Sunday, July 22, 2012

Procrasti-nation Continued

I like this photo as a symbol of where we are on the Climate Crisis because it is at once a reality--those encroaching fires were real--and a metaphor for the national attitude towards the oncoming storm: the traffic of the usual while the fires burn the horizon. 

In those cars, people may well be listening to news of other crises.  They may be horrified by the killing of 12 in a movie theatre in Colorado, as are we all.  There are always other crises and shocking events, other problems looming, competing for our attention.  There are also the stories we mostly don't hear, like 37 people killed in a huge rainstorm in the capital city of China, or the scores that die in U.S. heat waves.  Update 7/23: Death toll across China is currently 100 from these rains.

To be fair, a lot of people in those cars are frightened by the climate crisis and worried about the future, and they want it to be addressed, and may well be frustrated by the paralysis and inaction, especially in our political system, and most especially in Washington.  They may even be the majority.  But the power of the fossil fuel industry, so deeply dependent not only on the flow of oil but the future of oil for the money that floats them now, grips our system tight.  And it's looking to grip it even more firmly in this year's elections.

But the climate crisis isn't waiting.   Much of the U.S. is in serious and protracted drought (as much as 80%), and by fall the Midwestern drought in particular will result in rising food prices.  This summer's record-breaking heat is likely to continue into fall. And so the drought is expected to worsen.  The effects continue to spread, already with economic costs.  This alone will become impossible to ignore very soon.

But drought is not the only cost now spreading nationally.  Fires, damage from rain, hail and floods in the U.S. There's simple misery and the effects of heat on the human brain and body.  Strains consequently on the electric power grid for air conditioned protection--a grid, by the way that is decaying rapidly.

In other parts of the world, hotter temperatures have brought mosquito-borne diseases to places where they haven't been before, and where public health is not equipped and people have no immunity.   Before this, the ignorable Native communities in the north have been the principal victims in North America.  But they are no longer alone.  Once again, scientists are looking at possible tipping points for abrupt climate change.

But what we know already is bad enough.  Bill McKibben, who wrote one of the first books on the climate crisis in 1989, said in an email to those on his mailing list that he regards his new article in Rolling Stone as the most important thing he's written since then.  In that article, he reviews this year's stark numbers and some of the more remote, less reported weather events, such as "Saudi authorities reported that it had rained in Mecca despite a temperature of 109 degrees, the hottest downpour in the planet's history."  (I am reminded all too often of the 'sensationalistic' early scenes in the 2004 climate crisis disaster film The Day After Tomorrow, many of which have since happened.)

In the fight to slow down global heating, McKibben writes, "I can say with some confidence that we're losing the fight, badly and quickly – losing it because, most of all, we remain in denial about the peril that human civilization is in."
McKibben reviews the attempts by environmentalists to slow down the death march on both the individual and political levels, and judges them obviously ineffective.  Change through the political system hasn't work so far and is unlikely to in time. He thinks action requires a global movement, centered on the real enemy: the fossil fuel industry.

"But what all these climate numbers make painfully, usefully clear is that the planet does indeed have an enemy – one far more committed to action than governments or individuals. Given this hard math, we need to view the fossil-fuel industry in a new light. It has become a rogue industry, reckless like no other force on Earth. It is Public Enemy Number One to the survival of our planetary civilization. "Lots of companies do rotten things in the course of their business – pay terrible wages, make people work in sweatshops – and we pressure them to change those practices," says veteran anti-corporate leader Naomi Klein, who is at work on a book about the climate crisis. "But these numbers make clear that with the fossil-fuel industry, wrecking the planet is their business model. It's what they do."

For a long time McKibben has been advocating that the climate crisis be approached as a moral issue, akin to the Civil Rights movement.  Now he believes that like Bull Connor and southern segregationists, this movement needs an immoral enemy--but this time it is an enemy that itself must be controlled in order for change to happen. 

What would success look like?  Maybe like a hefty carbon tax, with the proceeds devoted not only to addressing the causes of future global heating (financing green energy and a host of carbon-reducing strategies) but also to dealing with the effects of the climate crisis, now and likely in the future, everything from mobilizing for emergencies to a real public health system, and eventually much more.  There will be likely be huge engineering projects necessary.  In not so many decades, that really will be the choice: deal with the effects as a society while dealing with the causes, or fall into violent anarchy and international war over resources, or simply as the only way we know how to mobilize anymore.

Update 7/23: Add to the warning voices today economist Paul Krugman: "For large-scale damage from climate change is no longer a disaster waiting to happen. It’s happening now."

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