Vermont Senator and US Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was responding to the question about the most pressing geopolitical challenge that the US faces today, following the brutal massacre in Paris. At the second Democratic Presidential debate, he was under pressure to appear presidential. The question also tested him on one of his weak spots: foreign policy. But Sanders didn’t hesitate and continued to maintain that climate change remained the greatest challenge that we faced as a species. He even went a step further to explain how effects of climate change contribute to perpetuating inequality, extremism, and in turn would impact the global menace of terrorism. I saw this link as a way to suggest that every single individual, the common man, not just the leaders of the world or politicians attending fancy world summits or the elite, but the common man, you and I can contribute in our way to turn the tide of violence and in turn help our species.
I don’t want to negate the violent impact that attacks like the one in Paris or Beirut (and the innumerable before that) have. I also don’t want to oversimplify the problem of extremism and terrorism (often used synonymously these days). However, there are clear and evident links that capitalism, remnants of colonization, income inequality, the obsessive destruction of the planet has with terrorism and violence, that seems to have taken roots within Islam in particular and our societies in general.
Capitalism has gradually become a boon and the bane of our existence. I don’t think the world would be as globalized as it is, had it not been for capitalist forces. Also, the technological revolution of the 20th-21st century, which has been the fastest in human history, has also enjoyed the mobility it does, owing to the movement of capital and people. So while we find ourselves enslaved by the pleasures of Capitalism in our everyday lives, we can’t be blind to what it is doing to us as a people.
History of colonization: I don’t even want to talk about what happened in the 16th, 17th, 18th century. Even today the wealthy of the world continue to colonize countries and peoples around the world. The fact that they have seemingly innocuous tools to perpetuate colonization doesn’t mean it’s any different than being put on slave ships and brought to North America three hundred or more years ago. The difference perhaps is that we seem oblivious to this modern day slavery and how each and every one of us is entrenched and participatory in it. How does this result in violence? You can go around stealing from people, making them work for under a dollar a day, force them into appalling working conditions, continue to support repressive, horrible regimes and expect no backlash. Sure.
Income inequality no matter where you look is consuming us like a cancer, eating us alive. I don’t know how we don’t see it. I think primarily we are just so obsessively greedy as people, that we don’t see anything that’s happening around us. Companies keep producing goods and services on a constant basis, we consumers keep consuming, and how that is taking away basic food and shelter from large populations around the world doesn’t really matter to us.
The piece of clothing I buy in North America, is manufactured by someone in Bangladesh who got paid maybe 100 Takkas a day (US$ 2) and how is that ok? How we seem to continue with our daily lives with little or no concern for such a travesty? And the problem is that this is not getting any better. We are spiraling down a black hole that is consuming us, yet we do nothing to stop it. Not tomorrow, not next year, but now!
Climate change always leaves me with a “Duh!!” moment. Just in our own Montreal, November has been the mildest temperatures in recent memory. Why? How? Why is there drought in California? Why is there no drinking water across our First Nations communities in Canada? Why do we need to find life forms on other planets when we are pretty much done with destroying this one? Barring a few people who do think about it and try to make fundamental life changes so our carbon footprint is reduced and we move towards sustainable consumption, a majority of us, for varied reasons perhaps, reluctantly acknowledge climate change. And some others seem concerned with the idea, yet the world goes on its merry way.
I don’t know. The urgency doesn’t seem to exist. An attack will occur, people will die. Droughts will come and go, weather patterns change around us, but when Bernie Sanders tries to suggest that climate change and terrorism are like brothers in arms, we don’t seem to get the link?
I was walking down St. Denis Street the other day and in looking around I saw various buildings lit up in the colours of the French national flag. In that moment it hit me, the vulnerability of it all. How we have created a world where no one is safe, no matter where we are. We live in a world where someone’s clothing or spoken word can be a cause to perpetrate violence and injury. How come the human plight of a stranger doesn’t seem to bother us anymore? And we have created this world for us and will pretty much hand it down to the next generation.
To clarify, I am not suggesting that no one does anything. In all the trauma of this world that we inhabit, there are wonderful stories of a helping hand, someone offered food and water by the seeming enemy and social media rhetoric is always a visible sign of our increased tolerance. But all of this is not enough. This is not going to save us from ourselves. We must do more and we must stop this war.