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Connecting Our Communities

Action on climate change is pre-empted by a campaign of inaction


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The sparsely attended climate strike in Elmira that kicked off Global Climate Week (September 20-28) may not have expressed the goal of the movement, but there’s more on the go this week, including another strike in Waterloo tomorrow (Friday).

The Elmira event September 20, rather oddly scheduled to start at the high school despite the PD day, was not packed with large numbers of students eager to cut class for a good cause. Instead, a handful of people made their way from EDSS to the Woolwich Township hall. It was perhaps indicative of the public’s acceptance that a warming planet has become a veritable crisis. A combination of “the unthinkable can’t happen,” “they’ll look after it” and concerted propaganda effort by corporate vultures has helped to downplay any sense of urgency.

Catastrophic scenarios of ecological and social collapse are part of the climate change narrative. The message hasn’t sunk in, though we have seen municipalities such as Woolwich declare climate emergencies.

Those advocating measures to mitigate climate change today paint a pay-me-now-or-pay-me-later picture: either we spend time and money combating rising global temperatures, or we spend what’s likely to be a whole lot more down the road dealing with more severe weather-related disasters and applying technological fixes, if we come up with any.

While we’re cautioned against extrapolating today’s weather with climate issues, it’s easy to see the recent spate of hurricanes and the resultant toll, human and financial, as a harbinger of things to come.

The worst-case scenarios talk of impending doom should global temperatures reach two degrees above the pre-industrial average, a course that may be irreversible at this point. We’re on a pace for that somewhere around mid-century.

It’s a rather apocalyptic view, suggesting we might be on the road to our own demise in relatively short order due to floods, famine and disease that follow in the wake of a climate change tipping point. And that doesn’t include the wars likely to come over water and other resources, not to mention violently dealing with migrants.

The dire consequences we may experience over the next century are an extension of the much more limited crises we’ve seen already.

Flooding, soaring temperatures and forest fires abound. We tend to take such stories in isolation, however, failing to connect the dots to form a (big) picture of trouble on a planetary scale. Well, even more than failing, we’re determined not to connect to those dots. And those content with the status quo – largely those profiting thereby – have absolutely no interest in drawing the perils to our attention.

The disregard for the consequences of the changes – consciously ignored in order to focus on unsustainable consumption – is problematic whether or not you believe what man does is having any impact on the climate. Extreme weather, flooding, landslides and forest fires will wreak havoc nonetheless. The same principle applies to all forms of pollution, loss of fresh water, habitat destruction, degradation of arable land and a host of other someday-catastrophic ills that we’d rather not dwell on just now.

And the powers that be – including politicians paying nothing but lip-service to the issues – are quite happy to do nothing, keeping the public distracted and divided. Those calling the shots won’t do anything different until the public forces them to – and protests aren’t likely going to change a thing, suggest writer Chris Hedges, who advocates revolutionary action, though non-violent in keeping with his own outlook.

“Voting, lobbying, petitioning and protesting to induce the ruling elites to respond rationally to the climate catastrophe have proved no more effective than scrofula victims’ appeals to Henry VIII to cure them with a royal touch. The familiar tactics employed over the past few decades by environmentalists have been spectacular failures,” he writes this week, noting the ruling elites and the corporations they serve are the principal obstacles to change.

“The ruling elites, trained in business schools and managerial programs, are not equipped to confront the existential problems caused by climate catastrophe. They are trained to maintain, no matter the cost, the systems of global capitalism. They are systems managers. They lack the intellectual capacity and imagination to search for solutions outside the narrow parameters of global capitalism.”

For now, we’ve got nothing but talk. But does going on and on about climate change help or hinder the cause?

I think people have tuned out. Our attention spans being what they are, we’ve moved on. Oh, we occasionally take passing note of some conference or summit, where politicians make nice speeches about the fate of our planet and what needs to be done. As with many other issues, we suppose that all the talk leads to action, assuming the inevitable decline in news coverage means the problem has gone away.

And, as is always the case, short-term thinking will dominate. Politicians worried about re-election won’t do anything that seems expensive or puts national interests at an apparent disadvantage. We simply do not believe politicians and bureaucrats capable of creating a system that isn’t corrupt, ineffective and likely to waste money. History has shown us such agreements are rarely to the benefit of average citizens.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t be making our own efforts to combat climate change. By our very lifestyles, we’re complicit in the downward spiral.

Perhaps the largest barrier to any major change, however, is human nature: we’re quite content with our lives today, and see no need to change that for some potential long-term benefit, one that’s unlikely to materialize in our lifetimes.

Cost estimates tied to the kind of emission reductions deemed necessary to offset the worst of climate change run into the hundreds of billions. Coupled to the lifestyle changes and potential economic upheaval, the costs seem too onerous. If the worst does happen, we’re going to be spending far more to deal with the damage and mitigation factors … but that’s something that may happen in the future.

Left to its own devices, the planet will deal with the changes – manmade or otherwise. Over time, plants and animals adapt to the new environment. That has sometimes meant mass species die-offs, but that doesn’t mean we want to be one of those. Change starts with a realistic take on the problem.

“We have to let go of our relentless positivism, our absurd mania for hope, our naive belief that with grit and determination we can solve all problems. We have to face the bleakness before us,” writes Hedges.

“We must embrace a new radicalism. We must carry out sustained civil disobedience to disrupt the machinery of exploitation, even as we prepare for the inevitable dislocations and catastrophes ahead. We must alter our lifestyles and consumption to cut our personal carbon footprints. And we must organize to replace existing structures of power with ones capable of coping with the crisis before us.”

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