A couple of interesting reads at Common Dreams and DeSmog Canada stirred up the meninges this morning. The first outlines a choice that confronts shareholders at meetings of Exxon-Mobile and Chevron this coming Wednesday with regard to fossil fuels and climate disruption, the second outlines the somewhat disturbing message from Brad Wall’s recent Throne Speech in Saskatchewan as he undertakes another majority mandate.
It is sad that, following the application of major scientific resources to the question, including those of governments and fossil fuel companies, there are still legislators who can characterize climate change as “some misguided dogma that has no basis in reality.” The oil giants’ own documentation aligns closely with the reports of the IPCC, and given that these are the people who own so many governments, including, it would seem, that of Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C., who, even with the introduction of a possible carbon tax in Alberta, continue to push for the construction of major fossil fuel infrastructure, meaning that they intend to get the stuff out of the ground and sell it off as quickly as they can (or as their proponents in private business can).
The fossil fuel industry continues to justify its existence on the basis of the economic activity it generates without mentioning that, for all the dollars it has spent on financing sales of trucks, RVs, ATVs, McMansions, and extended holidays in remote and romantic locations, it has taken out more than it has left. Despite the bleatings about the heavy burden of taxation imposed on fossil fuels, the corporations involved, as well as their executive suites, have made out like bandits, and the least subscribed beneficiary has been the public weal as a succession of federal and provincial régimes has deferred taxes and subsidized both directly and indirectly, those corporations who make such large withdrawals from the common resource. This doesn’t count the costs of remediation of the devastated landscapes of the Athabaska region, oil installations in Saskatchewan, Northeast B.C., along with coal mines hither and thither across the Canadian landscape and the potential for offshore spills in Atlantic Canada. The only reason this economic activity hasn’t been replaced with reconstruction and refinement of public infrastructure and the transition to sustainable energy is the set of close links between business and our various governments, leaving said governments to protect the privileged economic and social position of Bay Street and its equivalents in Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary and elsewhere. It has become abundantly clear that those in the executive suite have known for decades how harmful their activities are and have pursued those activities in spite of the message that they are literally destroying the common living space in a headlong rush to amass wealth before the whole show goes up in smoke. They have essentially taken out a mortgage on the future of humanity (and much of the rest of life on Earth) without having the least hope of paying it back.
The rest of us bear much of the responsibility for allowing this to happen. Just as the rise of idiot candidates for high office in many jurisdictions shows a lack of education and the fortitude to call out the insanity that fuels the inane behaviour of the political and mercantile classes, we, as a society, have in large part drunk the Kool-Ade, taken out loans even when we know that we likely won’t be able to pay them back, accumulated material wealth and the trappings of wealth without consideration for the consequences. Perhaps we can excuse ourselves with the idea that everyone around us is doing it: it’s difficult to live frugally in a society that prides itself on freewheeling because there’s always more where that came from, where the cultural norms are modelled around a high level of consumption. Like Cassandra in Greek mythology, telling unpleasant truths brings either disbelief or an unwillingness to act on the consequences of our actions. Repeated warnings about the dire consequences of our inaction on our climate (along with social and economic inequality, water shortages, myriad sources of pollution, toxic diet, nuclear weapons, epidemic outbreaks, genetic roulette, and the headlong rush into technologies whose outcomes are utterly unknown) have met by ordinary citizens (taxpayers, consumers, and the like) with the same contempt, deflection and denial that comes from our elected and mercantile representatives, as well as a sizeable portion of our spiritual advisers.
Over the last four or five decades, we have built an economic system that is willing to pretend that growth can continue uninterrupted ad infinitum and that money can create money. This is particularly evident in the need for people to save money to buffer their economic well-being through times of uncertainty and to ensure that there will be some sort of retirement available when work is no longer feasible for desirable. Both savings and pensions rely on investment, especially where the generation of serious gains is most achievable. The result is that many pension funds and investment vehicles are loaded up with, you guessed it, fossil fuel stocks, as well as arms manufacturers, tobacco, pharmaceuticals and investments in the financial institutions that promote overconsumption, excessive borrowing, occult financial dealings and tax avoidance, and the suborning of the electoral process. The idea that someone might act in the interest of society as a whole is a quaint anachronism, it appears, while it is accepted that doing anything for profit is the new norm, even if that profit derives from cost analysis that excludes “externalities”, including the possibility that the downstream effects of the activity in question might be deleterious to multitudes and span decades. Our work at reprogramming the Universe holds grave risks where it might better suit our purposes to sit back and contemplate the ramifications before charging ahead with all the genetics and AI that might have disastrous results for life on the planet. The outlook is pretty bleak for those who take the time to connect the dots, and a lot of the bleakness stems from the willful ignorance of those who have taken the whole of humanity down the path toward an early exit from the rolls of the living.
(Don’t remember if I’ve used this before, but it seems apocalyptically appropriate)