The unlikely but not inconceivable prospect of a Donald Trump US presidency is one way we might go quite rapidly.
Then again, I just read an article by a former US government economist that suggested a vote for Hillary Clinton would be “a vote for the end of the world”. Or rather, in his maybe over-excited view, a vote for nuclear war with Russia. Which certainly wouldn’t be long or pretty.
So maybe we’re damned either way, by the result of an election we don’t even get to vote in. Or we can pray Bernie Sanders gets the job.
Perhaps, though, elections – wherever they take place, and whoever wins – are just one of the games we play to distract ourselves from the real issues, the real threats.
Last month was the hottest April ever recorded globally. It was the seventh month in a row to break such a record. This year is set to be the hottest ever, by the biggest margin ever.
The world’s eco-systems are in shock. Our species is not the only one being forced into mass migrations. Or facing extinction.
According to a report just published by scientists at Kew Gardens, a fifth of all the world’s plant species are at risk of dying out. Climate change, pollution, deforestation and other effects of human activity make us the culprits.
Hundreds, probably thousands, of deaths have resulted so far from India’s current heatwave. The temperature has topped the record set last year, which was officially the country’s worst, with over 2,500 deaths ascribed to the hot weather. The figures are almost certainly underestimates. But the matter is complicated. As one Indian doctor put it: “It’s a problem of poverty.”
Heat and poverty. It’s a fatal combination. The same combination that’s driving so many in Africa to such desperation they are prepared to risk drowning in the Mediterranean in the hope of reaching Europe. As if a kindly welcome awaited them on these shores.
Heat and poverty. Both are on the rise globally, with potentially catastrophic results.
A report from The Equality Trust shows the gap between rich and poor in Britain is now at its widest since the 1930s. Many of the government’s policies – notably so-called “austerity”, which doesn’t prevent the richest getting richer quicker – seem calculated to keep the gap growing. But it’s been widening steadily since 1979, when Margaret Thatcher took power.
British society then was the most equal it has ever been. Thatcher immediately set about changing that. The steepest part of the graph towards today’s stark inequality coincides exactly with her 11 years in Downing Street.
Perhaps surprisingly, the financial crash of 2008 made little impression on that graph. But the slope – though gentler than in the 1980s – has gone on inexorably rising. Whichever party has been in power.
But it isn’t just here. The shape of the inequality graph is similar around the world. In the words of Paul Craig Roberts, that US economist I mentioned earlier, we have entered “the looting stage of capitalism”.
There is abundant evidence that a more equal society is a happier, healthier, saner society. Nobody really likes unfairness. And it may go a lot deeper than that.
A study published in the scientific journal Ecological Economics asks the question: “Can complex, advanced civilisations really collapse?”
And the answer it provides, over 12,000 words with lots of complicated graphs, is a loud and undeniable “Yes”.
No surprise there, really. Especially when it mentions the Romans, the Greeks, the ancient empires of China, India, Egypt, the Middle East, Mexico…
Remarkably, though, it concludes that the division of societies into rich and poor – and a growing gap between them – has played “a central role in the process of collapse” in every known case over the past 5,000 years.
It says technology can increase efficiency of resource use – but that it also tends to encourage the rich to consume too much too fast. And that hastens collapse.
The ancient Maya of Central America were a famously advanced society. The report says: “While most researchers would agree that deforestation, famine and drought were key components in the failure of the Maya, we find a similar pattern in other civilisations around the globe.”
Does all this sound horribly familiar? Horribly like a warning?
And it’s not just a warning from history, but from prehistory too. There’s evidence in our genes that the human species has been around a lot longer than is generally thought – and several times collapsed from a large, widespread population to a much smaller one.
When that old warmonger Donald Rumsfeld spoke about “bombing people back to the Stone Age”, he wasn’t talking about the whole of humankind. But perhaps he should have been. Where the most powerful bombs are shortsightedness and greed.