HUMAN-CAUSED POLLUTION, DRAMATICALLY WORSENED BY CAPITALISM, CONSISTENTLY EXCEEDS POLLUTION FROM VOLCANIC ERUPTIONS TO CAUSE SEVERE CLIMATE CHANGE INCLUDING GLACIER MELT, GLOBAL WARMING, SUPERSTORMS WITH EXTREME WEATHER AND TEMPERATURE OSCILLATIONS, AND TUNDRA THAW WITH MASSIVE METHANE RELEASE AND REVIVAL OF LONG-FROZEN PREHISTORIC MICROORGANISMS
Antarctica and Greenland
“Remember the front page of The Seattle Times one day last week, a week ago last Monday?” I asked the other participants in the room as I held up a copy from 12 May 2014. The lead article was adorned with a dramatic photograph of West Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier melting in slow yet accelerating collapse into the Southern Ocean. The image was beautiful. Huge. The photo made this crisis feel Leviathan. It felt personal. Still does. For me seeing this news report was my “Oh Shit!” moment, my big “Oh Shit!” moment.
This crisis, this moment also presents an opportunity for those of us on the Revolutionary Left. We’ve been engaged in struggles to unify the working classes and others among the 99% to build a Democratic Socialist civilization atop the wreckage of our Capitalist system for a long time. This is now our time, and it will stay our time but only if we make it so. Climate change will not wait. Capitalism will not wait as it continues to bind the world into an iron net of digital tyranny and financial despotism. The logical conclusion of Capitalism is globalized Fascism and self-destruction as what’s left of our biosphere is ruined in the desperate scramble for anything to eat, steal, sell, or blame. The twin disasters of Capitalism and climate change seem slow and twisting. Yet they accelerate toward one disaster after another. Neither crisis will wait for anyone or for anything.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, the UN IPCC, released a new and disturbing report earlier this Spring of 2014. It firmly established the primacy of anthropogenic or human-made causes of climate change over other factors. The scientists involved drove home climate change is a long-term problem with a severe impact upon our biosphere. Indeed, there will be multiple severe effects. This likely will produce unexpected surprises. Perhaps the surprises won’t be as dramatic as a world war or an extreme climate yo-yo but something more subtle such as the resurrection of dormant prehistoric bacteria and viruses released from thawing tundra.
Scientists earlier this year discovered giant viruses reanimating out in the Siberian tundra. The world is warming up. The Arctic tundra is thawing out. Methane gas is escaping from the permafrost. Frozen mammoth specimens are found in spectacular condition. And the largest known viruses, so far, are reviving. The most recent one is an enormous Siberian Pithovirus 30,000 years old. These giant viruses are still alive. They’re infecting and killing the local amoeba population. Scientists consider it easily probable other prehistoric pathogens, frozen alive for tens of thousands of years, may escape as temperatures rise to cause pandemics of deadly diseases among contemporary humans, livestock, and crops as well as wild plants and animals.
We are vulnerable as a species. Adaptation and preparation will prove crucial although exhausting. We’ll encounter limits as we run out of options. Most importantly, however, is we move forward with great speed and urgency to implement significant, indeed revolutionary changes. We do not have much time. We do, however, have choices and proven strategies.
A Democratic Socialist alternative, for example, will allow our species to establish a common front to address this Capitalist-induced destruction of our planet. We must first build such a unified front. Here in Seattle, those of us in the Socialist Alternative are positioned to provide leadership and inspiration to working people during this time of worldwide climate disruption. A majority of citizens recently elected Kshama Sawant, a teacher, economist, and activist in the Socialist Alternative, to the Seattle City Council in 2013 over a long-entrenched Democrat. Together with other labor activists we successfully spearheaded a rough and tumble drive to raise the minimum working wage to $15.00 an hour.
Numerous other groups are active as well in the struggle for our environment. Most of them are focused on singular issues such as stopping the coal and oil trains, tackling fracking, reducing carbon dioxide emissions, cleaning up polluted areas, and transitioning away from fossil fuels to green renewables. There has been a patchwork of local and regional successes, but many have been reduced under repeated onslaughts of Big Business as Capitalists seek to deepen their grip on our society. The Corporatocracy is relentless in its pursuit of resources to fuel its expansion of power. We’re focused, however, on local-global economic and labor issues. Yet climate change won’t wait for workers to wake up and take charge of our economy. Nor will the Capitalists in power wait for us workers to rise up. Earth’s environmental crises, however, won’t wait, not for anyone. Within the past year we Democratic Socialists achieved remarkable successes locally. We’ve been driving hard in a most difficult struggle to improve the lives of workers and their families. Economic and environmental issues are mutually intertwined. Will we take this opportunity?
Look at the picture of those melting glaciers in West Antarctica again.
James Yungel of the NASA team captured the photo. The “collapse of massive portions of the Antarctic ice sheet” appeared “inevitable.” Indeed, the speed of melting and collapse with rising seas is faster than initially feared. The epic disaster unfolding across our southernmost continent was deemed “unstoppable.” Mother Jones even shouted, “Holy Shit!”
This calamity is global. It was visible. You can see it all around without the immediate drama of human beings with their towns and cities ravaged by wars and earthquakes. Yet it could conceivably help bring an end to the current global civilization humans have built here on Earth. The melting West Antarctic ice sheets reinforce the idea global climate change, including global warming, is really global climate disruption.
