Humanity Imperiled – The Path to Disaster

by Noam Chomsky, Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com, Huffington Post, June 4, 2013

Excerpt

For the first time in the history of the human species, we have clearly developed the capacity to destroy ourselves… The question is: What are people doing about it?It’s not because the population doesn’t want it...It’s institutional structures that block change.  Business interests don’t want it and they’re overwhelmingly powerful in determining policy, so you get a big gap between opinion and policy on lots of issues, including this one…It’s not that there are no alternatives.  The alternatives just aren’t being taken. That’s dangerous.  So if you ask what the world is going to look like, it’s not a pretty picture.  Unless people do something about it.  We always can.

Full text

What is the future likely to bring?  A reasonable stance might be to try to look at the human species from the outside.  So imagine that you’re an extraterrestrial observer who is trying to figure out what’s happening here or, for that matter, imagine you’re an historian 100 years from now — assuming there are any historians 100 years from now, which is not obvious — and you’re looking back at what’s happening today.  You’d see something quite remarkable.

For the first time in the history of the human species, we have clearly developed the capacity to destroy ourselves.  That’s been true since 1945.  It’s now being finally recognized that there are more long-term processes like environmental destruction leading in the same direction, maybe not to total destruction, but at least to the destruction of the capacity for a decent existence.

And there are other dangers like pandemics, which have to do with globalization and interaction.  So there are processes underway and institutions right in place, like nuclear weapons systems, which could lead to a serious blow to, or maybe the termination of, an organized existence.

How to Destroy a Planet Without Really Trying

The question is: What are people doing about it?  None of this is a secret.  It’s all perfectly open.  In fact, you have to make an effort not to see it.

There have been a range of reactions.  There are those who are trying hard to do something about these threats, and others who are acting to escalate them.  If you look at who they are, this future historian or extraterrestrial observer would see something strange indeed.  Trying to mitigate or overcome these threats are the least developed societies, the indigenous populations, or the remnants of them, tribal societies and first nations in Canada.  They’re not talking about nuclear war but environmental disaster, and they’re really trying to do something about it.

In fact, all over the world — Australia, India, South America — there are battles going on, sometimes wars.  In India, it’s a major war over direct environmental destruction, with tribal societies trying to resist resource extraction operations that are extremely harmful locally, but also in their general consequences.  In societies where indigenous populations have an influence, many are taking a strong stand.  The strongest of any country with regard to global warming is in Bolivia, which has an indigenous majority and constitutional requirements that protect the “rights of nature.”

Ecuador, which also has a large indigenous population, is the only oil exporter I know of where the government is seeking aid to help keep that oil in the ground, instead of producing and exporting it — and the ground is where it ought to be.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who died recently and was the object of mockery, insult, and hatred throughout the Western world, attended a session of the U.N. General Assembly a few years ago where he elicited all sorts of ridicule for calling George W. Bush a devil.  He also gave a speech there that was quite interesting.  Of course, Venezuela is a major oil producer.  Oil is practically their whole gross domestic product.  In that speech, he warned of the dangers of the overuse of fossil fuels and urged producer and consumer countries to get together and try to work out ways to reduce fossil fuel use.  That was pretty amazing on the part of an oil producer.  You know, he was part Indian, of indigenous background.  Unlike the funny things he did, this aspect of his actions at the U.N. was never even reported.

So, at one extreme you have indigenous, tribal societies trying to stem the race to disaster.  At the other extreme, the richest, most powerful societies in world history, like the United States and Canada, are racing full-speed ahead to destroy the environment as quickly as possible.  Unlike Ecuador, and indigenous societies throughout the world, they want to extract every drop of hydrocarbons from the ground with all possible speed.

Both political parties, President Obama, the media, and the international press seem to be looking forward with great enthusiasm to what they call “a century of energy independence” for the United States.  Energy independence is an almost meaningless concept, but put that aside.  What they mean is: we’ll have a century in which to maximize the use of fossil fuels and contribute to destroying the world.

And that’s pretty much the case everywhere.  Admittedly, when it comes to alternative energy development, Europe is doing something.  Meanwhile, the United States, the richest and most powerful country in world history, is the only nation among perhaps 100 relevant ones that doesn’t have a national policy for restricting the use of fossil fuels, that doesn’t even have renewable energy targets.  It’s not because the population doesn’t want it.  Americans are pretty close to the international norm in their concern about global warming.  It’s institutional structures that block changeBusiness interests don’t want it and they’re overwhelmingly powerful in determining policy, so you get a big gap between opinion and policy on lots of issues, including this one.

So that’s what the future historian — if there is one — would see.  He might also read today’s scientific journals.  Just about every one you open has a more dire prediction than the last.

“The Most Dangerous Moment in History”

The other issue is nuclear war.  It’s been known for a long time that if there were to be a first strike by a major power, even with no retaliation, it would probably destroy civilization just because of the nuclear-winter consequences that would follow.  You can read about it in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.  It’s well understood.  So the danger has always been a lot worse than we thought it was.

We’ve just passed the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was called “the most dangerous moment in history” by historian Arthur Schlesinger, President John F. Kennedy’s advisor.  Which it was.  It was a very close call, and not the only time either.  In some ways, however, the worst aspect of these grim events is that the lessons haven’t been learned.

What happened in the missile crisis in October 1962 has been prettified to make it look as if acts of courage and thoughtfulness abounded.  The truth is that the whole episode was almost insane.  There was a point, as the missile crisis was reaching its peak, when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev wrote to Kennedy offering to settle it by a public announcement of a withdrawal of Russian missiles from Cuba and U.S. missiles from Turkey.  Actually, Kennedy hadn’t even known that the U.S. had missiles in Turkey at the time.  They were being withdrawn anyway, because they were being replaced by more lethal Polaris nuclear submarines, which were invulnerable.

So that was the offer.  Kennedy and his advisors considered it — and rejected it.  At the time, Kennedy himself was estimating the likelihood of nuclear war at a third to a half.  So Kennedy was willing to accept a very high risk of massive destruction in order to establish the principle that we — and only we — have the right to offensive missiles beyond our borders, in fact anywhere we like, no matter what the risk to others — and to ourselves, if matters fall out of control. We have that right, but no one else does.

Kennedy did, however, accept a secret agreement to withdraw the missiles the U.S. was already withdrawing, as long as it was never made public.  Khrushchev, in other words, had to openly withdraw the Russian missiles while the U.S. secretly withdrew its obsolete ones; that is, Khrushchev had to be humiliated and Kennedy had to maintain his macho image.  He’s greatly praised for this: courage and coolness under threat, and so on.  The horror of his decisions is not even mentioned — try to find it on the record.

And to add a little more, a couple of months before the crisis blew up the United States had sent missiles with nuclear warheads to Okinawa.  These were aimed at China during a period of great regional tension.

Well, who cares?  We have the right to do anything we want anywhere in the world.  That was one grim lesson from that era, but there were others to come.

Ten years after that, in 1973, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger called a high-level nuclear alert.  It was his way of warning the Russians not to interfere in the ongoing Israel-Arab war and, in particular, not to interfere after he had informed the Israelis that they could violate a ceasefire the U.S. and Russia had just agreed upon.  Fortunately, nothing happened.

Ten years later, President Ronald Reagan was in office.  Soon after he entered the White House, he and his advisors had the Air Force start penetrating Russian air space to try to elicit information about Russian warning systems, Operation Able Archer.  Essentially, these were mock attacks.  The Russians were uncertain, some high-level officials fearing that this was a step towards a real first strike.  Fortunately, they didn’t react, though it was a close call.  And it goes on like that.

What to Make of the Iranian and North Korean Nuclear Crises

At the moment, the nuclear issue is regularly on front pages in the cases of North Korea and Iran.  There are ways to deal with these ongoing crises.  Maybe they wouldn’t work, but at least you could try.  They are, however, not even being considered, not even reported.

Take the case of Iran, which is considered in the West — not in the Arab world, not in Asia — the gravest threat to world peace.  It’s a Western obsession, and it’s interesting to look into the reasons for it, but I’ll put that aside here.  Is there a way to deal with the supposed gravest threat to world peace?  Actually there are quite a few.  One way, a pretty sensible one, was proposed a couple of months ago at a meeting of the non-aligned countries in Tehran.  In fact, they were just reiterating a proposal that’s been around for decades, pressed particularly by Egypt, and has been approved by the U.N. General Assembly.

The proposal is to move toward establishing a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the region.  That wouldn’t be the answer to everything, but it would be a pretty significant step forward.  And there were ways to proceed.  Under U.N. auspices, there was to be an international conference in Finland last December to try to implement plans to move toward this.  What happened?

You won’t read about it in the newspapers because it wasn’t reported — only in specialist journals.  In early November, Iran agreed to attend the meeting.  A couple of days later Obama cancelled the meeting, saying the time wasn’t right.  The European Parliament issued a statement calling for it to continue, as did the Arab states.  Nothing resulted.  So we’ll move toward ever-harsher sanctions against the Iranian population — it doesn’t hurt the regime — and maybe war. Who knows what will happen?

In Northeast Asia, it’s the same sort of thing.  North Korea may be the craziest country in the world.  It’s certainly a good competitor for that title.  But it does make sense to try to figure out what’s in the minds of people when they’re acting in crazy ways.  Why would they behave the way they do?  Just imagine ourselves in their situation.  Imagine what it meant in the Korean War years of the early 1950s for your country to be totally leveled, everything destroyed by a huge superpower, which furthermore was gloating about what it was doing.  Imagine the imprint that would leave behind.

Bear in mind that the North Korean leadership is likely to have read the public military journals of this superpower at that time explaining that, since everything else in North Korea had been destroyed, the air force was sent to destroy North Korea’s dams, huge dams that controlled the water supply — a war crime, by the way, for which people were hanged in Nuremberg.   And these official journals were talking excitedly about how wonderful it was to see the water pouring down, digging out the valleys, and the Asians scurrying around trying to survive.  The journals were exulting in what this meant to those “Asians,” horrors beyond our imagination.  It meant the destruction of their rice crop, which in turn meant starvation and death.  How magnificent!  It’s not in our memory, but it’s in their memory.

Let’s turn to the present.  There’s an interesting recent history.  In 1993, Israel and North Korea were moving towards an agreement in which North Korea would stop sending any missiles or military technology to the Middle East and Israel would recognize that country.  President Clinton intervened and blocked it.  Shortly after that, in retaliation, North Korea carried out a minor missile test.  The U.S. and North Korea did then reach a framework agreement in 1994 that halted its nuclear work and was more or less honored by both sides.  When George W. Bush came into office, North Korea had maybe one nuclear weapon and verifiably wasn’t producing any more.

