It’s very cloudy outside here in Northern California. It’s dark too. The clouds are thick. We will almost certainly get a few sprinkles. And then it will be back into the 90s next week. I fully expect that California will be abandoned within 50 years. I’m also expecting the United States to invade Canada on this same time scale. For over a hundred years, the United States has had some of the best farm land in the world. But that land is moving north. On the plus side, we may have the perfect climate to grow blue agave and God knows we’ll likely need more Tequila than we have previously.
What’s interesting about global warming is that the Unite States has always had the most to lose from it. Yet more than any country, we have stood in the way of doing anything about it. Sure: there are other countries that are against it, but if the United States had been on board, it wouldn’t have mattered. We had that kind of power. We still do. But we won’t for long. Rule number one for the Price: keep your army well fed! That’s going to get harder and harder.
Naomi Klein has a new book out, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate. I haven’t read it yet. But Joe Romm has a brief introduction to it at Think Progress, This Changes Everything: Naomi Klein Is Right, Unchecked Capitalism Will Destroy Civilization. He summarizes the book as making three points. First, because we’ve denied the problem for well over two decades, our options are much worse. Second, the choice is between the end of civilization and the end of capitalism as we have come to know it. And third, it would be “morally monstrous” to choose capitalism over civilization.
Note that neither Klein nor Romm are against capitalism itself — just the kind of capitalism that we have now: the kind of capitalism that is mostly mythical, that doesn’t produce anything, that claims that people are only free if one person can have as much wealth as the rest of the people in his country combined. But the sad thing is that it really doesn’t matter. In the United States especially, to question the absolute “free market” paper tablets that Ayn Rand provided us means that you are a Socialist! And the people who believe this — who are extremely powerful — would rather destroy civilization than to concede that markets, and by extension themselves, are not perfect.
As Mr Tolstoy told us, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Good civilizations are all alike because they managed to look out for their people and the long term interests of the state. But bad civilizations suck in their own ways. Why did the Roman Empire fall? Who cares! It tells us nothing about why the American Empire is falling. Our civilization is dying because we have allowed a small number of people to become too powerful. And they have developed a kind of philosophy that is destroying the civilization.
Apparently, Klein has some ideas on how we can save our civilization. And Romm notes that Americans are not too keen on capitalism anyway. He even quotes (Twice!) the evil wordsmith Frank Luntz saying that Americans think that capitalism is immoral. But am I really to believe that we are going to have a discussion of this? Back in 2012, the vast majority of Californians were in favor of GMO labeling of food — a reasonable law even if, like me, you have no problem with GMOs. But Monsanto came in and spent just $8 million in this very big television market and the law went down to a resounding defeat.
So as crops fail and property values decline, the people will be upset. But the power elites will be there to make them understand that this is better than the alternative, Socialism! And anyway, global warming will cause all kinds of strife all over the world. There will be any number of groups who are angry because they are starving to death. And our government will be able to label them terrorists. And everyone will agree: they’re the ones who are the problem.
As for the real problem, we will do what we always do: nothing.
It may be that stuff like crop failure was inconceivable to our elites because our farming is mostly just a form of manufacturing anyway. So what if we need more fertilizer, more pesticides, more irrigation? You can always pass the costs along or get more subsidies. Of course now irrigation conflicts with our elites’ other favorite digging-in-the-dirt hobby, shale oil fracking. Fracking requires an enormous amount of water. I’m sure privatizing municipal water supplies will solve that problem!
Funny thing I read today. A few weeks ago I was in Northern Minnesota, and it was impossible to find a hotel. It’s the last of the year before the cold hits, and people are swarming to the Boundary Waters Wilderness; it’s a big local thing. (I visited a brewery and a mine; I’m more the indoors type!) Rooms that normally go for $50 were at $150+ and all sold out in towns like Ely.
Well, I read today in The Progressive that for years after the act was passed protecting the Boundary Waters, the good people of Ely burned one of the activists who protected the wilderness area in effigy. Like, more than a decade later. Of course, it was a mining region and many mines were becoming unprofitable, so the thought of keeping an area closed to timber companies was terrifying. Where would the jobs come from?
