9 September 2008
“The sedge is wither’d from the lake, And no birds sing.” — “La Belle Dame sans Merci” by John Keats
Rachel Carson published her book ‘Silent Spring’ in 1962 but even before it was published the chemical industry mounted a virulent attack on it.
“Carson was violently assailed by threats of lawsuits and derision, including suggestions that this meticulous scientist was a “hysterical woman” unqualified to write such a book. A huge counterattack was organized and led by Monsanto, Velsicol, American Cyanamid — indeed, the whole chemical industry — duly supported by the Agriculture Department as well as the more cautious in the media.” — See Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_Spring
Does this remind you of something? When the first intimations of climate change appeared, almost identical attacks were mounted against scientists who were warning us of the effects of uncontrolled greenhouse gas emissions, the destruction of natural resources, and the pollution of our oceans and rivers.
Forty-six years has passed since the publication of ‘Silent Spring’ and to put it mildly, things have gone from bad to disastrous. And even though now no rational mind can deny the disastrous impact of industrial capitalism on the planet and even though endless international conferences are convened in an attempt to reverse the process set in motion some 250 years ago, it would appear that we are further away now from achieving it than we ever were.
And of course, the collapse of the West’s financial ‘system’ has only compounded the problems, even if, in the short term, it results in a lowering of consumption which in any case impacts the most on the poorest.
Now correct me if I’m wrong here, but those who allegedly run our governments and businesses live on the same planet as you and I, so you would have to assume that they have as much (or even more) to lose than your average human does as the climate spins out of control.
“Mandatory programs may be needed and we should be considering these possibilities now,” the document continued, adding, “Would food be considered an instrument of national power? … Is the U.S. prepared to accept food rationing to help people who can’t/won’t control their population growth?” — Henry Kissinger, ‘National Security Study Memorandum 200: Implications of Worldwide Population Growth for U.S. Security and Overseas Interests.’ Dec. 10, 1974.
So what gives here? Do they know something you and I don’t? Not likely is it, au contraire, they are only too aware of the processes that have been set in motion by the rape of the planet and its resources.
As long ago as the 1970s US and European policy makers were aware of the fact that if they were to hold onto their ill-gotten gains something would have to be done about the billions of have-nots who sat on top of resources that ‘rightfully’ belonged to the West.
“…There are only two possible ways in which a world of 10 billion people can be averted. Either the current birth rates must come down more quickly. Or the current death rates must go up. “There is no other way. “There are, of course, many ways in which the death rates can go up. In a thermonuclear age, war can accomplish it very quickly and decisively. Famine and disease are nature’s ancient checks on population growth, and neither one has disappeared from the scene…. “To put it simply: Excessive population growth is the greatest single obstacle to the economic and social advancement of most of the societies in the developing world.” — Robert McNamara, Oct. 2, 1979
Precisely! The death rates have to go up and what better way to achieve it than to let ‘nature’ do it for them. It is inconceivable to think that the ruling elites of our planet’s most powerful states have not been aware of the disastrous impact of rampant (and mostly useless) production on the planet’s biosphere, regardless of their public pronouncements.
I have said this before and I’ll say it again, the major reason the most powerful states will not take meaningful action to halt the slide is because they realize that climate change is the equivalent to WWIII. What better way to destroy assets than let ‘Nature’ do it for them? Aprés la deluge, they figure, they will be able to pick up the pieces, the planet ‘cleansed’ of the ‘surplus’ (to capitalism) population and unable to resist the ongoing theft of their resources.
Extreme you might say, but is it any more extreme than the death and destruction wrought on the populations of the poor countries of the world over the centuries?
It can be argued of course that climate change impacts negatively on the haves just as it does on the have-nots, however, given the wealth and technological advantage the privileged have, they have clearly calculated that they can ‘ride out the storm’.
Not so the poor of the planet however, they are already living on the edge both figuratively and literally.
