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For most countries, to be poor now is to have been rich before it mattered, like Bolivia or the Congo, or rich when it mattered, like Venezuela and Iraq. Literally torn apart for their timber, ore, labor, or spot on the map by resource-poor or depleted, or simply-gluttonous, rich ones.
Terrain, climate, or sensitive agriculture impoverish the rest, it turns out, the same way.
We know The richest 10% of the world’s population produce half the CO2 emissions, while the poorest half produce just 10%. All but the Koch-funded researchers know that temperatures will rise between 1.5 and 5.9 degrees by 2100 as result. We know also that it hurts poor countries more than rich ones. How? A new study from the University of Melbourne tracks what a 4ºC rise would do to GDP of each country.
Mind, we don’t know that we’ll hit +4 degrees. But we know from UN documents we’re not meeting our goals to prevent it, and the under +2 range is near to parting the discussion. And we know maintaining current emissions puts us between a 3.6 and 5.9 increase by the end of this century.
We know also that America was the biggest problem even before Trump, and now we got him. (US emissions per head are over 2X that of China and 10X that of India, the 2nd and 3rd biggest polluters.) And we know if there’s war, we’ll exempt ourselves, needed or not (though of course not), from climate matters, and likely censor discussing it, besides.
Worse still, we see only one road forward. As Marx put it, ‘all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil is progress towards ruining the sources of that fertility’. Yet we cling to the idea that high productivity will produce a cure for the detriments of high-production. -A useful paradox for not hitting our reduction goals.
Note also, rising GDPs are poor -if not fraudulent- indicators of civic health, since they count, but don’t track, capital. (For instance, the spike in illegal immigration from Mexico under NAFTA coupled with a spike in their GDP.) Yet falling GDPs are useful, since, if even the capitalists are feeling it, it means they’ve already off-loaded what misfortune they can on the middle-class and poor. In particular, since taxes are based on GDP, social welfares are often the first casualties, with (public) infrastructures next in line.
So, for examples, according to the study at +4ºC India’s GDP would drop by 14% per year, Nicaragua’s 17%, Indonesia’s 19%, and the Philippines 20%. Losses for much of Africa range from 18 to over 26% of annual GDP.
For perspective- global GDP fell an average 15% per year in the Great Depression (1929-33), and even the richest states were paralyzed, fearing revolution, and sliding toward war. Last year Venezuela GDP dropped 12%, well below what’s projected throughout the tropics. It caused, in UN terms, an ‘immigration crisis’. The US, if not the UN so far, judges it a ‘humanitarian crisis’. Whether it is or not, it’s perhaps as important to note the US can’t help exacerbating it. -A harder factor to quantify than falling GDP, but a factor in any foreseeable case. ( States aren’t allowed to simply fail under global-capitalism. First the capitalists, and sometimes their bombs, must descend on them.)
In short, the study predicts the loss in GDP will deny states sufficient revenue to adapt, hence losses will recur until the states fail. If we fear demagogues, a mere 3.8% drop in America’s GDP following the 2009 banking scandal helped us scrape bottom and find Trump. Similar figures in Hungary and Italy. Between 1918 and 1929 Germany’s GDP actually grew, but at a much slower annual 1.2%, and Hitler got their ear.
More pressing still, current estimates figure there are 68.5 million refugees wandering the globe. The backlash has ended more than one democracy, drawn battle lines in others, including the US, and now threatens the EU. A 4º rise in temperature could yield another 2-billion refugees. 30X as many as haunt us today. In response to the record number of refugees, Trump just lowered the cap we’ll accept to 30,000 -less than ½ of 1% of the total. Us bombs have flattened more homes than that this year. So we’re already running in two directions.
Whatever their number, refugees are as inevitable as heat. But unlike heat, capitalism has the will-power to confront them. Whereas beforehand capitalist-states had welcomed or discouraged the flow of both wealth and populations, not always in equal part, but one in relation to the other. Now, as if prescient of its own horror, Neoliberalism -and Trumpian Neo-illiberalism- seem bent on decoupling the two, allowing capital to go where it pleases without penalty, and without human baggage or obligations.
