Seventeen years ago, the nations of the world got together in Kyoto and agreed to a scheme that would bring climate change under control. After a round or ten of glad-handing and slapping one another on the back, they spent the intervening years ignoring all of the targets that they’d set, with some nations even backing out of the treaty entirely (I’m looking at you, GWB). The first world careened onward, pursuing “bigger, better, faster, more” without regard for the effects on the third world or, in many cases, disputing entirely that those effects existed at all.
In short, national—and corporate—self-interest prevented anything meaningful from being done about climate change.
In 2001, the United States of America was attacked by terrorists. Within days, there was legislation—in the form of the Patriot Act—that stripped Americans of many of their rights (for their own protection, of course). Within days, there were war plans to attack Afghanistan and—even at that time—Iraq. America’s entire legislative and executive branches organized and executed with a startling efficiency in order to make war. Within months, the U.S. was spending billions per month in Afghanistan; less than a year and a half later, the U.S. invaded Iraq and would soon be spending billions per week there.
In short, with military-industrial interests dovetailing nicely with those of a stunned, fearful and angry nation, hundreds of billions were spent within months to both transform American society and to flatten one of the poorest nations on Earth.
A few years ago, the nations of the world got together and came up with the Millenium Development Goals, which pledged to erase hunger and poverty by the end of 2015 for what seems like laughably small sums of money in hindsight. Once again, there was glad-handing and back-slapping and, once again, the countries of the world simply ignored all of their commitments to the laudable ideals of eliminating poverty and hunger because, quite frankly, there wasn’t really anything in it for them. To date, less than 1% of the pledged funds have actually been delivered.
In short, for an amount of money that AIG, Citi or Goldman Sachs would only sneer at, the richer nations of the world could have made great strides toward eliminating poverty and hunger everywhere. But they chose not to.
Throughout 2008, the world economy crashed. By its own rules, the entire economic system had failed; all that was missing was a toe tag. Instead of manning up and admitting that capitalism as it had been practiced over the last three decades was a farce perpetrated on the poor in order to enrich the, well, the rich, the countries of the world scrambled to pour trillions of dollars into banks in order to keep them from having to actually admit to their insolvency. The U.S. alone came up with more than $12 trillion worth of bailout funds, zero-interest loans, loan guarantees and other financial devices that amounted to simply giving away the store for free to exactly the jackasses that destroyed everything in the store in the first place.
In short, if it wasn’t apparent by now who was in charge, it had become crystal-f$#@king-clear to anyone without a serious case of capitalist ideology. The kings had never left us: Instead, they convinced us that we were electing them, pacified us with fanciful tales of democracy and continued where they’d left off in the 15th-century, draining the life from the plebes like a vampire drains blood from a whore.
Over the weekend, the follow-up to Kyoto concluded in Copenhagen, where the great powers of the world met with their formerly explicit—and now, implicit—subjects from the South to work out how the remaining resources of the Earth were to be divided. Copenhagen offers no real conclusion or solution, with all the very workable solutions offered by the South batted away out of hand by the rich nations as “unrealistic” because reality—as seen from the Western eye—demands that the rich nations continue profiting at an increasing rate and that those same nations not adjust their lifestyles at all. The Americans—with a domestic economy that only staggers onward thanks to massive capital injections from China—actually came to the table with a deal that locked in the consumption of the average Chinese to ¼ of that of the average American.
Lacking even the pretense of a plan won’t stop reality from having its way with us. The citizens of the world are left to ignore the problem as best they can, hoping it goes away by itself or praying for a technological miracle to come and save humanity. The only remaining question is: Is this a step backward because the rich nations of the world cannot even agree that the problem is great enough that they need to set aside differences and really do something? Or, is this a step forward because the rich nations of the world have dropped the pretense of caring and, instead of making false promises (as in Kyoto) are straight-out telling the other countries of the world to go piss up a rope?
In short, we’d all better spend as much of our time as possible hoping and praying that the climate-change-deniers are right. Because if they’re not, many of us are going to have to get used to wrapping our lips around the words “post-apocalyptic dystopia.”
And finally, in a related issue affecting mostly Americans, a bill that many are calling a health-care bill—for lack of a better term, apparently—is poised to pass the U.S. Senate. The Congress gutted most of the even potentially socially beneficial facets of their bill before passing it and the Senate tore out anything remaining that had any semblance of caring about the multitude of citizens for whose welfare they are ostensibly responsible and to whom they are ostensibly indebted for their exalted position. That’s why the epithet “health care” fits so poorty, because the bill has little to do with caring about health or providing care to ensure health and much more to do with ensuring a vital segment of the crashing U.S. economy can continue its monopoly unperturbed. A short overview of the legislation that staggered out the doors and expired, wheezing, on the steps of the Capitol Building, is detailed in Health Care, American-style (earthli News).
In short, the welfare of the plurality of the American populace is not a vital enough issue to stimulate the Congress and administration out of their political moribundity. Spending billions on war is one thing; spending billions to help people quite another. The first is a necessary evil, whereas the second is naked socialism, a far greater evil.
Those in the driver’s seat are locked into that position like no others before them. To date, there has not been a crisis severe enough to force a change of world-view or force a change of tactics. The article, Scramble for the Atmosphere by George Monbiot, deals with the recent talks in Copenhagen, but its conclusion applies equally well to all of the examples cited above:
“In all cases[,] immediate self-interest has trumped the long-term welfare of humankind. Corporate profits and political expediency have proved to be more urgent concerns than either the natural world or human civilisation. Our political systems are incapable of discharging the main function of government: to protect us from each other.
“Goodbye Africa, goodbye south Asia; goodbye glaciers and sea ice, coral reefs and rainforest; it was nice knowing you, not that we really cared. The governments which moved so swiftly to save the banks have bickered and filibustered while the biosphere burns.”
↩“The critics who say the real solutions are “unrealistic” don’t seem to realise that their alternative is more implausible still: civilisation continuing merrily on a planet whose natural processes are rapidly breaking down.”
It’s a bit late now, but the article What should Obama say in Copenhagen? by Dean Baker (Politico) serves as a source for the U.S. requirement that the Chinese commit to ¼ of the per-capita CO2-output of the U.S.:
“The current view in the U.S. appears to be that the Chinese should forever commit themselves to emitting greenhouse gases at one-third or one-quarter the per capita rate as people in the United States.”
So, when you kept hearing the President say that the “deal is on the table” and that “countries should step up”, he knew full well that the deal was completely unacceptable to the Chinese. Hillary also made sure to very specifically note that the U.S. would only proceed with their deal if “all other parties” also signed on. Both Obama and his Secretary of State took the opportunity to try to look and sound good because they knew that the Chinese wouldn’t take the bait and force the U.S. to actually have to go through with the deal they’d offered.