“Nobody Wanted Global Warming. But Nobody Wanted World War I Either” Mickey Glantz. January 1, 2011

Written by M. Glantz. Posted in All Fragilecologies

Published on January 02, 2011 with 1 Comment

Nobody Wanted Global Warming. But Nobody Wanted World War I Either”
Mickey Glantz and Gregory Pierce (CSU). January 1, 2011. HAPPY NEW YEAR.

Forty years ago, R.K. White wrote a book entitled “Nobody Wanted War” about the perceptions and the misperceptions that led to the war in Vietnam and other wars in history. Especially interesting is White’s discussion of the interrelationships and egocentricities across the empires of Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century that led to World War I, the so-called ‘war to end all wars’.

The causes of World War I were likely more complex than I now recall after thirty years have passed since I studied them. In my recollection, the leaders of various countries and empires leading up to war in 1914 were highly competitive, vying for control of different countries and colonies after a few decades of relative well-being across the continent. In the summer leading up to the outbreak of war, the leaders of several of those empires, many of whom were related by blood and/or marriage, sent misleading or deceptive correspondence to one another. Perhaps the most famous of these were the “Willy-Nicky” exchanges between the German Kaiser Wilhelm and the Russian Tsar Nicholas.

In late June of 1914, Archduke Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was assassinated by a Serb, and the first signs of war emerged as countries began to stockpile wheat and withdraw their gold reserves from banks across Europe. By mid-July, however, gold withdrawals and wheat stockpiling subsided; war seemed to have been averted. Few seemed terribly interested in the vitriol and posturing required for escalation. Indeed, letters sent between European royals at the time were composed in the casual tones of the serene summer air. Then, in late July, the Austro-Hungarian Ultimatum was delivered to Serbia demanding that the latter agree to yield, in essence, its sovereignty and political independence. Backed by the Russian Empire, the Serbian government refused, and once again gold was withdrawn and wheat was stockpiled. War, somehow, again seemed inevitable.

In retrospect, World War I began, arguably, by accident. In the preceding years, Europe had enjoyed a period of prosperity, and even after the war began, most believed it would end quickly. Again, few were interested in such unpleasantness. Still, the war dragged on for years and became the costliest, in terms of both money and suffering, in history to that time.

The point is that none of the leaders of the major empires seem to really have wanted a showdown on the continent, but alliances had been formed and egos, in the end, could not be placated. Yes, a royal had been assassinated, but such things had happened before without leading to war. At the end of the day, besides those major costs, four of the world’s great empires—the German, the Austro-Hungarian, the Russian, and the Ottoman—fell into the oblivion of time. Seems an enormous price to have paid for retributions and ego appeasements.

Fast Forward to 2011

Nobody wanted global warming. For years, scientific articles have speculated about the potential worldwide increases of climate-, water-, and weather-related death and destruction as a result from a heating of the planet. Even the victories and gains that some of have claimed might result from a transition to a warmer planet will likely, we are now beginning to understand fully, be wiped out in the long-term as societies adjust to the extent and rapidity of this current anthropogenically-induced warming. Even more worryingly, the latest scientific assessment, the IPCC AR4 Report, has confirmed with model outputs and additional observations the dire changes that are occurring around the globe—and at rates faster than had been previously projected.

Appreciating the seriousness of this altered-climate situation, government leaders have gathered regularly since 1988 to discuss how best to respond to the situation. Of course, there have been fits and starts and sometimes downright campaigns of opposition to discussions of response to the science of climate change. Some naysayers even question the motives of the scientists, as if those scientists will somehow benefit from a warmer atmosphere while others all over the world will suffer as a result.

Expectedly, progress in developing a comprehensive, on-the-ground response has been slow, despite the best of intentions of some policymakers. With Rio (1992) and Kyoto (1997), some progress had been made. Now, however, some countries, including the US, Canada, Russia, Australia, and China, have even begun to stonewall against further proactive measures to combat the effects of global warming. For political, economic, ideological, and/or cultural reason, such governments are not acting quickly enough or intelligently enough—to say nothing about acting in the best interests of their constituencies, present and future—to prevent further increases of industrially emitted greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. They have enjoyed a century and more of unprecedented prosperity, and they seem ever more disinterested in the unpleasantness certain for the altered-climate future.

In the end, World War I cost millions of lives and led to the dissolution of four empires; what will be, in the end, the costs of an altered climate and a disinterest in effective response that continues into the future?

Concluding, No-Brainer Thought

Nobody wanted World War I, but there it was. Nobody wants climate change, but here it is.

Continued GHG emissions will lead to potentially dangerous consequences and conflicts for all peoples and all countries as there is no place on the planet to hide. An altered climate is truly the first global issue, and our governments are currently playing Russian—planetary?—roulette with our collective futures, greenhouse gas emissions being the bullets in all the chambers, consequences be damned—along with global warming victims. As they have before, human nature and egos hinder solutions once again. So it goes (once again).

climate impacts of global warming. www.mindmap.com

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1 Comment

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  1. It is difficult to estimate an actual cost of an altered climate… economically, socially and culturally it will tear down our built in “apparent” securities…

    I like to reflect on the following, from the documentary on A Sea of Change: the historian Sven Huseby and a scientist had the following dialogue and raised this question: what if the Romans had discovered and exploited the fossil fuels back in their era, and their people of learning would have adverted them as to the consequences… and yet 500 years down the line we are the ones suffering the consequences? Would we ask ourselves what could have possessed them to act so selfishly disregarding the cost to the future generation?

    The cost takes on a different meaning (and value) when we become the present time ‘inflicted’ actor and not just a mere observer of a distant –and yet not so distant- outcome.

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