Sunday, December 8, 2019
written 1 December 2019
published 8 December 2019
Naomi Klein's latest book "On Fire" outlines in stark measure the extent of the climate emergency, and what is required to deal with it. For over a quarter century the scientific data and understanding has continued to build, and the actual climate impact makes headline news every year with new extremes. Despite this, climate deniers persist, and even shifted public opinion earlier this century, with well-funded disinformation campaigns. But the climate crisis is not a hoax or fake news. It is inexorable, global, and indifferent to politics and wealth, so public opinion has shifted back, and climate is a growing concern with a majority of Americans.
Over 50 years ago, oil company researchers discovered that their product could harm the climate, perhaps even cause human extinction. Rather than address the issue, and work for a transition to a less lethal energy source, the companies halted the research, and began funding climate disinformation. The opportunity for a simple transition was sacrificed for short term corporate profits, which is understandable considering the limited nature of corporate ethics. But this is only a recent symptom of the deep structural problem: the illusion of separation.
Five hundred years ago the Pope divided the world between Portugal and Spain, commanding them to explore the non-European world, claiming land for their respective empires. They were to convert or kill anyone they found, spreading the truth of Catholic Christianity to the heathen "other", contrary to Christ's teaching to love the other. Vast lands and resources were stolen from people who already lived there, and masses of people were enslaved and moved to other locations to power this new enterprise. The illusion of separation predicates the assumptions that land and resources could be devastated for human gain, and that only Christians were worthy. The unworthy "other", people or land, was of no concern, and could be sacrificed. These patterns continue to this day.
In the last 50 years, humans have consumed as much resource and energy as all of previous human existence, relentlessly increasing consumption for an expanding human population. Because the Earth is finite, this frenzy of extraction economy is destroying larger portions of the planet, killing life in these "sacrifice zones", leaving the land poisoned and barren. Massive coral bleaching, enormous plastic gyres and de-oxygenated zones in increasingly acidified oceans, superfund toxic chemical sites, wasted valleys from mountain top removal mining, poisoned areas due to oil spills: all are economic sacrifices to a global consumption economy that is running on fumes.
The sacrifice of "unworthy people" is also expanding. The extraction economic model concentrates wealth over time, leaving people behind. Not only the poor in nations where we take their resources for our use, but now American citizens who can't find living wage jobs, affordable education, or health care for their increasingly toxified bodies. The immigration floods which have destabilized so much of the world are a consequence of extractive resource depletion, corrupt wealth inequity benefiting the developed world, and adverse climate change. Increasing climate extremes are eroding economic stability as the destruction happens faster than reconstruction.
The climate crisis is just the most universal expression of this systemic dysfunction. It is living proof that we are all in this together, with no exceptions. This problem is only going to get worse as the planet continues to burn. But climate denial persists, especially under this president. I always thought that if enough facts were presented, logic would convince, and win the day. But climate denial is now a religious conviction, an article of faith that is immune to reason. Why?
In Klein's second chapter, she presents the best understanding I have encounter so far. In one way, the ruling class of climate deniers is absolutely correct: addressing the climate emergency will end their life style of massive wealth inequity and exclusive gain. What the elite knows, but refuses to accept, is that any real solution to the climate crisis will have to simultaneously deal with population limits, consumption styles, gender and racial inequity, and environmental justice. There can no longer be any sacrificial people or places. The world is whole. All life is worthy. We are the last generation that has a chance to make a change. We need to grow up or die.