Bush immediately launched his aggressive militarism, threatening North Korea — “axis of evil” and all that — so North Korea got back to work on its nuclear program.  By the time Bush left office, they had eight to 10 nuclear weapons and a missile system, another great neocon achievement.  In between, other things happened.  In 2005, the U.S. and North Korea actually reached an agreement in which North Korea was to end all nuclear weapons and missile development.  In return, the West, but mainly the United States, was to provide a light-water reactor for its medical needs and end aggressive statements.  They would then form a nonaggression pact and move toward accommodation.

It was pretty promising, but almost immediately Bush undermined it.  He withdrew the offer of the light-water reactor and initiated programs to compel banks to stop handling any North Korean transactions, even perfectly legal ones.  The North Koreans reacted by reviving their nuclear weapons program.  And that’s the way it’s been going.

It’s well known.  You can read it in straight, mainstream American scholarship.  What they say is: it’s a pretty crazy regime, but it’s also following a kind of tit-for-tat policy.  You make a hostile gesture and we’ll respond with some crazy gesture of our own.  You make an accommodating gesture and we’ll reciprocate in some way.

Lately, for instance, there have been South Korean-U.S. military exercises on the Korean peninsula which, from the North’s point of view, have got to look threatening.  We’d think they were threatening if they were going on in Canada and aimed at us.  In the course of these, the most advanced bombers in history, Stealth B-2s and B-52s, are carrying out simulated nuclear bombing attacks right on North Korea’s borders.

This surely sets off alarm bells from the past.  They remember that past, so they’re reacting in a very aggressive, extreme way.  Well, what comes to the West from all this is how crazy and how awful the North Korean leaders are.  Yes, they are.  But that’s hardly the whole story, and this is the way the world is going.

It’s not that there are no alternatives.  The alternatives just aren’t being taken. That’s dangerous.  So if you ask what the world is going to look like, it’s not a pretty picture.  Unless people do something about it.  We always can.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor Emeritus in the MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy.  A TomDispatch regular, he is the author of numerous best-selling political works, including Hopes and Prospects, Making the Future, and most recently (with interviewer David Barsamian), Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S. Empire (The American Empire Project, Metropolitan Books).

[Note: This piece was adapted (with the help of Noam Chomsky) from an online video interview that Javier Naranjo, a Colombian poet and professor, did for the website What, which is dedicated to integrating knowledge from different fields with the aim of encouraging the balance between the individual, society, and the environment.]

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Get Apocalyptic – The Case for the New Radical

YES! Magazine / By Robert Jensen, Alternet.org, May 28, 2013  |

Excerpt

Feeling anxious about life in a broken-down society on a stressed-out planet? That’s hardly surprising: Life as we know it is almost over. While the dominant culture encourages dysfunctional denial—pop a pill, go shopping, find your bliss—there’s a more sensible approach: Accept the anxiety, embrace the deeper anguish—and then get apocalyptic.

We are staring down multiple cascading ecological crises, struggling with political and economic institutions that are unable even to acknowledge, let alone cope with, the threats to the human family and the larger living worldA deep grief over what we are losing—and have already lost, perhaps never to be recovered—is appropriate. Instead of repressing these emotions we can confront them, not as isolated individuals but collectively, not only for our own mental health but to increase the effectiveness of our organizing for the social justice and ecological sustainability still within our grasp. Once we’ve sorted through those reactions, we can get apocalyptic and get down to our real work…The task for those with critical sensibilities is not just to resist oppressive social norms and illegitimate authority, but to speak a simple truth that almost no one wants to acknowledge: The high-energy/high-technology life of affluent societies is a dead end… to get apocalyptic means seeing clearly and recommitting to core values…we must affirm the value of our work for justice and sustainability…If all this seems like more than one can bear, it’s because it is. We are facing new, more expansive challenges. Never in human history have potential catastrophes been so global; never have social and ecological crises of this scale threatened at the same time; never have we had so much information about the threats we must come to terms with…Mainstream politicians will continue to protect existing systems of power, corporate executives will continue to maximize profit without concern, and the majority of people will continue to avoid these questions. It’s the job of people with critical sensibilities—those who consistently speak out for justice and sustainability, even when it’s difficult—not to back away just because the world has grown more ominous…To adopt an apocalyptic worldview is not to abandon hope but to affirm lifeBy avoiding the stark reality of our moment in history we don’t make ourselves safe, we undermine the potential of struggles for justice and sustainability.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” James Baldwin

Full text

Feeling anxious about life in a broken-down society on a stressed-out planet? That’s hardly surprising: Life as we know it is almost over. While the dominant culture encourages dysfunctional denial—pop a pill, go shopping, find your bliss—there’s a more sensible approach: Accept the anxiety, embrace the deeper anguish—and then get apocalyptic.

We are staring down multiple cascading ecological crises, struggling with political and economic institutions that are unable even to acknowledge, let alone cope with, the threats to the human family and the larger living world. We are intensifying an assault on the ecosystems in which we live, undermining the ability of that living world to sustain a large-scale human presence into the future. When all the world darkens, looking on the bright side is not a virtue but a sign of irrationality.

In these circumstances, anxiety is rational and anguish is healthy, signs not of weakness but of courage. A deep grief over what we are losing—and have already lost, perhaps never to be recovered—is appropriate. Instead of repressing these emotions we can confront them, not as isolated individuals but collectively, not only for our own mental health but to increase the effectiveness of our organizing for the social justice and ecological sustainability still within our grasp. Once we’ve sorted through those reactions, we can get apocalyptic and get down to our real work.

Perhaps that sounds odd, since we are routinely advised to overcome our fears and not give in to despair. Endorsing apocalypticism seems even stranger, given associations with “end-timer” religious reactionaries and “doomer” secular survivalists. People with critical sensibilities, those concerned about justice and sustainability, think of ourselves as realistic and less likely to fall for either theological or science-fiction fantasies.

Many associate “apocalypse” with the rapture-ranting that grows out of some interpretations of the Christian Book of Revelation (aka, the Apocalypse of John), but it’s helpful to remember that the word’s original meaning is not “end of the world.” “Revelation” from Latin and “apocalypse” from Greek both mean a lifting of the veil, a disclosure of something hidden, a coming to clarity. Speaking apocalyptically, in this sense, can deepen our understanding of the crises and help us see through the many illusions that powerful people and institutions create.

But there is an ending we have to confront. Once we’ve honestly faced the crises, then we can deal with what is ending—not all the world, but the systems that currently structure our lives. Life as we know it is, indeed, coming to an end.

Let’s start with the illusions: Some stories we have told ourselves—claims by white people, men, or U.S. citizens that domination is natural and appropriate—are relatively easy to debunk (though many cling to them). Other delusional assertions—such as the claim that capitalism is compatible with basic moral principles, meaningful democracy, and ecological sustainability—require more effort to take apart (perhaps because there seems to be no alternative).

But toughest to dislodge may be the central illusion of the industrial world’s extractive economy: that we can maintain indefinitely a large-scale human presence on the earth at something like current First-World levels of consumption. The task for those with critical sensibilities is not just to resist oppressive social norms and illegitimate authority, but to speak a simple truth that almost no one wants to acknowledge: The high-energy/high-technology life of affluent societies is a dead end. We can’t predict with precision how resource competition and ecological degradation will play out in the coming decades, but it is ecocidal to treat the planet as nothing more than a mine from which we extract and a landfill into which we dump.

We cannot know for sure what time the party will end, but the party’s over.

Does that seem histrionic? Excessively alarmist? Look at any crucial measure of the health of the ecosphere in which we live—groundwater depletion, topsoil loss, chemical contamination, increased toxicity in our own bodies, the number and size of “dead zones” in the oceans, accelerating extinction of species, and reduction of biodiversity—and ask a simple question: Where are we heading?

Remember also that we live in an oil-based world that is rapidly depleting the cheap and easily accessible oil, which means we face a major reconfiguration of the infrastructure that undergirds daily life. Meanwhile, the desperation to avoid that reconfiguration has brought us to the era of “extreme energy,” using ever more dangerous and destructive technologies (hydrofracturing, deep-water drilling, mountaintop coal removal, tar sands extraction).

Oh, did I forget to mention the undeniable trajectory of global warming/climate change/climate disruption?

Scientists these days are talking about tipping points and planetary boundaries, about how human activity is pushing Earth beyond its limits. Recently 22 top scientists warned that humans likely are forcing a planetary-scale critical transition “with the potential to transform Earth rapidly and irreversibly into a state unknown in human experience,” which means that “the biological resources we take for granted at present may be subject to rapid and unpredictable transformations within a few human generations.”

That conclusion is the product of science and common sense, not supernatural beliefs or conspiracy theories. The political/social implications are clear: There are no solutions to our problems if we insist on maintaining the high-energy/high-technology existence lived in much of the industrialized world (and desired by many currently excluded from it). Many tough-minded folk who are willing to challenge other oppressive systems hold on tightly to this lifestyle. The critic Fredric Jameson has written, “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism,” but that’s only part of the problem—for some, it may be easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of air conditioning.

We do live in end-times, of a sort. Not the end of the world—the planet will carry on with or without us—but the end of the human systems that structure our politics, economics, and social life. “Apocalypse” need not involve heavenly rescue fantasies or tough-guy survival talk; to get apocalyptic means seeing clearly and recommitting to core values.

First, we must affirm the value of our work for justice and sustainability, even though there is no guarantee we can change the disastrous course of contemporary society. We take on projects that we know may fail because it’s the right thing to do, and by doing so we create new possibilities for ourselves and the world. Just as we all know that someday we will die and yet still get out of bed every day, an honest account of planetary reality need not paralyze us.

Then let’s abandon worn-out clichés such as, “The American people will do the right thing if they know the truth,” or “Past social movements prove the impossible can happen.”

There is no evidence that awareness of injustice will automatically lead U.S. citizens, or anyone else, to correct it. When people believe injustice is necessary to maintain their material comfort, some accept those conditions without complaint.

Social movements around race, gender, and sexuality have been successful in changing oppressive laws and practices, and to a lesser degree in shifting deeply held beliefs. But the movements we most often celebrate, such as the post-World War II civil rights struggle, operated in a culture that assumed continuing economic expansion. We now live in a time of permanent contraction—there will be less, not more, of everything. Pressuring a dominant group to surrender some privileges when there is an expectation of endless bounty is a very different project than when there is intensified competition for resources. That doesn’t mean nothing can be done to advance justice and sustainability, only that we should not be glib about the inevitability of it.

Here’s another cliché to jettison: Necessity is the mother of invention. During the industrial era, humans exploiting new supplies of concentrated energy have generated unprecedented technological innovation in a brief time. But there is no guarantee that there are technological fixes to all our problems; we live in a system that has physical limits, and the evidence suggests we are close to those limits. Technological fundamentalism—the quasi-religious belief that the use of advanced technology is always appropriate, and that any problems caused by the unintended consequences can be remedied by more technology—is as empty a promise as other fundamentalisms.

