Outside the Asylum
Today I’m going to take a stab at a topic I’ve been avoiding. It’s a topic that provides (I hope) the context within which my political choices make sense.
Let’s talk about climate change.
It’s been a while since I looked at the predictions of what kind of world unchecked global warming would produce. The last time I looked, I saw the following assertions:
(If anybody can disprove that these are rational, probable hypotheses, you would be doing me and my ability to sleep an inestimable favor--especially if you can contradict them in essence, rather than just in detail).
Add to these assertions the following facts:
Now let’s put these puzzle pieces together. Add the hypothesized predictions to the established facts.
First, the simplest part. Billions of people will die as a result of the transformation of the planet occasioned by a 4 degree Celsius temperature increase. Humankind has never seen so much death. Even if it happens over a period of years, which it will, it will still be more human death in a shorter amount of time than we’ve ever seen in recorded history.
Human civilization cannot withstand the shock of that much death that fast. Nor can it adjust swiftly and smoothly enough to the extinction rate which will decimate the plant and animal species humans depend on to live (which is one reason only ½ billion people will be able to live here under the conditions of a 4 degree C increase—there won’t be enough to eat.) That is why the scientists have guessed that civilization will fall in 2050. Whether they’ve got the year right or not, it seems overwhelmingly likely that human civilization will fall in the face of catastrophic climate change.
As a 51-year-old woman, it’s possible I and my family will be alive to see civilization collapse. We might, with a great deal of luck, be safely dead before 2050—I would be 82 in 2050, and my partners would each be 76—but even if we were so lucky, it’s obvious that the fall of human civilization won’t happen like flipping off a light switch. Things won’t go from “everything’s OK” or “it’s not OK, but we can get by” to “we’re dead” overnight. Things will likely be very bad for some years before civilization can be said to have well and truly collapsed. In addition, so far the only way in which the scientists’ predictions about global warming have been wrong is that events have transpired more quickly, and in more extreme fashion, than the scientists predicted. So there is a better than average chance that my family and I will be alive to experience the collapse of human civilization due to the destruction of most life on the planet.
This is my scientific context for political decisions. A global catastrophe is slowly killing me and everything I know and love. Unlike nuclear Armageddon, which I feared throughout my youth as the Cold War teetered precariously toward its end, this catastrophe is not just a possibility, but a reality slowly developing and accelerating around me. (Not that I’m minimizing the importance of nuclear Armageddon, which is also hovering over our heads like the sword of Damocles.)
Now for the political context.
Since global warming became a public issue, there have been some good-faith businessmen attempting to rein capitalism in enough that global warming will be slowed or diminished, enabling humanity to survive. I know there are differences of opinion among people of good faith as to whether or not one can “green” capitalism. For my purposes here, though, those arguments are irrelevant because these good-faith businessmen have never been able to make headway against the most powerful corporate elites, concentrated in the areas of Big Energy, Big Money, and Big Guns, elites who appear to desire, at all costs, that we preserve the current system. Because no one has ever managed to overcome this unholy troika, nobody is ever going to know whether or not green capitalism is a possibility.
There have been some good-faith politicians at all levels of government who have attempted, sometimes valiantly, to head off the danger of climate catastrophe through changes in policy--or at least to create a plan for adapting to global warming as best we can. None of those politicians, in either party, has ever been able to make headway against their own party leaders, who are beholden to the same unholy troika that, along with public-sector military intelligence, controls the ship of state. This has been true since politicians have been debating the issue, which means that for more than thirty years, none of the policy changes which might have averted climate catastrophe has been instituted through domestic law or international treaty.
When Nancy Pelosi said in 2012 that “Climate change [was] a dead issue,” what I heard was “The government doesn’t care if you all die.” People tend to defend Pelosi when I bring this up, using arguments about political pragmatism, how it isn’t Pelosi’s fault if that’s what the politics actually are, etc. I’d like to remind all those people that we’re talking about the death of most of the humans on the planet, the fall of human civilization, and the possible extinction of the human species. One would think that, if the current political system can do nothing to avert such dire outcomes, that fact would warrant more than the political equivalent of a shrug. One would think that, if the current political system can do nothing to avert global mass death, the end of civilization, and the potential end of the human species, and instead hurtles us, through its terrible policy choices, toward that catastrophic future, that maybe it’s the system that needs to go.
