Climate Catastrophe: A Worldwide Exploding Bomb

Air pollution. San Francisco, CA. The San Francisco Bay bridge barely visible. EV.


Climate change / global warming is so new to history and civilization that the very people / companies that brought it into being are continuing to deny its existence. It’s like a nuclear bomb. War gave it birth, the madness of the moment, the fear that the Germans would develop it. This spurred the American military to build it and explode it over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese evaporated from the blast and energy of this almighty bomb. The bomb secret spread to the Russians, Chinese, French, British, Indians, Pakistanis, Israelis, and North Koreans. Having this mega weapon adds mega power. Its owners are unlikely to abandon it, no matter the costs to themselves, their societies, and humanity.

The same madness governs the unexpected ferocity of burning fossil fuels. Powerful corporations and a few oil countries have enriched themselves from convincing the rest of us to become entirely depended on their products. Petroleum, natural gas, and coal are heating our homes, power an unfathomable number of private cars and airplanes; fossil fuels generate electricity and even fuel our vast industries and militaries. This uninterruptible use of fossil fuels since the mid-nineteenth century has blanketed the atmosphere with greenhouse gases; it’s like a perpetual exploding nuclear bomb, changing the vast atmosphere to our detriment. Seasons are not what they used to be. The sky opens up with floods, tornadoes, strong winds, extreme heat, and other invisible calamities in the forests and seas. We hate and suffer from flooding, heat waves, massive forest fires and other storms climatologists tie to the ceaseless burning of petroleum, natural gas, and coal.

The masters of mankind

But who are the decision makers? Like the owners of nuclear bombs, the owners of fossil fuels care less about humanity and civilization. Nuclear weapons are anthropogenic, ecocidal and genocidal. Their owners know they are guarding their own killers. At that level of “thinking and security,” there’s no logical thinking or civilization, if by civilization we mean an inherited set of traditions, ethics, knowledge, and intelligence. They use machine intelligence, certain in time to blow them up. Their blindness, however, does not allow them to see, much less appreciate, beauty, the public good, history and culture.

Money and power have corrupted them absolutely. They pay lip service to “representative” democracy, but they are oligarchs / plutocrats armed to the teeth. They probably dream of one world government run by billionaires, by far the worst form of government: plutocracy run wild.

Factory madness

This pandemic of ignoring nature and civilization has the same roots of fossil fuels. The industrialization of mid-nineteenth century disrupted rural life and made peasants and very small farmers nomads to the factories of the cities. Industrial barons became the new kings. Millions of disenfranchised people labored in factories producing cars, arms, and luxuries for the monied class. One has only to watch American Hollywood movies of the first half of the twentieth century to appreciate the abandon and callousness of the rulers of America when the car appeared like a mechanical savior. Drivers of these mechanical horses learned nothing about the gases coming out their exhaust pipes. Indeed, they built cities to fit the automobile.

The denizens of the industrialized cities in Europe and north America had no clues of the quality of the air they breathed, much les what caused the diseases and epidemics in their crowded urban areas. Party politics made things worse. Religious superstitions captured politicians already favoring class and gun status. This is not much different than the politics that still characterizes America in the third decade of the twenty-first century, the era of Donald Trump. This politics is obviously inimical to democracy, which is a founding stone to science-based decisions on climate change, humanity’s gravest threat.

Facing or ignoring climate chaos?

The result of this political chaos favored the rapid emergence of climate chaos. Enough individuals, cities, and states realize the climate dragon in the room. Some Americans like me put solar panels on the roof of their homes. Admirable as these private measures are, they are not enough. States are also legislating green zero-carbon technologies and energy. Or, more accurately, they are facilitating a potential transition from the deadly carbon overload of fossil fuels to solar and wind energy. The easiest but correct policy of some states and cities is seeking redress from the fossil fuel architects of global warming.

