As envisaged in Kim Stanley Robinson’s recent novel The Ministry for the Future, and detailed in Alfred McCoy’s article “To Govern the Globe” yesterday on counterpunch.org, the capitalist nation-state system’s failure to address climate change will eventually lead to the adoption of some kind of world government in a last-ditch attempt to save and protect whatever of earthly life is left.
After listing three successive world empires (Spanish/Portuguese, British, and American), McCoy concludes his article by saying, “it seems safe to assume that China will gain enough strength to weaken Washington’s global grip and become the preeminent world power around 2030. Count on one thing, though: the accelerating pace of climate change will almost certainly curtail China’s hegemony within two or three decades…If the ‘Chinese century’ does indeed start around 2030, barring remarkable advances in the reduction of the use of fossil fuels on this planet, it’s likely to end sometime around 2050 when its main financial center [Shanghai] is flooded out and its agricultural heartland [the North China Plain, a prime agricultural region between Beijing and Shanghai currently inhabited by 400 million people] begins to swelter in insufferable heat and humidity.
Given that Washington’s world system and Beijing’s emerging alternative show every sign of failing to limit carbon emissions in significant enough ways, by mid-century the international community will likely need a new form of global governance to contain the damage…As long as nations have the sovereign right to seal their borders, the world will have no way of protecting the human rights of hundreds of millions of climate-change refugees. Facing a spectacle of mass global suffering, the community of nations might well agree on the need for a new form of global governance. Such a supranational body or bodies would need sovereign authority over three critical areas: emissions controls, refugee resettlement, and environmental reconstruction. If the transition to renewable energy sources is still not complete by 2050, then this international body might well compel nations to curb emissions and adopt renewable energy. Whether under the auspices of the UN or a successor organization, a high commissioner for global refugees would need the authority to supersede state sovereignty in order to require nations to help resettle such tidal flows of humanity. The future equivalents of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank could also transfer resources from wealthy temperate countries to feed tropical communities decimated by climate change.
Massive programs like these would change the very idea of what constitutes a world order. At present, no one can predict whether such reforms will come soon enough to slow climate change or arrive too late to do anything but manage the escalating damage of uncontrollable feedback loops. One thing is becoming quite clear, however. The environmental destruction in our future will be so profound that anything less than the emergence of a new form of global governance – one capable of protecting the planet and the human rights of all its inhabitants – will mean that wars over water, land, and people are likely to erupt across the planet amid climate chaos. Absent some truly fundamental change in our global governance and in energy use, by mid-century humanity will begin to face disasters of an almost unimaginable kind that will make imperial orders of any sort something for the history books.”