Behind the Covid-19 pandemic looms a phenomenon that will cause far greater global misery unless we act to prevent it: a breakdown of the climate. By persisting in overheating the atmosphere we are on track to making so much of the planet uninhabitable that the consequent conflicts over land and water resources will put an end to civilisation as we know it. But catastrophe can be avoided if we take decisive action to slow global heating, and the faster we act the less misery we’ll incur.
A shady group of libertarian billionaires has been waging a covert ‘war of ideas’ against the rest of us, the upshot of which is three major obstructions to tackling the climate crisis. These are: the political clout of the fossil fuel industries and national oil companies, the power of the religious right (especially in the US but also in countries like Brazil), and the distractive forces of Big Tech, which divert our attention from the most urgent issue confronting humanity. But if philosophers strike back with better ideas, and activists accordingly act forcefully, we can circumvent these obstructions.
However, we won’t be able to cope with the climate crisis effectively without full cooperation from China (then from India, Brazil, and the rest). Our relations with the Chinese regime are going from bad to worse, but we could improve them considerably if we showed appreciation for the ancient Chinese philosophy that the current regime began advocating after Xi Jinping came to power. In fact these Confucian and Daoist ideas are perfectly suited for a reframing of our approach to the climate crisis.
It’s true that the regime isn’t putting all of these ideas into practice, but if we propose cooperation on the basis of classical Chinese thought (and the corresponding ideas from the Western tradition), it would be hard for the Chinese Communist Party to say no without a catastrophic loss of face.