If all this seems like more than one can bear, it’s because it is. We are facing new, more expansive challenges. Never in human history have potential catastrophes been so global; never have social and ecological crises of this scale threatened at the same time; never have we had so much information about the threats we must come to terms with.

It’s easy to cover up our inability to face this by projecting it onto others. When someone tells me “I agree with your assessment, but people can’t handle it,” I assume what that person really means is, “I can’t handle it.” But handling it is, in the end, the only sensible choice.

Mainstream politicians will continue to protect existing systems of power, corporate executives will continue to maximize profit without concern, and the majority of people will continue to avoid these questions. It’s the job of people with critical sensibilities—those who consistently speak out for justice and sustainability, even when it’s difficult—not to back away just because the world has grown more ominous.

Adopting this apocalyptic framework doesn’t mean separating from mainstream society or giving up ongoing projects that seek a more just world within existing systems. I am a professor at a university that does not share my values or analysis, yet I continue to teach. In my community, I am part of a group that helps people create worker-cooperatives that will operate within a capitalist system that I believe to be a dead end. I belong to a congregation that struggles to radicalize Christianity while remaining part of a cautious, often cowardly, denomination.

I am apocalyptic, but I’m not interested in empty rhetoric drawn from past revolutionary moments. Yes, we need a revolution—many revolutions—but a strategy is not yet clear. So, as we work patiently on reformist projects, we can continue to offer a radical analysis and experiment with new ways of working together. While engaged in education and community organizing with modest immediate goals, we can contribute to the strengthening of networks and institutions that can be the base for the more radical change we need. In these spaces today we can articulate, and live, the values of solidarity and equity that are always essential.

To adopt an apocalyptic worldview is not to abandon hope but to affirm life. As James Baldwin put it decades ago, we must remember “that life is the only touchstone and that life is dangerous, and that without the joyful acceptance of this danger, there can never be any safety for anyone, ever, anywhere.” By avoiding the stark reality of our moment in history we don’t make ourselves safe, we undermine the potential of struggles for justice and sustainability.

As Baldwin put it so poignantly in that same 1962 essay, “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

It’s time to get apocalyptic, or get out of the way.

See more stories tagged with:

apocalypse [3],

radical [4],

crisis [5],

us [6],

alarm [7],

activism [8],

catastrophe [9]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/activism/get-apocalyptic-case-new-radical

Links:
[1] http://www.yesmagazine.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/robert-jensen
[3] http://www.alternet.org/tags/apocalypse
[4] http://www.alternet.org/tags/radical
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/crisis
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/us-0
[7] http://www.alternet.org/tags/alarm
[8] http://www.alternet.org/tags/activism
[9] http://www.alternet.org/tags/catastrophe
[10] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

The Earth Is Full

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, New York Times, June 7, 2011

You really do have to wonder whether a few years from now we’ll look back at the first decade of the 21st century — when food prices spiked, energy prices soared, world population surged, tornados plowed through cities, floods and droughts set records, populations were displaced and governments were threatened by the confluence of it all — and ask ourselves: What were we thinking? How did we not panic when the evidence was so obvious that we’d crossed some growth/climate/natural resource/population redlines all at once?

“The only answer can be denial,” argues Paul Gilding, the veteran Australian environmentalist-entrepreneur, who described this moment in a new book called “The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World.” “When you are surrounded by something so big that requires you to change everything about the way you think and see the world, then denial is the natural response. But the longer we wait, the bigger the response required.”

Gilding cites the work of the Global Footprint Network, an alliance of scientists, which calculates how many “planet Earths” we need to sustain our current growth rates. G.F.N. measures how much land and water area we need to produce the resources we consume and absorb our waste, using prevailing technology. On the whole, says G.F.N., we are currently growing at a rate that is using up the Earth’s resources far faster than they can be sustainably replenished, so we are eating into the future. Right now, global growth is using about 1.5 Earths. “Having only one planet makes this a rather significant problem,” says Gilding.

This is not science fiction. This is what happens when our system of growth and the system of nature hit the wall at once. While in Yemen last year, I saw a tanker truck delivering water in the capital, Sana. Why? Because Sana could be the first big city in the world to run out of water, within a decade. That is what happens when one generation in one country lives at 150 percent of sustainable capacity.

“If you cut down more trees than you grow, you run out of trees,” writes Gilding. “If you put additional nitrogen into a water system, you change the type and quantity of life that water can support. If you thicken the Earth’s CO2 blanket, the Earth gets warmer. If you do all these and many more things at once, you change the way the whole system of planet Earth behaves, with social, economic, and life support impacts. This is not speculation; this is high school science.”

It is also current affairs. “In China’s thousands of years of civilization, the conflict between humankind and nature has never been as serious as it is today,” China’s environment minister, Zhou Shengxian, said recently. “The depletion, deterioration and exhaustion of resources and the worsening ecological environment have become bottlenecks and grave impediments to the nation’s economic and social development.” What China’s minister is telling us, says Gilding, is that “the Earth is full. We are now using so many resources and putting out so much waste into the Earth that we have reached some kind of limit, given current technologies. The economy is going to have to get smaller in terms of physical impact.”

We will not change systems, though, without a crisis. But don’t worry, we’re getting there.

We’re currently caught in two loops: One is that more population growth and more global warming together are pushing up food prices; rising food prices cause political instability in the Middle East, which leads to higher oil prices, which leads to higher food prices, which leads to more instability. At the same time, improved productivity means fewer people are needed in every factory to produce more stuff. So if we want to have more jobs, we need more factories. More factories making more stuff make more global warming, and that is where the two loops meet.

But Gilding is actually an eco-optimist. As the impact of the imminent Great Disruption hits us, he says, “our response will be proportionally dramatic, mobilizing as we do in war. We will change at a scale and speed we can barely imagine today, completely transforming our economy, including our energy and transport industries, in just a few short decades.”

We will realize, he predicts, that the consumer-driven growth model is broken and we have to move to a more happiness-driven growth model, based on people working less and owning less. “How many people,” Gilding asks, “lie on their death bed and say, ‘I wish I had worked harder or built more shareholder value,’ and how many say, ‘I wish I had gone to more ballgames, read more books to my kids, taken more walks?’ To do that, you need a growth model based on giving people more time to enjoy life, but with less stuff.”

Sounds utopian? Gilding insists he is a realist.

“We are heading for a crisis-driven choice,” he says. “We either allow collapse to overtake us or develop a new sustainable economic model. We will choose the latter. We may be slow, but we’re not stupid.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/08/opinion/08friedman.html?_r=0

The Faithful Budget

Priorities for a Faithful Budget – A collaboration of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other faith communities and organizations…

Our Message to Political Leaders

We write as communities of faith where respect and care for one another is a sacred imperative and we are learning to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” But American society as a whole is, or should be, also such a place, where we delight in the value of each and every one, and gladly accept a mutual responsibility for one another’s wellbeing…

A faithful budget must promote a compassionate and comprehensive vision for the future….
Our message to our national leaders — rooted in our sacred texts — is this: Act with mercy and justice by serving the common good, robustly funding support for poor and vulnerable people, both at home and abroad, and exercising proper care and keeping of the earth…All our faith traditions place people who are impoverished and marginalized at the forefront of concern.  The current fiscal debates – at their heart – are a struggle for the soul of our nation and its moral conscience.  We grieve at the soaring gap between rich and poor; faith and fairness require that we preserve and strengthen vital lifelines for people who are struggling to overcome hardship and poverty in the US and abroad. The faithful way forward to fiscal health calls for a focus on job creation, revenue increases, a shared commitment to the common good, and cuts in unnecessary military spending…

Full text

All our faith traditions place people who are impoverished and marginalized at the forefront of concern.  The current fiscal debates – at their heart – are a struggle for the soul of our nation and its moral conscience.  We grieve at the soaring gap between rich and poor; faith and fairness require that we preserve and strengthen vital lifelines for people who are struggling to overcome hardship and poverty in the US and abroad. The faithful way forward to fiscal health calls for a focus on job creation, revenue increases, a shared commitment to the common good, and cuts in unnecessary military spending.

In Summer 2011, an interfaith coalition in Washington, DC began daily Capitol Hill prayer vigils and worked together out of our common sense of urgency around the need to protect social safety net programs that serve people living in poverty and The Faithful Budget Campaign continues this work in this critical 2012 election year.

Priorities for a Faithful Budget

A collaboration of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other faith communities and organizations, The Faithful Budget promotes comprehensive and compassionate budget principles that helps lift the burden on the poor, rather than increasing it while shielding the wealthiest from any additional sacrifice.

Sign On to the Faithful Budget Preamble!

Join your voice to many others calling for a faithful budget. Review the preamble and sign on below. (Note: Signing on is only for the preamble, not for the entire budget document.)

You may also download the preamble document with initial sponsors list, or download the entire Priorities for a Faithful Budget document.

Preamble to Priorities for a Faithful Federal Budget

Our Message to Political Leaders

We write as communities of faith where respect and care for one another is a sacred imperative and we are learning to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” But American society as a whole is, or should be, also such a place, where we delight in the value of each and every one, and gladly accept a mutual responsibility for one another’s wellbeing.

As the American people we understand ourselves to be “one nation under God,” not a mere collection of isolated individuals. All of us have something to contribute to our life together, and none of us is excluded from our circle of mutual care and concern. Government of, by and for the people at its best is a vital forum for promoting the common good and ensuring that no one is left behind.

A faithful budget must promote a compassionate and comprehensive vision for the future. As communities of faith, we call on our elected leaders to craft a federal budget that fulfills our shared duty to each other in all segments of society to those who are struggling to overcome poverty or are especially vulnerable, and to future generations through our collective responsibility as stewards of Creation.
Our message to our national leaders — rooted in our sacred texts — is this: Act with mercy and justice by serving the common good, robustly funding support for poor and vulnerable people, both at home and abroad, and exercising proper care and keeping of the earth.

In the current political and economic climate, neither party is giving voice to the needs of the families who are struggling to overcome poverty. It is simply not true that we must reduce assistance for the poorest among us in order to achieve fiscal recovery. A Faithful Federal Budget can advance fiscal responsibility while increasing support for the poor and vulnerable, by focusing on job creation and economic revitalization, an equitable tax system based on fairness, and true human security over disproportionate military spending.

The way to national recovery is not to close our hearts to the poor, but to heed the words of the Prophet Isaiah who assures us, “[I]f you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday . . .you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in”(58:10-12).

In this time of global economic crisis, Jews, Christians, Muslims, and other communities of faith, guided by our sacred texts, advocate a constructive vision of the directions needed for a just society and a healthier world. The common prophetic message found in sacred texts does not rest solely on eternal life, but on God’s will being done “on earth as it is in heaven.” Our shared traditions insist that piety and righteousness cannot remain only individual endeavors, but must also encompass our society’s commitment to justice and mercy.

