I am fortunate enough to live in a country where nobody is hungry, nobody is persecuted because of his or her faith, color or race and where even at night people need not fear to be ambushed or murdered by starving people, desperate thieves or political fanatics. It could have been quite different if I had been born in a country like Somalia. In this case, I would of course do everything in my power to escape a murderous regime or the no less threatening perspective to perish of sheer hunger. I am quite unable to understand the hypocrisy of Western people, who draw a sharp line between political persecution and starvation, as if one may be blamed while the other is quite permissible.
I ask you: Is death not really the same in both cases?
Nor do I understand why they declare our travel guides, who they defame as traffickers, to be the most abominable criminals. How am I supposed to find a way through foreign countries if it is not with the help of people from my own homeland and who are speaking my language. They show me the safest routes and thus protect me from being robbed, slain or enslaved long before even coming near to my place of destination? In understand that you don’t want the likes of us to come to your country. Okay, but then be frank about it without all this hypocrisy!
Mea Culpa? Nostra maxima culpa? No!
Again: I am lucky to have been born in the rich North, but only hard-boiled egoists shy away from putting themselves in the position of their poorest fellows. This is not to say that the people of the North may not assert their own right just like those of the South. There is no Mosaic commandment tablet imposed on the globe from outside, which obliges sovereign states, no matter how rich they are, to open their borders to the world’s poorest people. There is but an ethical demand, a demand of conscience, to help people whom we concede the same right as ourselves to a reasonably secure existence. In the West, many are nowadays ready to intone a “Mea Culpa, nostra maxima culpa” because they believe that we, as the perpetrators of climate change, must pay a debt to the South. I think that this opinion is fundamentally wrong. The consequences of human action have never really been foreseen. Until around the middle of the twentieth century, hardly anyone knew what effects industrialization would have on the environment through CO2emissions. Even today, when experts are able to assess the consequences precisely, all countries, including those of the African continent, are striving for growth, in other words, they see their salvation in further industrialization.
The numbers speak for themselves
Meanwhile, experts leave no doubt as to the consequences of the increasing consumption of fossil fuels in the course of the present century. Over the past 650,000 years, the proportion of CO2in the air has fluctuated between 180 molecules to one million air molecules during the earlier ice ages and 290 ppm in the warmer interim periods. The value of 300 ppm was never reached.
For the first time, this happened in 1958. In May 2010, this figure had even risen to 393 ppm. Although the oceans absorb part of the CO2, and plants need another part for photosynthesis, both are not sufficient to absorb the 38 billion tons produced annually by humans. The IPCC estimates that if the present trend continues, this figure will reach 550 ppm by 2050, which is higher than it has been for the last 24 million years. The average temperature will then rise by at least 1.50C by the end of this century, but perhaps by as much as 40C.
The present one is not the first dramatic warming
To understand the specific nature of this change, one should take a look at the recent history of the planet. The rise from 180 ppm to 260 ppm between 20 000 and 10 000 B.C. resulted in an increase in the average temperature of three degrees and a rise in sea level of 120 m. From then on, CO2concentration, average temperature and sea level remained reasonably constant for ten thousand years. Only the sharp increase in greenhouse gas emissions due to industrialization has caused the temperature to rise by a full degree within a single century (1900 – 2016) – a value that took about three thousand years to materialize between 10 and 20,000 BC. Even if (with a corresponding delay because ice does not melt overnight) sea levels only rise by one single meter this means that around 100 million people will have to abandon all the world’s great coastal metropolises. If CO2emissions remain unchanged or even continue to grow, the experts predict an increase in temperature of 4 to 5 degrees. As soon as the two ice shells above the North Pole and in Antarctica have disappeared completely, the sea level would rise by a maximum of another 70 meters.
Foreseeable mass migrations
In this case, we can be certain that there will be migrations, especially from those countries in sub-Saharan Africa that are hardest hit by climate change. The 2006 Stern Report announced a migration of 200 million people. It is already happening. Recent figures speak of 196 million climate refugees between 2008 and 2016 alone, 23.5 million of whom left their countries of origin in 2016 alone (Volker Quaschning). Supposed that only a tenth part of this number tries to storm Fortress Europe, the reaction of the population is likely to shake our society to its foundations. But even peaceful migratory movements and demands for further economic growth could have dramatic effects. In China alone, almost half a billion people will move from poor but less polluting rural areas to energy-intensive cities in the next years. No other country will be as hungry for resources as China. Iron, copper, wood, soya, oil, coal and gas, which China has to import from all corners of the globe, have already become scarce.
