We have to begin saving humanity now

• Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro’s introductory text to the discussion with intellectuals on February 15, 2011 at the International Conference Center

I knew that various eminent intellectuals and sincere friends of Cuba were visiting our capital to take part in the 20th International Book Fair.

This Fair is one of the modestly good things that we have promoted. The books and ideas that you work on and promote have been sources of encouragement and hope; thanks to them, we know the value of grafting talent and goodness. Your names become familiar ones and are repeated throughout life over the years, which always seem brief to us.

Wars are among the factors threatening the world. Scientists have been capable of placing colossal energies in the hands of humanity which, among other things, have served to create an instrument as self-destructive and cruel as nuclear weapons.

Intellectuals can perhaps provide an enormous service to humanity. It is not about trying to save humanity in terms of millenniums, maybe not even in terms of centuries. The problem is that our species is facing new problems, and has not even learned to survive.

If we can achieve intellectuals’ understanding of the risk that we are experiencing at this moment, to which a response cannot be postponed, perhaps they will manage to persuade the most self-satisfied and incapable beings ever to have existed: we politicians.

How?

Almost 20 years ago the disagreeable task fell to me to warn the world – at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development – that our species was in danger of extinction.

I argued that then, although the danger was not imminent as it is now, I was listened to attentively, although it might be better to say benevolently.

There was applause. Somebody had noticed that. The superpowers meeting there realized that it was a certain fact, but a problem that they, of course, could take care of solving in the centuries which lay ahead.

The smiling face of Bush Senior and the monumental bulk of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, walking rapidly along a wide corridor at the head of the group after the final photo, gave rise to the impression that nothing could perturb the happy calm of our splendid world.

As foolish as other mortals, I was left with the idea that perhaps I had exaggerated.

Just 19 years have passed and today I am seeing disturbing things that are already happening and do not allow for any further delay.

Better to seem crazy than to be crazy and not seem to be. If we think that we are already but one step from the abyss and that our calculations were incorrect, we would not be doing any harm to humanity. At a point when we are already nearing seven billion inhabitants, it is not a matter of philosophizing about Malthus and the possibilities of soy, wheat and genetically modified corn.

The Americans, who are the most advanced in that, are well aware of the limit of their possibilities.

It is more than time to pay attention to ecologists and scientists like Lester Brown, the world authority on that subject and on food production.

Eminent thinkers clearly perceive that the developed capitalist system is headed for an inevitable disaster. Nobody could have foreseen the new situations being created along the way, and nothing is being denied; on the contrary the crises which are converting us into revolutionaries are being confirmed. Today, it is not about the inevitability of changing society, but humanity’s right to a different life for which we have constantly fought.

Even among religions that postulate the Apocalypse, an idea in which many people believe, to my knowledge, nobody has suggested that it would be this millennium or far less this century.

I have meditated a lot recently on events that are taking place and I urge you to do the same, without any fear of asking you to make a useless effort.

I have the habit of reading as many analyses by eminent ecologists and scientists that reach my hands.

Yesterday, when I was meditating on what has taken place in Tunisia and Egypt, my attention was caught by a recently published article from Paul Krugman, a renowned writer and serious economist, whose analyses of Roosevelt’s measures due to the Great Depression and the war reflected a special knowledge of the economy in the United States and the role played by the author of the New Deal. He is not a Marxist or a socialist. He received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2008. Look what he wrote on the food crisis, being perhaps the person with the most authority to do so.

Droughts, floods and food

PAUL KRUGMAN: 13/02/2011

We’re in the midst of a global food crisis — the second in three years. World food prices hit a record in January, driven by huge increases in the prices of wheat, corn, sugar and oils. These soaring prices have had only a modest effect on U.S. inflation, which is still low by historical standards, but they’re having a brutal impact on the world’s poor, who spend much if not most of their income on basic foodstuffs.

The consequences of this food crisis go far beyond economics. After all, the big question about uprisings against corrupt and oppressive regimes in the Middle East isn’t so much why they’re happening as why they’re happening now.

And there’s little question that sky-high food prices have been an important trigger for popular rage.

So what’s behind the price spike? American right-wingers (and the Chinese) blame easy-money policies at the Federal Reserve, with at least one commentator declaring that there is “blood on Bernanke’s hands.” Meanwhile, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France blames speculators, accusing them of “extortion and pillaging.”

But the evidence tells a different, much more ominous story. While several factors have contributed to soaring food prices, what really stands out is the extent to which severe weather events have disrupted agricultural production. And these severe weather events are exactly the kind of thing we’d expect to see as rising concentrations of greenhouse gases change our climate — which means that the current food price surge may be just the beginning.

Now, to some extent soaring food prices are part of a general commodity boom: the prices of many raw materials, running the gamut from aluminum to zinc, have been rising rapidly since early 2009, mainly thanks to rapid industrial growth in emerging markets.

But the link between industrial growth and demand is a lot clearer for, say, copper than it is for food. Except in very poor countries, rising incomes don’t have much effect on how much people eat.
It’s true that growth in emerging nations like China leads to rising meat consumption, and hence rising demand for animal feed. It’s also true that agricultural raw materials, especially cotton, compete for land and other resources with food crops — as does the subsidized production of ethanol, which consumes a lot of corn. So both economic growth and bad energy policy have played some role in the food price surge.
Still, food prices lagged behind the prices of other commodities until last summer. Then the weather struck.
Consider the case of wheat, whose price has almost doubled since the summer. The immediate cause of the wheat price spike is obvious: world production is down sharply. The bulk of that production decline, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, reflects a sharp plunge in the former Soviet Union. And we know what that’s about: a record heat wave and drought, which pushed Moscow temperatures above 100 degrees for the first time ever.
The Russian heat wave was only one of many recent extreme weather events, from dry weather in Brazil to biblical-proportion flooding in Australia, that have damaged world food production.
The question then becomes, what’s behind all this extreme weather? To some extent we’re seeing the results of a natural phenomenon, La Niña — a periodic event in which water in the equatorial Pacific becomes cooler than normal. And La Niña events have historically been associated with global food crises, including the crisis of 2007-08.
But that’s not the whole story. Don’t let the snow fool you: globally, 2010 was tied with 2005 for warmest year on record, even though we were at a solar minimum and La Niña was a cooling factor in the second half of the year. Temperature records were set not just in Russia but in no fewer than 19 countries, covering a fifth of the world’s land area. And both droughts and floods are natural consequences of a warming world: droughts because it’s hotter, floods because warm oceans release more water vapor.
As always, you can’t attribute any one weather event to greenhouse gases. But the pattern we’re seeing, with extreme highs and extreme weather in general becoming much more common, is just what you’d expect from climate change.
The usual suspects will, of course, go wild over suggestions that global warming has something to do with the food crisis; those who insist that Ben Bernanke has blood on his hands tend to be more or less the same people who insist that the scientific consensus on climate reflects a vast leftist conspiracy.
But the evidence does, in fact, suggest that what we’re getting now is a first taste of the disruption, economic and political, that we’ll face in a warming world. And given our failure to act on greenhouse gases, there will be much more, and much worse, to come.

Almost 19 years have passed since the Rio de Janeiro Summit and the problem is right before us. There, we were posing those problems, without imagining that the end of the species could be within one century or decades, if a war does not occur first.

The increase in food prices will, without any doubt whatsoever, immediately aggravate the international political situation. If problems are being aggravated as a consequence of all this, I ask myself: should we ignore them?

I would like our discussions to center on this issue.

We have to begin now to save humanity.

Translated by Granma International

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