Former UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon once voiced a perceptive observation concerning humanity’s potential and its limitations:
“We are the first generation to be able to end poverty, and the last generation that can take steps to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”
He went on to talk of how future generations will judge us on the strength or weakness of our moral vigor to manage change.
And that’s just how it’s playing itself out. We’ve learned in a previous blog about how the world is making important strides in fighting destitute poverty in the developing world. Much of this is due to governments rising to the challenge of the UN’s Millennial and Sustainable Development Goals and also for the abilities of businesses to bring about new economies in what were once devastated regions of the globe. That’s a clear indication of what humanity can do when it puts its collective will into action.
The climate change story, however, reminds us what happens when we can’t pull ourselves together for the sake of the future. Yes there has been some progress, especially when we consider the consensus reached as the Paris Climate Change agreement two years ago. But in the end it was just signatures on a piece of paper. The odds don’t look good that we can enact what has been committed. Nations, including Canada, are already falling short of the 2020 timetable.
Thus the irony. In the regions of the world most devastated by poverty where some clear progress has been made, the greatest burden of the climate change failure will fall and be cataclysmic. The poorest half of the world’s population (3.5 billion) who have benefited from anti-poverty actions are also the group that are increasingly facing the droughts, storms, flooding and other effects of climate change realities.
The United Nations has determined that 3 of every 4 natural disasters are climate related and that they have caused 606,000 deaths and injured 4.1 billion people – mostly in the developed regions we are talking about here. The UNHCR estimates that 26 million people are displaced every year due to steadily increasing natural disasters.
Why is it that huge numbers of people can be helped or cursed by human interaction?
Maybe a statement made by Pope Francis around the time of the Paris Agreement is instructive:
“The violence that exists in the human heart is also manifest in the symptoms of illness that we see in the Earth, the water, the air and in living things.”
What he was implying was that the dysfunction and violence, so much a part of humanity’s present journey, has a direct correlation with the turbulence of climate change. “Turbulence” derives from the Latin word turbulentus, which means, “full of disturbance or commotion; restless.” Interestingly, it was a word used to describe the inner disturbance of the human soul in earlier times. If the implication from Francis was that our world is sick because we are sick, it is a remarkable observation.
Could it be that we are helping the world’s poor and cursing them at the same time? And might it imply that we can’t heal our world because we can’t heal our own divisions and inner turmoil? Most indications, and a wealth of research, appears to confirm this reality. If climate change is the result of human dysfunction, then only by correcting that fault can our planet itself be saved. As Giotto di Bondone put it: “The human is as a frail craft on which we wish to reach the stars.” And our planet is that frail craft upon which we hope to survive. What if its present troubles are indicative of our own collective sickness of our hearts? The time to heal ourselves is now upon us, before it is too late.