In the terrifying opening to his 2020 novel, ‘The Ministry for the Future’, Kim Stanley Robinson depicts an intense heatwave in India. In an ‘ordinary town’ in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, people are struggling to cope with unbearable heat and humidity. It is the combination of the two, measured by the so-called ‘wet-bulb temperature’, that is potentially fatal. When it approaches the core body temperature of 36C, sweat cannot evaporate and humans can no longer cool themselves down. Dehydration rises to dangerous levels. Vital organs become seriously stressed, especially the heart. Unless the body temperature is reduced, death follows in a matter of hours.
In the novel’s opening scenes, there are shouts of:
‘Go to the lake! Get in the water!’
One man shakes his head:
‘That water is in the sun. It’s as hot as a bath. It’s worse than the air.’
Nevertheless, people jump in the lake, hoping it will help. But a catastrophe is unfolding.
‘People were dying faster than ever. There was no coolness to be had. All the children were dead, all the old people were dead. People murmured what should have been screams of grief; those who could still move shoved bodies out of the lake, or out toward the middle where they floated like logs, or sank.’
It is a nightmare vision of what may lie ahead for humanity in the very near future.
This month, an intense heatwave did indeed hit northern India with temperatures reaching a record high of 49.2C in parts of Delhi. This was the fifth heatwave in the Indian capital since March.
Last month was India’s hottest April in 122 years and Pakistan’s for 61 years. Jacobabad hit nearly 50C with night-time temperatures often staying above 30C. Exhausted and dehydrated birds fell from the sky, an apocalyptic portent if ever there was one. A UK Met Office study has concluded that global warming makes record-breaking heatwaves in northwest India and Pakistan 100 times more likely.
Meanwhile, the highest daily level of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere was recorded. On 11 May, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, measured 421.37 parts per million of carbon dioxide. The previous record of 418.95 ppm was set in May 2021.
‘It is very concerning, extremely worrisome,’ Peter Tans, senior climate scientist at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, told the Financial Times.
‘This last decade, the rate of increase [of carbon emissions] has never been higher, and we are still on the same path. We’re going in the wrong direction at maximum speed.’
Scientists are warning that the 1.5C global heating limit set by governments is about to be breached. The probability of one of the next five years surpassing the limit is now 50 per cent. This is up from 20 per cent in 2020 and zero per cent in 2015.
A new report this week from the UN World Meteorological Organization revealed that 2021 was a record year for breaking critical global indicators of the climate crisis. These include rising sea levels and the amount of heat-trapping emissions in the atmosphere.
António Guterres, the secretary general of the UN, said:
‘Today’s State of the Climate report is a dismal litany of humanity’s failure to tackle climate disruption. Fossil fuels are a dead end – environmentally and economically.’
On top of all that, climate scientists recently reported that global warming could cause the most cataclysmic extinction of marine life in the past 250 million years.
Her Majesty’s ‘Opposition’
If the news media were not owned by, and run for, the benefit of state-corporate elites, all this would be huge headline news – day after day, month after month. There would be vigorous debate across all the main media outlets, building pressure on governments to implement the urgent radical changes required to avert the worst consequences of the climate crisis.
But instead the general population is being held captive, caught in a tight death grip by powerful forces masquerading as our benefactors and protectors. As Jonathan Cook observed:
‘Corporate media is the glue holding our corrupt world together. They promote the Ukraine arms bonanza, helping the corporate war industries profit from mass death. Then they normalise profiteering from the resulting fuel crisis as “bumper” profits for the corporate energy sector.’
Is it any wonder we are in an era of climate breakdown when Business-As-Usual – characterised by short-term corporate greed, compliant mass media and careerist government politicians – is such a dominant factor in human ‘civilisation’?
For example, Corporate Europe Observatory, a non-profit research and campaign group which monitors and exposes corporate lobbying on EU policy making, recently warned that:
‘Fossil fuel giants are shaping the EU’s response to the energy crisis.’
