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The Great Emergency: Global Warming, Mass Death and Resource Wars in the 21st Century

by Juan Santos Friday, Jan. 12, 2007 at 11:19 AM

"We are the watchers. We are the witnesses. We see what has gone before. We see what happens now, at this dangerous moment in human history. We see what's going to happen, what will surely happen unless we come together---we, the Peoples of all Nations---to restore peace, harmony and balance to the Earth, our Mother." --Chief Arvol Looking Horse, from White Buffalo Teachings

The Great Emergency:...
golbal_warming_soldiers.jpg, image/jpeg, 175x188

At the Sundance Film Festival Al Gore declared, "We have a category five denial of this issue [global warming]. I believe our political system is broken, however, I have optimism and hope. A rebellion is gathering." But rebellion isn’t what Al Gore is fostering. Speaking at NYU against what one commentator called a “stately backdrop of American flags,” Gore’s comments were focused on “uplift,” and calls to action slathered in a “thick layer of patriotism” and good old capitalist know-how. He seemed oblivious to irony, saying of the US, “Our natural role is to be the pace car in the race to stop global warming."

The feel good approach Gore pushes is dead wrong: Economic growth and saving life on Earth are not compatible goals. Industrial civilization isn’t harming the Earth, it’s killing the Earth. The system has long since passed the limits of growth - it can’t be sustained.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a four-year analysis of the world's ecosystems sponsored by the Worldwatch Institute, showed that 15 out of 24 ecosystems essential to human life are "being pushed beyond their sustainable limits," toward a state of collapse that may be "abrupt and potentially irreversible." These ecosystems and the civilization that is killing them are both approaching an endpoint.

People are calling Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth the most terrifying movie you will ever see – but really, Gore’s film is a soft sell, one that underestimates the dangers we face and that veils not only the root causes of global warming, but the drastic military responses the US is planning in the event of an abrupt shift in the climate.

Call it Category 4 denial. Gore ignores the real problem. Global heating isn’t “caused” by CO2, it’s caused by industrial production and those that profit from it – capitalists in oil, gas, coal, electricity and automobiles, among others. And the system isn’t “broken,” no matter what Gore claims. The system is producing what it’s supposed to produce; power and profit and the corollaries of power and profit; denial and death.

For those addicted to power and profit, who are “winning” at the expense of all life, global warming is business as usual.

Try telling an abusive alcoholic he’s taken one drink too many, that animals and plants, even other people, are not objects, that he’s beaten his wife one too many times, or that, as Brother Malcolm put it, the chickens are coming home to roost. Unless he’s hit bottom, he’s not listening. Even George Bush has publicly acknowledged the obvious: the system is addicted to oil. But he’s not listening.

The analogy to addiction is not facile and the denial of the crisis we face is no accident; it is both conscious and deliberate. In this system, denial of suffering is the key to success. The ability to distance themselves from the meaning of their actions is what put those who are on top on top in the first place.

Look at Exxon and its global warming disinformation campaign. They’ve spent millions on propaganda to consciously deceive us about the reality of global warming and the impending mass death it implies, much like the Nazis told their victims they were heading for a shower, not a gas chamber, like the cigarette capitalists told us smoking carries no harm. But the genocide the Nazis perpetrated was not this extreme. This is different. This is not ethnocide or genocide. This is omnicide. Life on Earth is in the balance.

The stakes, the costs of this crime and its coverup, could not be higher. World renowned paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey tells us, “Whatever way you look at it, we're destroying the Earth at a rate comparable with the impact of a giant asteroid slamming into the planet, or even a shower of vast heavenly bodies."

Within 50 years a million species will be extinct. Within 100 years 50% of all species now living - 5 million forms of living beauty - will be gone forever. Within a mere 30 years, a quarter of all mammal species may be gone.

Today, bears are no longer hibernating in the north of Spain. With the melting of polar ice, the Polar Bear is on its way out. The Orangutan has ten years left.

Fish are starving to death in the Great Barrier Reef – the unthinkable equivalent of primates starving in the jungle. In the meantime, the jungle, the Amazon Rainforest, which provides 20% of the world’s oxygen, will be a savannah, or perhaps a desert, by 2100.

Forty percent of the world’s species will die with the Amazon.

The new Age of Extinctions is being driven by global heating, ozone depletion, toxic chemicals, habitat destruction, and invasive or infectious species. The cause isn’t just CO2, it’s our whole way of life. The Earth is in its most profound crisis since the mass extinctions of the Eocene period, 54 million years ago.

Before that, two hundred and fifty million years ago at the end of the Permian era, 95% of all species perished due to runaway global warming, warming that occurred due to the same kind of positive feedback loops that we see emerging in today’s heating trends. Scientists call it The Great Dying, a period in which life on Earth was all-but wiped out.

The Permian mass extinction was apparently caused by a series of gigantic volcanic eruptions, triggering a runaway greenhouse effect. Geologists have said the impact of this "post apocalyptic greenhouse" was so severe that only one large land animal was left alive. 100 million years would pass before species diversity returned to its former levels.

In light of such potentials, how many people are willing to wager that the world scientific community is wrong and that George W. Bush – the idiot savant of the Christian Fascists – is right when he claims the verdict is still out on global warming? How many will be willing to leave the fate of the Earth, of their children and their children’s children, in the hands of propagandists for ExxonMobile? The impact of global heating - on humans alone - would be almost beyond imagining.

