Climate Change is the Biggest Threat to Humankind

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8th Feb 2020 International Relations Reference this

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Question 1: “The greatest threat to the future of humankind is not a nuclear holocaust, a conflict between the US and China, or terrorism, but rather the global climate change.”

Global climate change is potentially the most significant environmental problem the world is currently facing. I agree with the quotation that nuclear holocaust and terrorism are not bigger issues than climate change. However, I disagree that the conflict between the United States (US) and China is equally as important as climate change.

Global climate change encompasses rising temperatures, extreme weather, shifting of wildlife population and habitats, rising of sea levels, and an array of other impacts. The levels of greenhouse gases are higher now than at any point in the last 800,000 years (Weitzman, 2011). It has become evident that humans have brought climate change upon themselves.

As the global temperature increases, the ice at the North Pole will melt leading to a rise in sea levels. According to National Snow and Ice Data Centre, “If all land ice melted, sea level would rise approximately 70 meters (230 feet) worldwide” (National Snow and Ice Data Center, n.d.). Many low lying countries such as the Netherlands will be covered by sea. Although the rise of sea levels is not immediate, it will occur over time. Another effect will be the occurrence of many more and deadlier hurricanes resulting in economic consequences (Denchak, 2018). Due to the damages caused, governments would need to spend a lot of money on repairs and providing their people the basic needs of a human being. Usually then deaths happen, diseases could result. It is predicted that diseases could spread at a fast rate with deadlier effects due to the change in climate. In light of the dangers we might face through global climate change, Stephen Hawking has warned that humans need to leave the Earth in order to avoid annihilation as it is, “…almost inevitable that…environmental catastrophe will cripple the Earth.” (Higgins, 2018).

Nuclear Holocaust

Nuclear testing became a global issue in the 1960s. With threats of nuclear war from communist countries such as Russia, China, and Cuba, other countries such as the US became worried and protected themselves with their own nuclear arsenal. Currently, a total of nine countries possess nuclear weapons.

Syria faced its worst regional drought in early 2006. According to scientists, the drought was augmented by global warming. The droughts made crops difficult to grow causing a drastic increase in food prices. The increase of food prices resulted in thousands of people going hungry, protests against the government, and approximately 1.5 million people crowding in cities alongside Iraqi refugees. Several studies have pointed a link between Syria’s civil war and climate change (De Châtel, 2014). The social chaos and suffering caused by the drought were important contributing factors of the civil war.

For instance, in the state of Syria, climate change had a strong influence in triggering the civil war. Despite not having possession of nuclear weapons, the chemical weapons that they currently possess would suffice to begin a nuclear war. Drastic changes in the climate has proven to affect people’s psyche which could possibly amplify nuclear threat from accidents and misunderstandings. According to Ms Fihn, the “North Korean missile false alert in Hawaii demonstrated how quickly things could go wrong”. She also mentioned “the possibility of nuclear disaster through the effects of climate change” (Radio New Zealand, 2018). Assuming the world achieves nuclear peace, studies show that climate change might trigger nuclear war as it multiplies potential for conflict over land, fresh water, food stocks, and human security.

Terrorism

 

In this modern world, terrorism has become a high-risk threat to the world. It can cause catastrophic consequences such as the death of casualities and impact economy severely. Terrorism can be defined as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.” (Schinkel, 2009). Terrorism is used by terrorist to covey ideological, religious or political objectives through the act of violence or destruction. However, some people who join terrorist organisations may not share the same intention as their recruiters.

The advancement of terrorism is linked to climate change. For instance, when we look at the issues Syria face (above), a solution for the victims of global climate change is joining a terrorist organisation. In the words of Sagir, “The ISIS recruiters offered money, food and other riches to rural Iraqis to lure them into joining the ranks of the jihadist group. With no means to sustain themselves through agricultural means, many farmers accepted ISIS’ bribes for both monetary and morale support” (Gerretsen, 2019). This raises a major concern where people seek refuge in terrorist organisations to receive basic amenities which have been deprived from them through climate change. Hence, if global climate change worsens, it might lead to an increase in terrorism.

