A Burning Planet, Cruel Greed, and Climate Justice

We are both doomed and condemned if we act. That pretty much sums up the predicament the human race is in as the planet’s ecosystem spins out of control, in large part due to the pollution that is produced when fossil fuels are used to power our machines and generate electricity. As we strive to address the harm brought on by raging wildfires, rising sea levels, melting ice caps, and debilitating droughts, there are calls for climate justice everywhere.

A SINGLE CASE OF CLIMATE JUSTICE Making a global government with the authority to enact and execute laws that would forbid the production and sale of coal, oil, and methane is one option to handle the emergency. The majority of people would be against such a coercive tactic, yet it is a possibility. What would a society like that look like?

No more ships, planes, or automobiles. There would be no new roads, no new steel or concrete buildings, and no use of the fertilizers and pesticides that are currently used in the world to cultivate the food that humans need to thrive. No movies, crypto mining, or internet. If they needed to get anywhere, they would either ride bikes or walk. Tractors in the fields would be replaced by horses and oxen.

Life on Earth would likely return to being ugly, brutish, and brief, with the likelihood that half of us would starve to death and the other half would probably envy them. They were like that for individuals who enjoy remembering the good old times.

The benefit would be that solar, wind, hydro, and other sustainable sources of energy would be the only ones approved in this brave new world. The waters would cease rising, average global temperatures would drop, and the ice caps would start to grow again after a century or two. The burden of the change would fall on 10 or 12 generations of humanity.

Is it too much to expect to build a planet that is sustainable so that humans can live well for millennia to come? Humans have been around for many hundreds of generations. Asking a dozen of them to make sacrifices for the greater good would be statistically insignificant on a percentage basis.

A NEW SCENARIO FOR CLIMATE JUSTICE Do you find the first scenario for climate justice to be horrifying? Many of you will, but is there anything more horrifying than the thought of sending a handful of daring cosmonauts to Mars while abandoning 8 billion of their fellow humans to undergo a type of slow-motion funeral pyre?

Fossil fuels are the problem. They have sustained human civilisation for the past century, yet they have produced incredible amounts of pollution. Hamilton Nolan describes the benefit and drawback of fossil fuels in The Guardian in a brutally honest (and little edited) manner.

It helps to imagine capitalism as a robotic genius that excels at one task but is utterly insensitive to all others. Global capitalism is an amazing tool for obtaining fossil fuels from our planet, repurposing them, and transporting them to every corner of the globe while making huge sums of money in the process. First-world countries on Earth have seen a century of extraordinary output and consumption thanks to the humming of this machine and the fuel and money it pours out. Unfortunately, we are all being poisoned by the machine. But one of its wonderfully evolved features is that it makes turning it off nearly impossible.

The unprecedented profits made by the world’s fossil fuel firms so far this year have been fuelled in large part by Vladimir Putin’s offensive campaign against Ukraine. Last week, UN Secretary General Antnio Guterres referred to them as monstrous avarice and urged the world’s states to tax them and utilize the proceeds to aid the underprivileged and destitute, something that, as of yet, no country has indicated it intends to do. He said that it is wrong for oil and gas companies to be profiting record amounts from the current energy crisis at the expense of the poorest individuals and communities, as well as seriously harming the environment. Nolan offers his own perspective on the problem.

The oil firms will always survive and prosper, flying above the chaos of the world like passengers on a luxury jet and shaking their heads performatively at all the issues below, despite the fortunes of nations rising and falling.

Although the price of oil varies, the industry’s long-term success is certain, despite this short-term instability. According to a new analysis, the oil business has made profits for the past 50 years of more than $1 trillion, or around $3 billion each day. The exact antithesis of cartels, mega-corporations, and regulatory capture by governments, which work together to produce a market devoid of both competition and a price that accurately represents the cost of the product being sold to the rest of the world, is what drives these profits.

