Meh. (With Special Guest Star: Thor)
“Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike.” — Dumbledore
Since I started crawling down the rabbit hole of climate book research, the above quote from Harry Potter 5 has frequently been on my mind. The details are complex, but on the whole we already know what needs to be done with regard to our increasingly volatile habitat: rapid conversion to carbon neutral energy sources combined with serious reductions in energy consumption. Doing those two things simultaneously would allow the maximum number of people to live decent lives in the world global warming has in store for us. Not doing them, or only scratching at them instead of digging in with all hands (as we are currently doing), is dooming an unknown but possibly ten figure number (i.e. billions, with a B) of people to short, harsh, and very shitty lives that will often end violently.
This is not news. It is, in essence, what the scientific community has been saying for thirty years, the last fifteen or so at the top of their lungs. In all that time, the world’s political and financial elites, and especially those in the United States, have basically replied, “Yeah, yeah, we’ll get to it.”
That level of indifference to climate crossed into black comedy long ago. It’s like being told there’s a baby in the oven and responding that it’s only on pre-heat, go back to sleep. The much ballyhooed Paris agreement was merely the latest in a long line of international nothingburgers, and that was before President Kwyjibo put an oil stooge in charge of the EPA.
Much as we might like to think of Trump as an anomaly, however, his total lack of give a fuck fits in snugly with decades of official indifference, both in the U.S. and around the world. The simple fact that allows a few denier conmen* to keep the political and financial powers from doing anything is that nobody cares that much.
(*Admittedly, they are very deep pocketed denier conmen, but there really aren’t that many of them.)
Despite all the well attended international conferences and careful speeches, rich countries don’t care about poor countries. Rich people (in rich countries and in poor countries) don’t care about poor people. Old people don’t care about young people. And nobody cares about strangers, especially foreign ones.
Between commercial media that studiously ignores global warming the way 1950s housewives ignored cheating husbands, a government divided against itself,* and the evil cocksuckers who get paid to lie about the danger with every tweet they can muster, it’s no mystery as to why most people are distracted, ignorant, and indifferent when it comes to climate. Hell, Disney is releasing a Thor movie with the word “Ragnarok” in the title this year. In the Ragnarok myth, the world is swallowed by water. In the blockbuster franchise, a guy in a cape will save the day using magic. In reality, New Orleans and Miami might both be gone by this time next decade.
(*Even under Obama, NASA and the EPA may have screamed about climate, but Interior was still giving out oil and gas leases hand over fist while energy consumption gets subsidized by about twelve different departments.)
That movie, by the way, cost a few hundred million dollars to make, will cost a few hundred million more to market, and will then generate well over a billion dollars in revenue before all is said and done. The IPCC, which is charged with coordinating the world’s response to climate change, has an annual budget of about four million. That’s what true indifference looks like, and it makes bromides like this one from Michael Mann read like the activities guide on the Titanic:
Thankfully, there is a range of actions that, if achieved, can deliver a safe future. The study shows that by 2020, renewable energy must beat out coal in all major energy markets. Countries must commit to electrifying the transportation system, and transmission infrastructure must be built out to host efficient, low-carbon energy systems. Deforestation must be reigned in, and the restoration of already degraded land must be well underway. All of the Fortune 500 companies that represent heavy industries must have committed to the Paris targets, and their emissions-reduction plans must be in effect. And, finally, capital markets must double investment in zero-emission technologies.
Now, Mann is a fine climate researcher. Even more importantly, he’s a great climate communicator, one who is willing and able to put paid to denier nonsense right into their sooty faces. But his “thankful” list of actions is about as likely as aliens landing on the White House lawn and telling Trump to cut the bullshit.
Consider, “All of the Fortune 500 companies that represent heavy industries must have committed to the Paris targets”. That list includes Standard Oil (today it’s called Exxon, but it’s the same evil company you read about in history class), and getting them to agree to Paris targets would mean taking their company’s market value from approximately $380 Billion ($380,000,000,000) to roughly $0. Spoiler alert: they aren’t going to do that.
But, hey, new Thor movie, amirite?