A great many find it hard to understand why we are doing so little to address the issue of climate change. They find it equally difficult to understand the size and reach of the ‘denial’ movement.
Which brings me to the title of this piece. It’s not complicated.
First off it is obvious on its face that market forces cannot address climate change in a timely manner. This means that the only route to a solution that meets the time frame dictated by chemistry, physics and our environment must come from government intervention in the economy. However neither our financial nor our industrial elites will permit a return to the situation where the ‘commanding heights’ of the economy are controlled by the government. In fact the core of their ideology is a refutation of that possibility. I.e. TINA. There Is No Alternative. If their capacity to block our governments taking control of the direction of the economy is not overcome nothing we do individually will be sufficient.
Our economic elite in the West has engaged in a seventy year counter-revolution to reverse the effects of two world wars. a depression, and the New Deal. This is why they call climate change a “socialist conspiracy to destroy capitalism”. For them this is psychologically at least an existential issue.
Added to this intractable dynamic is the very real problem of the ‘tyranny of previous investment’. We as a species have some 5 trillion dollars in infrastructure tied up in coal, oil and gas. (extraction and delivery) Those who own/control this equipment and infrastructure not only want for the reason of personal profit to maximize the return on this investment; they are also legally obligated to do so by their fiduciary requirements to their shareholders. They are also not the only ones affected by this tyranny. Ask anyone who has a car, a stove, or a fossil fuel fired heating system.
The problem does not stop there because of the value of the fossil fuel companies to our stock markets. The ‘reserve life index’ along with their infrastructure is what props up the value of these companies. Without the right to extract, distribute and sell fossil fuels these companies collapse and take much of the stock market with them. This, obviously, will include mutual funds and so a great many pensions. The buck does not unfortunately stop there as hundreds of thousands of people would lose their jobs directly and even more indirectly. Many point out correctly that the ‘green economy’ will create a great many jobs. Perhaps in the long term even more jobs than there are now in our fossil fuel dominated economies. What this possibility does not include is the fact that only a small minority of these jobs will go to those who are currently employed in the fossil fuel industry.
To say that there is very little political appetite for this direction and its concomitant dislocation is to understate the issue by several orders of magnitude. As is evidenced here in Canada by the actions of our PM ‘Pipeline Joe’ and his Liberal party. A government that has approved the building of pipelines that will commit us to forty years more of tarsand oil mining. Even more horrifying is how good they look in comparison to the Exxon/Koch brother Presidency south of the border. Aka. The “take their oil” and “burn our coal” gang.
This last issue, the stock market/pension and employment issue, could be managed. It would however require the universal elimination of economic desperation. It would also require a government education and public relations effort that was as relentless as it was well funded. Explaining every day and across every media channel including sit-coms and rom-coms why this is the real TINA. It would require that people were given a great deal in terms of quality of life and leisure time in return for what they were giving up in terms of dollars and sense. Such a transformation, in the short term at least, is impossible without a level of taxation on the higher brackets in the 90% range. It will also be impossible unless the power to create money is returned to and limited to governments. Banking meanwhile would have to become strictly a public utility for the foreseeable future. Finally none of this is enough unless the U.S. China, Russia and Europe agree to sign on and abide by what they sign. Two very different acts.
That’s all, “No biggie” as the kids say. Naomi Klein put it succinctly when she wrote, “This changes everything.” Though she may have been more accurate to say, “This should change everything.”
So. As I say. It’s not complicated. At least in terms of understanding what is needed. It’s rather a different story when one thinks about how to go about implementing the required changes. Or as the brilliant historian Gabriel Kolko wrote. “It is as easy to say how the world ought to be as it is impossible to achieve.”
Jeff Berg is a a founding member of Post Carbon Toronto and a commentator on the twin issue of energy and emissions.