There is an ever-growing consensus that the climate crisis represents humanity’s greatest problem. Indeed, global warming is more than an environmental crisis — there are social, political, ethical and economic dimensions to it. The role of science in the current climate crisis should be examined critically, given that technology is so responsible for bringing about global disaster. This is the subject of my interview with Richard Falk, a renowned scholar.
Richard Falk has made enormous contributions to international affairs and international laws over the years. His humanist perspective, which is a departure from political realism that places emphasis on the nation-state or military power, may loosely be described as Richard Falk’s contribution to international affairs. He is currently professor emeritus of international practice and law at Princeton University. He taught there for almost 50 years. Falk is also the Olaf Palme visiting professor in Stockholm and the Visiting Distinguished Professor at University of Malta’s Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies. Falk was named a United Nations Special Reporteur on the human rights situation in the Palestinian territories occupied from 1967 to 2008 Falk is the author or 50 books. His most recent book is a moving memoir titled Public Intellectual: The life of a Citizen Pilgrim (2021).
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C.J. Polychroniou: The climate crisis is the greatest challenge of our time, but, so far, we seem to be losing the battle to avoid driving the planet to dangerous “tipping points.” Indeed, a climate apocalypse appears to be a rather distinct possibility given the current levels of climate inaction. It is obvious, however, that the climate crisis is not limited to one dimension. It is undoubtedly about the environment, but it also involves science, ethics and economics. Let’s start with the relationship between science and the environment. Is science responsible for global warming and subsequent environmental degradation, given the role played by technology in the modern age.
Richard Falk: I think science bears some responsibility for adopting the outlook that freedom of scientific inquiry takes precedence over considering the real-world consequences of scientific knowledge — the exemplary case being the process by which science and scientists contributed to the making of the nuclear bomb. Albert Einstein, a scientist and knowledge worker who was most ethically inclined, was one of the contributors to this incident. The post-Hiroshima development of weaponry of massive destruction has enlisted top biologists, chemists, and physicists to continue producing more deadly weaponry. There has been little scientific resistance.
Your question raises more questions about the state of the environment. Since the 1970s, scientists have warned of a number of possible catastrophic threats to ecological equilibrium. These warnings were debunked by respected scientists until the 20th Century, but if they were considered to be a precautionary principle, Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment(1972) would have been in effect. Scientists then had some responsibility for finding more capital-efficient applications for oil and gas. Post-Enlightenment beliefs that human advancement depended on scientific knowledge, as well as adverse health effects, prevented regulation for the public good. Some adjustments were made only after civil society raised the alarm. These adjustments, though often insufficient in content, were made to defer to private interests in profitability and public interest in the enhancement and control of military capabilities.
Overall, despite the climate change crisis, there remains a reluctance to hamper scientific “progress” by an insistence on respecting the carrying capacity of the Earth. Science and scientists are still unable to link the search for knowledge with the avoidance of environmentally dangerous technological applications. This is even more true in relation to political or cultural activities. If a more prudent approach was to be taken, there is also the issue of the selection and discretionary authority of environmental guardians.
The climate crisis also raises important ethical questions, although it is not clear from current efforts to tame global warming that many of the world’s governments take them seriously. However, ethics should inform the debate on global warming and environmental destruction.
The most pressing ethical issues are when it comes to distributing greenhouse gas emissions’ economic burdens in a way that ensures an equitable distribution of the costs within and between countries. The relevance of “climate justice” to relations among social classes and between rich and poor countries is contested and controversial. The world is still organized around state-centric axes that are responsible and authority. This means that ethical metrics are not as defined. This is a way to calculate climate justice and ethical accountability, given the global nature of the problems associated with global warming. Political spaceThis is a significant problem.
Similar observations can be made with regard to Time. Although the idea of “responsibility to future generations” received some recognition at the UNNothing concrete was done in the way of implementation. The short-term performance criteria of political elites were fixed, regardless of whether they were satisfying corporate shareholders or the voters. The tyranny and current in policy domains impeded the implementation of the laudatory ethics recognition of the claims. [future generations]To a prosperous and materially secure future.
It seems that the ethical imperative to consider the past’s relevance is being neglected. This is because it is unfairly burdening the future for past injustices. For example, compensation claims on behalf victims of slavery or other forms of exploited persons are rarely satisfied, no matter how ethically sound. One exception is that reparations imposed in wartime by victorious powers.
The past is an important part of environmental responsibility. Global warming is a major problem in the West. The vast majority of the Global South are more responsible than the West, and many parts Africa and the Middle East have the dual reality of having minimal responsibility and being highly vulnerable to its harmful effects.
These ethical issues are now being forced onto the agendas at global conferences. This was evident at UN-sponsored 2021 COP 26 Glasgow Climate Summit. The intergovernmental response was disappointing. It reflected capitalist, geopolitical disregard for ethical dimensions of climate change.
Politics is also a prominent factor in the climate crisis. Questions are being raised about whether our current system, both at the national level and internationally, is sufficient to meet the greatest challenge we face. What are your thoughts about this matter?
