TWO events highlighted contrasting visions of our planet’s future yesterday. In Korea, the world’s top climate scientists issued a “final call” to save the world from climate catastrophe. “It’s a line in the sand and what it says to our species is that this is the moment and we must act now,” said a co-chair of the one the groups looking at the catastrophic impacts of rising temperatures. “This is the largest clarion bell from the science community and I hope it mobilises people and dents the mood of complacency.”

Meanwhile, speaking of complacency, as these warnings were being issued, a rival spectacle was taking place in California, as Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched a satellite into space. The private firm claims to be moving ever closer towards space tourism marketed at the growing ranks of high net worth individuals. At present, Musk’s global vision, where billionaires invest in an escape route to other planets in case of climate cataclysm, is where our economic system is dragging our species. Indeed, members of Donald Trump’s team now say the planet is so obviously doomed that any effort to change course is pointless. The billionaires are embracing extinction as a fact, and unless we make abrupt changes, so are we.

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According to the scientists, to escape catastrophic temperature rises, we need extraordinary investment. Temperature rises of 1.5C would be bad enough for our planet. But simply to keep them that low, they argue, we must invest

$2.4 trillion in our energy system every year. Again, simply to keep to 1.5C rises, we need to have abandoned fossil fuels, especially coal, by mid-century, and have dedicated vast tracts of land to forests. Yet despite decades of hand-wringing, we’re still moving in the wrong direction.

The political implications of the scientific consensus are – or should be – extraordinary. “Ultimately, politicians will face a difficult choice: Persuade their voters that the revolutionary change outlined in the report is urgently needed or ignore it and say the scientists have got it wrong,” says David Shukman, the BBC’s Science Editor.

Actually, Shukman gets one thing wrong. There are, in fact, three options. Trump and his crew will either flat out deny the science or they will demean it so that its implications are ignored. We can be assured of that. Equally, the left will argue for revolutionary change, not just because that’s the fundamental precondition for reversing this mess, but also because of other mounting problems, from the planetary democratic deficit to the ever-growing power of oligarchs and the 1%.

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But then, there’s the centrist establishment, who represent a third option. They will throw their hands up in despair and yell, “Isn’t it awful!” But they will stop short of recommending any meaningful social change. They will either hide behind self-serving pessimism focussed on individualistic behaviours (tut tut, the consumerist masses won’t recycle), or they will put their faith in an enlightened combination of science and global markets, a “smart” solution, a Ted Talk solution, a Musk solution. They will recommend moderate changes where they cost little – a fracking ban, say – and changes in individual shopping habits, because little things go a long way! But they will balk at anything that harms the free flow of market forces or the rising incomes of the global elite. They’ll recoil from anything that actually tackles the root cause of climate crisis: capitalism.

Given the stakes, Trump’s call for reversing climate protections is obviously horrendous. Nobody denies that. But Trump’s vile rhetoric shouldn’t disguise the real political stakes. The true battle isn’t between smart and dumb, but between the capitalist system and humanity’s future existence on this planet.

Contrary to Trump, there is no hard scientific limit here. Reversing, or at least slowing down, these catastrophic changes is fully possible. “We show it can be done within laws of physics and chemistry,” said one scientist involved with the report. “Then the final tick box is political will. We cannot answer that. Only our audience can – and that is the governments that receive it.”

A decade ago, it seemed obvious that climate change was a political question, something that we could transform with sufficient will, if we were willing to protest to put major curbs on the multinational corporations that run our world. Recently, however, many have largely abandoned this, either because they have reached dark conclusions about humanity, or because they have excessive faith in the scientific and economic establishment to find solutions.

Which brings me back to Musk. He’s a billionaire on a one man mission to save humanity. He’s determined to prove that markets and extreme, philanthropic wealth can find quicker, hipper answers than boring, old fashioned government interventions. He’s yet to prove that his Tesla electric cars are actually profitable, but hey, there’s a lot of billionaires out there, who could be buying a lot of electric roadsters. Who knows? Maybe that’s going to stop the seas rising and the coral reefs melting and the extinction of thousands of species, and eventually our own. However, he’s realistic enough to know that it probably won’t. So he’s also investing in space. You know. Just in case. So it’s a case of, act now, or start saving your billions for a one-way ticket to Mars.