Editor’s note: Abdul Basit is an Indian expatriate living in Kuwait. In this essay he calls on the leaders at the Bali climate talks to put aside the tendency to emphasize narrow national interests, to serve instead the greater needs of humanity as we face a climate change crisis which could threaten our very future. In that context, he observes that wars fought over national interests impede our progress in addressing larger environmental issues such as climate change. We must realize we humans share one earth and that “peace is the most important component in the fight against climate change.”
I regret that I was unable to post this piece earlier in the Bali talks, but it’s message must live on long after these talks and into those to come. Many thanks to Abdul for submitting this important essay. — JF
By Abdul Basit:
This is an appeal to world leaders and the scientific community gathered in Bali, Indonesia for the United Nations Climate Change Conference.
While the global community in general and certain scientists in particular are greatly concerned about the consequences of global warming and climate change in relation to the existence of humanity and habitability of earth, a few nations, like the USA, Israel and some other countries are pursuing the war agenda and preparing for a new round of encounters.
As the world nations and the UN are seriously considering new regulations and policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and are preparing comprehensive measures to counter climate change in the UN Climate Change Summit being held in Bali, the world’s sole superpower and its allies are pondering about enforcing new sanctions against Iran and are openly discussing the prospects of World War III.
What we see in the international arena are the two extremes. On the one hand, we see the ever-increasing signs of climate change like floods, hurricanes, forest fires, inundation of coastal areas due to rising sea-levels, melting glaciers, growing poverty due to mounting climate refugees and reduced agricultural output, threat to extinction of species and biodiversity — all of which are proving a serious challenge to existence. On the other hand, as if these problems and crises are not enough, the major discussions in the international forums and among the media are about the methods to counter the threats of Iran from attaining nuclear expertise.
These countries consider Iran’s nuclear crises a priority over the serious existential crises which mankind as a whole is facing. This lack of priority and confusion is prevalent in all international venues. The UN General Assembly, held last September, was where most of the media attention focused on Ahmadinejad’s address to Colombia University rather than the conference on Climate Change. This proves that too much attention is focused on war and not enough on climate matters.
As such, the basic dilemma we have to address concerns the extent that the earth has the capacity to face another war that will involve nuclear weapons and how will it impact this planet and the future of its inhabitants.
Wars And Global Warming
When we try to address the above matter and try to make sense of this confusion evident in the International forums, we have to address certain fundamental issues. Although the history of wars and battles between nations dates back to the origins of humankind, the effects of earlier wars were confined to the immediate vicinity of the regions of confrontation. But due to the advancement in the technology of weaponry (especially on account of the invention of nuclear weapons and WMDs), most wars fought during the 20th and 21st centuries (especially the First and the Second World Wars), not only caused unimaginable casualties to the countries involved, but also caused irreparable damage to humanity as a whole and the environment for generations to come.
The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the Second World War, the chemical weapons used in the Vietnam War, and the depleted uranium and WMD’s used in Gulf Wars are some of the examples that caused havoc and utter misery. These wars and the pursuit of dominance by nation states through attaining the latest weapons of mass destruction played a major role in damaging the environment, which in turn became one of the factors instigating climate change.
Nation States Verses Global Emergency
For centuries, the earth has been bearing the brunt of conflicts between nation states, whether these situations were based on racial, ideological, cultural, geographical, nationalistic or religious foundations. The boundaries of these nation states were drawn and redrawn depending on the course of these wars and conflicts. The earth was able to sustain these scribbling of borders and coped with the impact of these nation states to conquer and dominate other nations throughout many centuries, which along with humanitarian and psychological consequences, severely damaged the environment and negatively affected its habitability. Shortsighted leaders and dictators played a major role in igniting these unwarranted wars and the results of these wars was devastation for not only conquerors and the conquered, but for humanity as a whole.
At the same time, we have to realize these nation states have also played a major role in the welfare and well being of their citizens, as well as in the social and economic development of the societies within their boundaries. However, at the same time, the main reason for these disastrous wars was the dominance of interests of the nation states over the well being of humanity as a whole, including humanitarian, environmental and existential interests.
So, now we have reached a situation were the existence of humanity is at stake and it’s destiny and that of nations are tied together. If we have to overcome this crisis of climate change, we have to think beyond the confines of man-made boundaries of nation states. So along with being patriotic to our respective nations, which have sometimes supported their citizens generously, we also have to give due consideration to the protection and safety of the earth and the environment, which has been supporting all these nation states.
The world leaders and policy makers have to ensure that national interests do not in any way become detrimental to the environment and negatively affect habitability of earth. In other words, we have to overcome the “We” and “They” mentality since the challenges faced by humankind requires unity above all confines. Here we only have “WE” as mankind in a fight for survival and existence. So along with maintaining our national identity, we also have to emphasize that we are inhabitants of the planet earth (or “Earthies”) and consider it as our absolute moral obligation to rescue this planet from the devastation created by our lifestyle and other excesses, including war.