Principles of a Faithful Federal Budget

Restoring Economic Opportunity: The opportunity to work hard and improve one’s economic condition is a value that defines this nation. But it is a reality increasingly available only to those who are already wealthy. We believe in the inherent worth of every individual and that God intends dignity, health, and wholeness for each person. We need an economy that empowers workers to self sufficiency and provides pathways out of poverty. The principles of “liberty and justice for all”, as enshrined in our Pledge of Allegiance, seem hollow in light of the pace at which wealth and opportunity have shifted from the many to the few. We believe that everyone deserves equal opportunity and must therefore have equal access to the building blocks for success. We urge Congress to make the long-term investments needed to sustain the United States’ economic renewal, create economic opportunity for all, and work toward ending poverty. This requires investments in high-quality, affordable education, sustainable jobs with living wages, and policies that help families to build assets.

Ensuring Adequate Resources for Shared Priorities: From the time a federal income tax was established, the concept of a progressive tax system, based on the ability to pay, has been widely accepted as fair and equitable. Over the last several decades our tax system has grown less progressive, and now frequently places more of a tax burden, as a percentage of income, on the middle class than it does on the wealthiest among us. The tax system also creates financial incentives for individuals to act in ways that are thought to strengthen our social fabric, such as investing and saving for retirement, starting a business, owning a home, getting a college education – even charitable giving. Because of the way tax benefits are structured, however, too often low-wage workers do not earn enough to access those benefits. This results in a system that perpetuates inequality by rewarding behavior that generates financial security for those who already have it, while excluding those who are working hard at low-wage jobs and need help the most. An equitable, moral tax code should reward the efforts of low-income people to work and save at every level. A Faithful Budget will act to correct this imbalance. Investment in the renewal of our nation’s economic well-being and protecting the poor and vulnerable will itself serve to reduce the long-term deficit. Such investment should be financed through an equitable tax system founded on fairness, where those who have reaped extraordinary benefits contribute proportionately to the good of all.

Prioritizing True Human Security: With well over half of the discretionary budget dedicated to military spending, the United States is unable to invest in other areas that build substantial human security in our communities. Global threats to peace and security need not instill a national inclination to make an imbalanced investment in new weapons systems, detention centers, and militarized border walls, leading to disproportionate spending on the mechanisms of war and enforcement, while we become less secure in so many other ways. We believe a faithful budget must reevaluate these priorities, increase investment in the areas of health, education, and community well-being that are essential to true security. Our budget priorities should reflect a more balanced approach to the full spectrum of investments that build meaningful security for individuals, families, and communities.

Meeting Immediate Need: As it always has been, the faith community itself continues to be committed to serving vulnerable populations at home and around the world. At the same time, we urge our nation to implement policies that will reduce poverty and hardship. As a united people committed to compassion and justice, we fulfill our calling as a people when we invest in a social safety net that will support the vulnerable in times of hardship, such as recession, unemployment, sickness, and old age. Even as the economy has begun to revive, unemployment rates remain remarkably high. Proactive stimulus policies and the elasticity of the mandatory safety net programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicaid, are incredibly effective measures that have prevented millions from falling into poverty. Congress has the moral and pragmatic responsibility, even as it pursues long-term deficit reduction, to adequately fund critical human needs, social service, environmental protection, and humanitarian and poverty-focused international assistance programs, all of which ensure human security in its broadest sense.

Accepting Intergenerational Responsibility: We cannot leave our children a legacy of debt, but neither must we leave them a legacy of rising poverty and growing inequality. As educational programs, adequate housing, health care, nutrition programs, job training, and other community services all fall victim to pressures to reduce the deficit, economic vulnerability continues to grow and more families find themselves one disaster away from poverty. Our nation’s vital social safety net did not create the deficit, and the vulnerable populations served by the social safety net it should not bear the brunt of deficit-reduction measures. A Faithful Budget will seek wise and far-sighted ways to reduce the nation’s long-term deficits while protecting the most vulnerable among us.

Using the Gifts of Creation Sustainably and Responsibly: In the book of Genesis, God called Creation “good.” Because of Creation’s intrinsic worth, the earth and its resources deserve our respect and our consideration. While the earth has been given to us as a home, and while its resources are bountiful and good, we have abused this gift, placing unsustainable burdens on our environment and its resources. As a human community, we owe a debt to our environment, both for its own sake as well as our own. Environmental degradation has substantial, and potentially irreversible, short and long-term impacts, such as rising health care costs from air pollution and resulting respiratory problems; increased premature deaths due to the cumulative impacts of poor air quality; declining water quality in our communities; degradation of public lands; global climate change, which is already affecting some of the most vulnerable populations on earth; and loss of open space. A Faithful Budget must encompass a reverence for our created environment, making choices that protect air, water, and land—the entirety of Creation—gifts from God that must be available to and protected for this generation and those to come.

Providing Access to Health Care for All: As providers of services and care, both physical and spiritual, our members, congregations, and institutions are well-acquainted with the importance of providing access to health care for all people. All individuals, regardless of their age, income, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity, geography, employment status, or health status, deserve equal access to quality, affordable, inclusive and accountable health care. Reducing health care options for some based on any of these factors is profoundly unjust. As we examine the interwoven web of access within the federal budget, there are areas of profound concern for the common good and practices of good stewardship. A Faithful Budget will ensure access to quality health care by investing in wellness and making needed improvements in the health care system.

Recognizing a Robust Role for Government: We are inspired by a common conviction that God has called on all of us – as individuals, as communities of faith, and as a society acting together through our government – to protect the vulnerable and promote the dignity of all people. For this reason the faith community has worked alongside the United States government for decades to protect those struggling to overcome poverty in the U.S. and abroad. People who need help paying rent or feeding their children come to us, frequently as a first and last resort, and we do all we can to provide the aid that compassionate love demands. And yet, faith communities and agencies cannot do it alone. The need is great as many who once gave to our ministries of mercy are now recipients of our charity. We need the government’s continued partnership to combat poverty by providing a truly adequate short-term safety net, and by means of policies that serve to prevent poverty, reduce extreme inequality, restore economic opportunity for all, and rebuild a robust middle class.

The Call

As faith communities and Americans of conscience we stand with those among us with those whose need is great and we call on all of us to act together as the American people with mercy and justice, and to re-arrange our national priorities to focus on the common good. Accordingly, this Faithful Budget boldly proclaims the aspirational goals toward which, we believe, our nation much strive. More pragmatically, we urge Congress and the President to show their intent to move toward these goals by enacting legislation that enhances the well-being of all Americans and to make a good faith increase in funding for the impoverished and the vulnerable here and abroad in fiscal year 2013.
Let us embrace a call to live together in community, not agreeing on everything, but sharing in the common purpose of bettering our nation, protecting our brothers and sisters here in the U.S. and around the world, and sustainably caring for our environment. We call on Congress and the Administration to craft a federal budget that protects the common good, values each individual and his or her livelihood, and helps lift the burden on the poor, rather than increasing it while shielding the wealthiest from any additional sacrifice.

The following list of sponsors are those organizations who have endorsed the preamble of the document Priorities for a Faithful Budget.  Click on the links to visit their websites and learn more about them.

Updated: March 22, 2012

American Friends Service Committee
Arkansas Interfaith Alliance
Bread for the World
Center of Concern
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada
Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Justice
Church of the Brethren
Church World Service
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism
Conference of Major Superiors of Men
Economic Circle of Justice, Sisters of St. Dominic Blauvelt, NY
Evangelical Lutheran Church of America
Faithful Reform in Health Care
Franciscan Action Network
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Institute Leadership Team of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas
Islamic Society of North America
Jesuit Conference
Jubilee USA Network
Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Office, Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, US
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Mennonite Central Committee U.S.
Minnesota Council of Churches
Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity
Muslim Public Affairs Council 
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
National Council of Churches of Christ, USA
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Pax Christi USA
Presbyterian Church (USA), Office of Public Witness
Progressive National Baptist Convention
Unitarian Universalist Association
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society

http://faithfulbudget.org/about/

Grand Old Planet

By PAUL KRUGMAN, New York Times, November 22, 2012

Mini-excerpt

…the mod­ern G.O.P.’s atti­tude, not just toward biol­ogy, but toward every­thing: If evi­dence seems to con­tra­dict faith, sup­press the evi­dence. The most obvi­ous exam­ple other than evo­lu­tion is man-made cli­mate change…[they] are strongly inclined to reject any evi­dence con­tra­dict­ing their prior beliefs. Today’s Repub­li­cans cocoon them­selves in an alter­nate real­ity defined by Fox News, Rush Lim­baugh and The Wall Street Journal’s edi­to­r­ial page…[their] inabil­ity to deal with geo­log­i­cal evi­dence was symp­to­matic of a much broader prob­lem — one that may, in the end, set Amer­ica on a path of inex­orable decline…

Excerpt

…his [Senator Marco Rubio] inability to acknowledge scientific evidence speaks of the anti-rational mind-set that has taken over his political party….What was Mr. Rubio’s complaint about science teaching? That it might undermine children’s faith in what their parents told them to believe. And right there you have the modern G.O.P.’s attitude, not just toward biology, but toward everything: If evidence seems to contradict faith, suppress the evidence. The most obvious example other than evolution is man-made climate change. As the evidence for a warming planet becomes ever stronger — and ever scarier — the G.O.P. has buried deeper into denial, into assertions that the whole thing is a hoax concocted by a vast conspiracy of scientists. And this denial has been accompanied by frantic efforts to silence and punish anyone reporting the inconvenient facts…

What accounts for this pattern of denial? Earlier this year, the science writer Chris Mooney published “The Republican Brain,” … a survey of the now-extensive research linking political views to personality types. As Mr. Mooney showed, modern American conservatism is highly correlated with authoritarian inclinations — and authoritarians are strongly inclined to reject any evidence contradicting their prior beliefs. Today’s Republicans cocoon themselves in an alternate reality defined by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, and only on rare occasions — like on election night — encounter any hint that what they believe might not be true.

And, no, it’s not symmetric. Liberals, being human, often give in to wishful thinking — but not in the same systematic, all-encompassing way….We are, after all, living in an era when science plays a crucial economic role…How are we going to stay competitive in biotechnology if biology classes avoid any material that might offend creationists?

And then there’s the matter of using evidence to shape economic policy. You may have read about the recent study from the Congressional Research Service finding no empirical support for the dogma that cutting taxes on the wealthy leads to higher economic growth. How did Republicans respond? By suppressing the report. On economics, as in hard science, modern conservatives don’t want to hear anything challenging their preconceptions — and they don’t want anyone else to hear about it, either.

…Rubio’…inability to deal with geological evidence was symptomatic of a much broader problem — one that may, in the end, set America on a path of inexorable decline.

