We have to decide, without delay, between two future courses. A (nearly closed) window of opportunity exists, first, to move to a ‘Live and Let Live’ system, via an Emergency Transition. A ‘Live and Let Live’ system will provide for material conditions in which every member of the human population can live well, neither subject to immiseration or premature death, nor causing it, and will protect the Earth System as one fit for human life, limiting global temperature increases to those already locked in by emissions to date. The required institutional and physical structure will include a non-fossil fuel energy, food, and transport structure, and a demilitarised security structure free of nuclear weapons. Though daunting in scale, the policy know-how and technology already available to us are quite adequate to this task.
Fig 3.1 Earth and Human System Indicators – Emergency Transition Scenario (2050) (Atmospheric temperature; Monthly Arctic Ice Extent; Biosphere; Land Use; Geographic distribution of human population by material condition; monthly births, premature deaths, total deaths).
The likely future if, on the other hand, the present course is maintained, is catastrophic for all human life, irrespective of class, even in the absence of thermonuclear war. Unmitigated, climate change will accelerate due to the positive feedback loops between the different parts of the Earth System. As emissions and global warming continues, the great frozen stores of freshwater on the land – in Antarctica, Greenland, and its many glacier systems – as well as sea ice, will thaw more and more, and even disappear completely, raising sea level by many metres above its present level, submerging entire islands and inundating our coasts, and causing great rivers to run dry. Permafrost melt will release long buried gases into the atmosphere, trapping yet more of the diminishing amount of solar energy being reflected back into space. Disruptions to global climate and ocean circulation will increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather – droughts, and wildfires, hurricanes, typhoons, and flooding – undermining the present ecoregions of the world which are the basis of our food and water systems. The mass extinction – already underway – will not be slowed, halted, or reversed; species will migrate outside of their usual ranges, frantically seeking the conditions they are adapted to. The Human System will collapse.
Fig 3.2 Earth and Human System Indicators – Collapse Scenario (2050) (Atmospheric temperature; Monthly Arctic Ice Extent; Biosphere; Land Use; Geographic distribution of human population by material condition; monthly births, premature deaths, total deaths).
Our existing morality is a ‘Live and Let Live’ morality, calling on us to respect ourselves and others as equals, and not to take from others what is not ours to take, including human life. The continued use, operation, and maintenance of our ‘Live and Let Die’ system, which causes immiseration and premature death, and the extinction of the species, is not consistent with this morality. It is systematic theft, and killing on the grandest scale; it is taking from the living; and it is taking from our children, grandchildren, and their progeny. The acquisition, control and use of more resources, and claims to resources, than can be exercised by anyone without causing immiseration and premature death to others is therefore not decent. It places us on the wrong side of history with Caesar, European feudalism, Churchill and the British Empire, and not with Christ, Wat Tyler and the Peasants, Dr Revd Martin Luther King Jr, Gandhi and Independence Movements past and present. It puts us in the same camp as the Sheriff of Nottingham, Scrooge, Sauron, and the Empire, and not with Robin Hood, Bob Cratchit, the Fellowship of the Ring, and the Rebel Alliance. We must be who (we say) we are and act now to bring about, through an Emergency Transition, a ‘Live and Let Live’ system – one with no classes as we have known them – our Jerusalem.
Box 3.1 Behaviour which is not decent
Behaviour by individuals and institutions which, legal or illegal, causes immiseration and premature death by use, operation, and maintenance of the system
use of or holdings of quantity of financial assets, real estate, durables, consumables and services (inc labour) beyond what can be used decently
use of or holdings of financial assets, real estate, durables, consumables and services (inc labour) which cannot be used decently
use of financial assets, real estate, durables, consumables and services (inc labour) in a way that is not decent
failure by workers to protest (employing) offending institutions by writing, daily protest and industrial action
repression by institutions and workers (use of force against, arrest of, prosecution of, incarceration of protestors and protectors)
failure by institutions (customers/suppliers/investors/other) to protest offending institutions by writing, commercial and financial action.
failure by individuals (customers/investors/voters) to protest offending institutions and individuals by writing, commercial and financial action, the ballot, and weekly protest.
failure by individuals to protect the Earth System via direct action
failure by individuals to protect vulnerable people via direct action