Looming Ecocatastrophe and U.S. Climate Change Denial

By Daniel H. Garrett

THE UNITED STATES REFUSES TO ADDRESS THE REALITY OF CLIMATE CHANGE

We might think that if U.S. intelligence agencies were to get wind of a plot that would render vast tracks of the nation’s lands practically uninhabitable, inflict a minimum of $50 billion of damage, cripple America’s food system, and destroy its forests to boot, then the President would soon issue a public order for resources to be mobilized to prevent these disasters. So it is indeed exceedingly strange that a nation that was able to launch massive wars at a cost of trillions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives lost, mostly on the basis of false and/or manufactured premises coupled with bad advice and hubris, finds itself unable to rise to the real, scientifically validated challenge of climate change.  This lack of action on actionable intelligence verges on the edge of unbelievable, particularly when the level of damage already known to have been inflicted by this “plot” exceeds the hundreds of billions of dollars mark.

THE WARNING SIGNS ARE THERE

Although scientists are trying to bring home the harsh realities of this crisis, the government continues to respond inadequately.[i]

The most recent analyses, using better models, and providing both a better fit to palaeoclimatic records and current trends, show that climate sensitivity is probably at least twice as high as the levels presupposed for purposes of national and international climate change planning.  The continuing, increased emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere coupled with the vast increase in climate-change linked extremes over the last few years means that any sensible risk analysis must conclude that we have already entered an epoch of violent and disruptively chaotic climate regimes for which this nation, and the world, are unprepared.

Given this, the U.S. government has failed the primary test of any government: the protection of its peoples, its resources, and its borders.  It must be concluded moreover that in addition to the virtual abandonment of vast areas of its own habitable, productive national space, it has similarly abandoned to fate vast areas of the earth, primarily inhabited by those least able to fend for themselves.  Aiguo Dai from the National Centre for Atmospheric Research, for example, asserts that “we are facing the possibility of widespread drought in the coming decades, but this has yet to be fully recognized by both the public and the climate change research community.” While some efforts have been put in place to prepare for climate change adaptation (and eventually mitigation), CO2levels in the atmosphere are not dropping. It is highly unlikely that adaptation efforts now being administered or considered will adequately address the magnitude of the coming changes, including an increased frequency, intensity, and unpredictability of storms, floods, fires, and droughts. It must be recognized that the United States has not faced (let alone admitted) the reality of climate change in a way that is commensurate with either its responsibilities or its abilities.

Alberta Tar Sands (photo courtesy of ecosocialismcanada.blogspot.ca)

YET WE REFUSE TO THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX

Take, for example, the fact that the nation’s leading climate scientist had to get himself arrested in front of the White House to get across his point that the tar sands must be left unexploited because we are already teetering on the brink of a climate disaster caused by greenhouse gases. This incident makes clear that there’s something wrong with America’s decision-making process when it comes to climate change.

The country has succumbed to the illusion that environmental degradation (like the destruction of the tar sands) is normal and seems committed to thinking and planning only within traditional stovepipes and boxes. A big part of the problem is the very thinking that has gone on inside those boxes up to now. A few wealthy citizens and corporations, some of whom occupy positions of honor, influence, and respect, have funded lies and rumors and disinformation. They have bought off media outlets and so-called ‘think tanks’ and bankrolled politicians who have given up representing the people in order to fill their campaign coffers. It is as dangerous a cabal of cowardly and unpatriotic people driven by greed, denial, and hermetically-sealed ideologies as has ever been seen in this country.  And it has hobbled us exactly at a time when we needed to act boldly and decisively. So many have believed the well-funded nonsense that we have become nationally paralyzed into continuing, nay even expanding, the very things that are driving us into the gravest peril.

WHERE WE ARE NOW

And so now we stand, shamefully, as a nation that had the resources and the knowledge to act, but had its will sapped by the worst amongst it, and not only did not act, but actively made things worse—deluded by the notion that continuing on the path of destruction was the right way to proceed because destruction was only ‘something warned of’ by scouts ahead and anyway had not yet come to pass in the precincts where they lived. For we thought somehow, that we lived by some economic science, though its profits were largely profits conjured by ignoring true costs, and as such it was neither economical nor a science: it was instead a creed, a sordid scaffold of justification for pillage and plunder and rape. And it cannibalized the vital organs of the planet and called it good.

