Why Climate Change Arguments Won’t Change the Climate

We are living through a period in which we are seeing the collapse of the world order that we were born and raised in and watching as it is replaced by an alien socio-economic and political system that we don’t even recognize any more.

Nowhere is the discrepancy between the collective will and the political obstructions to the collective will more obvious than in the Three Big Issues  that will decide the 2020 election cycle: health care, tax reform, and climate change.

Health care and tax reform are pretty clearly defined issues. Everyone wants affordable health care but no one wants to pay for it. Everyone knows that we need tax reform, but no one wants to do it.

The issue is more confused, however, when we think about global warming, climate change, or the impending end of all things, or whatever else you want to call it.

The question being asked, over and over again, in the media at least, is why aren’t we doing more to combat climate change?

The shortest and most accurate answer to that question is that we are already doing everything that is economically, socially and politically feasible in the current diversified global economic and political structure to combat climate change.

Unfortunately, what we are doing isn’t good enough because the forces attempting to combat climate change do not have sufficient economic, social, and political power to enforce the draconian measures that would be required to effectively reverse 100 years of carbon pollution in the ten or 20 years it would require for those measures to achieve the desired effect of halting (if not actually reversing) climate change before it is too late.

The reasons for this are so obvious that they are clearly understood by everyone…but no one ever really talks about them.

In the capitalist economies, each corporation makes its environment-affecting decisions on the basis of what is best for that corporation, not the society or the political unit in which the corporation is located. There are some rare exceptions to this generalization but there’s more lip service than commitment among all but a few corporate moguls who, like Bill Gates, are putting their money where their mouths are.

More often than not, however, business decisions are based on the necessity for generating dividends for shareholders and growing the share prices of the corporation’s stock. Surprisingly, non-capitalist economies (such as those in the remaining communist states and pseudo-communist states such as Russia and China) operate in exactly the same manner because they must operate in that manner to compete against capitalist economies. The notorious air quality in the People’s Republic of China (have you noticed that no one calls it that any more?) belies any lip service the Chinese government gives to climate change…and they show no interest in changing course in their industrialization efforts.

Societies make their environment-affecting decisions on the same basis as corporations do,  by doing what is best for their member cultures right now rather than by making decisions based upon the future survival of the cultures that make up their societies. There’s always a faction in every society that stands apart and says, “What about the future?” to which the standard reply is, “We’re worried about today. Tomorrow will take care of itself.”

Societies are mindless hordes, not conscious beings. They operate on the rules that control mob behavior rather than logic and introspection, and they are therefore only capable of making decisions based upon the immediate needs of their members.

Political systems are simply outgrowths of the economic and social structures in which they operate. Government is a dependent variable in the climate change conversation because what “democratic governments” (in quotes because there are really no such things as democratic governments) do is completely dependent upon what their corporations and societies demand that they do. Those demands are expressed in two ways: money (as in campaign contributions) and votes (which are almost always a dependent variable to campaign contributions.)

I know what you’re thinking. The one percent live on the same planet we do. They will pull it together and start demanding the changes we need.

No, they won’t.  If they were going to do that, they would have done it already, or they have already tried and failed. Take your pick.

One of the characteristics of the mega rich is that they actually believe they are immune to the consequences of climate change. They are mobile enough to avoid any local catastrophe by simply jumping on their jets and going elsewhere. They live in cocoons where their food, water and air are carefully sampled, clarified, purified and fortified. They have top notch medical care, all the dental work they could possibly want. So, no, they really don’t live on the same planet that we do and, while they may care about the environment in a disinterested manner, they don’t feel the visceral urgency that “real” people feel when the ocean starts invading their front yards in South Miami.

The only obvious solution to this problem is untenable because the obvious solution is to establish a world government with the dictatorial powers necessary to impose operating rules and procedures on the world’s corporations and their host societies that would in fact suspend or reverse the carbon surplus that is destroying our environment.

Without a single unifying world government, each individual government will continue on the paths dictated by their respective economies and the needs of their respective societies.  However, the process of creating a world government would result in a series of devastating, environment destroying wars that would inevitably result in either worldwide anarchy or a worldwide dictatorship.

