Highway 2 (Climate) Hell

The growing season was a slog. Again. Southern Maine was hot and very dry. Last year it started dry but turned wet. Too wet. The year before, drought reigned. The old saying in New England goes; “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” But when you add days, weeks and years of extreme weather together it begins to look more like “climate” than “weather.”  And yeah, something’s up. Dirt farmers tend to notice.

The Cop27 (Conference of the Parties) has wound down in the upscale “tourist destination” of Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. The topic was Earth’s increasingly runaway climate. As usual at such meetings of jet-setting dignitaries, the accommodations are plush, the tone is “moderate” and the downscale rabble outside are enclosed in distant “protest pens.”

For years there has been grudging international agreement that in order to maintain the climate regime that has fostered the development of human civilization, global temperatures could not increase more than 1.5 degrees C (centigrade— or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

But humans have become adept at exhuming fossil carbon from the earth’s crust, flaming it and pumping carbon dioxide/ methane into the air. So we’ve been creating a Hothouse Earth, where that 1.5C target looks like just so much wishful thinking (hot air?).

Shortly before Cop27 began, the UN’s environment agency announced frankly that there was now “no credible pathway to 1.5C in place” and that “the only way to limit the worst impacts of the climate crisis is a ‘rapid transformation of societies.’ “ (Guardian, 10/27/22)

Inger Anderson, director of the UN Environment Program announced, “This (newly released) report tells in cold scientific terms what nature has been telling us all year through deadly floods, storms and raging fires: we have to stop filling our atmosphere with greenhouse gasses, and stop doing it fast…. We had our chance to make incremental changes but that time is over. Only root and branch transformation of our economies and societies can save us from accelerating climate disaster.”

The report called for government action including regulation and taxes——reportedly dead-letters in “our” neoliberal age.

At Cop27’s opening the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned delegates, “We are in the fight of our lives and we are losing…..(O)ur planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible….. We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator….. We can sign a climate solidarity pact, or a collective suicide pact.”

(Spoiler Alert: Bet on the latter.) (One man’s opinion.) Still…..

On November 1st the Guardian reported: “Enormous emissions gap between top 1% and poorest, study shows.” A new study by “Autonomy” had looked at data on income and greenhouse gas emissions from 1998 to 2018. “The findings highlight the enormous gaps between what has been termed the ‘polluting elite,’ whose high-carbon lifestyles fuel the climate crisis and the majority of people , even in developed countries, whose carbon footprints are far smaller….. It would take 26 years for a low earner to produce as much carbon dioxide as the richest do in a year.”

“Flying, driving large expensive cars, owning multiple homes (sic) and traveling between them,” and other such conspicuous consumptions by these polluting elites seldom get criticized in corporate media or the halls of kept governments, but they fuel a climate crisis which will (in the beginning anyway) most impact those least responsible. Will Stonge, Autonomy’s director, noted that “the most effective way for government to tackle climate change would be to properly tax the rich…”

But—— you may say—- we know that taxing rich people is politically impossible, especially in the USA where government—— by design—— belongs to those who buy it.

Yet Massachusetts has just passed a ballot initiative which will levy a 4% tax on millionaires with the projected extra $2 billion annually  used for education and other public investment. Raise Up Massachussets had come close with a similar campaign in 2015 gathering 150,000 signatures and winning at 2 state constitutional conventions. Corporate types took it to court and kept it off the ballot.

Not this time however. Despite lavish opposition spending by such New England billionaire luminaries as New Balance’s Jim Davis and Patriots Plantation owner Robert Kraft, 52% of Mass voters ratified the amendment. (see Portside, 11/12/22)

Maine’s similar Stand Up For Students surtax initiative (2016) won with voters but the legislature scuttled it: “Bad for business” they claimed.

On our collective highway to climate hell, one can’t be very optimistic. But don’t we owe one another some honesty?

Albert Camus once observed that, “If he who bases his hopes on human nature is a fool, he who gives up in the face of circumstance is a coward.”

Time to choose: Coward or fool?

Richard Rhames is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine (just north of the Kennebunkport town line). He can be reached at: rerhames@gmail.com