Are migrants a positive asset?
Who would deny that man is curious by nature, and for this reason was always interested in what is foreign? We can hardly be surprised that many peoples considered hospitality a sacred duty. A stranger who visited one’s community could tell about distant countries, different mores, strange customs and exciting ideas. Until two hundred years ago, when over ninety percent of people were scattered in isolated villages, the arrival of a stranger was as exciting as a today’s football matches, television shows or blockbuster films.
However, the encounter with strangers was always characterized by ambivalence. As fascinating as one or two strangers were to the locals, so great was the fear of them when they arrived in masses. For in this case it regularly happened that the demand for hospitality was replaced by something completely different: naked violence culminating in war. Since the end of the fifteenth century, Europeans emigrated to almost all parts of the world – and they did so without being driven by necessity. In both the Americas and the Pacific, it did not occur to them to ask the local population for hospitality, but expelled them, made them their slaves or wiped them out. In doing so, they prolonged a tradition that seems to be as old as humanity itself. Two and a half millennia earlier, the Dorians, for example, when invading the Peloponnese made the native Helots their work slaves; in Crete, they did the same to the native inhabitants of the island. Nor did the Germanic tribes that swarmed like locusts over northern India ask for permission when doing so. And the Scandinavian people who in the Migration Period were driven by hunger from northern Europe in order to settle in the blessed countries of Italy and Spain did no more appeal for hospitality than did the Normans five hundred years later: All these migrants took foreign country by force of arms. Up to the present time migration was usually synonymous with war. I would say that it takes a great deal of optimism to believe in a different development for the future.
To be sure: Fossil dependence is by no means inevitable
Climate change as a result of industrial development threatens to deprive people living in Africa and other parts of the world of their livelihoods. Our main task for the future is therefore to end its causes, that is the use of fossil energy. Technically speaking, such an endeavor is quite possible, namely by establishing a solar economy. Given the enormous amount of solar energy reaching the globe – a total of about 3,850,000 exajoules per year – such a shift seems realistic, as the sun provides the total annual energy consumption of humanity amounting to about 559.8 exajoules (in 2012) in less than ninety minutes to our planet!
Such a prospect is tempting, but its implementation is far less so, as the transition from fossil to renewable energy remains extremely slow. It is hardly to be expected that mankind will reach the goal of an ecological energy supply before the end of the present century.
A resolute reduction of energy consumption cannot be avoided
With the current state of the art and if energy is not saved on a large scale, it is more correct to say that the goal is simply unattainable. A group of researchers led by Jessica Lovering has calculated that we would have to cover an area the size of the United States (including Alaska) together with the inhabited areas of Canada and Central America with wind turbines and solar modules in order to provide the entire energy demand of mankind as projected for 2050 by means of renewable sources.
This calculation fits surprisingly well with the following, which calculates a space requirement of 2.6 percent for wind turbines and solar modules in Germany in order to completely replace fossil energy. However, the 2.6 percent represent a minimum that only applies if the current energy demand is reduced by a factor of ten. The land area of approx. 19 million km2 calculated by Lovering stands in a ration of 17 to 100 to the remaining usable land area of the globe amounting to approx. 110 million km2. Thus, 17 percent of the total land area would have to be sacrificed for wind turbines and solar modules in order to cover the entire energy demand predicted for 2050. If this demand is reduced by a factor of ten, the values calculated for Germany are approximately obtained.
Climate expert Volker Quaschning
to whom I owe the following calculations, gives a more positive estimate for the situation in Germany while at the same time being more pessimistic. The purpose of the switch to solar energy is to avert the devastating effects of climate change, i.e. to do without fossil fuels. If Germany wants to comply with the Paris Agreement signed in 2015, it must reduce CO2 emissions to zero by 2040 at the latest; however, fossil fuels currently still account for 74% of total energy consumption.
If Germany were to completely dispense with fossil fuels, then – in the best scenario, when all avoidable energy consumption is reduced to zero – it could do with about twice the amount of electricity generated today. In this case, two percent of the land area will have to be used for wind turbines and 0.6 percent for solar modules. In concrete terms, this means that the current number of wind farms must be increased by a factor four while the area available for solar modules must be seven times larger.
