“There is no race more human/ No one throws it away like they do.”
–Titus Andronicus, Battle of Hampton Roads
“Awwww! Look at that cat try to run up that slide. Silly cat.”
–You, Right Now
Global warming used to be an issue that galvanized the public. In the mid-aughts, you couldn’t watch television or open up a newspaper without hearing something about greenhouse gases, or lowering our carbon footprint. Thanks, in part, to documentaries such as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, global warming—an issue that had remained in the cultural and political periphery for decades—had finally hit the mainstream.
As Naomi Klein wrote in a 2011 essay, “Five years ago, celebrities were showing up at the Academy Awards in hybrids, Vanity Fair launched an annual green issue and, in 2007, the three major US networks ran 147 stories on climate change. No longer. In 2010 the networks ran just thirty-two climate change stories; limos are back in style at the Academy Awards; and the ‘annual’ Vanity Fair green issue hasn’t been seen since 2008.”
In those days, politicians from both sides of the aisle vowed to make global warming a bipartisan priority (such as the 2008 advertisement with Nancy Pelosi and Newt Gingrich). Global warming was framed as an all-American crisis. By uniting to fight our mutual enemy, We The People could figure this shit out. A sense of possibility hung in the air.
In fifty years time, the popular belief seemed to say, global warming would be but a lingering memory—one of those great man-made blunders we all look back on and wonder how we could have ever been so stupid and naive. Like the hole in the ozone, or slavery (which we’re still working on).
Ours would be the generation to go down in history as the planet’s savior. Our fight to stop global warming would be our Great Defining Moment. We’d be remembered in future tales for our quick, decisive action in the face of impending doom. We’d be celebrated in thousands of coffee table books which would describe, with pictures and quotes from Those Who Were There, our massive recycling schemes, our newly-built wind farms, and the mile-wide solar panels symbolizing our generation’s new-found commitment to sustainability.
The Greatest Generation had their Nazis to shoot at, the Boomers had the moon to climb, and we, the happy few privileged enough to be alive at the dawn of the twenty-first century, would save the fucking polar bears–and our own species in the process.
But none of that happened, of course.
Since those days, America’s great accomplishment in our fight against global warming was electing a guy who vowed to make it a priority. Media stories on the topic have decreased dramatically, and the public perception on the topic has decreased accordingly as well (a 2011 Harris poll found that only 44% of Americans believe in global warming, down from 71% in 2007).
Since the days when merely filming a lecture was sufficient to win you the Nobel Peace Prize, atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen by nearly ten parts per million to 391.57 (350 ppm is considered a “safe” upper limit). On both sides of the globe, the ice caps continue to melt at an increasing rate, and the polar bears, the “canary in the climate coal mine,” are now not only drowning, they’re eating each other for sustenance.
While citizens and governments from all around the world have united in purpose to try and make the best out of the shitty situation, America—the second largest emitter of carbon dioxide–has, for the most part, decided that it has better things to do.
In the past few years, the effects of global warming have gotten worse, the science has become clearer, and yet, the media, the politicians, and the American people as a whole have become all but mute on the topic, despite the increased cause for alarm:
Nine out of ten of the warmest years on record globally have occurred within the last twelve years.
In 2012 alone, Americans have experienced the following:
The 2011-2012 winter was the fourth warmest winter on record in the United States. It was remarkably lacking in snow and, in general, pretty much anything remotely resembling the season we heretofore had known as “Winter.”
March was the warmest on record, shattering 15,000 warm temperature records across the US. The warmer temperatures brought with them some needed precipitation (large portions of the United States experienced drought-like conditions), and along with it, some unneeded tornados–223, to be exact, in a month which typically averages 80 (the average was quickly surpassed when a freak series of 70+ tornadoes ripped across the Ohio Valley and the Southeastern United States, killing 40 people, and becoming 2012’s first billion-dollar disaster).
April completed the cycle of the warmest consecutive 12 months (from May 2011 to April 2012) from when the records began in 1895. It was also the third-warmest April on record. This April also saw high tornado activity, but by no means was as active as that of 2011—which reached a record 758 tornados and an estimated 364 fatalities. While the 2011-2012 winter, for the lower 48 , had been mild, the end of April brought Anchorage a record winter snowfall.
May 2012–the second warmest May on record. While June 1st is typically considered the start of hurricane season, the Gulf started early with Beryl and Alberto officially becoming tropical storms in May (a phenomenon that has only occurred 28 times since records began in 1851)—which made it the third time ever that two storms have reached Tropical Storm status before June 1st. The drought for much of the US continues. Wildfires rage in the Southwest.
