I’m afraid to write about climate change. There, I said it. If it’s as bad as the recent International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report says—and it may actually be worse—I’m terrified, particularly for my daughter, who is joyously speeding her way towards her seventh birthday with only the spark of an understanding of what she will likely contend with when she gets older.
Admitting to your own fear is good, but fear can also be paralyzing. To productively confront the heart-shattering reality that my daughter may die young because of what we’ve done to the biosphere, I cannot afford to turn into a trembling statue, or blinker my way through life as an avoider of hard truths. In fact, none of us can afford the price that fear exacts.
What’s happening and what it means.
During the course of conducting research on independent media outlets last week, I read two recent pieces on climate change that socked me straight in the gut. The first was by Chris Martenson, an accomplished scientist, economic researcher, futurist and former business strategy consultant who runs the climate education organization Peak Prosperity.
The article, Collapse is Already Here: It’s a Process, Not an Event, offers a veritable triptych of environmental catastrophe, chronicling, among several other things, startling simultaneous animal and insect die-offs across Australia, the United States and eastern Europe. Seeing such an accumulation of disparate climate-driven events together in one piece is sobering, but also helpful because so much of what we hear about the climate is delivered piecemeal and thus easier to rationalize away. By the end of the article, Martenson’s strongest recommendation is that:
“We see the light, gather our courage, and do what needs to be done. Consumption must be widely and steeply curtailed, fossil fuel use severely restrained, and living standards as measured by the amount of stuff flowing through our daily lives dropped to sustainable levels.”
I heard echoes of Martenson’s conclusions when I later read author Stan Cox’s piece in Green Social Thought, The Green Growth at the Heart of the Green New Deal? It’s Malignant. In it, Cox critiques the Green New Deal currently being proposed by 1st term congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as an unrealistic vision that believes green energy resources can simply be grafted onto our current consumption economy (as that consumptive way of life continues to expand).
Cox argues that absent large-scale controls on companies ability to use fossil fuels and degrade the environment; absent controls on consumption itself as the economy’s organizing principle; absent massive shifts in governmental taxation and budget priorities (i.e., massive expenditures on the carbon cacophony that is the U.S. military), even widespread adoption of green energies will not be enough to power the way citizens of wealthy nations currently live their lives. To survive climate change, de-growth and a rapid move away from consumer capitalism is necessary, if not desperately urgent.
The imperative that our economies focus on human and environmental need instead of manufactured desire—and that we change our conception of what living the good life looks like—is certainly not new. Most advocates for socialism, particularly the decentralized bottom-up version advanced by folks like economist Richard Wolff, arrive at similar conclusions.
Capitalism and a habitable planet may simply be mutually exclusive.
You can have one or the other, but you can’t have both. This is a statement that’s really the logical extension of Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis’s famous quote about being able to have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few OR democracy, but not both. The difference between the two statements is the severity of the stakes. If climate change weren’t happening, human beings could survive (though not thrive) in a world where the few control most of the wealth. That’s a common societal pattern for our deeply imperfect species. But with climate change, the only way out is to replace the system of wealth concentration and endless consumption with something ecologically sustainable.
Our government’s response to the starkness of this choice is telling in so many ways, but let’s take just one example. Recently, National Security Advisor John Bolton went on corporate TV and did something you rarely see within empires that feel the need to appear like democracies to their domestic population (which is what the U.S. is at this point). He discussed—blithely I might add—Venezuela’s vast oil reserves as the main driver of U.S. regime change policy toward that country.
Our corporations (the few) want that oil and the government’s priority is to help them get it. The desirability of such an outcome seemed obvious and uncontroversial to Bolton.
But if the United States were a sane country, our corporations and the government they largely own would have a much different attitude towards Venezuela. If any of these people were as terrified as many of us are of a climate-fueled die-off of human beings, their concept of “standing with the Venezuelan people” would be entirely different.
Because, if our government and its corporate overseers had fully assimilated the reality of climate change and where it leads, there would be no conflict with Venezuela around who profits from their natural resource wealth. They wouldn’t see those resources as valuable in the first place. Instead, there would be a huge collaborative program initiated by the United States to help that country (and other resource-rich Latin American countries like Brazil) find economic and social stability without extracting or selling their carbon-intensive oil at all.
We’d be in there offering agricultural advisers, small-scale green manufacturing experts, renewable energy infrastructure development. If the United States were sane, we would see our wealth used for a Green New Deal that encompassed the U.S., Mexico, and all of South and Central America. Instead of ruling our so-called backyard, we’d be the hemisphere’s tireless yard-workers, relentlessly focused on making sure that yard would exist in some state of health beyond our own short lifetimes.It’s a testament to the corruptive power of greed that even the prospect of grim death for everything beautiful and special in our lives cannot induce the masters of capital’s machines to hit the off switch. Click To Tweet
The question remains, will we allow them to make that choice for the planet, for us, and for the ones we love?
While the solutions to our peril are systemic ones, there is still much we can do on our own. Block some time to check out Peak Prosperity’s “Crash Course” and see what choices may be available to you and your community.
Instead of raging against the dying of the light, I humbly suggest we shine.
As always, thanks for reading.