Institutional coercion prevents the most pressing issue facing the world from being addressed. The public is disallowed from even understanding it. Propaganda from corporate interests distorts and obscures climate change while those with no power suffer. However, there is hope in local communities that have formed around fighting for environmental justice. Climate change will ultimately play out stronger than any of our dividing politics, and is at-best a chance for global unity and solidarity.
A 2012 World Bank report stated that if we continue on our path to 1,000 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, we’re in for “extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise,” all, “tilted against many of the world’s poorest regions.” Our current rate of change has us surpassing 4.9ºC of human-caused warming by 2100, far past the oft-touted 2º limit of livability. Much like the human body, the effects are likely to be exponential, with World Bank concluding, “there is also no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible” (World Bank). This requires a proportionally stern response from leadership at all levels of society.
Historically, war has been promoted by those with power by presenting the opposition as a fundamental threat to “our” safety, way of life, freedoms, and religious beliefs. Presently in the United States, Muslims are given that. In her analysis of Foucault’s works, Julian Vigo describes, “Everything down to the Muslim male body was re-naturalized and repositioned in the biopolitical theater where the recreated truth of the Muslim male was that of jealousy, danger, savagery, and inferiority” (Vigo, 2015). This has allowed Trump to characterize refugees as killer M&Ms, and Clinton to pass off the 2014 attacks on the Gaza strip that killed 2,251 Palestinians (including 551 children) with, “I think Israel did what it had to do,” (Goldberg, 2014). Climate change is the greatest threat to worldwide stability and quality of life. It’s even a large cause of conflicts in the Middle East (Mansharamani, 2016). Yet, the issue has been presented by politicians and the media as a debatable one, so much so that it wasn’t considered deserving of an appearance during any of the 2016 Presidential debates.
Climate change requires global unity and action that ought to be fitting of the 21st century. The United States is the 2nd highest cause, just behind China, but still only accounts for 14% of emissions (EDGAR, 2016). This itself is used as a reason to disengage. Instead of allowing global community to prosper under these disaster conditions, the powerful have cast action on climate change as the true threat to our way of life, jobs, and religion. Trump has even cast climate change as a Chinese conspiracy to make the US a less competitive marketplace. China’s per capita impact is well under half ours, and unlike China, the US refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol treaty.
An overlapping network of 164 organizations create the overwhelming majority of climate change denial. The three sources that made up almost the entirety of the these organization’s funding are ExxonMobil–an oil company that itself has known the fact of climate change since 1981 and no longer denies it (Goldenberg), the Koch Brothers, and Donors Trust, a political fund backed by anonymous wealthy individuals. An executive of Donors Trust defended the dark money organization by stating, “We exist to help donors promote liberty which we understand to be limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise” (Goldenberg). The American Legislative Exchange Council and Heartland Institute have successfully lobbied to implement an alternative counter to science in science curriculum. The House Committee on Science is led by Lamar Smith, a crusader against factually dealing with global warming and evolution. Short term profit is taken as more important than the long term viability of the species, as Nature in the Metropolis says, “competing economic values have led developers to develop unwisely even when they knew the risks that ignoring the environment could have,” (McHarg, p. 132).
Despite the best efforts of many wealthy people, 63% of Americans still accept the science of climate change. It’s always good to feel like you’re doing something about a grand issue. In the field where “greenness” is a marketable quality, the importance of low-flow showers, grass-fed organic meat, and electric cars are more apparent than the shipping distance of the food and meat production’s inherent dominance of water usage and methane production. The institutional narrative offers premium products as a solution to climate guilt, an approach that’s classist and greatly limited in actually solving the issue. A resident of Washington DC or New York City has just over a quarter the impact of the average American, and 1/26th the impact of a resident of Wyoming, the lowest density state (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2015). A low impact lifestyle is absolutely possible, it just means living closer to others. Higher density means each person requires shorter travel distances and is “responsible” for fewer building materials, climate controlled space, roads, pipes, and all other things that take energy to produce and maintain. The Ecology of Place describes, “while the operation and management of cities create environmental stresses, they also hold a significant piece of the solution to environmental and ecological sustainability” (Beatley, p.86). Infrastructure and developments are designed systematically for the consumer base. Reaching an understanding that living smaller and closer together is absolutely necessary. To do that, the public needs clear information about what that means: an institutional message absent of sales biases.
Unlike most other developed nations, the United States is still growing. We’ll gain 100 million residents by 2060, and they’ll need to live somewhere (Colby, 2015). The national identity on climate change is currently divided between two ineffective places: solutions that put “green-washed” exploitable profit over the true environmental improvement, and thinking of action as a threat to the economy. If that’s changed, accommodating the increase in population can be done so to consciously to reduce per capita emissions. The Seattle area has created an example by beginning to build affordable, high density housing at all new subway stations, knowing the population is growing. The policy is lead by the constant conversation of housing and cost of living in the city that its residents engage in.
The Earth Charter states, “We must realize that when basic needs have been met, human development is primarily about being more, not having more,” (Earth Charter, p. 1). There are global externalities to the environmental footprint most Americans have. Climate change has and will continue to most greatly harm those in the underdeveloped world that have almost no part in it; there needs to be a universal responsibility and respect for the disenfranchised. There’s nothing to suggest our federal-level institutions will change to create that anytime soon. However, organizing at the local level can have that affect; creating that rare corporate-free spread of information. Groups from all across the country have organized on the No Dakota Access Pipeline movement, supporting the voices of native people on the environment. To support the global community, we must engage locally.
Colby, Sandra L. “Projections of the Size and Composition of the U.S. Population: 2014 to 2060”. U.S. Census Bureau, March 2015.
EDGAR. ”CO2 Time Series 1990-2014 per Region/country.” EUROPA. 11 Apr. 2016. Web. 05 Nov. 2016. <http://edgar.jrc.ec.europa.eu/overview.php?v=CO2ts1990-2014&sort=des9>.
Mansharamani, Vikram M. “A Major Contributor to the Syrian Conflict? Climate Change.” PBS. PBS, 17 Mar. 2016. Web. 05 Nov. 2016. .
Goldberg, Jeffery. “Hillary Clinton: ‘Failure’ to Help Syrian Rebels Led to the Rise of ISIS.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 10 Aug. 2014. Web. 28 Oct. 2016.
Goldenberg, Suzanne. “Exxon Knew of Climate Change in 1981, Email Says – but It Funded Deniers for 27 More Years.” The Guardian, 8 July 2015. Web. 27 Jan. 2016. <http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jul/08/exxon-climate-change-1981-climate-denier-funding>.
Goldenberg, Suzanne. “Secret Funding Helped Build Vast Network of Climate Denial Thinktanks.” The Guardian, 14 Feb. 2013. Web. 27 Jan. 2016. <http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/feb/14/funding-climate-change-denial-thinktanks-network>.
U.S. Energy Information Administration. “Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions at the State Level, 2000-2013”. October 2015. <http://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/state/analysis/pdf/stateanalysis.pdf>
Vigo, Julian. “Biopower and Security.” Www.counterpunch.org. Counterpunch, 20 May 2015. Web. 28 Oct. 2016. <http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/05/20/biopower-and-security-2/>.
World Bank. “Turn down the heat: why a 4°C warmer world must be avoided”. 2012. <http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/2012/11/17097815/turn-down-heat-4°c-warmer-world-must-avoided>