Our Earth, our responsibility
In his op-ed for Bled Strategic Times ahead of the Bled Strategic Forum, Slovenian Prime Minister Robert Golob makes a call for "global solidarity to save our planet", combining it with an appeal to Russia to end the war of aggression against Ukraine.
In the first days of August, as I was walking through the Slovenian towns affected by the terrible flooding, I reflected on many things. On how to help the most affected people and their families as quickly and effectively as possible, to get the preparations for the flood recovery and reconstruction underway immediately, to obtain the money to cope with this natural disaster and human hardship, and to act swiftly to get ahead of the coming autumn and winter. Everything else seemed irrelevant and superfluous in an instant, and the whole world around us seemed different than before. Everything that I had suspected, doubted and been convinced of suddenly unfolded differently before my eyes; it had happened to my country, to our people.
Slovenia enjoys an exceptional geographical position, where the Alps meet the Adriatic Sea, which makes us a special, hidden treasure of Europe. In a couple of days, devastating floods affected two-thirds of the country, with thousands of homes destroyed, hundreds of bridges demolished, hundreds of kilometres of roads washed away, and parts of the landscape literally wiped away. Never in our imagination could we have foreseen such incredible scenes of destruction. Still, Slovenians are a resilient nation and, when the going gets tough, we get going: we come together and join forces to help, whether to defend ourselves from a foreign invader or deal with the consequences of a natural disaster. This one was the worst in recent history and the way people have responded to it has by far been the greatest yet, one might even describe it as epic.This time the EU rose up for us like never before, both quickly and efficiently. Together with the rest of the international aid we received, we have been given hope and a good chance of emerging from this disaster even stronger. Yet it will not be easy.
We are all in the same boat, and that boat is our planet, which has been mistreated, exploited and abused, and which may already be unable to bear the weight of humanity. Every human error begins by denying the facts, and when we are in denial with respect to nature, catastrophes occur. It is only when nature strikes back and resists man's actions and interventions that we begin to ask why us, why Slovenia? Let me be clear: denying that humans have contributed to overheating our planet is not leading us to solutions, but straight to our doom! No other species on this planet is destroying it with greenhouse gases, exterminating animal species and forests and responsible for all kinds of brutal pollution like us humans, homo sapiens, a creature distinguished from all others for our ability to think. But do we really think? It should be very clear to all of us that we, humans, are solely responsible for this planet: we can either destroy or preserve it. While yesterday Slovenia was hit, and before it was many others in a host of other locations, tomorrow it will be others elsewhere in the world. Therefore, we will either act together or disappear separately. David Attenborough, Stephen Hawking and several others warned us for decades that our planet is nearing the end of its strength and capacity. And since we probably will be unable to move to another habitable planet for quite some time, our only option is to try to 'fix the Earth'. We now know for certain that we can influence the state of the planet, like with the ozone layer, the state of watercourses, and greenhouse gas emissions. While we can have a reliable impact on reducing the planet's overheating, an even more important part will be adapting our societies and economies to the new climate conditions. The key to this will be future policy decisions made by responsible politicians, now, today. This is why politics and businesses must enter this battle hand in hand, in a concerted and deliberate manner, to save the planet.
In a recent interview with CNN, I was asked whether the floods were partly caused by Slovenia's failure to act promptly and effectively enough to tackle the causes of climate change. I responded by explaining that last summer in Slovenia we were battling high temperatures, drought and the biggest wildfires in our history, whereas this year we are facing the greatest floods in recent memory. If the scientific explanation that high sea temperatures have created a more humid atmosphere over the Alps, and thus unusually high and, most importantly, sudden rainfall in places below the Alps, is correct, then Slovenia's impact on this has been proportional to its size. We ourselves are more to blame when it comes to neglecting to clean up our watercourses, forcing rivers into artificial channels, and building in inappropriate places. Climate change is not a local problem but is, above all, a global problem that affects every part of the world, albeit differently; still, no one remains unaffected. It can therefore only be tackled successfully on a global level. However, of course, everything starts on the local level and, even before then, with the environmentally conscious individual. In this regard, I believe it is critical to include lessons about climate change and the impact humans have on nature in school curricula everywhere around the world. We will also need to increase knowledge about climate change by investing even more in education and science. But if we do not raise awareness among our children and, right now, among ourselves - and by this, I mean the global political class - then it may indeed be too late. Educating young people is the best answer to those who deny or underestimate the human impact on climate change.
