It has long puzzled me that those promoting ecocidal policies that in the short term impoverish and kill millions and that in the longer term may well kill us all have somehow managed to maintain the illusion that they are ‘centrist’, ‘reasonable’ people, unlike the riff raff of climate crusties out blocking traffic and making unreasonable demands that we stop destroying the basis of life on Earth. The media has also been a great enabler of this dangerous fiction, as I explored in the Business Post in late April.
IF YOU CAN keep your head about the climate emergency when all the experts around you are losing theirs, then frankly, you really haven’t been paying attention.
Last year, thousands of long-standing temperature records fell around the world. The summer of 2022 saw China’s most intense heatwave, an event scientists described as the most extreme in recorded history, while Europe experienced its worst drought in at least 500 years.
The same pattern was repeated across the United States, and much of Africa and Asia, and these dangerous conditions have persisted right into 2023. Scorching April heatwaves in Asia have this year shattered records from Thailand to India and Japan, with multiple deaths and hospitalisations.
Spain is already in the grip of a heatwave. Exceptional drought conditions are affecting 60 per cent of the country, with severe implications for food production and exports. The Italian government has been forced to introduce a new drought decree to tackle its deepening water crisis, with little sign of recovery after the “state of calamity” declared as a result of the 2022 drought, the worst in 70 years.
Meanwhile, marine scientists are reporting a sudden spike in global sea temperatures. Off the east coast of the US, sea surface temperatures in March were 13.8C higher than average, an increase that almost beggars belief. This portends ever more ferocious weather conditions as energy builds up across the entire climate system.
There is nothing “natural” about these disasters. Such rolling extreme weather events are a direct result of the uncontrolled release of billions of tonnes of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere every year. Worse, much worse, is in the pipeline.
A major scientific study published in 2020 projected that over the coming 50 years, areas of the world where between one and three billion people live today will become too hot for human habitation or agriculture, with entire ecosystems breaking down as a result of intolerable heat.
This is an existential crisis for human civilisation on a par with the very darkest moments in our history. Quite simply, we as a species have never faced a moment of such acute collective jeopardy.
Unsurprisingly, some people who have grasped the situation have begun to take to the streets to engage in direct action to draw attention to a crisis that governments, major corporations and most of the media seem determined to pretend isn’t really happening.
Every action begets a reaction. On the right, there are now concerted attempts to tar peaceful climate protesters as dangerous radicals wielding a sinister anti-democratic agenda.
In the Business Post last weekend, former politician Lucinda Creighton deployed the term “extreme/extremist” 14 times in a single article in an unsubtle attempt to portray climate protesters as irrational terrorists. The movement has, in fact, been highly disciplined in eschewing violent protest.
Creighton insinuated that climate protesters were getting special treatment before the law. The opposite is usually the case, with peaceful protest now being criminalised. For instance, a London judge last month jailed environmentalists for defying his bizarre direction that they not tell a jury that the reason they joined a roadblock was to draw attention to the climate crisis.
While caricatured on the right as anarchists and crusty anti-establishment layabouts, today’s climate protesters are as likely to be medical doctors or scientists. For instance, climatologist Dr Peter Kalmus of Nasa was arrested last year for chaining himself to the doors of a bank that lends to fossil fuel interests.
“We scientists have been trying to warn you guys for decades that we’re heading towards a fucking catastrophe, and we’ve been ignored,” Kalmus said. “We’re not joking. We’re not lying. We’re not exaggerating.”
A survey of senior climate experts found that four in five believed they would witness the “catastrophic impacts” of climate change in their own lifetimes, and two thirds of respondents report feelings of grief, anxiety and related distress. Do these really sound like radical anarchist bums to you?
As António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, observed: “Climate activists are depicted as dangerous radicals, yet the truly dangerous radicals are the countries and firms continuing to burn fossil fuels.”
These radical ‘inactivists’ include many from the political right, whose phobia about taxes and regulations tragically blinds them to the rapidly unfolding climate emergency. It’s almost quaint to recall that not that long ago, people who identified as politically conservative used to pride themselves on being guided by science and evidence.
While environmental defenders are today far more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of violent actions, it’s impossible to say what may happen in the future, as ecological breakdown frays the very fabric of our civilisation.
A horrifying mass fatality heatwave event in India is explored vividly in the climate-fiction novel The Ministry of the Future, set in the mid-2020s. This disaster leads to over 20 million deaths and is the trigger for wrenching changes to societies around the world.
A shadowy revenge terror group arises from the catastrophe and sabotages the globalised economic system it blames for the climate-fuelled disaster. From the ensuing chaos a leaner, greener and intensely frugal new world order arises.
Such an imagined egalitarian eco-socialist future might be the worst nightmare for the ultra-rich and their many acolytes. But for the rest of us, it’s an infinitely better prospect than crawling from the wreckage of our collapsed civilisation into a parched, dying biosphere.