Without and within borders. As one might guess, ‘climate change also tends to increase preexisting inequality in the United States’, transferring wealth and productivity from Southern, Central, and Mid-Atlantic regions toward the Northeast and Pacific Northwest. Ironically, life will become harder to bear for the populations siphoned south at the beginning of the neoliberal era by air-conditioning, cheap gas, and right to work laws. Then, particularly across the ‘Rust Belt’, divestment led to collapse and what amounts to Third World conditions without the hot weather. But no one tied to business or law saw it otherwise than the path cut by ‘state’s rights’ and a rational market-god. And likely no one will this round
In explaining America’s poverty crisis, UN Rapporteur on Human Rights, Philip Alston pointed to how ‘states’ rights’ stood in the way of most municipal and civic reforms. The same is true of climate issues, since most of the initiative is at the city or community level. However, it’s state charters that allow corporations to operate, and on what terms. -My point being, it’s one example of how liberalism’s modular structure helps it duck reform, rather than invite it -as its mythology portrays. Which makes it bad for harnessing emissions.
The ‘Greed is Good’ principle, even if its out of fashion now, produced our current, neoliberal system, as well as its Frankenstein monster, Trump. It recognized that the best way to avoid cleaning up your messes, is to make it law that you don’t have to. That had been the point of a joint-stock company. But better still, make it doctrine, in case the laws change. Then you can ignore the law, like a sort of moral objection, Greed being God, instead.
For instance, fossil fuel companies have figured climate change for years, but hid it. We don’t talk about the fossil fuel companies -much less try them- as premeditated murderers, but rather accept them as market fundamentalists. I doubt it’s coincidence that both the cover-up and the moves to deregulate capital and dismantle the welfare state occurred at that same time. It’s not nonsense that anti-government forces like the Kochs spend more zombifying the state than it costs to run it.
Needless to say, abandoning state responsibilities invites unrest, and thus, counter to their doctrine, ‘libertarians’ spend copiously on prisons, arms, surveilance, and jack-booted policing. Still, the violent horrors of liberal-capitalism shouldn’t divert us from the peaceful ones. Another recent study caught my eye as illustrative of how the progressive goals of capitalism are as destructive as the imperial kind. It’s on the topic of peace in Columbia, and identifies growing risks to the Earth’s second most biodiverse country.
Because FARC tended to inhabit rural and forested areas, others moved to the cities. As a result, large forested areas remained unharmed during the war. The forests thrived, and even reclaimed abandoned farms. Now more stable socio-political conditions are drawing investment. Forestry, mining, and others are exploiting its 51,000 known species with about as much ecological foresight as one applies in battle. Not at all surprising since, as Marx decoded more than a century ago, stability is the enemy of profit.
Consider, humans gobble nearly twice per annum what the Earth can produce. ‘Earth Overshoot Day’, charts when we start gnawing at our foundations. August 1st this year. Americans, we know, are less than 5% of the global population but consume 20% of its food while supplying only 10%. If the world adopted our habits it would take 5 years to remake what’s consumed next year.
Unfortunately, however, the US has nothing to offer the world, if not the chance of American-style gluttony. That is to say, about another 80 years at most of high before overdosing. In Trump’s case, its the only thing the US can deny the world until they succumb to our second-hand smoke. This earns him and his fools their ‘deplorable’ rating. Deplorable, because they cling to their irrational precepts. But progressive capitalists do too.
Asking people to use less when you mean more is the schizophrenia behind capitalist reform. It’s no surprise it boggled poor Trump. Still, think, we wouldn’t have to indulge the ecocidal clown if ecocide, itself weren’t agreeable to (even progressive) capitalism. He’s there because the ‘Anonymous’ patients run the asylum. It’s possible in 2 or 6 years they’ll patch some of his wreckage. But there’s little evidence they’ll mend their own.
That leaves it to us. Any worthwhile effort is going to deprive the rich of their fun. And anyone doing it is going to be called a radical. But anyone not should rightly be called an addict and a killer.
It’s hard to think in an asylum. Hard to maneuver. But we must. We can’t live with them.