James Lovelock, who developed the Gaia Theory – the scientific theorem that Earth acts as a single self-sustaining, self-balancing organic system – tells us that by 2100 there will only be 500 million humans left on Earth. The Earth, he says, will no longer be able to sustain more than that. There are 6.5 billion of us now; by 2050 that number will rocket to 8.9 billion, then drop precipitously. If Lovelock is right, only one out of 18 people will be left alive at the century’s end. 95% will be dead. And Lovelock is only looking at global warming. He isn’t counting the threats posed by Peak Oil or nuclear resource wars over oil, water and arable land that, if current trends continue, will become all but inevitable.

The glaciers of the Himalayas are disappearing. Forty percent of the people in the world draw their water from sources directly fed by the regular summer melting cycles of Himalayan ice and snow. Their sources of food will melt with the glaciers. With mass starvation in Asia, the probabilities of war over water and arable land - and of mass death - grow exponentially.

By the summer of 2040 all of the sea ice in the Arctic Ocean will be gone. That means that theromohaline circulation in the North Sea – the Gulf Stream, which carries vast amounts of heat from the equator to the North Atlantic - will cease. Even as the planet heats, northern Europe will freeze. In Britain, for example, the Gulf Stream provides 27,000 times more heat than all current power supplies can generate, warming that nation by 5-8C. Warm winds from the Gulf Stream eventually reach the Himalayas, where they play a role in stimulating and regulating the East Asian monsoon system.

With the collapse of the Gulf Stream, temperatures in Europe could fall by 20 or more degrees Fahrenheit, creating an ecological nightmare as farmland turns to frozen tundra, with temperatures dropping to below -20C. Europe is currently self sufficient in agriculture, feeding its 600 million inhabitants, an obvious impossibility under such devastating new conditions.

Would Europe, with its vast armaments and its history of colonization, genocide and global wars aimed at re-dividing world resources and markets, slip quietly into a frozen death - or would it find war, even a Third World War, preferable to collapse and relentless famine at home?

The question is far from academic. Ice sheet melting from the Greenland ice cap into the Greenland Sea and the melting of floating ice during the 1980s caused the Gulf Stream to diminish by 80%. A recent report shows that the Gulf Stream came to a dead halt for ten days in 2004. The melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet and the Arctic Sea’s ice all but guarantees the end of the Gulf Stream before mid century.

Which lands a frozen Europe might target in order to feed itself could eventually pose an all-but insoluble problem for the sub-continent’s rulers. A recent study by the British government shows that if current trends continue, a third of the planet will be desert by 2100. According to their calculations, areas susceptible to moderate drought will double to 50% of the Earth’s surface. Areas susceptible to severe drought will more than triple to 30% of the Earth’s surface.

Exxon-Bush Inc. would have us believe these impacts and their causes are debatable. Republican Senator James Inhofe would have us believe that the world scientific community is perpetrating an elaborate anti-capitalist hoax – the biggest hoax in human history, with the highest stakes. Rush Limbaugh says global warming is just another way to make civilized white people and capitalists feel guilty, the moral equivalent of a commie plot. The Right wants to cast doubt on climate science and the impending realities of climate chaos, because by pretending that there is a debate, they can defer action and continue to profit. For these men, the world itself can end, but not profit.

The fossils of our time sit in Washington, apparently inured by the pleasures of power and wealth to the realities before us. But, appearances notwithstanding, the ruling elites understand that we are on an irreversible path to global heating, caused largely by the burning of fossil fuels for the sake of production and profit. The question is what they plan to do about it.

As resources of petroleum peak and begin to expire, the Bush regime offers no alternative other than resource wars – war, not to end the use of the fuels that are destroying the Earth – but to get more of them, the last of them. Their aim is not to save the world, but to ensure their continued ability to dominate it by controlling the rapidly dwindling sources of oil. This, after all, is what the war in Iraq is about, and this is the meta-madness that guides the imperial preparations to attack Iran.

The ruling elites know exactly where we are heading and exactly what they are doing. Quietly, they call global warming a “national security threat.”

A 2004 Pentagon report, "An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security," cautions US strategic planners that in a scenario of abrupt climate change “Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting will erupt across the world.” The report predicts that Third World countries will develop their own nuclear threat to secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies. By 2020, the report concludes, “catastrophic” shortages of water, food and energy will plunge the planet toward war. The United Nations identifies some 150 flash points where wars may be fought over water, alone.

The Pentagon report suggests that there could be global economic depression, destruction of technological infrastructure on a global scale, nuclear war, mega-droughts, famine, mass migrations from Third World countries, and widespread rioting around the world.

“Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life,” the Pentagon says. “…warfare would define human life.”

The report calls for the development of what it calls “no-regrets strategies” by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Welcome to the apocalypse. This is the Great Emergency. The future of all Life on Earth is in our hands, in the hands of this generation. We have two choices: stop them, or prepare our children and grandchildren to be among the 5% who might be so fortunate – or unfortunate – as to survive.

From Part 3 of Apocalypse No! The Law of Life and the Law of Death


Juan Santos is a Los Angeles based writer and editor. His essays from 2006 can be found at:

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