We Weren’t Dealing Well with Climate Emergency, Now Ukraine Emergency Makes It Worse

the globe as the center of a clock, whose hands are lighted matchsticks, showing nine minutes before midnight. Image by Kai Stackowiak from publicdomain.net

(Original post, dealing with climate emergency, was greatly revised to cover Ukraine invasion and re-published Feb. 28, 2022.)

The climate emergency has the potential to destroy all our comforts and conveniences, and possibly our lives – and we aren’t dealing with it, well, or at all. Far too many of our political and business leaders are getting money out of the most polluting industries, they have no incentive to stop the damage we continue to do emitting billions of tons of harmful gases from our cars, our power plants, our steel mills and concrete, our food-growing and so many of our other “productive” industries.

And now, in February of 2022, the dictator of Russia needs to make it all worse, with a completely unjustified invasion of Ukraine – a democratic nation of 44 million people, and a significant source of agricultural and mineral raw materials. This first major land war, between established national governments in Europe since the end of World War Two over 75 years ago, is of course a disaster in all directions, for lives of Ukrainians, for the wealth of Ukrainians, for the environment of the Ukraine, for all the neighboring nations which must now deal with refugees and energy sources, for the disruptions of the oil and gas industries which will certainly help raise prices for consumers all over the world, for the neighboring nations that must now fear and defend against Russian aggression. In these and many other ways the disruptive and costly effects of Putin’s evil action will continue to affect people around the globe for years.

We, the collective 8 billion humans covering this world, were already failing to deal well with the harmful wastes of all our everyday lives. The addition of the Ukrainian emergency to the climate emergency makes the multiple problems even harder to deal with; Russia isn’t likely to be cooperating with other nations to reduce emissions, the Ukraine will be shipping out much less corn, wheat, and steel, Germany is going to have to figure out how the heat their homes and businesses, and American consumers may have to face a 20% or more increase in the cost of their irrational love for mammoth 3 and 4 ton vehicles for their suburban errands.

It’s not new, yet it is becoming more inescapable : we are all connected. Ending the use of fossil fuels in transportation and electricity generation is very likely linked to our continued lives and prosperity – but even in America the bottom 60% simply cannot afford to dump their current vehicle for something greener no matter how much they might see it is necessary. And it is highly likely that due to lingering effects of pandemic, supply shortages that have already occurred, the disruption of Russia’s useless new war, the floods and heat-spells and droughts that accelerating climate change will bring us, all these problems will further accelerate the cost inflation of all goods and services, enforced by those who are likely to benefit the most in the short term, the plutocrats that control too many economic resources.

To expand on a theme I’ve started to explore in recent writings, our global so-called “civilization” is facing extermination from the 3 major inequalities that rule our economic and political situations. We have the inequality between our need for consumer goods and our ability to produce consumer goods at the scale of our large modern populations in ways that DON”T destroy our land, water and atmospheric environments. What we love to consume, what we’re paid to make, is poisoning the air we breathe. This is what is driving climate change, and all those of us who like our modern lifestyles are at fault.

Yet there are two other tremendous institutionalized social inequalities that are aggravating climate change, and preventing any serious progress on climate change: the inequality of formal political power between the world’s 195-or-so governments and their various subjects, and the inequality of formal and informal economic power, seen in the explosion of a new plutocratic class with more tangible wealth than nearly all the rest of the world combined, all of them possessing great influence in the political structures of their particular nations as well. These tiny political and economic elites will be found behind nearly all of the obstacles that the 98% of us encounter when we try to change things for the better.

And of course, today in February of 2022, we have barely begun the process of changing things for the better. Last summer Americans in Congress were proposing some of the first serious steps, with the more intelligent of the two major parties with majorities in Congress – and two probably corrupt Senators switched sides, voting with the climate-deniers and the fossil fuel lobbyists (and gaining millions in donations from corporations) to block all progress.

We have barely begun to act, because we cannot yet imagine the total devastation that can come to our particular part of the world almost overnight – yet Ukrainians can now understand that kind of total upset. Massive unprecedented floods? Probably won’t hit me. Heat waves, already occurring in many countries, in which humans cannot survive outside in the sun? I’ve got my house, my air-conditioner will work. Loss of major food sources, like all the wheat or all the rice? That hasn’t happened … yet.

For nearly all of us in modern societies, our primary focus is on ourselves: our loves and our money and our families and our struggles for status and success. Our daily thoughts and tasks are all caught up in the difficulties of being/becoming stable adults in fairly stable societies, we want things to be mostly the same as they were before, except for the situations we want to make better in order to increase our loves and monies and our families and our success.

