The Age of Destruction: How we're simultaneously playing god and devil with our planet

Most climate scientists expect that we shall cross the 2 degree Celsius rise barrier any time after 2050

The Age of Destruction: How we're simultaneously playing god and devil with our planet

Avay Shukla

We are living in a geological epoch known as the Holocene, which commenced about 12,000 years ago after the Little Ice Age. It corresponds with the period of human growth, civilisations and technological advances. But the impact of human activities on climate and environment on the planet has been so massive during this period that geologists have begun to call this period the Anthropocene epoch, referring to the most recent period in Earth history when human activities have had a significant impact on the earth’s geology and ecosystems, including climate change.

Discussions are going on in the International Union of Geological Sciences about the starting date for this new epoch. There are three options: a) from the beginning of the Agricultural Revolution 12,000-15,000 years ago; b) from the detonation of the first atom bomb in 1945; c) from the date of the first partial Nuclear Ban Treaty in 1963.

The impact of human activity on the planet in the past 12,000 years has been far greater and destructive than all the events in the hundreds of millions of years preceding it. We are literally reshaping the planet—levelling mountains, diverting the course of rivers and stopping their natural flow, tunnelling and eviscerating the innards of planet Earth in our endless quest for more minerals, draining wetlands, sucking out the aquifers that have existed for millions of years, wiping out entire forests. Every natural resource has been exploited to the point of no return in our blind pursuit of the holy grail of GDP growth.

· One hundred billion animals are slaughtered every year for food.

· 70 percent of the oceans have been fished out, to a point where marine populations can no longer replace themselves.

· 10,000 species of life forms are going extinct every year, one thousand times the normal extinction rate in nature.

· Three trillion tonne of Antarctica ice has melted in the last 25 years; if this ice cap were to melt completely it would raise the level of the world’s oceans by 60 metres.

· Ten million hectares of forests are felled every year; in the last 30 years we have lost 80 million hectares of primary forests, 30 percent of the Amazon rain forests have disappeared.

· 27,000 trees are felled every day for making toilet paper.

India too is not to be left behind in this race to the apocalypse, as the Joshimath subsidence and the approval for diverting 140 sq. km of forest land and the felling of 800,000 trees in Greater Andaman for crony driven ‘development’ shows.

Fifty million tonnes of e-waste is generated every year, 90 percent of it dumped in landfills. Technology is even gestating man-made viruses, and there are reports that in China they are using genetic splicing to manufacture a new sub-species of homo sapiens! We are playing god and the devil at the same time. Does one need to say anything more?

The atmosphere already contains 800 billion tonne of CO2 and we keep adding another 40 billion tonne every year. We have as much chance of restricting the global temperature rise to 1.5 degree Celsius by 2050 as an ice cube in hell. To achieve this target, global emissions have to be cut by 50 per cent by 2030; at the moment they continue to rise every year.

Most climate scientists expect that we shall cross the 2 degree Celsius rise barrier any time after 2050. All the COPs and climate conferences are making no significant difference, as we continue to fight over historical culpability, funding, whether fossil fuels should be “phased down” or “phased out”, carbon tax and carbon credits, etc.

Shockingly, at the recent COP in Sharmal-Shaikh, discussions focused on the impacts of climate change, rather than on its causes: we seem to be moving towards adaption rather than towards prevention. Actually, it’s unrealistic to expect any progress when all the world leaders fly in by chartered flights, emitting GHGs all the way, or when 18 out of 20 corporate sponsors of the just concluded COP27 support or partner with the fossil fuel industry, or when the next COP will be held in the UAE, one of the largest producers of natural gas in the world.

This depredation and over exploitation of the planet is driven by our collective hubris, greed, distorted economics and a technology gone rogue. It is totally avoidable. We do not need to do this to ensure a decent quality of life for the eight billion population: there is plenty of wealth to go around if only its distribution were not so skewed. Consider this: global GDP is about 100 trillion US dollars-, which works out to $12,500 (Rs 10 lakh) per capita for each of the 8 billion population of the world.

But the richest 10 per cent of the population hold 85 per cent of global wealth while the remaining 90 per cent make do with the left over 15 per cent. It gets worse—the top one per cent appropriate 47.8 per cent of all the wealth (Credit Suisse report, 2021), and these figures keep going up every year. If governments had better taxation and distribution policies there would be more than enough to go round, and we would not have to chase the relentless GDP growth targets that are unsustainable and killing this planet.

The Anthropocene has other dimensions that contribute to climate change and the devastation of the planet: the decline of democracies since the early 1990s and the rise of fascism, global trade, increasing social and economic inequalities, the entrenchment of exploitative capitalism. All these factors result in governments ignoring, and even suppressing, people’s movements; disempowering local communities, tribals and indigenous populations; prioritisation of economic gains over ecological costs; unsustainable exploitation of natural resources.

Geo politics plays its role too in the ravaging of the environment; the ongoing war in Ukraine is reversing much of the small gains made in the last two decades. Countries are going back to the use of fossil fuels, especially coal. Mines in Europe are being reopened, decommissioned nuclear plants are being put back in service.

The tipping point, beyond which the changes become irreversible, is not far away, and we are running out of time. Anthropocene may be the last epoch in the history of Man. The Doomsday clock in Chicago, which was set at seven minutes to midnight (the point of apocalypse) in 1947 is now at 90 seconds from midnight. As the poet said- ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

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