Of course it’s a calculated risk for we do not know the degree to which upsetting the delicate balance that Nature has achieved over millions of years will impact on the Biosphere’s ability to maintain homeostasis.
‘homeostasis – the tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, esp. as maintained by physiological processes.’
But then the ruling classes are neither well known for their forward thinking nor for their intellectual acumen as recent events so dramatically illustrate, but then, and surely this is the point, they will not be paying the cost of capitalist disasters.
It is possible that the ‘tipping point’ as they say, has already been passed (See ‘One Shot Left’ by George Monbiot http://climateandcapitalism.com/?p=588), but if this is the case, it just reinforces the urgent need to get rid of capitalism so that we can rationally plan for an unknown future that will require every resource we have available to us to at least minimize the effects of global warming, the disastrous impact of rising sea levels and so forth.
“The IPCC report predicts an estimated 150 million environmental refugees worldwide by the middle of this century, citing coastal flooding, shoreline erosion and agricultural degradation as major factors.”
Meanwhile, the rich countries of the world, floundering in an economic disaster of their own creation prattle on about economic growth, the sheer cost of which dwarfs all previous capitalist disasters.
“Global warming comes with a big price tag for every country in the world. The 80 percent reduction in U.S. emissions needed to stop climate change may not come cheaply, but the cost of failing to act will be much greater. New research shows that if present trends continue, the total cost of global warming will be as high as 3.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Four global warming impacts alone — hurricane damage, real estate losses, energy costs, and water costs — will come with a price tag of 1.8 percent of U.S. GDP, or almost $1.9 trillion annually (in today’s dollars) by 2100. We know how to avert most of these damages through strong action to reduce the emissions that cause global warming. But the longer we wait, the more painful — and expensive — the consequences will be.” — The Cost of Climate Change: What We’ll Pay if Global Warming Continues Unchecked, http://www.nrdc.org/globalwarming/cost/contents.asp
Yet the $1.9 trillion estimated annual cost is less than 25% of the cost of the ‘bailout’ of capitalism, now put at around $8.5 trillion although final cost is actually incalculable, and worse, nobody knows whether it will actually do the trick.
Surely it should be obvious to all that the ruling elites care more about saving capitalism than they do about saving the planet.
1. Climate refugees — the hidden cost of climate change by Margarita Windisch, 3 December 2008. Greenleft Weekly http://www.greenleft.org.au/2008/777/40054
2. See ‘Barry Ritholtz: ‘Bailout’ costs more than Marshall Plan, Louisiana Purchase, moonshot, S&L bailout, Korean War, New Deal, Iraq war, Vietnam war’ http://williambowles.info/2008/12/03/barry-ritholtz-bailout-costs-more-than-marshall-plan-louisiana-purchase-moonshot-sl-bailout-korean-war-new-deal-iraq-war-vietnam-war/
3. See ‘Government bailout hits $8.5 trillion’, San Francisco Chronicle, 26 November, 2008 http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/11/26/MNVN14C8QR.DTL
Some sources on the impact of climate change
Public Interest Research Centre, 25th November 2008. Climate Safety. http://www.pirc.info
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Working Group I. Technical Summary, p73. http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg1/ar4-wg1-ts.pdf
David M. Lawrence et al., 2008. Accelerated Arctic land warming and permafrost degradation during rapid sea ice loss. Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 35 11506. doi:10.1029/2008GL033985. http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/ccr/dlawren/publications/lawrence.grl.submit.2008.pdf
Edward A. G. Schuur et al, September 2008. Vulnerability of permafrost carbon to climate change: implications for the global carbon cycle. Bioscience, Vol. 58, No. 8, pp.
701-714. doi:10.1641/B580807 http://www.bioone.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1641%2FB580807
United Nations Environment Project, 4 June 2007. Melting Ice – a Hot Topic? Press Release. http://www.unep.org/Documents.Multilingual/Default.asp?DocumentID=512&ArticleID=5599&l=en