It’s not a new concept, either. Planetary environmentalist Dr. John Holdren addressed the Kennedy School of Government back in November 2006 and challenged us to call a spade a spade and rename our world crisis Global Climate Disruption. Holdren declared, “Global warming is a misnomer. It implies something gradual, uniform, and benign.” Instead, he goes on, “We are already experiencing ‘dangerous anthropogenic interference’ with the climate system.” Professor Holgren goes on to ask if “we can avoid catastrophic interference.” Holgren is a top, highly regarded scientist and astute with public policy. His warning was almost eight years ago. Who listened? How many really cared? How many will care after today’s buzz fades away?
Many thought Superstorms Sandy in October 2012 and Haiyan/Yolanda in November a year later were terrifying harbingers of obvious Global Climate Disruption. Apparently, however, not enough people said “Oh shit!” the way we did with the latest revelations from the Southern Ocean.
Exactly a week after the alarming news from Antarctica, NASA released a new report the ice cap atop the giant island of Greenland is melting faster and faster, too. Apparently the canyons beneath Greenland’s ice lead into the ocean and “are deeper and longer than previously thought.” One was determined to be deeper and longer than the Grand Canyon through Arizona. Glaciers pour slowly from the ice cap down through these deep canyons to flow into the oceans and thus contribute to rising sea levels. This pattern of vast canyons filled with glacial ice leads to a situation similar to the one in West Antarctica. The scientists noted the acceleration of ice loss as measured across Greenland in recent decades. They determined the glaciers there “are likely to retreat faster and farther inland than anticipated, and for much longer than anticipated.”
Back to Antarctica: Before the news broke on the 12th of May 2014 regarding the unexpectedly melting in West Antarctica as the glaciers slide down through deep subglacial chasms, the same area made the news earlier. Teams of British scientists have been scouting the Ellsworth Subglacial Highlands for several years. In 2010 they realized immense valleys and canyons lay below the ice sheets deeper than the Grand Canyon and almost as wide. They release more data on what they termed “subglacial rift valleys” in 2012. The scientists knew back then this canyon complex played a role in polar ice melt, but didn’t fully grasp the significance of these canyons until this May. Guess what? This massive rift valley lies under the ice of West Antarctica and its sheer size accelerates the cycle of glacial movement down into the ocean. As our scientists discover canyons in Greenland and Antarctica both comparable in size to the Grand Canyon, one can’t help but wonder what else lays under the ice.
Changing our perspectives
This DEMANDS a different way of thinking, what the late social scientist Willis Harman, himself a native of Seattle, once called “Global Mind Change.”
In his 1998 book with the same name, Harman emphasizes while “Revolutions are generally thought of as large-scale, bloody upheavals…there are quieter” ones in our minds of an “even more significant” nature. By changing their minds, we create new possibilities to change the world.
“We are living through one of the most fundamental shifts in history,” Harman wrote, “a change in the actual belief structure of Western industrial society.” He was not addressing any particular one global challenge even though there are many to choose from including environmental and economic ones. Rather, he emphasized to resolve our numerous seemingly overwhelming world problems, we must first recognize we live in the midst of change.
We must acknowledge what is so, recognize our problems, and be willing to shift our conditioned ways of reacting and shift our perspectives before we can succeed in driving global transformation. This way of being and doing is vital for us to address global climate disruption.
Alex Steffan, a California futurist and activist, illustrates an example of the necessary change of perspective when he encourages us to understand “we live in a planet,” not on a planet. We’re living organisms sharing a biosphere down inside a planet with a multitude of life forms. The top of our planet is not the ground we walk on but the surface of our atmosphere, even our magnetosphere. “We live as part of a planet,” he wrote. We do not own this planet as a piece of real estate property the same way we dwell in houses and apartments. Steffan points out as human beings in a planet we simply can’t change addresses among worlds.
Yes, we may envision a future of interstellar space travel among galactic federations, but our species won’t achieve such lofty goals if we fail to resolve or mitigate global climate disruption. Even if we colonize our Sun’s solar system, such settlements will likely be interdependent upon one another and reliant upon Mother Earth. Unless we stop living in collective denial and shortsighted stupidity edged with violence and greed. We can do better than this. It’s time we move beyond “Oh shit!” Though we may have to repeat this new Postmodern Age mantra a few more times.
We live in a planet. Not on a planet. Isn’t it a wonderful, deep, and yet simple change of perspective?
Yet a change of perspective does not mean to embrace everything pretty and cool or get lost in idealistic, ecotopian views of a Neo-Romantic Paleolithic Revival. The late naturalist, environmentalist, and activist Edward Abbey’s iconoclastic novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, is a Luddite paean to rebellion and resistance. The Monkey Wrench Gang came out in 1975, and while at times ridiculous and hilarious, it challenged, inspired, scared, and provoked people. Ed’s characters threw beer cans out of car windows while driving down paved highways. He himself tossed beer cans out the window as he drove his truck along desert roads. When a journalist once challenged his hypocrisy, Abbey turned the reporter’s point of view inside out and upside down.
“Beer cans are beautiful,” Abbey declared. “It’s the highway that’s ugly.” Ed Abbey pointed out those little beer cans that rust into crumbling metal oxide and dust are NOTHING compared to the destruction and pollution caused by heavy machinery building roads and highways topped by petroleum-based poisons such as asphalt through forests, farms, swamps, and across deserts, plains, and mountains. The real pollution is the road itself and all the mining, drilling, and manufacturing of the capitalist system as it turns the whole world into a toxic, industrialized apocalypse in the capitalist glorification of big business and profit. Learn from what really happened to determine what really matters. Ed Abbey was a man who lived contradiction and leveraged paradox’s creative tension to reframe perspectives for many people across North America and elsewhere. We must apply the same dialectic to our struggle to raise the consciousness of the working classes and resolve our global environmental, energy, and economic challenges including climate change.