We have all grown up thinking that jobs and careers are pretty well-established patterns that will be pretty much the same as years go by, we assume that all our relatives and friends will go on living much as they have been, and nearly all of us hope we might find some sort of “retirement” before we have to leave this space. We think that piles of fancy new tech gadgets and basic raw materials and notations in bank ledgers can be relatively stable assets that will be there for us when we need them.

We want to think of all these social patterns as being stable, yet of course there have always been risks to every aspect of life. But while today the risk that you might be killed in a car accident is way down below 1/10th of 1 %, and the risk of a fire at your home or office is also minuscule and the risk that your business will fail is maybe 1 or 2%, and the total of all the unusual threats out there gives you maybe a 1 or 2% risk that your lifestyle will be greatly affected by outside forces in any particular week or month.

But climate change is not sitting still, nor are the evil dictators of various nations. Climate change is ACCELERATING, it is going faster and faster all the time. The fact that you have not had a life-threatening heat wave yet in your town is not evidence that such a heat wave will not occur this summer. Combining with the evil intentions and unpredictability of military dictators and selfish plutocrats, THE RISKS TO YOUR LIFESTYLE ARE RISING EVERY DAY. That risk of a heat wave was 2% yesterday, tomorrow it may be 5%, and in a month, with the weather patterns that are already forming, the risk of that deadly heat wave may be up to 40 to 60%, and there are steps to be protecting yourself and your family that you could be taking if you were aware of how threatened you really are.

It’s hard for us to grasp that just about everything we believe in today, everything in our lives that has an economic or social value to us, all those things ares at risk from the climate emergency. All those things are at risk from military dictators and selfish plutocrats. That especially includes the assumption that “things will still be normal 10 years from now.” And all the risks to the stability that we crave are growing, every day that we keep running our car engines in the parking lots to charge our phones or whatever, all the risks are growing every day that corporate lobbyists are pushing for “less regulation,” all the risks are growing as dictators and local conflicts create refugees from all over, who wish to get to the better-off nations of Europe and North America and Australia. The risks are growing as greedy rich celebrities try to sell you bad art, that you won’t really own in the format they’re selling with, trying to tell you that this will somehow create libertarian new financial systems, when 50% of Americans do not even have $400 in savings to repair their car or refrigerator if it fails. And if you’re uninformed enough to fall for this nonsense, your risks are increasing very quickly.

There are plenty of sources to fill you with the facts on how we’re being very bad to our collective futures. Yet of course there is still plenty of uncertainty about what will happen on any specific day.

However, it seems highly likely that by 2030, we are going to be seeing massive disruptions in food supplies in large regions of the earth, it is highly likely that there will population displacements and refugee flows in the multi-millions affecting some regions, and it is very, very likely that we will be experiencing all sorts of extreme weather events – hurricanes, droughts, floods, severe heat waves — and yes, even severe cold spells coming from the overall upset of climate patterns our pollutions have caused. All of these events will be disrupting our economic assumptions and patterns. It is certain that changing to “greener” forms of energy is going to require big outlays for new tools by both producers and consumers, and it is highly likely that weather disasters, invasions and refugee flows, and shortages of necessary raw materials will mean a strong and consistent rise in the prices of all the items we want while supplies will become less reliable.

Can we grasp that “business as usual,” which is exactly what all the conservative voters and the business lobbies and the politicians who serve the business lobbies want us to keep on doing, can we grasp that “business as usual” today very likely means “disruption, disaster, massive population displacement and death” in our upcoming tomorrows?

It is hard for us to grasp a coming emergency of any kind, we want things to be mostly the same (depending on our relative levels of privilege and handicap.) Our minds are trained to be optimistic, to imagine fine futures. I have known for a long time that I have to be an optimist in my daily life, I need to think that things are improving to keep putting out my efforts. It really hurts me deep inside, to confront the evidence that we are so short-sighted and so greedy that we, as a global human society, are apparently about to poison ourselves in the next 10-30 years.

I need to believe that all the intelligent people now forty years old or less will soon realize that they don’t want to end their lives in a disaster, that they will soon join the millions of young climate activists already demanding an end to fossil fuels absolutely as soon as possible, they will demand the end of politicians, governments and corporations who support fossil fuels, and they will organize and make the necessary sacrifices to re-organize economies and win votes and overturn autocracies and put an end, relatively soon, to the fossil fuel economy that is going to kill us all, if all of us don’t take a lot of action to make it stop.