Six big energy companies were named: Shell, BP, Total, ENI, E.ON and Vattenfall. Pascoe Sabido of Corporate Europe Observatory said:
‘The European Commission has been in bed with these corporations for decades. If we want to end our reliance on gas, Russian or otherwise, then we need to end the relationship between the fossil fuel industry and decision-makers, cutting fossil fuel interests out of our political system. In short, we need fossil free politics.’
There is little chance of that under the Tories. Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has just drafted in the former UK boss of BP to supposedly oversee the UK’s transition to ‘a low-carbon economy’. Would a former CEO of Big Tobacco be rewarded by leading a reform of the NHS? Would a former slave owner be put in charge of the abolition of slavery?
In the never-ending corporate quest for profit, even as the planet’s life support systems are failing, oil and gas corporations ‘are planning scores of vast projects that threaten to shatter the 1.5C climate goal.’ If governments allow the projects to proceed, these ‘carbon bombs’ will ‘trigger catastrophic climate breakdown.’
As mentioned above, the head of the UN has called for an end to new fossil fuel projects, warning that climate change poses ‘an existential threat to us all – to the whole world.’ Speaking at a recent press conference, António Guterres said:
‘Main emitters must drastically cut emissions, starting now. This means accelerating the end of our fossil fuel addiction and speeding up the deployment of clean renewable energy.’
The UN chief’s urgent comments align with the aims of campaign groups, such as Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil, so often labelled by ‘mainstream’ media as ‘eco-zealots’, ‘eco maniacs’, ‘eco yobs’ or a ‘mob of environmentalists’. Indeed, on Twitter, Guterres effectively gave climate campaigners his support:
‘Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels. Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.’
In this country, the madness extends to all three of the main political parties – Labour, Liberal Democrats and Conservative – calling for climate protesters to be ‘cracked down on’ and for their rational demands to be rejected.
Last month, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer demonstrated yet again that he is a faithful ally of established power. Referring to Just Stop Oil protesters’ blockade of 11 fuel depots in southern England, Starmer tweeted:
‘The government must stop standing idly by and immediately impose injunctions to put an end to this disruption.’
He was later confronted publicly by Lauren MacDonald, a 21-year-old Scottish climate activist. According to one newspaper report, Starmer:
‘appear[ed] visibly flustered and fle[d] the scene without addressing the topic of the injunction.’
Fatima Ibrahim from campaign group Green New Deal Rising said:
‘We feel betrayed by Keir Starmer and the Labour Party for calling for more police powers to prevent young people worried about their future from peacefully protesting.
‘At a time when the country is desperate for a different vision of the future, the Labour Party could be calling for a massive shift towards renewables to bring down energy bills and deliver new jobs. Instead, they’ve relegated themselves to government cheerleaders.’
Starmer had shown once again how paper-thin are the differences between Her Majesty’s ‘Opposition’ and Her Majesty’s Government.
‘The Demise Of Civilisation Is Well And Truly In Sight’
Veteran climate scientist James Hansen, who warned the US Congress of the dangers of global warming as early as 1988, injected some reality missing from ‘mainstream’ reporting:
‘There is no indication that incumbent governments are even considering the fundamental actions that are needed to slow and reverse climate change.’
As we wrote at the time, last year’s UN Climate Summit in Glasgow was a greenwashing festival, full of empty rhetoric. Last month, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said it was ‘now or never’ to save humanity.
‘the full 3,000-page report contains an astonishingly frank assessment of the organised efforts used to thwart climate action, noting: “opposition to climate action by carbon-connected industries is broad-based, highly organized, and matched with extensive lobbying”.’
Earth scientist Bill McGuire warned that:
‘it is now practically impossible to have any chance of staying this side of the 1.5C guardrail. The truth is that we can no longer sidestep dangerous, all-pervasive, climate breakdown.’
‘The demise of civilisation is well and truly in sight.’