Neither of these outcomes would result in climate change.  Anarchy always evolves into the strong man  (er, person) rule of a dictator or a monarch.  Once so enthroned, however, the resulting dictatorship would operate in exactly the same manner as the preceding political arrangements since the dictator, in order to remain in power, would be forced to attempt to provide the living standards demanded by the privileged classes, the classes that always prop up a despotic ruler, and the only way they can do that is by continuing to abuse the environment.

This is why a “benevolent dictatorship” always degenerates into an oxymoron.  No matter how honorable the benevolent dictator’s original intentions were, his or her behavior would be constrained by the necessity for mollifying supporters and disempowering the opposition to his or her rule.  In all of human history, we have exactly two exemplars who voluntarily surrendered the reins of power once the crisis had been resolved: Cincinnatus and George Washington.

So, ultimately, the people will get both the government and the ecosystems they deserve.

Well, isn’t that the desired outcome?  Since we all want to reverse climate change (or do we?), then the people will support the corporations that support climate change with their behavior, and the owners of those corporations will support the political party supports those goals, right?

Wrong. We faced that choice in 2000  but, by hook or by crook, mostly crook, the anti-environment party was able to steal the election from the pro-environment party.  When George Bush (aided and abetted by Ralph Nadar) swiped the election from Al Gore, we turned a corner on climate change but we turned in the wrong direction. We elected the Oil Industry’s candidate and bought eight years inaction on the climate crisis.  Barack Obama only had two years – 2009 and 2010 – during which he had the votes in Congress to move the climate change agenda forward, but he chose to use those votes to enact health care reform instead, which was probably the second biggest mistake in the history of the Democratic Party, or the history of the planet for that matter.

Around the world, there are countries that pay lip service to climate change and then, like Brazil, clear-cut the Amazon jungles. The there are countries that don’t even bother to pay lip service to climate concerns.

Take Russia, for example. Russia (which, here, means Vladimir Putin and the oligarchs who support his rule) believes in global climate change…and they are in favor of it.

They are in favor of it in the short run because their economy is dependent on oil. They are in favor of climate change in the long run because they think (wrongly) that this climate change will enable them to open up and exploit the vast frozen regions of Siberia.  There are other examples of this short-sighted policy making in the United States, the United Kingdom and anywhere else where oil and coal are foundations for the local economy.

But what about the people who are, after all, the consumers who keep the corporations in business and the voters who keep the governments looking legitimate. If they raise their voices in  unison, they can force their corporations and their governments to embrace the steps necessary to combat climate change,  right?

Wrong, for several reasons.

The most important reason is that individual consumers lack the financial clout to impose their will upon the corporations they support with their purchasing power. Unfortunately, individual consumers also lack the ability to band together to take concerted economic action, such as the boycott, in order to mould corporate policies because the environmentalists have no social leaders able to focus the attention of the public on the cause.

There is a rather technical reason for this. In the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram dominated public conversation that now controls our collective consciousness , even the most popular pop stars on social media fade away after their fifteen seconds of fame as the focal point of collective consciousness moves on to the next bright shiny story. This happens over and over again with monotonous regularity, with the net effect that our collective attention span has now been shortened to the vanishing point.

Behind that obvious problem, there is the less obvious problem that the ongoing process of corporate consolidation will eventually – and that means soon – leave us with only one major corporation in each industry, which leaves consumers no choice but to purchase what they need from those corporations that make or sell those things.  Amazon (the corporation not the river) is just the most obvious symptom of this consolidation. There are many more. Sears is closing up shop. Payless Shoes has just announced its nationwide going out of business sale. Macy’s is on the ropes but the problem extends far beyond the retail arena. At the other end of the spectrum, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Amazon are buying up every company they can swallow simply to prevent potential competitors from becoming real ones.

