Pathological consumption has become so normalised we scarcely notice it
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 11th December 2012
There’s nothing they need, nothing they don’t own already, nothing they even want. So you buy them a solar-powered waving queen; a belly button brush; a silver-plated ice cream tub holder; a “hilarious” inflatable zimmer frame; a confection of plastic and electronics called Terry the Swearing Turtle; or – and somehow I find this significant – a Scratch Off World wall map.
They seem amusing on the first day of Christmas, daft on the second, embarrassing on the third. By the twelfth they’re in landfill. For thirty seconds of dubious entertainment, or a hedonic stimulus that lasts no longer than a nicotine hit, we commission the use of materials whose impacts will ramify for generations.
Researching her film The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard discovered that of the materials flowing through the consumer economy, only 1% remain in use six months after sale(1). Even the goods we might have expected to hold onto are soon condemned to destruction through either planned obsolescence (breaking quickly) or perceived obsolesence (becoming unfashionable).
But many of the products we buy, especially for Christmas, cannot become obsolescent. The term implies a loss of utility, but they had no utility in the first place. An electronic drum-machine t-shirt; a Darth Vader talking piggy bank; an ear-shaped i-phone case; an individual beer can chiller; an electronic wine breather; a sonic screwdriver remote control; bacon toothpaste; a dancing dog: no one is expected to use them, or even look at them, after Christmas Day. They are designed to elicit thanks, perhaps a snigger or two, and then be thrown away.
The fatuity of the products is matched by the profundity of the impacts. Rare materials, complex electronics, the energy needed for manufacture and transport are extracted and refined and combined into compounds of utter pointlessness. When you take account of the fossil fuels whose use we commission in other countries, manufacturing and consumption are responsible for more than half of our carbon dioxide production(2). We are screwing the planet to make solar-powered bath thermometers and desktop crazy golfers.
People in eastern Congo are massacred to facilitate smart phone upgrades of ever diminishing marginal utility(3). Forests are felled to make “personalised heart-shaped wooden cheese board sets”. Rivers are poisoned to manufacture talking fish. This is pathological consumption: a world-consuming epidemic of collective madness, rendered so normal by advertising and the media that we scarcely notice what has happened to us.
In 2007, the journalist Adam Welz records, 13 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa. This year, so far, 585 have been shot(4). No one is entirely sure why. But one answer is that very rich people in Vietnam are now sprinkling ground rhino horn on their food or snorting it like cocaine to display their wealth. It’s grotesque, but it scarcely differs from what almost everyone in industrialised nations is doing: trashing the living world through pointless consumption.
This boom has not happened by accident. Our lives have been corralled and shaped in order to encourage it. World trade rules force countries to participate in the festival of junk. Governments cut taxes, deregulate business, manipulate interest rates to stimulate spending. But seldom do the engineers of these policies stop and ask “spending on what?”. When every conceivable want and need has been met (among those who have disposable money), growth depends on selling the utterly useless. The solemnity of the state, its might and majesty, are harnessed to the task of delivering Terry the Swearing Turtle to our doors.
Grown men and women devote their lives to manufacturing and marketing this rubbish, and dissing the idea of living without it. “I always knit my gifts”, says a woman in a television ad for an electronics outlet. “Well you shouldn’t,” replies the narrator(5). An advertisement for Google’s latest tablet shows a father and son camping in the woods. Their enjoyment depends on the Nexus 7’s special features(6). The best things in life are free, but we’ve found a way of selling them to you.
The growth of inequality that has accompanied the consumer boom ensures that the rising economic tide no longer lifts all boats. In the US in 2010 a remarkable 93% of the growth in incomes accrued to the top 1% of the population(7). The old excuse, that we must trash the planet to help the poor, simply does not wash. For a few decades of extra enrichment for those who already possess more money than they know how to spend, the prospects of everyone else who will live on this earth are diminished.
So effectively have governments, the media and advertisers associated consumption with prosperity and happiness that to say these things is to expose yourself to opprobrium and ridicule. Witness last week’s Moral Maze programme, in which most of the panel lined up to decry the idea of consuming less, and to associate it, somehow, with authoritarianism(8). When the world goes mad, those who resist are denounced as lunatics.
Bake them a cake, write them a poem, give them a kiss, tell them a joke, but for god’s sake stop trashing the planet to tell someone you care. All it shows is that you don’t.
