Of Earth and Money

Clearcut and TV, Willapa Hills, coastal Washington State. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

The earth cares nothing for profit. It has no table on which it plans budgets or places military options. It simply exists as a home for species. Providing air and water and light and ground without hidden fees or added service charges.

The stock market, on the other hand, cares exclusively for profit. But no matter how fiercely it screeches for quarterly gains or manically brays for perpetual reassurance, the stock market is not a living thing. For no sentient organism on the planet, with the possible exception of CNBC and FOX BUSINESS anchors, would consciously seek to gorge itself to death on fossil fuels.

There are few issues on which I feel more powerless and expect less good than climate change. A part of me can’t help thinking this existential battle between habitat and coin was lost at bygone sites: – the mines of Northern England – the well at Titusville – the Model T assembly line in Highland Park – the desk of Robert Moses. 

The other part of me can’t help laughing at the way government, media, and business have constructed a climate strategy around the aspirational, ineffectual, and point missing. But both parts of me are well aware that the joke is on all of us.

As best I can tell, the world’s plan to avert an extinction-level climate catastrophe can be summed up as Partial Entirety. We’re going to transition away from oil, coal, and natural gas by classifying oil, coal, and natural gas as transitional fuels. In addition, capitalism requires sending reassuring signals to the financial community regarding carbon capture and carbon renewal. I have no idea what these signals are, but apparently they contain enough ambiguity to alter the transition deadline for reaching net zero carbon emissions from 2050 to whatever years remain of the Cenozoic Era’s 65 million. 

Climate summits come. Climate summits go. Dignitaries in expensive clothes announce agreements and pledge expenditures. Numbers are thrown around. Goals and percentages and parts per billion are surmised. And me? I recycle. 

To avoid contaminating my bin I use more water to clean a Crazy Richard’s Peanut Butter jar than a Gazan child has available for a weekly drinking ration. Yet when I trundle my recycler out the door and see the Utz Barbecue Ripples potato chip bags and half filled containers of Ragu spaghetti sauce which my neighbors intend to launch upon our curbside stream, do I feel indignant? Outraged? Attempt to arrest them? The truth is I’m grateful they’re trying since a third of us on the block probably don’t have the cash for an unexpected $400 emergency and, in a larger economic sense, we are all headed for the landfill anyway.

And that’s what pisses me off most about the parameters of this debate. The owners of our country have picked our country clean. They have left the rest of us, young and old, with nothing. 

No reassuring signals shall ever be sent the poor’s way. People are living in makeshift tent cities reminiscent of the Great Depression. Healthcare is deemed unfundable.  Affordable housing is illusory. Personal savings a diagnosis away from morphing into GoFundMe pages and payday loans. Only war and munitions and the infliction of death are viewed as essential. And the notion that oil executives will pay a price for demonstrably lying about the global devastation they proactively inflicted can be vaporized with a Google click on “subsequent careers of Iraq War architects”.

Of course, there are things we should do! Atavistic politicians who swig fracking fluid or boast of the oil they pump must be defeated… as should Republicans! And while I can’t claim to get the let’s-throw-soup-on-a Van Gogh thing, I don’t begrudge the young their fury. Though if it were up to me I’d throw soup from the House and Senate galleries… preferably while its boiling. 

The uber-rich may be different from you and me but I’d like to think they are not suicidal. So, in the end, we must hope technology manages to stay tantalizingly within the reach of avarice. If tobacco companies now sell macaroni & cheese surely green divisions of oil and gas conglomerates can make bank on superinsulation and solar panels?

No less a personage than Bill Gates believes carbon emissions will peak and then start to go down. Though you and I both know his quiet calm emanates from the sure and certain knowledge that if his calculations are a tad off he can purchase our intestines and experiment with grinding them into oceanic plankton.

So tend your Voltairean garden and keep an eye on the one person it is impossible for the powers of the status quo to control. I speak of the weather forecaster. 

They appear earlier and earlier in broadcasts now. Bringing increasingly devastating news of fires and floods and droughts and storms and unbreathable smoke-laden air while visibly struggling against their natural inclination to be zany.

And on the day they announce that ancient viruses have escaped the vanished permafrost we powerless may yet have the last, though brief, laugh.

Jerry Long is a writer, actor, podcaster and political satirist who, with his brother Joe, has worked with Adam McKay on numerous projects. He can also be reached at jlbeggar@gmail.com