The device does more than merely mine and market fossil fuels. It also cares about making sure that everything in the world is set up in a way that keeps the demand for those fossil fuels high. The fact that oil profits are increasing even as climate change becomes a reality in front of our very eyes is evidence that no single catastrophe, no matter how existential, will be sufficient to cause this machine to stop functioning normally. Either we shatter the machine, or it will break us all if we don’t (emphasis added).

The remainder of Nolan’s remarks center on capitalism, which powers every industry, including the fossil fuel industry.

Capitalism is not intended to consider future generations. It is not intended to make sacrifices for the benefit of society. Profit maximization is its main objective. According to capitalism’s logic, it makes perfect sense to pump every last barrel of oil on Earth, sell it, take the proceeds, and construct an opulent spacecraft to escape the planet once it has been destroyed by burning all of that gas. The fossil fuel sector will accept the money as long as there is a trillion dollars to be made each year. It is enough money to construct a lovely villa a long way from the conflicts, famines, floods, and wildfires that fossil fuels are bringing about.

INVASIVE PROFITS However, according to Nolan, these earnings are a mirage. The fundamental fact of capitalism is that it depends entirely on the public. Where will your income come from if all of your consumers are dead?

These gains are fictitious. The costs that the climate problem will impose on the billions of people alive today and in many generations to come are outweighed by an externality that affects them to the tune of a trillion dollars annually. The idea of an impartial system of prices and rewards for effort and risks is a gigantic sham since capitalism is incapable of pricing a barrel of oil to account for all the suffering it will cause to your descendants whose home is destroyed by rising seas.

The entire fossil fuel sector is not just another company offering a product to fill a need. It is a ruthless drug dealer that toils daily to keep the globe dependent on its lethal substance, fully aware that it will eventually prove fatal (emphasis added). It battles to keep the populace deceived about its costs, to keep the political power structure incapable of protecting the public from its damages, and to keep the supply flowing at full blast regardless of any consequences to the human or environmental surroundings. It is not a situation that merits praise. The issue has to be resolved.

EXTERNALITIES TAX Elon Musk frequently discusses untaxed externalities. That’s the phrase economists use to characterize the parts of a business transaction that result in costs that are transferred to third parties for payment. People are perplexed by the word tax. While economists use the phrase differently to refer to anything that should rightfully be on the debit side of a ledger, people typically think of it in terms of a tax imposed by the government.

A business’s profit line will increase if it can persuade someone else to foot the bill for its employees’ health insurance. The same is true when society as a whole is made to pay for the poisonous emissions that are destroying the earth we call home. This is also referred to as privatizing the profits while forcing society to shoulder the costs of an economic activity.

It is not difficult to alter this harmful relationship. With time, simply placing a price on fossil fuels that fairly represents their costs, such as through a carbon tax, would suffice, as it quickly became economically unviable to put the future of the planet’s health on a carbon credit card. Simple laws and significant public investment in the transition to cleaner energy sources, such to the Green New Deal, would be better and go more quickly.

It is foolish to think that a system that was largely shaped by the corporate might of the energy sector could manage to restrain that sector against its will. To think that electoral politics will be capable of handling this is wilfully foolish. This is a problem that begs for radicalism more than most. It will be necessary for us all to tackle the enormous but sluggish threat posed by climate change with the grave seriousness it so richly deserves.

Don’t make fun of young people the next time you see them blocking streets, yelling at Joe Manchin’s yacht, or sitting in a senator’s office. Rejoin them. Long after they have used up all that lovely oil money, they will still be living in a bleak future.

Even older individuals may advocate for climate justice, as Bill McKibben notes. Nuns can accomplish it too.

THE CONCLUSION When he claimed that America is nothing more than an oil company with an army, George Carlin gave us the truth about the situation. Many other countries also fit that characteristics. We will delve deeper into the concept of climate justice and what it means for African countries who have endured decades of injustice at the hands of the developed world and now desire a share of the fossil fuel riches in the following section of this conversation.

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