23 maggio 2022 12:08
Melting glaciers and rising sea levels, as everyone knows (or at least should know), are transporting us towards an environmental catastrophe which in turn will cause a human catastrophe.
The heat wave that hit South Asia is one of the manifestations of the ongoing environmental cataclysm. For several days Jacobabad, in the Pakistani province of Sindh, was one of the hottest places on the planet. Plenty of people have died on the subcontinent from heat exhaustion and dehydration. They are the victims of climate change, who died only because mankind supported misleading ideas about global warming or did not pay attention to those who predicted this situation.
Since their appearance on Earth, humans have consumed the planet’s resources and have been emitting too much carbon dioxide into its atmosphere for many decades. Even now, growing economies like India and China are not interested in making efforts to reduce emissions, for fear that this could stop the growth of their economies.
The fact that the consequences of the climate catastrophe are not contained by national borders is a problem
But it is precisely the phenomenon of environmental degradation that has made it clear how much the conception that wants the national state as a fundamental political unit has proved to be unsuccessful. It was the Peace of Westphalia, signed in 1648, that enshrined this principle. Kingdoms and empires have given way to countries organized and delimited by precise geographical boundaries. Documents were needed to live within or to cross them: a completely new concept for the time. Past travelers like Ibn-i-Battuta never had to worry about passports and visas, as most travelers do today. In the Westphalian years, however, these were new concepts, including the idea that the rule of the people would replace the system of monarchies that survived for hundreds of years. It is very likely that just as we cannot imagine a world without nation states, our ancestors laughed at the idea of countries not ruled by kings and their courts.
A transnational problem
New systems emerge when old ones no longer work or because their shortcomings render them useless. In the situation we find ourselves in today, the fact that the consequences of the climate catastrophe are not contained by national borders is proving to be a problem. When farmers in Indian Punjab burn stubble in their fields, the smoke reaches Lahore and for days the quality of the air is so low that it is difficult to see even a few meters away. And smog isn’t the only problem, as many experts have pointed out. The fact that Pakistan’s reservoir is downstream from India also creates a security problem and is a sword of Damocles hanging over our heads. If the past few weeks have shown what hell climate change can be, imagine this situation multiplied exponentially as rivers dry up permanently and drought becomes the norm.
The nation-state model also fails because its outdated mechanisms fail to manage climate change in a fair or equitable way. For example, Pakistan emits less carbon dioxide than most other countries. Despite this, it has never been granted adequate resources to cope with the climate challenges for which it is only minimally responsible.
For environmentalists, the planet is turning into a political unity: its limits and its safeguarding on a global level will become the goal of world cooperation.
It follows therefore that one of the most significant challenges of our time does not conform to the model of the nation state. Advances in studies of ice cores made from melting glaciers allow humans to learn about their impact on the planet by going back thousands of years. Thanks to the emergence and spread of earth sciences such as geology, geophysics and others, huge amounts of data have been converted into numbers that can be fed into models that can predict what to expect in the future. Humans were unable to make climate predictions when the Peace of Westphalia was signed. Now, however, they can do it with great accuracy and it is thanks to this kind of technology that our species will be able to truly understand the severity of the climate catastrophe the planet is facing.
While wars like the one that broke out in Ukraine seem to emphasize the importance of the nation state and the construction of border walls, erected as well as around fortresses, suggest as literal an interpretation as possible of this form of political organization, these phenomena could also represent the last gasp of the nation state. Environmentalists argue that the planet is turning into a political unity: its limits and its global well-being will become the goal of world cooperation. Put simply, the evaluation of time on the millennium scale made possible by scientific advances and supercomputers underlines the need to create new political units, designed to interconnect everyone and everything on the planet. The pandemic was also likely caused by rising temperatures, and this global challenge also showed the inability of nation states to come up with a collective response.
The transition from the nation state to planetary cooperation is inevitable. The long-term perspective on the state of our planet that we can extract from glaciers has revealed what the earth was like long before humans appeared. The planet is getting warmer, natural environments are being lost and we continue to joke with this catastrophe. The nation-state model and political order has not produced the antibodies to stem the greatest threat to our planet. Maybe it’s time to think about a new model.
(Translation by Giusy Muzzopappa)
This article was published by the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. Internazionale has a weekly newsletter that chronicles what’s going on in Asia. You sign up who.