Ian Prattis, Professor Emeritus, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.
Climate Change and Extinction
Are we too late to chart a Beginning Anew for humanity? Can we engineer a communal Hero’s Journey to reconstruct society based on ecology, caring and sharing, while power elites ignore their complicity in the destruction of life on Planet Earth? Let us face it – the Industrial Growth Civilization is a system devouring itself, dislocating the organic structures of Mother Earth to the point that all species, not just our own, are at risk. It has taken us to a dangerous precipice. From there we stare into the abyss of climate change, ecosystem collapse, ISIL, resource wars, terrorism, white supremacy, permanent refugees and anarchy. Are we at an end game without a philosophy for the future?
How could the human mind capable of monumental achievements neglect the destruction of a lived-in-ecosystem? Our addictive dependence on carbon based energy propelled the downward spiral of devastation on our planet. The process was enabled because we allowed the environment to become an extension of human egocentric needs and values, an ego-sphere rather than an eco-sphere. In this ego-sphere we consume mindlessly in the global economy without regard for ecosystem balance; without any concern about creating inequality, poverty and ecosystem imbalance. Planetary care is not part of this agenda.
In the 1980s it was possible to make the leap to a zero-net-carbon world. Yet the opposite trajectory was chosen with a rapid increase in greenhouse gases, as wealthy nations and oil, gas and coal enterprises doubled their production of fossil fuels. We have had the scientific knowledge since 1980 to create the solution, but the obstacles were not technical or scientific. The obstacles are the attitudes, values and concepts that define the dominance of corporate values. Their bottom line of profits was upheld by successive governments that devalued science. It was never about the unanimity of science. It was about the brand of economics favored by the carbon cabal of extraordinary power that held governments in their thrall. The focus on the bottom line of economic wealth at all costs was very stupid. Big Oil and government created propaganda campaigns to promote oil and gas extraction, irrespective of the damage caused to ecosystems and populations. They produced false images of reforestation, utmost safety, deep concern for wildlife, populations and clean water. This played to receptive audiences yet decades later we find rivers and lakes occupying a wasteland. Oil derivatives swiftly poured through interconnected waterways. Indigenous populations world-wide that once augmented their households with fish, game and forest products are no more. They either relocated or died. This effectively torpedoed any form of transition to a sustainable, renewable economy.
Did anyone notice that degradation of the Earth’s ecology was the catalyst for radical Climate Change? Food crops were destroyed by horrendous heat waves as carbon dioxide poured into the atmosphere. Did no-one realize that food riots and world panic trace back to one cause, the economic agenda of fossil fuel extraction? The undercover deal between governments and fossil extraction corporations was invested in political and economic structures that centered on that same carbon combustion complex. This collective agenda destabilized world order.
Nathaniel Rich’s brilliant essay (NYT Magazine August 5, 2018) shows clearly that there was a decisive possibility – forty years ago – for a turning point. Only it was never taken. A small group of scientists, politicians and activists in America came to a broad understanding of the causes and dynamics of climate change. Put directly – the scientists had realized that the more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, then the warmer Earth would become and in doing so – it would trigger a violent atmospheric wrecking of the planet. In 1979 they placed their findings and consensus to the highest levels of government and industry in the United States and around the world. The scientists included James Hansen – NASA climate studies; Gordon MacDonald – geophysicist; Jule Charney – meteorologist; Steve Schneider – environmental biologist; George Woodall – ecologist and many more world class scientists. Politicians such as Al Gore and lobbyist Rafe Pomerance took the scientific findings to the White House and to energy giants such as Exxon. The latter were distinctly uncomfortable about how much they would be blamed for climate change. Despite their early support, the energy giants quickly turned the dialog to finding mouthpieces that could state that the scientific findings were not translatable into global disasters.
The scientists, however, attempted to divert the catastrophe with a clear grasp of what was causing Climate Change. Their lobbying was straightforward from their meticulous scientific findings. Their emphasis to politicians and industry was about the freezing of carbon emissions and the development of alternative energy that did not create carbon dioxide. At that time, some forty years ago, it seemed to be a good idea to many world leaders. A consensus based plan, however, would not happen without American leadership. The United States was the obvious nation to lead such an outcome. It failed to do so, much to the chagrin and reputation of the scientists, as their findings were censored and belittled. They then became targets that the carbon cabal sought to undermine.