Fragmentation and Materialism
In fact, these wars and their repercussions are only part of the wider malady, which has infected the global community. As in the case of nation states, the fragmentation and egocentricity are prevalent in individual, family and social relationships. The consumerist culture, extravagant lifestyles and unwarranted materialistic competition have caused fragmentation in family and social relationships. They also provide some of the reasons for over-exploitation of natural resources and the pollution of the environment. The career oriented education system has also played a major role in creating this way of life by conditioning the younger generations towards consumerism and materialism.
In this age of climate change, we have to make some fundamental transformation about the concepts of life in order to overcome the challenges to our very survival. We have to replace the fragmentation, selfishness, competition and antagonism that are prevalent nowadays with noble values of unity, cooperation, compassion and mutual understanding.
Peace and Climate Change
While the world leaders and scientists thrash it all out at the United Nations Climate Conference in Bali, Indonesia, discussing new measures to counter Global warming and climate change, they should realize that peace is the most important component in the fight against climate change. In the year when Nobel peace prize has been conferred on Mr. Al Gore and the IPCC as recognition for their positive role in bringing awareness about the man made Climate Change, we have to emphasize that, without peace, all the measures and policies to counter climate change will prove futile.
Hence, before we draw plans to reduce carbon emissions, search for alternative sources of energy, and change lifestyles, we have to ensure that our attempts to prevent climate change do not go in vain, by ascertaining that we take necessary steps to prevent future wars that will nullify all the prospective measures.
So for ensuring world peace and justice, I propose the following steps to the governmental, business and scientific leaders who have gathered in Bali for the United Nations Climate Conference:
- World leaders must prepare a policy framework to prevent future wars including the upcoming Iran war for the benefit of the humanity as whole. This should be based on the realization that there will be no clear winners or losers in future wars and humanity, as whole, will have to face the consequences of any future and current wars since these assaults will further aggravate the already complicated climate change situation.
- We must establish a framework in which all the pending issues between nations, including the long-standing Palestinian crises, can be settled peacefully through dialogues and involvement of all concerned parties. To ensure the success of these negotiations, unlike the Annapolis summit where some parties were not included; we have to guarantee that all parties (including the so-called extremists from both sides of political spectrum) participate in this process.
- Since injustice and subjugation breed wars, we have to prepare a framework to ensure that justice, security and fundamental rights of all nations, including the vulnerable countries, are guaranteed.
- The war on terrorism has already cost millions of lives around the world, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, enormous damage to the environment in these countries has transpired and the amount of damage is still inconclusive due to further perpetuation of war in this region.
Meanwhile, we have to realize that, during these years of war on terrorism, many nations and societies have been greatly affected by natural disasters and weather related problems. Hurricane Katrina, assorted tsunamis, forest fires in Europe and the US, cyclones in Bangladesh, floods in quite a few nations (including Mexico, Nicaragua and Africa), and earthquakes in different parts of the world have all caused havoc and suffering.
The reality is that the greatest danger humanity is facing is from natural disasters rather than terrorism. Moreover, the war on terrorism has only complicated matters and diverted our attention from dealing with the burning issue of climate change and natural disasters. All considered, it’s about time humanity as a whole joined hands and gathered all our resources to jointly prepare for a “Battle For Survival .” This battle is not only for defending the continued existence of humankind, but also for preserving all the cultures and contributions that humanity has offered throughout its thousands of years of history in its existence on this planet.
- As the most organized force created by nation states, the military and armed forces can play positive role in the “Battle for Survival”. At the same time, the role of the military will be contrary to that for which it was originally created. Instead of the destruction in which they have hitherto been involved, they will have to play an innovative, fresh role in this new battle for survival. Leaders and the scientific community must also tackle the issue of vast amounts of dangerous weapons at the disposal of various countries and no longer needed in this age of volatile climate alteration.
- As members of the human community, we have to encourage understanding and cooperation between nations and religions by stressing the human unity essential for our survival.
To conclude, I remind the world leaders and researchers, who are attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, that they have a huge responsibility on their shoulders. The decisions of this conference will not only decide the future of the existence of humankind, but also bear on preserving all the past cultures and contributions humanity has offered throughout its thousands of years history of existence on this beautiful planet.
So, on behalf of the human race, I appeal to the world leaders to set aside their narrow national interests and play a historical and highly moral role in saving this planet and its inhabitants. The very future for all of life, human and otherwise, depends on their meeting this obligation with nothing short of total resolve!
Image source: musigny’s photostream, flickr.com, Creative Commons license