Don’t tell horror stories

Your Editor wrote this article on January 2nd, 2020 and had no idea that that nasty corona virus was about to shock the world. Perhaps the column was the root cause of the pandemic – you must never threaten the Gods or lightening may strike…

It was Christmas evening and my wife and I were discussing the next column for Forum. We were sitting in our wood-burning sauna on the island retreat near Tammisaari. The log fire was burning brightly, the sauna steam was hissing and the ideas were flowing.

“I would like to write about climate change and the possible risks that I see could easily happen during the next 20 years if Trump, Xi, Bolsonaro and Modi don’t get to grips with climate change,” I said.

“Yes you can write about that but you must not exaggerate because that frightens people away from reading the story… what did you have in mind for the column?” she replied. She already knew about my frightening forecasts.

I had already spoken with her about what I thought would be the awful results of climate change if world leaders failed to take sufficient measures to stop things getting worse:

  1. The weather will become more and more extreme. We can already see flooding, and widespread forest fires. Just look at Australia and California. We will see more really hot weather with strong winds, downpours and electric storms. We will see drought, flooding and the destruction of homes and other buildings on a scale never seen before. Digital networks that we rely on will be cut up. Travel and communications will be badly disrupted.
  2. Large areas of agriculture land will become useless or washed away and there will not be enough food to feed millions of people – many will die of hunger. Pollution will probably kill off the remaining fish reserves and in rivers, lakes and oceans. 
  3. The above will lead to mass movements of people from many parts of Africa, the Middle East, Asia and South America. The numbers will be in the hundreds of millions because there will be little food, shelter, or healthcare. They will be poverty stricken – how many will die on the road?
  4. The hot planet and the mass movement of people will be a new breeding ground for viruses and bacteria. We will see new plagues killing millions because they will be no antibiotics or other drugs to cure them. There will be no healthcare available to these people because they are so many, and they will be few survivors.
  5. Mass movements in such huge numbers will mean that there will be new walls and solders halting the masses from entering neighbouring countries. There will be violence fought across these boundaries to stop the flow of the masses. You only have to see what is happening in the Mediterranean today or recall what has happened in past times of war and distress. The black markets will start to operate with mafias and criminal gangs becoming well-organised. They will thrive by taking advantage of peoples’ despair.

My wife was shocked that I could conjure up and write about such extreme conclusions. “You cannot write things like that – nobody will take you seriously,” she said. She was looking rather angry now and the heat in the sauna was also taking its toll. She was not the type to enjoy a long session in the hot steam. 

I tried to defend my thoughts, “This list of scenarios appears to me to be very realistic and not at all far-fetched. I have worked in Russia, India, and in a number of countries in the Middle East where poverty for many is the norm. If people have nothing and are threatened by drought, floods, violence and storms then they will move. They have always done that throughout history. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I talk about these five scenarios happening when things get out of hand.”

But she refused to allow me to write the column and I had to agree to write another version of what may happen. She quoted from Naomi Klein’s book “On Fire” and said that I should not build my arguments on fear, but take a positive approach to persuading others of the urgency to implement broad measures to stop the existential challenge of climate change…

So this new version is based on a more pragmatic future approach by our leaders to stop climate change. One where they actually manage to ignore the demands of the populist nationalistic parties who want to continue as if nothing needs to be done. 

These enlightened leaders will manage to build gleaming new solar- and wind-farms, while electric vehicles are commissioned and fossil fuels banned. Big Banks, Big Companies and Big Tech are to be broken up and “mum-and-dad” stores are to be opened in every street. Airlines are to be closed down and we are all sent to join the circular economy, to stop wasting food and conserve energy. Public transport, bicycles and walking sticks were made available for free, and everybody is to be invited to spend life-long learning of mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology, literature, history, languages, philosophy, and farming… 

This new clean world demands knowledge and new skills and everybody must contribute by learning and working…

My wife was pleased with this different softer approach which is better way for mankind to understand what must be accomplished. She also quoted my favourite candidate for heading up Sitra, Markku Willenius, who recently said that we must change our way of living – small changes and reductions in emissions are just not enough.

This article was originally published in January 2020 in Swedish by Forum för ekonomi och teknik, one of the largest business magazines in Finland.

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