Share via Email Whoever hacked into the emails at the University of East Anglia fired the opening salvo in a new kind of dirty war. Environmentalists have always assumed that the threat of disaster will bring about an era of global cooperation. In reality, climate change is triggering another round of geopolitical conflict. Limiting the use of fossil fuels may be essential if disaster is to be avoided, but countries that in different ways rely heavily on these fuels for their prosperity — such as Russia and Saudi Arabia, China and the US — were never going to accept the strict carbon curbs that the EU and others demanded. How much the leaked emails contributed to the breakdown of the summit is unclear, but the effect has been to let those countries, along with the rest of the world, off the hook.
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Share via Email Whoever hacked into the emails at the University of East Anglia fired the opening salvo in a new kind of dirty war. Environmentalists have always assumed that the threat of disaster will bring about an era of global cooperation. In reality, climate change is triggering another round of geopolitical conflict. Limiting the use of fossil fuels may be essential if disaster is to be avoided, but countries that in different ways rely heavily on these fuels for their prosperity — such as Russia and Saudi Arabia, China and the US — were never going to accept the strict carbon curbs that the EU and others demanded.
How much the leaked emails contributed to the breakdown of the summit is unclear, but the effect has been to let those countries, along with the rest of the world, off the hook. The undermining effect on climate science looks like being long-lasting and profound. In The Empathic Civilization, Jeremy Rifkin suggests that the whole of history is a struggle between the polar forces of empathy and entropy.
Moving from hunting and gathering to farming, and then to industrial production, enabled humans to interact with one another as never before, but this increasing interconnection involved depleting the planet, a process that is reaching a climax just as civilisation is becoming planet-wide for the first time.
The answer appears to be straightforward: by developing "biosphere consciousness". It is hardly a new story. How often have we heard environmentalists exclaim that the alternatives facing the world are radical transformation or total catastrophe?
The trouble is that their analysis of the environmental crisis is extremely shallow. Climate change is not mainly the work of sinister corporate interests and weak-kneed or corrupt politicians. It is a direct result of the energy-intensive civilisation in which the affluent part of humankind lives, and which the rest very much wants to join.
While humans are more interdependent than ever before, they are at the same time destabilising the planet. Reining in corporate interests and chivvying politicians to be greener do nothing to resolve this fundamental contradiction.
Where Rifkin departs from the standard green line is in grasping that all of humanity is caught in a trap, but he seems convinced that, provided human empathy continues to expand, the trap can be sprung without too much difficulty. The essence of any catch is that there is no way out, but Rifkin shrinks from this cruel logic, with the result that his argument verges on incoherence.
How could human empathy possibly defeat the force of entropy, an irreversible physical process? Does Rifkin believe an increase in altruism can lead to the repeal of the second law of thermodynamics?
Most of The Empathic Civilization is not in fact concerned with the practical task of coping with the mess humans have made of the planet. One need not be a hardened cynic to find this Rousseauesque tale implausible. Humans may be more moved by empathy than is sometimes allowed, but empathy for the feelings of others is not only expressed in compassion. It is equally the basis of cruelty, a trait that is also distinctively human.
For all its inordinate length, The Empathic Civilization fails to substantiate its central thesis. The innate sociability of human beings is a fact, but it does not follow that they are likely to cooperate in dealing with environmental crisis. The impact of climate change is rather to intensify human conflict. As global warming accelerates, natural resources such as arable land and water become scarcer, and competition to control them will be acute and pervasive.
At the same time, those whose power and wealth come from fossil fuels will do anything they can to promote "climate scepticism". This is where the leaked emails come in. With global warming fuelling a resurgence of geopolitical tensions, climate science has become a weapon in a war of disinformation.
Whatever lapses in intellectual probity they might reveal, the messages are being used to obscure a mass of evidence showing that anthropogenic climate change is real, and may be occurring more rapidly than previously believed. It is still possible to frame an intelligent response to the threat, but first we need to recognise that the climate has become a battleground.
The Empathic Civilization
Background[ edit ] Author Jeremy Rifkin had previously written several books that, like The Empathic Civilization, have attempted to extrapolate trends in the economy, technology, and society. For example, his book The End of Work concerns the changes that tele-commuting would have on the workplace, his book The Biotech Century concerns the expected impacts of genetic engineering, and his book The Hydrogen Economy concerns the economic and social effects that will result from the expected replacement of fossil fuels with hydrogen as an energy storage medium. His last book before writing The Empathic Civilization was The European Dream , published in , comparing the American Dream with the values expressed by Europeans in the post-industrial economy. At the time of publication, the year-old Rifkin was working as an advisor to the European Union concerning issues relating to the economy, climate change, and energy security, as well as president of the American non-profit organization the Foundation on Economic Trends. The new global economy will be based upon renewable energy , like wind power , solar energy , natural gas , etc.
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Never has the world seemed so completely united-in the form of communication, commerce, and culture-and so savagely torn apart-in the form of war, financial meltdown, global warming, and even the migration of diseases. The very way our brains are structured disposes us to a way of feeling, thinking, and acting in the world that is no longer entirely relevant to the new environments we have created for ourselves. The human-made environment is rapidly morphing into a global space, yet our existing modes of consciousness are structured for earlier eras of history, which are just as quickly fading away. Humanity, Rifkin argues, finds itself on the cusp of its greatest experiment to date: refashioning human consciousness so that human beings can mutually live and flourish in the new globalizing society.