June 2012: Temperatures for June were 2 degrees over the 20th century average. 170 all-time temperature records are broken or tied. The warmth continues, and January to June marks the warmest first-half of a year on record. While the lower 48 experienced its “10th driest June on record” and the nation-wide drought levels index calculated 56% of the contiguous US was in a condition of “moderate to exceptional drought,” and floods inundated parts of the upper Midwest. Tropical Storm Debby brought Florida its wettest June on record, and also experiencing their top ten wettest Junes were Maine, Oregon, and Washington. The rare “El Derecho” event ripped a path of destruction across the Northeast United States. Meanwhile, Colorado burned so long that 34,500 people were forced from their homes.
July 2012 was the warmest month out of all 1,400 months ever recorded in the US. (It also averaged 3.3 degrees above the 20th century average). The drought covering most of the lower 48 grew to baking 63% of the US in “moderate to exceptional” degrees of drought. According to the USDA, almost 80% of agricultural land experienced drought, with more than half of US counties being designated as disaster areas. 65% of farms are located in areas experiencing drought—21% in “moderate drought,” 21% in “severe” and 23 % in “extreme or exceptional drought”. “Severe or greater drought” has impacted 65% of cattle production, and about 75% of corn and soybean production.
August–for the most part– is still hot and dry, yet cold fronts bring in cooler weather and, in places, a record amount of rain. Warm temperature records in Oklahoma City, in a state suffering from a Dust-Bowl-era heat wave paired with wildfires . Seattle, a city synonymous with rainfall, goes over an entire month without rain. Hundreds of miles away, the desert city of Las Vegas gets its second highest day of recorded rainfall, causing massive flooding and resulting in one death. San Bernadino County, California, received in the course of just a few hours what it is said to usually receive in the course of an entire year (4.03 inches). The heatwave relents mid-month in some parts of the upper Midwest with a cold front that brings freezing temperatures to many parts of the United States, including parts of upper Minnesota and Wisconsin. The incredibly slow-moving Hurricane Isaac brings massive rainfall and flooding to parts of the Gulf, killing seven and damaging thousands of homes.
September. Half of the polar ice cap is missing, which bodes very poorly for the rest of the planet. The desert is flooding again, and the summer of 2012 is made officially the third warmest summer on record. So far, 2012 is estimated to become the warmest year on record.
While the media is always quick to send some drenched schmuck out for a hurricane remote, they rarely wade hip-deep in its context. A recent Media Matters study found that, while natural disaster coverage hasn’t decreased, global warming coverage on nightly network television between 2009 and 2011 has fallen by 72%. On Sunday show coverage, climate change coverage fell by 90%. (Tellingly, the Harris poll tracking Americans’ falling belief in GW from 71% to 44% also showed that 76% think there are now more natural disasters than ever before.)
The Media Matters study went on to show that half of the climate change quotes between these years were given by politicians, and 45% were given by “Media Figures” (read: Not Scientists). Of those politicians quoted, a whopping 68% were Republican—typically the more “skeptical” of the two major parties on the topic. The same study also showed that on each of the major networks, reports about Donald Trump overshadowed coverage of global warming by a fairly sizable margin. In a related Media Matters study, the Kardashians receive 40-times more coverage in both print and television than stories about ocean acidification (apparently the media finds awful, rich women bleaching their assholes a far more interesting story than the likely loss of nearly all our reefs due to coral bleaching).
Even in the grip of the July 2012 heat wave, the media as a whole didn’t find it necessary to mention climate change. Only 25.5% of print coverage of the heat wave put the heat wave in a global warming context, while on television a mere 8.7% brought up climate change. CNN, the supposed bastion of nonpartisan objectivity, mentioned global warming a pitiful 4 times in the course of 111 heat-related segments in the month of July.
Yet, despite the pitiful coverage of global warming in the media—such as every major news source ignoring Greenland’s rapid melt, with a block of ice nearly the size of Manhattan breaking off into the ocean—climate change coverage has shown a few signs of improvement from previous months.
In US wildfire coverage from April 1 to June 30, global warming was mentioned in 1.6% of the television coverage, and only figured into 6% of newspaper coverage. July wildfire stories alone saw this number increase overall by over four times—10.6% of July TV coverage, and 17.8% in print articles.
On the political front, President Obama has fallen a long way from his 2008 vow to “end the tyranny of oil.” Throughout all of 2012, President Obama has apparently brought up climate change a scant four times.
In recent years, the Pentagon and CIA have been quick to mention that global warming will be one of the biggest destabilizing forces in the coming years—yet getting Obama to mention the words “climate change” resembles something of a victory. Obama’s strongest words to date in 2012 were during his acceptance speech, where he allegedly “counterpunched” (NYT) back at Mitt Romney’s denier-pandering criticism of Obama wanting to “slow the rise of the ocean and heal the planet,” by boldly declaring the obvious: “climate change is not a hoax.”
