The Meaning of Climate Change: A World Revolution for a Livable Future

James River flooding South Dakota, 2020. Courtesy NASA.

Is it possible President Joe Biden and the oil and gas companies can work out a new deal on climate? But how could Biden satisfy his Green Transition while pleasing the petroleum industry?

The crimes of the oil, gas, and coal companies

First of all, the fossil-fuel industry is responsible for setting the Earth on fire. It has been causing climate change for a century-and-a-half. Moreover, this industry has been undermining the country’s and the world’s green energy efforts for decades. It has the audacity to deny climate change.

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times had this to say about the politics of the fossil-fuels industry:

“The oil and gas companies have so far invested trivial amounts of financial capital in clean energy or carbon capture and zero political capital to enable and accelerate the clean energy transition. They have long endorsed a carbon tax, knowing it has a snowball’s chance in hell of being embraced by either party. And they were all AWOL in arguing for the president’s clean energy platform, which is full of new clean energy job opportunities and would put America back in the lead of the next great global industry.”

Carbon capture is an industry slogan. Only trees and forests and land under traditional and organic farming, and undisturbed nature capture carbon. Machines don’t.

Nevertheless, the carbon industry controls G.O.P. Biden should stop talking to the carbon Republicans and the Saudis. He should transform the fossil-fuels industry into a zero carbon emissions partner for green energy and national safety from the climate monster it has fed for more than a century. The industry has valuable talent which could be put to good use.

The industry and Biden must be aware UN scientists have been warning we have barely this decade to eliminate about 50 percent of fossil fuels in order to avoid the catastrophic consequences of a runaway climate reaction.

This means Biden cannot be too diplomatic or gentle to the petroleum, natural gas, and coal companies. He must tell them their extraction and burning of gas, oil, and coal are over. No exceptions. National security and the security and health of the planet are at stake. They demand fossil-fuel companies work on green energy or be shut down with all their assets confiscated and the executives be thrown to prison for their past crimes of endangering humans and the Earth.

Assuming such presidential talk and power would add the fossil-fuel industry on the side of green energy, what does one do about the vast number of civilian and military cars and trucks and airplanes and tractors and fishing factory ships, as well as countless other machines fueled by petroleum?

These machines will be useless without petroleum, which means human activities, including war, industrial fishing, and factory agriculture, will have to come to an end until and when green energy can fuel them or alternatives. Fortunately, two-thirds of food comes from peasants who are not addicted to chemicals and factories. The urgent problem will be to assist organic farmers feed the country without the weapons of the factory model of industrialized agriculture.

Ecumenical revolution

So, in a sense, responding to climate change means a vast global revolution. The planet will be mostly quiet during the transition. But are humans and their largely undemocratic leaders capable of putting brakes to their superstitious religious beliefs, procreation, gross inequalities, and selfish economic and political interests to embrace green energy and, thus, start a new civilization?

Billionaires and companies and states that became wealthy because of free natural resources (fossil-fuels) must pay back their ill-gotten gains. They and the states must fund the transition to green energy. In other words, the climate dragon demands humans work together as a family. Forget capitalism and state socialism for a moment.

The few Greeks in the battle of Salamis in 480 BCE won over the vast numbers of Persians because they were united and determined to live free or die.

United we win

It’s the same thing now. Are we ready to live free of fear and destruction?

Humans have foolishly endangered their home in this beautiful Earth. Like clueless barbarians, they dived into the petroleum, gas, and coal of the nineteenth century. They equated the machines that enabled them to mine coal, gas, and oil to science and modernity and progress. Like religious missionaries, they transformed an entire planet to their oil whims. Oil states and corporate managers earned mythical profits from burning the stuff they stumbled upon. Those “resources” were hidden treasures in the bowels of the Earth.

For several decades, climate scientists have been tying the climate monster to the burning of fossil-fuels. They are screaming climate chaos is anthropogenic.

We see the horrors of inaction and business as usual: massive forest fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, extensive draughts, less drinking water, decline in crop productivity, the melting of ice, rising see levels, and the acceleration of extinction in the natural world.

Nature and wild animals and plants keep the Earth and us alive. They are not alien forces. They form complex ecological systems giving us clean breathable air, clean drinking water and healthy topsoil for growing out food. So, nature is life and science and beauty. We can’t afford to harm it without harming ourselves.

I cringe when I see factory fishing boats scooping up everything. My blood boils facing this and other barbaric practices like animal factories and growing crops by drenching them with carcinogens and neurotoxins must cease.