But Pelosi’s shrug is in line with American political history. Multiple Congresses and presidential administrations have done nothing on this matter; most have instituted policies that advance us toward climate catastrophe, rather than away from it. Some, like the first Reagan administration and the first Obama administration, have even shut down efforts—sometimes within their own parties--to stop us hurtling toward this nightmare future.
In 2019, it should be impossible to even speak of this issue within a partisan framework. No party has clean hands. In fact, both parties are protecting the policies which are killing us. Both parties are also protecting the psychopathic elites who have chosen these policies, and insist upon keeping to them. The Republicans make few bones about this, taking refuge either in the notion that global warming is a hoax, or in a general, all-purpose contempt for liberals (forgetting that there used to be environmentalist conservatives aplenty.) Democrats have turned climate change into a religion, proclaiming that they “believe the science” the way I used to proclaim the Nicene Creed in church. They appear to expect some sort of tribal partisan kudos for being rationalists—not like those faith-based ignoramuses on the right. The trouble is that “believing the science” means “believing that we’re heading toward apocalypse and most of us will die.” If you can “believe the science” without doing everything in your power to change the course of history, then you are worse than an ignoramus. You are a monster.
So there you have it. The political and economic systems of my country—and, for the most part, the legal system too—are being run by people who are fine with all of us dying. Anyone who defends the current political and economic systems of this country, anyone who wants to make nice with the people who own and control those systems, is also, necessarily, fine with all of us dying. I don’t mean personally; perhaps these people cry into their pillows at night or drink heavily while taking anxiety medication because they can’t stand the pain of their poor, tormented, jailed consciences. I mean functionally.
For example, I’m fairly certain that Barack Obama is too intelligent and logical not to understand that destroying the world is idiotic, even for imperialistic sociopaths. A technocrat like him would also know that using humanity’s ability to invent new technologies to help stave off the destruction might be something worth attempting. But, as brutal as it sounds, it doesn’t matter what goes on inside Barack Obama’s mind. What matters is what he did as President, and what he does now as, essentially, a celebrity. As someone once said, “Don’t tell me what you believe. Tell me what you do, and I’ll tell you what you believe.”
By now, it should be obvious that the frames we habitually put around this discussion are seriously flawed. It’s not a question of Republicans vs Democrats, because the leadership of both parties is in favor of our current historical trajectory. The political conflict, when there is any, exists between a few people in each party who want to change course, and the leadership of each party whose job it is to prevent change. It’s not a question of faith vs science, because those who “believe” the science are, for the most part, no more inclined to make changes than those who think climate change is a hoax. (Like I said before, I don’t care what political leaders believe in private, only what they do as officials.) Putting rationalists in charge doesn’t help, as we found out both in 1993 and in 2009. What good is “believ[ing] the science” when you don’t use your supermajority and near-total control of two of the three branches of government to change the policies which “the science” keeps telling you are leading humanity to its destruction? And it’s not about incrementalism vs radicalism. The people who keep pushing for incremental change are the same people who have been incrementally moving us into reactionary extremism for three decades, with the result that we are now contemplating the possible fall of human civilization in our lifetimes. They believe in incremental change all right—to the right. That’s the only kind of incremental change we’ve seen from either party for forty years.
So why won’t I support Elizabeth Warren? Why don’t I think she is a progressive? Why don’t I care whether Warren, Biden, or Trump wins the election in 2020?
I don’t think Warren is a progressive because progressives oppose corruption in government, in particular the kind of corruption where the rich control the government through bribes. That has been the definition of progressive since the Progressive Party rose in the early twentieth century. You can’t be a progressive and defend taking "lots of dark money."
I won’t support Warren for the same reason that I don’t care whether Warren, Biden, or Trump wins the election in 2020. The elites who own the system, and the politicians who express their will, made it clear during the two Obama administrations that they would allow no serious changes. They wouldn’t even allow the United States to have a publicly-funded, publicly-run insurance plan as an option for citizens who don’t want private insurance; they certainly would not tolerate, and apparently never will tolerate, changing the relationship of energy, money, and war which has concentrated power in their hands. Their excess of power comes from the same thing that is destroying the life of the world, and they’ve decided that maintaining that concentration of power is more important than having a human civilization—or a living planet. Taking large sums of money from these people means the same thing that endorsing Hillary Clinton means:
You aren’t going to help me.