The extremism of the status quo

Andrew Simms, SGR, summarises the overlooked extremism of mainstream political positions on climate breakdown, militarism, and false technological solutions.

Responsible Science blog, 20 May 2024.

Government ministers talk endlessly about certain kinds of extremism, but are seemingly oblivious to the extreme consequences of the status quo over which they preside. Mountains of scientific evidence point to imminent climate breakdown and the reality of an ongoing mass extinction event in nature.  

But when governments take grossly inadequate climate action in response to the now routine breaking of global temperature and weather records, and the rapid approach of climate system tipping points, that is not considered extreme. When high technology wars of annihilation against civilian populations are carried out by governments seen as ‘friendly’, there is no political interest in labelling it extreme. When there is a lack of real action and investment on social division and ecological breakdown at the same time as astronomic spending on false technological solutions, that is presented as ‘reasonable’. But these are all features of the new, everyday extremes of the polycrisis.

In the latest edition of SGR's Responsible Science journal you can read about how 2023 was a year of climate extremes that has continued into 2024, as global temperatures move deeper into the realm of ‘dangerous’ climate disruption. We expose the staggering costs and extreme technological and delivery obstacles facing the nuclear energy option, which is now undermining UK and international efforts to hit urgent climate targets requiring immediate action. Fossil fuel industry gambits to derail the low carbon transition are looked at in our article on so-called ‘Blue Hydrogen’.

The use of artificial intelligence to pursue extreme warfare involving large-scale slaughter of civilian populations is also analysed.

Biased economics, rigged infrastructure, and a culture that promotes overconsumption alongside highly damaging products and lifestyles - like frequent flying and driving SUVs in towns and cities - all contribute to making extreme human behaviours seem normal and everyday. This has the side effect of making anyone who criticises this ‘everyday extreme’ themselves subject to accusations of extremism from those in power.  Whether or not this is merely convenient for those who find the status quo to their advantage, or a deliberate design feature, we leave the reader to decide. But what could be more extreme than activities that place in doubt the survival of humanity and great swathes of the rest of nature? 

The polycrisis is the manifestation of this everyday extremism and the content of this edition all speaks in different ways to how it might be addressed. At a very simplified level it means a mixture of economic, behavioural, and policy reform and moving to a world in which non-extreme actions become more attractive than extreme ones, and the defaults to guide us. This might apply to anything from choosing peace negotiations over punitive military action, to having safe cycling infrastructure in cities and economic penalties for SUVs.

2024 is a year of elections and a time for everyone who cares about ending suffering and reversing inequality and ecological breakdown to make themselves heard. SGR is supporting campaigns on the Climate and Ecology Bill, the Green New Deal, on redirecting military spending to more socially, environmentally and economically useful purposes, on the demilitarisation of science and technology and its repurposing for the benefit of humanity and the rest of nature. 

We hope you will join us on this journey to end this overlooked extremism of the status quo.

Andrew Simms is Assistant Director of Scientists for Global Responsibility.

First published as an editorial to SGR's Responsible Science journal, April 2024.

Image by Pixabay.