By Julian Cribb AM*
Paralysis. Atrophy. Inertia. Perplexity. These terms describe the state of mind of governments around the world, grappling with an existential crisis they do not understand and whose course they appear impotent to change.
None of the usual levers work, push them, pull them how you will. You can’t halt wildfires by printing money, settle Covid with tax breaks, subsidise the sea to stop it rising or battle global overheating with armies. The whole political juggernaut, lovingly hammered, screwed and bolted together by politicians and economists over nearly two centuries is at last seen for what it is: a fantastic, rust-bucket contraption of whistles and wheels that no longer works, if indeed it ever did.
The science has been in for some time. Modern industrial civilization is headed for collapse under the onset of ten catastrophic threats  which, singly, severally and collectively, traditional national politics now seems powerless to resolve. It doesn’t help that the world has recently chosen many political leaders – both ‘democratic’ and autocratic – without the intelligence, learning or ability to understand what is happening. But don’t they look good on TV?
Search where you will, the picture is similar. Governments are grappling with phenomena beyond their limited experience or expertise, and failing dismally. The trust which the public once reposed in politics and leaders has evaporated in the face of their patent inability to cope and in the sewerfall of lies and half-truths they now feel compelled to gush forth to disguise their inadequacy.
Of course, there are exceptions. New Zealand, Bhutan, most of the Scandinavian countries, Germany perhaps, are doing their best. But, in the face of an overwhelming existential emergency which most other nations are seeking to make worse, it is never going to be enough. Certainly, individual countries alone are not capable of overcoming any of the catastrophic threats. These are global threats, requiring global action.
Politics, the charming theatre that has held the world enthralled for over a century and a half, is collapsing like a pricked balloon. The Earth won’t be saved by communism, capitalism, deism, socialism, liberalism, monarchism or any other ‘ism’. There is no longer any point to political ideology. All it can do is distract us with frivolous argument from the main task of trying to save ourselves. The more ‘politics’ we engage in, the lower our chances of survival. Unfortunately, for many, it is their chief sport and entertainment. They adore the lunge and riposte of politics, no matter how pointless they now appear. They will sacrifice their children for mere spectacle.
Let us apply a simple test to human governance, to establish how fit it is for the 21st Century. How many countries have either a constitution or a policy committing them to human survival? Answer: none. Most, apparently, don’t even know it is at stake. The data telling them that civilization is in peril has been available for up to fifty years, but like good little politicians they have managed to bury the facts under a fantasy of never-ending growth, wealth and ‘happiness’.
Now that is all coming unravelled. In the face of ten catastrophic threats, arriving together, politics is a mere charade, offering no solutions. You cannot negotiate with physics, horse-trade with chemistry or filibuster biology – and these are the forces now shaping the human destiny. Unfortunately, with the marvellous exception of Angela Merckel, most recent political leaders have no education whatever in these disciplines. Where the existential emergency is concerned, they are little better than beached mullet, thrashing around without insight or direction.
Politics is one of the four great mass delusions (the others are money, religion and the human narrative). It is a thing that people constantly put their faith in, all objective evidence to the contrary. It is meat and drink to a media that prizes entertainment more than it does information. And, if political differences are one of the triggers for a nuclear war or a climate stalemate, then it can destroy the human species a good deal more effectively than any pandemic.
Another reason that politics, at least of the national variety, is finished is that it is running out of money. Once upon a time, governments controlled or oversaw most of the wealth within their borders. Now much that wealth has been seized by global corporations – and governments no longer have it to dispense to grateful voters or citizens. Their only recourse is to lie to those who elect or appoint them, as they no longer have the funds to keep their promises. Intent on short-term profit, the corporations do little or nothing for human survival. Economic globalisation has sandbagged world systems of governance while hardly anybody noticed.
To take a single example: the flood of 200+ billion tonnes of chemicals emitted by human activity is killing over 12 million people a year and crippling 600 million more – twice as many victims as World War II.  But are governments trying seriously to stop it? No, partly because they do not understand it and partly because they are hand-in-glove with the polluters – and what the latter do satisfies governments’ political ends. It is a clear case of politics failing to serve the interest of humanity while it continues to serve the interests of the killers. The situation is similar with climate and extinction, although there is more lip-service by politicians about the need to do something.
So, if ‘politics’, as defined by the C19th and C20th, is broken, is there any fixing it? Not while definitions irrelevant to human survival, like ‘left’ and ‘right’, remain in the ascendant. And not while political economics promises illusory wealth while it quietly devours the habitability of the planet.
However, for the first time in the history of our species, humans are having an Earth-wide conversation about these matters – sharing knowledge, experience, wisdom and solutions to the mounting threats we face. The internet has over 5 billion participants (out of the 8 billion world population). By 2030, everyone will be online. This is the first (and last) chance we have ever had to think together as a species. To earn our self-lauding title ‘sapiens’. 
The slow collapse of industrial civilisation is already under way, and is accelerating. It is written in an increasingly savage climate, a toxic world, in raging pandemics (there have been 6 since 2000, in case you didn’t notice), in the obliteration of nature and its ability to sustain life, in the rising scarcity of essentials like water, soil, forests and fish. Politics, absorbed in its own theatre, treats these matters as side-issues compared to the trivia which are its daily fare. By the time it awakens it will be far too late to fix any of them and, anyway, today’s ‘politicians’ will not know how. Human survival is not even on their agenda.
