What if the leaders of the United States — and by leaders I mean the generals in the Pentagon, the corporate executives of the country’s largest enterprises, and the top officials in government — have secretly concluded that while world-wide climate change is indeed going to be catastrophic, the US, or more broadly speaking, North America, is fortuitously situated to come out on top in the resulting global struggle for survival?
I’m not by nature a conspiracy theorist, but this horrifying thought came to me yesterday as I batted away yet another round of ignorant rants from people who insist against all logic that climate change is a gigantic fraud being perpetrated, variously, by the oil companies (who allegedly want to benefit from carbon credit trading), the scientific community (which allegedly is collectively selling out and participating in some world-wide system of omerta in order to get grants), or the world socialist conspiracy (which of course, is trying to destroy capitalism).
What prompted me to this speculation about an American conspiracy of inaction was the seemingly incomprehensible failure of the US — in the face of overwhelming evidence that the Earth is heating up at an accelerating rate, and that we are in danger of soon reaching a point of no return where the process feeds itself — to do anything to reduce either this country’s annual production of more atmospheric CO2, or to promote some broader international agreement to slow the production of greenhouse gases.
It seems insane that this nation’s leaders, corporate and political, would even now still be deliberately refusing to take action to protect the Earth, which of course they and their children and grandchildren will also have to live on, and yet almost to a one they are on the side of the deniers or the delayers. The business leaders for example overwhelmingly provided campaign funding to the Republicans — a party that makes jokes about global warming and openly urges more burning of coal.
Okay, a lot of Republicans are wacky believers in a 6000-year-old world where Adam and Eve hunted dinosaurs and god talked to Moses. But it seems equally or even more insane that people who clearly know better, like President Barack Obama, or most of the Democratic Party leadership in Congress, would resist even minimal efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and would directly work to undermine international efforts at reaching a rigorous treaty on global reduction of carbon emissions.
Unless, that is, you consider that in a dog-eat-dog environment of nations struggling to survive in a world that, as the World Bank’s latest report predicts, could be 4°C hotter (7.2°F) by as early as 2060, with mass starvation in Africa, Asia and South America, flooding of critical river deltas and low-elevation population centers like Shanghai, Bangladesh, Holland, etc., and the loss of most of the world’s fish to an acidified ocean, the US could be sitting pretty, at least relatively speaking. Sure low-lying places like Cape Cod, the Outer Banks, the lower Florida peninsula, New Orleans, and the Rockaways and the Manhattan financial district would be gone, but given this nation’s current wealth and military power, its vast natural resources, and its widely varied climate zones, including Alaska, the U.S. could probably come out ahead in such a survival-of-the-fittest struggle.
Consider that perhaps the current breadbasket region of the midwest might become a dust-bowl. Okay, nasty, but the evidence so far suggests that at least for the next hundred years, all the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and other land ice in northern Canada, will be impacting the nation’s northeast by having all that new fresh water pushing the Gulf Stream out to sea (a Gulf Stream that we are told will also be weakening dramatically), actually making the northeast cooler and wetter during that period. That is to say, states from Ohio to Maine, and south to perhaps Virginia or North Carolina, could become better places to grow crops, at least until all the ice up north is gone. Arizona and Florida would be hell for retirees, but they could retire elsewhere. Deep wells could draw on prehistoric aquifers, as farmers in Texas and Oklahoma have done for years, which could compensate for epic climate-change-caused droughts. So what if this would destroy the aquifers eventually? Nobody thinks a century ahead anyhow.
Meanwhile, while the US would adapt fairly handily to the global catastrophe, most of the rest of the world would become a pure hell, with nations desperately battling nations over dwindling water supplies, and famine killing people not by the tens of thousands as today, but by the millions, or perhaps even billions. Think of China and India, our biggest competitors in global markets these days. With their relative poverty, their massive populations, mostly concentrated along low-lying coastal areas, they will be toast in a 4°C hotter world.
I’m sorry to say it, but I don’t have a hard time imagining most of our ruling elite looking at this scenario and thinking, “Hey! That could work out well for us! With huge oceans separating us from the desperate masses in Asia and Africa, and only a relatively small desert border to protect to our south, and with a small, weak and friendly nation to the north, we could come out of this with the world at our feet, ripe for the picking.” What’s a mass extinction event that wipes out half of all living species to such people? What’s it matter to them if the teeming oceans lose their food chain and become filled with nothing but jellyfish? What’s it matter of hundreds of millions of poor people starve to death, or if nations in Africa or Asia blow each other up? If they, the US and their companies, can come out of this rubble largely intact, and with the same elites still in charge, where’s the downside?
I haven’t looked closely at the science of this, but I think I’m correct in saying that the US is probably better situated than most other countries to survive a major global warming event. Of course, even in the US, climate change of this scale would be massively destructive and destabilizing, and would cause huge social and political upheaval. This may explain why we keep reading about the Department of Homeland Security ordering huge quantities of dumdum bullets (even for places like Social Security Administration field offices!) and building mass detention centers, or about Congress continuing to pass ever more intrusive and invasive police state-type legislation, while militarizing local police.
I’m not suggesting that these leaders would be contemplating just walling off the US, and allowing us all to continue on as the free society that we have grown used to over the last few hundred years, while the rest of the world goes through its death throes, horrendous and unacceptable as that would be. Rather, I’m speculating that the elites may be contemplating a way that they, the ruling class, not we as Americans, could, by doing nothing to stop climate change, come out on top as a result of it.
I realize this is conspiracy thinking, and that as such it is rather far-fetched, and yet what troubles me is that it’s hard to imagine a alternative explanation for the years of complete inaction on combating global warming, and the deliberate undermining of any sort of international accord which America has engaged in for the past decade.
Our leaders, political and corporate, may be puerile, egocentric greed-heads, but they are not stupid. They surely for the most part recognize that the Earth is heating up and heading at full speed towards ecological, social and political disaster. How else to explain, then, their astonishing unwillingness to take action?
Dave Lindorff is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He lives in Philadelphia.