Full text

Earlier this week, GQ magazine published an interview with Senator Marco Rubio, whom many consider a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, in which Mr. Rubio was asked how old the earth is. After declaring “I’m not a scientist, man,” the senator went into desperate evasive action, ending with the declaration that “it’s one of the great mysteries.”

It’s funny stuff, and conservatives would like us to forget about it as soon as possible. Hey, they say, he was just pandering to likely voters in the 2016 Republican primaries — a claim that for some reason is supposed to comfort us.

But we shouldn’t let go that easily. Reading Mr. Rubio’s interview is like driving through a deeply eroded canyon; all at once, you can clearly see what lies below the superficial landscape. Like striated rock beds that speak of deep time, his inability to acknowledge scientific evidence speaks of the anti-rational mind-set that has taken over his political party.

By the way, that question didn’t come out of the blue. As speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Mr. Rubio provided powerful aid to creationists trying to water down science education. In one interview, he compared the teaching of evolution to Communist indoctrination tactics — although he graciously added that “I’m not equating the evolution people with Fidel Castro.” Gee, thanks.

What was Mr. Rubio’s complaint about science teaching? That it might undermine children’s faith in what their parents told them to believe. And right there you have the modern G.O.P.’s attitude, not just toward biology, but toward everything: If evidence seems to contradict faith, suppress the evidence.

The most obvious example other than evolution is man-made climate change. As the evidence for a warming planet becomes ever stronger — and ever scarier — the G.O.P. has buried deeper into denial, into assertions that the whole thing is a hoax concocted by a vast conspiracy of scientists. And this denial has been accompanied by frantic efforts to silence and punish anyone reporting the inconvenient facts.

But the same phenomenon is visible in many other fields. The most recent demonstration came in the matter of election polls. Coming into the recent election, state-level polling clearly pointed to an Obama victory — yet more or less the whole Republican Party refused to acknowledge this reality. Instead, pundits and politicians alike fiercely denied the numbers and personally attacked anyone pointing out the obvious; the demonizing of The Times’s Nate Silver, in particular, was remarkable to behold.

What accounts for this pattern of denial? Earlier this year, the science writer Chris Mooney published “The Republican Brain,” which was not, as you might think, a partisan screed. It was, instead, a survey of the now-extensive research linking political views to personality types. As Mr. Mooney showed, modern American conservatism is highly correlated with authoritarian inclinations — and authoritarians are strongly inclined to reject any evidence contradicting their prior beliefs. Today’s Republicans cocoon themselves in an alternate reality defined by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, and only on rare occasions — like on election night — encounter any hint that what they believe might not be true.

And, no, it’s not symmetric. Liberals, being human, often give in to wishful thinking — but not in the same systematic, all-encompassing way.

Coming back to the age of the earth: Does it matter? No, says Mr. Rubio, pronouncing it “a dispute amongst theologians” — what about the geologists? — that has “has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States.” But he couldn’t be more wrong.

We are, after all, living in an era when science plays a crucial economic role. How are we going to search effectively for natural resources if schools trying to teach modern geology must give equal time to claims that the world is only 6.000 years old? How are we going to stay competitive in biotechnology if biology classes avoid any material that might offend creationists?

And then there’s the matter of using evidence to shape economic policy. You may have read about the recent study from the Congressional Research Service finding no empirical support for the dogma that cutting taxes on the wealthy leads to higher economic growth. How did Republicans respond? By suppressing the report. On economics, as in hard science, modern conservatives don’t want to hear anything challenging their preconceptions — and they don’t want anyone else to hear about it, either.

So don’t shrug off Mr. Rubio’s awkward moment. His inability to deal with geological evidence was symptomatic of a much broader problem — one that may, in the end, set America on a path of inexorable decline.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/23/opinion/krugman-grand-old-planet.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20121123

5 Crucial New Findings About Climate Change

AlterNet [1] / By Tara Lohan [2] November 21, 2012

This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org [3].

This just in: The planet is screwed. Well, if you ask Bill McKibben [4] (and you should) we still have a fighting chance. But that’s only if we actually start fighting. This week proved a holiday downer with multiple reports coming in about how quickly we’re losing the battle to stave off the effects of catastrophic climate change. Here’s a quick recap:

1. UN Report: We’re Really Bad at Cutting Global Warming Emissions

It would be one things to say that we are working hard, but not quite hard enough to curb greenhouse gas emissions. But the sad fact is, we’re not really working on it at all in any meaningful way. Fiona Harvey reports [5] at the Guardian:

The world is straying further away from commitments to combat climate change, bringing the prospect of catastrophic global warming a step closer, a UN report said on Wednesday. …

The gap between what world governments have committed to by way of cuts in greenhouse gases and the cuts that scientists say are necessary has widened, but in order to stave off dangerous levels of global warming, it should have narrowed. There is now one-fifth more carbon in the atmosphere than there was in 2000, and there are few signs of global emissions falling, according to the new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

This is incredibly troubling news and means our hope of staying near or below a global temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius — which scientists have deemed the upper level of preserving life as we know it on this planet — is quickly slipping out of reach.

2. World Meteorological Organization: Here’s How Bad We Are at Cutting Emissions

Just a day before the UN report, the World Meteorological Organization calculated [6] just how much greenhouse gases are actually in the atmosphere right now. Here’s what they found:

The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record high in 2011, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Between 1990 and 2011 there was a 30% increase in radiative forcing – the warming effect on our climate – because of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping long-lived gases.

This doesn’t measure greenhouse gas emissions — like how much CO2 is released from things like burning fossil fuels — but indicates how much is left in the atmosphere after greenhouse gases are absorbed by sinks such as oceans and trees. Going forward, this is even more troubling as WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud explains [6]:

Until now, carbon sinks have absorbed nearly half of the carbon dioxide humans emitted in the atmosphere, but this will not necessarily continue in the future. We have already seen that the oceans are becoming more acidic as a result of the carbon dioxide uptake, with potential repercussions for the underwater food chain and coral reefs.

3. World Bank: We’re Headed to a Really Bad Place

The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics did a report on behalf of the World Bank and it concluded [7] that if we hit 4 degree Celsius warming things are going to get really bad: “extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise.” They also found that we are headed there if we don’t drastically change course.

According [7] to the World Bank, “The report says today’s climate could warm from the current global mean temperature of 0.8°C above pre-industrial levels, to as high as 4°C by 2100, even if countries fulfill current emissions-reduction pledges.”

As you remember from above, countries aren’t even hitting those pledges, so we’re woefully off-base.

4. Center for American Progress: We’re Especially Screwing Over the Poor and Middle-Class

The U.S. is getting hammered by extreme weather events. “Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurance firm, found that North America is experiencing a tremendous rise in extreme weather disasters — a nearly fivefold increase over the past three decades,” reported [8] the Center for American Progress. And this is thanks to climate change.

Knowing this, CAP took a look at how climate-related disasters such as drought, wildfires, winter storms and tropical storms affected people living in the U.S. What they found [8] was, “Most of these extreme weather events typically harmed counties with household incomes below the U.S. median annual household income of $51,914”:

  • Floods damaged households in affected counties with average household incomes of $44,547 annually — 14 percent less than the U.S. median income
  • Drought and heat waves affected counties with households that earned an average of $49,340 annually — roughly 5 percent less than the U.S. median income
  • Wildfires, tornadoes, and severe thunderstorms devastated areas with households that earned an average of $50,352 annually — 3 percent less than the U.S. median income

As we know from Superstorm Sandy, the starkest contrasts between economic classes are often revealed in the aftereffects of disasters; those with fewer resources are often unable to flee areas ahead of coming disasters and poorer neighborhoods, including public housing complexes (as Steven Wishnia wrote for AlterNet [9]), are among the last to have services restored. Nowhere is this disparity more clear than the story of Anthony Narh [10], a parking attendent at a posh TriBeCa building in New York City (in the evacuation zone), who was called to work during the storm and drowned when the garage filled with water.

5. World Resources Institute: Blame King Coal (and Ourselves)

Here’s a basic fact: the biggest contributors to climate change are coal-fired power plants. So if we’re staring down the barrel of the climate change gun, what makes the most sense? Cut down on our coal burning, of course. But what are we planning to do? According to a new report [11]from the World Resources Institute, 1,199 new coal-burning power plants have been proposed across the world.

China ranks first in the world in coal production and consumption — by a great margin. The U.S. and India are second and third respectively, in both categories as well. When it comes to new capacity, India has the most number of proposed new projects at 455, while China is second in the number of projects (363) but tops the list in what the installed capacity would be. The U.S. is seventh in installed capacity with 36 new coal-burning power plants proposed.

Stephen Lacey writes for Climate Progress [12]:

The report outlines virtually every coal plant announced around the world. That does not necessarily mean that every one will get built. In the U.S., for example, it is highly unlikely that many — if any — new coal plants will move forward as cheap natural gas, growing renewables, and legal pressure from environmental groups trips up the pipeline. (Also, as Justin Guay of the Sierra Club points out in a piece today, local resistance in communities around the world is also hindering many of these projects).

But the tally is still staggering. If all these plants were built, they would amount to generation capacity four times greater than the entire U.S. coal fleet.

Time to get our heads out of the sand and get to work.

Editor’s Note: If you’re depressed by the conclusions from these new reports, read AlterNet’s interview with Osha Gray Davidson, author of a new book on Germany’s renewable energy revolution and what the U.S. can learn from it.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/environment/5-crucial-new-findings-about-climate-change

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/tara-lohan
[3] http://globalpossibilities.org/
[4] http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2012/11/ask-mckibben-anything-is-it-too-late-to-stop-climate-change.html
[5] http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/nov/21/slow-carbon-cuts-climate-change-un
[6] http://www.wmo.int/pages/mediacentre/press_releases/pr_965_en.html
[7] http://climatechange.worldbank.org/content/climate-change-report-warns-dramatically-warmer-world-century
[8] http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/report/2012/11/16/45135/heavy-weather-how-climate-destruction-harms-middle-and-lower-income-americans/
[9] http://www.alternet.org/environment/new-york-post-sandy-lesson-how-social-injustice-will-amplify-ravages-global-warming
[10] http://www.thenation.com/article/171228/called-work-during-superstorm-sandy-tribeca-parking-attendant-drowned
[11] http://pdf.wri.org/global_coal_risk_assessment.pdf
[12] http://thinkprogress.org/climate/issue/
[13] http://www.alternet.org/tags/climate-change
[14] http://www.alternet.org/tags/global-warming
[15] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

How Climate Change Is an Historic Opportunity for Progressives

by Bill Moyers & Naomi Klein,  BillMoyers.com, published on AlterNet, November 16, 2012

Naomi Klein, author of the international bestseller The Shock Doctrine, says the tragic destruction of Hurricane Sandy can also be the catalyst for the transformation of politics and our economy. She’s been in New York visiting the devastated areas — including those where “Occupy Sandy” volunteers are unfolding new models of relief — as part of her reporting for a new book and film on climate change and the future, and joins Bill to discuss hurricanes, climate change, and democracy. “Let’s rebuild by actually getting at the root causes. Let’s respond by aiming for an economy that responds to the crisis both [through] inequality and climate change,” Klein tells Bill. “You know, dream big.”

