FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - January 1, 2016 - 9:00am

The world greets 2016 with a bit of trepidation. The challenges are large and the solutions seem to defy our collective imagination.

Two main issues hold the world’s attention as we hoped to kick out the old and welcome the new: climate change and terrorism.

In the shadow of brutal terrorist attacks, a global conference was successfully concluded in Paris last month. The parties to that conference agreed to exert all efforts to keep global warming to under two degrees over the average temperature that prevailed prior to the onset of the Industrial Revolution.

Beyond the two-degree threshold, sea levels will rise unmanageably. The world’s major coastal cities will be submerged. A few island nations will be lost to the sea. The global icecaps will recede inexorably. Extreme weather conditions will ruin agriculture. Human survival will be on the line.

All these will begin happening during our lifetime. It is an environmental apocalypse that can be averted only by the concerted action of all of humanity.

The covenant signed in Paris accepts several premises that were debated for too long while the planet began to boil. The most important of those premises is that global warming is the consequence of human activity – particularly the massive production of carbon gases.

The way we chose to live since the Industrial Revolution is now deemed unsustainable.

The industrial age has been characterized by massive consumption of fossil fuels, comprehensive urbanization, high-energy consumption per capita and reckless pollution. Carbon dioxide levels have risen even in the oceans, threatening sea life with extinction.

For a while, we imagined that the seas were the final source of food for the increasing number of humans inhabiting the planet. That is no longer true. As fertile floodplains are threatened by rising sea levels, the oceans are also losing their capacity to support life.

We cannot think of evacuating the planet in the event it becomes inhospitable to life. We have nowhere to go to and no means to rescue humanity.

There is no other course to take but to hold back rising global temperatures, or reverse warming if that is at all possible. To do that, we will have to hold back humanity’s carbon footprint. That requires no less than a comprehensive revolution in the way life is lived and communities are imagined.

Come to think of it, this tired and retiring administration never issued a fully developed policy statement on our nation’s strategy for combating climate change. We ought to demand such a policy statement from all those seeking to lead the nation in the future.

The global agenda for turning back climate change involves building an agenda for every nation, every community and every individual. This requires an unprecedented effort that should dwarf every other concern.

Except, perhaps, terrorism.

Over the last two decades, we shuddered under the threat of organized transnational terror, principally from the Al Qaeda. Over the last few years, that peril mutated into unorganized terror from random gangs and lone wolves inspired by ISIS-style terror.

When Osama bin Laden lived, the movement he led selected targets and trained units to engage in acts of wholesale terror. Post-Osama, we have seen the rise of an even more virulent strand of Islamic fundamentalism that goads fanatics over the Internet and by means of social media.

During al Qaeda’s heyday, an organized response was imaginable. Airport security was strengthened. Travellers were profiled. Those who came from Pakistan or Afghanistan were checked thoroughly. Communications among the suspected terrorist cells were monitored closely.

The attack on the Boston marathon a couple of years ago signaled a frightening mutation of the terror threat. Those attacks were undertaken by militants who were largely self-radicalized and who learned bomb-making through the Web. The Boston bombers were American citizens whose closest friends never suspected what they were up to.

A couple of months ago, a highly organized terror network mounted simultaneous attacks in Paris. The attacks targeted vulnerable concentrations of civilians: a football match, a rock concert and a bar. The intent was simply to cause the highest possible volume of casualties before law enforcers could neutralize the militants.

The terror group involved in the Paris attacks were largely homegrown, composed of French and Belgian citizens (of Arab origins). They were radicalized in the ghettoes where immigrant communities from the Middle East were concentrated – although the evidence suggests they were inspired by ISIS propaganda.

Similar attacks happened in west Africa, where armed Islamist movements were active. As in the case of the Paris attackers, the attacks across Africa seemed intended to cause the largest possible number of casualties by targeting the most vulnerable places.

The ISIS, although currently under immense military pressure in Syria and Iraq, has become the rallying point for an assortment of fundamentalist Islamic insurgencies everywhere. The ISIS holds up the vision of establishing some sort of caliphate – a single Islamic authority transcending national boundaries.

For some reason, the establishment of a caliphate is understood as requiring the destruction of “infidels.” This makes the movement as much as rebellion against modernity as it is an affirmation of an ancient Islamic goal.

The senseless attack in San Bernardino, California a few weeks ago illustrates the danger posed by “lone wolf” attackers. Such militants are very difficult to track and stop before they could inflict their pointless violence on defenseless citizens.

It is not possible, even with the application of the most advanced information technologies, to track and contain potential “lone wolf” attackers. Doing more than what is already being done will seriously infringe on the freedoms we seek to defend.


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