But if Germany wants to get by with twice the current amount of electricity, it will have to radically reduce the enormous energy consumption of buildings. These must be renovated by way of insulation and their heat requirements secured by electric heat pumps instead of oil and gas heating. In order to meet changing energy demand, excess electricity will be stored in the shape of liquid hydrogen. In the end, energy requirements could be reduced to one tenth.
Similarly, by 2025 at the latest, Germany’s entire street traffic would have to do without gasoline and diesel vehicles. Motorways would be electrified by 2025 to make the transport of heavy goods vehicles independent of fossil fuels. The entire ship and air fleet would have switched to liquid and gaseous energy carriers at the same time while the entire electric power supply would have to be 100% solar in 2040.
Is it realistic to assume that a rich country like Germany will be able to achieve a national feat of this magnitude? The former president of the economic ifo-institute Munich Hans-Werner Sinn denies this categorically. The costs for a total transition to renewables would be so astronomically high that the German economy would collapse under such a burden. “The energy revolution leads into an abyss.*1* If Germany wants to maintain its industries and its standard of living, then there can be no other option than a return to nuclear energy.
Anyway, the current climate policy of the Federal Government misses this goal to such an extent that the worst forecasts of climate researchers appear inevitable, i.e. a final increase in the average temperature by 4 to 5 degrees and of the sea level by 70 m. This alarming forecast is all the more frightening as the prospects for a radical abandonment of fossil fuels are even worse in most other countries – unless they switch to nuclear energy. As Volker Quaschning expressly emphasizes, even the measures proposed by the German Greens would not change this outlook.
A threatened future
Climate change only takes on its frightening poignancy when seen against the background of demographic development. While about 90 million people lived in Africa around 1800, in Europe it were about twice as many. Today, however, Africa has 1.3 billion inhabitants and by 2100 their number will have more than tripled. Then there will be seven times more people living in Africa than in Europe. A shift in economic and military power is rather unlikely, because Africa will be unable to avoid what China was able to prevent through its one-child policy: any progress in the standard of living will be destroyed by a growing number of people. Misery is bound to grow at a rapid pace, because the continent can at best feed its people but not give them the prospect of a socially satisfactory existence. Europe is all the more attractive as by comparison it is not only a flourishing El Dorado, but relatively uninhabited.
This is particularly true of Germany. In 2015, the birth rate in sub-Saharan Africa was 52 times the German figure, in 2100 it will be almost 200 times as much. By 2015, there were about 15 times as many people living there as in Germany, and by 2100 there will be 62 times as many.*2*
These facts are mostly suppressed
and for understandable reasons, because there is still confusion as to how we will respond to migratory pressure from Africa. The UN assumes that the population in sub-Saharan Africa will increase by more than 400 million people within the next 15 years. Even if only a tenth of These seeks salvation in Germany, the influx would still amount to 2.7 million per year (400/15/10= 2,67). If every third person succeeds in emigrating, that would be a migration of 9 million people a year (400/15/3= 8,89).
As described at the beginning, there is no need for dictators to persuade millions to flee – hunger and a lack of prospects provide a sufficient motivation. In the traditional African agricultural civilizations, the population level was kept in check in the same way as everywhere else in the world, namely by illness and regular famines. If that was not enough (it must be stated in such a brutal way), the number of people was limited by human intervention, with war being the usual means. Modern medicine, combined with basic measures of hygiene, has greatly reduced disease in even the least developed countries and abruptly increased life expectancy – a miraculous salvation from ancient evils. But among developing countries only China has found the right answer to the exponential population increase following in the wake of such progress: a one-child policy combined with state pension schemes.
There is no state pension scheme in Africa, that is why people continue to have a direct interest in a large number of offspring. Contraceptives are deliberately rejected. On the other hand, no state there seems so powerful that it can even propose, let alone enforce, a one-child policy.
The greatest challenge of the 21st century
The world, and Europe particularly, is thus facing a challenge comparable only to that of nuclear and ecological disaster, for this time its fundamental values are involved: its self-image and its image of human dignity. Europe’s greatest achievement, which has shaped the post-World War II era up to the present day, is the acknowledged principle to regard all human beings as equal in dignity and rights – irrespective of race, religion or origin. If Europe were to fully adhere to this conviction, it would have to open its borders, even if, after a few decades, the domestic population were to shrink to a minority because people of different skin colors and religion would become the majority – as in some big European metropolises will be the case anyway within the foreseeable future.
