Tuesday, August 29, 2017

He's Got a Point. Monbiot Tackles Harvey

George Monbiot is angry, fed up. He's angry at the degree to which the media, especially America's mainstream media, are ignoring the role played by man-made global warming in the mega-flooding in Texas and other environmental calamities.

To talk about climate breakdown (which in my view is a better term than the curiously bland labels we attach to this crisis) is to question not only Trump, not only current environmental policy, not only current economic policy – but the entire political and economic system.

It is to expose a programme that relies on robbing the future to fuel the present, that demands perpetual growth on a finite planet. It is to challenge the very basis of capitalism; to inform us that our lives are dominated by a system that cannot be sustained – a system that is destined, if it is not replaced, to destroy everything.

To claim there is no link between climate breakdown and the severity of Hurricane Harvey is like claiming there is no link between the warm summer we have experienced and the end of the last ice age. Every aspect of our weather is affected by the fact that global temperatures rose by about 4C between the ice age and the 19th century. And every aspect of our weather is affected by the 1C of global warming caused by human activities. While no weather event can be blamed solely on human-driven warming, none is unaffected by it.


We were warned about this. In June, for instance, Robert Kopp, a professor of Earth sciences, predicted: “In the absence of major efforts to reduce emissions and strengthen resilience, the Gulf Coast will take a massive hit. Its exposure to sea-level rise – made worse by potentially stronger hurricanes – poses a major risk to its communities.”

To raise this issue, I’ve been told on social media, is to politicise Hurricane Harvey. It is an insult to the victims and a distraction from their urgent need. The proper time to discuss it is when people have rebuilt their homes, and scientists have been able to conduct an analysis of just how great the contribution from climate breakdown might have been. In other words, talk about it only when it’s out of the news. When researchers determined, nine years on, that human activity had made a significant contribution to Hurricane Katrina, the information scarcely registered.

I believe it is the silence that’s political. To report the storm as if it were an entirely natural phenomenon, like last week’s eclipse of the sun, is to take a position. By failing to make the obvious link and talk about climate breakdown, media organisations ensure our greatest challenge goes unanswered. They help push the world towards catastrophe.

Hurricane Harvey offers a glimpse of a likely global future; a future whose average temperatures are as different from ours as ours are from those of the last ice age. It is a future in which emergency becomes the norm, and no state has the capacity to respond. It is a future in which, as a paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters notes, disasters like Houston’s occur in some cities several times a year. It is a future that, for people in countries such as Bangladesh, has already arrived, almost unremarked on by the rich world’s media. It is the act of not talking that makes this nightmare likely to materialise.

I agree wholeheartedly with Monbiot. Catastrophes like the Houston flooding are a devastating problem and not talking about what's really happening - not just the anthropogenic climate change element but also the political and economic dynamics at play - is to guarantee a very dark future for our grandchildren. It's not just knuckledraggers such as Trump behind this. Justin Trudeau is also on a quest for perpetual, exponential growth in GDP and deeper global integration. He'll go to Paris and make solemn promises and then betray his oath by approving bitumen pipelines. 

Perhaps one day, when enough of us are regularly taking refuge in stadiums, sleeping on cots and lining up for the porta-potties, we'll realize how devastating it was when capitalism was harnessed to neoliberalism in the 80s.  Chances are it'll be too late by then to do much about it, to undo the damage. Oh well.


the salamander said...

.. you paint a very dark potential future Mound ..
but its the very dark future or cage we allow ourselves
to be dragged into by our elected 'public servants'

Again I stress the point ..
Within individual ridings Prov or Fed
we must ensure coherent public servants
represent us..

ie - not a political party with 'aspirational ethics'

The Mound of Sound said...

"Coherent public servants" indeed. Where are they to be found in our parliamentary process? The Liberals? Not really. The Tories? Definitely not. The NDP? They talk a good game but really.

Dana said...

We've gone a long way to eliminating the possibility that coherent, ethical, principled. capable, committed people are willing to even run for office let alone serve. Public service is just not a very attractive option for the best and brightest any more.

Owen Gray said...

If we cannot convince our best and brightest to serve the public need, Mound, we're doomed.

Unknown said...

I'm glad you wrote this. It needs to be said. CBC is driving me batshit crazy with its non-coverage, or rather it's "a cat got stuck in a tree" coverage, complete with "eyewitnesses on the ground", and absolutely no contextual analysis. I suppose their role now is to shore up and fortify the pervasive, feckless & paralyzed consensus trance that far too many are caught up in. MSM - even the alleged public broadcasters - has descended into a morass of vapidity, titillating sensationalism & infantilization.
You know, I think Kurt Vonnegut had it right quite some time ago, what with pithy and insightful little passages like this:

"So, in the interests of survival[!!!???], they trained themselves to be agreeing machines instead of thinking machines. All their minds had to do was to discover what other people were thinking, and then they thought that, too.

― Kurt Vonnegut, “Breakfast of Champions” (1973).

The Mound of Sound said...

Ah, the immortal Vonnegut, a true favourite. KV had a great many things "right quite some time ago." That's why his books are as delightful to read today as they ever were.

Trailblazer said...

Monbiot still astonishes me with his awareness of current events.
He is the go to person for awareness and solution.

His controversial solution to climate change( or one of them) is to ration energy credits.
Perhaps the controversial is becoming the requirement?


Toby said...

From the Monbiot article, "Like Trump, who denies human-driven global warming but who wants to build a wall around his golf resort in Ireland to protect it from the rising seas, these companies, some of which have spent millions sponsoring climate deniers, have progressively raised the height of their platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, in response to warnings about higher seas and stronger storms. They have grown from 40ft above sea level in 1940, to 70ft in the 1990s, to 91ft today."

Oil companies know what is happening. They just don't want to interrupt their revenue streams so they act to self protect while continuing to make our situation more perilous.

I am more than ever convinced that the rich and powerful are creating their lifeboat(s) and we aren't invited.

Dana said...

I am more than ever convinced that it is going to require armaments, armouries, yuge armouries, men and women to put them to use.

Or resign the biosphere to extinction.

So far extinction appears to be the choice. Much more reasonable and polite.

Anonymous said...

Anyong: Yes when are elected politicians going to wake up? A report on CBC Calgary Jeff Callaway a Senior Investment Advisor and PC hopeful, has proposed Alberta oil be moved by train into Churchill, Manitoba as a way to get oil and gas to Tidewater. The Alberta Government hopefully purchases the railway along with the port. Going further he has said, "He has doutbs about other forms of energy, such as solar and wind, saying the focus must shift to natural gas. He also reiterated his promise to repeal the Alberta carbon tax and challenge a proposed federal carbon tax in court." He needs to have a little talk with George Manbiot. The PC Government will then be able to sell fuel to Europe at five dollars more a liter or barrel putting the western provinces back in the black as if it ever has been. Is he thinking about the environment and its venerability in that area? I think not.