Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Climate Change War Heats Up this Week. You Can't Sit This Out Much Longer.

If you follow the unfolding climate change wars, you'll know that things are sure heating up.  Pope Francis is about to issue a papal encyclical urging the world's Catholics to get behind the fight against climate change and it's got the denialists running scared.

Congressional denialist in chief, senator James Inhofe, has lashed out, telling Francis to mind his own business and leave all this climate change issue to Congress where it can be shelved and buried.  Everyone else on the Right from FOX News to the Heartland Institute is likewise sniping away.  It must get exhausting.

There's a palpable desperation in the Right's strident and pre-emptive pushback. At the core of their denialism is one objective - delay.  They know that anthropogenic global warming is happening and that it's accelerating in its impacts.  It has become an inescapable presence in people's lives whether it arrives as droughts, floods, species and pest migration, change in growing seasons or sea level rise.  It's a wave they can't hold back and they know that wave is going to break over their heads.

That's not to say they're giving up, not yet anyway.  They're calling out all the troops.  In the Globe and Mail 2.0, they're even breathing life back into the stale arguments of economist Bjorn Lomborg.  This guy's niche is interesting.  He's no longer a denialist.  His shtick is distraction.  Yet it's directed to the same purpose - delay.

Here's the thing that concerns me.  No matter which side you're on, the factual or the irrational, everyone is making the same fatal mistake, one that will almost ensure that even the best efforts will fail.  They're all treating climate change, anthropogenic global warming, as a stand alone issue.

Reality check time. The only way that climate change can be addressed is to recognize it as an integral component of a far greater and more existential challenge that also incorporates overpopulation and over-consumption.  It's only when climate change is taken in this larger context that the common threads linking these challenges emerge and the necessary responses become obvious.

Irrationality isn't exclusive to the denialists.  The very way our society is organized is irrational, dangerously so.  For example, we still cling to our pursuit of perpetual, exponential growth in GDP.   To maintain that delusion, you must ignore the reality that ours is a finite planet, with finite resources both renewable and non, a planet our species has vastly overpopulated.

To keep that delusion from collapsing under its own weight, you must ignore that our ecosystem, our biosphere, Planet Earth, has a maximum carrying capacity that we're already well passed.  The evidence is everywhere.  It's visible to the naked eye from the orbiting International Space Station.  It's tangible, palpable, measurable.

From our orbital perch we can monitor the vanishing sea ice, the retreating glaciers.  We can observe receding lakes and rivers that no longer run to the sea. We can plot the spread of deforestation and photograph the massive dust clouds that rise over China, the result of desertification, and cross the Pacific to North America.  We can record the loss of mountain snow pack and the increasing rate of forest fires.  The Grace satellite system detects the surface subsidence resulting from the depletion of our groundwater, our aquifers, for irrigation.  This stuff is all observed, recorded, measured, photographed and logged.  And it all speaks to the same truth, that we are living far beyond our planet's maximum ecological carrying capacity.

Back down on terra firma there's more evidence. This comes in many forms. Among them are the collapsing fish stocks as our industrial fishery depletes the ocean, species by species, as it fishes "down the food chain."  Add to that ocean acidification, itself a potential extinction event, caused by the excessive CO2 loading of our atmosphere.  Even the denialists steer well clear of that one. It's hard to argue with litmus paper. There's habitat and species loss.  A report this past year concluded we have lost half of the wild life on Earth since we ushered in the Age of Market Fundamentalism, the neoliberal era, some 30-years ago. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has warned that we're degrading our farmland so rapidly that most of our topsoil could be lost over the next sixty years. Then there's the steadily worsening accumulation of waste and pollution evidenced in such things as major rivers that have become toxic, blue green algae choking our lakes and growing oceanic dead zones.

There's no point in going on with more examples.  The case is made and it's irrefutable.  Our civilization - national, regional and global - has become mortally dependent on a state of existence that cannot continue.  Yet neoliberalism is not working.  It is not designed to meet these sorts of problems and challenges. To the contrary, it is both cause and effect of our descent into illiberal democracy, a decline that seems unstoppable.

