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The fear of the end of the world

FUTURE / For the first time in its long history, humanity is – possibly inevitably – facing an increasing and real risk of extinction due to the reckless activities of Homo sapiens. The effects of greed, violence, ignorance, fanaticism, political short-sightedness, overpopulation and over-exploitation of all available resources are the prerequisites for an expected disaster.


The fear of the end of the world is part of humanity's cultural heritage. It is found in myths, legends and religions all over the world, whether it is described in documents or through oral traditions. It was linked to the observation of the life cycle, to disasters due to cataclysms, to bad weather and to famine and terrifying and inexplicable events. But ever since antiquity, the relationship between climate change and the subsequent disasters for people and governments has been the subject of analysis and reflection. More than 2300 years ago, Hippocrates thought, Aristotle and their followers on earth as a whole, as a system of matter flows connecting earth, ocean, atmosphere and vegetation.

Pliny claimed in his Historia Naturalis that humans could help change rain, temperature and wind. The question of the relationship between climate and human activity thus became, over time and through climatic hazards, a major political issue, the subject of passionate studies and debates.

Climate change

Over the last few centuries, scientists and politicians have asked themselves two questions: Did these climate changes occur spontaneously? Or are they the result of human action? In recent decades, the systematic study of climate history as well as modern research in climatology has made it possible to answer both questions in the affirmative. Although the climate has been relatively stable for the past 12 years, it has sometimes undergone significant variations over decades, or even centuries, disrupting the lives of living beings, fauna and flora. These variations were mainly due to astronomical causes, but also human activity.

The average increase in temperature (+1,2 percent) since the end of the "Little Ice Age" around 1850, whose effects we feel more and more alarmingly, cannot be denied. It is difficult to assess the exact proportion that is undoubtedly due to astronomical causes, and to separate them from man-made causes. However, it is undeniable that human activity and technical development, urbanization, intensive agriculture and deforestation have always had an impact on the climate. However, it has not been to the same extent as the development since 1950, mainly for three reasons.

Non-binding obligations

The first is that despite UN 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, although unanimous but non-binding commitments have been made at 26 COPs with 197 signatures. In the period 2000–2021, greenhouse gases from fossil fuels increased by 47,4 per cent, compared with only 13,1 per cent in the period 1989–2000.

Every country in the world continues to promote a policy of economic growth and hyper-consumption, policies that pollute, consume energy and deplete natural resources. This is contrary to the objectives of Paris agreement (2015) – confirmed in Glasgow in 2022 (COP26) – to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and global warming to below 2 °C, and if possible (sic!) to 1,5 °C.

In the period 2000–2021, greenhouse gases from fossil fuels increased by 47,4 percent, compared to only 13,1 percent in the period 1989–2000.

Russia's war against Ukraine, and perhaps future wars, has prompted many countries to reopen or expand coal-fired power plants. The latest IPCC report, published in February 2022, predicts that temperatures will have risen by 1,5 °C by 2030, and could reach 3,5 to 5 °C by 2100 if nothing is done.

However, the proposed solutions – until now – will only have a marginal effect on the problem. This applies whether it is the "energy transition", "sustainable growth" (including electric cars) or just greenwashing, since the proposals are based on technologies that do not yet exist or are difficult to implement, or dangerous – for example "carbon neutrality by 2050" , which is proposed by multinational companies responsible for 70 percent of greenhouse gases.

Cascade effects

The second reason to fear a global systemic crisis is the existence of so-called cascade and rebound effects. Two examples among many others: The reduction of ice surfaces reduces the reflection of the sun's rays, thereby increasing the warming of land and sea – which interacts negatively with ecosystems. The melting of permafrost, which is happening for the first time since the end of the last ice age – releases bacteria into the soil that break down the biomass stored in the frozen ground. This results in emissions of CO² and methane, which in turn accelerates global warming. Furthermore, there is an enormous inertia in climate processes and an exponential relationship between temperature increases and extreme weather events. So much so that science and climate historian Pascal Acot writes in the book Climate History (Perrin, 2009): "If we combine all the ecological, and therefore climatic, inertia of the planet, and all the 'points of no return' in every process that impairs ecosystem balances, we obtain a theoretical resultant, that is, a moment in the future where we will not be able to turn around.”

Dependence on computer systems

Similar to the indifference we see in politicians and large corporations, with the complicity of the population, who prefer to favor economic growth and purchasing power instead of fighting global warming – humanity has also moved blindly towards a fully digital society. This involution has a huge impact on individual freedom and freedom of expression, due to the development of surveillance tools through all the electronic instruments that we depend on in all our activity. But most of all, it presents at worst an extreme risk of the collapse of this new civilization or, at best, a split in society between those who control and those who are controlled. It will be a completely interconnected society, which is even more interdependent than it has become with industrial and technospheric development.

The Covid crisis, and then the war in Ukraine, gives us a foretaste of the consequences of such interdependence and hyper-specialisation.

The Covid crisis, and then the war in Ukraine, gives us a foretaste of the consequences of such interdependence and hyper-specialisation when these are thwarted by disruptions in trade and the dissolution of value chains. It leads to scarcity and price increases, which can be fatal for the poorest countries and their citizens and will inevitably provoke conflicts and migrations. Famine and malnutrition favor the development of pandemics. Cascades of effects and retro-effects that should encourage caution, in the evolution towards societies that are even more interdependent and dependent on the same technology that is as invasive as it is fragile.

So far, computer systems are exposed to four types of attacks: hacking (data break-in), cracking (system attacks to take control and sabotage), "ransomware", which is ransomware (taking data hostage and demanding a ransom) and espionage or subversion attacks to get access content, steal or alter data or destabilize political enemies.

However, all communication over a network relies on physical infrastructure—in addition to the software, protocols, and information circulating within it—DNS servers, routers, cables, satellites, and so on. These infrastructures are very complex, difficult to manage and protect, energy-intensive (7,3 percent of greenhouse gas emissions) and require constant maintenance. They are therefore extremely fragile and prone to systemic failures or destructive attacks. Such "system errors", in addition to the disappearance of our archives, will lead to total societal collapse.

An expected disaster

The hunger in our economic systems and the dream of profit are self-destructive factors in our coercive and plundering societies, despite attempts to make us believe that they protect "humanistic values". The effects of greed, violence, ignorance, fanaticism, political short-sightedness, overpopulation and overexploitation of all available resources, as well as the competition between the great powers and multinational corporations for access to them, are the prerequisites for an expected disaster.

Are we only able to believe what we know, to envision this spiral of collapse—and to act to stop it?

 Translated by Iril Kolle

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