Climate Science or Politics?

Climate Stalemate: Uncle-Twinkle Dialogue on Planetary Politics – Part 5

climate change global warming

Uncle: So, Twinkle, I am not sure if we should worry more about the science part of the climate crisis or the politics part of it?

Twinkle: Uncle, I feel like “It’s the politics, stupid!”  The climate crisis is very much here. No amount of networking, speaking, writing, researching, and campaigning will alter the situation in any meaningful manner. Instead, we need to evaluate our value system, prioritize our needs and wants, alter our lifestyle, make policy-level changes, and undertake collective actions. All this is politics, isn’t it, uncle?

Uncle: Absolutely! Only our climate politics can help to halt the climate crisis, reverse it, undo the damages, and renew our global climate machine. We hear scientists, technocrats, climatologists, and others use scientific language and explain the issue variously. For instance, some use the medical language to explain the crisis: that the Earth has fever and the blanket that covers and protects it is torn, and hence the suffering is getting worse. I remember, we began talking about Ozone depletion first, then global warming, ice melting, sea-level rising, erratic weather patterns such as heat waves, cloud bursts etc., mass migration, resultant socio-economic-political issues and so on. The political side dawned on us much later.

Twinkle: Precisely, uncle. As far as I am concerned, the right place to start thinking about climate crisis is the very language that we all use to talk about the above issues. Just as Christopher Columbus’ and other Western voyager’s intrusion and invasion into the native people’s territory is termed as “discovery” and the colonial occupation and domination is innocuously termed as “first contact,” the predominantly Western destruction of the delicate global climate machine is innovatively called “climate change.” Similarly, they call the systematic and relentless destruction of Nature as “Nature loss,” and carefully avoid adding any prefix such as “industrial” or “developmental” to “pollution” that destroys our ecology and climate. On the other hand, consider the language and rhetoric the Western political, diplomatic circles and the media use to talk about terrorism, im/migration, Muslims, Africans, and some of the “Third World” countries and their leaders, and contrast that with the language and rhetoric they use to talk about “globalization,” “development,” “security,” and “climate change”. The difference should be obvious.

Uncle: That’s very true, Twinkle.

Twinkle: Uncle, I, for one, tend to think that it’s neither “climate change” nor “climate challenge,” but “climate carnage”, a racist carnage of the indigenous people and the people of color all over the world. For instance, most parts of West Africa have witnessed a sharp decline in rainfall since 1970 and successive droughts. There has been 20% decrease in annual rainfall, and 40% to 60% decrease in river water level. The interior delta of river Niger has almost halved, from 37,000 sq. km. in 1950 to 15,000 sq. km now. Temperature in water bodies in Mali has risen leading to increase in invading plant species. Fishing, navigation and irrigation have all become tough with serious impact on the agro-economy and forcing people to flee.[1]Victims of a crime that they did not have any part in!

Uncle: I can see how it is quite racist to make it all sound as though “climate change” somehow descended on us and it is a common problem of humanity without explicitly acknowledging the role of the “developed” “First World.” It is even more racist to indicate or insist that the “developing” “Third World” should not engage in the same kind of carbon producing and polluting “development”. Now I don’t mean to argue that the “developing” world should also have an equal opportunity to repeat the same mistake of the North; but it is only fair and square to admit that the indigenous growth models and developmental practices of the non-Western societies were meddled with by Northern racism, slave trade, colonial plunder, imperialism, developmentalism, carbon production, and more recently globalism. Unwillingness to give space or credit to the victimized societies, to admit one’s own commissions and omissions, to mend one’s ways and means of life, and worst of all, attempting to make the whole issue look like a common problem of humanity is nothing but racism. Climate racism!

