Columns, Opinion

Skate on the Paradigm: The CO2-shaped elephant in the room

The reality of climate change is unspeakably grim, which most of us are reminded of on a daily basis. The reality of our current tragedy is topped only by the inevitability of far-worse ecological outcomes on the horizon. 

Andre Salkin

Climate change’s inevitable impacts on Earth will have catastrophic socio-political repercussions, which will threaten the very fabric of organized human civilization. These ecological and social impacts will polarize our populations toward radical solutions for an impending crisis. 

This justified urgency in addressing such a crisis will be for naught if humanity chooses demagogues rather than accept a populist movement to fight the capitalist structure of power that got us here.

Rising sea levels, more intense hurricanes, an ice-free arctic, widespread desertification and the decimation of biodiversity are among the natural phenomena that climate scientists say our path is leading to. 

We’ve already experienced significant ocean acidification, deforestation, water pollution and more. All of these contribute to the loss of ecosystems and the inhabitability of many parts of the globe, especially across the global south: Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Jun Li/DFP STAFF

The health of humanity is inextricably linked with that of nature. The worse nature gets, the harder it will be for humans to inhabit certain parts of the world. 

Scientists estimate climate change will drive the migration of 86 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, 17 million in Latin America and 40 million in South Asia by 2050, according to an Institute for Economics and Peace report.  

These displacements will create mass migrations of climate refugees from the uninhabitable global south to the increasingly temperate global north. Such a movement of people will result in invariable political conflict, including, but not limited to, a reactionary turn to ecofascism.

To understand ecofascism, we must first look at the theory of overpopulation. 

Scholar Thomas Robert Malthus’ 1798 essay argued that when food supplies increase, the population will rapidly grow to consume the new surplus. Eventually there won’t be enough food for humanity to consume, and the people will starve, leading to what became referred to as a “Malthusian catastrophe.” 

Malthus’ theory was eventually disproven by the continued impact of technology on agricultural production beginning in the Industrial Revolution, but his idea of a “Malthusian catastrophe” lives on.

Today, the “Malthusian catastrophe” focuses on overpopulation’s climate impact, rather than starvation. Malthusians argue that consumption demands will outweigh the Earth’s available resources and will lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions, thus worsening climate change. 

Understanding these Malthusian beliefs is paramount to understanding its ideological manifestation: ecofascism. 

The mass migration discussed earlier will likely result in violence and further divide populations into extreme political ideologies. Combined with the worsening of economic conditions due to the global scarcity of commodities, global political climates will extremify and demagoguery will rise. 

Just as in any population, be it 1930s Germany or the post-9/11 United States, populations grow more likely to scapegoat other groups in times of crisis. When climate change floods our coasts, threatens our supply lines, brings millions of migrants to our borders and destabilizes civilization itself, the center will fall. 

With the arrival of such a crisis on our doorstep, we will see the world resort to the most radical solutions available to deal with an impending extinction event. 

These radical solutions are necessary only if they challenge capitalism, which is the economic and political system of eternal growth that led us here in the first place.

The failure of ecofascism is twofold: firstly, in its grotesque ethics and inability to deal with climate change, and secondly, in its pragmatism. Eliminating vast swathes of people in the global south to save the planet sounds great in theory, but in practice, doing so doesn’t really change anything about the dynamics that brought about climate change to begin with. 

Around 70 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 can be traced back to just 100 fossil fuel companies, according to a 2017 study by the Carbon Disclosure Project.

Our issue is not consumption by vulnerable populations in low-income countries, but the production of multinational corporations for Western consumption. And corporations know this. 

ExxonMobil was well aware of the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on global temperatures, but instead of stopping its economic practices, it shelled out money to climate denialism groups.

Make no mistake, just as ExxonMobil has understood the reality of climate change, so, too, have our political leaders. 

Yes, Republican senators have brought snowballs into the legislature to disprove climate change, and President Donald Trump has called it a Chinese hoax. But to interpret this as sheer stupidity, rather than an unwillingness to confront the inconvenient truth of climate change, is to be intellectually dishonest.

Our failure to properly address climate change is not because of Republican disinformation, or even a Democratic belief in incrementalism. The unavoidable conflict at the root of our crisis is in the influence of corporations, Both parties are controlled by capital, and neither has the political will to meaningfully address climate change. 

Stopping global warming is directly at odds with the profit motives of multinational corporations such as Exxon, so meaningfully addressing climate change starts with rethinking who makes decisions in society.

On a base level, this means electing politicians who propose ambitious legislation such as the Green New Deal, which prioritizes people over profit. On a much deeper level, however, this analysis prompts us to examine the undemocratic nature of power in a capitalist society. 

If we are to truly understand climate change as an existential threat to human society, we must be willing to take ambitious action to address it. 

So where’s the action? While change on a personal level may help quell some anxiety, the solution to our global ecological collapse obviously doesn’t lie in individual change.

Instead, the fundamental issue driving climate change — emission of greenhouse gases — is a far more structural problem rooted in unsustainable economic practices and a global political system unwilling to institute significant regulations to save the planet.

We don’t yet know what the future of our planet looks like, but it is certain climate change will shake our civilization to its bones. 

Whatever form of human society comes out the other side, if any, will be one irrevocably scarred from the ecological and human horrors that lay ahead. It will be a society forced to reckon with the values it holds in order to forge a path forward. We can only hope that their vision is one of science and justice.

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