Apply Marxist Dialectical Materialism to Climate Disruption
Another significant tool to help many among the world shift perspectives is to apply Marxist scientific practices of dialectical materialism to global climate disruption. Too many people across the planet have been brainwashed by both Capitalism and Stalinism-Maoism to stampede away like cows from the terms Marxism and Marxist-Leninism.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels hinted at what may be coming in 1848’s The Communist Manifesto. The concept of human-created global climate disruption did not exist back in the 19th Century although global warming and climate change was already well under way. They did witness and experience, however, the destruction of Capitalism upon human societies and nature. They marveled at what men and machinery and willpower achieved in the building of civilization, and were disturbed at the cost and the high devastation of those costs.
Below are sections of Marx and Engels’ observations pulled out and threaded together:
“The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market … has subjected the country to the rule of the towns.
It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural…
The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together.
Subjection of Nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalisation of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground …”
On and on. Back in 1848; 166 years ago. Marx and Engels continue:
“The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society.
Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.
All fixed, fast-frozen relations … are swept away … All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”
These two men analyzed what they saw and understood the age-old yet ever-evolving dialectical process provided the most effective methodologies to address the developing crises within Capitalism. Their view was expansive enough to grasp reforming Capitalism would fail as all attempts to reform Feudalism failed. Indeed, all attempts to reform Capitalism from the time Scottish philosopher and economist Adam Smith penned his Wealth of Nations failed. Each sincere attempt and failure resulted in the triumph of Big Business and Big Banks over the lower and middle classes. Note Adam Smith, ironically enough, first published his landmark tome extolling the Invisible Hand in the hidden machinery of the system generating wealth far beyond anything what labor could achieve back in 1776. The American Revolution was burning across eastern North America and the Transatlantic Slave Trade was at its height. Conquest, slavery, and empire were the reasons Capitalism thrived for those at the top of this global ponzi-pyramid scam, not an invisible hand.
These failures to reform resulted in the paradox of Financial Capitalism, also called Corporatism and Banksterism as well as Predatory, Crony, and Disaster Capitalism, dominating free markets, banks, businesses, political campaigns, and Democratic, Republican governments of all kinds. The domination of Finance Capitalism over the entire local-global system remains ongoing as it develops a grip so invasive and deeply entrenched as to be best described as Superfascism. The tighter Capitalism fastens its grip over the planet the worse our socio-political, environmental, and economic woes become, including our climate problems. Indeed, Adam Smith’s ironic metaphor of “the Invisible Hand” as a form of unconscious, self-regulation of human behavior in the marketplaces applies far more accurately to the deliberate manipulations of finances and markets by finance capitalists, i.e. “the banksters and corporacrats” than to any imaginary, fictitious force in the air.
Dialectical materialism is real and not based upon imaginary invisible hands. Dialectical materialism provides accurate, scientific practices to address cause and effect in the material reality of a universe constantly undergoing change. The dialectical process allows us to work through these controversies between thesis and antithesis, between premise and its antagonistic converse to arrive at a synthesis. Such a process is transcendent and thus more likely to evolve and revolve into a resolution of the crises at hand. This is transformation.
Marx, Engels, Lenin, and a few early Socialists and Communists such as Georgy Plekhanov, pulled upon the dialectical philosophies of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and other German Idealists. Dialectical methods were successfully practiced as far back as Ancient Greece with Socrates and Plato as well as among Ancient Indian Hindu and Buddhist teachers. The Capitalist aversion to Marxist-Leninism and the Capitalist refusal to acknowledge Capitalism’s own internal contradictions led to the dismissal, ridicule, and suppression of dialectical materialism in Western societies. Many others threw the dialectal babies out with the bathwater as Stalinism and Maoism with their monstrous distortions of politics and economics stigmatized and traumatized Socialists and Communists.
The use of dialectical materialism to address human disruption of Earth’s climate and to resolve the economic, financial, political, environmental, and energy challenges associated with such disruption will be of enormous benefit. Doing so, however, requires a global mind change.
April 2014 ties with April 2010 as the warmest April on record since records were kept starting in 1880. April was cool here in most of North America, especially out here in Cascadia, but we are talking planet-wide here. Again, change of perspective is required. Rapid climate change triggers violent weather patterns oscillating between extreme heat and extreme cold, between severe floors and prolonged droughts.
Record-breaking snow and ice storms cause many to question global warming even as the general temperature of the planet continues to rapidly increase. This global temperature increase has been demonstrated in numerous studies to be directly caused by human industrial and economic activity with corresponding degradation and destruction of our planetary environment. If we can jump up and shout, “Oh shit!” upon realizing the ice caps of Antarctica and Greenland are melting and melting fast, we can also say, “We’re shitting all over our home, and it’s killing us.”
Deniers, Global Cooling, Solar Cycles, and Volcanoes
Yes, solar cycles, massive volcanic eruptions, and collisions with large asteroids and comets can and will overwhelm human-caused climate change such as extensive cooling, at least temporarily. Climate change deniers, however, seized upon these events to declare there is no global warming but global cooling. Or, the deniers claim there is global warming, but humans are not the cause of it. Or, if people do cause global warming, OK, well, then we’re not the primary cause.
“Besides,” the deniers say, “climate change is just like, uh, y’know, climate change, because, y’know, climate is always changing, so it’s obvious or whatever.” The deniers cherry pick thru geohistory to support financial, political, and even religious agendas disrupted by climate change. It is clear, however, while these factors influence planetary climate, at this time in Earth’s history we humans are making our situation far worse.
