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Will Climate Woes Spell The End Of The "Western" Lifestyle?

The global warming we have been warned about is here, and it will, with its calamities, change so many ideas about what we need to live well.

Will Climate Woes Spell The End Of The "Western" Lifestyle?

The end of the road for our motorcar-driven society?

William Ospina


BOGOTÁ - The climate is the new chief actor of world history. Gone are the days when humans would set the agenda. It will now be imposed on us. Our time here is brief, but planetary phenomena gestate patiently. What we are about to live through has been simmering for centuries: the years of the industrial revolution, and of the transport, communications and technology revolutions. They arose from our desire to make this a more comfortable world for ourselves, though their result is to have made it increasingly uncomfortable, if not unlivable.

Our actions have both results and consequences. You might say the results are immediately evident, but the consequences take time to emerge. The result of inventing the automobile was the ability to move while seated comfortably, as if at home. The world is flattened beneath us, and distances practically disappear. But other results, beside our increasing love of speed, were cars taking over the world and feeding growing piles of industrial trash. We needn't travel the world anymore of course, as satellite systems bring it home to us.

The big consequences come later, and are apparently unrelated to their causes. Glaciers thunderously cracking open, old rivers twisting violently, the smoke of Australian fires reaching Chile, cities besieged by fire, an exponential rise in sales of sunscreen lotions, more destructive hurricanes. Oil is the world's main force, and its bosses lead voters where they please. That is why one president could ask how people could complain of warming, when he said it was so cool at home.

It is not the end of the world, but definitely the end of a world.

Even three centuries ago people still lived in the world without wreaking havoc. We then multiplied, and multiplied our force and speed, our rate of consumption and energy use, and ceased to produce more culture or civilization. We just produced more trash, speed, congestion, anxiety and disasters.

Advertising loves to talk about the consumer society: Imperial states became specialized in ransacking the resources of the so-called Third World to create the prodigious manufactures that apparently enhanced the comfort of homes in hegemonic countries — and filled their suburbs with trash, the seas with plastic, the air with fumes and carbon and the winds with vicious turbulence. Never did so many good things produce so many bad things, and knowledge contributed so much to destruction. We have brought the world to this pass: with proliferating megalopolises and myriad factories to meet an unquenchable demand for things. Nature has become a supply store for industry, and soon, a source of uncontrollable events and phenomena.

It is not the end of the world, but definitely the end of a world. A particular way of living on this earth is coming to an end. The generations that are beginning their adventure will have to change their expectations or invent something else. One can already feel the deep malaise among youth and the sense that they will never enjoy the planet as previous generations did: with clean air, bounteous rain, healthy sunshine, steady winds or hail's "chattering teeth," as celebrated by the Argentine poet Leopoldo Lugones.

Two women standing on remains of a house that was eroded in Bangladesh — Photo: Ziaul Haque Oisharjh/SOPA Images/ZUMA

We now face the age of great fires, gales and hurricanes. We have already seen commuters on the Zhengzhou metro with floodwater up to their necks, drifting glaciers, electric events in the sky, the warming permafrost, bleached coral reefs, giant hailstones and viruses boosting their invasive powers.

They say humanity only stops before the evidence. If proof is what we wanted, it's here. Climate change is no longer a warning of dangers to come. They're in the headlines. Our incipient epoch has no balmy horizons, and yet, we all have a role to ensure things will not be far worse. There is no longer room for the traditional motorcar, or really, any kind of personal or family car. We might design a good public transport system run on clean fuels, but cycling or just walking will in any case become day-to-day imperatives. People are already walking across Latin America, though sadly only on desperate journeys.

The world is becoming vast again, and contemporary states are showing their failure. They're immensely capable of curtailing their citizens' lives, watching individuals and repressing entire populations. But they're inept at curbing attacks by the big, criminal groups they themselves have fostered. They are helpless before the disaster, though nature may finally give them their due. I sincerely believe unfettered capitalism undermines itself and its consequences are the only thing working against our system.

What could conserve the planet's balance? Eight million people living simply, in a minimal state of harmony with nature, eating local foods and renouncing the poisoned promise of opulence and comfort, preferring austerity and civilization to unchecked consumption and the big-city frenzy. But eight million consumers of oil, electricity, mass-produced food and entertainment will need a new planet every 20 years.

Only big dreams and great principles can unite us now.

There is stupid idea that we might find a Planet B nearby, but it does not hide the fact that this is and was the only planet that can nurture life and is reasonably close — in cosmic terms! We shall soon know that the only real treasures were clean air, cooling woodlands, reasonable effort and reliable weather. We'll know we abandoned nature's propitious gods for monstrous gods of our own making. We'll know, belatedly, that the politicians peddling growth were the accomplices of chaos, and people must abandon the powers that feed off humanity while discarding their duties.

In Colombia, Cuba, China and the United States, young people have increasing reasons to stop adoring the state, turning instead to the community's creative force and inherent balance of the natural order.

The only perspective now is of a great desertion. Chains will be one of the first things to be broken by the new climate logic. An incredibly refined and fascinating model will be abandoned, because its designs and packaging and its charm and spectacles hid inhumanity and recklessness. We will no longer be united by an economic model, political doctrine or totalitarian state. We only need to observe China's dams heaving before the pressure of waters. Only big dreams and great principles can unite us now. The world cannot belong to multinationals, nor even to people. The law of nature is the one law that is not for sale.

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The Benefits Of "Buongiorno"

Our Naples-based psychiatrist reflects on her morning walk to work, as she passes by people who simply want to see a friendly smile.

Photograph of a woman looking down onto the street from her balcony in Naples

A woman looks down from her balcony in Naples

Ciro Pipoli/Instagram
Mariateresa Fichele

In Naples, lonely people leave their homes early in the morning. You can tell they're lonely by the look in their eyes. Mostly men, often walking a dog, typically mixed breeds that look as scruffy as their owners. You see them heading to the coffee bar, chatting with the newsstand owner, buying cigarettes, timidly interacting with each another.

This morning as I was going to work, I tried to put myself in their shoes. I woke up tired and moody, but as soon as I left the building, I felt compelled, like every day, to say to dozens of "buongiorno!" (good morning!) and smile in return just as many times.

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