Greed and the Climate

Through the first couple of weeks of March 2012, the weather over the east coasts of Canada and the United States was not it’s usual self. But then the weather is out of whack all over the planet. From March 12th to the 20th, over seven thousand, daytime high temperatures and overnight low temperatures, records were set or tied in the United States alone. The first decade of the 21st century has been the warmest on record, on all continents. This past year had the highest level of tropical activity on record, while flooding is becoming the most frequent natural extreme event. The mainstream media reports such things of course but they become simple sound bites alongside other news stories such as “human interest stories”; saving puppies, an individual doing a good deed, some sort of grief or sadness that brings tears to your eyes and another instance of injustice and crime, which most often happens in the board room and in the offices of public officials than in the street.

As to the odd weather in March, the senior climatologist of Environment Canada, Dave Phillips stated the reason as being because Canada and the United States have just had their warmest winters on record, the air was not refrigerated or chilled and that it is “blowing back in the same temperature it left.” The weather is headlined as being “weird.” Mr Phillips goes on to explain that, “It’s like a greenhouse that’s not letting warm air leave.” Wow, that is weird, if one was bent over and had just pulled their head out of the sand. The preceding page of the above article covers other interesting stories such as the University of British Columbia being cleared of cruelty in the death of four monkeys used in the research of Parkinson’s disease and a tragic barn fire in which 18,000 chickens died horrible deaths.

Scientific consensus, talking to an elderly farmer, the feeling in the air or simply looking out your window confirms the fact that human activity is warming the planet and therefore creating climate change. But oh my, how perceptions change. In 2007 a Harris poll found that over 70% of Canadians and Americans believed fossil fuels would cause the climate to change. In 2009 it was down to 51%. By June 2011 it had dropped to 44%. Why? The fossil fuel industries and big business have been able to shift our thinking over a very short time and are winning, accelerating in their drive to gain as much as they can before it all runs out. As Bruce Springsteen sang in 1974’s Born to Run, “The highway’s jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive.”

We are so fixated on becoming consumers that breathing clean air, eating good food and drinking clean water have become an irritable need, both time-wise and having to pay for them, while our personal world view’s scope, with the speed of new technology, is overwhelming us.

Our personal world views are actually quite small though. They are the people we come into contact with, either daily or weekly, including friends and coworkers; On average about 35-40 people, the size of a small tribe. Our world view is also the community we live in and what one must do during a day to have a roof to sleep under, accessibility to clean water and nutritious food to eat. And how much is needed to pay for these basics has brought forth the concept where we pay our bills by accumulating debt. Now that is weird. We feel our daily routines allow us to keep some sort of sanity, but then it is easier for people to deny reality than to watch their world view being disturbed. And that is why too many of us do not really concern ourselves with the new elephant in the room – climate change, because we have been programmed to be always, too gosh darn busy. It scares the hell out of people, not because current Western consumption habits are not sustainable but because to combat climate change, to adjust to its effects, to allow the earth to heal and to save ourselves and our children and all the other living creatures, changes would have to be made now.

Both the free market and capitalism would have to cease to exist, which is not going to happen, because billions of people around the world want the same things, which many in the West and elsewhere have had and become over the past fifty years; a flat screen TV, excess consumption of all things, a fancy car and the ability to become fat. On the other side of the coin, state socialism was just as destructive to the environment as capitalism is.

The ruling elite’s privileges and wealth that the current capitalistic system gives them is made from corporations that are often doing the most ecological damage. Corporations who are the conspirators of the growing number of ecological accidents, have been doing the best since the economic collapse of 2008 and more often than not are paid subsidies by their home nation. While their corporate media controls us.

Reality is that most of the money being made today globally, goes to the very few. Their record levels of surplus cash goes to financial institutions and corporations. Their private fortunes are not devoted to serving society as a whole, saving the planet or their children and do not produce anything other than more money. Greed and profit have taken precedence over the world’s social needs. And the elite will defend such a system with all they have, including destroying the world. For climate change will not wait for anybody.