Full transcript

BILL MOYERS: If you’ve been curious about why New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg endorsed Barack Obama for re-election, just take another look at the widespread havoc caused by the Frankenstorm benignly named Sandy. Having surveyed all this damage Bloomberg Business Week concluded: “It’s Global Warming, Stupid: If Hurricane Sandy doesn’t persuade Americans to get serious about climate change, nothing will.”

Well it was enough to prompt President Obama, at his press conference this week, to say more about global warming than he did all year.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions. And as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it.

BILL MOYERS: But he made it clear that actually doing something about it will take a back seat to the economy for now. He did return to New York on Thursday to review the recovery effort on Staten Island. Climate change and Hurricane Sandy brought Naomi Klein to town, too. You may know her as the author of “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.” Readers of two influential magazines to put Naomi Klein high on the list of the 100 leading public thinkers in the world. She is now reporting for a new book and documentary on how climate change can spur political and economic transformation. She also has joined with the environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben in a campaign launched this week called “Do the Math.” More on that shortly…. First, congratulations on the baby.

NAOMI KLEIN: Thank you so much.

BILL MOYERS: How old now?

NAOMI KLEIN: He is five months today.

BILL MOYERS: First child?

NAOMI KLEIN: My first child, yeah.

BILL MOYERS: How does a child change the way you see the world?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well it lengthens your timeline definitely. I’m really immersed in climate science right now because of the project I’m working on is related to that. So you know there are always these projections into the future, you know, what’s going to happen in 2050? What’s going to happen in 2080? And I think when you’re solo, you think, “Okay, well, how old will I be then?” Well, you know, and now I’m thinking how old will he be then, right? And so, it’s not that– but I don’t like the idea that, “Okay, now I care about the future now that I have a child.” I think that everybody cares about the future. And I cared about it when I didn’t have a child, too.

BILL MOYERS: Well, I understand that but we’re so complacent about climate change. A new study shows that while the number of people who believe it’s happening has increased by, say, three percentage points over the last year, the number of people who don’t think it is human caused has dropped.

NAOMI KLEIN: It has dropped dramatically. I mean, the statistics on this are quite incredible. 2007, according to a Harris poll, 71 percent of Americans believed that climate change was real, that it was human caused. And by last year, that number went down to 44 percent. 71 percent to 44 percent, that is an unbelievable drop in belief. But then you look at the coverage that the issue’s received in the media. And it’s also dropped dramatically from that high point. 2007, you know, this was this moment where, you know, Hollywood was on board. “Vanity Fair” launched their annual green issue.

And by the way, there hasn’t been an annual green issue since 2008. Stars were showing up to the Academy Awards in hybrid cars. And there was a sense, you know, we all have to play our part, including the elites. And that has really been lost. And that’s why it’s got to come from the bottom up this time.

BILL MOYERS: But what do you think happened to diminish the enthusiasm for doing something about it, the attention from the press, the interest of the elite? What is it?

NAOMI KLEIN: I think we’re up against a very powerful lobby. And you know, this is the fossil fuel lobby. And they have every reason in the world to prevent this from being the most urgent issue on our agenda. And I think, you know, if we look at the history of the environmental movement, going back 25 years to when this issue really broke through, you know, when James Hansen testified before Congress, that–

BILL MOYERS: The NASA scientist, yeah.

NAOMI KLEIN: Exactly, our foremost climate scientist, and said, “I believe it is happening. And I believe it is human caused.” That was the moment where we could no longer deny that we knew, right? I mean, scientists actually knew what well beforehand. But that was the breakthrough moment. And that was 1988. And if we think about what else was happening in the late ’80s? Well, the Berlin Wall fell the next year. And the end of history was declared. And, you know, climate change in a sense, it hit us at the worst possible historical moment. Because it does require collective action, right? It does require that we, you, regulate corporations. That you get, you know, that you plan collectively as a society. And at the moment that it hit the mainstream, all of those ideas fell into disrepute, right? It was all supposed to be free market solutions. Governments were supposed to get out of the way of corporations. Planning was a dirty word, that was what communists did, right? Anything collective was a dirty word. Margaret Thatcher said, “There’s no such thing as society.”

Now if you believe that, you can’t do anything about climate change, because it is the essence of a collective problem. This is our collective atmosphere. We can only respond to this collectively. So the environmental movement responded to that by really personalizing the problem and saying, “Okay, you recycle. And you buy a hybrid car.” And treating this like this could or we’ll have business-friendly solutions like cap and trade and carbon offsetting. That doesn’t work. So that’s part of the problem. So you have this movement that every once in a while would rear up and people would get all excited and we’re really going to do something about this. And whether it was the Rio Summit or the Copenhagen Summit or that moment when Al Gore came out with Inconvenient Truth, but then it would just recede, because it didn’t have that collective social support that it needed.

And on top of that, you have, we’ve had this concerted campaign by the fossil fuel lobby to both buy off the environmental movement, to defame the environmental movement, to infiltrate the environmental movement, and to spread lies in the culture. And that’s what the climate denial movement has been doing so effectively.

BILL MOYERS: I read a piece just this week by the environmental writer Glenn Scherer. He took a look and finds that over the last two years, the lion’s share of the damage from extreme weather, floods, tornadoes, droughts, thunder storms, wind storms, heat waves, wildfires, has occurred in Republican-leaning red states. But those states have sent a whole new crop of climate change deniers to Congress.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, someone’s going to have to explain Oklahoma to me, you know?

BILL MOYERS: My native state.

NAOMI KLEIN: My sister lives in Oklahoma. And, you know, it is so shocking that James Inhofe, the foremost climate denying senator is from the state that is so deeply climate effected. There was something, actually, I was– last year I covered the Heartland Conference, which is the annual confab for all the climate deniers. And James Inhofe was supposed to be the keynote speaker. And the first morning of the conference, there was lots of buzz. He’s the rock star among the climate deniers. Inhofe is coming, he’s opening up this conference, right? And the first morning the main conference organizer stands up at breakfast and lets loose the bad news that James Inhofe has called in sick and he can’t make it.

And it turns out that he had gone swimming in a lake filled with blue-green algae, which is actually a climate-related issue. When lakes get too warm, this blue-green algae spreads. And he had gone swimming. And he had gotten sick from the blue-green algae. So he actually arguably had a climate-related illness and couldn’t come to the climate change conference. But even though he was sick, he wrote a letter from his sickbed just telling them what a great job he was doing. So the powers of denial are amazingly strong, Bill. If you are deeply invested in this free-market ideology, you know, if you really believe with your heart and soul that everything public and anything the government does is evil and that, you know, our liberation will come from liberating corporations, then climate change fundamentally challenges your worldview, precisely because we have to regulate.

We have to plan. We can’t leave everything to the free market. In fact, climate change is, I would argue, the greatest single free-market failure. This is what happens when you don’t regulate corporations and you allow them to treat the atmosphere as an open sewer. So it isn’t just, “Okay, the fossil fuel companies want to protect their profits.” It’s that it’s that this science threatens a worldview. And when you dig deeper, when you drill deeper into those statistics about the drop in belief in climate change, what you see is that Democrats still believe in in climate change, in the 70th percentile. That whole drop of belief, drop off in belief has happened on the right side of the political spectrum. So the most reliable predictor of whether or not somebody believes that climate change is real is what their views are on a range of other political subjects. You know, what do you think about abortion? What is your view of taxes? And what you find is that people who have very strong conservative political beliefs cannot deal with this science, because it threatens everything else they believe.

BILL MOYERS: Do you really believe, are you convinced that there are no free-market solutions? There’s no way to let the market help us solve this crisis?

NAOMI KLEIN: No, absolutely the market can play a role. There are things that government can do to incentivize the free market to do a better job, yes. But is that a replacement for getting in the way, actively, of the fossil fuel industry and preventing them from destroying our chances of a future on a livable planet? It’s not a replacement.

We have to do both. Yes, we need these market incentives on the one hand to encourage renewable energy. But we also need a government that’s willing to say no. No, you can’t mine the Alberta tar sands and burn enough carbon that you will have game over for the climate as James Hansen has said.

BILL MOYERS: But I’m one of those who is the other end of the corporation. I mean, we had a crisis in New York the last two weeks. We couldn’t get gasoline for the indispensable vehicles that get us to work, get us to the supermarket, get us to our sick friends or neighbors. I mean, the point I’m trying to make is we are all the fossil fuel industry, are we not?

NAOMI KLEIN: You know, we often hear that. We often hear that we’re all equally responsible for climate change. And that it’s just the rules of supply and demand.

BILL MOYERS: I have two cars. I keep them filled with gasoline.

NAOMI KLEIN: But I think the question is, you know, if there was a fantastic public transit system that really made it easy for you to get where you wanted to go, would you drive less? So I don’t know about you, but I, you know, I certainly would.

BILL MOYERS: I mean, I use the subways all the time here.

NAOMI KLEIN: And if it was possible to recharge an electric vehicle, if it was as easy to do that as it is to fill up your car with gasoline, you know, if that electricity came from solar and wind, would you insist, “No, I want to fill my car with, you know, with dirty energy”? No, I don’t think you would. Because this is what I think we have expressed over and over again. We are willing to make changes. You know we recycle and we compost. We ride bicycles. I mean, there there’s actually been a tremendous amount of willingness and goodwill for people to change their behavior. But I think where people get demoralized is when they see, “Okay, I’m making these changes, but emissions are still going up, because the corporations aren’t changing how they do business.” So no, I don’t think we’re all equally guilty.

BILL MOYERS: President Obama managed to avoid the subject all through the campaign and he hasn’t exactly been leading the way.

NAOMI KLEIN: He has not been leading the way. And in fact, you know, he spent a lot of time on the campaign bragging about how much pipeline he’s laid down and this ridiculous notion of an all of the above energy strategy, as if you can, you know, develop solar and wind alongside more coal, you know, more oil, more natural gas, and it’s all going to work out in the end.

No, it doesn’t add up. And, you know, I think personally, I think the environmental movement has been a little too close to Obama. And, you know, we learned, for instance, recently, about a meeting that took place shortly after Obama was elected where the message that all these big green groups got was, “We don’t want to talk about climate change. We want to talk about green jobs and energy security.” And a lot of these big green groups played along. So I feel–

BILL MOYERS: You mean the big environmental groups?