I need to feel hopeful, which means I need to feel that there may be some escape from the locked-up cage of greed and stupidity and “business-as-usual” that we have built for ourselves, that threatens to wreck the whole human project and end all our lives – just maybe, if we all fight as hard as we possibly can against the rich people and powerful politicians who can’t accept change.

Will we be able to understand that the climate emergency means no asset is ever guaranteed to be “safe” ? Even your guns and your gold in your “prepper’s palace” in some rural badlands is just going to make you a target for someone crazier than you… and the thing that brings you down will probably be some small ecological change you couldn’t foresee, the fuel you couldn’t get to drive the last miles to your hideout. Do we understand that the increasing small local disruptions and floods and droughts and refugee flows will make all of our personal hopes and dreams more tentative, more challenging and difficult to achieve, more likely to be disrupted and denied?

It’s not easy to understand the immense scope of the coming climate emergency. It’s so easy to go along with “business as usual.” There’s just enough doubt and uncertainty for the deniers to spread their disinformation and propaganda. After all, increased CO2 can make plants grow faster. And maybe some tech genius will figure out a way to suck billions of tons of CO2 out of the sky and neutralize it, and all the extremely selfish and short-sighted tech-bro financiers will give that magic solution all the billions it will need to get running in 2 years.

But those idealistic dreams are even less likely to come to pass, and less likely to lead us in good directions, than our dreams that we will still be driving 3-ton gasoline-powered vehicles anywhere we want to, at little cost to our wallets or our children’s lives when we reach the year 2030. Goals to merely “reduce” fossil fuels by 2030 are a feel-good exercise that may be killing our children by 2035. A goal by a very large and very poor country to end coal burning by 2070 sounds like a sick joke to many of us; don’t they realize it’s their own country (already being hit by severe droughts, floods and pollution) that they’re condemning to greater, life-threatening disruptions ?

Recently major American TV shows were featuring advertisements for a video/computer game based on the idea of anarchistic urban warfare in broken-down America, in the year 2042. I understand that a lot of young Americans have really bought into the concept of anti-utopian future fantasies, and that books and movies and games may be influencing some (very short-sighted) people to take an attitude of “it’s all going to break down, we can’t fix it, we’re just gonna wallow in our privilege and cynicism and negativity and laziness as long as we can.”

Can I convince you how sick and stupid these attitudes are going to appear when real disasters start occurring ? Do you understand that the breakdown of our unsustainable economic structures is NOT going to fun in real life? If it happens, it will be inconvenient and painful for many many days on end, you will never come to a happy ending in that game.

We need to face the facts: our cars and trucks, our concrete and steel, high-tech economic structures are in fact today killing the atmosphere we all must breathe. We need to face the fact that the climate emergency we have created requires drastic actions, and probably requires severe sacrifices from all of us. And we’ll most likely have to greatly reform political and financial structures against great resistance, as well. We need to face our future: BUSINESS AS USUAL MEANS DISASTERS, DISPLACEMENTS, AND DEATH.

There’s still a lot uncertainty about how it will work out, there is still a chance that our concerted, effective action may save a reasonably-pleasant world for our grandchildren. But we need to accept the most likely results of our current situation: BUSINESS AS USUAL WILL MEAN DISASTERS, POPULATION DISPLACEMENTS AND MANY DEATHS.

That includes our own deaths, probably occurring in ugly and unpleasant ways. Isn’t it time to get to work ?

About philosophical Ron

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One Response to We Weren’t Dealing Well with Climate Emergency, Now Ukraine Emergency Makes It Worse

  1. Ron B. says:

    I did start reading about Ukraine many decades ago, and spent a lot of time on Russian and Eastern European history in my college years. That was in the 70’s and I was reading a lot of 20 and 40 year-old history books, and I did at that time take it into my subconciousness, that Ukraine was always “the Ukraine” in more formal academic writing. I never investigated the matter, I just read a lot of older writers saying “the Ukraine” and I just followed along.

    Well, now we’re all learning more about Ukraine, and I now realize that the formulation of “the Ukraine” may have been appropriate in the past, as Ukraine was formally a component “Soviet Socialist Republic” in a “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.” However, since the modern independence of Ukraine in 1991, the Ukrainian government has officially announced that their name is “Ukraine” and Ukranian popular society overwhwelmingly agrees. I only see that I wrote “the Ukraine” twice, and it sort of fits the English of the sentences to my perhaps old-fashioned mind, I’m not changing those. However I do now know to use the proper name of the brave democratic nation southwest of tyrannical, war-mongering Russia, and I will say “Ukraine” without any “the” as much as I possible can.

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