Hope, if it still exists, resides in the increasing outreach of individuals and groups around the Planet to one another, seeking to come together and collaborate to address the existential emergency. It resides in female leadership, not male. It lies in the universal sharing of wisdom and co-operation (as distinct from competition and conflict) across the whole of humanity.
In politics lies only the haemorrhage of precious time and opportunity to save ourselves.
- Julian Cribb AM FRAS FTSE is an Australian science writer and author of five books on the existential crisis.
 Extinction and eco-collapse, resource scarcity, global overheating, weapons of mass destruction, pandemic disease, food insecurity, global poisoning, overpopulation, uncontrolled technologies, mass delusion.
20 thoughts on “The End of Politics”
As usual, what you’ve said is so ‘spot on ‘.
Re mass delusion – have you seen the Netflix film ‘Don’t Look Up’ with Leonardo De Caprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett? An excellent black comedy.
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Yes, indeed. A sad, excellent movie. Unfortunately for us, it won’t all be over in an instant, as it was for them. The end will be much longer, uglier and more horrible.
Yes Julian, I agree. Especially disturbing to me is the loss of so many non human species – the elephants, whales, gorillas, koalas etc etc etc. People won’t be able to feed their children or pets. Horrific.
I am 68 so will not see the worst of it. My son is 30, very well informed and has decided not to have any children. My daughter, who reads less ( but the one who completed University..) lives more in the moment. She’s just told us that she’s pregnant. Of course I had to act pleased for her and her husband but ….it’s really so sad what lies ahead for not only my children but all the young ones.
Hopefully here in Tasmania, the worst things will be delayed …on the other hand, climate affects everywhere and we are also very much a globalised world….
As you infer, a massive comet might well be better.
I doubt it. Many people have already got their sights set on Tasmania as a ‘climate lifeboat’. Prepare for an immigrant surge. But more and more informed young people are taking the big decision not to reproduce, and this could bring on ‘peak people’ by 2060 or so, which may ease some pressures.
Really enjoyed your article, Julian. We moved to Tassie 6 years ago and are hoping our adult children will join us. Can you see governments acting the way they did in WW2, when politics was put aside to win the war?
I’m afraid not. Today’s politicians are a much diminished form of humanity, and mostly care only for themselves.
Do we have to wait for this generation of politicians to die out so that a younger crop, who are motivated by this existential threat can rise to positions of influence?
Certainly not. There are many serious independents, mainly women, standing at the coming Australian federal election. Vote for them instead of the rotten old party system.
You are preaching to the choir here. The system of politics is unfit for our world. National politics makes absolutely no sense in the context of planetary collapse. Forever growth economics, on which my Business Studies degrees were based is farcical in a world of finite and depleting resources. The best we can hope for is a collapse in birthrates or a global pandemic of the scale of the Black Death to give the planet breathing space. That comes with its own horrific human outcomes.
Every paragraph is quotable. A brilliant summation of the powerlessness of politics and our current crop of politicians on both sides of the spectrum to act and address the coming mass extinction. The mainstream media are also complicit. Scientists still say there’s hope if we act NOW but their desperate calls to action go largely ignored. I don’t believe there’s hope. We’ve gone too far. Like rabbits that overpopulate and devour to the limit of their available resources, humanity will collapse under catastrophic climate events that are inevitable.
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I agree Carolyn. But it’s not just because of the failure of politicians and the media. It’s also because of ordinary people and the great majority of the population. We have all become so accustomed to our high energy homes, to high energy food and travel, to having our own car, to fashion and over consuming, to our computers and mobile phones. What proportion of the population would readily agree to reducing these high ‘standards of living’ in most areas of our lives? Any aspiring politician seriously promoting a Degrowth agenda, would be laughed out of the race. Even if one or two managed to get up, it’s all too late.
Why do you not mention Greens. They have had policies in place for years. Lots of women candidates, policies formed and public. Women independents far less of a known quantity, many formerly Liberal
The article describes the global scene. All national political parties are destined to fail and disappear. If the Greens become a global force, maybe.
The trouble with The Greens is that they do not have a population policy for Australia. They would basically let anyone immigrate. How is that compatible with a truly sustainable society and the need to preserve our natural environment? We should substantially increase our foreign aid certainly but Australia can’t and shouldn’t resolve the problems of an overcrowded world. The Greens are certainly more pro environment than the major parties but not to the degree they once were. The inconvenient truth is that more and more people means the decimation of nature by land clearing for urban spread, for agriculture to feed them and for lumber and energy needs. Who truly speaks for the rights of nature, for other species, both plants and animals? Who really prioritizes as a political issue the increasing loss of biodiversity on our unique and precious planet?
Yes. Population is the word that no political party dares to mention. And yet it lies at the heart of solving the human existential emergency. One might conclude they are not really interested in solving it. And that is another reason why national parties will disappear, as the world at large becomes more aware of the catastrophic threats it faces. Their membership is already shrinking by leaps and bounds.
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Yes. Paul got that one right. What he didn’t quite factor in was the success of the Green Revolution and the vaccine revolution. But he was dead right about the essential facts. Here is his latest take: https://youtu.be/5Y2EVSFF4M4
Thanks Julian. I think Ehrlich was fundamentally correct then – just a bit early in his predictions. Ehrlich is the topic of our local U3A Conversations class in Port Sorell on Friday.
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