Sunday, October 24

Our leaders look climate change in the eye and shrug | Hamilton Nolan

IIf you’ve cultivated an Edgar Allen Poe-like appreciation for the macabre, there’s a certain kind of fun watching the developed world grapple with the insistent onslaught of climate change. Like many horror stories, this one features a main character filled with a futile determination to maintain a sense of normalcy even as sinister signs of doom become increasingly impossible to ignore. We can laugh knowing that the monster will come for our designated protectors. We stop laughing knowing that it will come for all of us.

It is easy to imagine that a real existential threat to our way of life would lead any society to assume the position of war and do whatever it takes to fight for survival. Unfortunately, this response only takes hold in real war situations, where the threat is “other people we can shoot and kill in glorious ways.” When the threat comes not from enemy people, but from our own nature, we find it much more difficult to rise to the occasion. Where is the glory of acknowledging the folly of our own greed and waste? Leaders are not chosen for such things. We want leaders who give us more, always leading us forward, upward, and toward the grave.

The latest demonstration of this comes from the G20, that coalition that is as good a representative as any for the combined will of the world’s richest countries. The last G20 meeting concluded last week without firm commitments on the phase-out of coal power, or on the steps nations will promise to take to try to keep global warming at 1.5 ° C. This goal is necessary and, perhaps, unlikely: a report from scientists found that China, Russia, Brazil and Australia are pursuing policies that could lead to catastrophic five degrees of warming.

The G20 is a perfect model of our collective failure to build institutions capable of dealing with deep, long-term existential problems that cannot be solved by building more weapons. On the one hand, the head of the United Nations He says that there is no way the world will achieve its 1.5 ° C warming target without the leadership of the G20; On the other hand, a recent analysis found that G20 members, in the last five years, have paid $ 3.3 billion in subsidies for the production and consumption of fossil fuels. The same group that claims to be rescuing humanity’s sinking ship with one hand is setting it on fire with the other. It is not good to be too pessimistic about climate change, because we must maintain the belief that we can win this battle if we are to have any hope. That said, it sure looks like we’re screwed.

As overwhelming and pervasive as climate change is, it is not the core issue. The central issue is capitalism. Capitalism’s unbridled pursuit of economic growth is what caused climate change, and capitalism’s inability to account for externalities, the economic term for a third-party cost, is what prevents us from solving climate change. . In fact, climate change itself is the ultimate negative externality: fossil fuel companies and a variety of polluting companies and their investors reap all the benefits, and the rest of the world pays the price. Now everyone is caught up in the hideous logic of capitalism, where it is perfectly rational for the rich to keep doing something that is destroying the earth, as long as the profits they make allow them to insulate themselves from the consequences.

Congratulations free market evangelists – this is the system you have built. It does not work. I don’t want to lean too heavily on the maudlin, Gaia-style interpretation of global warming as the inevitable wounds of an omniscient Mother Earth, but you must admit to viewing humanity and its pollution as a malicious virus to be eradicated. by nature it is now quite a compelling metaphor. Homo sapiens rose above the lesser animals thanks to our ability to wield logic and reason, but somehow we have reached a place where the knowledge of what is driving all of these forest fires Y floods it is not enough to allow us to do something meaningful to stop it. The key experience of global capitalism is gawking at a drought-fueled fire as it consumes your home, then going shopping for a bigger SUV for comfort.

This year, the G20 pat itself on the back for “[recognizing] Carbon pricing as a potential tool to address climate change for the first time in a release”. This would have been encouraging 30 years ago, when we should have put in place a carbon tax after it became clear that carbon emissions cause tangible damage to the environment. In 2021, this kind of diplomatic marginalization is the equivalent of a child on the Titanic proudly showing their parents their completed assignment, just as the ship is sliding beneath the waves.

Of course, we need a price for carbon. Of course, we need extremely strict emissions regulations, massive investments in green energy, and a manic focus on sustainability fierce enough to radically change a society built to promote unlimited consumption. But to be honest, there is little indication that we will get those things anytime soon. The path we are on, yet, is not one that leads to a happy ending. Rather, it’s one that sees the last billionaire standing on dry land blasting off in his private rocket while the rest of us drown in rising sea levels.

Capitalism is a machine made to squeeze every penny out of this planet until nothing is left. We can fool ourselves about it until it kills us, or we can change it.

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