July 31, 2012 by SCNCC
In a recent Rolling Stone piece, author and climate campaigner Bill McKibben lays out some frightening calculations, but he fails to take into account the political equation of climate change and the solutions he offers don’t equal the severity of the problem.
The most terrifying number Bill rings up: 2,795 Gigatons. That figure represents the total amount of oil and coal reserves that the worlds energy corporations and governments are sitting on, five times the amount that would keep the planet from warming below two degees Celsius by the end of the century. Exxon alone, if it burns its current reserves, will drive up planetary temperatures by two degrees and two degrees is already a gamble, since as Bill notes, the .8 degrees at which our planet has already warmed since the turn of the century has caused summer arctic sea ice to melt by a third, a thirty percent spike in ocean acidification and, raised the temperature over the ocean by five degrees, “loading the dice for devastating floods.” The 2,795 Gigatons is an amount of fossil-fuel that, if burned, will be a death sentence to our planet as we know it and human life on earth.
Bill outlines how governments have bent to the power of profit and have done diddily-squat to address global warming at climate conference after climate conference even as our planet goes into delirium fever. He also acknowledges that green lifestyle choices ain’t going to cut it. Perhaps that’s why it is so startling to read Bill, in the same article, write, “Since all of us are in some way the beneficiaries of cheap fossil fuel, tackling climate change has been like trying to build a movement against yourself – it’s as if the gay-rights movement had to be constructed entirely from evangelical preachers, or the abolition movement from slaveholders.” Bill is saying here that green consumerism is ineffectual not because we’re not the ones with 2,795 Gigatons of carbon in our stock portfolios but because, as he writes, we’re addicted to “cheap flights to warm places.”
Most of us are not “beneficiaries of cheap fossil-fuel.” A few of us are. With castrated mountaintops, raped and vanquished land, soiled rivers, fouled air, cancer, birth defects, smog, and heart sickness—cardiovascular and spiritual—we have paid the price for cheap fossil-fuel, a trade off none of us elected to make.
Meanwhile, the sickening predicament we find ourselves in as a species is masked from us by a media controlled by the 1 percent. While ninety-seven percent of climate scientists acknowledge that human-induced climate change is a very real phenomenon, their voices are often ignored on cable news shows that all too often rely on talking heads representing the supposed two sides of what is already been proven repeatedly, that the massive amounts of greenhouse gases humans are emitting are rapidly turning up the thermostat on our planet. When our corporate media isn’t distorting the climate truth they are ignoring it. ABC, NBC and CBS devoted approximately thirty-two minutes to climate change in evening news coverage in 2011. That’s slightly more than the length of one sitcom episode.
So whose laughing? Charles and David Koch. The American Petroleum Institute, the oxymoronically titled, Americans for Clean Coal Electricity and, though McKibben fails to address them in the Rolling Stone piece, those at the helm of the the bloody, imperial, carbon guzzling Military Industrial Complex. You get the picture. The one percent.
Just as mentally unstable people shouldn’t be able to purchase boat loads of ammunition on the internet, the one percent must not be allowed to strut around with massive amounts of money in their holsters. They are destabilizing our climate. The wealth and privilege they have acquired since the industrial revolution was, and is, gained via the mutual exploitation of humans and the earth. Capitalism is like the bus in the film Speed which a psychopath (Dennis Hopper) has rigged to explode if it travels at under 50 miles per hour. If productivity slows, if growth halts, the whole capitalist system blows.
We, the ninety-nine, were born onto the planetary bus of global capitalism. Instead of explosives, the one percent has strapped earth with oil rigs and coal mines. If those in the various extractive industries continue to chart the same blind course the entire planet will be one big well pad, one big open pit mine, one big lumber mill, one big cloud of methane gas.