Being willing to set down one’s ideological blinders, exercise critical thinking skills, possibly change one’s mind, and shift to a different point of view is a requirement to survive, resolve, and thrive. Otherwise you die. It is as simple as that. Many global climate change deniers today keep harping on a Newsweek Magazine article about global cooling published back in 1975. Deniers use climate science from 39, almost 40 years ago in a field of rapid change as new technologies and methodologies allow for reconsideration of old data with new discoveries. It has become clear since then as new data is gathered and studied Earth’s global climate is not cooling at all, but warming up. Indeed, faster than anticipated. May we say, “heating up?”
Peter Gwynne, the man who wrote the essay, a multiple prize winning science writer, has publicly come out in support of the evidence for global warming and climate change. He didn’t say he was necessarily wrong, but rather scientists drew the wrong conclusions from a body of incomplete data. The author admits to being “overly enthusiastic” with the emotional tone of his language. The facts today are far clearer than they were almost 40 years ago. Our world is heating up. The climate is disrupted. Human activity is the primary cause of global warming. Indeed, unceasing human industrial activity overtakes massive volcanic outbursts in the way the turtle overtakes the hare to win the race in the classic folk tale.
Deniers jump on anything other than the possibility our own species caused global climate change. Yes, catastrophic volcanoes and solar cycles do impact climate around the world. And, yes, too, human caused environmental damage is accelerating climate change beyond inactive sunspots and volcanic eruptions.
Scientists once wondered, for example, if solar lulls in sunspot activity possibly caused global cooling. This period of sunspot dormancy coincided with the Little Ice Age of about 1550-1850 (although some think the LIA began to develop around 1250).
Conditions grew so cold they prolonged the Middle Ages, induced famines, and triggered the collapse of the Viking empire in Greenland. Even the Baltic Sea and New York Harbor froze over, and so did the River Thames among others.
Recent research demonstrates, however, sunspot cycles did not cause this deep freeze. The mini-ice age was instead most likely caused and sustained by massive volcanic eruptions. Indeed, global warming is increasing so fast as to mitigate against solar cycles. A solar maximum followed by an extended lull may cool temperatures for a few decades, but eventually warming trends would pick back up to continue heating Earth.
This has already happened several times. We’ll see the climate change deniers erroneously misunderstand and abuse the very information they claim to rely on regarding volcanic eruptions as well as solar cycles. The deniers serve a valuable function by unintentionally demonstrating how information can be so misused. The deniers also cost us valuable time and resources as scientists are now thinking it may be too late to reverse global climate disruption. Let’s review a series of non-human, volcano-caused disasters. We’ll see what factors determined how severely climate was disrupted by active volcanoes. Yet we’ll also see the extent these disruptions were eventually surpassed by human industrialization and the capitalist system undergirding industry and banking.
The Krakatoa volcano erupted catastrophically in 1883. This colossal volcanic event in Indonesia hurled enough ash and debris to darken the Sun and cooled down our planet for decades and perhaps in some regions nearly a century. Yet the Industrial Revolution was cranking in full gear during an extended peak. Human-caused global warming, not to mention numerous other environmental problems caused by our expanding civilization, eventually overcame the effects of Krakatoa. Temperatures continue to climb.
Note, too, for what it’s worth, as horrific Krakatoa is, its 1883 eruption pales beside the explosion of a supervolcano. While devastating, Krakatoa is not a supervolcano. Its 1883 eruption ranked VEI-6 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI). This scale moves from 1 to 8 with each succeeding Index expanding 10 times greater than the previous mark. The 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens in Washington State was rated VEI-5 by comparison. Note as well Krakatoa exploded thirty-three years after the date generally set to mark the end of the Little Ice Age.
Alaska’s Mount Novarupta erupted explosively between June and October of 1912. It is the most powerful eruption of 20 Century Earth and generated the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. The Novarupta eruption is rated VEI-6 and was three times the force of Pinatubo, the second greatest eruption of the 20th Century. Weather patterns were disrupted with a mix of floods and droughts felt across North America and as far away as North Africa. Temperatures fluctuated, then leveled off, and the effects faded as the Industrial Revolution only picked up.
Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines for five months in 1991. The largest explosions registered as VEI-6. Pinatubo cooled the planet by almost 0.5°C/1.3°F. Each volcano erupts with a different mixture of gases, minerals, ash, rock, and other chemicals. Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull erupted across three months in the Spring of 2010. Although rated VEI-4 and thus relatively small in comparison to Pinatubo’s, Eyjafjallajökull nevertheless pumped out large, noxious quantities of choking ash and dense, toxic gases. There was short-termed regional cooling with direct impact upon Europe, but the effects weren’t global.
More significant was an earlier Icelandic eruption, the Laki (Lakigígar) Fissure on Grímsvötn Volcano. It effused across two years, from 1783 to 1785. Although only rated VEI-4, the Laki-Grímsvötn hurled an estimated 14 to 15 cubic kilometers of lava and poison gas out across the land and up into the atmosphere. It generated the largest lava flow in recorded history and led to “the Summer of Acid Rain.” The quantity and toxicity of Laki-Grímsvötn’s eruption, although more of an effusion and less an explosion, led some scientists to reclassify it as VEI-6. Although Mount Pinatubo’s 1991 eruption was far more explosive, the Laki Fissure effusion at its peak was as if Pinatubo erupted every three days.
