The Politics of Addressing Climate Change

By Guy McPherson

There is no politically viable response to climate change.

For a response to be politically viable it would have to be politically appealing. A response that politicians know won’t kill their career. That means a response that people would vote for, one that is supported by economists and corporate leaders. And people vote for things they like the sound of, not policies that are likely to pull the rug out from under their way of life.

Turning off civilisation’s heat engine

As pointed out by Tim Garrett’s published research years ago, only collapse of civilization prevents runaway climate change. Civilization is a heat engine, requiring massive throughputs of resources and energy in order to grow our global economy and maintain the complexity we have come to take for granted. The only way to turn off the heat is to turn off the engine. How many people living within the industrialized world are looking forward to that event?

Certainly not the people pulling the levers of industry. Although many of Garrett’s colleagues support his theory, the world’s “leaders” in governments and corporations are highly unlikely to ever admit its validity, and economists have almost universally panned the suggestion that the economy neither can, nor should, grow indefinitely. These are the people who benefit more than the rest of us from the current set of living arrangements.

In my dreams, the twin cheeks of the corporate ass – known in the United States as the Democrats and the Republicans – promote the idea of collapse. I’d love to see a debate between the final candidates focused on saving habitat for Homo sapiens and other organisms. As with most of my dreams, I doubt this one becomes reality.

It’s unlikely we’ll accept the challenge of winding down industrial civilization and saving habitat for humans on Earth, and it’s likely too late to make much difference. Evidence points to the probability that abrupt climate change has already been triggered.

How bad is it?

The gradual rate of climate change so far – which has increased Earth’s temperature by less than 1 C above baseline – is too much, too fast, for organisms to keep up. Already, the rate of evolution trails the rate of climate change by a factor of 10,000, according to a paper in the August 2013 issue of Ecology Letters. Without a living planet to provide food, we will not survive.

Business as usual takes Earth on the path to 6 C above baseline by 2050, according to the conservative, business-as-usual International Energy Agency (IEA). The IEA’s assessment includes consideration of a single greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. Tacking on only methane brings the date beyond which humans can no longer live on Earth much sooner, according to many scientists.

And while we’re worried about the obvious effects of severe weather disruptions, sea level rise, and chronic droughts impacting food supply, the elephant in the room goes unnoticed. Safely decommissioning the world’s nuclear power plants will require decades of serious work, and needs to be done before it becomes impossible due to resource constraints or natural disasters – both of which will trigger countdown to meltdown, and both of which become increasingly likely as climate change charts its course. Without this time and effort, nuclear catastrophe will make Fukushima seem like a walk in the proverbial park.

The evidence indicates we don’t have decades with habitat for humans on this planet, much less the continuation of the least sustainable civilization in history.

Living in the now

In light of this truly dire situation, I suggest we live here now, in this moment. We don’t live long, a concept that applies to individual lives and also to our species as a whole.

Yet the voices in our ears – speaking the messages promulgated by this culture – keep saying we can and will experience infinite growth on a finite planet with no adverse consequences. Obviously reflecting on this notion leads one to the logical conclusion that such an idea is insane. Perhaps that’s why we ardently avoid thinking “too much”.

Imagine if only a few million people adopted this message and began living in the now instead of spending money on insurance and mortgages. Imagine if they didn’t care about their credit rating and refused to pay their debt. Imagine if they stopped shopping for crap they don’t need.

In light of these imaginings, I’d be willing to bet the system would implode even faster than it already is if people absorbed this message and actually lived it. And that represents a significant threat to civilization and those who benefit from it.

There’s a reason you’re not being told the whole truth about abrupt climate change. It’s the same reason you’re not being told the whole truth about Fukushima. And the banking system. And the ongoing slaughter of people in what we cleverly call war (cf. conquest). And countless other phenomena. If you can’t figure out the reason, try digging a bit deeper. Try looking beyond the way we live, and consider other ways of living.

Think about the cost of power within the hands of a few.

Think about the myriad costs of “progress.”

Think beyond the voices emanating from the mainstream.

Think beyond civilization.




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