What are they digging for? What are they pumping for? What are they uprooting people and sawing down forests for? What are they breaking workers’ backs to get? Money. The one percent are not refining oil or smelting pig iron so that we can take “cheap flights to warm places.” They are committing ecocide and generational genocide for profit. That’s not coal in the mountains of Appalachia to Peabody, thats cash. Oil in the arctic? Shell sees greenbacks. The boss looks at you or me and thinks of his bottom-line .The same goes all the way up to the top, to the big bosses. They look at you and I the same as they look at soil, water, air, animals and vegetation, and they think “how much?” But its never enough. Standards of living under capitalism don’t rise because of an inherent benevolence in the system or on the part of the one percent. They rise when there is an expanding labor market and the bosses need to off load the crap they’ve got everyone making, but more importantly, they also rise when people rise and demand a better way of life.
Following the 1676 Bacon’s Rebellion, during which black and white bond laborers rose up together against the one percent of Jamestown, Virgina—then in wigs instead of coifed hair—the planter class got together to ensure such an uprising would never occur again. They did so by dividing whites and blacks, propagating an ideology of racism, offering whites land, and employing poor whites on slave patrols. Here in the twenty-first century we need a global Bacon’s Rebellion. The ninety-nine percent in the West and in the Global South must form an alliance based on the premise that we have far more to gain by uniting against those who are casually nudging us all toward climate death than we do divided.
In a somewhat contradictory stance, given that he sees the Americans he addresses in Rolling Stone as beneficiaries of their planet’s ruination, Bill does believe an environmental movement can have an impact. In fact, it is hard to think of one man, in recent years, who has done more to bring people out onto the streets to fight for against climate calamity than Bill has. Yet, given the stark math he lays out the solutions Bill offers don’t match the numbers. As David Schwartzman, author of A Solar Tranistion is Possible, put it, “I submit that McKibben is not being as radical as reality itself.”
Bill’s solutions are tougher government regulation on the fossil-fuel industry and, through political pressure, coaxing “Exxon and their ilk” into becoming “true energy companies” by investing in renewable technology. Bill advocates Fee-and-Dividend legislation that would charge emitters a progressive tax on the carbon they pour into the atmosphere.
While it is important to recognize the underlying profit motive behind the burning of fossil-fuels, such pay to pollute taxes would simply pass the cost onto consumers. The Fee-and-Dividend scheme would only grant Mercedes Benz more room on our nation’s interstates, since the rich would be the only ones who could afford to hit the road. Fee-and-Dividend legislation as proposed by Democratic Congressman John Larson in 2009’s “America’s Energy Security Trust Fund Act” would also subsidize corporate development of renewable energy, effectively bribing energy companies not to kill us.
Lets not negotiate with climate terrorists. The poison that is the global capitalist market, is not the cure. Real reforms, such as taxing the rich and ending the wars to clear funds for investments in green infrastructure, along with mandatory reductions of greenhouse gases and criminal penalties for those who cheat, are steps we can take to reverse our course towards the climate edge but, shouldn’t be seen as ends in and of themselves if we care for lasting change.
Addressing Occupy Wall Street activists at Trinity Church in June, McKibben said that he sees getting off of fossil-fuels as the key step towards accomplishing the democratic vision of Occupy. Rather our system’s reliance on fossil-fuels is a symptom of its inherent undemocratic nature. We won’t get off of fossil fuels until we get off capitalism.
In the pages of Stone, Bill reiterates the necessity of an environmental movement to combat corporate induced climate change. The mass sit-ins against the Keystone XL pipeline went a long way towards that goal. However, the hundreds of thousands of activists in this burgeoning global movement that Bill has helped to reinvigorate are prepared to go much further than Bill himself, they are prepared to go all the way and do what is necessary to create an entirely new system based on ecological and social justice. Militant acts of dissent in recent days bear witness to a movement that is developing which challenges the human and ecological exploitation and military violence of the capitalist system.
On Sunday tens of thousands of people formed a human chain around Japan’s parliament demanding the government abandon nuclear power in wake of the Fukushima disaster and called for the resignation of Prime Minister Yoshiko Noda, after he green-lighted the restart of two reactors.
