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Just shortly need to save the world / before I take the flight to you / have to check 148 mails / who knows what happens next / because it happens so much / Just shortly have to save the world / right afterwards I’m back with you…

These song lines by Tim Bendzko (2011, originally in German) ironically take up the idea of “saving the world” at a time when the world actually does not seem to be the quiet place it may have been in the past. But is that true? Or are we just imagining it? Is it perhaps an illusion that succumbs every decade or every generation over and over again? My personal answer is clear: Yes, we have a problem. No, we do not just imagine it.

Three steps shall illustrate my point: A look at the global environmental situation, one at the concept of saving the world in public debate, and a brief look at some other problems that concern the world as well.

Probably the most important reason why we currently need to “save the world” is the breathtaking speed with which mankind is currently destroying its natural basis of existence. The most important aspect is global climate destruction. It has changed again and again in the course of history – seven times in the last 650,000 years alone, most recently after the abrupt end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago. But ice cores from Greenland, Antarctica and tropical mountain glaciers show that the Earth’s climate reacts to changes in greenhouse gas levels, and tree rings, ocean sediments, coral reefs and layers of sedimentary rocks show a similar picture: the current warming is about ten times faster than that after the ice age.

Since the late 19th century, the average temperature on Earth has risen by just under one degree (Celsius), mainly due to increased man-made emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (such as methane) into the atmosphere. Most of the warming has occurred in the last 35 years, including the five warmest years on record since 2010. 2016 was not only the warmest year since records began, but eight of the 12 months in that year – from January to September, with the exception of June – showed the highest temperature averages ever for the corresponding months. A large proportion of the heat was absorbed by the oceans, which have warmed by 0.2 degrees (C) since 1969 alone. Images of starving polar bears symbolize the decline of Arctic and Antarctic ice, the extent of which has been reduced by almost 4 percent in recent decades. And on the glaciers in the mountain regions of warmer continents, such as Switzerland, the decline in ice since the mid-20th century is even more evident.

In the entire temperate latitudes, winters are less cold and spring comes earlier. Other weather conditions have also changed: The American hurricane season is becoming ever more intense, in Central Europe the risk of floods and thunderstorms has roughly tripled since 1980, and the proportion of economic output accounted for by damage sums and insurance premiums has increased accordingly. It is also clear that flora and fauna are changing.

And the increase in co2 does not only lead to warming, nicely for the climate the oceans absorb a large part of it, but they acidify in the process. This threatens many marine organisms, as lime does not accumulate well in acidic water as shells in mussels and snails, for example. Continued high co2 emissions could result by the end of the century in oceanic pH values falling to levels not seen for more than 50 million years. Due to this acidification, pollution and overfishing, life in the oceans is massively threatened. And this does not only apply to water: If humans continue to destroy the biosphere as before, half of the world’s higher life forms will be extinct by 2100. And so on and so forth. The world faces massive problems, and it seems that the ability to solve them is not particularly pronounced.

To change that is only one of the reasons for Civil democracy. Read more in the Civil democracy book (from which this excerpt was taken) or on this website.

Civil democracy (paperback version, Jan 20)

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