These are remarkable and frightening statements from a senior scientist; in other words, the kind of sober, conservative, even ultra-cautious figure that the public has traditionally regarded as unwilling to speak out for fear of being seen to be too ‘political’.
McGuire also commented:
‘I have concluded that there will be no real pressure on governments to seriously tackle the #ClimateEmergency until we are all terrified. We are simply not sh*t scared enough – yet.’
In similar vein, Nasa climate scientist Peter Kalmus urged large-scale citizen action to pressure governments around the world. Last month, he wrote that:
‘Earth breakdown is much worse than most people realize. The science indicates that as fossil fuels continue to heat our planet, everything we love is at risk.’
‘Nothing has worked. It’s now the eleventh hour and I feel terrified for my kids, and terrified for humanity. I feel deep grief over the loss of forests and corals and diminishing biodiversity. But I’ll keep fighting as hard as I can for this Earth, no matter how bad it gets, because it can always get worse. And it will continue to get worse until we end the fossil fuel industry and the exponential quest for ever more profit at the expense of everything else. There is no way to fool physics.’
All this has motivated Kalmus to become involved in climate activism:
‘I’ve joined the ranks of those who selflessly risk their freedom and put their bodies on the line for the Earth, despite ridicule from the ignorant and punishment from a colonizing legal system designed to protect the planet-killing interests of the rich. It’s time we all join them. The feeling of solidarity is a wonderful balm.’
‘Our Morality Must Catch Up With Our Intelligence’
Noam Chomsky has also urged widespread participation in climate actions:
‘What we face is the greatest imposition of suffering and injustice in the history of civilization…I support the actions of the Just Stop Oil coalition. It’s imperative for us all to do so.’
‘Brave humans from all walks of life have chosen to not give up. We are fighting back because it’s the fight for all life. It’s now or never. It’s time for action. We need you to join us. We need everyone, everywhere. Now. Just stop oil.’
It will take truly massive, sustained public activism – perhaps on a scale never seen before in human history – to shift course away from climate catastrophe. Meanwhile, governments and corporations will claim their destructive policies, actions and threats are intended to ensure ‘security’ of energy supplies, or ‘security’ of the general population in ‘defending’ the West against Official Enemies.
In a recent interview, aptly titled ‘To Tackle Climate, Our Morality Must Catch Up With Our Intelligence’, Chomsky identified such elite statements as propaganda:
‘Whatever is driving policy, it is not security — at least, security of the population. That is at best a marginal concern. That holds for existential threats as well. We have to look elsewhere.’
Chomsky suggested that to understand why this happens, one could start with ‘the best-established principle of international relations theory’. This dates back to the 18th century and economist Adam Smith’s observation that:
‘the “Masters of Mankind” — in his day the merchants and manufacturers of England — are the “principal architects of [state] policy.” They use their power to ensure that their own interests “are most peculiarly attended to” no matter how “grievous” the effects on others, including the people of England, but most brutally the victims of the “savage injustice of the Europeans.” His [Smith’s] particular target was British savagery in India, then in its early stages, already horrifying enough.’
But in an era of climate breakdown and mass extinction of species, including perhaps our own, surely this principle no longer applies? Chomsky disagrees:
‘Nothing much changes when the crises become existential. Short-term interests prevail. The logic is clear in competitive systems, like unregulated markets. Those who do not play the game are soon out of it. Competition among the “principal architects of policy” in the state system has somewhat similar properties, but we should bear in mind that security of the population is far from a guiding principle, as the record shows all too clearly.’
The historical record also shows that improvements in society are rarely, if ever, bestowed as gifts from above. Power typically only ever makes concessions when it is forced to do so by pressure from below.
Time is running out too rapidly to fundamentally reform society and create a real democracy that people deserve. The immediate priority is to exert insurmountable pressure on existing power structures, not least our own governments, to change course away from climate catastrophe. If we cannot do that, there will be no human civilisation to reform or restructure.
DC & DE