This cartoon based on an Indian fable, shows how blind men perceive the ‘big picture’ of reality. The whole is much harder to see than the parts, so understandings are limited. An example that I witnessed recently was the COP24 Climate Summit in Katowice in December 2018. Two hundred national representatives assembled in yet another attempt to agree on limiting the emission of greenhouse gases which are causing global warming, climate disruption and melting of the cryosphere that is contributing to sea level rise. Carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions are a symptom of the Machine World that has been called a “heat engine” due to the releasing of the energy stored underground for millions of years as coal, oil and natural gas (so-called fossil energy that is used as fossil fuel). So we might say that the ‘elephant in the room’ (the unseen cause of a particular problem) is the debt-driven growth-economy, the pursuit of ever-increasing GDP that is the driver of the Machine World. Put in terms of the Spaceship Earth metaphor, we have an unnoticed elephant on board to which participants attending meetings like COP24 are not paying attention. They are focusing only on one particular part of the elephant – the emission of gases! The big picture is not in their sights. The climate scientists who offer their dire warning that 1.5C degrees of global warming is now the tipping point for the loss of a sustainable future for humanity by and large are reluctant to put the finger on the Machine World as the root cause of the symptom of global warming. Most scientists focus on understanding only parts of the whole elephant. And scientists often depend on the drivers of the elephant for their livelihoods!
“without a wider critique of the toxic relationship between climate change and economic growth, governments will be almost powerless to achieve any net zero targets they set”.
The above quotation from this article sums up the invisible ‘elephant in the room’ (universal commitment to economic growth which is the root cause of climate change and many other existential threats to a sustainable future) at the mass gathering from 200 nations in Katowice this week that is trying to reach some accord, in the absence of US commitment, in the face of the latest dire warnings from the IPCC scientific consensus about climate disruption, anthropogenic warming and rising numbers of storms & floods, droughts & fires around the world.
The article further suggests that:
“At COP24 environmental movements have an opportunity to use their platform to highlight the relationship between economic growth and environmental impact, and even to discuss radical alternative futures that are not dependent on a growth-based economy.”
This is precisely the purpose of the presentation that I shall make at the Climate Hub fringe event platform on Friday that I am calling “Prospects for Spaceship Earth in the Anthropocene”. I will add this slide from the above article to my presentation:
I am less convinced about the article’s conclusion that:
“By identifying the root cause of climate change, and our inability to address it, these [protest] groups can go further than demanding action. They can change public mindsets, put pressure on national governments and point to a shared way forward. Here, we have our best shot at limiting the damage of climate change in a meaningful and timely way.”
Pictures of where one consequence of economic growth is leading – From a Guardian article on day one of Katowice COP24. “Climate catastrophe is now looking inevitable. We have simply left it too late to hold rising global temperatures to under 1.5C and so prevent a future of drowned coasts, ruined coral reefs, spreading deserts and melted glaciers”.
2.7% growth in GHG emissions for 2018 (NYT, 6 Dec 2018)
Rich countries failing on GHG emissions
Monbiot on inter-generational theft sees property rights as underpinning the elephant in the room of wealth accumulation