OPINION

Humankind looked upon reality

We hadn’t seen so many brilliant minds working in agreement since humans joined forces and tried to build the tower of Babel (before God condemned them to perpetual misunderstanding of each other). But when humankind’s representatives spoke last Friday, in a report commissioned by the United Nations which brought together the work of 2,500 scientists, their words had the unanimous agreement of the 113 governments that took part in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The «tower» that they built was the unequivocal declaration that human activity is most likely the cause of global warming. Their other conclusion was that whatever measures humans may take from now on, the disaster is unfolding and we will feel the effects of global warming for hundreds of years. The vengeful God of the Old Testament punished men for having the temerity to try reach him through their technology, by building their tower. What can one say about the absent God of our time, in which the human ant has built factories, bought cars, burnt forests, wiped out countless forms of life, and, for the first time, with his atmospheric pollution begun to affect the Earth more than the Earth affects him? Humanity has changed the climate and now the climate will change the Earth. Vengeance comes not from an angry divinity but from the drought, the flooding, the islands and coasts that will disappear, from the spread of disease and from the ever more disastrous storms that Earth’s overheating has caused. Man’s effort to conquer the Earth, to bring the Earth and all that’s on it down to his terms, has begun to create new dangers. Today, very few people live in danger of wild animals in jungles, seeing as both the animals and their habitats are in unprecedented danger themselves. But we are all imperiled by the consequences of overconsumption, of thoughtlessness and irresponsibility all over the planet. What is to be done? What humans have always done in order to survive and triumph: We must adapt quickly. But this adaptation demands that we recognize the dangers (which Friday’s report went a long way toward determining), to set out common targets and apply faithfully the measures that will limit the damage and help us face the coming dangers. According to the current forecast, by the year 2100, the planet’s temperature will have risen by between 1.8 and 4 degrees Celsius. Also, sea levels will rise from 18 centimeters to up to 78 centimeters, if polar ice continues to melt at the same rate. The process is already under way. This means that we not only have to reduce our output of greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide, methane, and others), in accordance with the Kyoto treaty of 1998, but we also have to take radical steps to deal with the plagues that are now unavoidable. The lives of many millions of people will change, as they have had to change in the past. For example, not long ago, in Greece very few people lived near the sea because, very simply, this put them in immediate danger of falling prey to pirates or to enemy military campaigns. People preferred to build on higher ground, not only for protection but also because of the better climate there. In the past few decades, tourism has prompted a massive building boom along coastal areas and the eradication of ancestral communities and their land. Furthermore, everyone wants a holiday home near the beach and builds it with little regard for the environment nor for the home’s viability. Now, these seaside communities will have to realize that they are under the immediate and merciless threat of rising waters and furious storms. The coasts must either be protected through very expensive measures or they must be abandoned once again to the same kind of hardy or desperate few who inhabited them once. Either way, we are talking about a massive undertaking. Perhaps the simplest and most effective way to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and to fund the new geography of our countries is to place a heavy tax on gasoline. This will cut consumption, bringing down the price of crude and thereby allowing governments (or whichever agencies are appointed) to use the funds (from taxes and the lower oil price) to change our societies by providing better public transport, giving subsidies to those who need to burn fuel and applying a radical new plan for the use of coastal areas. Above all, though, for humanity as a whole to succeed, every one of us will have to change his or her way of thinking. We must see the protection of the climate and the protection of the environment as our main priority, not as yet another duty on top of all our everyday chores. This is not easy but nor is it so hard – considering the alternatives.