The organizational root of climate change is, as it was suggested, the inability to address the problem with the tools that were developed for problem-solving in a world that is state-centric and lacks weak institutional mechanisms for effective promotion of the global common good. The UN was created with the historical hope that the major powers of international relations would cooperate in peace efforts as they did for war during the period 1939-1945. Despite its lofty rhetoric, UN was intended to be a weak global organization. The UN was disempowered by giving the World War II victors a right to veto, which in essence was a recognition that geopolitics is the dominant force.
Other than geopolitics there were many other obstacles to global-oriented problem-solving due to the persistence of statism and its expansion after the fall of European colonialism. This dominance of statism was reinforced by rigid ideological adherence to nationalism on the part of political leaders, shaping relations with other countries even if disguised somewhat by alliance diplomacy, “special relationships” ([such as the U.S.’s relationship with]Israel) and neoliberal patterns for globalization.
The central political issue is upholding the necessity for unprecedented levels global oriented cooperation to effectively address climate change issues that were being stymied due to the continued dominance by geopolitical and statist tendencies in international relations. These tendencies favor the. Part Over the Wholemultilateral problem-solving. This structural reality has been made more difficult by the rise of hyper-nationalist autocratic leaders in many important countries and recent preoccupations about containing the COVID pandemic as well as limiting its economic consequences.
Until a solid mechanism is created to promote global public good, the political power of existing structures of world government will not be capable of forming prudent and effective policies to combat climate change. To establish such a mechanism, it will be necessary [either]Future climate catastrophes and the shock effects on the Earth.
The climate crisis also reflects economic failure. Some argue that capitalism is actually the problem and that climate change is simply a symptom. Given our current situation, and the fact that the window of opportunity is rapidly closing, should the fight to combat global warming also be a battle against capitalism?
David Whyte ends his book on ecocide with these stark words: “[W]e have to kill the corporation before it kills us.” The guiding idea of contemporary capitalism is to maximize short-term profitability, a posture that contradicts the kind of approach that would protect the natural habitat against the ravages wrought by contemporary capitalism.
The problem may not be limited to capitalism. Socialist governments have a worse record than the ones that exist today, even though they have more state control over the economy. They are not better at protecting the environment or taking into account longer-term threats to the natural environment. Although state-dominated economies are less concerned about profitability than other countries, their preoccupation with maximizing economic growth is just as dangerous.
Until there is a new kind and form of citizenship, both economic and political policy will be grounded in the past. [prioritizing]If humanity gains political traction it seems highly unlikely that ecological threats can be addressed responsibly.
What is your view of the future of global warming? What might be possible strategies to combat climate inaction?
You left the most difficult question for last. Education in the broadest possible sense is crucial. It includes rethinking citizenship as well as active civic participation. It is essential that UN efforts are made to allow it to be more independent of geopolitical, nationalist manipulations. These have prevented UN from playing an important role during the COVID epidemic. This regressive interaction with states was highlighted by the hostility of Trump’s presidency to any kind of meta-nationalist approach to the control of the virus, including his disgraceful decision to defund and disengage from the World Health Organization.
A more credible UN will require independent and increased funding via an international tax. It also requires curtailing the right to veto by five permanent members of its Security Council. These global reforms cannot be achieved without significant pressure from civil society mobilizations and the emergence of more enlightened leaders in important countries.
A reconstituted world order that is responsive to the nature and magnitude of climate change would require a radical transformation in economic activity, as we have already suggested. This could only happen through a revolutionary process that either took the unprecedented form of a transnational movement, spread from one state to the next, as was the case with the Arab Spring of 2010-2011, or both, but without triggering a counterrevolutionary backlash.
There is no visible transition strategy that will allow us to move from where are at the moment to where we need to go. Indulging in utopian imagination is a political act. It involves imagining futures that are climate-friendly.
I believe that our escape from present entrapment depends on “a politics of impossibility.” Our leaders say, and the general consensus is, that politics should be conceived as “the art of the possible,” which assesses the play of forces to discover what is feasible. My argument was that what the political class considers feasible is not sufficient to produce acceptable policies and practices in relation to climate threats. This means that the politics we know is not capable of generating a solution.
It is clear that the impossible can be achieved. Recent international experience shows this with the victories by national resistance movements during major anti-colonial conflicts of 20th century, the collapse and dismantling South African apartheid. Experts considered each outcome impossible before it occurred. It is clear that the impossible occurs only when there is enough mobilization of people to produce outcomes that are contrary to the perceptions of forces that want to maintain the status quo.
This leads me to see the future uncertain and unknowable. Therefore, any future we see as desirable and necessary can come true, regardless of our current expectations. This makes it reasonable and justifiable that patriots of humanity engage in the pursuit of a better future. There are many signs that a green vision is gaining support all over the planet, particularly among youth who have the most at stake and thus the greatest potential to win. It is possible that youth are the most vocal advocates for ecologically responsible humane governance of the planet.
This article has been lightly edited to improve clarity.