The embrace of denial has brought our world to the brink of a real, ominous, and too-soon coming tomorrow when the crops will die from the floods or the unending heat and droughts which do not end. When animals no longer have anything to graze on, when the forests die from blight and the seas turn at last so acidic they are no longer the Edens of verdant life they once were, then we will be hard-pressed not to die ourselves. Then we will be hard-pressed not for each person, each country, to go it alone as the long night of climate chaos stretches ever longer.

WHAT WE MUST DO

We have raised great armies to wage war on whatever is the word of the day.  But there are no borders in the fight against climate change. We must at last come to realize in our hearts as in our heads that the preciousness of each other—men, women, children, cultures, and all the non-human sentient beings we share this planet with—this preciousness, this diversity, is the very essence of what we need to survive.  It is not a lovely, liberal indulgence; it is the sine qua non of the web of interdependencies that sustains us all. Our enemies are those who know and use their fortunes to sow confusion and loyalty to ideologies that have failed, when clarity in the face of great danger is what is needed to arrest and reverse the ongoing tidal wave of ecocatastrophe.

It’s not so much that the emperor has no clothes; it’s that he seems to think that a Kevlar vest is going to protect him from mega-droughts and thousand-year floods.  And yet, if we look around us with a different sort of gaze, one of hope and courage, there is in the midst of the danger opportunity for growth.  In this moment of chaos, we must remember that in helping each other, we help ourselves. Together, we are going to have to make a Great Transition, create a Green New Renaissance, in which we live, and live well, neither at the mercy of the planet nor at the expense of the planet, but of, by, and for the planet.

We have demonstrated to the world our ingenuity and creativity when it comes to inventing new and more exciting instruments of death.  Now we must demonstrate to the world that we can use our creativity and ingenuity in the service of life: providing every poor home everywhere on the planet with a decent standard of living that creates the dignity and equality that are the only strong foundation for lasting peace; ensuring every child no matter where they are has access to the best medical care and the best, most nurturing level of world class education; and making a quick transition to a new level of human technologies that weave seamlessly and productively into the fabric of the natural technologies of the earth and the earth’s interwoven communities.

We are both at the brink of catastrophe and on the edge of a new world: a new world of robust, resilient, and sustainable personal and community freedom; a new world in which the age-old conflict between human technologies and natural systems has been resolved and human technologies have become seamlessly embedded in, of, and with natural systems so that whatever is taken, borrowed, used, or diverted from the Earth is returned in naturally usable, sustaining, and enriching form. This is not just ‘sustainability’ in the sense of doing as little harm as possible to natural systems. This is ‘sustainability’ in the sense of supporting the natural needs of the Earth’s systems.

Through a process of healing humanity’s very long, physically and spiritually debilitating divorce from the earth, we can start on the path towards repairing the vast tears in the fabric of life we have caused. If we can just begin the transition now before too much damage has been done, then this is the course humanity can take over the coming centuries.  With existing and emerging technologies that promise a better future, we can begin on this path now. And, moreover, we must step onto this path now. The other path is not worth considering.

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The essay above has been adapted from the cable Daniel H. Garrett sent to the U.S. Foreign Service’s Dissent Channel before retiring from the service in 2012. The Dissent Channel exists to review and answer any alternative opinions of Department of State or USAID employees concerning issues of foreign policy. Unfortunately, according to Stephen Glain in State vs. Defense: The Battle to Define America’s Empire, the “dissent channel, a means through which Foreign Service officers may express constructive opposition to White House policy and air alternative views, languished under the Bush administration and shows no signs of reviving itself; in February 2010, the president of the American Foreign Service Association linked the channel’s enfeeblement with ‘the continuing marginalization of the Foreign Service in the foreign policymaking process.’”  Garrett warns of the near absence of vocalized opposition among Foreign Service officers, stating “Many have privately told me they are holding their tongues until such time as they will be in a position to influence policy in a saner direction. I do fear that by then it may be too late.” While Garrett himself chose a different course by communicating to U.S. government officials through the dissent channel, he also expresses concern that such messages “basically disappear down the dark deep hole of ‘never read.’”

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[i]
A Partial List of References:

1)       J. Hansen, M. Sato, P. Kharecha, and K. von Schuckmann. (2011). “Earth’s energy imbalance and implications.” Atmos. Chem. Phys., 11, pp. 13421-13449.

