Updated: Aug 11
As I write this, it has been less than 24 hours since the IPCC report on Climate Change has been published. The details are grim; climate change is now irreversible, it’s deadly and unless world governments make drastic changes, it will only get worse.
Unfortunately, many of the biggest polluters do not see climate change as a threat, but a geopolitical opportunity.
The most uncomfortable truth of the world is that we do not matter. In a sense, most politics doesn’t even matter to a degree; everything we do, everything we believe in, ultimately pales in comparison to the desires, whims and wishes of states on the international stage.
This is probably going to be something of a depressing read, perhaps not what you want to see after a report on the devastating effects of climate catastrophe - but it is an important discussion. The world has changed irrevocably, the world is heating up and the end of the Ice Age is around the corner thanks to our acceleration - what will international politics look like in this Brave New World?
The IPCC report states that it is likely we will see a winter without arctic ice before 2050. For Canada, Denmark and Russia, this is an extremely inviting prospect .
Russia has longed for a warm water port - the trade and power projection that will open has driven a good chunk of Russian foreign policy for decades now. Attempt after attempt, through the invasion of Crimea and reinforcing and defending their port in Latakia, Syria, Russia has suffered for this dream. Now, with the ice melting, the warm water port they’ve dreamt of is on the horizon.
The truth is that the Arctic ice locks what could be an invaluable trade route, cutting down travel time from the Atlantic to East Asia in a manner comparable to the opening of the Suez canal. In this manner, it is easy to cast Russia as the villain - but Western, liberal Canada and Denmark, two countries who have made many overtures to tackling climate change, would benefit immensely.
There is a ridge in the middle of the Arctic, you see. Thanks to the quirks of maritime law, it is very possible that all three countries have a legitimate claim to expand their maritime borders along said ridge to huge economic benefit. One future scenario could be this: Russia might control half of the Bering Strait, Canada controls the alternate route , while Denmark could expand their maritime border to the pole through this ridge via Greenland.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
The Arctic is but one example of this self-interest. I use it because it is interesting, because it illustrates the argument of this article and because the melting of the Arctic ice-caps has been a crutch-point for environmentalism as long as I can remember. But, alas, it gets worse than that.
Wildfires have broken out recently in the mediterranean; desertification spreads along the Sahel and other arid areas across the globe; island nations are at risk of vanishing under rising sea levels.
Do the states affected even matter?
That’s the question cynical policymakers will be asking themselves more and more often. The largest polluter in the world is China, followed by the United States and Russia. Notably, these countries are at less of a risk from climate change than others.
China’s pollution stems from its economic model. Far from the ideal Communist utopia that hammer-and-sickle Twitter may think it is, China is the most ruthless investor in modern times. China has committed to its model of outspending the US, of attempting to shift the global economy towards it. The amount of pollution this requires is non-negotiable: emissions from factories, producing the world’s goods; emissions from ships, mostly cargo and naval vessels; the sheer amount of road traffic in mega cities like Beijing. China wants to dethrone the US - the climate is an acceptable sacrifice for this goal.
The US is not innocent, either, with rampant pollution caused by a stubborn refusal to change for the better. Neither is the UK. Neither are India, Pakistan, Japan, South Korea, Brazil, South Africa, Nigeria, the EU, and the rest of the world powers.
The leading countries of the world are driving us towards ruination. Countries like Norway may very well say it is time to change for the better - but Norway still exports a huge amount of oil, and that oil fuels an economy that fuels change. That is why the recommendation of the IPCC report scares me - we’re expected to just let all the countries of the world come together, to put aside all their self-interest to resolve an issue that, in many cases, actually benefits their leaders, their aims?
The global system is anarchic; it is what the states inside make of it. Unfortunately, we seem to be drifting from liberal hopes of states acting for the common good and more towards realist fears of states acting in their own selfish interest. This is all the more true, relating to a point I have iterated many times in my previous articles; the American Empire is dying. The world order it established is crumbling away from one global superpower to many localised great powers - and they’re always looking for an opportunity to climb to the top of the ladder.
Welcome to the Brave New World; enjoy the heatwaves, the fires and your cruise to Alaska through the Arctic Sea.
Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica Limited as a company.