Two critical tipping points have been breached. This is the critical moment in an evolving system when feedback becomes strong enough to continue on its own without any further input. The tipping point is that moment when a gradual increase becomes unstoppable because the feedback maintains its own momentum. There is nowhere to go under these circumstances, and nothing can be done to prevent it continuing. It is the point when an everyday infection turns epidemic.
We have now breached the edge from two events. One is a remarkable collapse of summer sea ice in the Arctic with enormous consequences, especially on the Gulfstream, which is driven by the flood of cold water that emerges from under the Arctic ice. Now that summers are going to be more and more ice-free the permanent disruption of the Gulfstream becomes more likely. With it will come, inevitably, a change in temperatures and weather in North America and Europe. It may herald an ice age, but it is more likely, according to current thinking, to create even more dangerous weather patterns than we have experienced hitherto.
The other event is the extraordinary growth of methane being exhausted into the air, especially in Siberia that has gained more heat than anywhere else. Some is from clathrates under the ocean floor, and some from the melting of the permafrost. These emissions are now many many times greater than science had expected, and it is feared that they have reached a point where they are feeding back on themselves and are becoming unstoppable.
Together they have brought us to the first tipping point, as this will set off more.
As methane is some 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in heating the planet, further heat is now expected to proceed at an extremely fast rate. It is likely that from here on the consequences of what we have been doing will impact on our lives more severely every year. Larger hurricanes, catastrophic fires, burning temperatures, endless droughts and fierce storm surges are to be the norm.
Together, the feedback loops now in place in the Arctic and in Siberia will inexorably build on themselves. The time when we could have curtailed this disaster has passed. Hanging on to a 2oC limit was a mistake. Thinking of limits when feedback cuts in is ridiculous. Some will continue to argue that we can still do something. Politically, socially, and militarily this is highly unlikely.
If we had listened to the science ten years ago we may not now be in this fix. In 2006 on the PlanetExtinction website my banner said “we have eight years to stop …”, only eight years to end the use of fossil fuels and reverse the trend. It seems that I was over optimistic. We had six.
We are not going to stop the juggernaut of greed that is determined to destroy this beautiful earth, all for the sake of profit, so what can we do under the circumstances? The end-game will be played out in its own time, and will be dealt us by Gaia. But we, the ordinary people, need to protect our lives and our children and what we can of our heritage. There are many schemes and proposals such as Transition Towns, and of these we may take our pick.
Essentially we need ways to increase our personal and social resilience while coming into communities that are dedicated to preserving what matters most. It means training ourselves from today onwards in the ancient trades of farming and clothing, of healing and shelter.
At the same time we need to consider the moral issues, for they will determine how we will react in stress. We need to discuss our options in advance of the coming catastrophe. For example, a sea rise of some metres in Australia would create more than a million refugees. In shock, destitute, desperate for food and lodging, how would any community that has set out to preserve itself handle such an influx? Governments would be compelled to maintain order with reflexes that are likely to be draconian, and political bullies would take advantage of the panic for their own ends.
How does a Morality of Survival deal with this and many similar situations? If not publicly aired, and quickly, our ability to respond is likely to be overwhelmed by events.
Ideally, governments should take the lead, and provide nurture and guidance where it is needed. Frankly, I think this is highly unlikely. It therefore comes down to us, as individuals and as communities, to find our way through the mess that is coming.
We cannot hide our heads and pretend there is still time left to change this world into a better place. From here on we will be more and more at the mercy of the grim forces we have unleashed.
If we continue to direct our efforts towards modifying the rush to insanity, we will have wasted our time and will be thrashed by the outcome. It is now time to become Survivors.
America has now entered on the inexorable path towards military dictatorship. President Obama has just signed into law the right for the military police to hold Americans for indefinite detention without trial. This is a slippery slope. Once in law the powers of authority and the fear that this engenders will intensify.
Habeas Corpus was introduced many centuries ago and has found until now to satisfy the security needs of every country that has confessed to some level of democracy. There is no excuse for introducing such a law as these powers already exist. It can be done only in order to terrify both the American people and those who make the laws.
This may sound strange, but the people who have now been entrusted with this power will move to use it in exactly the same way as they use weapons and handcuffs. Because they have it they will use it. That is human nature.
