When public speakers present on climate change, they often say some version of this refrain: "How will we face our children and grandchildren when they ask. 'Why didn't you do more to halt global warming?'" While it's true that generations to come (for at least the next 100,000 years) will face an altered climate because of human-caused global warming, the truth is that the rhetorical note about facing the disbelief and scorn of those born in the 21st century is flat-out wrong.
If they are smart, my children will not be asking me why I didn't do more about the climate situation. They will look back to 1980, and ask: "Why didn't our grandparents stage a coup to prevent the rise of corporatocracy?"
The election of Ronald Reagan should never have happened. The deregulation of industry in the 1980s should never have happened. The subsequent deregulation of the banking industry should never have happened. Why is this important? It is because we, in 2013, are facing final checkmate by the very, very wealthy, who have, since the 1980s, orchestrated our society into their own personal bonanza. The rationale for only middling improvement on critical situations like the climate is that we can't risk disturbing the fragile economy -- but the economy is a shell game.
The economy is, in fact, working very well for those who are positioned to profit hugely by it. The very wealthy folks are not in financial trouble at all. Large corporations are posting record profits, bonuses to executives remain huge, the stock, derivatives, and futures markets continue to function as a wildly demented casino cash cow for those who have the means to play it fully. The rich are not losing social services they care about -- their children are in private school, they don't need public libraries or social security or government subsidized healthcare. And, while it's true that corporations need reasonably content and healthy workers, employers have their pick of millions of unemployed or underemployed workers, ready to labor for low wages, cut benefits; why, they're just happy to have a job at all.
In other words, the economy is exactly where the major corporations want it, those individuals who have the education and fortune to exploit the system are getting obscenely rich; massive personal debt, and a habit of living on credit, is keeping demand right where it needs to be, the hollow shell of our way of life is ossifying into just enough predictability to keep funneling the remaining wealth in the system into the hands of the few. Most of us can still afford our fortnightly dinner out at Applebee's and our internet and phone bills (we can save up for that plasma TV), and the executive class can rest secure in their wholly different reality.
So, the economy is not fragile, and it is not a reason to stall efforts on radically reforming our civilization so that we can save the climate. But it sounds like a good story, and it allows conservatives to balk at the EPA's new power to regulate carbon-dioxide, to quash plans to tax carbon emissions or end subsidies to the fossil fuel industries, to crow about the importance of energy independence and an "all-of-the-above" approach to energy supply in this country.
More insidiously, it prevents the public discussion from focusing on the true scale of the response needed to address the problem. This is because any solution to the climate crisis (or resource scarcity, or ecosystem destruction) cannot challenge these fundamental tenets:
1) The economy must continue to grow. Economic growth must be exponential and unending.
2) No limits must be placed on an individual's capacity to acquire and enjoy wealth. The "pursuit of happiness," no matter how indulgently sought, cannot be infringed upon.
(I doubt that corporate planners actually think the economy can grow without limit, yet they want to hold the window open while their executives can fleece the economy of any funds in circulation that they can. After all, they must surely be aware that, as wealth disparity grows, money circles in ever-tightening orbits. There is a one-way migration of money to the putocracy, which is why our country is engaged in a freefall binge of printing money.)
There is never a time when the economy will become robust enough to turn our attention to the environment and the climate, because the economy is robust for those who are gaming it. When we realize the truth of this, several things become apparent.
First, the government is no longer populist. There may be a populist victory here and there, but a triumph of popular government over the abuses of capitalism is so unlikely that I think even a reckless speculator wouldn't take a bet on it. Since Reagan's presidency, government has thrown its lot in with business. The American Way of Life is now defined by the twin threads of representative democracy and unleashed corporate capitalism, which means that our elected government will always represent the business interests. We no longer have a conception of a healthy U.S. with a vibrant civil code and a diminished capitalist economy.
Second, the police and the military will reinforce the position of the government, and therefore the business interests in this country. We are as close to having a fascist social system now than we have ever been. Effective protest is curtailed or outright prohibited, the police secure the "rights" of the corporations to pursue their business models (no matter the public cost) far more often than they protect the rights of the people to decide what will and will not happen in this country.
If we cannot count on the government, as it is, to rein in climate abuse to the degree necessary to avert catastrophe -- that is, to cast out the fundamental tenets of the current economy -- then the people must rise up for their own salvation.
At the end of his 2009 documentary, Capitalism: a Love Story, Michael Moore says that he cannot continue to do his crusading for truth, fairness, and the welfare of the common people if the common people do not join him, give up the ghost of a hope that they will become wealthy someday, and stop participating in an economic system that abuses them. Unfortunately, he doesn't mention climate change in his film, but it is surely the way that industrial capitalism most abuses us, for it sets up the certainty that our own homes and lives will be stolen from us.
You are losing the shell-game. Your way of life has disappeared under one cup, and you will never find it again. If you are lucky, you'll lift the wrong cup and find only that the cost of your debt to the rich purse holders has grown huge while your wage has stayed stagnant. If you are unlucky, like the people facing flooding, drought, storms and wildfire this year, you'll find that when the joker lifts his cup, there is a lethal dose of climate emergency waiting for you personally.
The time to revolt is now.