The climate change threat presents at least four unique difficulties. The time frame: Unlike other dire threats to human existence, such as nuclear war or military-industrial dictatorships, climate change has a finite time frame. Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions cannot wait for innumerable agreements, accords, and conventions that minimize the problem, and it cannot wait for the entrenched wheels of bureaucracies to budge. The worst-case predictions by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change models are now being exceeded, leading the IPCC to establish that the maximum level of emissions should not go beyond 350 ppm. Emissions are now 390 ppm and government leaders are astonishingly talking as if 500+ppm is acceptable. The MIT Integrated Global Systems Model projects that warming will be double the previous estimates, in the range of 5.2 °C by 2100 leading to a possible 90 percent extinction.
Our Sick Planet
Climate change is occurring against an already diseased planet. Economic practices since at least the 1950s have privatized, polluted, and depleted irreplaceable fresh water supplies. Water scarcity indicates that private cars and the proliferation of electronic devices are not sustainable: It takes 400,000 litres of water to manufacture one car, and in the U.S. alone the computer industry produces over 300 billion litres of wastewater each year. The agro-industrial practices of mono crops, “green revolution,” and GMO’s destroy the irreplaceable topsoil, fungi, and insects that subserve our food supply. For a not yet determined reason, honey bees, necessary for fruit and vegetable production, are disappearing. De-regulation and trade policies favouring multinational corporations have almost eliminated Canada’s public grain and energy reserves. Multinational corporate forestry and agricultural practices result in unprecedented species extinction.
The Democratic Deficit concentrates power in an international oligarchy that now acts with complete impunity. The new rules of urban warfare, surveillance technology, and walled enclaves provide a model that will leave billions of people worldwide vulnerable to the premature death that comes with competition for food and water. Climate refugees do not have any rights or protections as they do not qualify as political refugees. Wealthy countries are insidiously buying up sizable amounts of fertile land in Africa.
The corporate university, and education in general, seduces students, researchers, faculty from their traditional role of critical research and reality testing. The psychological paradigms of behaviourism, North American psychiatry, and alternative self-help models further distract people from reality by defining stress, guilt, and malaise as unnecessary, undesirable states of being rather than as realistic reactions to the state of the world that requires action and engagement.
Emperor’s New Clothes
Unlike other threats of extinction (nuclear war, genocide, comets), there is almost uniform evasion of the threat posed by climate change. Even in highly critical and knowledgeable reports, there are statements about the end of civilization or of capitalism (such as in the articles by Joel Kovel and Keith Stewart in this issue of CD), but not of human existence. With all the evidence of the tar sands qualifying as a crime against humanity, there are calls at best for a temporary moratorium but not for an immediate and permanent cessation. This, despite the fact that scientists continually warn of an imminent, irreversible tipping point, a point of no return.
Environmentalism is lovely pastel shades of green and polar bears on ice caps, landscapes without people and clean technologies. This is a wild and irresponsible distortion. There is so much that is left out: that the military is the largest single consumer of oil, that it is acceptable to talk about reducing the birth rate in Africa but not of eliminating the private car (see Jeffrey Sachs), that the wealthiest 10 percent of Canadians create an ecological footprint 66 percent higher than the average Canadian household (not to mention the negligible per capita emissions of many developing countries), and, that outsourcing manufacturing to China and India should count as our emissions.
This is a call to acknowledge reality, to summon forth all the revolutionary zeal, energy, knowledge, rage against the dying of the light, in order to maintain a constant concern for all human beings, to save our species and our potentially beautiful planet.
This article appeared in the November/December 2009 issue of Canadian Dimension (End Times in Copenhagen).