Grotesque Greed, Burning Planet and Climate Justice – Two Scenarios

Shit if we do and shit if we don’t. That pretty much sums up the situation the human race finds itself in as Earth’s environment spirals out of control largely due to the pollution created when fossil fuels are burned to power our machines and create electricity. There are calls everywhere for climate justice as we struggle to deal with the damage caused by wildfires, rising sea levels, melting ice caps and crippling droughts.

A Climate Justice Scenario

One way to deal with the emergency is to create a world government with the power to pass – and enforce – laws banning the production and sale of coal, oil and methane. Most people would object to such a heavy-handed approach, but it’s a possibility. What would such a world look like?

No more motor vehicles, planes or ships. No new highways, no new steel or concrete structures, and none of the fertilizers and pesticides the world depends on today to produce the food we humans need to survive. No internet, crypto mining or movies. People walked or rode their bikes if they needed to go somewhere. Horses and oxen would replace tractors in the fields.

Probably half of us would starve and the other half would probably envy them, because life on Earth would become nasty, brutal and short again. For those who revel in memories of the “good old days”, that’s how they were.

The reward would be that the only energy allowed in this brave new world would come from the sun, wind, hydroelectricity or other renewable energy. After a century or two, average global temperatures would decline, seas would stop rising, and ice caps would begin to form again. 10 or 12 generations of humans would carry the burden of transformation.

Is it asking too much to create a sustainable planet where people can live in abundance for millennia to come? There have been several hundred generations of humans. As a percentage, asking a dozen of them to make sacrifices for the greater good would be statistically negligible.

Another Climate Justice Scenario

Do you find this first climate justice scenario appalling? Many of you will, but is that more dreadful than the thought of packing a few intrepid cosmonauts on rockets and blasting off to Mars, leaving behind 8 billion of their fellow human beings to live in some kind of slow-motion funeral pyre? ?

The problem is fossil fuels. Over the past century they have propelled human civilization, but the amount of pollution they have created is staggering. write in The GuardianHamilton Nolan explains the blessing and curse of fossil fuels in a brutally honest (and slightly edited) way.

“It helps to think of capitalism as a robotic scientist, spectacularly good at doing one thing and terribly blind to everything else. Global capitalism is an incredible machine for extracting fossil fuels from our planet, refining them, shipping them to the four corners of the Earth and earning huge sums of money. The hum of this machine, the fuel and money it spits out, has fueled a century of unprecedented production and consumption by Earth’s first nations. Unfortunately, the machine also poisons us all. But one of its extraordinarily advanced functions is to make it nearly impossible to turn it off.

The eye-popping profits reported so far this year by global fossil fuel companies have been extraordinary, largely due to Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine. Last week, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called them “grotesque greed” and called on the nations of the world to tax them and use the money to help the poor and disadvantaged, which no nation has so far indicated any intention to do so. . “It is immoral that oil and gas companies are making record profits from this energy crisis on the backs of the poorest people and communities, at enormous cost to the climate,” he said. Nolan adds his own take on this situation.

“In this we see another key feature of the machine: the fortunes of nations may rise and fall, but the oil companies will always survive and prosper, floating above the chaos of the world like passengers on a private jet, shaking head performatively to all the issues below.

“The price of oil fluctuates, but this short-term volatility masks the certainty of the industry’s long-term success. A recent study showed that over the past 50 years, the oil industry has made profits of over $1 trillion a year, or nearly $3 billion a day. These profits are driven not by a fantasy of free enterprise and perfect competition, but by the exact opposite – cartels, mega-corporations and government regulatory capture, conspiring to create a free market of both competition and at a price that reflects the actual price. cost to the world of the product that is sold.

“The machine doesn’t just extract and sell fossil fuels. It is also concerned with ensuring that the whole world is organized in such a way as to maintain the demand for these fossil fuels. The growth of oil profits even as the reality of climate change burns before our eyes is proof that no crisis, no matter how existential, will be enough to stop this machine naturally. The machine must either be broken by us or it will break us all (emphasis ours).”

Nolan focuses his final comments on capitalism, the engine that drives all industries, including the fossil fuel sector.

“Capitalism is not designed to look at several generations later. He is not designed to sacrifice himself for the greater good. It is designed to maximize profits. Pumping every last barrel of oil on Earth, selling it, taking the money, and building a luxurious spaceship to leave the planet that was destroyed by burning all that gas is a perfectly rational course of action according to the logic of capitalism. As long as there is a trillion dollars a year to be made, the fossil fuel industry will take the money. That’s enough money to build a beautiful villa far, far away from wars, droughts, floods and forest fires caused by fossil fuels.

Illusory benefits

Nolan writes that these benefits are, however, an illusion. The great truth of capitalism is that it is totally dependent on customers. If all your customers are dead, where will your profits come from?

“These profits are illusory. They are plagued by an externality large enough to exceed a trillion dollars a year – the costs that the climate crisis will impose on billions of people who are alive today and on many generations to come. The fact that capitalism is unable to properly price a barrel of oil to account for all the pain it will cause your grandchildren whose home is being wiped out by rising seas is proof that all he idea of ​​an unbiased system of costs and rewards for work and risk is a great sham.

“The fossil fuel industry as a whole is not just another business, providing a service to meet a demand. He is a predatory drug dealer who works every day to keep the world hooked on his toxic product, knowing full well that it will eventually prove fatal. (emphasis added). It fights to keep the population duped by its costs, to keep the political power structure unable to protect the public from its harms, and to keep the supply flowing at full speed despite any human or environmental cost. It’s not something to applaud. It is a problem to be solved. »

Taxing externalities

Elon Musk likes to talk about untaxed externalities. It’s a term economists use to describe the parts of a business transaction that create costs that are passed on to others to pay. The word “tax” confuses people. They think of it in terms of a levy imposed by a government, but economists use the word differently to mean anything that properly belongs to the debit of a ledger.

If a company can convince someone else to pay for health insurance for its employees, it becomes an untaxed externality that inflates the bottom line. So is forcing society as a whole to pay for the destruction of the planet we call home with toxic emissions. Some speak of privatizing profits while making society pay for the economic burden created by economic activity.

“It’s no big mystery how to change this toxic dynamic. Simply putting a price on fossil fuels that accurately reflects their costs – for example, through a carbon tax – would do the trick, over time, as it has quickly become economically impossible to mortgage the health of the future of the planet on a carbon credit card. Better and faster would be simple regulations combined with huge public investments to switch to cleaner energy sources, a la Green New Deal.

“It is folly to assume that a system that was built in part by the corporate power of the energy industry will find a way to rein in that same industry against its will. It is willfully foolish to imagine that electoral politics will be up to the task. This is an issue that, more than most, calls for radicalism. For all of us, it will be necessary to treat the enormous but slow-moving threat of climate change with the deadly seriousness it deserves. .

“So the next time you see young people sitting in a senator’s office or blocking the streets or shouting at Joe Manchin’s yacht, don’t laugh at them. Join them. They will face a bleak future long after all that sweet oil money has been spent.

As Bill McKibben points out, even older people can also be climate justice advocates. Even nuns can do it.

Takeaway meals

George Carlin told us how things really are when he said that America is nothing more than an oil company with an army. This description also applies to many other countries. In the next part of this discussion, we will take a closer look at climate justice and what it means for nations in Africa that have suffered at the hands of the developed world for decades and now want their piece of the pie of climate change benefits. fossil fuels.


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