Last year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report was a finger-wagging scolding: we need to keep global warming to just 1.5 degrees above historical averages, and we need to step up to the task now. The report outlines how it is possible to eliminate carbon-dioxide emissions if we implement “far-reaching transitions in energy, land … and industrial systems” for which there is “no documented historic precedent.”
The question we must ask is whether a capitalistic society is capable of sharply reducing these carbon emissions. But it’s not a question we ask frequently at all, which is surprising if you think we have a stable democracy. Don’t rigorous public debates make both sides of the political divide healthier? But we don’t have these talks for one big reason: the persistent influence of the fossil fuel industry on politics around the world stifles honest climate change discourse.
Climate change is the result of our current economic and industrial system. Any meaningful climate change policy has to upset the established power base and the political donor class and to rethink capitalism. Now.
Discussions of zero-emissions pathways typically include carbon taxes, effectual international treaties, increased subsidization of renewable energy, decreased subsidization of fossil fuels, nuclear energy, reforestation, land-use reform, and investments in energy efficiency, energy storage, and carbon-capture technology. Sure, these will help us to move toward collective norms that are better for the planet. But they’re not rife with urgency… and urgency for climate action is absolutely necessary.
An emergent radicalism to move the world away from fossil fuel consumption and toward equitable careers in green energy is taking many people by surprise. One example is the Green New Deal (GND), promoted by 29-year-old US representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and embraced by children through movements like Sunrise.
During a January, 2019 60 Minutes interview, Anderson Cooper suggested to Ocasio-Cortez that she and her agenda are “radical.” But is the GND truly radical? Nope. Instead, it is a compromise wake-up call that argues our reality must be assessed differently from the norm that promotes the vested interests of the corporate powerful elite.
Children, Teach Your Parents Well to Rethink Capitalism
The Global Climate Strike is another example of climate change action that has captured youth imaginations. Hundreds of thousands of school students around the world walked out of class on Friday, May 24, 2019 to stand united and advocate for their governments to take greater action in slashing greenhouse gas emissions. The climate protests took place in more than 1600 towns in over 125 countries. Organizers estimated the number of strikers surpassed the 1.6 million people who took part in the first Global Climate Strike in March.
Why are these children speaking out when so many adults are busy working long hours to accrue wealth in capitalistic lockstep? The children have no other choice — that’s why.
Too many adults think we can plod along as usual. US Senator Dianne Feinstein and her staff were caught off guard earlier this year when young school students, at least one as young as age 7, visited her San Francisco office in hopes of persuading her to support the Green New Deal climate legislation.
“You know what’s interesting about this group? I’ve been doing this for thirty years,” Feinstein lectured. “I know what I’m doing. You come in here and you say, ‘It has to be my way or the highway.’ I don’t respond to that. I’ve gotten elected, I just ran, I was elected by almost a million-vote plurality,” she continued. “And I know what I’m doing. So, you know, maybe people should listen a little bit.”
In a recent Guardian op-ed piece, McDuff argues that we need to fundamentally re-evaluate our relationship to ownership, work, and capital. GND-style proposals unite sweeping environmental policy changes with broader socialist reforms because the disruption is needed to limit temperatures, a move that is incompatible with the dominant corporate influences that control governments, media, and individuals.
Climate Change is at the “Core of Unregulated Capitalism,” according to Author Arundhati Roy
Arundhati Roy, the Booker-winning author of The God of Small Things, rejects the notion that her writing shines a light on unexplored issues. Instead, she questions why those issues have remained unexplored in the first place.
One such issue that Roy has foregrounded is capitalism, saying that those most responsible for creating the climate crisis “will see to it that they profit from the solution that they propose.” In a recent interview with Democracy Now, Roy bemoaned the influence of corporations on the poor and the planet. “The thing is for me, for so many years, people have been fighting this very idea of progress, of infinite growth, which has resulted in what we now call jobless growth. What you have is 9 individuals who own the same as the bottom 100 million.”
She posed an example of a mountain that filled with bauxite, which might be extracted at a huge profit. “Can you look at the mountain and not just calculate its mineral worth? Can you understand that the mountain has much greater value than its mineral worth? It’s a civilizational issue,” she continued. “People who have lived there, who know that mountain, know that it sustains… water and the plains all around it which grow the food, which sustains a whole population. But it’s meant for a corporation that’s been given the mining contract.”
She argued that we’ve been acculturated “never to question the idea of progress.” She suggested it’s as if the elite were looking down at earth and its populations and asking, “What’s our water doing in their rivers? What’s our timber doing in their forests? There is a psychotic refusal,” she explains, “to understand that the survival of the species is connected to the survival of the planet. This sort of progress is a kind of church now — not amenable to reason.”
She concludes that the only language around climate change has been “militarized,” in so that conflicts among countries are increasingly based on the shrinking of resources and people clashing to claim them.” The resulting identity — “nationalistic or tribal” — can be traced as the source of the growing inequality and capitalism.
Indigenous people are being evicted from their forest homes, she says, because those forests are needed for their resources. “It’s always the same people that have to pay the price… stripping people of everything they have, there’s little outrage… It strikes at the core of unregulated capitalism… it has the same effect that blasmephy has on religion.”
This theme of dismissing the powerless in society is one on which she has spoken many times, noting last year as monsoon waters receded, the revealed plastic and debris are in-our-face evidence of the role humans have played in the slow destroying of the planet.
Louisiana Report Describes Need to Take Action in Light of “Large and Small, Acute and Chronic” Impending Climate Change Consequences
If we fail to apply a massive systemic investment of effort by 2030 to keep the warming level below 1.5C, the world will cross into more severe temperature barriers that will lead to outcomes like ecosystem collapse, ocean acidification, mass desertification, and coastal cities being flooded into inhabitability.
No longer is climate change abstract in coastal areas like Louisiana, which is in the midst of an existential crisis and is now accepting that it’s time to rethink capitalism.
That’s the essence of a new report issued by the US state of Louisiana — the first of its kind in the US — for managing the ongoing population movement away from its coastal areas and preparing inland communities to receive an infusion of people. The blueprint examines how the state’s coastal condition directly correlates with its disaster risk — specifically vulnerability from severe tropical events and their accompanying catastrophic surge floods.
The plan, Louisiana’s Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments (LA SAFE), looks at future flood risks in 6 coastal parishes and recommends a series of policy changes that could help mitigate those risks—from enhanced transportation routes to elevated houses and new urban centers. “During the next 50 years, Louisiana is projected to lose more land and wetlands along its coast than it can rebuild, even if restoration efforts are completed as currently planned, ” the report begins. “With less wetland buffer, the state’s coastal regions face increased storm surge and flood risk that will impact families and communities in ways large and small, acute and chronic.”
In the face of repeated hurricanes and flooding, some of the state’s coastal towns saw more than half of their residents leave between the 2000 and 2010 US Census. The blueprint includes a long list of policies, including a temporary buyout program for high-risk areas to provide both “an incentive and the assistance many people need to move away.”
The state’s blueprint, which reflects feedback from more than 70 public meetings and events and is part of a state program funded by a $40 million grant from the Obama administration, also includes a raft of changes in what it designates as lower-risk, higher-elevation regions. Those proposals include denser development, better transportation infrastructure, and more appealing downtown areas.
“This is not a mandate for anyone, but it is based on the feedback given by those who will be most directly impacted,” Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, said in a statement. “We have to be realistic about the current and future effects of coastal land loss and plan today to develop Louisiana’s next generation of communities.”
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