April 2, 2012
Over the Edge
an article on global collapse

At the recent Planet Under Pressure Conference, Bob Watson, former head of the UN's climate panel, remarked, "I would say it's not unlikely that we will hit a 5 C [9 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than pre-industrial times] world". Will Steffen, executive director of the Australian National University's climate change institute, noted that "Some people have even talked about a collapse."

Statements like this have a bitter-sweet taste for me. Maybe Steffen was referring to me (although far more likely, to others attending the conference). I've been using the C-word for 9 years now - ever since the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, and its acceptance by most of the rest of the world, in spite of the millions who took to the streets demonstrating against it.

The invasion of Iraq was a turning point. It set the world inexorably and irretrievably on a path of military competition. If the world had spoken a little louder, come to the aid of Iraq, it might have set us on the path of cooperation, through which we might have solved the problems of a warming world. If leaders had listened a little closer to the millions who said no to war, instead of laboring under their sad belief that they are wiser than the people they claim the Right to speak for...; but it was not to be.

So we are headed - not up to the brink - but over the edge. Why do people have such difficulty with the C-word? Collapse! There, I've said it! And indeed, why not? Can anyone give me a reason why our civilization ought not to collapse?

I do not view the events of September 11, 2001 or the invasion of Afghanistan as turning points. Unlike the Iraq War, there was little opposition to the invasion of Afghanistan (yours truly excepted). But Afghans are tough. They can take care of themselves. The invasion of Afghanistan was an injustice of monumental stupidity from day one, up to and beyond the murder and disposal at sea of a corpse, alleged to have once belonged to Osama bin Laden. There wasn't a single Afghan involved in the attacks on the World Trade Center or the Pentagon. Yet, this incident was an excuse for 49 countries with an endorsement from the United Nations and a blessing from the Catholic Church, to invade Afghanistan.

I think the Afghans might have beaten back the entire world. They turned back the British at the height of its imperial power. They defeated the Soviet Union and helped bring about its demise. And now they are defeating 49 countries and the most powerful military force the world has ever known.

Remember the old Irish joke:

Q: Why are the Irish always fighting among themselves?
A: Because there are no other worthy opponents.

We ought to make that one into an Afghan joke (no offense meant to the Irish). If we were all Afghans, we might be able to avoid Collapse.

Iraq was different. By the Spring of 2003 the shock of 9/11 had worn off, millions of people from all over the world were saying no to militarism and yes to international cooperation. When the United States ignored this international consensus and invaded Iraq, we lost our best opportunity to deal with climate change. We are unlikely to get another chance. War is the greatest of crimes against humanity, because it includes within it all other crimes against humanity. As Martin Luther King pointed out, "[America's soul] can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over." I don't think this only refers to our moral soul. I think it ultimately refers to our physical existence too. As Brian Terrell points out, much of the movement for domestic change utterly fails to recognize the military roots of our problems. Simply put, we can either deal with important global problems like climate change; or we can wage war. We can't do both.

Consider: As the world warms, crops will fail, famine, blight and pestilence will spread, and societies will fall apart. How will a world steeped in militarism respond? Will hungry people with nuclear weapons refrain from using them in vain attempts to garner the world's ever dwindling supplies of food, water, and other human necessities? More war means more destruction, and fewer necessities of life to go around. This is Collapse.

And do not look to the foolish 1%, the arrogant super-rich, to save us. Howard Zinn got it right: "To rely on the wisdom of the people in power is the worst thing you can do."

Look at this population graph. For most of humanity's existence, the world supported no more than a few million people. After Collapse, will the world even be able to support that many? How many? one million? 100,000? Zero? Who will be the survivors? Certainly not me. I used to think Collapse would not come during my lifetime. Now I think it is imminent. At age 70, I would guess that I have at least a 50/50 chance of dying in the Collapse. How about my grandchildren? If 10 million of the world's population of 7 billion were to survive, that gives us all a 0.14% chance of survival. Not very good odds, even when you have 10 grandchildren.

So what ought we to be doing? I can only speak for myself. I continue to do as I have been doing: reading, writing, cartooning, speaking and advocating for peace. The boat may be sinking; but like the orchestra on the Titanic, I keep playing.

I do a lot of praying. I still believe in miracles. I don't pray that God will turn off the heat. I don't think God works that way. Rather, I pray, Thy will be done. We know that the world has collapsed before; and it will collapse again. Perhaps God will rebuild the world after this collapse, as God has done before. It has been sung in the blues, "Great God Almighty; bring dynamite and a crane; blow it up; and start all over again." Perhaps, enough of us will survive to try again. And perhaps, we will do better next time.

And who will the survivors, if any, be? I cannot say; but I'm betting that many of them will be Afghans.