By Mark Dunlea, Green Education and Legal Fund
Humanity’s survival depends on creating a different world.
Climate change is the greatest threat that humanity has ever faced. It is also occurring during the midst of the sixth great extinction of species in the planet’s history. Both have been caused by human actions.
The Bible – the sacred foundational text of Christians, Jews, and Muslims – calls for a Jubilee, a society-wide forgiveness of debts, every fifty years. Ancient civilizations understood that without such a regular reboot of the economy, their societies would stagnate and collapse. The world needs a Jubilee
The climate emergency means we need to relegate capitalism to the dustbin of history. Even the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and Pope Francis have identified capitalism as a core problem driving climate change. We need to adopt political and economic systems that focus on promoting the common good rather than relying on the drive for profit – the greed of the 1% – to determine what our economy does. We can no longer survive a system that allows economic decisions to be made without regard to the broader social and environmental costs they impose. We need to embrace sustainability. I personally support ecosocialism, with democratic control and community ownership of our energy and economy. And we need to dismantle the military-industrial complex.
While our ancestors have been around for about six million years, the present form of humans only emerged about 300,000 years ago. Human civilization has been around for only about 10,000 years. During that time, many civilizations have risen and then fell. Environmental problems were often a main cause of the collapse. In many cases, solutions existed but were rejected because they would undercut the power and wealth of the ruling class. We are presently following that same failed path.
Global warming is already well underway. Extreme weather is accelerating and intensifying, with heat waves, wildfires, floods, drought, and massive storms ever more common and deadly. An estimated 9 million people die annually worldwide from various forms of air pollution. We cannot totally stop global warming but hopefully, we can work together to survive it. And the sooner we put a halt to burning fossil fuels, the less the damage will be.
Futurists outline two major paths. One is to continue to build a world based on increasing economic inequality, with billionaires becoming ever more prevalent and powerful. That leads to a world of heavily fortified biospheres for the select few and competition for survival for the rest of us. The other path is one based on equality and mutuality, where every human is a respected member whose needs are to be met. That path gives us the most chance of not only survival but for a decent living for future generations.
Tens of thousands recently marched with the Poor People’s Campaign in DC to revitalize Dr. King’s call for a moral revolution, confronting the evils of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, and the war economy and militarism.
A clean energy revolution would end health problems from air pollution, create an enormous number of well-paying jobs, and lower future energy costs. The Green New Deal first called for in the US by the Green Party in 2010. would combine a rapid ten-year transition to zero emissions with an Economic Bill of Rights, guaranteeing a living wage job, single-payer universal health care, housing, and a college education.
Pope Francis’ climate encyclical highlighted that solving climate change requires us to solve other forms of oppression that emerge from the same mentality that leads to environmental exploitation, namely that the rich and powerful are free to oppress others, whether based on race, gender, wealth or nationality. We need the various social change movements to unite in strategic coordination to win the wholesale changes needed.
The biggest challenge to surviving climate change is not technology but political and economic concerns. Scientists began sounding the alarm at least 50 years ago and governments have officially recognized the problem for at least 30 years. Man claims we have the right to dominate the other species on the planet due to our superior intelligence. Yet for decades our political leaders have done virtually nothing as the threat to our future existence has grown ever more apparent.
Some scientists have raised the possibility that humans will not survive the extreme weather changes combined with the destruction of the rest of the web of life. The greater short-term threat is that our political and economic systems collapse under the weight of increasing disruptions to our food, water, housing, power, etc., with civil strife and war breaking out as the number of climate refugees becomes overwhelming.
The industrialized nations with their complex interdependencies and systems are especially vulnerable to quick collapse from major disruptions. Yet it is the less developed societies that are the principal victims of climate change and whose citizens and governments have far less resources to cope with global warming caused primarily by the industrial north and the industrial revolution. This is why the call for environmental justice is so central to the climate movement.
In America, we have now moved from being the center of climate denial to climate evasion. While at least the Democrats are increasingly willing to invest in the expansion of the renewable energy industry, their leadership is still unwilling to shut down the fossil fuel industry and their campaign donations. Climate change is already becoming a pretext for massive corporate subsidies of schemes (e.g., carbon sequestration and capture, blue hydrogen, biomass) focused more on increased profits for donors than on curbing global warming.
Many hoped that the removal of Trump from the White House would allow America to win the climate battle. That hasn’t happened, as the Democrats have failed once again to rise to the challenge. They have “allowed” Manchin and his coal holdings to block action in Congress, refusing to take any action to punish his misbehavior. With some limited exceptions, Biden has failed to use his executive powers to take climate actions as outlined in climatepresident.org. He used the invasion of Ukraine to promote fossil fuels and has refused to tax the price gouging driving inflation. Virtually nothing other than talk and press releases happened at the COP26 six-year follow-up to the Paris climate accords. It is hard to imagine how the Democrats could do a better job in setting the stage for the Republicans to regain control of Congress in the midterms.
In New York, after the Democrats won control of all branches of state government, they failed to take major climate action for three years in a row. Their draft state climate plan is more of a college white paper on possible solutions that a detailed blueprint of how to take action. Short-term political considerations, including protecting the wealthy, still rule the day. They refuse to raise the funds needed for the transition.
We need to somehow end the polarization of American society – a problem that is plaguing many other nations as well. Solving climate change requires us to create a future where everyone feels that their needs are being met, that they are an important and integral part of our society. It means we must listen to those we disagree with to figure out how to create common ground. People must believe that the call for a Just Transition includes them.
America needs to reinvent our so-called democracy. One of the biggest misconceptions is that America is the world’s best democracy – the reality is that we are among the worst. The world’s other democracies have improved upon what the American revolution created several centuries ago. Only three democracies still utilize our winner take all system which naturally gravitates to two center-right parties – which is shifted even further to the right by America’s legalized bribery labeled campaign contributions.
All of the other democracies use some form of proportional representation to ensure that their political bodies reflect the spectrum of beliefs among their population, allowing for more informed debate and for alternatives to be developed. We will never survive climate change if we are limited to a far-right GOP that increasingly embraces the dark side and a Democratic Party whose main mantra is we are not (as crazy as) the Republicans. Our democracy desperately needs viable third parties to broaden the political debate.
As we celebrate Juneteenth, let’s remember that it was the movement to abolish slavery that enabled Lincoln and the GOP to be the last third party to successfully capture the White House.
The concept of American exceptionalism is rooted in our exceptional ignorance of history and our political illiteracy. Our schools largely teach a history that begins with the American revolution, glossing over the genocide that the founding fathers oversaw on the tens of millions of people living here thousands of years before Christopher Columbus ever got lost. We are told that we are the best country even though we lag far behind the other industrial democracies in many quality of life issues.
Extinction Rebellion arose in England as a wakeup to politicians failing to act when the fate of the human species was at risk. They focus not on particular climate solutions but on making climate action a central issue. One of their main demands is to utilize Citizen Assemblies, where average citizens are convened as a deliberative body to develop solutions that politicians with their eye on the next election lack the courage to embrace. They have been successfully used by several countries in Europe to deal with other “intractable” problems.
After the recent dire IPCC report, the UN chief said it was now or never for climate action, saying “This abdication of leadership is criminal. The world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home.” The IPCC concluded that any further delay will force humanity to miss the “brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all.”
There is no time left for incrementalism. We need to step up our demands and increase our direct actions disrupting the status quo and the use of fossil fuels.
It is time for a revolution.