Det danske Fredsakademi
Kronologi over fredssagen og international politik 23. Juli
2012 / Time Line July 23, 2012
22. Juli 2012, 24. Juli 2012
Facing A Set Of Linked Problems
By John Scales Avery
Today, a number of serious and interconnected problems are facing
human civilization and the biosphere. Because they are linked, we
need to look at all of these problems together, and to find
First and foremost is the threat of nuclear war: Despite the end of
the Cold War, the threat of a nuclear catastrophe remains severe.
During the Cold War, the number and power of nuclear weapons
reached insane heights - 50,000 nuclear weapons with a total
explosive power equivalent to roughly a million Hiroshima bombs.
Today the total number of these weapons has been cut approximately
in half, but there are still enough to destroy human civilization
many times over. The tragedies of Fukushima and Chernobyl remind us
that a nuclear war would spread dangerous radioactive contamination
throughout the world. Furthermore, recent research by atmospheric
scientists shows that even a small nuclear war would have a
disastrous effect on global agriculture. Thus a nuclear war would
be a global ecological catastrophe, killing enormous numbers of
people indiscriminately, throughout the world, also in neutral
The threat of accidental nuclear war remains severe, since many
nuclear missiles are on hair-trigger alert, ready to be fired
within minutes of a warning being received. If it is continued over
a long period of time, the probability of a fatal accident
occurring will grow to a near certainty. Meanwhile, the number of
nations possessing nuclear weapons is growing, and there is a
danger that if an unstable government is overthrown (for example,
Pakistan's), the country's nuclear weapons will fall into the hands
of subnational groups. Against nuclear terrorism there is no
At the present moment we are faced with a very specific danger -
the threat that Israel may bomb Iran, perhaps as early as the
autumn of 2012. Such an attack would lead to a widespread war in
the Middle East and elsewhere, with unforeseeable consequences.
There are several ways in which the conflict could escalate into a
nuclear war, particularly if the United States, Pakistan, Russia
and China become involved. This is a great danger, and active steps
must be taken to avert it.
The driving force behind the danger of nuclear war is the global
military-industrial complex. In 2011, world military budgets
reached a total of 1.7 trillion dollars (i.e. 1.7 million million
dollars). This amount of money is almost too large to be imagined.
The fact that it is being spent means that many people are making a
living from the institution of war. Wealthy and powerful lobbies
from the military-industrial complex are able to influence mass
media and governments. Thus the institution of war persists,
although we know very well that it is a threat to civilization and
that it responsible for much of the suffering that humans
Besides striving for a world free of war and free of nuclear
weapons, we must also be aware that the global environment is being
destroyed by excessive consumption in the industrialized countries,
combined with rapid population growth in developing nations.
It seems likely that the limits for resource-using and
waste-producing industrial growth will be reached within a few
decades. The first signs of our approach to these limits can
already be seen today in the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis and the
present Eurozone national debt crisis. (Culture, of course, can and
should continue to grow.) We face a difficult period of transition
from an economy that depends on growth for its health to a new
economic system: steady-state economics.
We should also be aware that the fossil fuel era is ending. By
2050, oil and natural gas will be prohibitively expensive. They
will no longer be used as fuels, but will be reserved as feedstocks
for chemical synthesis. Within a hundred years, the same will be
true of coal. Furthermore, because of the dangers of climate
change, human society would be well advised to abandon fossil fuel
use long before stocks are exhausted.
It is predicted that by 2050, the world's population of humans will
reach 9 billion. This is just the moment when the oil and natural
gas, on which modern energy-intensive agriculture depend, will
become so expensive that they will no longer be used as fuels.
Climate change may also contribute to a global food crisis. Melting
of Himalayan glaciers threatens the summer water supplies of both
India and China. Rising sea levels threaten to inundate low-lying
agricultural land, and aridity produced by climate change may
reduce grain harvests. Furthermore, aquifers throughout the world
are being overdrawn, and water tables are falling. Topsoil is also
being lost. These elements combine to produce a threat of
widespread famine by the middle of the 21st century, especially in
countries where many people already are undernourished.
We must face these problems them with solidarity. We can no longer
accept the intolerable degree of inequality that presently exists.
Today 2.7 billion people live on less than $2 a day - 1.1 billion
on less than $1 per day. 18 million of our fellow humans die each
year from poverty-related causes. In 2006, 1.1 billion people
lacked safe drinking water, and waterbourne diseases killed an
estimated 1.8 million people. A small fraction of the money that is
wasted (or worse than wasted) on the institution of war could solve
these problems. Also, if we are to eliminate war, we must
strengthen the United Nations, and this will be easier in a more
equal world. Thus the problem of war and the problem of economic
inequality are linked.
We live at a critical time for human civilization - a time of
crisis. Each of us must accept his or her individual responsibility
for solving the problems that are facing the world today. We cannot
leave this to the politicians. That is what we have been doing
until now, and the results have been disastrous. Many politicians
depend for election funds on wealthy corporations that make their
money from war or from the destruction of the global environment.
Thus, we cannot trust them to think of the long-term future. Nor
can we trust the mass media to give us adequate public discussion
of the challenges that we are facing. We have a responsibility
towards future generations to take matters into our own hands - to
join hands and make our own alternative media - to work actively
for better government and for a better society.
By working together, we can choose a future of changed values,
where women will take their places beside men in positions of
responsibility, where children will be educated rather than
exploited. We can choose a future where material goods will no
longer be used for the purpose of social competition - a future
where non-material human qualities, such as kindness, politeness,
knowledge and musical and artistic ability will be valued more
highly - a future where people will respect and love the natural
world, and will realize how closely their lives are connected with
nature. No single person can achieve these goals, but together we
can do it.
We, the people of the world, not only have the facts on our side -
we also have numbers on our side. The vast majority of the world's
peoples long for peace. The vast majority long for abolition of
nuclear weapons, and for a world of kindness and cooperation - a
world of respect for the environment.
Together, we have the power to choose a future where international
anarchy, chronic war and institutionalized injustice will be
replaced by democratic and humane global governance - a future
where the mindless immorality of war will be replaced by
The human race has a genius for cooperation. All of the great
achievements of modern society are achievements of cooperation. We
can fly, but no one builds an airplane alone. We can cure diseases,
but only through the cooperative efforts of researchers, doctors
and medicinal firms. We can photograph and understand distant
galaxies, but the ability to do so is built on the efforts of many
cooperating individuals. The comfort and well-being that we
experience depends on far-away friendly hands and minds, since
trade is global, and the exchange of ideas is also global.
The heritage of knowledge and culture, on which our complex
civilization depends, is a monument to cooperation. Science and
technology could not exist without the worldwide sharing of
knowledge. Art, literature and music are the common heritage of
humanity. Let us eliminate the immorality of war from our future,
and let us replace it with a more noble goal - the development and
sharing of the world's cultural heritage.
Suggestions for further reading
L.S. Brown, “World on the Edge”, W.W. Norton,
J.S. Avery, “Crisis 21: Civilization's Crisis in the 21st
Century”, www.lulu.com , (2010).
O.B. Toon, A. Robock and R.P. Turco, “Environmental Effects
of Nuclear War”, Physiics Today, December, (2008).
S. Starr, “Nuclear Darkness, Climate Change and Nuclear
eller søg i Fredsakademiet.dk