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Planetwatch series – Ominous Convergence

Although what follows is the description of an apocalyptic scenario, it is pure conjecture. Nostradamus, The Bible or Mayan calendar has little to do with it. It is not a prophesy. It may or may not come to pass. However, our current trajectory could bring us closer to the catastrophic situation presented here rather than lead away from it. Right now, a course correction is possible. Once this window of opportunity is gone, all we can do is sit back and watch a diabolic story of the planet unfold before our eyes. It might be futile to chronicle it since there might be no one left alive to read it.Climate change reports appear with increasing frequency in news papers and websites, often making headlines. Year 2009 which witnessed a series of cataclysmic climate change events is drawing to a close. Post year 2004 tsunami, there have been a spate of extreme weather events, particularly cyclones and flash floods across the world. The deleterious effects of climate change/ global warming such as sea level rise, flash floods, heat waves, droughts, glacier retreat, sea acidification, cyclonic storms, temperature rise, epidemics and loss of biodiversity are familiar to all. (Click here for the ipcc report summary). People who are dependent directly on the environment for a living, especially the poor, are the most afflicted. Ironically, they are the ones least responsible for the mess. Cities account for 75% of green house gas emissions, but are immune to the ill effects to a large extent. While debate and negotiations rage, livelihood of many are threatened, be it fishermen of Dharavi Island where mangrove forests are making way to Special Economic Zones or farmers in the Gangetic Delta whose land is eroding away. Climate change and global warming cannot be stopped now; at best it can be slowed down. The opportunity to arrest climate change was gone even before we fully realized its import. The infernal ticking of climate change clock is getting louder by the hour.

Another crisis, no less damaging, is gradually looming on the horizon – oil crisis. Recent reports indicate that world oil reserve estimates are grossly inflated. Hubbert’s peak, long rubbished as fantasy, after all might have had a grain of truth. However, oil hungry nations chose to underplay the hypothesis to keep prices at bay. Crude oil reserves are depleting. Cost of exploration and production has increased. The age of low hanging fruits, the easily accessible oil deposits is over. Today, new crude discoveries have to be extracted from remote, inhospitable terrain or leached out of tar sands. Stringent environmental and safety regulations have also increased the cost of production, refining and distribution. Oil prices have been steadily climbing and hover around $80.00 today. Countries forewarned of an impending crisis are scouting the globe to strike oil deals. Hedge funds and venture capitalists are moving in to exploit the scarcity. A recent web article (Link) cited knowledge of impending oil crisis as the logic behind Warren Buffett’s acquisition of an US Railway company. Right now the hype is focused on climate change and Copenhagen negotiations. It won’t be long before skyrocketing oil prices push climate change concerns to the background.

Human civilization across the globe, in cities and villages alike, is heavily dependent on crude oil and fossil fuels. Declining availability will force oil producing nations to drastically cut down production in order to safeguard themselves. Oil prices would soar, purchasing power of nations would plummet and global economy would nosedive. Credit will vanish. Countries will go bankrupt unable to raise money through taxes.

Imagine the sledgehammer power with which world would be battered when these mutually reinforcing forces, climate change, oil crisis and economic meltdown, converge. It would tremendously strain the dwindling natural resources and tapering oil reserves. Agriculture and food production would decline. Instead of the calamitous, earth shattering forces shown in the movie 2012, it would be hunger, epidemics and natural disasters that decimate humanity. Consequences for a relatively poor and overpopulated country like India are indescribable. With politicians and bureaucrats are still bickering over emission cuts, it is virtually impossible to avert disaster.

When societies undergo intense stress, the survival struggle could rapidly escalate into war. Many countries have large nuclear arsenal under their disposal presumably as a deterrent. It is not difficult to envisage a situation where unscrupulous politicians or military decide to use nuclear weapons to resolve differences.

End of the world have been predicted many times over in the course of human history. But now, more than ever, circumstances and catalysts exist which could realize our worst fears. My fervent hope is that when world leaders meet to negotiate, the welfare of humanity would be their prime concern rather than short term political gain.


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