Climate change has become politicized to the point that Republican candidates must ritualistically denounced science itself to be eligible for office–giving Democrats an easy way to differentiate themselves. Even their 2012 platform doesn’t hide this fact, beginning their section about climate change by jabbing the Republicans for having “moved so far to the right as to doubt the science of climate change.” They then go on to outline much of the same things from their 2008 platform, but with a far less serious and less urgent tone. Their 2012 platforms, the Democrats mention climate change 18 times in their platform, while the Republicans only once.
Their strategy—if it can even be called a strategy—is not so much outlining a plan which would even begin to help us to deal with climate change, but what’s been called an “all of the above” attempt to keep everybody happy. In Obama’s plan, the oil companies are happy as they get to keep their massive profits. The environmentalists will be supposedly happy because they get some “green” investment. Those who still doubt the existence of global warming get to be happy because at least now part of our focus is on “energy independence,” and those who are constantly alarmed at the thought of global warming can rest assured knowing that our president hasn’t completely forgotten about our impending doom. We can sleep at night with the thought that at least Obama still believes it’s happening, unlike those idiot Republicans.
Global warming is an issue that should be on the forefront of every political discussion we have today. It’s probably the most important issue homo sapiens has faced in the last 70,000 years, and it’s entirely our own doing. While humanity was doomed to begin with, for one reason or another, this particular climate crisis was not inevitability. It’s the result of hundreds of years of running the world on greed and competition. It’s the effect of having a few people with all the wealth and power making decisions for the rest of the world, at the expense of the same.
While scientists have known for decades about the greenhouse effect, they’ve been consistently drowned out, maligned, and smeared by the fossil fuel industry. The politicians and business leaders know all this, yet continue to ignore the warnings in the name of profit and for the sanctity of the “free market.”
To again quote Naomi Klein, “climate change implies the biggest political ‘I told you so’ since Keynes predicted German backlash from the Treaty of Versailles. Marx wrote about capitalism’s ‘irreparable rift’ with ‘the natural laws of life itself,’ and many on the left have argued that an economic system built on unleashing the voracious appetites of capital would overwhelm the natural systems on which life depends.”
Any effective response to climate change would need to begin by breaking “every rule in the free-market playbook and…. do(ing) so with great urgency. We will need to rebuild the public sphere, reverse privatizations, relocalize large parts of economies, scale back overconsumption, bring back long-term planning, heavily regulate and tax corporations, maybe even nationalize some of them, cut military spending and recognize our debts to the global South. Of course, none of this has a hope in hell of happening unless it is accompanied by a massive, broad-based effort to radically reduce the influence that corporations have over the political process. That means, at a minimum, publicly funded elections and stripping corporations of their status as “people” under the law. In short, climate change supercharges the pre-existing case for virtually every progressive demand on the books, binding them into a coherent agenda based on a clear scientific imperative.”
Legend has it that during in the FDR administration, some union guys walked into the Oval Office looking for policies that would benefit the working man, and FDR smiled, saying, “Good idea. You’ve convinced me. Now go out and make me do it.”
During the Bush Years, standing up for anything that even remotely resembled reason felt like an intensely political act. Protests against the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars brought hundreds of thousands of Americans together to march for peace, and protests for action against climate change did likewise. Yet, after Obama was elected many of these organizations and activists went home, thinking the self-appointed “change we could believe in” was on the case.
One of Obama’s biggest (and least talked about) legacies up to this point has been his effortless ability to suck energy away from every existing progressive movement. Obama’s ability to speak somewhat intelligently about the same problems that brought many to action under Bush and earlier seemed to be enough to quell the most of us back into relative passivity.
(A friend of mine active in the Veterans for Peace organization similarly told me about how, in the Bush years, he would attend annual anti-war demonstrations with thousands—if not tens of thousands. After Obama took the White House, one of these annual demonstrations brought a total of eight demonstrators to Washington to protest against the wars Obama was fairly open and unapologetic about continuing).
The “Go Out And Make Me Do It” mentality still holds a lot of sway in America.
The idea is that if we’re “loud enough” and “convincing enough,” the politicians will again remember that they actually work for us. That if we create protests that involve enough people, the media will suddenly take interest in what we’re about and all will be hunky-dory.
It’s probably time that we get beyond our “Make Them Do It” fetish, and that we get real: Our political system is broken, and our failed representatives have no idea how to deal with this crisis. Their call is to boost up our military and police forces to deal with the oncoming domestic crises. Their “free-market” solutions will only lead to dangerous speculation, and the typical business cycle of bubbles and busts. We will use our military in more overseas adventures to control the decreasing resources of the planet, to keep US-friendly dictators in charge, and to further ensure that on the warming globe the US will remain Top Dog.
