisis in countries who consume the least but suffer disproportionately the most damage inflicted by the consumption in richer countries.
As each day passes, the cost of avoiding the worst possible scenario for humanity soars. It’s estimated that it will cost around $1.6 trillion per year to meet the Paris agreement’s 1.5°C target. The nationalization of these three key companies would provide approximately $562.8 billion in annual revenues. It will take us a long way to where we desperately need to be, zero carbon.
In our greatest moment of crisis, some of the most imaginative minds on the planet could become our heroes. Unfortunately, they don’t quite see it this way yet. It’s up to us to make sure that they do.