The punishing blows of climate change

As I write this essay, July 28, 2022, a flash flood almost drowned part of Kentucky: The governor of the state, Andy Beshear, announced three deaths and others “missing or stranded on rooftops.” The governor described the flood as “one of the worst, most devastating flooding events in state history… he told state residents to prepare for loss of life as a result of flooding that inundated homes and turned roads and highways into rushing rivers.”

The Kentucky flush flood is not unusual.

Other forms of climate violence are constantly wounding the Earth. For example, heat waves have been afflicting the northern hemisphere. These heat waves are harming the oceans, too. European scientists report that wildlife in the Mediterranean suffers the equivalent of marine wildfires.

Even the very foundation of marine life, the Plankton, is risking death. European scientists studying Plankton are extremely concerned with its dramatic decline, almost at levels of 95 percent in some regions of the oceans. They theorize that the causes of Plankton decline include increasing carbon dioxide in the oceans and water pollution by synthetic chemicals, plastics, cosmetics, sunscreen, drugs and agricultural pesticides and fertilizers.

Robert Hunziker, a writer from Los Angeles, read the reports of the European scientists. He says, “nobody knows for certain whether the horrendous [Plankton] falloff is a result of migration north because of too warm waters or decimation by toxins such as plastics, chemicals, and farm pesticides / fertilizers. However, it’s likely a combination of factors, which essentially doubles the trouble.”

In view of this emerging catastrophe in the oceans, it would be utterly foolish and bordering on criminality to do nothing. Now, in 2022 and the remaining eight years of this decade, is the time for humans to behave like responsible adults of a family, with all the compassion and love between brothers and sisters and parents. Their first priority should be to terminate the petroleum, gas, and coal extraction and use. Second, stop pollution. Ban plastics, synthetic chemicals, sunscreen, cosmetics, most unnecessary drugs and fertilizers / pesticides.

Encouraging first steps

Two important developments took place on Thursday, July 28, 2022. The first was symbolic but full of enormous significance. The UN General Assembly passed a resolution declaring that a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is a universal human right. Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General, urged states to implement the resolution and make a healthy environment available to all everywhere.

The second was a $ 369 billion “climate and tax” agreement among Senate Democrats, including Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia who had rejected the original Biden $ 550 billion climate proposal. But spending $ 369 billion for climate protection is a big deal. It’s the strongest climate action by the United States in order to “stop the planet from catastrophic overheating.”

Biden’s opportunity

Despite this funding as a measure and inspiration to do some of what is necessary to save the country from climate calamity, Biden has to fulfill his election promises. He said he would no longer allow the oil and gas companies to lease public land for petroleum and gas development. However, he did the exact opposite. He opened public lands and ocean waters for oil and gas extraction. This infuriated some environmentalist so much, they spoke about “Biden’s climate bomb.” According to Gladys Delgadillo of the Climate Law Institute and Brady Bradshaw of the Center for Biological Diversity:

“The simple, uncompromising truth is that climate change will affect all of us, and new federal fossil fuel leasing is a death sentence for people and wildlife on the frontlines of the climate emergency. If… president [Biden] won’t stop fossil fuel investment on the lands he directly controls, what hope is there that he can encourage the rest of the nation and [the] world to end the fossil fuel era?” (Center for Biological Diversity, Endangered Earth, Summer 2022).

Exactly. Biden needs to regain his credibility and trust – fast. Start with house cleaning. End immediately all oil and gas leases on public land and waters. Then be forceful with the oil, gas, and coal companies here in this country and those from abroad.

Biden should do the same thing with car corporations, ordering them to stop manufacturing petroleum-fueled cars and trucks and move rapidly to electric car, bus, and railroad production.

Next Biden needs to stop the war in the Ukraine by withdrawing American and NATO support. Invite President Vladimir Putin of Russia, President Xi Jinping of China, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, and other heads of state for an emergency climate summit to coordinate the transition to green energy.

These steps would wake up and inspire the global environmental movement and scientists who could guide local governments to minimize the effects of pretty much shutting down temporarily business as usual.

In addition, if politicians refuse to touch the fossil-fuel companies and pollution, environmentalists may have to take over state power and guide the world into a green future and civilization.

Evaggelos Vallianatos is a historian and environmental strategist, who worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years. He is the author of seven books, including the latest book, The Antikythera Mechanism.

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