The reaction of ordinary people to such limitless power that essentially silences you and sends out you to jail for as long as some bureaucrat may require is to inspire fear. Essentially the law allows faceless authorities to put you away in the dark forever.
It claims to be only for cases of terrorism, but is my writing of this article going to be considered a terrorist act?
This legislation takes all these cases out of the hands of the FBI and any civilian court and hands them over to the military. The military are trained to coerce prisoners, as recent history shows. Whenever the military are given power over civilians without themselves being under civilian control a country ends up in dictatorship. By removing the rights of judges to rein in the unfettered power of individuals in the military, then there is no safe level of control over unshackled bureaucratic imprisonment.
My heart weeps for country I love and for the people who have contributed so much to this world. The creativity of American people has over the last two centuries been legion. The growth of coercion and surveillance has been increasing over the past decades, and is now in a downward spiral. Control is now moving towards its inevitable end game.
As the pretended supporters of democracy around the world, the rest of us are in danger from following their lead unless we increase our consciousness and vigilance, and make sure that our politicians and other leaders understand that we intend to retain free-speech.
The rich world is causing the famines it claims to be preventing, by George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 14th August 2012
I don’t blame Mo Farah, Pele and Haile Gebrselassie, who lined up, all hugs and smiles, outside Downing Street for a photocall at the prime minister’s hunger summit. Perhaps they were unaware of the way in which they were being used to promote his corporate and paternalistic approach to overseas aid. Perhaps they were also unaware of the crime against humanity over which he presides. Perhaps Cameron himself is unaware of it.
You should by now have heard about the famine developing in the Sahel region of West Africa. Poor harvests and high food prices threaten the lives of some 18 million people. The global price of food is likely to rise still further, as a result of low crop yields in the United States, caused by the worst drought in 50 years. World cereal prices, in response to this disaster, climbed 17% last month.
We have been cautious about attributing such events to climate change: perhaps too cautious. A new paper by James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, shows that there has been a sharp increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers. Between 1951 and 1980 these events affected between 0.1 and 0.2% of the world’s land surface each year. Now, on average, they affect 10%. Hansen explains that “the odds that natural variability created these extremes are minuscule, vanishingly small”. Both the droughts in the Sahel and the US crop failures are likely to be the result of climate change.
But this is not the only sense in which the rich world’s use of fuel is causing the poor to starve. In the United Kingdom, in the rest of the European Union and in the United States, governments have chosen to deploy a cure as bad as the disease. Despite overwhelming evidence of the harm their policy is causing, none of them will change course.
Biofuels are the means by which governments in the rich world avoid hard choices. Rather than raise fuel economy standards as far as technology allows, rather than promoting a shift from driving to public transport, walking and cycling, rather than insisting on better town planning to reduce the need to travel, they have chosen to exchange our wild overconsumption of petroleum for the wild overconsumption of fuel made from crops. No one has to drive less or make a better car: everything remains the same except the source of fuel. The result is a competition between the world’s richest and poorest consumers, a contest between overconsumption and survival. There was never any doubt about which side would win.
I’ve been banging on about this since 2004, and everything I warned of then has happened. The US and the European Union have both set targets and created generous financial incentives for the use of biofuels. The results have been a disaster for people and the planet.
Already, 40% of US corn (maize) production is used to feed cars. The proportion will rise this year as a result of the smaller harvest. Though the market for biodiesel is largely confined to the European Union, it has already captured seven per cent of the world’s output of vegetable oil. The European Commission admits that its target (10% of transport fuels by 2020) will raise world cereal prices by between 3 and 6%. Oxfam estimates that with every 1% increase in the price of food, another 16 million people go hungry.
By 2021, the OECD says, 14% of the world’s maize and other coarse grains, 16% of its vegetable oil and 34% of its sugarcane will be used to make people in the gas guzzling nations feel better about themselves. The demand for biofuel will be met, it reports, partly through an increase in production; partly through a “reduction in human consumption.” The poor will starve so that the rich can drive.
The rich world’s demand for biofuels is already causing a global land grab. ActionAid estimates that European companies have now seized five million hectares of farmland – an area the size of Denmark – in developing countries for industrial biofuel production. Small farmers, growing food for themselves and local markets, have been thrown off their land and destituted. Tropical forests, savannahs and grasslands have been cleared to plant what the industry still calls “green fuels”.
