Will it be one world, or none?

Technology has finally accomplished what pacifists have been unable to do: make wars unthinkable.

Supporting the world’s large population requires enormous amounts of energy, currently largely extracted from coal, oil and natural gas. But the resulting carbon dioxide threatens climate catastrophe.

Since fusion reactors are only a future possibility, the main alternatives to carbon fuels are atomic, solar, wind and hydroelectric reactors.

There are few good locations for new dams. We must therefore depend on atomic, solar and wind reactors for the foreseeable future, if there is to be a future. Wars are incompatible with all these sources of energy.

As the situation of the Ukrainian reactor occupied by the Russian invaders suggests, battles near atomic reactors are potentially disastrous.

The Ukrainian and Russian governments have allowed UN experts to inspect the reactors, as both countries have a vested interest in protecting these reactors. If damaged, they could contaminate Russia as well as Ukraine.

But in major wars, such cooperation would be impossible.

Decades ago, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev warned that a general war would destroy Europe even if atomic weapons were not used. Damage to dozens of European atomic reactors would be inevitable and the resulting radioactivity would render the entire continent uninhabitable.

Now there are reactors everywhere. So if we continue to use them to prevent the end of the world from climate catastrophe, but continue to have wars, we will have the end of the world from atomic catastrophe.

We could not avoid this unpleasant dilemma by eliminating atomic reactors. If we rely entirely on solar and wind power, war is also a game wrecker.

The biggest obstacle to solar energy is its local intermittency. In a given region, the sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow.

It may be possible to store enough energy for the night or bad weather, but it is unlikely that we can store enough energy to adapt to seasonal variations. The photovoltaic panels on my own roof produce only a fifth of the monthly amount of electricity in mid-winter compared to summer.

Seasonal variations will therefore force us to build networks sending solar energy to regions of the world where the sun does not shine. Ultimately, we will need a global network.

The slogan of a major campaign – OSOWOG (One Sun, One World, One Grid) – perfectly captures the essence of the problem and the opportunity.

But building the network will not be enough. A global network is incompatible with wars of any magnitude between industrialized countries. It would be too easy to eliminate key elements from it and the grid will only work if it remains global.

The loss of electricity around the world would not kill everyone as effectively as an atomic disaster, but a prolonged outage would likely starve four-fifths of the world’s population.

Countries may need to retain sufficient military forces to suppress domestic rebellions and secession movements, but not on a large scale to defend against attacks from other countries.

It would be foolish to continue supporting forces that we cannot afford to use. There is an opportunity here to save immense sums of money by mutual agreements to drastically reduce military forces.

Most of the money currently spent on military forces is wasted, because at best it produces a draw in which there are no wars. This money could be better spent improving people’s lives.

We will either have one world or none. As the philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote in 1959, “If a nuclear war were to break out, the belligerents on either side and the neutrals would all be equally defeated. This … means that war still cannot be used as an instrument of policy .”

Russell added, “The threat of war can still be used, but only by a madman. Unfortunately, some people are madmen…”

— Paul F. deLespinasse is Emeritus Professor of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He can be reached at [email protected]

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