Destructive cyclonic storms, severe floods and unprecedented wildfires have created havoc at many places in the world in recent times. Less dramatic but no less distressing has been the plight of farmers, pastoral people and other villagers caught in prolonged droughts and extreme water shortages.
As we look at the tragic impacts of climate change unfolding before our eyes, we expect the world leadership to respond by setting in place systems and mechanisms which can ensure that timely help reaches disaster-affected people and at the same time maximum efforts are made to reduce these disasters and their intensity, to the extent that this is still possible.
We also expect them to give much more attention to bringing peace and stability to our troubled world, while at the same time stepping up efforts to reduce the race for more destructive weapons. Unfortunately, in all these respects recent experiences have been discouraging. In several disaster zones of the world, relief and rehabilitation efforts have been far from adequate.
At the same time tensions in a critical area like the Middle East have been allowed to escalate needlessly, the process started by the one-sided arbitrary decision of Trump-led USA to arbitrarily opt out of a nuclear agreement with Iran which was clinched with great effort by the Obama-led USA and its closest allies.
Hence the critical question before humanity today is whether at a time that the environmental crisis is reaching catastrophic proportions, will the world leadership fail to accept its essential responsibilities? A related question is – can peaceful mobilisation and democratic actions by people help to create such conditions that the world leadership is compelled to initiate the big reforms that are needed for protecting the environment, checking the arms race and ensuring peace?
It has become increasingly clear in recent years that humanity faces its biggest-ever crisis in the 21st century as basic life-nurturing conditions of earth are threatened as never before. This can create panic. As the enormity of the crisis becomes more evident, many people may simply feel defeatist and submit themselves to their fate. However, there can also be a very different kind of response.
Once life-threatening conditions appear, people are more amenable to accepting big reforms and changes (which they would not be willing to consider otherwise). Once it becomes clear that not accepting these reforms, or not working for them, will have life-threatening consequences for us or for the next generation, even those who resisted big changes earlier may be inclined towards accepting them.
Hence it is possible to turn the time of unprecedented threats into a time of greatest opportunity. For this to happen a lot of effort must be made to make clear the linkages between the impending disasters and continuing as before without making big reforms.
Similarly, a lot of effort must be made to make clear what sort of changes will help us to avert disaster and how. For example, it is now possible to show how future wars can be destructive to a point of no return and this can also be used to have an agreement for a future without wars.
If it can be shown that climate change cannot be checked with exiting levels of consumerism and weapons production, then opportunities emerge to check consumerism and weapons production. So as the life-threatening crisis accentuates, and it has been accentuating steadily in recent times, those who have been able to understand the enormity of the tragedy at a relatively early stage have a responsibility to take such messages in effective ways to those who do not, for various reasons, yet understand and appreciate the implications of what is unfolding.
There is a special need to take the important information and the understanding of various linkages, to the younger generation – in schools and colleges and at family and community level. The young generation with its better understanding of communication technology can also help to spread this information and understanding rapidly and in meaningful ways.
Once millions and millions of people are convinced of the need for making important reforms and changes, it will become possible to introduce these changes and reforms. When these people raise their voice in peaceful democratic movements, then the world’s leaders will have to listen to them. The crucial question of our times is whether these changes can be made before it is too late.
(The writer is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements and initiatives.)