Laki-Grímsvötn poured over 122 megatons of sulfur dioxide and about 8 megatons of hydrogen fluoride into the atmosphere during the first 5-6 months alone. The sulfur dioxide reacted with water vapor to release about 200 megatons of sulfuric acid, i.e. acid rain. Hydrogen fluoride as a gas led to fluoride poisoning of all life in the vicinity with an enormous toll on people, livestock, crops, and wildlife.
When hydrogen fluoride reacts with water, liquid hydrofluoric acid and fluorine gas results. Both are highly corrosive toxins. Water is chemically known as dihydrogen monoxide. Although water is rarely called such, it nevertheless reacts strongly when in contact with the aforementioned substances. Such deadly chemical reactions occur inside the bodies of poisoned living organisms as most life forms including humans are composed of significant amounts of water. The result is hideous.
Although the Summer of 1783 was the hottest one recorded until 1995, it was followed by a plunge back into frigid, Little Ice Age climates. Temperatures plummeted in the Northern Hemisphere by 1.5° C and led to a 2-3 year long cooling period. Many famines resulted, weather patterns were perturbed, and over 6 million people are estimated to have perished. The severe weather, widespread famines, and economic malaise from the eruptions from the Laki Fissure likely delayed the end of the American Revolution and help caused the French Revolution. Eventually, however, the climate stabilized as the Industrial Revolution continued to grow unabated.
The largest volcanic disaster in recorded human history, however, was 1815’s eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Tambora. It was a gigantic explosion rated VEI-7, one of four in 10,000 years. Tambora killed over 100,000 people right away and millions more over time. The volcano affected the climate for years, including causing 1816’s “Year without a Summer.” Crops failed from Southeast Asia to Northwest Europe to North America. People went hungry in New England where it snowed almost a foot and a half in June. Plagues erupted alongside with famine.
Tambora so affected the weather patterns with heavy flooding following harsh droughts it led colonies of cholera bacteria in the Indian Ocean’s Bay of Bengal to mutate. Bengal cholera spread around the world as the Black Death did during in the Middle Ages and Spanish influenza did towards the end of the First World War. Tambora’s explosive eruption likely contributed to prolonging the so-called Little Ice Age. Climate change, however temporary and caused by a volcano, led to pandemic that lasted up to the end of the 19th Century. Bengal cholera killed tens of millions of people. Eventually the climate stabilized and human-induced global warming renewed its relentless march.
Imagine what our more long-term climate disaster may lead to. There are other unknowns associated with Tambora only now being understood, such as its economic, military, and political impacts. A sharp depression gripped Europe and North America, called the Panic of 1819 in the United States and went on for almost 10 years. Chinese Opium became worldwide drug. The Emperor Napoleon went down at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 weeks after Tambora exploded. Tambora affected these events, perhaps more than we realize.
Even as the Tambora volcano so disturbed the world, human industrialization and corresponding environmental destruction resulting in rapidly increasing social problems continued to expand and deepen across Earth. These human-induced factors continued to affect our global climate, which in turn impacts our local weather and economies. As the effects of the Tambora catastrophe subsided, those of our Capitalist system increased and continued to pick up speed. Eventually, the resulting disruption to our climate by the activities of our own species surpassed that of Tambora and Krakatoa. There have been about nine other volcanic eruptions rated VEI-6 in addition to Pinatubo since the 1780s. Human-induced environmental degradation continued anyway to the point such activity began to perturb global climate.
This has been measured. Volcanic ash and sulfur dioxide is the greatest, most dramatic cooling pollution and subsides after a few years. Anthropogenic or human-caused activities release gargantuan amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than all of Earth’s volcanoes combined. As we heat up the planet and the tundra thaws out, large quantities of methane gas degasses from where it had been frozen since the Ice Ages. Carbon dioxide is far more of a climate destabilizer than sulfur gases. Methane is even worse. Methane is a powerful destabilizer of climate.
The evidence is clear. As destructive as volcanoes and solar activity are, we as a species are the primary agents causing global warming and climate disruption. Climate change skeptics are now no different than anti-evolution and anti-Big Bang religious fundamentalists who search the fossil, geological, and astronomical evidence for evolution and the Big Bang only to dismiss it as misunderstanding the Bible or as Satan’s deceptions.
Historians and scientists are now peeling back the interactions between short-term disasters on climate and on politics, wars, and economics. Imagine the consequences of long-term climate disruption on our lives today. It’s hard for us to see so far ahead.
Humans are notoriously bad at long-range thinking. We can train ourselves to practice and to excel at long-range thinking. The arguments of climate change deniers collapse before the rigorous inquiry applied by the dialectical material method. As Socialists, we have the proven discipline of Marx and Engels to guide us in this struggle. For addressing our environmental challenges will be a long struggle of great duration. We have neither time nor patience to humor those who deny climate change nor those financial and political elites who seek to profit from it or preserve the status quo of their power.
Significant climate change induced weather events
What follows is a brief listing of recent severe weather events, many of them locally catastrophic. There are many to choose from. New ones develop.
Superstorm Sandy of October 2012 is famous. The hurricane spawned south of Jamaica. Before the storm was over, the large cyclone merged with other storm systems to generate blizzards from Virginia out to Michigan and Wisconsin and hurricane floods from Cuba across the U.S. seaboard north into Canada.
Prolonged droughts, firestorms, massive floods, superstorms, fluctuating jet streams are happening with greater frequency.
November 2013 – Superstorm Haiyan hit Southeast Asia with the worst of the typhoon smashing the Philippines.
December 2013 –March 2014 the polar vortex superstorms covered most of North America except the West Coast. The Southeastern U.S. state of Georgia was colder than Alaska many thousands of kilometers away to the Northwest. Planet Mars was warmer than the eastern half of North America. Polar vortex storms are sometimes common. These, however, were extreme. Even much of the Great Lakes froze over beneath an expanse of ice.
