Look at Homo Sapiens on the Run in the 2020s

Photo of a city in red.

Image by Patrick Perkins.

“Where,” asks the British journalist and musician Andy Worthington, reflecting on the unfolding capitalogenic climate catastrophe, “is the panic? The response to [the] failure to stop rising [carbon] emissions,” Worthington writes:

“ought to be blind panic, but…the only voices of undiluted alarm are, for the most part, climate scientists, who are largely ignored by politicians, and, shamefully, by the mainstream media, even though the results of this collective indifference are being spelled out to us on a daily basis — through Canada’s wildfires, through New York City’s orange skies, through the Sahara Desert marching northwards to the Southern Mediterranean, though an unprecedented and truly alarming increase in ocean temperatures, and through an equally alarming loss of ice in Antarctica, in the Arctic and in glaciers, with terrifying consequences, including rising sea levels.”

Indeed. Worthington reflected before news came of a deadly heat dome sitting above the American Southwest and Great Plains, creating temperatures of 117 Fahrenheit in Dallas, Texas and taking out power in much of Oklahoma.

Dark kudos to the Earth scientists who warned years ago that the climate crisis was moving much faster than many of their colleagues thought or were willing to publicly acknowledge. This is most definitely not just about “our grandchildren.” This is happening here and now.

To re-work Neil Young, “look at Mother Nature kicking ass in the twenty twenty-ees.” She isn’t “on the run” (“in the nineteen seventies”). She’s got us on the run, on what could be our last run. Well, Mother Nature, that is, with her psychopathic stepchild – humanity under the command of capital, whose underlying expand-or-die system and addiction to fossil fuels has brought us to the brink of collapse.

I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it here again: capitalism is turning the entire planet into a giant Greenhouse Gas Chamber, a crime that would have shocked even Adolph Hitler.

Civilizational collapse is now a distinct possibility in the present writer’s lifetime, and it is not far-fetched to imagine human extinction or near extinction before the end of the current century.

Tipping points like we’ve never seen are just around the corner as permafrost melt takes off and the oceans’ methane clathrates become apocalyptic deep sea carbon bombs.

We’re not just talking about some harsh weather every once in a while. We’re talking about people being able to grow food, access clean water, cool their bodies, keep roofs over their heads and floods out of their homes.

You can thank capitalism for this. The nature-loving communists Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were right back in the middle of the 19th Century: it’s the “revolutionary reconstitution of society at large,” or “the common ruin” of all.

As I explained for the umpteenth time in a recent Substack “podcast,” capitalism cannot drop its inherent compulsion to constantly expand, commodify, and accumulate. It is far too dependent on fossil fuels as the energy source for that growth addiction for humanity under its command to honor Earth scientists’ ever more urgent demand that we stop burning oil, gas, coal and peat if we wish to retain prospects for a decent much less glorious human future.

We must also cease and desist from the large-scale raising, feeding, and eating of livestock animals, a major source of planet-cooking methane emission.

Andrew Worthington says “where is the panic?” I get that but add, where is the revolutionary movement to radically replace capitalism with ecologically sustainable socialism on the path to a commons-restoring communism – a new relationship to Earth that turns humanity into a loving partner rather than a cancerous narcissist in relation to the broader Web of Life of which homo sapiens is a key wild card player?

This is mainly what I was thinking about as I watched MSNBC and CNN dedicate hour after hour to the terrible story of the five wealthy deep-sea tourists who died in a small submarine meant to transport them to view the wreckage of The Titanic at the bottom of the North Atlantic. Like other decent progressives and “leftists,” I was disgusted by the racist and classist disparity between the massive media attention and government rescue efforts heaped on the five wealthy adventurers and the comparatively small amount of societal concern exhibited for the more than 300 Middle Eastern refugees who drowned in the Mediterranean the week before (including every female on the ship that sank).

Still, the main thing I kept reflecting on as I took in images of the expensive taxpayer-financed and high carbon footprint rescue operation in the North Atlantic was the recently documented horrifying spike in ocean temperatures and what that rise in heat bodes for humanity and other living things. And by the way, the capitalogenic climate catastrophe is a major factor that has turned the Mediterranean into a charnel ground for African and Middle Eastern refugees and that has created the ongoing migrant crisis at the southern US border.

The other day an expert talking head on cable said that the tragic story of The Titanic, the state-of-the art ocean liner that sunk after it hit an iceberg, continues to fascinate people because it demonstrates the awesome power of Nature over humanity.

Well, the climate catastrophe – the biggest issue of our or any time – is a Titanic for humanity and not just the wealthy sorts who could afford a high-class trip across the Atlantic in 1912 or who can pay $250,000 per person to visit the Titanic’s skeletal remains in 2023. There’s no love or social justice or freedom on a dead planet. The climate Titanic isn’t really about humanity vs nature. It’s about one part of nature, homo sapiens, being so captured and controlled by its capitalist ruling class and by a socioeconomic system whose de facto God is private accumulation as to undertake a sociopathic level of fossil fuel extraction and burning that it is warming the ecosphere beyond own viable habitation. This species, endowed with intelligence beyond that of any other beings ever known to exist, can either come to understand that its continuing desirable evolution requires rapid and radical social revolution, or it can perish from Earth. Mother Nature will restore some measure of planetary balance over subsequent millennia. Perhaps future intelligent species will excavate our ruins to learn about the inherent existential danger in the excessive and reckless extraction and burning of your planet’s accumulated underground energy resources.

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).