“So we are left with a stark choice: allow climate disruption to change everything about our world, or change pretty much everything about our economy to avoid that fate. But we need to be very clear: because of our decades of collective denial, no gradual, incremental options are now available to us.”
~ Naomi Klein
Well. Here we are. Another record low of arctic ice for this time of year, setting us on track for the very real possibility of an ice-free arctic sea by September of this year, according to Professor Peter Wadhams, head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at Cambridge University. Wadhams and others predict in a study published in the journal Nature that an ice-free arctic summer will lead to an increase in average global temperatures of 0.6 degrees Celsius over the next five years.
What does this mean in layman’s terms? It means in the next five years, average global temperatures shoot up more than half of what they’ve increased since the beginning of the industrial revolution. It means a massive increase in record-high temperatures over the summer all over the world. This means an increase in storms and catastrophic climate events year-round, which will put an increasing strain on industrial agriculture as crops are scorched and frozen throughout the year. Dead crops mean famine.
And it’s happening already.
In short, the arctic is our planet’s air conditioner, and it’s failing. And now we learn that Antarctica has joined the party, hitting a 400 ppm carbon level that hasn’t been seen in over 4 million years. The ecosystemic context in which our species evolved is rapidly vanishing.
People are still talking about saving the environment “for our grandchildren.” Turns out it should have been our grandparents saying that.
The current frontrunner in the U.S. presidential race is Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose record of fracking endorsement and environmental policy of what Senator Bernie Sanders calls “small, incremental changes” has been criticized by environmentalists all over the world as a policy of too little, too late. And from the right, any environmental policy whatsoever is of course dismissed and attacked as “hurting jobs.”
Yes, “hurting jobs.” Even if Clinton’s presidential run is able to get past Sanders’ relentless persistence on the left and Trump’s inane Twitter rants on the right, we all know what fate awaits her “small incremental changes” in environmental policy once she gets into the Oval Office. The inertia from Republican members of the House and the Senate will bog those changes down at every opportunity, because “jobs.” Scaremongering pundits will terrify their viewers, telling them that their own president is trying to collapse the nation’s economy and drive unemployment through the roof, as they always have.
But let’s look at that for a second, can we? The chief argument against taking rapid, sweeping action to save the environment (apart from the indefensible position that climate change isn’t happening) is that there are people whose job is to help destroy the environment.
“Think about the coal miners and oil rig crewmembers!” they exclaim. “Who will pay them if we stop paying them to destroy our environment?”
The hand-wringing about jobs is a legitimate fear for us working people who can’t eat unless we have one. It’s a funny thing though, when talking heads decry “job loss” because they’re worried about impoverished families. They only worry about people eating if it’s to keep people working specifically for the benefit of their sponsors. If they only cared about our jobs, they could make the same argument for paying people to do literally anything. You could, using the same logic, say that those thousands of people could instead be paid to build a purposeless pile of bricks in the middle of the desert. Just tax a few billionaires a few extra dollars and we could fund that project for centuries, and it would have a far less negative impact on all of us than paying them to help pour carbon into the atmosphere. Or you could pay them to disassemble the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, brick by brick. That would be just as absurd as flinging dangerous substances into the air, but at least it wouldn’t imperil the existence of our species.
But that’s not going to happen. The talking heads in Congress and on the news aren’t actually worried about the jobs of American families, and they certainly aren’t going to tell us that we should tax billionaires a bit more in order to subsidize an ecosystem-saving overhaul of our way of life. That would go directly against the interests of the men signing their paychecks.
So it looks like we’re going to have to come together on this one on our own. Let’s get some people elected who are interested in aggressively defending us against the real national security issue that is anthropogenic climate change.
And if the existing economy won’t allow us to do that, guess what? We can change that too. We made the whole thing up, after all. Money was invented by humans to serve humans, and it only works the way it works because we’ve all agreed that that’s how it works. If a few billionaires try to hold us hostage to their ecocidal policies by telling us that they’ll have to starve American families to death if they stop paying workers to destroy the environment, guess what? Money doesn’t work that way anymore. We can rewrite the whole script into something far saner if enough of us can come together.
[Photo by Ben Birchall/Glasgow 2014 Ltd via Getty Images]