Luckily for Ely, the jobs eventually came from tourism (not for some other regional towns less luckily situated.) My point isn’t that Ely should have predicted tourism; you can’t predict stuff like that. But that resource-extracting industries always die. Always, in the long run. Whereas things like cropland and wilderness areas will last pretty much forever, if you manage them sensibly. You don’t have to be Merlin to foresee this stuff.
To me that’s a real damning criticism of this “don’t stand in the way of freedom” nonsense. Even if you buy the bull that the rich today should have freedom to abuse the poor because they’re better and God likes ’em more, what about the future? What about the good people God likes in the future? What justification can you make for severely curtailing their freedom?
I’m excited about the Klein book, although it will certainly depress me. I’m hoping that 500 years from now, if there are still people around, they’ll be able to look back and think we were not ALL assholes.
I don’t really think people will look back on us and think we were terrible. I think they will just be mystified. They might think of us like the Caribou: growing out of control because of lack of predators and dying of starvation.
The issue with water rights reminds me of Terry Anderson and PERC. Anderson pretty much invented the idea of free market environmentalism. He wrote a lot about water rights. And PERC is very much a free market group. Twenty-five years ago, they were skeptical about global warming (as was I). But over time, they got on board. You can be conservative and still be smart. But whereas PERC takes the problem seriously, CATO and Reason Magazine continue to deny. It’s because PERC actually cares about the world. CATO just cares about the profits of the rich.
And for the umpteenth time: when it all comes crashing down, the conservatives will all say, “How could we have know? There were people saying things on both sides!” Yeah. Of course, there was only a tiny group on your side and you were paying them!
A couple of things:
A) Global warming isn’t going to go away, and it isn’t going to go away as a Cause, any more than concern about air pollution or environmental protectionism has gone away in the past 40 years. Simply put, as long as the earth keeps getting warmer, people are going to become distressed about it and protest in more active and strident forms. Conservatives seem to think that if they just stand tough for a few more years that liberals will learn their lesson and give up their silly AGW ideas; reality is apt to disappoint them as time wears on.
B) The US is the major economic and industrial power in the world right now, it exercises that power in various ways, with considerable impunity, and its ruling classes feel morally entitled to use that power. One could argue that moral authority has been considerably diminished in the last dozen years, and will not easily be regained. But ignoring that issue, what matters is that other powerful economic and political powers are arising — China and India in particular, but another half dozen contenders are out there — and by the middle of the century, when global warming effects will probably be obvious to all but ideologues, US power is going to be diminished by the existence of such rivals. American conservatives and politicians and reactionary businessmen may wish to ignore AGW and may wish to promote such attitudes around the globe, but it’s very unlikely that other nations will fall in line — certainly not indefinitely.
C) My suspicion is that around 2050 or so, the US is increasingly going to be bound up by treaties and international agreements which force AGW controls upon us. For example, the Europeans might refuse to accept beef and pork exports from us unless we have certified that livestock producers have reduced their CO2 emissions to some standard set by a UN commision. They’d be using sanctions aginst us, in other words. And while sanctions haven’t been employed against the US up to now, sanctions have been used to regulate other nations’ behavior for quite some time now. Indeed, the US has often been the instigator of various regimes of sanctions — Ask the Chinese and North Koreans, and Cubans, and Iranians, and Vietnamese and several other groups of people. Essentially then, we’re going to be bullied into the AGW camp to keep large sectors of our economy alive. Conservatives won’t like it, but they’ll learn to accept it.
Even in the US, reality trumps ideology, given enough time.
I could see that. By 2050 we probably won’t be able to afford much military bullying anymore, which would be key to the rest of the world forcing the US to behave. The only good thing about empires is they do end. There was a novel, “Ultimatum,” by Matthew Glass, vaguely close to your scenario. Might be of interest!
I agree with everything you say except the American reaction. There is a strong fascist streak in America. I see it as more likely that the US will continue to build up its military, even while its middle class is decimated. Then it will just take what it wants. For a long time, I’ve felt we are coming to a time when the rest of the world has to bind together to take on the belligerent US. I hate to be so negative. There is a great deal to love about America, but the people are very easily led. My conversations with conservatives, while hopeful in many ways, show that are focused on this idea of American strength — being the baadasssss of the world.