When the impacts of land clearance and the use of nitrogen fertilisers are taken into account, biofuels produce more greenhouse gases than fossil fuels do. The UK, which claims that half the biofuel sold here meets its sustainability criteria, solves this problem by excluding the greenhouse gas emissions caused by changes in land use. Its sustainability criteria are, as a result, worthless.
Even second generation biofuels, made from crop wastes or wood, are an environmental disaster, either extending the cultivated area or removing the straw and stovers which protect the soil from erosion and keep carbon and nutrients in the ground. The combination of first and second generation biofuels – encouraging farmers to plough up grasslands and to leave the soil bare – and hot summers could create the perfect conditions for a new dust bowl.
Our government knows all this. One of its own studies shows that if the European Union stopped producing biofuels, the amount of vegetable oils it exported to world markets would rise by 20% and the amount of wheat by 33%, reducing world prices.
Preparing for the prime minister’s hunger summit on Sunday, the international development department argued that, with a rising population, “the food production system will need to be radically overhauled, not just to produce more food but to produce it sustainably and fairly to ensure that the poorest people have the access to food that they need.” But another government department – transport – boasts on its website that, thanks to its policies, drivers in this country have now used 4.4 billion litres of biofuel. Of this 30% was produced from recycled cooking oil. The rest consists of 3 billion litres of refined energy snatched from the mouths of the people that David Cameron claims to be helping.
Some of those to whom the government is now extending its “nutrition interventions” may have been starved by its own policies. In this and other ways, David Cameron, with the unwitting support of various sporting heroes, is offering charity, not justice. And that is no basis for liberating the poor.
Even if greenhouse emissions stopped overnight the concentrations already in the atmosphere would still mean a global rise of between 0.5 and 1C. A shift of a single degree is barely perceptible to human skin, but it’s not human skin we’re talking about. It’s the planet; and an average increase of one degree across its entire surface means huge changes in climatic extremes.
Six thousand years ago, when the world was one degree warmer than it is now, the American agricultural heartland around Nebraska was desert.
The effect of one-degree warming, therefore, requires no great feat of imagination.
Want to read what it will be like under 2 degrees, or six? Click here.
“The western United States once again could suffer perennial droughts, far worse than the 1930s. Deserts will reappear particularly in Nebraska, but also in eastern Montana, Wyoming and Arizona, northern Texas and Oklahoma. As dust and sandstorms turn day into night across thousands of miles of former prairie, farmsteads, roads and even entire towns will be engulfed by sand.”
What’s bad for America will be worse for poorer countries closer to the equator. It has beencalculated that a one-degree increase would eliminate fresh water from a third of the world’s land surface by 2100. Again we have seen what this means. There was an incident in the summer of 2005: One tributary fell so low that miles of exposed riverbank dried out into sand dunes, with winds whipping up thick sandstorms. As desperate villagers looked out onto baking mud instead of flowing water, the army was drafted in to ferry precious drinking water up the river – by helicopter, since most of the river was too low to be navigable by boat. The river in question was not some small, insignificant trickle in Sussex. It was the Amazon.
While tropical lands teeter on the brink, the Arctic already may have passed the point of no return. Warming near the pole is much faster than the global average, with the result that Arctic icecaps and glaciers have lost 400 cubic kilometres of ice in 40 years. Permafrost – ground that has lain frozen for thousands of years – is dissolving into mud and lakes, destabilising whole areas as the ground collapses beneath buildings, roads and pipelines. As polar bears and Inuits are being pushed off the top of the planet, previous predictions are starting to look optimistic. Earlier snowmelt means more summer heat goes into the air and ground rather than into melting snow, raising temperatures in a positive feedback effect. More dark shrubs and forest on formerly bleak tundra means still more heat is absorbed by vegetation.
Out at sea the pace is even faster. Whilst snow-covered ice reflects more than 80% of the sun’s heat, the darker ocean absorbs up to 95% of solar radiation. Once sea ice begins to melt, in other words, the process becomes self-reinforcing. More ocean surface is revealed, absorbing solar heat, raising temperatures and making it unlikelier that ice will re-form next winter. The disappearance of 720,000 square kilometres of supposedly permanent ice in a single year testifies to the rapidity of planetary change. If you have ever wondered what it will feel like when the Earth crosses a tipping point, savour the moment.
