Time’s up, or so planet earth seems to be telling humanity. Extreme weather conditions around the globe, including rising temperatures, droughts, crop failures, melting sea ice, rising sea levels, disappearing glaciers and the loss of plant and animal species all point in only one direction. The tipping point towards the sixth great extinction is taking place right now.
It is clear that these problems are all human made. Rising carbon dioxide levels caused by fossil fuel emissions are creating a series of catastrophes in ecosystems around the world. The processes are clear to anyone who pays attention.
Two large craters, one more than 200 feet in diameter, were recently discovered in the remote Yamal peninsula of northern Russia. In an extreme case of irony, Yamal is said to mean “end of the world” in the local Nenets language. Scientists have concluded that the holes were formed when a mixture of salt, water and natural methane gas exploded underground.
They theorize that rising temperatures made the permafrost unstable and released methane, the key ingredient in the explosions. A temperature rise of only two degrees centigrade is enough to make permafrost thaw and begin a chain of terrible events.
All of the bad news is relevant as the United Nations prepares to host a Climate Summit on September 23, 2014 in New York. Past climate conferences haven’t provided much in the way of relief, as the United States and other industrialized nations subverted the 2009 Copenhagen climate accords.
The supposedly environmentalist president Barack Obama and his European cohorts forced an agreement that allowed a two degrees increase in temperature. This seemingly small amount will kill humans and other species and brought the giant holes to Siberia and now more dangerously, methane from the sea. Climatologist Jason Box recently made this pithy comment on Twitter. “If even a small fraction of Arctic sea floor carbon is released to the atmosphere, we’re f’d.”
As the situation is dire, so must the solutions be truly radical. The free for all of capitalism is deadly in so many ways as financial collapse, exploitation and wars bring misery to millions of people. Money is the problem and not individual decision making. We may feel useful when recycling trash or driving hybrid vehicles but these are bandages when the world needs major surgery.
“Green capitalism” is doomed because capitalism can’t be green. The imperative to maximize profits is in direct conflict with environmental and human sustainability. The profit motive must be eliminated in favor of managed economies that limit growth, fairly distribute resources, regulate the polluting industries and activities, and end the gross inequalities of this gilded age.
Money is the elephant in the climate change room. Corporations are beholden to no one but themselves, only claiming to be like human beings when they really want to get their way with governments and citizens around the world. “Corporate personhood” is a one way street and everything from income inequality to planetary destruction is the proof.
Recently residents of Toledo, Ohio and southeast Michigan literally had no water to drink for three days. A combination of sewage, live stock manure, and fertilizer run-off create algae blooms which spread more rapidly because of rising temperatures. If the amount of algae grows enough it contaminates drinking water from lake Erie.
The causes of this recurring problem are well known but the obvious solution of regulating the businesses responsible for the problems doesn’t happen and the inaction is a direct result of corporate power flexing political muscle.
The Fertilizer Institute is the industry lobby which makes sure that neither federal nor local regulators restrict the use of fertilizers which deprived 500,000 people of drinkable water. Acquiescence to corporate interest makes life itself untenable.
Unfortunately, the elites will not suffer in the collapse as much as the rest of us will. Poor Detroit residents live with the threat of a privatization plan which begins with the loss of access to water, while golf courses and publicly financed stadiums owe the city $30 million in unpaid water bills without facing any loss of this resource.
On the very same day that struggling people were forced to accept pension cuts, the wealthy owners of the Detroit Red Wings hockey team unveiled plans for a publicly financed stadium and said nothing about paying the overdue water bill at Joe Louis arena.
The 1% will make the rest of us suffer slowly before suffering at all themselves. They will still get plenty of water, or energy, or land or whatever the rest of us lack. The end will not come as Hollywood tells us, with a sudden cataclysm. It is moving surely but slowly enough to keep some people safe while others suffer.
The People’s Climate March scheduled to take place on September 21 in New York cannot be just a feel good precursor to the United Nations meeting. It must have as part of its agenda a critique of the world financial system.
The criminals who must be exposed aren’t just in New York and London either. India and China poison the air and their citizens in a mad dash to catch up with the other industrial polluters of the world. There are many villains in this story but there is only one important point. Maintaining the status quo means the end of life on the planet. The 1% will limit their exposure for a time but eventually the end will come for them too.
Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at