2)      Jeffrey Kiehl. (2011). “Lessons from Earth’s Past.” Science, 331, p. 158.

3)      Mark Pagani, Zhonghui Liu, Jonathan LaRiviere, & Ana Christina Ravelo. (2010). “High Earth-system climate sensitivity determined from Pliocene carbon dioxide concentrations.” Nature Geoscience, 3, pp. 27-30.

4)      Paul Valdes. (2011, July). “Built for Stability.” Nature Geoscience, Vol. 4.

5)       “NOAA study: Human-caused climate change a major factor in more frequent Mediterranean droughts.” October 27, 2011.

6)      Aradhna K. Tripati, Christopher D. Roberts, & Robert A. Eagle. (2009, December 4). “Coupling of CO2 and Ice Sheet Stability Over Major Climate Transitions of the Last 20 Million Years.” Science, Vol. 326, no. 5958, pp. 1394-1397.

7)      Margaret S. Torn & John Harte. (2006). “Missing feedbacks, asymmetric uncertainties, and the underestimation of future warming.” Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 33, 5 pp.

8)      J. Hansen, M. Sato, & R. Ruedy. (2011, November 10). Climate Variability and Climate Change: The New Climate Dice.”

9)      T.M. Lenton, H. Held, E. Kriegler, J. W. Hall, W. Lucht, S. Rahmstorf, & J.J. Schellnhuber. (2008). “Tipping Elements in the Earth’s climate system.” Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, 105, pp. 1786-1793.

10)  Johan Rockström, Will Steffen, Kevin Noone, Åsa Persson, F. Stuart Chapin, Eric F. Lambin, Timothy M. Lenton, Marten Scheffer, Carl Folke, Hans Joachim  Sander van der Leeuw, Henning Rodhe, Sverker Sörlin, Peter K. Snyder, Robert Costanza, Uno Svedin, Malin Falkenmark, Louise Karlberg, Robert W. Corell, Victoria J. Fabry, James Hansen, Brian Walker, Diana Liverman, Katherine Richardson, Paul Crutzen, & Jonathan A. Foley (2009, September 24). “A safe operating space for humanity.” Nature, 461, pp. 472-475.

11)  Julian Cribb. (2011, August 18). “Taxonomy: New name needed for unwise Homo?” Nature, 476, p. 282.

12)  Sarah Anderson & John Cavanagh. (2011). “America Is Not Broke.” Institute for Policy Studies.

13)  Mark Pagani, Ken Caldeira, David Archer, & James C. Zachos. (2006, December 8). “An Ancient Carbon Mystery.” Science, Vol. 314.

14)  Marten Scheffer, Victor Brovkin, & Peter M. Cox. (2006). “Positive feedback between global warming and atmospheric CO2 concentration inferred from past climate change.” Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 33, 4 pp.

15)  Naomi Oreskes & Erik M.M. Conway. (2011). Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. Bloomsbury Press.

16)  K.Salo, M. Hallquist, A.M. Jonsson, H. Saathoff, K.-H. Naumann, C. Spindler, R.Tillmann, H.Fuchs, B. Bohn, F. Rubach, Th.F. Mentel, L. Muller, M.Reinnig, T. Hoffmann, and N. M. Donahue. (2011). “Volatility of secondary organic aerosol during OH radical induced ageing.” Atmos. Chem. Phys., 11, pp. 11055–11067.

17)  Lauer Axel, Kevin Hamilton, Yuqing Wang, Vaughan T. J. Phillips, & Ralf Bennartz. (2010). “The Impact of Global Warming on Marine Boundary Layer Clouds over the Eastern Pacific—A Regional Model Study.”J. Climate, 23, pp. 5844–5863.

18)  Robert Pollin & Heidi Garrett-Peltier. (2011, December). “The U.S. Employment Effects of Military and Domestic Spending Priorities: 2011 Update.” Political Economy Research Institute University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

19)  Aiguo Dai. (2010). “Drought under global warming: a review.”

20)  Defense Science Advisory Board. “Trends and Implications of Climate Change for National and International Security.” October 2011.

21)  K. Anderson & A. Bows. (2011). “Beyond ‘dangerous’ climate change: emission scenarios for a new world.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, 369, pp. 20-24.


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