What we know
In order to appear reasonable, climate scientists have typically pulled their punches around the implications of their research. After all, it wasn’t until its latest report that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change even allowed for the fact that the crisis was not one that we could somehow avoid, or view as happening during our grandchildren’s lives, but that, to the contrary, it was an inescapable, growing presence that humans had to learn to adapt to now.
That sense of urgency was underscored by the three recent reports from the IPCC, as well as the one from the National Climate Assessment this past May that was prepared by a large scientific panel overseen by the government. Declaring that "Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly in the present," the scientists went on about how "(t)he effects of human-induced climate change are being felt in every corner of the United States, with water growing scarcer in dry regions, torrential rains increasing in wet regions, heat waves becoming more common and more severe, wildfires growing worse, and forests dying under assault from heat-loving insects."
Along with all that is occurring daily throughout the rest of the world, a report of this kind would seem to be a call for a national emergency, as if we were under attack and being invaded by another country. And yet, all we received from the Obama Administration was the EPA announcement about his "tough" new emissions standards for power plants. Yes, it was greeted with "a-step-in-the-right-direction" politeness (the Republicans, of course, were robotically and predictably dismissive). But as Kevin Bundy with the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute commented, "This is like fighting a wildfire with a garden hose -- we’re glad the president has finally turned the water on, but it’s just not enough to get the job done." After all, what difference will it make if every coal-fired power plant in the United States were shut down tomorrow while U.S. coal producers continue to export their coal to China, which is building a new coal-burning facility every day? The atmosphere doesn’t care where the carbon comes from.
(This reminds me of the Shumlin Administration, which righteously banned fracking in Vermont two years ago, only to now favor the construction of a pipeline through Addison County and under Lake Champaign that will carry hydrofracked gas from Canada. Or, for that matter, the folks in our own area who are gaga over the idea of replacing a shuttered Vermont Yankee with a carbon polluting, biomass plant.)
This breakdown -- this gap -- between the planetary emergency that the scientists are telling us we face, and the milquetoast and contradictory responses of our political leaders, is truly alarming. After all, Mr. Obama knows what’s happening, and the great danger that it represents to maintaining civil society as the crisis grows worse. Why do you think his Pentagon is preparing to engage in resource wars, and to suppress large-scale civil unrest across the world, under the supervision of various U.S. military agencies? Or why his government spies on its citizens, militarizes the local police with wartime weaponry, and has built "detention centers" around the country?
It’s no longer a question of knowledge. We all know about climate change, including those I suspect who deny its existence. We know about climate lag, and its promise that things will get worse, and for a long time, no matter what we do right now; about the melting Arctic, and resulting exposure to the atmosphere of the deadly methane hydrates that lie beneath its now watery surface; about the scientists who believe we’re currently in the midst of the planet’s sixth mass extinction, with between 150 and 200 species becoming extinct daily, a rate 1,000 times greater than the "natural" extinction rate; and about the wildfires, and droughts and floods and 1,000 year storms and growing food crisis that appear nightly on our TV screens, even if they’re scrupulously not identified as having anything to do with climate change. We know up close and personal about Irene and Sandi.
And we also know what we need to do. We must stop over-consuming our finite natural resources. Stop trying to live the fantasy of perpetual growth. Stop polluting the Earth, its waters and atmosphere. Stop the destruction of biological diversity and allow other species to flourish. It’s not a question of technological breakthroughs to solve these problems. It’s a matter of us stopping what we’re doing.
But we also know that, if we’re to survive this calamity, we need to accept the fact that we’re on our own. Ours is not a government of the people, by the people, for the people, but a corporate state that’s the captive of Big Oil which serves the interests of the ruling 1 percent oligarchy. We need a revolution of everyday life, where we increasingly take matters into our own hands, assume responsibility for our lives, build mutual aid neighborhoods, sustainable lifeboats, and an international movement of non-violent refusal and resistance to profits before people.
Global warming and climate change is the inevitable endgame for capitalism, and a way of life that is based on greed, violence, self-aggrandizement, and disrespect for the sacredness of life. We need not just a change in our source of energy, but much more importantly, we need to change our values. We need to begin living with daily constancy a life of moral integrity that, potentially, we’re perfectly capable of, as we’ve demonstrated on occasions, but don’t practice with the regularity and consistency necessary to avoid the state of the world we live in. We need to get real about ourselves and the world we live in.
Tim Stevenson is a community organizer with Post Oil Solutions and can be reached at 802-869-2141 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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