Droughts, fires, floods elsewhere, too, from superstorms hitting Western and Central Europe to Siberia to Pakistan to Australia.
Giant floods devastated large swaths of Pakistan in July 2010 and again in August 2013.
Drought and firestorms raged across Russian and Siberia in 2012.
Australia baked, then flooded and baked again. Scientists reported in November 2006 Australia suffers its worse drought in 1,000 years. The drought continued. By March and February 2014 the climate forecast for Australia was for even more drought with hotter temperatures and thus more firestorms. “Is Drought becoming the New Normal for Australia?” is a recent newspaper headline. Yet sudden and massive floods devastated many communities in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and again in 2014.
Tornado outbreaks become increasingly more epic. Super Outbreaks of numerous, massive tornados occurred across much of the central, southern, and eastern United States in 1974 and 2011. More localized yet unusually severe tornado fronts struck Oklahoma and elsewhere in 2013. More followed in 2014.
Severe and unusual floods inundated large swaths of Colorado in 2013. These floods are considered historic.
Currently we have epic flooding with corresponding mudslides in the mountainous Balkans. Three months of rain fell in three days this May 2014. Entire cities and swaths of countryside are submerged. Territories larger than some nations are underwater. Minefields from the Yugoslav Civil Wars were washed loose.
I remember flying east over and later driving back west through the Great Mississippi River floods of 1993. The extent of those floods and the damage they caused was a force to behold.
Earlier this year the side of a mountain came down in the Cascade foothills of Washington State. The Oso mudslide of March 2014 ripped across a river and buried an entire community. The political and socio-economic impact of death and destruction rippled out in all directions. While the region is geographically prone to landslides, the combination of poor logging practices, unchecked human development in dangerous rural areas, and a deluge of rain following near-drought conditions triggered the giant mudslide.
Down and over in Colorado this May of 2014 another mountain fell down. The flank of a mountain rumbled down in a landslide at least half a mile wide and three miles long. Although the slide was remote, deaths resulted.
Often forgotten in the wake of dramatic catastrophes are the slower ones: that climate change will impact the poor, working, and middle classes the most, that the poorer nations such as Bangladesh will suffer the worse, that some countries such as the Maldives may be completely submerged. People are already contemplating the challenges of relocating entire nations, however, small, onto the territory of other countries. Heat waves spawn wildfires spewing fire tornadoes and collapse urban energy grids resulting power outages leaving many people trapped in high rise buildings. Wars are expected to break out over increasingly scarce fresh water. Corporations race to commodify water and now air. Climate change worsens and spreads disease epidemics and the spread of insect pests.
Global Capitalism and the Collapse of World Civilization
Jared Diamond, a scientist trained in many disciplines who eventually turned his attention to the relationships between human evolutionary biology and anthropology, geography, and ecology. In his landmark 2005 book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, he realized all civilizations move through the same stages as they enter a phase of collapse. According to Dr. Diamond, this proved true regardless of ethnicity, geographical location, and time period. There are points along the way where people choose to continue destructive habits until their civilization collapsed, or chose otherwise to survive and thrive.
As the population of any given civilization expands, so does its energy demands. So does the demand for food to feed the people. The civilization continues to grow and expand. Its impact upon its surrounding environment leads to increasing deterioration of its local and regional biosphere. Socio-economic class stratification increases with greater wealth disparity between the lower and higher classes.
Competition for increasingly scarce resources leads to an increase in warfare and imperialism. More resources flow towards conquest and defense. Environmental destruction increases and leads to economic perturbation. Economic misery leads in turn to further environmental destruction leading in turn to increased social distress and political turmoil. Food production and distribution declines, the environment becomes too damaged and polluted, the economy collapses, and socio-political stress escalates. Crime waves, riots, rebellions, civil wars, and mass exodus of refugees result as the civilization implodes, then explodes.
These crises may invite the rise of murderous tyrants to restore order or invasions by predatory outside powers. Collapse continues at this point, however, and famine inevitably results. The more desperate people become, the greater the resulting environmental destruction, economic ruin, breakdown of political authority, and the dissolution of social cohesion. The result in the worst of the worst cases seems to be the same: cannibalism.
We do live today in a planet-wide civilization even though we are not yet politically united. Yet we stand at the brink. We already slide into collapse. We have increasing levels of environmental, economic, and social upheaval. Our species wavers between world hunger and obesity. Jared Diamond reminds us he studied local and regional civilizations scattered across time and place. He pointed out, however, our current age is the first time humanity has achieved a global civilization. Our local challenges are now global ones. This time the collapse of civilization would be worldwide.
Meanwhile, while the deniers were ridiculing global warming every time a bitter cold wind blows, a few scientists who understood the enormity of what humanity faces call for us to prepare for the inevitable. Global warming and climate disruption will get worse. Some were calling out for us to deal with and put more energy into survival and relocating populations, even whole nations away from the rising ocean.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, comprised of over 2,000 scientists, called for readiness back in 2001. They called for us to turn our attention to prepare for worldwide climate disruption. Significant changes are now irreversible. Panel scientists declared, “human-caused global warming has already begun, and much sooner than expected…the problem is bound to get worse, perhaps a lot worse, before it gets better.”
James Lovelock, the noted scientist who devised the Gaia hypothesis in 1978 proposing Earth functions as if it was a self-regulating, planetary superorganism, had a few choice words for today and tomorrow. He thinks we ought to give up trying to reverse climate change. Lovelock feels we must focus instead on learning how to deal with it. He feels the squabbling nations of the world will never learn to work together as the one civilization they are to address this global wicked problem. “It’s too late to prevent climate change,” Lovelock declared. “Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change.”
