Could modern civilisation break down? Yes, of course it could. Anyone who rejects this statement as alarmist, should watch The Age of Consequences.
We can start with August 23, 2005, as New Orleans is hit by Hurricane Katarina. The ensuing flood led to chaos, and hit both security measures and society’s self-regulation. What would have happened if several large US cities had been struck simultaneously? Would there have been a risk that things spiralled completely out of control, whereby the State and civil society both lost their stabilising powers? Whenever such questions arise, we often imagine they stem from environmentalists or green politicians. This time, however, the concerned message sprung from an unusual end, making it even more interesting.
Many assume that a society’s degree of welfare and security is all about oil profits, military systems and so on. This idea barely touches the surface. A society’s long term stability is more decisive, anchored in state organising, democratic politics and smooth societal and economic structures. Such elements are, however, surrounded by something other and more profound. Nature’s stability is a necessary concern so a sustainable society can be established over time. This is not only the case for all societies, but also for humanity as a whole. Over the course of 12,000 years, we have developed within the frames of a balanced and thus predictable natural environment. There are signs that this state has now passed, and that over the years its consequences could grow in scope and strength.
This time, however, the concerned message sprung from an unusual end, making it even more interesting.
Although some pretends otherwise, the climate debate has long since moved away from the question of whether climate change is real or not. Instead, there are now more practical issues surrounding what risks we are facing, plus how and with which means we are able to implement a green shift. The documentary The Age of Consequences grabs hold of this issue, and provides a voice for players other than the ones we encounter. Reports from and interviews with people in the US military provide an important backdrop to the developing story.
We stopped by New Orleans. Syria constitutes a far more serious example. The political debate has focused a lot on whether Assad or the rebels, Russia or the USA and so forth, are to blame for what went wrong. This documentary adds a vital point, that the country suffered extreme draught for three years, starting in the autumn of 2006. People in the countryside lost their livelihood, and 1.5 million over a short period of time relocated to the cities. This resulted in unemployment, homelessness and poverty. Societal mechanisms lost their balance, creating both instability and IS recruits. The country no doubt had problems to start with, and precisely due to these the draught had accelerated results, taking it in the direction of war followed by a refugee crisis. A chain of events this way spread instability to an ever greater area and to further countries. The more powerful the instability, the greater is the potential for an authoritative response, which instead of creating solutions for all, builds walls and hope that the nation in itself will be enough on its own. Those interviewed for the documentary clearly state that such reactions will only make things worse.
The film also highlights other examples, including Egypt’s acute 2010 crisis, which can be traced back to the Russian draught. The national grain production failed, with consequences for areas dependent on grain import. This way, draught caused by climatic changes in one country can lead to a critical lack of bread somewhere completely different. In the global world, factors are closely linked, and when things go wrong, it is often the disadvantaged who suffer. In Egypt, this created social unrest, scope accelerating and threatening social and state structures. Nearby, the Sahel-belt stretches across Africa, south of the Sahara. In large swathes of this area, draughts and loss of water resources have led to instability, war and humanitarian catastrophes, accompanied by an onslaught of refugees. An enormous crisis for the people involved, but for the world as a whole such forms of instability could potentially have even greater consequences. This is illustrated by the melting glaciers of Himalaya, which in 2017 provide water for a billion people. If the glaciers continue to reduce, the fight for water will also here increase, to potentially grave consequences. Unlike in the Sahel-belt, here are there nuclear powers that risk losing their most important resource.
The distance from a well-functioning society to it potentially breaking down can be frighteningly short.
These examples illustrate how life, everywhere from cities to international areas, is characterised by more than both actions of players and society’s institutions. This involves the natural environment more, which today mostly means climate change. The distance from a well-functioning society to it potentially breaking down can be frighteningly short. Habit of thoughts make it hard to adjust the course we are currently sailing. Our lives are so attached to fossil resources, even heavy-duty danger signals do not stop us from continuing on our usual path.
We have heard these issues before. However, what the film contributes are interviews with other people in roles we do not normally deal with. When retired officers and others connected with the US security system, with serious faces, point out the crisis we face, it is harder to shrug and pretend nothing is happening. Several of those featured explain that their involvement is due to the safety of the USA. The message being that it is in national interest to contribute to global stability through securing the stability of the climate. This way of thinking may induce scepticism for those wanting more ethical conviction, whilst someone pragmatic would say what is important is that something gets done.
If lines are to be drawn, then the conclusion must be that this film ought to be watched by as many as possible. Most of all, by those whose arguments are founded on a premise of living as we were, only making a green change if it does not cost us anything. The Age of Consequences tells us that such forms of inaction in itself constitutes action – with potentially dire consequences.