The State of California, for example, sued Exxon, Shell, BP, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips for deception. These giant companies were fully aware of the climate consequences of the burning of their products. Yet they misled Americans and their leaders for decades. They said there was no connection between fossil fuels and storms, heat waves, floods, tornadoes, wildfires, crop damage, and the decimation of biological diversity. The complaint says:

“Oil and gas company executives have known for decades that reliance on fossil fuels would cause these catastrophic results, but they suppressed that information from the public and policymakers by actively pushing out disinformation on the topic… Their deception caused a delayed societal response to global warming. And their misconduct has resulted in tremendous costs to people, property, and natural resources, which continue to unfold each day.”

“This has been a multi-decade, ongoing campaign to seek endless profits at the expense of our planet, [and] our people,” said Rob Bonta, the attorney general of California, “and the greedy corporations and individuals need to be held accountable… That’s where we come in.”

Gavin Newsom, Governor of California, expressed similar sentiments. He was astonished with the violence of climate change. “This last 10 years, it’s shook me to my core,” he said. “These are things that we imagined we might be experiencing in 2040 and 2050, but that have been brought into the present moment, and the time for accountability is now.”

By accountability Newsom and Bonta don’t mean anything like putting these unethical companies out of business. No. Bonta expects to have the large petroleum and gas companies be fined for a state fund to “pay for recovery from extreme weather events and mitigation and adaptation efforts across the state.”

California legislature also passed a number of laws that lessen to some degree the fossil fuel emergency. For instance, companies earning more than $ 1 billion per year will be required to disclose their carbon footprint; large oil and gas companies will not be allowed to pass off their old oil wells to smaller companies unable to clean up those wells; make it difficult to drill for oil and gas along California’s Pacific coast; the state of California will buy electricity from offshore wind farms; cities will be able to prohibit plastic grass; no more drinking water for purely decorative grass; school buses must be electric by 2030, etc.

These policies, especially seeking damages from oil and gas companies, are potentially good, but they are of limited value. It may take decades of litigation by which time California will not be California. Officials don’t want to face the climate emergency as emergency. Like most people, they probably think climate change is like any other problem. But it is not. As I said, global warming is like an exploding nuclear bomb. The only way to eliminate nuclear war is to eliminate nuclear weapons. Similarly, wishing the climate emergency to go away, we are wasting our time. Like nuclear weapons, the fossil fuel causes of climate change must be eliminated as soon as possible.

Pies in the sky

The United States must stop fighting wars and focus on the future of Americans and the world. Global warming demands global cooperation and solutions. Stop the war in Ukraine and embrace Russia, China, India, and the European Union to develop joint alternatives to burning fossil fuels. These zero carbon alternatives demand minerals and metals, some of which are buried under ocean floors. It’s dangerous to “mine our way out of the climate crisis.” Ecological destruction diminishes our noble effort to move away from petroleum and gas and coal.

Besides, both China and the United States eye these minerals and metals. So, international cooperation is the only way to speed our search for them without damaging the natural world and without strategic conflict that could trigger war between China and America. Besides, South China Sea is a source for those useful minerals and metals. Those minerals facilitate the transition from the petroleum to the solar and wind age.

We could speed up that transition by reducing human population, abandoning petrochemical farming, fostering small organic farmers and gardeners, and dismantling animal farms giving off enormous amounts of greenhouse gases. We could also design green cities friendly to pedestrians, eliminating most private cars, and supporting comfortable and zero-carbon public transportation.

Ecology could become the way forward in inspiring us to love wildlife and nature. Working together is necessary for the wellbeing of humanity and suffering Earth, our only mother in this vast universe.

Evaggelos Vallianatos, Ph.D., studied history and biology at the University of Illinois; earned his Ph.D. in Greek and European history at the University of Wisconsin; did postdoctoral studies in the history of science at Harvard. He worked on Capitol Hill and the US EPA; taught at several universities and authored several books, including The Antikythera Mechanism: The Story Behind the Genius of the Greek Computer and its Demise.