Mountains, too, are starting to come apart. In the Alps, most ground above 3,000 metres is stabilised by permafrost. In the summer of 2003, however, the melt zone climbed right up to 4,600 metres, higher than the summit of the Matterhorn and nearly as high as Mont Blanc. With the glue of millennia melting away, rocks showered down and 50 climbers died. As temperatures go on edging upwards, it won’t just be mountaineers who flee. Whole towns and villages will be at risk. Some towns, like Pontresina in eastern Switzerland, have already begun building bulwarks against landslides.
At the opposite end of the scale, low-lying atoll countries such as the Maldives will be preparing for extinction as sea levels rise, and mainland coasts – in particular the eastern US and Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean and Pacific islands and the Bay of Bengal – will be hit by stronger and stronger hurricanes as the water warms. Hurricane Katrina, which in 2005 hit New Orleans with the combined impacts of earthquake and flood, was a nightmare precursor of what the future holds.
Most striking of all was seeing how people behaved once the veneer of civilisation had been torn away. Most victims were poor and black, left to fend for themselves as the police either joined in the looting or deserted the area. Four days into the crisis, survivors were packed into the city’s Superdome, living next to overflowing toilets and rotting bodies as gangs of young men with guns seized the only food and water available. Perhaps the most memorable scene was a single military helicopter landing for just a few minutes, its crew flinging food parcels and water bottles out onto the ground before hurriedly taking off again as if from a war zone. In scenes more like a Third World refugee camp than an American urban centre, young men fought for the water as pregnant women and the elderly looked on with nothing. Don’t blame them for behaving like this, I thought. It’s what happens when people are desperate.
Chance of avoiding one degree of global warming: zero.
Want to read what it will be like under 2 degrees, or six? Click here.
It is, perhaps, the greatest failure of collective leadership since the first world war. The Earth’s living systems are collapsing, and the leaders of some of the most powerful nations – the US, the UK, Germany, Russia – could not even be bothered to turn up and discuss it. Those who did attend the Earth summit last week solemnly agreed to keep stoking the destructive fires: sixteen times in their text they pledged to pursue “sustained growth”, the primary cause of the biosphere’s losses(1).
This is by George Monbiot of The Guardian.
The efforts of governments are concentrated not on defending the living Earth from destruction, but on defending the machine that is destroying it. Whenever consumer capitalism becomes snarled up by its own contradictions, governments scramble to mend the machine, to ensure – though it consumes the conditions that sustain our lives – that it runs faster than ever before.
The thought that it might be the wrong machine, pursuing the wrong task, cannot even be voiced in mainstream politics. The machine greatly enriches the economic elite, while insulating the political elite from the mass movements it might otherwise confront. We have our bread; now we are wandering, in spellbound reverie, among the circuses.
We have used our unprecedented freedoms, secured at such cost by our forebears, not to agitate for justice, for redistribution, for the defence of our common interests, but to pursue the dopamine hits triggered by the purchase of products we do not need. The world’s most inventive minds are deployed not to improve the lot of humankind but to devise ever more effective means of stimulation, to counteract the diminishing satisfactions of consumption. The mutual dependencies of consumer capitalism ensure that we all unwittingly conspire in the trashing of what may be the only living planet. The failure at Rio de Janeiro belongs to us all.
It marks, more or less, the end of the multilateral effort to protect the biosphere. The only successful global instrument – the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer – was agreed and implemented years before the first Earth Summit in 1992(2). It was one of the last fruits of a different political era, in which intervention in the market for the sake of the greater good was not considered anathema, even by the Thatcher and Reagan governments. Everything of value discussed since then has led to weak, unenforceable agreements, or to no agreements at all.
This is not to suggest that the global system and its increasingly pointless annual meetings will disappear or even change. The governments which allowed the Earth Summit and all such meetings to fail evince no sense of responsibility for this outcome, and appear untroubled by the thought that if a system hasn’t worked for 20 years there’s something wrong with the system. They walk away, aware that there are no political penalties; that the media is as absorbed in consumerist trivia as the rest of us; that, when future generations have to struggle with the mess they have left behind, their contribution will have been forgotton. (And then they lecture the rest of us on responsibility).
