Global Warming and Slippery Property Rights

GuanacosI’m going to talk about the social disruption that will result from global warming and how the power elite will try to maintain the status quo, causing countless unnecessary deaths in the name of them keeping their privilege. But before I get to that, I want to provide you with how I got to thinking about this. You see, recently I was watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail. You may remember one of the best things about the film is that the opening credits are done in the style of an Ingmar Bergman film, and so there are repeated references to Sweden and moose. But then, the titles are changed to that of a Latin American film and instead of moose, we get llamas.

For example, one of the executive producers is, “‘Ralph’ the Wonder Llama.” And of central importance to us, one of the director credits is to, “14 North Chilean Guanacos (Closely Related to the Llama).” I had to look this up. And indeed, it is true. The guanacos are of the genus Lama — Latin for llama, I assume. They live in southwest South America. And most notably, they manage to live on the western edge of the Atacama Desert — the driest desert in the world outside of the polls. The average rainfall is about a half inch per year. But there are some weather stations in the desert that have never received any rainfall for over half a century.

So how do the guanacos survive in this place? Well, they mostly don’t. They only live near the coast. The cold ocean air hits the hot land and fog forms. This moisture is captured by the cacti and the guanacos eat the cacti. And that is how they survive. So the guanacos can only survive in perhaps 1% of the Atacama Desert. And I thought that was rather a good analogy of what we are doing to the earth as we ignore global warming.

As I talk about all the time, the biggest problem with global warming is almost certainly what it is going to do to rainfall patterns. A warmer world should actually create more rainfall. The problem is that both the models and long-term precipitation-temperatures correlations show that global warming will mostly decrease rainfall where we need it: over land. A lot more rainfall over the oceans really doesn’t help much. Decreased rainfall is going to make areas where there still is adequate rainfall far more valuable. The world will be like the Atacama Desert: plenty of land where we can’t survive and little land where we can.

What will happen then? Well, there have been water wars in the past. And as Shane Harris discussed in Foreign Policy recently, Water Wars, “The new conflicts of the future could be sparked by climate change.” I can see this working internationally and intranationally. I can easily see the United States invading Canada to get its farm land in a century. Of course, it won’t be sold that way. I’m sure The New York Times and other mainstream media outlets will be as willing as ever to spin whatever yarn the government is feeding them about the existential threat those francophiles in Quebec represent.

But also, as always, the rich will take the best land and everything that results from that. And the poor will be pushed to the margins. The argument in favor of private ownership of land is pretty weak. We aren’t talking about something that anyone built. It is literally true that you did not built that piece of earth. So when it comes to natural resources, we really do have a “might makes right” system where whoever owns a piece of land does so because of laws that privilege them.

This situation is bad enough today. But in a highly disrupted system caused by global warming, the situation will be much worse. Since the land that is considered valuable will change, we will see just how much billionaire Americans respect the land rights of poor people who win the geographic lottery. My guess is that we will see that they don’t believe in those rights all that much. At least, they won’t until they take control of the lands. Then land rights will be unquestioned. I only say this because it is how it has always gone.

At some point, every piece of land was stolen. The American obsession with land rights is just a way for the rich to maintain their power. The moment that it isn’t to their advantage, they will simply take what is not theirs. Afterward, they will pretend that their land ownership is righteous. Just like they do today.

2 thoughts on “Global Warming and Slippery Property Rights

  1. I don’t know if you liked the movie Avatar, but I will assume you know how it goes. I’ve read a few commentaries on it, and no one seems to notice this one detail that was meant to demonstrate the corrupting depravity of white Western imperialism. In a briefing where the mercenary army receives their orders to destroy the N’avi holy site with a gratuitously big bomb, the camera pans over, and stays on what looks like a young Native American man in uniform saying “hell yeah”, or somesuch. Off to do the white man’s dirty work as was done to his people three, four hundred years earlier. Or maybe you think Avatar was ham fisted crap. Interstellar, which I plan to see next week seems to have a good climate disaster theme in it. I only wish the 3D glasses gave you 2.5 hours of subliminal messages to VOTE IN THE GODDAMN MIDTERMS.
    So, the coming environmental catastrophe. One of the most sleazy, cynical takes on it is the “Well, we can’t do anything about it anyway.” That one pisses me off more than the straight up deniers or the Rapture crowd. To your point in the post, and this applies all policy, vast numbers, hundreds of millions, of Americans don’t realize that they are “Them”, and not “Us”. Police brutality, poverty, that happens to Them. And they deserve it. Back in the 90s, when we has asteroid disaster movies, I had a housemate who claimed “My Dad has money. He knows people. I’d get into the shelter.” No. You are not connected to the asset owner class. The fact that you know me, and we work and live together should tip you off to that. But I think the climate denial makes good use of this. Only Africans will die/We have a place in Aspen/I’ll get into the shelter.
    Those comfortable, not two paychecks away from ruin, middle class people who still exist only have what they have because the power elites have not found a way/bothered to steal it from them yet. Money, luxuries today. Water and food in 50 years.
    But, talking about the .01% and the police and security state they have obviously built to protect what they stole, have you seen this?
    Depressing. Although countermeasures could be developed.

    • I didn’t think much about Avatar. My main takeaway from it was that I was never going to see a 3-D film again, because I thought the glasses destroyed what was otherwise a brilliantly beautiful film. I remember people complaining about the pro-environment aspect of the film. I didn’t really even see it that way, although who are these people who are anti-environment? I mean, really: they actually exist. I swear, if Fox News started reporting that only liberals love their mothers, conservatives would be anti-mother. I suppose it was a remarkable film in that it was an action film in which the military were the bad guys. We could use more of that.

      “We can not do anything about it!” is currently the last of my Stages of Global Warming Denial. But I have a feeling that I’ll eventually have to update it, because I’m sure there will be more. Actually, there is another one after that, “We can’t afford to do anything about it!” What is critical of the stages is that the conclusion is always the same: do nothing. It doesn’t matter how much evidence is brought to bear, there will always be another excuse. What they all have in common is the same thing, “I just don’t care.”

      That’s an excellent point about “us” and “them.” I take it as given that everyone who comes around here already knows that we will all be together as we die of exposure in the Atacama Desert. But it needs to be pointed out. It reminds me of a charming short film from decades ago (I haven’t been able to find it online), “Psychic Parrot.” In in, there is this parrot who can foretell the future. He is right every time, so people believe him. One day he announces that the earth is going to explode at a particular time in the near future. So all the toff have a space ship build and they rocket off to live on the moon. Moments before the earth is about to explode, psychic parrot comes on the television and announces, “I was wrong! I was wrong!” And then we see the moon blow up. If only life were like that!

      I hadn’t seen that article, but I’ve been thinking along these lines for some time. More and more I question whether society won’t collapse in the next century. The more interconnected and specialized we get, the more fragile we become. At the same time, I’m not sure we are making progress even now. I look at my sister and her life is really in no way distinct from her life 40 years ago. And that’s largely even true of me. If I weren’t on the internet all day, I would simply be in the library all day. The main thing I use my smart phone for is playing music, which means it isn’t much different from the transistor radio I had in 1972. Anyway, if society does collapse it will be because the power elite try to create this kind of alternate universe for themselves. I truly believe that such an economy would be unstable. And we are already seeing it without reaching the drone enforced separate and so very very unequal society that is the wet dream of every rich person in the world.

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