The great Bill McKibben is urging us to declare war on climate change, mobilizing like Americans did in the Second World War against the enemy. But is his enemy the right one?
We know how stunningly disruptive climate change is, and how much faster it is all happening, and how quickly the bad news piles up. But the definition of “enemy” needs to be more specific — for it is hard to fight a symptom (cf. “war against terror”).
Don’t we know the real enemy? Isn’t it the carbon industry, and beyond that an entire economic system that calls devouring the planet “growth” and pours its waste production into the commons (and commonwealth) as a cost the rest of us pay?
You may not know this, but McKibben, who is a personal hero of mine, has been on the climate front for a long time. The End of Nature warned about climate change two decades ago. But good deeds do not go unpunished. He has been declared a public enemy of those who profit off of carbon — the oil, gas, and related industries — and their wholly-owned representatives in the Republican Party. Hacks shadow McKibben, filming his activities, trying, it seems, to show he’s a hypocrite for living in this world, too. Similarly, climate scientists are constantly harassed by tools and fools, paid or not (and more than a few are just nihilistic antis) of the Koch brothers and others who have placed their fortunes and their twisted politics in the service of denying physics and chemistry.
For instance, we now know that Exxon has been well aware of the dangers of continued carbon pumping into the atmosphere for many years. Like the cigarette companies, they have spent decades lying, bullying their critics, and buying politicians, all in the service of profit-making misery and death.
The fight is political. The profiteers are well aware of this. True, some of the human beings at the helm of corporations are loathsome examples of humanity — the excremental monstrosity that wealth sometimes results in is too well personified, daily, by Donald Trump — but it is really the system that is the cause.
(Next Sunday’s sermon will return to this theme.)