Naomi Klein’s article “Capitalism vs Climate” lists quite accurately the steps that would have to be taken to act now and also how difficult it would be to respond to climate change. The list includes the concepts of ; immediately reducing our emissions on a mass scale. Subways, streetcars and light rail built everywhere and affordable to anyone, with energy efficient, affordable housing along all transit lines ; having an active long range plan for each community and rebuild community spheres ; rein in corporations by regulation and taxation. Maybe even nationalize some. Have elections publically funded, strip corporations of their status as “people” under the law, reform patent laws and recognize our debts ; bring back localized production because international free trade is simply killing us. It has brought about an ever increasing amount of bigger cargo ships, bigger jets, heavier trucks and lost jobs ; actually tax the filthy rich ; and finally end the cult of shopping and materialism. Which will be a hard nut to crack considering that in ever expanding places around the globe and more than any other activity we do in our daily lives, we think shopping defines us. What you wear and what you drive. Cars, clothes and trucks are purchased, believing them to upgrade one’s status and personality. We seek our identities in stores and online, trying to fulfill our dreams by whatever manufacturers decides those dreams to be. Our desires are being created by others instead of from within.

We have been forced to worry so much about the current financial crisis and its recovery we have forgotten about the recovery needed of the ecosystems of the earth. We have always been controlled through fear, whether it is the fear of communism, drugs or terrorists. Now though, control is being accomplished by simply distracting us, making us blinded consumers. Keeping us preoccupied with achieving sustained recovery of sales growth and as Noam Chomsky put so well over twenty years ago, ” financial manipulations and our consumption binge creates little in the way of productive investment, instead it creates much in the way of debt, whether government, corporate and household debt or the incalculable debt of social needs that go ignored. We continue to periodically select representatives of the business world to manage our domestic and international affairs. All these policies are not rules of nature and the processes and institutions that create them could be and must be changed, but changing cultural, social and institutional processes will not be allowed to happen.” Those who hold wealth and privilege will not allow it.

The problems due to climate change will be supremely difficult to stop within our current system of how we operate, beginning with the ludicrous fantasy that it would be possible to get the nearly two hundred countries in the world to agree on anything let alone reforming and rethinking the global energy system. Many have been affected by the current global economic crisis, unsure and in debt, yet we remain addicted to oil, coal and gas. Nuclear power safety and costs are still very uncertain with many countries, including Germany and Japan, shutting down reactors. Hydroelectric power is geography limited and as it is, the Nile, Tigris-Euphrates, Mekong, Jordan, Indus, Brahmaputra, Colorado and Amu Darya water basins will not keep up with demand from their ever growing populations. Energy efficiency is still taking a back seat to limited but more profitable cheap fossil fuels. Case in point; in 2010, subsidies to the oil and gas industry in Canada, owned by some of the world’s most profitable industries, totaled $1.4 billion. Worldwide the fossil fuel industry received handouts and subsidies to the tune of $409 billion, while only $66 billion went to clean renewable energy. What is really scary about all these figures I’ve been throwing about is that of the top ten wealthiest people in the world, according to Forbes magazine’s list of billionaires of 2012, only a couple have anything to do with mining or oil, the rest have made their billions on either technological, communications and/or our vanity.

The richest man in the world right now is Carlos Slim, a Mexican telecommunications mogul whose net worth is $69 billion, which is more than the world pays towards clean renewable energy. The rest of the top ten are into computers, diversified investments, luxury goods, fashion and Aldi, the discount supermarket corporation. The combined worth of the top ten richest is more than $395 billion. There are one thousand two hundred twenty six billionaires in the world, whose average fortune is $3.7 billion. United States has the most billionaires with four hundred and twenty five; number two is Russia with 96, then China with 95. Of cities, Moscow led with 78 billionaires, because that’s what you get with a corrupt dictatorship, followed by New York at 58 and London at 39. And how is the battle going against climate change in those countries and how are the citizens doing, with all that money lying around?