The previous day in China, an estimated 100,000 people rallied against massive paper mill pollution in China’s Jiangsu Province, squaring off with riot police. The massive show of force left police cars overturned and culminated in a temporary occupation of a government building.
That same day on the other side of the world, four thousand Americans from all walks of life—Blackfoot tribal leaders, Wyoming ranch hands, Occupy activists—marched on the headquarters of the American Petroleum Institute (API), demanding an end to the carbon intensive oil and gas extraction process known has hydraulic fracturing that has been linked to water well methane contamination and other ecological ills. They pounded on the API’s doors chanting, “We don’t need no fracking, let the corporations burn.”
At that same moment, some fifty activists in Lincoln County, West Virginia were walking on to off America’s largest mountaintop removal mine, while hundreds of their supporters rallied below. From the three story Caterpillar tractors Hobet Mining LLC uses to eat away at what was once a thriving ecosystem, activists dropped banners reading, “Restore Our Mountains, Reemploy Our Miners” and “Coal Leaves, Cancer Stays.”
In a pep talk delivered before activists headed up to the eviscerated peak, Dustin Steele delivered a pep talk. Steele, who helped stage the direct action and whose grandfather was a union coal miner for twenty-seven years said:
Rich man and me don’t have very much in common. Coal operator and me don’t have very much in common. Me and a coal miner got something in common. We’re drinking the same shitty water. We’re breathing the same shitty air. We’re dealing with the same fly-rock that’s rolling down and hitting our neighbor’s houses. That’s happening to everyone.
Hopefully the reaction of the folks in the coal fields won’t be extreme. But even if it is extreme, realize that they’re feeling that same fear of the future as what we are. They are oppressed by the same mechanisms and they feel it in the exact same way.
People are pissed off here and it is only a matter of time until the people of Appalachia figure out who we need to be pissed at and who we need to be resisting.
Work at the complex was halted for three hours, before police forcefully removed the occupiers arresting twenty. Their bail has been set at $500,000.
Bail was denied to three elderly Catholic social justice workers currently in federal custody in Tennessee who, before the sun arose on Washington or Lincoln County entered the Oak Ridge Y-12 Nuclear facility and dropped a banner referencing the book of Issiah; a pledge to transform “swords into plowshares [and] spears into pruning hooks.” The activists also spray painted the phrase “Woe to the empire of blood” on recent construction at the facility, which houses 300 to 400 metric tons of bomb-grade uranium. The action kicks off mass “Occupy Nukes” protests scheduled to take place on or around Hiroshima Day, August 6, across the US.
The preliminary judicial response to both nonviolent direct actions, highlights what is sacred to capitalism. In denying bail to the Oak Ridge Three and setting bail at half a mill for the Hobet Twenty, judges in both cases are sending a message to activists everywhere, don’t you dare halt the gears of the profit machine. That’s what frightens the 1% more than anything and that’s where hope, in the final analysis, lies. By building a broad, militant, social movement, we will have the force to shut this system down.
This summer the effects of climate change have been particularly severe. Drought has shrunken expected crop yields of soybeans in India and corn in the US; in turn, driving up food prices. You can count the ribs on horses at some Illinois farms, who are starving for lack of hay. Ninety-eight out of one hundred and two counties in in the state have now been declared disaster areas by the US Department of Agriculture. Summer arctic sea ice melt is on par with 2007’s record high.
But let the summer of 2012 also be known as the summer when the ninety-nine percent ramped up their efforts against the destruction of their biosphere. When thousands flooded the streets of Tokyo and Washington and took a stand from Jiangsu to Appalachia, laying the groundwork for a just and sustainable world, a dream as essential as our reality is dire. We cannot afford to minimize our demands. We know who to be pissed at, who’s destroying our world. Look out one percent, we’re getting behind the plow.
System Change, Not Climate Change!
Social and Ecological Justice Now!