Are cli­mate ob­struc­tion­ists guilty of crimes against hu­man­ity?

The Morning Call - - TOWN SQUARE -

Alarm­ing re­ports from a wide va­ri­ety of sci­ence-based and in­ter­na­tional stud­ies keep com­ing, warn­ing us of dis­as­ters that lie ahead if the world fails to make mas­sive cuts in green­house gas emis­sions.

Again and again, we are con­fronted by the dam­age that is re­sult­ing from cli­mate change: more in­tense and fre­quent ex­treme weather events such as hur­ri­canes, floods, droughts, for­est fires and heat waves; ris­ing sea lev­els that threat- en the homes, lives and liveli­hoods of mil­lions of peo­ple; and melt­ing ice caps and per­mafrost, among oth­ers.

The con­sen­sus among sci­ence-based re­ports is that the path ahead is far worse: wide­spread food and wa­ter scarcity, in­creased ex­po­sure to dis­eases and al­ler­gic ill­nesses, eco­nomic de­cline, and dam­age to the “in­fra­struc­ture, ecosys­tems, and so­cial sys­tems that pro­vide es­sen­tial ben­e­fits to com­mu­ni­ties.”

As Noam Chom­sky put it, “To de­scribe th­ese chal­lenges as ‘ex­tremely se­vere’ would be an er­ror. The phrase does not cap­ture the enor­mity of the kinds of chal­lenges that lie ahead….”

Rec­og­niz­ing this, on Sept. 20, mil­lions of peo­ple around the world en­gaged in a “Cli­mate Strike,” the largest cli­mate protest in his­tory.

On Sept. 22, the Sci­ence Ad­vi­sory Group to the U.N. Cli­mate Ac­tion Sum­mit re­leased its grim “syn­the­sis of lat­est cli­mate change sci­en­tific in­for­ma­tion,” warn­ing that cur­rent ef­forts to lower global emis­sions need to be “roughly tripled to be aligned with the 2-de­gree Cel­sius goal and in­creased five­fold to align with the 1.5-de­gree Cel­sius goal” adopted by the 2016 Paris



On Sept. 23, the U.N. Cli­mate Ac­tion Sum­mit was ad­dressed by the young Swedish ac­tivist, Greta Thun­berg, who de­clared in a trem­bling voice, “We are in the be­gin­ning of a mass ex­tinc­tion. And all you can talk about is money and fairy­tales of eter­nal eco­nomic growth. How dare you!”

De­spite the dire ur­gency for ac­tion, the Cli­mate Ac­tion Sum­mit pro­duced only mod­est pledges from a mi­nor­ity of na­tions. Not sur­pris­ingly, the United States was silent. Pres­i­dent Trump did not par­tic­i­pate in the sum­mit, in­stead declar­ing at a sep­a­rate U.N. gath­er­ing, “The fu­ture does not be­long to glob­al­ists. The fu­ture be­longs to pa­tri­ots. The fu­ture be­longs to sovereign and in­de­pen­dent na­tions.”

There are two fun­da­men­tal is­sues here.

First, most na­tions of the world, many states and lo­cal­i­ties within the United States, even some cor­po­ra­tions and the U.S. mil­i­tary, now rec­og­nize that we all face a pro­found global chal­lenge. While sev­eral gov­ern­ments have taken pre­lim­i­nary steps to­ward al­ter­ing their emis­sions, and even more have pledged to do so, th­ese steps re­main woe­fully in­ad­e­quate if the world is to avoid cat­a­clysmic out­comes.

The vast ma­jor­ity of green­house gas emis­sions are pro­duced by the world’s de­vel­oped cap­i­tal­ist economies, with China and the U.S. lead­ing the way. By con­trast, peo­ple in na­tions that have the least im­pact on cli­mate change are most vul­ner­a­ble to the worst of its ef­fects. This cli­mate in­jus­tice is only one man­i­fes­ta­tion of the inequaliti­es and in­jus­tices built into the cap­i­tal­ist pow­ers’ im­pe­rial ex­ploita­tion of the “un­der-de­vel­oped” world.

Each of the cap­i­tal­ist pow­ers, in turn, is loathe to weaken its com­pet­i­tive po­si­tion the other cap­i­tal­ist economies. Pub­lic pol­icy in th­ese na­tions is dom­i­nated by the in­ter­ests of cor­po­ra­tions and the wealthy — nowhere more than in the U.S.

This is the way cap­i­tal­ism works, which sug­gests how pro­found and sys­temic the changes will have to be if the world is to avoid catas­tro­phe.

Sec­ond, the United States gov­ern­ment, led by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and its fos­sil-fuel pro­duc­ing al­lies, not only has done noth­ing to ame­lio­rate cli­mate change, it is bla­tantly ac­cel­er­at­ing the race to de­struc­tion.

Among his brazen at­tempts to flout the in­ter­na­tional sci­en­tific con­sen­sus, Trump has pledged to with­draw the U.S. from the Paris Agree­ment; he pro­moted fos­sil fuel in­ter­ests at the 2017 cli­mate talks; he cam­paigned to end the “war on coal,” and sub­se­quently his ad­min­is­tra­tion has moved to re­lax en­vi­ron­men­tal coal plant emis­sions while weak­en­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s abil­ity to set na­tional stan­dards. The ad­min­is­tra­tion re­moved re­stric­tions on the leak­age of meth­ane from the na­tion’s oil and gas wells; it has taken steps to en­cour­age coastal and Arc­tic oil drilling and ex­plo­ration; and Trump an­nounced he was re­vok­ing Cal­i­for­nia’s author­ity un­der the Clean Air Act to en­force au­to­mo­bile emis­sions stan­dards tougher than those of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

By it­self, cli­mate change has caused 150,000 deaths each year (ac­cord­ing to find­ings of a team of health and cli­mate sci­en­tists from the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion and the Uni­ver­sity of Wis­con­sin at Madi­son). That num­ber could dou­ble in a decade, and has con­trib­uted to 5 mil­lion hu­man ill­nesses ev­ery year. That would seem to sug­gest that those po­lit­i­cal ac­tors and fos­sil fuel pro­duc­ers who re­sist the nec­es­sary changes are guilty of crimes against hu­man­ity.

vis a vis Ted Mor­gan is emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Le­high Uni­ver­sity. He can be con­tacted at [email protected]­


Swedish teenage cli­mate ac­tivist Greta Thun­berg speaks as she takes part dur­ing the Cli­mate Strike on Sept. 20 in New York. Tens of thou­sands of protesters joined ral­lies on Fri­day as a day of world­wide demon­stra­tions call­ing for ac­tion against cli­mate change be­gan ahead of a U.N. sum­mit in New York.

Ted Mor­gan

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