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perspective

Trump’s win viewed from a planetary systems perspective


In his last foreign public address, US President Barack Obama noted globalisation demanded a “course correction”. This was not just a comment on the US presidential election but a viewpoint from the planetary level.

Workers are now more aware than ever that global elites, further enriched by the movement of capital to countries with the lowest wages and poor labour and environment standards, are a source of inequity. One way Trump won was by championing the US workers’ rights and rejecting this neo-liberalism inspired “race to the bottom” behind the flight of capital. However, Trump ignores the right to the environment.
Trump’s presidency will matter to us all. Since the Internet, we have been living in the “Global Village”. We are now in the “Planetary Civilisation Stage” of the Earth, an extension of systems theory adopted by multiple international agencies. In this worldview, we exist in a state of interdependent relationships in which the dominance of individual nation states, with their neo-imperial outlooks, must be secondary to the interests of our species.
This “Planetary Phase” perhaps started with the post-WWII founding of the United Nations. However, it was the UN-backed Montreal Protocol that first united us in a global effort to control the planet’s biosphere by reducing the size of the ozone holes over the Arctic and Antarctic. We decided to reverse a man-made disaster by re-engineering the atmosphere and therefore the design of our household products. The holes are expected to fully close by 2070. We are doing this without the global economy collapsing, by researching and employing alternatives and by subsidising the poorest economies to transition. This is what we can do.
Essentially, politicians globally must recognise that our biosphere has “planetary boundaries”. This concept, adopted by the UN in 2012, specifies boundaries beyond which irreversible and abrupt environmental change occurs. Nine earth systems boundaries have been identified, namely biosphere integrity, including genetic diversity; climate change; novel entities, ie, the unknown; ozone depletion; atmospheric aerosols; ocean acidification; biochemical flows, chiefly of nitrogen and phosphorus; freshwater use; and land-system changes, for example due to drought or floods.
The safe boundaries of biochemical flows, as well as biological diversity and climate change, have already been breached. Nitrogen and phosphorus, washed into lakes and seas, cause hypoxia in areas like the Gulf of Mexico, affecting its shrimp fisheries. The current extinction rate is over 100 extinctions per million species, 1,000 times higher than background rates. For climate change, the boundary was breached in 1988, when carbon dioxide in our atmosphere reached 350 parts per million. The concept of planetary boundaries is now so compelling that it permeates UN and European Union thinking.
Trump likely does not care about planetary boundaries. Neither, at least publicly, do most US Republicans. Unfortunately for Trump, almost all US scientists follow the scientific approach to climate change, which for them is a fact. And even the US oil company ExxonMobil recently released a statement in support of the Paris Agreement on controlling climate change. Yet the politics of oil in the US demonstrates societal schizophrenia and lip service. Actually, ExxonMobil is suing the New York attorney general for investigating whether ExxonMobil’s previous statements to investors regarding climate change, for the many years when ExxonMobil effectively denied climate change, were accurate, i.e., what ExxonMobil knew and when. One of ExxonMobil’s defences is that promoting accurate information about global climate change is a Democrat agenda, therefore that the NY AG’s office is politically inspired.
However, the US cannot ignore the interrelationship between legal truth and scientific fact. This is well understood elsewhere; Dutch citizens in 2015 successfully sued their government for not doing enough to counter national greenhouse gas emissions. In the US, Our Children’s Trust, a group of children, is similarly suing the federal government. The lawsuit, just approved for trial by a federal judge, may in the end prove the Republicans’ position is untenable. That senior Republicans reject reality in the face of data showing we are experiencing the hottest five years ever is not defensible during our Planetary Phase.
Our children’s future is in question. According to planetary civilisation theory, the future of humanity’s global civilisation will collapse into a definite pattern this century. There exist three broad scenarios: Conventional Worlds, Barbarisation, and Great Transitions. The first scenario envisages the persistence of dominant institutions and cultural values, with the world slowly attempting to adapt through reactive market forces or incremental governmental policy changes. However, this adaptive “business as usual” route is high risk and may lead to democracy only surviving in ghettoised forms as societies regress towards Barbarisation.
The ideal scenario would be a Great Transition that develops innovative institutions to promote environmental sustainability, social justice, and meaningful lifestyles, especially a humanity that has attained a base level of economic prosperity. Instead of unchecked quantitative consumerism, qualitative fulfilment must be our new goal. Such a transformation requires a new fundamental set of holistic human values, namely solidarity, environmentalism, and well-being – a popular philosophy of sufficiency.
Trump and the Republicans cannot deny global warming forever. The Pentagon’s “Climate Adaptation Roadmap”, published in 2014, accepts climate change as a fact and has already documented its effects on US military bases. Having a Commander-in-Chief who refuses the scientific reality of the military situation epitomises the Vietnam War-era McNamara Fallacy, ie, saying that what cannot be easily measured really does not exist.
Ultimately, we need to remember that we are social animals, at base not selfish but filled with love at the sight of children, and therefore capable of love and compassion for “Others”. We need to restore Earth’s planetary boundaries and create a safe operating space for humanity. In the face of overwhelming odds, we are left with one option – to save this planet. This means safeguarding Nasa budgets to understand climate change, which also serve as technology drivers, not threatening them. And as we go to the stars, we need to look back at the Earth as a human race, united in diversity, and critically judge ourselves.
 

Published : December 01, 2016

By : John Draper, Peerasit Kamnuansilpa Special to The Nation