Unsure of how to wrap up this post, I decided to take a break for brunch.  As I devoured my eggs and turkey bacon, I got into reading Chris Hedges new book, "Wages of Rebellion," which I picked up a couple of days ago.  That's when I ran headlong into this passage:

"As poorer societies around the globe unravel - many of them no longer able to impose the order of organized states - and as our own depressed communities are wrecked again, the same inchoate hatreds and bloodlusts for vengeance and retribution that I witnessed in disintegrating states such as the former Yugoslavia will be unleashed.  Crisis cults, those bizarre messianic movements defined by a belief in magic and mystical religious fervor, will raise, as they did in medieval and Reformation Europe and among the Sioux at the end of the Indian wars.  The armed thugs and gangs of warlords - which were common in the war in Bosnia - will storm through blighted landscapes looting, pillaging, and killing.  This is already a reality to those affected by the severe droughts in Africa.  Recent migrants, religious and ethnic minority groups, undocumented workers, foreign nationals, and homosexuals, indeed all who do not conform to the idealized image of the nation, buttressed by a mythical narrative about the lost golden age, will become the enemy and, for many, the cause of our distress.

"Hunger and constant drought, especially in the poorer parts of the globe, will force populations to carry out armed raids and internecine wars to survive and lead many others to flee for more temperate zones. An estimated 200 million climate refugees, most from the equatorial regions of the globe, will descend by the middle of this century on Europe and other industrialized countries, according to figures cited in a study from Columbia University's Center for International Earth Science Information Network.  The industrialized states, anxious to preserve dwindling resources and avoid being overrun by destitute hordes, will become ringed fortresses. Democratic rights and constitutional protections will most likely be obliterated. This may be the best we can hope for. The worst will be the complete collapse of our ecosystem and the extinction of the human species. Neither scenario is pleasant.

"No act of rebellion can be effective, much less moral, unless it first takes into account reality, no matter how bleak that reality. As our lives become increasingly fragile, we will have to make hard decisions about how to ensure our own survival and yet remain moral beings. We will be called upon to fight battles, some of which we will have no hope of winning, if only to keep alive the possibility of compassion and justice. We will depend on others to survive. This is not the world most of us desire, but it is the world that will probably exist. The greatest existential crisis we face is to at once accept what lies before us - for the effects of climate change and financial instability are now inevitable - and yet find the resilience to fight back."

If we're to have much hope of finding "the resilience to fight back" we're going to have to sweep away the cobwebs of delusion under which we've been living. We will need new modes of organization - economic, social and political. We will need to acknowledge that 18th century economics, 19th century industrialism and 20th century geopolitics have played an instrumental role in bringing us to the perilous state we're in today.

This begins by recognizing that, while the future may be dystopian and it may be beyond our means to avert that, we still have in our power the ability to make it far worse than it need be.  What's in play right now is this margin of difference between unpleasant and catastrophic.  There are things we must do to make this better but there are far more things we're already doing that will make it far, far worse for those who must follow us.

You don't have to be malevolent to invite catastrophe.  It's enough if you're willingly delusional.

post script

It's hard not to agree with Hedges that, unless we - our governments, our societies - change course pretty abruptly, we're likely to become destabilized through a combination of internal circumstances and external forces. Out of instability comes unrest, usually met with suppression, which can in turn trigger revolt of some form and degree.

Suzuki makes the point that you can't have a healthy economy without a healthy environment.  You can't have a healthy society either.  Inequality becomes exacerbated by environmental degradation and poor people are the most exposed and the most vulnerable to climate change impacts.  Rich people enjoy this thing called "options," critical advantages not available to the impecunious.

At some point there's a very good chance most of us will have to choose to either submit or to resist.  The state of social cohesion plays a powerful role in this choice. Isolated, as we're conditioned now to be, we're weak and pretty easy to pick off. This brings to mind an Alan Watts' YouTube video I first found posted by Lorne at Politics and Its Discontents:

How do we then restore social cohesion?  One way is communication. Individually we might be reduced to despair and frustration. Collectively, however, we can transform our frustration into resistance.  And it all begins with communication, reaching others to let them know that there are like-minded people ready to resist.  That all sounds good but how does it work, how can you go from concept to something tangible?

Years ago, during the darkest part of the Bush/Cheney era, I happened to cross paths with a very courageous, genuinely progressive American woman who calls herself "The Freeway Blogger."  She began a campaign to pique the public consciousness, a campaign that has expanded from war resistance to environmental action.

What she does is, in the early morning hours, she affixes signs to freeway overpasses in her native, southern California area.  She gets a massive captive audience of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of commuters stuck in rush hour traffic.  Here are a few of her offerings from years past.

TFB's web page has a very useful archive and also a "how to" page with tips on how to make signs and how, where and when to place them for maximum effect. If you live in a place with freeways and overpasses and rush hour gridlock, this might be an option to consider.  Break into people's consciousness, remind them of what's happening, connect with them.