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, big environmental groups went along with this messaging, talking about energy security, instead of talking about climate change, ’cause they were told that that wasn’t a winnable message. I just think it’s wrong. I think it’s bad strategy.

BILL MOYERS: He got reelected.

NAOMI KLEIN: He got, well, he got reelected, but you know what? I think he, I think Hurricane Sandy helped Obama get reelected.

BILL MOYERS: How so?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, look at the Bloomberg endorsement that came at the last minute. I mean, Bloomberg endorsed Obama because of climate change. Because he believed that this was an issue that voters cared enough about that they would, that Independents would swing to Obama over climate change, and some of the polling absolutely supports this, that this was one of the reasons why people voted for Obama over Romney was that they were concerned about climate change and they felt that he was a better candidate on climate change.

The truth was, we didn’t have a good candidate. We had a terrible, terrible candidate on climate change, and we had a candidate on climate change who needs a lot of pressure. So I feel more optimistic than I did in 2008, because I think in 2008 the attitude of the environmental movement was, “Our guy just got in and we need to support him. And he’s going to give us the legislation that we, that we want. And we’re going to take his advice. And we’re going to be good little soldiers.”

And now maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but I think that people learned the lesson of the past four years. And people now understand that what Obama needs or what we need, forget what Obama needs, is a real independent movement with climate change at its center and that’s going to put pressure on the entire political class and directly on the fossil fuel companies on this issue. And there’s no waiting around for Obama to do it for you.

BILL MOYERS: Why would you think that the next four years of a lame duck president would be more successful from your standpoint than the first four years, when he’s looking to reelection?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, I think on the one hand, we’re going to see more direct action. But the other strategy is to go where the problem is. And the problem is the companies themselves. And we’re launching the “Do the Math” tour which is actually trying to kick off a divestment movement. I mean, we’re going after these companies where it hurts, which is their portfolios, which is their stock price.

BILL MOYERS: You’re asking people to disinvest, to take their money out of, universities in particular, right? This is what happened during the fight against apartheid in South Africa and ultimately proved successful.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, and this is, we are modeling it on the anti-apartheid divestment movement. And the reason it’s called “Do the Math” is because of this new body of research that came out last year. A group in Britain called “The Carbon Tracker Initiative.” And this is, you know, a fairly conservative group that addresses itself to the financial community. This is not, you know, sort of activist research. This is a group that identified a market bubble and were concerned about this meant to investors. So it’s a pretty conservative take on it. And what the numbers that they crunched found is that if we are going to ward off truly catastrophic climate change, we need to keep the increase, the temperature increase, below 2 degrees centigrade.

NAOMI KLEIN: The problem with that is that they also measured how much the fossil fuel companies and countries who own their own national oil reserves have now currently in their reserves, which means they have already laid claim to this. They already own it. It’s already inflating their stock price, okay? So how much is that? It’s five times more. So that means that the whole business model for the fossil fuel industry is based on burning five times more carbon than is compatible with a livable planet. So what we’re saying is, “Your business model is at war with life on this planet. It’s at war with us. And we need to fight back.”

So we’re saying, “These are rogue companies. And we think in particular young people whose whole future lies ahead of them have to send a message to their universities, who, and, you know, almost every university has a huge endowment. And there isn’t an endowment out there that doesn’t have holdings in these fossil fuel companies. And so young people are saying to the people who charged with their education, charged with preparing them for the outside world, for their future jobs, “Explain to me how you can prepare me for a future that with your actions you’re demonstrating you don’t believe in. How can you prepare me for a future at the same time as you bet against my future with these fossil fuel holdings? You do the math and you tell me.” And I think there’s a tremendous moral clarity that comes from having that kind of a youth-led movement. So we’re really excited about it.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean rogue corporations? You’re talking about Chevron and Exxon-Mobil and BP and all of these huge capitalist or institutions.

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, rogue corporations, because their business model involves externalizing the price of their waste onto the rest of us. So their business model is based on not having to pay for what they think of as an externality, which is the carbon that’s spewed into the atmosphere that is warming the planet. And that price is enormous. We absolutely know that the future is going to be filled with many more such super storms and many more such costly, multibillion-dollar disasters. It’s already happening. Last year was– there were more billion-dollar disasters than any year previously. So climate change is costing us. And yet you see this squabbling at, you know, the state level, at the municipal level, over who is going to pay for this

NAOMI KLEIN: The public sector doesn’t have the money to pay for what these rogue corporations have left us with, the price tag of climate change. So we have to do two things. We have to make sure that it doesn’t get worse, that the price tag doesn’t get higher. And we need to get some of that money back, which means, you know, looking at issues like fossil fuel subsidies and, you know, to me, it’s so crazy. I mean, here we are post-Hurricane Sandy. Everyone is saying, “Well, maybe this is going to be our wakeup call.” And right now in New York City, the debate is over how much to increase fares in public transit. And they want to, the Metro Transit Authority wants to increase the price of riding the subway, you know, the price of riding the trains, quite a bit. And so how does this make sense? We’re supposedly having a wakeup call about climate change. And we’re making it harder for people to use public transit. And that’s because we don’t have the resources that we need.

BILL MOYERS: You’ve been out among the areas of devastation. Why?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, for this book I’m currently writing about climate change and a documentary to go with it, so we were filming in the Rockaways, which is one of the hardest-hit areas and Staten Island and in Red Hook. And also in the relief hubs, where you see just a tremendous number of volunteers organized by, actually, organized by Occupy Wall Street. They call it Occupy Sandy.

BILL MOYERS: Really?

NAOMI KLEIN: Yes. And what I found is that people are—the generosity is tremendous, the humanity is tremendous. I saw a friend last night, and I asked her whether she’d been involved in the hurricane relief. And she said, “Yeah, I gave them my car. I hope I get it back. If you see it, tell me.” So people are tremendous.

BILL MOYERS: This means–

NAOMI KLEIN: So one of the things that you find out in a disaster is you really do need a public sector. It really important. And coming back to what we were talking about earlier, why is climate change so threatening to people on the conservative end of the political spectrum? One of the things it makes an argument for is the public sphere. You need public transit to prevent climate change. But you also need a public health care system to respond to it. It can’t just be ad hoc. It can’t just be charity and goodwill.

BILL MOYERS: When you use terms like “collective action,” “central planning,” you scare corporate executive and the American Enterprise Institute and The Heritage Foundation because they say you want to do away with capitalism.

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, first of all, I don’t use a phrase like “central planning.” I talk about planning, but I don’t think it should be central. And one of the things that one must admit when looking at climate change is that the only thing just as bad or maybe even worse for the climate than capitalism was communism. And when we look at the carbon emissions for the eastern bloc countries, they were actually, in some cases, worse than countries like Australia or Canada. So, let’s just call it a tie. So we need to look for other models. And I think there needs to be much more decentralization and a much deeper definition of democracy than we have right now.

BILL MOYERS: Decentralization of what, Naomi?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, for instance, you know, if we think about renewable energy, well, one of the things that’s happened is that when you try to get wind farms set up, really big wind farms, there’s usually a lot of community resistance that’s happened in the United States. It’s happened in Britain. Where it hasn’t happened is Germany and Denmark. And the reason for that is that in those places you have movements that have demanded that the renewable energy be community controlled, not centrally planned, but community controlled. So that there’s a sense of ownership, not by some big, faceless state, but by the people who actually live in the community that is impacted.

BILL MOYERS: You’ve written that climate change has little to do with the state of the environment, but much to do with the state of capitalism and transforming the American economic system. And you see an opening with Sandy, right?

NAOMI KLEIN: I do see an opening, because, you know, whenever you have this kind of destruction, there has to be a reconstruction. And what I documented in “The Shock Doctrine” is that these right-wing think tanks, like the ones you named, like the American Enterprise Institute or the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, they historically have gotten very, very good at seizing these moments of opportunity to push through their wish list of policies.

And often their wish list of policies actually dig us deeper into crisis. If I can just– if you’ll bear with me, I’ll just give you one example. After Hurricane Katrina, there was a meeting at the Heritage Foundation, just two weeks after the storm hit. Parts of the city were still underwater. And there was a meeting, the “Wall Street Journal” reported on it. And I got the minutes from the meeting.

The heading was 31 free market solutions for Hurricane Katrina. And you go down the list and it was: and don’t reopen the public schools, replace the public schools with vouchers. And drill for oil in ANWAR, in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, more oil refineries. So what kind of free market solutions are these, right?

Here you have a crisis that was created by a collision between heavy weather (which may or may not have been linked to climate change, but certainly it’s what climate change looks like) colliding with weak infrastructure, because of years and years of neglect. And the free market solutions to this crisis are, “Let’s just get rid of the public infrastructure altogether and drill for more oil, which is the root cause of climate change.” So that’s their shock doctrine. And I think it’s time for a people’s shock.

BILL MOYERS: People’s shock?

NAOMI KLEIN: A people’s shock, which actually we’ve had before, as you know, where, you know, if you think about 1929 and the market shock, and the way in which the public responded. They wanted to get at the root of the problem. And they wanted to get away from speculative finance and that’s how we got some very good legislation passed in this country like Glass-Steagall, and much of the social safety net was born in that moment. Not by exploiting crisis to horde power for the few and to ram through policies that people don’t want, but to build popular movements and to really deepen democracy.

BILL MOYERS: Well, the main thesis of “Shock Doctrine,” which came out five years ago before the great crash was that disaster capitalism exploits crises in order to move greater wealth to the hands of the fewer and fewer people. You don’t expect those people to change their appetites do you or their ways do you, because we face a climate crisis?

NAOMI KLEIN: I don’t expect them to. I wrote “The Shock Doctrine” because I believe that we, I believed at the time that we didn’t understand this tactic. We didn’t understand that during times of crisis certain sectors of the business world and the political class take advantage of our disorientation in order to ram through these policies. And I believed, at the time, that if we understood it, you know, if we had a name for it, if we had a word, a language for it, then the next time they tried it, we would fight back. Because the whole tactic is about taking advantage of our disorientation in those moments of crisis. And the fact that we often can become childlike and look towards, you know, a supposed expert class and leaders to take care of us. And we become too trusting, frankly, during disasters.

BILL MOYERS: It used to be said that weather, now global warming, climate change, was the great equalizer. It affected rich and poor alike. You don’t think it does, do you?

NAOMI KLEIN: What I’m seeing. And I’ve seen this, you know–I’ve been tracking this now for about six years, more and more, there’s a privatization of response to disaster, where I think that wealthy people understand that, yes, we are going to see more and more storms. We live in a turbulent world. It’s going to get even more turbulent. And they’re planning. So you have, for instance private insurance companies now increasingly offer what they call a concierge service. The first company that was doing this was A.I.G. And in the midst of the California wildfires about six years ago, for the first time, you saw private firefighters showing up at people’s homes, spraying them in fire retardant, so that when the flames came, this house would stay. This mansion, usually, would be standing and the one next door might burn to the ground. So this is extraordinary. Because we would tend to think of, you know, firefighting. This is definitely, you know, a public good. This is definitely something that people get equally. But now we’re finding that even that there’s even a sort of two-tiering of protection from wildfires.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, there was even a short-lived airline in Florida I read about that offered five-star evacuation service in events of hurricanes.