The evidence, however, was drastic. In 1990 more than 20 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide was placed in the atmosphere from fossil fuels. By 2018 it is in excess of 32.5 billion metric tons, accompanied by the deadly tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes, sea level inundations and water surges destroying low lying coastal regions of the planet. In 2019 Harvard Professor James Anderson asserts that present Earth carbon levels were last found in the Eocene Epoch – 33 million years ago. Due to present warming oceans he speculates that the amount of water vapor now in the atmosphere triggers storm systems that are violent to the extreme. This is now amplified by the breaking up of the Ross Ice Shelf, which stabilizes the West Antarctic Ice sheet. It is now melting 10 times faster than average and will soon be unable to block other glaciers. As it weakens, rising sea levels of several meters are to be expected. The obvious knock-on invitation is to create even more destructive cyclones, tsunamis and tornadoes that will destroy human habitation along with other species. Professor Anderson also notes, somewhat dryly, that while the sea-level rise is irreversible, university administrators still refuse to divest from fossil fuels! They prefer to join executives of the carbon cabal and media, which fail to fact-check statements made by politicians and corporate oligarchs.
The creature which enabled such an outcome is none other than fossil fuel industries supported by successive government regimes. This collusion successfully suppressed science, confused public knowledge with misinformation, and furthermore beefed up the blatant bribery of politicians. The carbon energy cabal funded million dollar disinformation campaigns. They paid select scientists to distort the truth and state that there was an uncertainty factor to the likely outcome of climate change – if indeed climate change existed at all! Oil and gas executives – and their billionaire backers – protected their profits, downplayed scientific conclusions as “uncertain” and deliberately dulled the intelligence of the general public. Their design was to control, delay and block binding climate change endeavors. Their pathetic, yet successful, message was to reframe climate change as a “dual energy challenge!”
In the spring of 2019 the UN committee on Biodiversity and Environmental Science issued a startling video with a report over 1,000 pages, which showed that one million of the planet’s species were facing rapid extinction from humans. The 145 experts were drawn from 50 countries. The 39 page summary places biodiversity alongside climate change and projects that, without co-operative global action, major biodiversity losses will continue to 2050 and beyond. Added to this list are – oceanic overfishing, burning of fossil fuel, land and water pollution and invasive species. Furthermore – three quarters of Earth’s land and 85% of crucial wetlands have been lost, making it harder for other species and us to survive. This 2019 report rings an alarm yet indicates that the world can actually reverse this crisis. A major block to such optimism is that climate denial is a baseline for Republicans in the US. They are unlikely to see any responsibility or reason to co-operate with any global agenda. Along with right wing politicians in many nations their divisiveness does not allow constructive contributions to emerge that can stave off the extinction of species. What is lacking are the practical solutions for government, business and communities. Alarms do not cut it anymore, particularly as drastic planetary change leaves organisms – including us – little time to adapt.
The 2019 UN video and Report confirmed the radical views of Elizabeth Kolbert who wrote The Sixth Extinction in 2014. The six-mile-wide asteroid that slammed into Earth 66 million years ago wiped out the dinosaurs and many other species. This was the fifth time that events almost eradicated life on Earth. The difference between the five prior extinctions on Planet Earth, and the imminent sixth, is that the present extinction is due to humans as the agents of mass destruction. Kolbert makes it very clear that the acceleration of the Sixth Extinction is mainly driven by the consequences of CO2 pouring into the atmosphere. The world is changing faster than species can adapt – and that includes us. Are we likely to rein in our economic growth, our carbon emissions and toxic pollution? Paul Ehrlich in 2014 wryly states, “In pushing other species to extinction, humanity is busy sawing off the limb on which it perches.”
I do not think the UN in 2019 offered solutions – just alarms, while the world carries on with life as usual. This is unfortunate as “life as usual” is no longer an option when the carbon cabal holds all the cards. They continue to promote propaganda to the tune of 200 million dollars per year to bring down the “bogus” climate change agenda – and that includes everything that the UN so carefully delivered in the spring of 2019. The corporate oligarchy is clearly criminal as the mass of humanity is presently being wiped out. In spite of the excellent and provocative UN Video and Report in 2019, the carbon cabal maintains a very long arm. Their organization is presently paying selected scientists to promote the position that the existing evidence on climate change does not support crisis warnings. This is a bought and sold lie. Everyone knows the lack of truth – the US government, oil and gas companies, industrialists, politicians and so on – all know the truth. To keep the bottom line of profits in their favor, they are willing to accept that human civilization would be destroyed in the not so far future – a very unusual suicide pact.
I ponder on MLK’s quote: “The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.”