A clash of civilizations means a collapse of civilization

We are republishing this important article by Keith Lamb – an expert in China’s international relations – on how the US-led New Cold War is standing in the way of urgently-needed global cooperation to prevent climate breakdown. The article was first published in CGTN on 10 August 2021.


After Donald Trump took office, a new cold war started heating up between China and the United States. Regrettably, U.S. President Joe Biden doesn’t seem predisposed to cooling tensions anytime soon. However, beyond man-made cold wars, which if they turn hot, threaten the collapse of civilization with nuclear weapons, there is another war taking place where the U.S. and China are, or at least should be, the closest of allies.

This war is also man-made but, unlike the cold war, it is a hot one. And it’s getting hotter. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), human activity has warmed the earth by 1.1 degrees Celsius since 1850-1900. The IPCC’s new report now believes we need rapid large-scale action to prevent the earth from warming by 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius within the next 20 years. This amount of warming is believed to be a tipping point that, if reached, could lead to climate change spiralling beyond repair.

There is no hiding place in this war. There is no safe state. Its front line is everywhere. This has been demonstrated with this year’s severe weather events such as flooding in Europe and in Asian nations such as China and India, as well as the wildfires across North America. These severe weather events will be mere skirmishes if the IPCC’s predictions of intense rainfall, rising sea levels, and ocean acidification come to pass should we pass the tipping point.

Climate change deniers may say that the earth is warming naturally. However, the IPCC is a UN scientific body, agreed to by 195 member states. Their assessment cannot be dismissed so easily. Furthermore, we must also be cognizant that certain representatives of capital (i.e. those who profit from harm) have historically gaslighted their populations on matters like these. Let us not forget that smoking, we were once told, was healthy.

In this environmental war, the people profiting from denying climate change are not only the enemy of mankind and the earth, but they are also their own worst enemy. Their short-term outlook for profit also leads to their potential demise. Should they find ways to escape the earth, to reach Mars, it would nevertheless be an inferior product to the earth.

Despite rejoining the Paris Agreement on climate change, the U.S. is also an enemy in our shared environmental war by stoking its simmering cold war with China. Its short-term outlook on world affairs reflects an individualist outlook that cares not about the shared community of mankind but only about the profits of a small group of elites.

Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement showed just how fickle the most powerful liberal state can be when providing for the ultimate collective human right, which is the safeguarding of our planet. The same can be said for the destructive policy of war, which at best destroys the environment in a locality and, at worst, risks ending civilization as we know it.

The U.S.’ cold war antics risk the total collapse of all life on earth. However, even if a nuclear catastrophe does not happen, the U.S.’s systemic preoccupation with never-ending war and regime change still detracts from our shared and serious environmental concerns.

For example, as the U.S. engages in efforts to bring down China, and others with political-economic systems they find distasteful, it destroys the unity needed to combat our shared environmental war and wastes resources that could be used in this battle. Funding for weapons of mass destruction, which the U.S. ranks number one in, could be put into funding for environmental protection.

Ironically, while the U.S. drums up bogus human rights claims in an attempt to bring down China’s system, it is this very system that is gearing up for the long-term planning, and it is this type of planning that is needed for safeguarding our collective environmental human rights.

China has not shirked its environmental responsibility. Those living in China will attest to the rapid greening of its cities, the widespread use of clean public transport systems, and the improving air quality. This transformation, which is just starting, would have been impossible had China adopted a liberal system with five-year electoral cycles that allows for the polluting classes that control capital to pay for the biggest voice.

China’s vision is for an ecological civilization, not just in China but around the whole world. This requires a rejection of zero-sum thinking, under which war and climate denial fall. While the U.S. is preoccupied with a clash of civilizations with others, we must be cognizant that this clash will ultimately lead to a collapse of civilization in both the Orient and Occident. With this in mind, the only rational choice for China and the U.S. is to engage in comprehensive cooperation on all fronts.

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