Solidarity, which has helped us Slovenians to overcome hardships, is emerging ever more strongly as a vital value not only within individual societies, but also as the key to combating climate change on a planetary scale. Or, to put it even more directly, I am calling for planet-wide solidarity in order to save our planet. This is not just about the material and technical dimensions of the response to global warming, measuring carbon footprints, financial compensation for the more diligent and penalties for those less engaged, it is about finally addressing the need on this planet for the more developed to understand and help the less developed, for the less affected to help the more affected. We must not give up our ambition to heal the Earth, to repair this boat we are sharing and in which we travel through time. An appropriate response to the situation in which we find ourselves today would be strengthening the Green Climate Fund (GCF). We urgently need to further adapt all our international organisations, starting with the United Nations - that would be the appropriate response - and all the regional alliances of countries, all the economic and financial alliances and institutions, right down to the last village in Patagonia or Siberia, where people care deeply about doing something good for our planet.
Slovenia will be a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2024-2025. In our campaign for membership, we made it clear that the central programme guidelines of the current Slovenian Government would also be the guidelines for our work in the UN's most powerful body, that holds primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. Alongside solidarity, which is our main guiding principle in working for the well-being of Slovenia's inhabitants, we are also guided by the principle of including the widest possible range of people and organisations in decision-making, including civil society. Sustainable economic growth and sustainable stewardship of the piece of the planet at our disposal are especially important for us. We will strive to translate all of this into our actions on the global level, including our firm determination to help others just as others have always helped us and are helping us now that we have found ourselves in a tough spot.
We also have another big ambition for the UN Security Council: to do our best to help end the suffering of the Ukrainian people caused by the Russian aggression. At a time when Slovenia is fighting with nature, people in Ukraine are fighting for their very existence in their own homeland, which is the victim of Russian aggression. I wonder what the Russian nation has to gain from such aggression against a neighbouring country and a neighbouring, closely related people, what has the crude violence achieved, what has the brutality of war brought to the Russians, to Europe, to humanity? There is only damage and suffering, tragedy, ruins, misfortune and grief. How much damage has been done to nature and the climate by a war that broke out suddenly and seemingly cannot come to a stop? What does it mean when food becomes weaponised and warships are blocking the flow of grain to the African population? All I know for sure is that wars are taking humanity dramatically further away from the goal of healing this planet, saving it, and in turn saving ourselves.
I do not want to give up hoping that it may be possible to agree with Russia on how to build our common future. The cessation of Russian aggression would be the most telling sign it would represent the moment when we could achieve a ceasefire and give diplomacy and negotiations a chance to achieve a lasting and just peace. In Europe, we can provide mutual guarantees, including, of course, guarantees on the forms of future energy and climate cooperation. In particular - and this is a great desire of many Europeans - Europe and Russia should cooperate on space programmes. Three decades ago, there was every indication that this might be the case. The whole world remembers how Metallica held a concert in Moscow in 1991, in front of 1.5 million young Russians who were looking at the future with joy and hope. In Slovenia, we also remember how in 1992 the avant-garde Slovenian art collective NSK, or Neue Slowenische Kunst, opened its 'embassy' in the Russian capital. Several years later, it even performed a ballet on the replica of the Mir space station in Star City, the training centre for Russian cosmonauts just north of Moscow, in preparation for a dance in Earth's orbit and the beginning of a joint 'culturalisation' of outer space. After half a century, Europe was united in diversity and looking forward to future challenges. It is now time to re-establish that spirit and give both us and our planet new hope.
This article was first published in Bled Strategic Times - the official gazette of the Bled Strategic Forum. The Bled Strategic Times offers an additional platform alongside the Bled Strategic Forum to voice the positions on diverse topics to political leaders, thinkers, business representatives and academics. This year's Bled Strategic Times can be read in full here.