In Canada, the only action being taken on protecting the environment is at the local and provincial level. This is where we must start to create positive change. “We must pressure and discuss with our local governments to do the necessary research and display the necessary political will to make responsible decisions on behalf of citizens for the common good.” We have got to stop worrying about elsewhere, though the media will continue to keep us distracted. We must begin to focus more on our own nests and backyards. Clean up our own mess, within ourselves and our communities than fretting about something that happened, which we cannot control, halfway around the world. We must become more radical, not the bastardized definition that the ruling elites and the media have invented, putting it into the pile of words such as terrorist and anarchist, but the original definition, where one does not seek hyper-individualism, dominance or hierarchy but instead interdependence, reciprocity and cooperation. Radical is trying to understand the root of something, favoring fundamental and basic change in a social or economic structure. In mathematics a radical has to do with the root or roots of a number or quantity. In chemistry a radical is a group of two or more atoms that acts as a single atom and goes through a reaction unchanged, or is replaced by a single atom; normally a radical is incapable of separate existence. Modern society has also defined radical as “thinking outside the box”.

Che Guevara believed that a radical is nothing less than someone who tries to see and understand the roots of things, who will aid in their fellow man’s security and happiness and who shows empathy to others. If you are none of these things you are not a radical, but simply a consumer. A radical today is someone who bicycles to work and his or her family uses transit, owns a rarely-used fuel-efficient car, buys locally-grown organic food, avoids chemical-filled, factory-farmed meat and “processed” food, recycles, and engages in ecological research and activism.

University of B.C. community planning professor Bill Rees explains “If we’re going to be sustainable, we can’t do it through economic growth.” Adds Douglas Todd of the Vancouver Sun, “The commitment to conservation is both moral and it actually could make us more content. Decades of studies suggest that once a person reaches a certain basic level of financial security, there is very little correlation between a person’s financial wealth and greater happiness.”

As a society we must start being aware of our surroundings and the people within it. To seek out the truth and face up to our problems would be a good first step, instead of just letting others make our decisions’ for us and not being accountable for our actions because it’s deemed always someone else’s fault. As to the technology behind what we call social media, we are embarrassing ourselves in our flirting, preening and purchasing. In fact much of technology is making people anti-social. We have become a needy and wanting lot.

Another challenge is the need to instill in the population the truth in that scientific evidence of climate change is not a myth or joke or a problem that will just go away. Those who are in high school and college right now are called, as a group, millennials, and though we are leaving them an exhausted, depleted and dying environment they are the ones that can begin to make a difference. Unfortunately polling is suggesting that only about 20% of millennials believe it is important to be concerned and involved in cleaning up the environment. This is either because bling-bling and self-entitlement is more important or because most at that age are so well informed today that the task seems overwhelming and that there is no hope for revival. Some probably do not even believe climate change is real, while others would love to act and take on a leadership role. But who would be their mentors and role models?

Being smart is not just someone who can play on a computer, converse through texting and having the latest I-phone, thus being a mere cocoon, even when out and in public. It is being aware and cognizant of how society is and where it is going. It is the need and obligation to care for the environment. It is seeking out the truth, picking through the filtered information and preoccupation of being a consumer, and finding our preferred vision of a good society. Then standing up and making it so.

There is no difference between squatting in a cave, watching your children gasp for air, malnourished and starving from thirst than sitting in front of an 80 inch flat screen TV in a three thousand square foot house, having no gas for the Beemer or Ram-tough truck and watching your children coughing, malnourished or obese and starving for clean, fresh water.

 

 

Weird weather heats East, cools West, Postmedia News, Times Colonist newspaper, Tuesday, March 20, 2012.
Douglas Todd, Is the future really so bleak? Vancouver Sun newspaper, Saturday, February 17,2007
Alisa Gordaneer, Shop till you drop, Monday Magazine, June 9-15, 2005.
Misty Harris, Environment takes back seat for today’s youth, Postmedia News, Times Colonist newspaper, Wednesday, March 21, 2012.
Webster’s New World Dictionary of American English, Simon & Schuster, Inc. New York, 1988.
Noam Chomsky, How the World Works, Collection of Essays – 1986-2011, Soft Skull Press, USA, 2011
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/03/24-2
http://www.thenation.com/article/164497/capitalism-vs-climate?page=0,0
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/02/29-4

 

 

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