Nor is it to suggest that multilateralism should be abandoned. Agreements on biodiversity, the oceans and the trade in endangered species may achieve some marginal mitigation of the full-spectrum assault on the biosphere that the consumption machine has unleashed. But that’s about it.
The action – if action there is – will mostly be elsewhere. Those governments which retain an interest in planet Earth will have to work alone, or in agreement with likeminded nations. There will be no means of restraining free riders, no means of persuading voters that their actions will be matched by those of other countries.
That we have missed the chance of preventing two degrees of global warming now seems obvious. That most of the other planetary boundaries will be crossed, equally so. So what do we do now?
Some people will respond by giving up, or at least withdrawing from political action. Why, they will ask, should we bother, if the inevitable destination is the loss of so much of what we hold dear: the forests, the brooks, the wetlands, the coral reefs, the sea ice, the glaciers, the birdsong and the night chorus, the soft and steady climate which has treated us kindly for so long? It seems to me that there are at least three reasons.
The first is to draw out the losses over as long a period as possible, in order to allow our children and grandchildren to experience something of the wonder and delight in the natural world and of the peaceful, unharried lives with which we have been blessed. Is that not a worthy aim, even if there were no other?
The second is to preserve what we can in the hope that conditions might change. I do not believe that the planet-eating machine, maintained by an army of mechanics, oiled by constant injections of public money, will collapse before the living systems on which it feeds. But I might be wrong. Would it not be a terrible waste to allow the tiger, the rhinoceros, the bluefin tuna, the queen’s executioner beetle and the scabious cuckoo bee, the hotlips fungus and the fountain anenome(3) to disappear without a fight if this period of intense exploitation turns out to be a brief one?
The third is that, while we may possess no influence over decisions made elsewhere, there is plenty that can be done within our own borders. Rewilding – the mass restoration of ecosystems – offers the best hope we have of creating refuges for the natural world, which is why I’ve decided to spend much of the next few years promoting it here and abroad.
Giving up on global agreements or, more accurately, on the prospect that they will substantially alter our relationship with the natural world, is almost a relief. It means walking away from decades of anger and frustration. It means turning away from a place in which we have no agency to one in which we have, at least, a chance of being heard. But it also invokes a great sadness, as it means giving up on so much else.
Was it too much to have asked of the world’s governments, which performed such miracles in developing stealth bombers and drone warfare, global markets and trillion dollar bail-outs, that they might spend a tenth of the energy and resources they devoted to these projects on defending our living planet? It seems, sadly, that it was.
Worn down by hope. That’s the predicament of those who have sought to defend the earth’s living systems. Every time governments meet to discuss the environmental crisis, we are told that this is the “make or break summit”, upon which the future of the world depends. The talks might have failed before, but this time the light of reason will descend upon the world.
We know it’s rubbish, but we allow our hopes to be raised, only to witness 190 nations arguing through the night over the use of the subjunctive in paragraph 286. We know that at the end of this process the UN secretary-general, whose job obliges him to talk nonsense in an impressive number of languages, will explain that the unresolved issues (namely all of them) will be settled at next year’s summit. Yet still we hope for something better.
This week’s earth summit in Rio de Janeiro is a ghost of the glad, confident meeting 20 years ago. By now, the leaders who gathered in the same city in 1992 told us, the world’s environmental problems were to have been solved. But all they have generated is more meetings, which will continue until the delegates, surrounded by rising waters, have eaten the last rare dove, exquisitely presented with an olive leaf roulade. The biosphere, that world leaders promised to protect, is in a far worse state than it was 20 years ago(1). Is it not time to recognise that they have failed?
These summits have failed for the same reason that the banks have failed. Political systems which were supposed to represent everyone now return governments of millionaires, financed by and acting on behalf of billionaires. The past 20 years have been a billionaires’ banquet. At the behest of corporations and the ultra-rich, governments have removed the constraining decencies – the laws and regulations – which prevent one person from destroying another. To expect governments funded and appointed by this class to protect the biosphere and defend the poor is like expecting a lion to live on gazpacho.
You have only to see the way the United States has savaged the earth summit’s draft declaration to grasp the scale of this problem(2). The word “equitable”, the US insists, must be cleansed from the text. So must any mention of the right to food, water, health, the rule of law, gender equality and women’s empowerment. So must a clear target of preventing two degrees of global warming. So must a commitment to change “unsustainable consumption and production patterns” and to decouple economic growth from the use of natural resources.
