I am amazed and dismayed at how difficult it can be to get some people to cut loose of a bad idea. Sometimes it’s local–like the May family’s recent hiring of a notorious zoning attorney to work on getting their “Maytown Center” fantasyland approved. Sometimes it’s national–like all the people who project their liberal expectations on Barack Obama and keep urging him to stand up and roar, when the reality is that he’s just a pussycat in Wall Street’s lap, and no more likely to pounce on Wall Street, the insurance/pharmaceutical establishment, the military establishment, or America’s carbon- and credit happy way of life than your cat is likely to pounce on you and eat you for breakfast.
And that brings us to the climate talks in Copenhagen. Prospects do not look good for a serious, binding treaty, and why? Two main reasons: the first is that big corporations are addicted to short-term profits and have the political clout to make sure that nothing interferes with their money fix. The second is that we, the people of the United States, or “estamos jodidos“, as they say in Mexico, are addicted to our petroleum-inflated, corporate-backed standard of living, and will happily vote out of office or ignore any politician who attempts to interfere with our comfort fix. Ask Jimmy Carter, Dennis Kucinich, Ralph Nader, or Cynthia McKinney.
Thus, we have the irony that many of those who excoriated the Bush junta for dissing “the reality-based community” are now themselves out of touch with hard, physical reality. The hard, physical reality is that the climate is changing much faster than the IPCC predicted it would. The hard, physical reality is that the planet’s carbon dioxide level passed the threshold of safety at 350 parts per million, and agreements that “hold” us to 450 ppm will not prevent massive, catastrophic changes to the only planet we have to live on. Nature bats last, she doesn’t negotiate, and she doesn’t care how much some pundits fume about East Anglian emails.
But the wealthy elite who dominate our political system don’t seem to get this. They think that the “political reality” that serious climate change legislation won’t fly trumps the “physical reality” of impending disaster, so if we can’t shut down every coal plant in the US and China in the next three years, if we don’t stop deforesting the tropics for grazing land and Canada for tar sand, if we don’t stop acidifying the oceans before we kill off the phytoplankton that provide 70% of our oxygen, it’s OK.
It’s not OK. Maybe the plutocrats who run the big businesses of the world think their wealth will permanently insulate them from the consequences of their inaction. In the long run, they are very, very wrong.
But in the short run, which unfortunately is all that counts for most people, it has been true. Those who are suffering the most from climate change, or who are about to suffer the most from climate change, live in the third world, while it is we in the first world, with our material addictions, who have triggered the catastrophe. Geography insulates us from them. Hurricane Katrina was an early warning, a reminder that calamity can strike America, too, and we should not let the fact that the Atlantic has been relatively quiet since then lull us into a false sense of security.
If, as seems likely, there is neither an agreement nor even an agreement to come to agreement as a result of Copenhagen, there is one deus ex machina that might derail catastrophic climate change, and that is economic collapse, which has already idled thousands of oceangoing cargo vessels worldwide, and at least slowed down that once fast-growing source of carbon emissions, which along with international airlines, was exempted from control under the so-called Kyoto accords.
Economic collapse has all but shut down urban sprawl in the US. Home construction was the last big domestic industry possible in this country, since you can’t readily build homes in China and ship them here, and even building materials imported from China turn out to be suspect, as the recent flap over weird sheetrock demonstrates.
And, if the Chinese and Indians try to keep their economies (and carbon emissions) strong by developing their domestic economies, they will first find themselves up against the hard reality of spiraling oil prices and diminishing oil supplies, and then they will have to deal with their countries becoming uninhabitable as the Himalayan glaciers melt off over the next thirty years, drying up the sources of all of both countries’ major rivers. Ooops….where’s a sixth of the world’s population gonna go when they get thirsty? And, considering how much the US owes China, are we gonna be able to tell them no, they can’t come here? Yes, the stage is set for chaos, boys and girls….
And the US government is gridlocked. The “solutions” they pass in Congress are pitiful. It’s not about what the Repugs won’t let the Dims do. That’s a puppet show, and the puppet master has a Repug puppet on his right hand and a Dim puppet on his left, and we’re supposed to believe they’re really different. The gridlock is that the wealthy, who are creating and benefitting from the mess the planet is in, won’t let the government do anything that is against their interest. Forget “We, the people.” It’s “We, the rich people, ” and they are determined to keep their priviliges no matter what.
“Green corporations” are a crock. Walmarts with “green roofs” and massive energy conservaton systems and recycling, even if they’re full of “green products” are still part of the problem, not part of the solution, because they are still designed to pump money out of communities and into the hands of shareholders. It’s not just about changing content, it’s about changing form. Once upon a time, the dinosaurs were so big and ferocious that us mammals could barely hang on. Then the planet went through some sudden changes, and the dinosaurs’ size and inflexibility worked against their ability to adapt. We’re approaching a similar point, but the dinosaurs of this age are the legal fictions of giant corporations and national governments.
What this means for you and me is that it’s time to take things into our own hands. No, I don’t mean let’s go burn down Brentwood, Temporarily thrilling as that might be, it would create a lot more problems than it would solve. I mean let’s get together with our friends and neighbors and figure out what we can do together to get ready for the excrement that’s already hit the fan. Let’s turn our lawns into gardens and build henhouses and keep milk cows, let’s learn to make, make do, and do without.
This is going to seem terribly futile from a certain perspective. BIg changes are afoot, and I’m telling you to grow beans? And to that, I can only reply with trite maxims like “Start where you are,” or “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” Trite, but true.
I know it’s short notice, but I’ll be getting together with some old and new friends Monday night here in Nashville, 7:30 to 9, to continue the discussion of what we can actually do…..go to earthrevolution.org and send a “contact” email to rsvp, and you’ll get directions. Thinking globally, acting locally, y’know?
Ah, this just in–according to our Copenhagen correspondent Albert Bates, US EPA administrator Carol Jackson has announced that, no matter what Congress does or doesn’t do, the EPA will regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant, and that US emissions will be going down. A bold move, or at least a bold gesture. Call me cynical, but I have to wonder how long it will take the Congressional coal&oil caucus to muzzle her efforts, and maybe even give her the Van Jones treatment. Stay tuned….
music: Jefferson Airplane, “Crown of Creation”