This is a guest post, with all the usual disclaimers.
Thinking the Unthinkable
Today we are standing at the edge of the abyss facing 2 existential threats, runway climate change and nuclear war.
These are the flip sides to the same coin, industrialisation.
150 years of industrialisation has caused atmospheric CO2 to exceed the safe limit to avoid runaway climate change. It is now increasing super exponentially and it is possible this could cause it to hit 450 ppm shortly after 2020, at best we have till 2035. Once this happens runaway climate change will be triggered. The only ecosystem we know of in the universe and which took billions of years to evolve will be destroyed.
Despite this emerging catastrophe and with the best science that mankind can throw at the problem, nothing is happening. 18 rounds of international climate change talks with all the best intentions have resulted in 18 failures. To think the 19th will succeed is naivety.
Industrialisation has also brought the military industrial complex. There is a symbiotic relationship between the two. You cannot have a military industrial complex without industrialisation and industrialising nations need a military industrial complex to secure resources and markets. The apex of this is the possession of nuclear weapons.
As the climate change caused by industrialisation destabilises our planet, governments around the world will seek and are seeking protection by nuclear weapons. Just as the climate change talks repeatedly collapse in failure, then so it is with the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The last round of talks broke up in acrimony. The United Nations Permanent 5 members refused to disarm claiming the threat was too great from new nuclear armed nations who in turn claim that they must have nuclear weapons to protect themselves against existing nuclear armed nations. The result; the momentum of proliferation is gathering pace.
This comes at a huge price. To build a credible nuclear threat a massive carbon intensive military industrial complex is needed. This must be funded by an exponentially expanding economy to raise the taxes and any nation at the receiving end is forced to respond in kind. The resulting race to build carbon intensive military industrial complexes and expanding economies are the antithesis of what is needed to tackle climate change and resource depletion. Building these increases the risk they are trying to protect against. It is the ultimate death spiral.
We have no choice. If we want to tackle climate change we must put nuclear weapons on the climate change negotiating tables. This will cause the most profound change in the history of humanity and challenge the structure of the nation-state framework. But we should not be surprised; climate change is humanities defining issue. To believe the current paradigms that climate change can be solved with agreements that maintain business as usual or through a few good willed citizens migrating to low carbon life styles is as pathetic as Neville Chamberlain proclaiming peace in our time. The only difference is that this time the stakes are very much greater.
And what happens if we decide not to link these two issues? The subconscious lurch to nationalism that is plaguing all of today’s nuclear weapons states will become an unstoppable tidal wave that will wash away all logic and reason. The longer we leave it the higher it becomes as nations are forced to sustain the unsustainable for their survival. Frightened democratic nations will elect nationalistic governments and dictatorships will seek legitimacy by guaranteeing national strength. Both are equally immoral and the finish line of the race they join will be war and ecological collapse. In 2050 the last survivors on the planet will be the nuclear submarines crews, assuming that they have not already destroyed it. It is a brutal irony that these are the same people tasked with its destruction. This is the unspoken strategic objective of the world’s most powerful economies. Trident and nuclear submarines are the modern dayEaster Island statues;massive statements of hubris built in the face of inevitable collapse.
Explicitly linking these issues is the only way the the deadlock in climate change and NPT talks can be broken. Doing this will not guarantee success in the fight against climate change, but failure to do so will guarantee failure.