If our leaders had a card up their sleeve for dealing with climate change peacefully, they would have used it already.
To reiterate, no massive action has been taken to prevent the rapid rise of global temperatures, the melting of the ice-caps and mountain glaciers, the rising sea levels, the acidification of the oceans, and the extreme weather which becomes more prevalent as global temperatures rise. And, lest we forget, we’ve done very little to curb the deadly spread of diseases which are cued to spread across a warmer globe .
And the Sixth Great Extinction, which was already probably set to become Homo sapiens sapiens’ most lasting legacy on the planet, is scheduled to occur that much earlier thanks to global warming. Some estimates rate up to 70% of all species may be doomed to extinction by the end of this century—at a rate that exceeds anything on the fossil record, including the time an asteroid the size of Texas crashed into our planet and wiped out the dinosaurs.
Global warming is, without a doubt, a far more important issue than anything and everything we’ve ever faced. Our already petty and futile lives resemble that of sea-monkeys in the face many of the scenarios spelled out by scientific models.
Mark Lynas’s book Six Degrees gives a bitter taste of what may be to come. The prognosis in this century alone ranges from extremely shitty, with the rise of one to two degrees of global temperature making the 2003 European heatwave the norm (this 1-2 degree increase is seen already as inevitable), and goes to an apocalyptic six-degree increase of temperature—also believed to be a likely possibility by 2100—bringing near-Permian era temperature hikes and killing off 95% of every living species and quite possibly turning Earth into a Venus-like solar heat-trap.
Global warming is not only inevitability these days, it’s already happening. We’ve been experiencing it for awhile now. And despite the evidence, and despite the fact that pretty much every scientist on earth (97% of them, to be exact) has a very strong opinion on the subject, the world beats on, fossil fuels burning up the planet, ignoring the evidence while we ceaselessly steer into a Cormac McCarthy-like doomsday scenario for us all.
But on the other hand, fuck it.
Even if it is Game Over for us and the vast majority of every living species—if it is true that millions of years of evolution and thousands of years of human development will be brought to an end because a couple of lazy, ugly and ungrateful bipeds felt that making money was more important than everything else, and that the military which represented a large amount of them was the biggest polluter of all (and whose main function was protecting the product to which everyone was still addicted)—if all of the above is true, why continue to play their stupid game?
Why allow the fossil fuel industries, who are repeatedly caught giving money to climate denying think tanks to keep building on top of their already egregious profits? Is it because Ayn Rand was right, and that we truly do worship the likes of Charles and David Koch? Do people really consider these fucks “job creators?” And why are oil companies even allowed to be in consideration for drilling the Arctic, when the use of their product is the main reasons the Arctic has become accessible in the first place (it seems like allowing cigarette companies to draw the nicotine out of each of the 400,000 Americans who die of smoking every year to put and recycle into new cigarettes to sell on the market).
How long are we going to sit around, yawning our way through conversations with morons about how they believe “It’s all just a natural process—a liberal conspiracy, if you will,” before we repeatedly kick them in the face? How long will the likes of nerdy, faux-oppositional “climate deniers” have the luxury of speaking without being openly wedgied or worse?
And, while I’m asking questions, why do we all keep driving our gas-guzzling vehicles to jobs we hate with the full knowledge the part our vehicle’s combustion plays in the greenhouse effect? Just to quicken up the process? Is it because we really desire to put ourselves and every other species on the planet out of our collective misery, once and for all?
Every generation since Christ believed that they would indeed be the last generation. Most recently, those living in the fifties and sixties lived under the constant paranoia that nuclear war could occur at any second. Those alive in those days lived in the first age when the possibility of total global annihilation could be caused by our own species.
Many reacted to this in the only way that made sense—they rebelled. The constant malaise that the End Times were near, and that the final Bomb was going to drop, inspired people to all kinds of behavior. It’s impossible to think of the ’60s without realizing that, at any moment, it might all be blown away by the cold calculations of a bunch of lunatic politicians.
All across America, people stood up and fought for their rights. They experimented with ways of starting society from scratch. They fought against the military build-up and false justifications for war. They did mind altering drugs on failed quests for vision. They talked about revolution without feeling self-conscious. They hitchhiked aimlessly around the country on pointless journeys. They questioned the logic of the system as a whole. They fought police in the streets. Occasionally they rioted, or held orgies.
It was a vision of a global society participating either in total collapse or caught up in the midst of a strange renewal.
While today we have had some brief bubbles of dissent here and there, for the most part we seem to have largely resigned ourselves, and our entire ecosystem, to a quiet, drawn out extinction.
The Bombs have been falling for a while–many yet to detonate. How powerful the explosions, and how deadly the fallout, we’ll soon find out.
We’re quite possibly living in the last days, folks. We might as well start acting like it.