Georgeann Johnson
Thursday, December 1, 2016

WE ARE LIVING AT A JARRING MOMENT IN TIME.    The way we are living is killing the planet.    And living while dying creates a dilemma.  It creates a cognitive dissonance emanating from realizing that we are doubling down on the very system that is killing the planet.   This Climate Change stuff is Big.  It’s abstract.  It is here, but it is also over there.  We need to do something, but what do we do?


Naomi Klein believes that this planetary emergency could be the galvanizing force that humanity needs to get us off our collective duff.  Moving rapidly off of fossil fuels can also address housing, clean water, food security and other humanitarian needs.  It could become the catalyzing force that addresses reviving local economies; addressing corruption of the political process; investing in mass transit,  rebuilding a healthy food system;  and addresses the injustices of  Indigenous land rights and broken treaties.


      It can also galvanize the rights and responsibilities of citizenship as change must come from the ground up.   A groundswell of citizens can expand the commons, and disperse power from a few to many.  There have been 90 official meetings of governments and other agencies since 1990.  In that time Business as Usual has continued, global temperatures have risen and carbon dioxide levels have risen.  Meetings of climatologists have continued and seemingly affected nothing.  In 2010 the climatologists said: “Virtually all of us are convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization.”   That was the same year that global emissions surged a whopping 5.9%!


     Klein emphasizes that it is a great misfortune that soaring increases of temperature converge at the same point in history as the powerful elites have the most power in 80 years.  It is not exactly coincidental that the past 30 years of climate crisis has sputtered from failure to failure while a globalized economy has leapfrogged from deregulation to corporate-written trade agreements to multinational power.


     This has brought us to a new bottom line.   Developed countries need to cut emissions by 8-10% a year!  Can a deregulated Free Market do this?  No.  Can unfettered expansion contract the extraction of natural resources?  No.  Klein says Climate Change is not an “issue.”  It is a

   civilizational wake-up call.

      She says it is necessary to give up “centrism”; to forego the practice of splitting the difference.  We need to THINK DIFFERENTLY AND WE NEED TO DO IT NOW!   We need to see neighbors and nature as partners in a grand project of mutual re-invention.  Adding emphasis to NOW is the International Energy Agency saying that if we do not get our emissions under control by 2017 , the fossil fuel economy will lock in extreme warming levels.  I.e, there is a certain level that, once it is reached, you can’t back off of it.  It is in a lock-in lock-down mode for decades.

     The U.N.’s  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  is a collaboration of 195 countries and thousands of scientists.  They agree on the looming danger of a tipping point in Climate Change.

   Why do we hear about the “science” of climate change deniers?  They are funded by wealthy foundations and individuals for one thing.  For another, many recent studies have shown that the climate deniers are overwhelmingly conservative, wealthy, white, and male.  This all leans towards giving them a predisposition towards denying something that challenges the economic system that benefits them.


     We have been kicking the can down the road for 25 years now.  In 1988 there was a World Conference Change in Toronto.  300 scientists from 46 countries convened to offer findings that carbon emissions need to be cut.  In 1992 the Earth conference in Rio de Janeiro said that global emissions needed to be cut by 20% by 2005.  That has come and gone and they are not going down, they are going up.   It’s time for change or time for a new can.


     Of course there is always the scientific quick-fix.  More nuclear power and geo-engineering are popular fixes with some people.  Klein is quick to point out that this is doubling down on the reckless short term thinking that got us in the fix in the first place.


     Klein speaks to the problem of Opposing World Views.  She says that the unequivocal findings on Climate Warming force us to choose how we want to respond.  If we stay on the road we are on we will get the big corporate, big military, big engineering response to climate change,…the world of  a tiny group of big corporate winners and armies of locked-out losers…… Or we can choose to heed the planetary wake-up call and change course, steer away not just from the emissions cliff but from the logic that brought us careening to that precipice.   In short, she says that a populist movement is the counterbalance to the entrenched mind-set and values.