Most significantly, the US delegation demands the removal of many of the foundations agreed by a Republican president in Rio in 1992. In particular, it has set out to purge all mention of the core principle of that earth summit: common but differentiated responsibilities(3). This means that while all countries should strive to protect the world’s resources, those with the most money and who have done the most damage should play a greater part.
This is the government, remember, not of George W Bush but of Barack Obama. The paranoid, petty, unilateralist sabotage of international agreements continues uninterrupted. To see Obama backtracking on the commitments made by Bush the elder 20 years ago is to see the extent to which a tiny group of plutocrats has asserted its grip on policy.
While the destructive impact of the US in Rio is greater than that of any other nation, this does not excuse our own failures. The UK government prepared for the earth summit by wrecking both our own climate change act(4,5) and the European energy efficiency directive(6). David Cameron will not be attending the earth summit. Nor will the energy and climate change secretary Ed Davey (which is probably a blessing, as he’s totally useless). Needless to say Cameron, with other absentees such as Obama and Merkel, are attending the G20 summit in Mexico, which takes place immediately before Rio. Another tenet of the 1992 summit – that economic and environmental issues should not be treated in isolation(7) – goes up in smoke.
The environmental crisis cannot be addressed by the emissaries of billionaires. It is the system that needs to be challenged, not the individual decisions it makes. The struggle to protect the biosphere is in this respect the same as the struggle for redistribution, for the protection of workers’ rights, for an enabling state, for equality before the law.
So this is the great question of our age: where is everyone? The monster social movements of the 19th century and first 80 years of the 20th have gone, and nothing has replaced them. Those of us who still contest unwarranted power find our footsteps echoing through cavernous halls once thronged by multitudes. When a few hundred people do make a stand – as the Occupy campers have done – the rest of the nation just waits for them to achieve the kind of change that requires the sustained work of millions.
Without mass movements, without the kind of confrontation required to revitalise democracy, everything of value is deleted from the political text. But we do not mobilise, perhaps because we are endlessly seduced by hope. Hope is the rope on which we hang.
A recent Department of Defense report to Congress as well as a number of media investigations have exposed government plans to deploy tens of thousands of drones over the US mainland in the coming years.
An investigative report published over the weekend by the Christian Science Monitor cited the government’s own estimates that “as many as 30,000 drones could be part of intelligence gathering and law enforcement here in the United States within the next ten years.”
Since Obama signed the bill, hundreds of drones have already begun flying over the US to spy on and monitor the population. A recent ABC News investigative report entitled “UAVs: Will Our Civil Liberties Be Droned Out?” outlined the possibility of drones buzzing overhead becoming “a fact of daily life.”
ABC News reported: “Drones can carry facial recognition cameras, license plate scanners, thermal imaging cameras, open WiFi sniffers, and other sensors. And they can be armed.”
“Among the most eager to fly domestic drones are America’s police departments,” the report stated. “In Texas, a Montgomery county sheriff’s office recently said it would deploy a drone bought with money from a Department of Homeland Security grant and was contemplating arming the drone with non-lethal weapons like tear gas, rubber bullets or Taser-style rounds.”
The ABC News report identified “political protests” as one of the activities that can be monitored by drones.
Nations will cut off rivers to prevent their enemies having access to water downstream, terrorists will blow up dams, and states that cannot provide water for their citizens will collapse. This is the future – as painted by a top US security report.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the organization that oversees US intelligence agencies such as the CIA and FBI, was commissioned by President Barack Obama to examine the impact of water scarcity worldwide on US security.
And while the prospect of “water wars” has been touted for decades, it may start to become reality within a decade. The ODNI predicts that by 2040 water demand will outstrip current supply by 40 per cent.
For full and disturbing report click here.
Australia is on the verge of an unprecedented coal boom. The epicentre of this expansion is the yet to be developed Galilee Basin in Central Queensland. Galilee is the proposed site for a series of mega mines that will cause Australia’s coal exports to more than double within a decade. The creation of mega mines in Central Queensland, the accompanying export infrastructure and increases in shipping traffic, as well as the burning of the coal they produce, place an incredible burden on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
Full report Boom_goes_the_Reef_Report