A team of researchers recently announced their studies civilizational collapses are more common than once believed. Indeed, the rise and fall of human societies is so recurrent in our history as to be expected. Funded by both the University of Maryland and NASA (although NASA has shamefully backpedalled away in embarrassment as it is afraid of the study’s political and financial ramifications). The scientists formulated a model called HANDY, short for Human And Nature Dynamics. They factor in the environment along with natural resources, wealth accumulation, the role of the elites, and the role of commoners.
The HANDY team echoes and reinforces much of what Jared Diamond emphasized in his work, Collapse. The destruction of our environment resulting in the ruination of nature impacts economies and socio-political structures. The massive and increasing aggregation of capital under the control of fewer and fewer rich and powerful elites leads to such unbearable income inequality the society falls apart and civilization crumbles.
Even a highly sophisticated civilization is as fragile as it is strong. Imagine if a solar flare takes out our electric power grids and everything dependent upon electric power goes down and our digital data vanishes. Although it was not emphasized, global climate disruption has become our number one environmental wicked problem. The disruption by superstorms, droughts, floods, spreading diseases and pests contribute to financial ruin and crumbling cities.
As Jared Diamond pointed out examples of civilizations where the people chose to pivot and stop their fall, the HANDY team said human civilization could mitigate its existential crises. “Collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium,” these scientists declared, but only “if the per-capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion.”
Those words read as if our survival depends on what sounds like Democratic Socialism. A number of commentators on the Right who demonize “the S-word” even accused the HANDY team of “promoting socialism.” Fear, ignorance, and greed, however, only promote genocide, hatred, and ecocide.
We as human beings have choices before us.
Many are not ready to give up.
So what do we do now?
What steps do we take next?
What can we do?
First, change our way of thinking.
Second, see this as a historic opportunity.
Third, be willing to work with people of other nations, races, genders, religions, and ethnicity.
It’s an opportunity to bring labor and environmentalists together. Many environmentalists are working people, and many workers are environmentalists. It’s an opportunity to unite the 99%, to build coalitions between the working class and the middle class. Class structure is much more fluid and dynamic around the world in the 21st Century than it used to be. Nevertheless, socio-economic class remains the core divide among human beings, trumping even ethnicity and religion as divisive forces. We may not be able to build bridges with the supercapitalists and the quasi-fascist oligarchs of the 1% nor the plutocrats of the 0.001%, but despite their power we can overcome them. Some may even come to their senses, as there is no escape unless they desire to live underground or the Moon.
Big business, transnational corporations, big banks, central banks, and their cronies in local, regional, and national governments have divided labor and environmentalists back when the issues were primarily about pollution, acid rain, saving the whales, saving the trees, the owls. Before then they divided people between Communists and Capitalists, between Whites and Blacks, between high and low castes, between women and men, between masters and slaves, between Christians and Muslims and Hindus, between Wall Street and Main street, between labor and management, between nations and nearly any group you can think of.
Now it’s about saving the planet we live within, especially the biosphere we are part of. It’s for saving our home.
Again, those of us who are political activists are at a crossroads where it truly is not business as usual and cannot ever again be business as usual. Everything we fight for can help mitigate the worse of climate change. Those of us who identify with working class and proletarian roots, with the middle class, with artists, with entrepreneurs and small business owners, with those who serve within the military, security, and intelligence organizations who wish to change them, with all who resonate as part of the 99%, can move forward without waiting for utopia. Climate change won’t wait for humanity change. We must choose to change.
What we can choose to do is educate ourselves, work alongside one another, and act. It is in the best interests of all of us to do so, especially those marginalized and exploited by the Capitalist system with its increase in income disparity. We all participate in this Capitalist system. A human system is composed societies and organizations, formal and informal, of individual human beings. We have a responsibility to replace and transform what is no longer working for the majority of people with a new system. It’s time not to return to the 18th and 19th Centuries. It is time to be here now, present and awake to what is really happening as the Postmodern Age unfolds across the 21st Century.
This is an opportunity to expand and deepen Democracy into all areas of life. This is an opportunity to expand and deepen human rights and social responsibilities. To have any success at all in resolving our intertwined environmental, energy, and economic issues we must address global climate disruption. Success in these areas will require raising the awareness of working people and their families across all the classes of the 99% to what is possible for our children and us.
Already a number of local communities are taking on climate change in their own cities and neighborhoods. Some leverage public-private partnerships. Some strike out on their own path. Some focus on communitarian projects and education. Many have succeeded and a few have not. Governments are so gridlocked people have began to take matters into their own hands to solve global problems with local action. We can learn from those already ahead, share the knowledge, and encourage others to participate. In turn we may motivate others to act.
Success will demand freedom and responsibility, interdependence and collaboration, and grit. We must put people, including ourselves, before the addictive pursuit of profit. We must put our planet before the desire to amass mountains of financial wealth. We must reclaim our politics and governments for Democracy. We must restore our institutions to wise council for Democracy. Democracy must be expanded into the economic and financial sectors. Businesses have a social and environmental responsibility. Control and ownership must be wrested away from the global financial and political elites. The term for this is Democratic Socialism.
We must link together in the popular imagination environmental and economic issues, link together labor and working class issues with global climate disruption. People can see we the working classes are best positioned to address this issue.