In Pakistan, over 70,000 people and $118 billion have been lost in a war against reckless hate, spawning a tangible fear for Pakistanis (Ul Haq, Anwar and Khan, n.d.). This has caused them to erroneously believe that terrorism is the biggest threat to their lives (Nazar, 2016). Conversely, it is important to understand why climate change is a bigger threat than terrorism (Nazar, 2016). Over recent years, Pakistanis have faced the wrath of climate change through increased frequency of floods, droughts, and heat waves. The floods have displaced millions from their cities, whilst the heat waves have taken the lives of 1,200 people (Nazar, 2016). When analysing the situation in Pakistan, it is worryingly similar to Syria where people might seek refuge in terrorist organisations.

Recent statistics from the Global Terrorism Index show that from 2000 to 2013, approximately 100,000 people have died from terrorist attacks (Gilsinan, 2014). Although it is an alarming high death count, it still does not rival the death toll of 150,000 annually as a result of climate change (World Health Organisation, n.d.).

Today, people are trained to prioritise clear and tangible danger such as terrorism compared to climate change. Despite the awareness and research showing that climate change is a concern to each and every person in the world, people disregard the magnitude of this topic as they fail to see its correlation to terrorism.

 

Conflict between US and China

 

One of the most important bilateral relationships which can form global politics, human civilisation, and help decrease the rate of global climate change in the 21st century would be between the US and China. The endeavour to fight global climate change, and circumvent humanity-threatening warfare largely depends on Beijing’s and Washington’s ability to manage their differences amid big changes in the map of global power.

 

The current trade conflict between the US and China is a central dimension of the emerging Cold War between the two superpowers. The conflict also highlights and threatens to aggravate the contest for global economic leadership between the two countries, which ranges far beyond their disputes over trade balances and level playing fields (Bergsten, 2018). It was triggered when Trump administration imposed tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods (Swanson and Bradsher, 2019) . The goods marked for tariffs are facing a 25% border tax when they are imported into the United States (Yglesias, 2019). The reason behind the tariffs was to punish China by making Chinese products more expensive for American consumers and businesses to buy (Yglesias, 2019). If Chinese products become more expensive, they will buy those same products from elsewhere which will cause Chinese businesses to lose money.

If the situation between US and China escalates, the whole world could end up as the loser to climate change. Almost 200 countries have vowed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (Worland, 2018). However, due the lack of compliance mechanisms in place, very little has been done to honour these vows (Worland, 2018). The lack of motivation for this cause is correlated to the United States and China’s lack of leadership towards climate change (Worland, 2018). Being two of the largest economic powers in the world, they are major contributors of the greenhouse gas pollution. While these two political power houses are debating on who will be the first mover to actively engage in the step towards climate change mitigation, processes that contribute to the matter compounds. In my opinion, both countries have totally disregarded the real threat towards their individual in the name of focusing for their own self-gains. Ultimately, this is counterintuitive as the failure to address climate change poses the bigger threat here.

I believe that capitalism is to be blamed for the uprising global climate change. Big corporations are constructively turning nature into money (Polychroniou, 2018). This has brought about inequality. Hence, societies do not have the resources to fight climate change. The problem of collective action is climate change. The only system for collective action, worldwide and in the world’s top emitters, like the US and China, is capitalism (Polychroniou, 2018). This can be seen in shareholder value, current accounts, and free trade deals. The only system that has been proven to work is social democracy (Manne, 2010). Europe being the only region that has proved it to be capable of reducing carbon emissions (Manne, 2010). Whereas, carbon emissions in the US and China are ascending (Worland, 2018). Social democracy is not just capitalism. The central goal of society should not be the profits of corporations.

In conclusion, the threat of climate change is far greater than that of nuclear holocaust and terrorism. A key area for decreasing the rate of climate change would be the healthy relationship between US and China. Moreover, people need to be educated about its magnitude and be aware of the threat it poses to them and everything thing around.

 

References:

 

  • Bergsten, C. (2018). China and the United States: Trade Conflict and Systemic Competition. IDEAS Working Paper Series from RePEc, IDEAS Working Paper Series from RePEc, 2018. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.helicon.vuw.ac.nz/zdocview/2126062685?rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo
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