Best Hope To Save The Earth? Separate Humans From Nature

Protecting the environment is not about "reconciling" man and nature, it's about giving each their due space. In large part, this means concentrating people in cities.

Who owns this land?
Who owns this land?
Juan Manuel Ospina


BOGOTA â€" Consumerism or "exaggerated consumption," states Pope Francis's recent encyclical on the environment, is an affront to life in all its forms.

Our great challenge today may well be a need to redefine what we deem to be progress, which is seemingly totalitarian in scope even as it is rooted in very Western (and Christian) ideas about living. Such excessive consumption that we see â€" and suffer from â€" today is as the encyclical observes, a subjective reflection of "the techno-economical paradigm" of a Westernized world.

With the pope's prophetic denunciations floating around my head, I read a manifesto issued by a group of scientists describing themselves as ecomodernists or ecopragmatists, a tentative response to the clash between climate change deniers and radical environmentalists warning of our inexorable advance toward collective destruction.

These ecomodernists say we have entered a new geological era â€" the "Anthropocene" or age of humans â€" and that this could be a good period, if appropriate use were made of science and technologies.

What is needed they suggest, is to "decouple" development from its environmental impact. How? Through socio-economic and technological processes that will allow us to reduce our dependence on natural resources.

Human clustering

The initiative wants to free the environment of its subservience to the economy, and save it by simply leaving it be, as far as possible. So it is not suggesting we should choose between environment and human welfare, but rather that we should guarantee our welfare without destroying nature.

Taking aim at Mother Earth in Helsinki. Photo:

In broad terms, our task then is to intensify and concentrate the human activities that involve nature â€" like food production, energy provision and settlement â€" in and around cities, which for ecopragmatists are perfect symbols of the decoupling of humanity and nature.

It is a process that is already happening, with some 70% of humans expected to live in cities by the middle of the century. This intensification and spacial concentration will free parts of the land from the yoke of economic activity, and allow nature to tend to them as it sees fit. The same intensification process will allow societies to attend to people's needs rationally, and without the consumerist frenzy. The Anthropocene will supply itself with the most powerful of energy sources, solar and nuclear.

The movement generally rejects the suggestions heard intermittently on the need to "recouple" or reconcile humans and nature, or on using primitive-type technologies. The problem thus is not one of technology but of occupation, since the pragmatists observe that 75% of deforestation happened in any case before the 19th century industrial revolution.

Decoupling is not a solution for tomorrow or the immediate future: It is gradual, and technological advances are already opening the way. The pope too has spoken of transitional measures, designs and technologies that will gradually make us independent of fossil fuels.

The task may not be easy, but it is essential for the continuation of any human progress, and of life itself.

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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