After all, our labor, under the domination and misdirection of the capitalist classes, built this capitalist world, and it can also take it apart and rebuild a democratic socialist world. We all contributed to climate change as we all contributed to capitalism. Let’s move forward here and tackle these enormous challenges. If we do not, our civilization will fail. Extinction looms closer as a possibility. Capitalism, despite every attempt to reform it and make its system more just continues unabated to destroy nature, waste resources, encourages wars and conflicts. It fuels global climate disruption and accelerates the ongoing Holocene mass extinction. We are causing our own destruction. We are our own nature. We must transcend it, or we end.
We have a responsibility here.
William Dudley Bass
19 May – 5 June 2014
Revised 22 September 2014
UPDATE POST-WORLDWIDE CLIMATE DEMONSTRATIONS: Recent rallies, panel discussions, and demonstrations began around the world on Friday, 19 September 2014 to culminate in protests and marches in some 2,000 to 2,500 cities on Sunday, 21 September. Between 400,000 to 500,000 people rallied and marched in New York City ahead of the Climate Summit at the U.N. General Assembly. There were remarkably strong pro-Socialist sentiments among the marchers. Today this Monday the 22nd other protests and demonstrations against Capitalism are scheduled or are occurring in New York on Wall Street and in financial centers elsewhere.
One of the more dramatic developments is the move of the Rockefeller Family, one of the pillars of the international plutocracy and cornerstone of the global banking cartels, to divest from fossil fuel companies. This is a stunning victory for Socialists on the Left, Libertarians on the Right, and working and middle class people everywhere. The very name Rockefeller is associated with Big Oil and Capitalist influence and control over governments and their domestic energy and foreign policies. These worldwide demonstrations also gave greater support to local elections against Capitalist policies and politicians.
This is especially true for Jess Spear, a Seattle climate scientist. Spear is the current Socialist Alternative candidate for Washington State Legislature. She’s running against incumbent Democrat Frank Chopp, the man who bribed Boeing with almost $9 billion in tax handouts while cutting $10 billion in social services including education. In a direct action towards the end of the People’s Climate March subsided, she helped to successfully block a BNSF oil train until the crew eventually backed the train up and out the way to allow for commuter trains full with sports fans leaving the Seattle Seahawks vs Denver Broncos football game, which the Seahawks one. Ironically the Seattle football franchise and BNSF are owned by corporate entities set up and controlled by billionaires, Paul Allen (the Seahawks) and Warren Buffet (BNSF).
Below are a few sources on the People’s Climate Change events:
Bernton, Hal with materials from elsewhere. “Worldwide rallies call for action now on climate change: In Seattle, New York and around the world, people took to the streets Sunday, urging politicians to address conditions they say threaten the survival of future generations,” The Seattle Times: Nation & World. <http://seattletimes.com/html/nationworld/2024598742_climatemarchxml.html>.
“Climate Summit with Bernie Sanders, Kshama Sawant, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, and Chris Hedges,” The Socialist Alternative: Environment. 21 September 2014. <http://www.socialistalternative.org/2014/09/21/climate-summit-bernie-sanders-kshama-sawant-naomi-klein-bill-mckibben-chris-hedges>.
Healy, Alison. “More than 600 attend People’s Climate Picnic in Dublin: Protest rallies in 161 countries aim to focus world’s eyes on climate change,” The Irish Times: Environment. 21 September 2014. <http://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/more-than-600-attend-people-s-climate-picnic-in-dublin-1.1936584>.
“Heirs of Billionaire Oil Tycoon John D. Rockefeller Join Growing Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement, “Democracy Now! A Daily Independent Global News Hour with Amy Goodman & Juan Gonzalez. 22 September 2014. <http://www.democracynow.org/2014/9/22/heirs_of_billionaire_oil_tycoon_john>.
Mirkinson, Jack. “TV News Misses Yet Another Opportunity To Cover Climate Change,” The Huffington Post: MEDIA. 22 September 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/22/peoples-climate-march-media-coverage_n_5860502.html>.
“Socialist Seattle Politician Kshama Sawant: We Need a Radical Militant Nonviolent Climate Movement,” Democracy Now! A Daily Independent Global News Hour with Amy Goodman & Juan Gonzalez. 22 September 2014. <http://www.democracynow.org/2014/9/22/socialist_seattle_politician_kshama_sawant_we>.
“This is History:” People’s Climate March Organizer Bill McKibben on 400,000-Strong Turnout,” Democracy Now! A Daily Independent Global News Hour with Amy Goodman & Juan Gonzalez. 22 September 2014. <http://www.democracynow.org/2014/9/22/this_is_history_peoples_climate_march>.
Visser, Nick. “Hundreds Of Thousands Turn Out For People’s Climate March In New York City,” The Huffington Post: GREEN. 21 September 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/21/peoples-climate-march_n_5857902.html>.
“Voices from the People’s Climate March: Indigenous Groups Lead Historic 400,000-Strong NYC Protest,” Democracy Now! A Daily Independent Global News Hour with Amy Goodman & Juan Gonzalez. 22 September 2014. <http://www.democracynow.org/2014/9/22/voices_from_the_peoples_climate_march>.
“VOTE JESS SPEAR: Socialist Alternative for State House, 43rd LD, Pos. 2.” <http://www.votespear.org>.
Notes: This paper developed from a presentation on climate change to a local Socialist Alternative branch in the Capitol Hill area of Seattle on Tuesday 20 May 2014.
Note on Sources: All Internet citations were accessed between 19 May and 5 June 2014.
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Copyright © 2014, 2015, 2016 by William Dudley Bass. All Rights Reserved until we Humans establish Wise Stewardship of and for our Global & Solarian Commons.