It’s no wonder that we live in a society rife with depression, adolescent suicide, mass shootings, and opioid addiction. One might think that all this despair was driven solely by economic distress and hopelessness – the inability to even get one rung up on the ladder to prosperity, but I believe that there are deep feedback loops connecting humans and the natural world. We are a part of nature, not apart from it. Those who claim to have religious or ideological beliefs that see the Earth merely as a vessel of resources to be used – market externalities for the rabid libertarian market fundamentalist – I suspect when they are alone with their thoughts, there is the crushing sense of something missing, something broken. Everyone is feeling the Earth dying around them. Some just explain the feeling of dislocation or loss of connection in a different way. Their ideologies don’t allow them to see the truth.
Whether we are watching smoke plumes rising in the Amazon or Arctic, where fire has been historically absent, to the cynical use of the threat of fire in North American forests, where fire does belong, to weaken the Endangered Species Act and expedite environmental compliance for gas, oil and logging; it’s all coming from the same place – greed and the belief that we are somehow apart from nature, that our destiny, as a species, can be decoupled from the fate of the planet
The Koch is Dead, Long Live the Koch
No single individual has likely had as much impact, as David Koch has had, in driving a wedge between objective reality and mere beliefs. As with the tobacco industry, so with the Koch Brothers in optimizing their fossil fuel-focused empire against the threat of climate change belief. First, insert a sense into the public that there is a scientific “debate,” using any old hack with a PhD. to shill your “side” of a story, which is already largely settled scientific understanding. Then use your wealth to weave a web of deceit and favorable legislation with think tanks, position papers, and various lobbying firms. Voila, money is speech, and through the “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision, we have given that sort of speech unlimited influence in American politics.
By celebrating individualism over all else in modern consumerism and by viewing the world only through the lens of a sea of individuals, each acting only in their immediate self-interest, we have stripped the world of the importance of connection, communalism, and any proper sense of responsibility to future generations. It has given rise to a ruling class, deluded with visions of grandeur and their own self-importance, convinced, as they are, that their virtues justify their excess.
The Bonfire of the Vanities
Like in the Wolf novel, the layers of hypocrisy have been unpacked to reveal rot at the core of our ruling class and their accumulation of wealth and power, usually acquired through inheritance or deceit, rather than any real creativity or otherwise extraordinary abilities. The myth of a meritocracy is simply a necessary narrative. The fact that the day-to-day cares of a single human, like those of David Koch and his family, could be allowed to harm and imperil the very survival of humanity, represents an end point – the maximum degree to which individual autonomy and freedom, can be allowed to steal from the future. I’m not even talking about the new fad of suggesting that there may be some space for social responsibility within the corporate framework of maximizing shareholder profit. I’m talking about the Koch’s largely privately-held corporate empire and business transpiring on private lands. Jeffrey Epsteins’s Island was a nice private retreat, after all. Wealth and power cannot be allowed to free the ruling class from personal responsibility.
With this fully expressed global ethos of “get yours now,” it’s no wonder that emerging economies don’t plan to restrain themselves “for the sake of humanity,” when it is largely the emissions of the colonial oppressive powers that have created the climate problem to date. Industry and finance follow the newly wealthy, as it is well understood they are more likely to consume larger, flashier possessions, while old wealth understands the need for a certain level of restraint to maintain, at least, the appearance of being humble. In a culture where you’re urged to believe you worked hard and scraped by to finally get your perks, you will be loath to ever give up those perks.
When the assembled elites of the G7 were confronted with the Amazon ablaze, Macron attempted to shame Trump with discussions on the issue. Trump skipped the meetings and had aides complain about the time spent on “niche” issues. Apparently the Democratic National Committee feels the same way about climate change, stifling debate on the issue among Presidential hopefuls. The other good ladies and gentlemen of the G7 went on to show their good taste and virtuous values by promising a combined $20 million to help fight the fires in the Amazon, which Brazilian president Bolsonaro promptly rejected. Of course, this is a joke, when one considers over $262 million was spent on a single fire, the Sobranes Fire in 2016 south of Monterey, California. This is a paltry sum of money that would purchase precisely two 747 airtankers and wouldn’t even keep two flying eight-hour days for a month under contract.
Insane Clown Posse
Trump, the perfect example of how wealth and privilege robs a family of ingenuity and intelligence, has been bungling along creating a fair degree of chaos, lately. From suggesting the use of nukes on hurricanes to a trade war, based on little more than a hunch, Trumps tweets are precious insight into a life of insular decadence. Grousing like a child, after being snubbed by the Danes, when he insulted them and all the indigenous people of Greenland by floating the idea of purchasing Greenland, he has also managed to single-handedly reignite the Cold War. This has sparked a new nuclear arms race that led directly to a blast two weeks ago that killed scientists and spread radionuclides into the atmosphere above Siberia. Well done, sir. Well done.
Not to be outdone in the business of exceptionalist colonial thinking, Brazil’s Bolsonaro is fanning the colonial flames. While fire is a necessary ecosystem process on many landscapes, fire was always a tool of colonial oppression, forcing indigenous people to give up their traditional relationship with fire used in slash-and-burn horticultural practices on small patches of land, and morphing it into large-scale land clearing operations for creating new plantations, ranches, and mining sites. Bolsonaro rides a wave of South American white supremacy, legitimizing primitive violence against indigenous Amazon tribes. After first trying to blame NGOs, it now appears many of the Amazon Fires were started on “a day of fire” organized by farmers and loggers wishing to clear the land for their private exploitation. Illegally burning, clearing, then occupying the land is the time honored practice being undertaken by Brazilians of Spanish or Portuguese descent as they colonize their own fellow indigenous Brazilians, all with a wink and a nod from Bolsonaro. Brazil stands today, as one of the most dangerous places on the planet to be an environmentalist or indigenous organizer.
[Bolsonaro] has encouraged ranchers, farmers, and loggers to exploit and burn the rainforest like never before with a sense of impunity.
“Poop every other day” to save the earth, oh, and by the way, “windmills cause cancer.” This is what today’s modern world leaders are saying to us. They are mocking us, while making shit up and passing it on as fact. When facts are reported, the refrain of “fake news” fills their tweets.
Civilization in Reverse
So here we are at the end of capitalism and the neoliberal world order. With unchecked disparity in wealth and the lack of imagination in modern economic thinking, people all over the world are calling B.S. on a materialistic worldview that fosters unlimited growth on a planet of shared finite resources. We need bold global coordination at a moment defined by increasing nationalism, tribalism and backsliding into magical thinking, engendered by the likes of David Koch, who would have us deny the very fabric of objective reality. Globalism is seen as some sort of anathema to rugged individualism and is held up by conspiracy theorists as being more threatening than the surveillance state, while it is the growing militarism of that state that will ensure our slavery to the corporate status quo, the death of the natural world, and a despicable legacy to future generations. Oh well, at least “lungs of the planet” is trending.