Sunday, November 27, 2011

the plot thickens

The Durban Climate Conference (COP-17) kicks off Monday.  Two weeks ago, the Working Groups on Physical Science and on Impacts, Adaptation & Vulnerability gathered at the 34th session of the IPCC in Kampala.  Last week, they released a joint statement.

Key findings about the near future are 1. there will be more extreme weather; 2. heavy rains will likely increase in many places; 3. storms will likely grow stronger; 4. droughts will intensify (medium confidence); 5. coastal high water levels will very likely get higher; 6.  avalanches, mudslides, mountain floods will become common (high confidence).

Facts at present are 1. climate-related economic loss has increased; 2. climate-related economic loss is worst in rich countries; 3. climate-related fatalities are worst in poor countries. In sum, "interactions among climate change mitigation, adaptation, and disaster risk management may have a major influence on resilient and sustainable pathways."

On the eve of Durban word got out, embarrassing, really, that the big economies already decided that dealing with climate change costs too much, so they won't do anything about it.  Yes, it costs more to deal with it later, but that's OK, that's economic rationality.  Adam Smith tells us that children should pay for the sins of their fathers, and if they can't, screw them.  We have engineering tools for the sustainable switchover at our disposal (wind, solar, nuclear, high speed rail, subways, bicycles, carbon scrubbers, smart houses, walkable cities, and so on), but making use of these tools is not as profitable as sticking to the status quo.  (Enlightening is NYT's hand-wringing take on bullet trains in California.)  This dissing of Durban made UNEP exec Achim Steiner mad.  And so he talked back:
Those countries that are currently talking about deferring an agreement [to come into force] in 2020 are essentially saying we are taking you from high risk to very high risk in terms of the effects of global warming.  This is a choice -- a political choice.  Our role, working with the scientific community, is to bring to the attention of the global public that this is the risk that policymakers and governments will expose us to.
In this way the plot thickens.  Things speed up and affairs simplify.  The acceleration is due to reality denial by power elites.  Collective conduct has become unsustainable, and unsustainability has consequences that sharpen the more we deny this.  The simplification is due to a thickening of connections that, not that long ago, would have looked like leftist paranoia.  The funny thing is that it does not matter anymore whether we read the plot as 'science versus disenlightenment,' 'nature versus capitalism,' 'climate versus corporation,' or 'people versus oligarchs'--these are all equally legitimate ways of decoding the fundamental tension.

The American Disenlightenment is in full push-back mode against values and facts.  Sustainability?  Forget about it.  Climate change?  Not in my world.   Economic justice?  Over my dead body.  Bill Scher wrote on Alternet,
What am I thankful for this year?  I am thankful the conservative movement has stopped trying to pretend to be something that they are not.  Instead of masquerading as 'compassionate conservatives' who want 'clear skies,' 'personal retirement accounts,' 'protect Medicare' and 'tax relief' for all, today's conservative lust lays it on the table: Tax the poor.  Deregulate the rich.  Drill Baby Drill.  Filibuster the jobs bills.  And to hell with Social Security and Medicare.
The push-back is the Corporate Thing To Do.  Twenty years ago a wave of democracy swept the globe.  Today a wave of corporate power tries to sweep away democracy everywhere we look--whether that's Durban, Tahiri Square, Zuccotti Park, or UC Davis.  Strange things thus happen.  Banks (!) decide the fate of nations, in Greece and elsewhere.  Corporations (!) decide what is law and what is to be done, in Tallahassee and elsewhere.  The day of the oligarchy dawns.  There are so many ways to illustrate this, that it gets actually boring to blog about, but heck, here we go: e.g. how five toxic energy companies control US politics (Massey, Koch, BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron); how it isn't about the 'one percent,' but rather about the 0.1 percent.  Capitalism punks governments to act against their societies.  The pattern is local and global.  On the national level, science-averse Republicans have once again blocked the establishment of a National Climate Service.   

And that's where we are now.  Scientific information, people power, and environmental interests all head to one pole.  Economic rationality, corporate might, conservative politicians gravitate to another pole.  The polarization is stark: disenlightenment is the ideology of predatory capitalism.  Corporate power replaces democratic governance with oligarchic profiteering.  And scientific consensus is unanimous: we fight corporate disenlightenment; we embrace the paradigm shift; we embark on civil evolution.

For if we don't, we'll have only sixty-one months left.

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