Speaking in Paris on December 7, 2015, the UN Secretary General again reminded the world leaders that: “More than 1 billion people worldwide live without electricity. Nearly 3 billion people depend on smoky, dangerous traditional fuels for cooking and heating. Access to modern, reliable, affordable clean energy is equally important for ending extreme poverty and reducing inequality…The clock is ticking toward climate catastrophe.” Nihilists, professional optimists, or status quo conservators would call it ‘environmental alarmism’… What is really the state of our planet?
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Back in 1990s, there was a legendary debate between two eminent scientists Carl Sagan, Astrophysicist and Ernst Mayr, Evolutionary Biologist. The issue was the question of all questions – is there any intelligent life out there? Sagan – closer to mathematics, and the counting of stars and worlds attached to it – argued that out of all the innumerable planets like ours, life must flourish at many of them. Quite a few of them, he claimed, must have developed advanced forms of living beings. Mayr – on the other hand – argued the opposite. His pessimism was coming from his profession, not from his character that was as vivid and optimistic as Sagan’s: What is a biology for natural sciences that is a history for human sciences – a space-time-lined story of the past with a predicament, or sometimes an inevitable consequences, for our future.
As Prof. Naom Chomski beautifully reminds us of this great episode, Ernst Mayr took our mother planet as an example to illustrate his claim.
The so-called biological success of species could be measured by their number, configuration and durability. By all three parameters, Prof. Mayr stressed, the most adaptive systems are those undergoing fast (non-cognitive) mutations caused by any environmental stress (e.g. varieties of bacteria, creatures stuck in a fixed ecological niches, like beetles or some sea biotas), and surviving even larger crisis including the cataclysmic events. But, as we go up the scale of what we assume as intelligence, the systems become less adaptive and scarcer by number, configuration and durability. Arriving to the top (as we classify as a tip of the intelligence pyramid), from low mammals to higher primates, apes and Homo Sapiens, the species tend to image a rarefying picture – by all three biological success parameters. By Mayr’s account, the average lifespan of upper-intelligence echelons is only around 100,000 years. Out of billions of species that have inhabited (and quite some still inhabiting) our planet, we – along with other higher primates – are late arrivals and temporal ‘accidents’. He attributes this to our intelligence, labeling it as a ‘lethal mutation’ – not a blessing but a curse. Mayr’s finding is intriguing: The higher the intelligence, the more likely to end up in self-destruction, past the transitioning on a curve of initial development.
Indeed, our environmental, financial and politico-economic policies and practices is creating the global stress for us and all other species. Deep and structural, this must be a crisis of our cognitivity. Do we want to prove Mayr right with our global Jihad against the cognitive mind?
Cognitive deficit crisis
From Copenhagen, Durban, Rio+20 to the Paris COP21, our conclusion remains the same: We need principles and accorded actions as this is the only way to tackle the grave problems of this planet. We are lacking the elementary consensus in/on the Bretton Woods institutions, on the Tobin tax initiative, in the WTO Doha Development round, on nuclear non-proliferation (and NPT), on the Middle East and ‘regime change mantra’, in the IPCC, on the post-Kyoto negotiations, and finally on the alarming state of environment. Ergo, on a global scale we fundamentally disagree on the realities of this planet and the ways we can address them.1
I am neither moralizing and idealizing nor agonizing. The world based on agreed principles and commonly willing actions is not a better place. It is the only way for the human race to survive.
Climate Change – a brutal terror against nature
We place ourselves in a center of a materialistic world – this, of what we perceive as a universe of dead matter. Therefore, what we euphemistically call (anthropogenic) Climate Change is actually a brutal war against (living) nature. It is a covert armed conflict, since we are predominantly using the so-called monetizing-potent ‘technologies,’ instead of firearms in our hands (For this purpose hereby, the army units are replaced by the demolition-man of other name; ‘transnational corporations’). This armed insurgency is waged against most of what is beautiful and unique on Earth – on the planet that gave us time and space enough to survive as species and to evolve as cognitive life. Thus, the known sustainability matrix of 3 maximums (of good, of species, and of time) becomes the minimum species, minimum time with a maximum harm.
Intentionally or not, it is a synchronized attack: We are steadily and passionately polluting our public sphere with the diverting banalities manufactured by the so-call social networks, reality shows, ‘celebrities’ and the like – trivializing the contents of our lives. At the same time, we are massively contaminating our biosphere (waters, lands, air and near outer space) with non-degradable and/or toxic, solid or aerosol, particles radiation and noise – irreversibly harming our habitat. We pollute the time as well, turning it into cross-generation warfare’s battlefield: Our dangerous patterns might seal off the fate for untold number of generations and sorts of species to come. No wonder, our corrosive assertiveness has (time-space) parallels: acidifying of oceans and brutalization of our human interactions, as well as over-noising both of them, are just two sides of a same coin. What is the social sphere for society that is the biosphere for the very life on earth: the (space/time – content/form) frame we all live in.
It seems we pay our space (linear possessions) by our time (future). Therefore, our crisis cannot be environmental, as it was never a financial one – our crisis must be a moral one. This is a cognitive deficit crisis, which we eagerly tend to spend in a limbo of denial!
Πάντα ρει (panta rhei)
Nature does not change. Change (as a cosmic constant) is a nature in itself. Still, even Heraclitus understood, this force is never eruptive or destructive (explosive), but eternally gradual and constructive (holistic and implosive).
We are drifting, dissolving and retreating on all levels and within each and every organic (marine and continental biota) or inorganic (soil, glaciers, water, polar caps, etc.) system. For the grave, burning planetary problems, our human race needs an urgent and lasting consensus which presupposes bravery, virtue, vision and creativity. All this will not result from fear of coercion, or from further military (‘war on terror’) confrontations, but from the universally shared willingness to accord our common planetary cause. Cognitive mind can do it all. Let’s start our global war on terror – but this time – on the terror of a global environmental holocaust caused by our cognitive deficit crisis.
1. Chomsky, N. (2010), Human Intelligence and the Environment, University of North Caroline, Chapel Hill (Paper)
2. Sagan, C. (1980), Cosmos Random House, NY /Carl Sagan Productions Inc. (page: 109)
3. Dresner, S. (2002), The Principle of Sustainability, EarthScan London
4. Smith, L.C. (2010), The World in 2050 – Four Forces Shaping Civilization’s Northern Future, Dutton (by Penguin group)
1. Additionally, we fundamentally disagree on a role to be played by technology, even on a very definition on what should be considered as technology. Technology is not a state-of-art of science; technology is a state of mind! It is not a linear progression in mastering the natural science disciplines, but a cognitive, emphatic cluster–mastering of the critical insight.