NAOMI KLEIN: After Hurricane Katrina a company in Florida saw a market opportunity. And they decided to offer a charter airline that would turn your hurricane into a luxury vacation. That was actually the slogan. They would let you know when a hurricane was headed for your area. They would pick you up in a limousine, drive you to the airport, and whisk you up. And they would make you five star hotel reservations at the destination of your choice. So, you know, why does a hurricane have to be bad news after all?

BILL MOYERS: And this kind of privatization is what you wrote about in “Shock Doctrine,” that privatization of resources, monopolization of resources by the rich, in times of crisis, further divide us as a society

NAOMI KLEIN: Absolutely. And, you know, one of the things about deregulated capitalism is that it is a crisis creation machine, you know? You take away all the rules and you are going to have serial crises. They may be economic crises, booms and busts. Or there will be ecological crises. You’re going to have both. You’re just going to have shock after shock after shock. And the more, the longer this goes on, the more shocks you’re going to have.

And the way we’re currently responding to it is that with each shock, we become more divided. And the more we understand that this is what the future looks like, the more those who can afford it protect themselves and buy their way out of having to depend on the public sector and therefore are less invested in these collective responses. And that’s why there has to be a whole other way of responding to this crisis.

BILL MOYERS: You wrote recently that climate change can be a historic moment to usher in the next great wave of progressive change.

NAOMI KLEIN: It can be and it must be. I mean, it’s our only chance. I believe it’s the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced. And we’ve been kidding ourselves about what it’s going to take to get our emissions down to the extent that they need to go down. I mean, you talk about 80 percent lowering emissions. I mean, that is such a huge shift.

And I think that’s part of the way in which, and I don’t mean to beat up on the big environmental groups, because they do fantastic work. But I think that part of the reason why public opinion on this issue has been so shaky is that it doesn’t really add up to say to the public, you know, “This is a huge problem. It’s Armageddon.” You know, you have “Inconvenient Truth.” You scare the hell out of people. But then you say, “Well, the solution can be very minor. You can change your light bulb. And we’ll have this complicated piece of legislation called cap and trade that you don’t really understand, but that basically means that companies here can keep on polluting, but they’re going to trade their carbon emissions. And, you know, somebody else is going to plant trees on the other side of the planet and they’ll get credits.”

And people look at that going, “Okay, if this was a crisis, wouldn’t be we be responding more aggressively? So wouldn’t we be responding in a way that you have, we’ve responded in the past during war times, where there’s been, you know, that kind of a collective sense of shared responsibility?” Because I think when we really do feel that sense of urgency about an issue, and I believe we should feel it about climate change, we are willing to sacrifice. We have shown that in the past. But when you hold up a supposed emergency and actually don’t ask anything of people, anything major, they actually think you might be lying, that it might not really be an emergency after all. So if this is an emergency, we have to act like it. And yeah, it is a fundamental challenge. But the good news is, you know, we get to have a future for our kids.

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Climate and the Psychology of Loss

by Joe Brewer, Published on Wednesday, November 7, 2007 by CommonDreams.org

An article today in the Washington Post is using fear to inhibit action. Juliet Eilperin boldly declares “climate is a risky issue.” Essentially saying, “Be careful! You are going to lose something of value.” She then goes on to frame efforts to address the climate crisis as costly, while ignoring all of the serious risks to society that come with doing nothing.

Instilling fear in the populace, it seems, makes for good journalism. But it is bad for informing citizens about the real threats we face as a nation.

Riddled throughout the article are references to loss. I stopped counting after fifteen. Examples include “costing billions of dollars,” “the cost of coal could quadruple,” and “huge costs associated with limiting emissions.” It is almost as if Eilperin understands the importance of repetition for reinforcing neural associations in the brain.

Every time climate change is referenced in the context of economic loss, the brain binds them more strongly to each other. The consequence being that people miss this key truth: Protecting the environment is essential to strengthening our economy.

Placing loss on the correct side of major decisions is extremely important because fear and uncertainty are powerful motivating factors. Psychologists have a name for this phenomenon; it is called risk aversion. Simply put, we feel more strongly about avoiding loss than seeking gain. When outcomes are uncertain or unfamiliar, motivation to change our behavior plummets further.

This is why people stay in abusive relationships. The harms are well known, but what will happen if you leave? A big question mark – and plenty of anxiety – encourage you to reconsider. The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.

This way of thinking leads to more abuse. And it leads to more harm from the climate crisis. Our fear of losing what we have places us at jeopardy of losing much more. This recklessly places us all at risk of unacceptable consequences.

So what can we do when a major threat is looming on the horizon? First off, we don’t frame it in a way that misleads people about where the losses reside. Energy costs are already going up. And job security is becoming more like a joke without a punch line every day as manufacturing is moved overseas and profit motives compel wealthy executives to cut benefits. So the losses plastered on climate action are already lurking at our doorstep – without doing anything about global warming!

Instead, let’s look at the real costs of inaction in the face of the climate crisis. Our children get asthma before enrolling in kindergarten. We pay for increased medical visits. Severe storms – flooding, drought, tornadoes, hurricanes – ravage our cities with greater intensity and frequency. We pay for rebuilding after devastation. Viruses carried by mosquitoes threaten our health security at higher elevations and for longer parts of the year. We pay with our livelihood.

You get the picture.

Everywhere in the world there will be more risk. Increased risk of crop failures as rainfall patterns change. Increased risk of mass migrations as sea levels rise. Increased risk of regional conflict as natural resources become more scarce.

Eilperin got it wrong. The real “risky issue” is staying put and doing nothing: continuing to spoil our air and ignoring the harm we’re already suffering.

Joe Brewer is a fellow at The Rockridge Institute.

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: https://www.commondreams.org/archive/2007/11/07/5076

Culture

A Different Kind of Division (race) By ROSS DOUTHATAugust 24, 2013

Why Life in America Can Literally Drive You Insane By Bruce E. Levine, AlterNet, July 30 2013

10 U.S. to Grow Grayer, More Diverse, Minorities Will Be Majority by 2042, Census Bureau, WashingtonPost, August 14, 2008 The nation’s population will look dramatically different by mid-century, becoming more racially and ethnically diverse and a good deal older as it increases from about 302 million to 439 million by 2050, according to projections released today by the U.S. Census Bureau…Minorities, about one-third of the U.S. population, are expected to become a majority by 2042 and be 54 percent of U.S. residents by 2050.

How American Society Unravelled After Greedy Elites Robbed the Country Blind by George Packer, The Guardian, June 20, 2013  — posted on Alternet.org – In or around 1978, America’s character changed…Americans were no less greedy, ignorant, selfish and violent then than they are today, and no more generous, fair-minded and idealistic. But the institutions of American democracy, stronger than the excesses of individuals, were usually able to contain and channel them to more useful ends. Human nature does not change, but social structures can, and they did… In Washington, corporations organised themselves into a powerful lobby that spent millions of dollars to defeat the kind of labour and consumer bills they had once accepted as part of the social contract. Newt Gingrich came to Congress as a conservative Republican with the singular ambition to tear it down and build his own and his party’s power on the rubble…The large currents of the past generation – deindustrialisation, the flattening of average wages, the financialisation of the economy, income inequality, the growth of information technology, the flood of money into Washington, the rise of the political right – all had their origins in the late 70s.…American elites took the vast transformation of the economy as a signal to rewrite the rules that used to govern their behavior…There will always be isolated lawbreakers in high places; what destroys morale below is the systematic corner-cutting, the rule-bending, the self-dealing…It is no wonder that more and more Americans believe the game is rigged. It is no wonder that they buy houses they cannot afford and then walk away from the mortgage when they can no longer pay. Once the social contract is shredded, once the deal is off, only suckers still play by the rules.  full text

Us vs Them: A Simple Recipe to Prevent Strong Society from Forming By James Rohrer, AlterNet.org, July 27, 2012

Conservative Southern Values Revived  bySarah Robinson, Alternet.org, 2012

DC Beltway Is America’s Wealthiest, Brainiest, Most Insular Region By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet, November 13, 2013 …whole sections of the Washington suburbs are a unique wealthy enclave…those who are fortunate enough to live in this rarified paradise almost never have to interact with the rest of dreadful (or less privileged) humanity… Washington is an example of how the country is compartmentalizing itself into clusters of people with different backgrounds and world views…The Capitol has always been an old-fashioned company town, the company being the federal government…when it comes to generosity, the richest Americans are not known for their selfless examples. Philanthropy.com reports [13] that the wealthiest Americans give the least to charity…it is another dismal sign of our times when the epicenter of American democracy is also a capital of concentrated wealth and insularity. And the hometown paper brags about it.

Corporate America, meet ‘Generation C’ by Brian Solis, Washington Post, June 28 2012

America Without a Middle Class by Elizabeth Warren, Chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel created to oversee the banking bailouts, posted December 3, 2009 on Huffington Post“Can you imagine an America without a strong middle class? If you can, would it still be America as we know it?…The crisis facing the middle class started more than a generation ago. Even as productivity rose, the wages of the average fully-employed male have been flat since the 1970s. But core expenses kept going up…The contrast with the big banks could not be sharper. While the middle class has been caught in an economic vise, the financial industry that was supposed to serve them has prospered at their expense…And when various forms of this creative banking triggered economic crisis, the banks went to Washington for a handout…Even though the tax dollars that supported the bailout came largely from middle class families — from people already working hard to make ends meet — the beneficiaries of those tax dollars are now lobbying Congress to preserve the rules that had let those huge banks feast off the middle class…America without a strong middle class? Unthinkable, but the once-solid foundation is shaking.”

Seeking a Cultural Revolution: From Consumerism to Sustainability by Matthew Berger, 2010 State of the World, Transforming Cultures, The Worldwatch Institute, Inter Press Service, January 13, 2010

Calling Radicalism by Its Name — Editorial,  New York Times, April 3, 2012

How the Right Has Turned Everything Into a Culture War — And Why That’s Terrible for Our Democracy By Joshua Holland, AlterNet, February 28, 2012

Jonathan Haidt Explains Our Contentious Culture, Moyers & Company, February 3, 2012

The Social Contract by Paul Krugman, New York Times, September 22, 2011

Restore the Basic Bargain By Robert Reich, Robert Reich’s Blog, November 29, 2011

Reweaving the Fabric of our Society by Joan Blades, Living Room Conversations, posted on HuffingtonPost.com, 05/22/2012