So when does global warming become a priority?

Published online 27 March 2012.

Next year, when the elections are over?  There’s always a next election to think about.  Excuses dissipate our focus.

Should we wait until “leadership” comes up with something better than the Kyoto Protocol?

Are there “more important issues’ out there?  The economy is typically regarded by many voters as the most important election-year issue.  There’s no real traction on it this year, though.  In 2008 the economic downturn was an obvious issue: the public perception that George W. Bush had mishandled the economy led to a likelihood that voters were going to dismiss the Republican Party as an economic savior, and so John McCain’s bid for the Presidency was probably a lost cause before it even got started.  In 2012, however, the voters are being offered a dose of the power of positive thinking — since the government has removed 9 million people from its purview of the jobless rate, voters can now imagine that the job situation is improving.  So there is no clear focus upon the economy in this year’s election, at least not so far.  Everyone is supposed to pretend it is all hunky-dory, and there’s nothing the government can do about it even if it wasn’t.

Global warming appears as the most pending of environmental problems.  If left unattended, it will define our future: drought in the West and the Great Plains, rising ocean levels, ocean acidification, impending famine and plague, rising ocean levels, and so on.  Global warming, as such, makes a great motivator: it motivates us to focus upon the future of the planet, and upon how the planet is our common inheritance.

Global warming can capture the public’s imagination if we can make a successful connection between environmental problems and the economic situation.  Since economy and ecology are intertwined, especially in the age of global warming, we should be able to do this.  Eventually there will be a critical mass of popular support behind the idea of doing something more robust than what has been done so far.  We can’t add 40-50% to the Earth’s atmospheric carbon dioxide endowment and expect nothing to happen — the climate will change, radically, and soon.  We’re the smart people here.  Should we wait until the more radical weather changes, yet to come, take place?  It’s time to start planning, and publicity, and organizing.

If the public needs to be educated about the threat, let’s educate the public.  If debates about what needs to be done have to be settled, let’s settle those debates.  If new organizations need to be created, let’s create them.

This diary is inspired by Priceman’s diary of last week, “Can We Talk About What Actually Matters For Once?”  Priceman’s question is more pertinent than ever.  What really matters is, as Priceman asserts, not what the Republicans are doing, and we would then do best not to give the impression that we are mere participants in an age of ignorance, as some say about our zeitgeist.  By focusing on the actual state of the world, the public can show that it is prepared to face the future.  We can affect the public mood by being focused ourselves.

This is indeed doable.  The real question is one of whether or not anyone wants to do it. The price of seven more months of “make fun of the Republicans” will be that the Republicans will still control the public agenda.  Remember the nonsense around the debt ceiling debacle, that ended with the whole of Congress voting for ten years of austerity, a Super Congress, and automatic triggers?  That happened, in part, because we let the Republicans control the agenda.

Well the Powers That Be, both Republican and Democrat, have no intention of putting any sort of real solution to global warming on the agenda.  Is that what you really want?

This diary was going to be a book review of Mark Lynas’ book of last year, The God Species.  I may still write such a review; but for now I just want to emphasize Lynas’ call for proper planetary management.  Lynas’ book discusses three fundamental concepts: 1) human beings as a species that challenges planetary limits, 2) what those planetary limits actually are, and 3) planetary management as a necessary corrective to human depredation upon planetary limits.

I think Lynas’ book is important not necessarily because I endorse its solutions, which involve the significant expansion of genetic engineering and nuclear power, but rather because Lynas is focusing upon what is important: as his subtitle suggests, “saving the planet in the age of humans.”  I’m also not impressed by Lynas’ loyalty to the capitalist system — he adamantly declared that planetary management did not mean “ditching capitalism, the profit principle, or the market,” without really recognizing that capitalism has a history of growth and that its process is itself an important part of the current discussion of “resource limits.”  The idea that we can promote capitalism as a means of “planetary management” seems to me to be mere folly.  My favorite review of Lynas’ book is that of Jonathan Essex, posted on Jo Abbess’s page.  It suggests in a positive light:

This book challenged me to fight on and re-admit the scale of the challenge that faces us, which includes not just humanity colliding with resource limits, but that we are compounding the problem by ever expanding our resource use, driven by the desire for economic growth.

Enough of Lynas’ book for now.  At any rate, this is the fundamental problem.  “The economy” is something to which we relate in personal terms: we say “I’m unemployed” or “my pension is being threatened” or “the government is wasting my hard-earned tax dollars,” and so on.  Economics, however, defines itself as a science of scarcity — economic problems are the result of limited resources, and in a world of unlimited resources there would be no economic problems.  Solving economic problems, then, means understanding the bigger picture.  Understanding the bigger picture means grasping the environment and the ways in which the environment contributes to the satisfaction of human need.The real question, then, is one of when we’re going to place genuine planetary management at the center of our political efforts.  As extreme weather becomes more and more traceable to global warming, we should find it more and more politically feasible to create political initiatives that suggest solutions to global warming.  Even if these solutions are the wrong ones, their promotion should bring about the critical mass necessary to make global warming an issue that stays in the spotlight, even given the wandering eye of the corporate news media.

The global warming future is going to be a real one.  It’s going to be pretty severe — this is why we have climate scientists such as James Hansen demanding that we take Earth back to 1988, and reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million.  The movement inspired by the webpage has focused upon smaller issues: the Keystone pipeline and subsidies to oil companies.   These issues are small stuff when compared to the larger issue — when do we discuss the whole matter of how the existing system is going to be squared with the ecological problems it creates?

In our defense of the Earth, then, we can say this:

1) our economic well-being is in fact dependent upon a defense of the Earth

2) global warming motivates us to focus upon the future of the planet, and upon how the planet is our common inheritance

3) we thus need a mass movement to focus the public attention upon global warming as a priority, and as a focusing devise for a) the planet as our common inheritance and b) the future of our economic/ ecological well-being.

If we take the attitude that there’s nothing we can do about global warming, then we won’t pay attention to it.  And if we assume that there’s some simple solution, something that doesn’t take into account the connections between global industry and environmental destruction, then we won’t be focused upon what is really necessary.  The only way that we can overcome both hurdles is to make global warming a priority.  When does that happen?

So when does global warming become a priority?

UPDATE: Please read this “apology” in The Nation…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s