At least as serious, however, is the risk that a massive wave of poorly or not at all educated immigrants will cause so much damage to the economic system in the North that in the end France, Italy or Germany will suffer as much from misery as the countries the refugees have abandoned in the first place. Then poverty would only have been spread more evenly without anybody really profiting from the new situation. Moreover, the incentive for a one-child policy based on the Chinese model would be completely eliminated by an open valve of emigration, even though such a policy has been the only effective measure to date to curb the population in developing countries.
If Europe yields to the growing pressure of immigration,
Then, in the coming decades, it will change beyond recognition. But at least the old continent would have preserved one thing: its values. If, on the other hand, Europe makes the opposite choice by closing its borders, then it should admit that in the last resort the migration of peoples from the South can be prevented only by violence. It is left to incorrigible hypocrites to see a difference in whether Europe exercises violence itself by instituting a border police or delegates it to surrounding states, which are persuaded to do so by bribery.
There is a middle way
The preceding considerations sketch out a Doomsday scenario, which is unfortunately supported by the known facts in a hardly contestable way. Nevertheless, I take the liberty of remaining an incorrigible optimist, for I continue to believe that there is a middle way between Europe’s self-sacrifice and the use of brutal force. We must, however, embark on this path by rapid and decisive action. The community of economically leading states, above all Europe, is called upon to adopt a Marshall Plan for the sub-Saharan region. No, this is not meant as a compensation for climate change, because here no real responsibility can be traced, but it should be a reparation for the ongoing exploitation of the African continent. The first act would therefore not imply any positive help at all; it is sufficient that Africa does no longer serve as an object of exploitation – an impartial observer like Jean Ziegler has constantly raised this demand. Europe should no longer flood Africa with the cheap products of its highly subsidized agricultural industry, which so efficiently destroys its African counterpart. Moreover, the seas off Senegal and Somalia must no longer be fished so empty by foreign vessels that the very survival needs of the local population are put in jeopardy. Such a Marshall Plan would first of all consist in a reparation for damages caused to our African neighbors.
Further aid, should, however, go hand in hand with an education offensive for women so that they are no longer misused as birthing machines. The West would use this information to link the Marshall Plan to a controlled one-child policy, because otherwise any aid would ultimately remain ineffective: it would only promote a further population increase.
Are such considerations wildly optimistic and therefore quite unrealistic? Not necessarily. The fate of mankind is certainly not determined by any natural laws so as to be independent of our will and wishes: It entirely depends on mankind itself. Mankind may, however, follow quite different motives. Immediate advantages always tend to exert a most powerful drive – so powerful indeed that the future often gets completely out of sight. It is for this reason that most people still cling to fossil-fueled growth desires: The doubling of air traffic in the coming decade, a personal car for all seven to ten billion people. These dreams are so powerful and tempting especially in hitherto disadvantaged countries, that all warnings tend to be ignored.
A real change of mind can only be expected when forebodings become more and more threatening as is the case already today. Storms, floods and typhoons are likely to become even more devastating in the coming years, making the threat visible to all. Then not only experts will recognize the imminent danger, but people at large who still resist this knowledge.
(This essay is an excerpt from from my book „In Search of Meaning and Purpose in Human History“)
1 Since I have published a book entitled “Energiewende” (Energy Revolution), it is very difficult for me to give up faith in this beautiful vision. However, the numbers provided by Sinn do hardly allow for any other alternative.Siehe https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jm9h0MJ2swo.
2 Figures from Sarrazin 2016, pos. 7206, compiled on the basis of the UN population forecast for 2015 for the period from 2050 to 2100, the development trends predicted by demographers for Africa and Germany being offset against each other. These are, of course, estimates albeit highly probable ones as Gunnar Heinsohn arrives at similar conclusions in: “Does the German economy and society need objections? (https://www.fes.de/index.php?eID=dumpFile&t=f&f=13287&token=ff66b5763e93cf3617a87373bffce00630834438). Sarrazin is a late representative of Prussian correctness: even his worst critics were not able to accuse him of frivolously dealing with numbers. But he was never politically correct. His opinions were – as the Chancellor Angela Merkal put it – “not helpful”.