You need to believe.  You need to believe that change is essential but, more important yet, you need to believe that change is possible and you can play a significant role in making it happen. That begins by understanding what change is and how it occurs.  If you can find it, read Malcolm Gladwell's book, "The Tipping Point, How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference."  Let Gladwell introduce you to the "epidemic theory," the "law of the few," and the "Stickiness Factor."  Then he will take you through case histories of situations in which mass movements seemingly came out of nowhere to drive enormous change.  We can do much the same - if we want it enough. Odin help us all if we don't.


Anyong said...

And then there is Jane Fonda as well.

The Mound of Sound said...

I don't understand the Jane Fonda reference, Anyong.

Anonymous said...

Let's call a spade The spade.
Mr. David Suzuki fathered 5 children.
I have contacted him (his office?) inquiring why population control is not on priority list on the Foundation bearing his name. (It was championed by him, when he was younger)
Received a weasel reply.

the salamander said...

.. astounding article.. essay.. illumination
will be rereading several times & absorbing
not to mention, sharing.. thank you !

Deacon Jester said...

Hey A. non, Let's call the shit shoveler the shit one advised your parents that they were going to be raising a sack of dry hair instead of a child I see. I wonder why that is. List your accomplishments and contributions for us and we'll decide if your parents wasted an egg and sperm.

Unless your name is really Ezra Levant. If that's you Ezzie crawl off somewhere and lick your ass like a good dog.

Anonymous said...

zoombats hong kong said...

Hey Deacon Jester! Thanks for the laugh. You made my day brilliant!

Marie Snyder said...

Excellent post. I saw Bjorn speak ages ago, and he hasn't changed his tune. It's frustrating the powerful stupidity that we're up against. Hanging in there!

Anyong said...

Jane Fonda is an environmental activist and was speaking Vancouver this past weekend...that's the connect!

Northern PoV said...

Excellent post as usual ... my 2 cents:
"You need to believe. You need to believe that change is essential but, more important yet, you need to believe that change is possible and you can play a significant role in making it happen."
Ya think? I'm still trying but not because "I believe" more like ... "you never know"
I mostly feel like I am preaching to the converted or just annoying the usual suspects.
(case in point most comment sections on blogs and articles)

and the reference to Malcolm .. I found the Tipping Point trite and consumerist oriented. I ignored him until this stuff popped up:
Malcolm Gladwell is the New Yorker’s leading essayist and bestselling author. Time magazine named Gladwell one of the world’s 100 most influential people. His books sell copies in the millions, and he is in hot demand as one of the nation’s top public intellectual and pop gurus. Gladwell plays his role as a disinterested public intellectual like few others, right down to the frizzy hairdo and smock-y getups. His political aloofness, high-brow contrarianism and constant challenges to "popular wisdom" are all part of his shtick.

But beneath Malcolm Gladwell’s cleverly-crafted ambiguity, beneath the branded facade, one finds, with surprising ease, a common huckster on the take. I say “surprising ease” because it’s all out there on the public record.

As this article will demonstrate, Gladwell has shilled for Big Tobacco, Pharma and defended Enron-style financial fraud, all while earning hundreds of thousands of dollars as a corporate speaker, sometimes from the same companies and industries that he covers as a journalist.

Malcolm Gladwell is a one-man branding and distribution pipeline for valuable corporate messages, constructed on the public’s gullibility in trusting his probity and intellectual honesty in the pages of America’s most important weekly magazine, The New Yorker, and other highly prominent media outlets.

The Mound of Sound said...

Interesting stuff, NPoV. I'll pass it along to a friend. She went to Trinity (UofT) with the guy. I knew nothing of his background.


The Mound of Sound said...

@ Anyong. I get it. This came out today in the Vancouver Observer.

Hugh said...

Government and individual debt is always growing. They measure debt as a ratio, debt/GDP. So if GDP keeps growing, the ratio stays the same. So the GDP absolutely HAS to keep growing, or else!

Like a pyramid scheme, which has to keep growing or it collapses.

Economic growth is equated with economic health, and it's not the same thing.

The Mound of Sound said...

That's all pretty much accurate, Hugh. We're stuck with a model that served us well enough for more than two centuries until, sometime near the mid-70s, our population hit 3.5-billion and we began consuming more resources than the planet could furnish. Since then we've been "eating our seed corn" faster and faster, year by year. We have gone so far beyond our planet's ecological carrying capacity that we're beginning to slam into walls.

There are alternatives - steady state economics, pricing natural capital, etc. - but we're not even having that discussion. The longer we put off exploring our alternatives the greater becomes the likelihood we'll succumb to chaos instead.