This time, it was an article in a local paper that raised my blood pressure. Called “Lukewarm to Global Warming,” the Feb. 4 Seattle Times piece described how cautiously state environmentalists are proceeding on the issue of climate change (the ones the Times talked to, anyway). The reporter was clearly surprised by this. The state legislature is controlled by Democrats! The Democratic governor is “sympathetic”! How could the time for motion not be ripe?
To help explain, the reporter quotes a “top environmental lobbyist”: “We’re just trying to do the incremental steps that get us there. Obviously, we’re going to be bringing climate-change legislation to the Legislature for many, many years.”
How many, many years does this lobbyist think we have? If greenhouse gas emissions continue on current trajectories for just another 10 years, it is likely they will cause a rapid warming that will raise sea level by at least 20 feet and extinguish as many as one-third of Earth’s species.
Meanwhile, one of the main goals of state environmentalists, according to the Times, is to improve the fuel efficiency of the state motor pool. Why such a paltry ambition? Because it’s OK with the CEOs. Statewide greenhouse-gas regulations, on the other hand, would “hurt Washington’s businesses and provoke a fight,” a business lobbyist said.
So damn the desperate Arctic fisher-folk and the imperiled polar bears swimming for their lives with no ice in sight. God forbid anybody should start a fight with business over climate change.
When Bush actually acknowledged climate change as a “serious challenge” in his most recent State of the Union address, it took a moment for everybody to recover. By the time they had, his administration had reverted to form with a memo ordering government scientists to refrain from talking about global warming at an overseas conference. The conference subject? Polar bears. This is something like telling the captain of the Titanic not to talk about icebergs — to use a metaphor from an earlier, colder time.
But can’t the planet, and the people who love it, expect better from the Democrats?
If you judged only by the demonization of Al Gore by the my-ancestors-were-not-apes crowd, you would think so. In Federal Way, a few miles outside Seattle, the school board has told teachers they can’t show Gore’s global-warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth without also giving students “the other side.” Why? Because of a complaint from a parent — one guy! — who believes in a 14,000-year-old Earth. According to Frosty Hardison, “Condoms don’t belong in a school, and neither does Al Gore.”
Like Frosty, I have a problem with Gore, but it’s a different problem. He and Clinton, for all their enviro-friendly image, chose corporate over planetary health nearly every time these came in conflict during their two terms in office. This includes helping to establish escape clauses for the major industrialized countries in the Kyoto Protocol that make this international pact limiting greenhouse gas emissions (never signed by the U.S.) a shadow of what is needed.
That criticism goes double for the advice that ends An Inconvenient Truth. By the close of that deeply persuasive movie, a viewer is ready to start the revolution. But what does she or he hear? Recycle; if you can afford one, buy a hybrid car; if you believe in prayer, pray.
Notwithstanding the good intentions of all the recyclers and Prius purchasers, this is nonsense. It’s the equivalent of sweeping the kitchen floor during a mudslide that’s taking down the whole hill. It’s neither a real nor a fair solution to put the responsibility for resolving a dire emergency created by capitalism onto the individual shoulders of ordinary people. And when those people catch on to the giant betrayal involved in this con game, it’s the politicians who had better be praying.
We need big solutions, and we need them now. They start with one big solution that goes by the name of socialism. As long as questions like what we produce and how we get from place to place and where we dispose of our waste are driven by what generates profits, the environmental crisis will only continue to ratchet up, in one form after another.
Here’s an exercise. Make a list of the reforms that working people have never wrested from the system, despite often heroic efforts. You could start with the Equal Rights Amendment, or universal healthcare, or gay civil rights, or the right to cross borders as freely as capital does. Make another list of reforms won that are melting like polar ice caps: Black voting rights, the right to abortion, labor protections.
Now think about the reform approach to climate change. Scary, isn’t it?
“Incremental steps” are no way to save a planet. It’s time to inject some serious class warfare into the fight for the globe — and for our own futures.