      International trade agreements written behind closed doors have been a great obstacle to lowering climate emissions.   In serving corptocracy, they are not serving the planet.   Local laws that try to create jobs with green energy can be overridden by the trade agreements.  Instead of punishing efforts to help communities and the planet, international trade laws impede local environmental improvement.  At the same time national governments are subsidizing the fossil fuel industry with one trillion dollars in annual global  subsidies.    To allow arcane trade laws, written in secret, to determine the future of the planet is, simply, madness.   Nobel prize-winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz said: “Should you let a group of foolish lawyers who put together something before they understood these issues, interfere with saving the planet?”  Steven Shrybman, international trade and public interest lawyer, says that the problem is structural.  “If the trade rules don’t permit all kinds of measures to deal with climate change…and they don’t…then clearly the trade laws must be rewritten.  Because there is no way we can have a sustainable economy and maintain international trade rules as they are.  There’s no way at all.”

     In 1992 there was the Earth Summit in Rio; in 1994 NAFTA went into effect; in 1995 the WTO made its debut;  in 1997 the Kyoto Protocol was adopted;  in 2001 China gained full membership in the WTO.   These two spheres…trade and climate change….which are inextricably linked….have become increasingly separate spheres.  Trade agreements trump climate emissions every time.

   Shrybman , 15 year ago, observed that the global export of industrial agriculture, had already dealt a devastating blow to any progress on greenhouse gas emissions.   When agribusiness, like Monsanto and Cargill, got access to inundate other markets, the global food market started becoming a huge contributor to global emissions.  This enormous industrial food system now counts for between 20 and 29% of world greenhouse gas emissions.   If TPP gets fast tracked this 12 country trade agreement will up that percentage considerably.


     For real life numbers in the past 20 years, container ship traffic has INCREASED BY OVER 400%!!  Not only is that greatly polluting the atmosphere, no nation state is held accountable as it is on international waters!   The past errors cannot be undone.  But a global climate movement could take on Free Trade and determine a more deliberate and connected approach to trade.

   We need to confront a logic even more entrenched than free trade –the logic of indiscriminate economic growth.  This idea has understandably inspired a good deal of resistance among more liberal climate watchers, who insist that the task is merely to paint our current growth-based economic model green.   Page 86.


     YES, individually we must consume less –driving, flying, eating locally, durable goods, smaller and efficient homes. But individual change will not save the day.   Do not fool yourself that recycling your garbage and driving a Prius is going to save the Planet!  But, collectively, we can demand local and national policies and plans that are smart, fair, and available to all.  Klein emphasized the aspect of FAIR.  If it is fair to all, people will join in.

     For fairness, Developed nations will have to pay more.  The 500 million richest people on the planet…1 out of 14…are responsible for ½ of global emissions.   Fairness means that the nations of these 500 million should pay half the costs.

     There are plenty of solutions.  Alternative energy powers much of Europe now; farmers, co-ops, etc. are flourishing there.  Via Campesina, an international global network of farmers, has over 200 million members.  The biggest windmill project in the world is in West Texas.   Yes, the solutions are there.  The solutions have to be driven into place by Top Down, or Bottom Up.   Which will it be?

     In tackling Global Warming, we need to understand the cultural Mindset that has led us to this horrific impasse.   This is the Mindset that has enabled the rape and plunder of the Natural World.  To day that is called “Extractivism” and it means the mining of Nature’s resources.   By definition Extractivism is a non-reciprocal dominance-based relationship with the Earth.  It is a one-sided relationship, one of taking.  It is the opposite of Stewardship which involves respect, care-taking, and regeneration.  Colonialism engendered the mind-set of extractivism as there was always a new place to go to after one had been exploited.

   The Mindset came before the Steam Engine but the Steam engine kicked the Mindset into high gear?  (Overdrive?  RPM’s?)   Mr. Watt’s invention harnessed the power of coal to power the factories and ships.  It was the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.  We need to be cognizant of this narrative when we address Global Warming.  We need to understand that endless growth and progress is our cultural narrative.   Mr. Watt himself said:  “Nature can be conquered, if we can but find her weak side.”  Naomi Klein writes

   “The strongest challenges to this worldview have always come from outside its logic, in those historical junctures when the extractive project clashes directly with a different, older way of relating to the earth –and the older way fights back.  This has been true from the earliest days of industrialization, when English and Irish peasants, for instance, revolted against the first attempts to enclose communal lands, and it has continued in clashes between colonizers and Indigenous peoples through the centuries, right up to … the Indigenous-led resistance to extreme fossil fuel extraction gaining power today.”   Page 177.