Twinkle: Exactly, uncle. Even at this hour of unprecedented crisis, the “developed” countries try to entrench their “way of life” by turning this into a trading opportunity and to dominate over others. Instead of engaging in some soul-searching, recanting their “development” paradigm, and reducing their carbon emissions, they propose international emissions trading as a way of achieving cost-effective emission reductions. The Western “development” paradigm fixes monetary value on land, water, forests, hills, and everything else overriding the non-Western ways of respecting and protecting the natural resources.  Even after they have hit against the wall and their model brings doom to the entire globe, they still presume there is nothing to learn from the traditional peoples but only have to trade in pollution privileges. This is a racist premise indeed!

Uncle: What to say, Twinkle? Everything is up for sale in the capitalistic scheme of things. Even the climate! Instead of problematizing the existing paradigms of development and the unquenchable thirst for fossil fuels, the disaster is being turned into corporate-style business of carbon trading. Instead of addressing the root causes of the problem, the North is trying to continue with its corporatized “trading” mechanisms and practices and destroy the local communities and ecosystems.

The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is a good example, I think. This is an arrangement under the Kyoto Protocol that allows “developed” countries with greenhouse gas reduction commitment to invest in projects that reduce emissions in developing countries as an alternative to more expensive emission reductions in their own countries. Instead of eliminating emissions all together, they are shifting the burden to the poor countries. In other words, we will do it somewhere else where human life and natural resources are cheaper seems to be the reasoning.

Curtailing the organic indigenous growth by colonial oppression and imperialistic domination, it is presumptuous to impose CDMs, quotas of carbon emissions, and engaging in carbon trading. Instead of admitting that their reckless industrialization and capitalistic mode of development have irretrievably damaged the Earth and trying to seek an ecological remedy, the powerful countries are trying to couch their criminal destruction in innocent terms and to turn the table against the victims.

Industrial development has disproportionately benefited the North and unduly affected the rest. Just like the capitalistic and greedy buyer decides the terms of trade in the international market today, the violator manages the whole climate show. The Northern-dominated climate negotiations with little transparency and popular participation will in fact worsen the conditions for the indigenous peoples, and people of color. This reminds me of a Tamil proverb: “Someone commits the crime and another gets the punishment!”

Twinkle: Exactly, uncle. The indigenous people and people of color are hard hit by the climate destruction but have least resources to cope with it. The rich countries are “spending billions of dollars to limit their own risks from its worst consequences, like drought and rising seas” but “despite longstanding treaty commitments to help poor countries deal with warming, these industrial powers are spending just tens of millions of dollars on ways to limit climate and coastal hazards in the world’s most vulnerable regions — most of them close to the equator and overwhelmingly poor.”[2]

Uncle: Turning even a tragedy such as climate destruction into a profit-making endeavor is the pinnacle of environmental and climate racism.

Twinkle: Listen to this, uncle. Two-thirds of the atmospheric build-up of carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping greenhouse gas that can persist in the air for centuries, has come in nearly equal proportions from the United States and Western European countries. Africa accounts for less than 3 percent of the global emissions of carbon dioxide from fuel burning since 1900, yet its 840 million people face some of the biggest risks from drought and disrupted water supplies, according to new scientific assessments. As the oceans swell with water from melting ice sheets, it is the crowded river deltas in southern Asia and Egypt, along with small island nations that are most at risk. Henry I. Miller, a fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University has put it tersely: “Like the sinking of the Titanic, catastrophes are not democratic. A much higher fraction of passengers from the cheaper decks were lost. We’ll see the same phenomenon with global warming.”[3] It is high time the privileged gave up their racist precepts and practices, and start living simply so that the underprivileged can simply live.

The writer is a social and Green political activist from the southernmost tip of the South Asian peninsula, Email: [email protected].

[1] Jayashree Nandi, “Climate change impact leaves Mali villagers high and dry,” Sunday Times of India, September 20, 2009.

[2] Andrew C. Revkin, “Poor Nations to Bear Brunt as World Warms,” The New York Times, April 1, 2007.

[3] Op Cit., Note 2.

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