Even if these conditions did not exist, there is no such uniformity among the peoples of the earth that would enable us to launch a global climate change movement. In fact, there are vast diversities of opinion and position on climate change. It would be impossible to summarize them all, since new ones are cropping up all the time, but here are the main bodies of opinion about climate change:

  1. Some people don’t believe that climate change is real. They believe that coteries of scientists have made the whole thing up to generate more research funding for themselves. (There may be some of that going on but, while most scientists are usually notoriously competitive, most climate scientists are also amazingly cooperative. The competitive ones would blow the whistle on the fraudulent researchers while the cooperative ones will – and do – band around each other to support the majority belief system about the reality of climate change among themselves.
  2. Others believe that climate change is real, but that there isn’t anything WE can do about it because we are not in control of the governments and corporations that are driving the forces that are causing climate change. (In this case, it depends on what is meant by “WE.” As individuals, despite the political rhetoric to the contrary, we are relatively powerless.)
  3. Collectively, we do not have a clear channel through which we could express our opinions about climate change nor do we have a clear consensus about which courses of action to take to combat climate change.
  4. There are some who believe that it is already too late and that there is no point in locking down the barn door now that the cow is already out on the loose. (This group includes a surprising number of climate scientists who are throwing in their towels and heading for the hills…and they may be right about this.)
  5. There are others who believe the hardships stemming from attempts to mitigate (not to mention reverse) the causes of climate change far outweigh the hardship that are stemming from climate change. (Again, there is truth in this. Draconian measures to control climate change will result in widespread loss of life although not nearly as severe as the death rate from climate change will be.)
  6. Some people believe that they, their children, and their grandchildren will all be dead of natural (meaning anything other than climate change) before climate change causes the collapse of the ecosystems that support the existence of human life on earth. (Also true: despite claims that we will all live longer, healthier lives, the evidence is that we – in the United States at least – are moving in the other direction.)
  7. Other people believe that climate change is a plot by first world countries design to prevent second and third world countries (if there are any such things any more) from rising to first world status by denying them the cheap energy they need to make that transition. There is some truth in this as well. Conspiracy theories aside – because there are no plots involved – most of the strategies proposed to control climate change are also policies that will increase the cost of energy, making harder for second and third world countries to make transitions into first world status.
  8. Many people really do secretly believe that the scientists and engineers (the wizards and sorcerers of the modern age) will come up with magical solutions that will save us from our own stupidity despite the fact that those same scientists are telling us in so many words that there are no such solutions in the offing.
  9. Still others actually believe that there are solutions and that there are organizations working to implement those solutions and therefore there is nothing to worry about. (This is a kind of reverse conspiracy theory, the idea that there are altruistic big-brained scientists and entrepreneurs who are quietly attacking and solving the problems that are causing climate change …also not true.)
  10. Then there are some people who believe that climate change is part of God’s plan, that it is a harbinger of the Apocalypse and perhaps even the proximate cause of the Armageddon for which they so fervently pray on a daily basis.
  11. Then there are some other people out there who are living in the belief that the Apocalypse of global climate change is already upon us. These people are building heavily fortified retreats where they and other like-minded families can live while they ride out the collapse of the world’s ecology. (No, seriously. I’ve met some of them and they are very scary people because they want the climate to collapse so they can reap the rewards from their investment.)
  12. And, finally, there are some people who, like Nero, just want to throw some more shrimp on the grill (if there are either shrimp or barbecues  left by then), pop the tops off brewskies (being careful to recycle the cans)  while they watch Rome burn. (Yes, I know that Nero didn’t really fiddle while Rome burned and that this is a horribly mixed metaphor but I needed a number 12 to round out the dozen.)

The serious sub-text beneath this somewhat flippant summary is that climate change isn’t a scientific problem. It is an economic, social and political problem.  In our severely factionalized society, it is quite impossible to build a consensus for any constructive action, whether it is health care reform, tax reform or climate reform. There are people making vast fortunes off the current status quo but there are also everyday people like you and me whose livelihoods and very lives depend upon the current structure of the economy and who know they will be plowed under should drastic changes be forced upon us…but that’s the only way this is going to happen.

This is the point in the essay where I am supposed to show you the solution that no one else has thought of…but the sad truth is that I am fresh out of solutions. I’ve even run out of the optimism that solutions will be found.  I am therefore stuck with the conclusion that the only way to save the planet is to hire a world dictator to take control of the situation.

Maybe that’s been Putin’s plan all along. Take over the world and fix everything.

On second thought….