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Cashing In on Catastrophe: How to Stop the Climate Crisis Profiteers

The fossil fuel industry is looking to half-baked and unproven technologies that will allow it to keep meddling with our atmosphere, regardless of the risks.
 
 
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The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, the most authoritative scientific study on our climate to date, confirmed what we all knew: that global warming is happening, yet we continue to pump carbon into the air regardless. For a short spell, the report prompted some hand-wringing over society's failure to heed scientists' warnings. Very few commentators, however, pointed to the dangerous possibility that the failure of political and business leaders may be due to calculation rather than cowardice.

Could it be that rather than burying their heads in the sands, some of our leaders are maintaining the pretense of tackling climate change while actually focused on how to manage its impact in their own interests?

The evidence that, behind the political platitudes, the policy focus is shifting from tackling the causes to controlling the impacts of climate change is becoming more visible. In fact, the final conclusions of the IPCC report ended up at the last minute including a paragraph that suggested geoengineering could offset temperature increases. While the report pointed to some potential “side effects,” it nevertheless opened a door to countries that want to avoid any action that constrain their extractive industries and that are seeking to further meddle with our atmosphere regardless of the risks and human and environmental costs

As Neth Daño of the watchdog group ETC noted, “The report doesn't discuss solar power or electric cars; it doesn't discuss public transport, carbon markets or any other actual or potential policy response to the climate crisis, so why have the authors chosen to devote the concluding paragraph to this highly speculative and dangerous technofix?”

Corporations, particularly those with ties to the fossil fuel industry, have long looked to half-baked or unproven technologies, like carbon capture, in order to justify continued exploitation of gas and oil reserves. Increasingly, they are also seeking salvation in technological solutions for the climate crisis that will result from their criminal intransigence. Rex Tillerson, CEO of oil giant ExxonMobil famously dismissed the need to act to stop climate change saying in 2012 that, “Changes to weather patterns that move crop production areas around—we'll adapt to that. It's an engineering problem, and it has engineering solutions.” His comments were recently echoed by Owen Patterson, UK's energy minister, who dismissed the dangers of climate change, saying it could be advantageous as it would allow the UK to grow new crops.

The growing emphasis on technological fixes or blithe suggestions about the positive benefits of a globally unstable climate have been paralleled by increased state investment in the military to control any "side effects" of climate change. The two trends are on the surface contradictory: one believes climate change can be fixed and prevented by technological wizardry; the other that it will happen but needs to be controlled. Nevertheless they combine around the idea that climate change needs to be managed in the interests of the powerful, no matter the consequences for everyone else.

In 2007, the Pentagon released a report that warned of the "age of consequences” in which “altruism and generosity would likely be blunted.”  A similar EU report released a year later talked of climate change as a “threat multiplier” that “threatens to overburden states and regions which are already fragile and conflict prone.” It warned that this would lead to “political and security risks that directly affect European interests.” These security-based strategies have been further developed in recent years along with an unparalleled expansion of surveillance, as we have seen thanks to Edward Snowden's revelations. 

The language of military and corporate strategists is usually couched in terms of security.  But the focus of their in-depth reports on the threats of climate change to trade routes and competition for resources in the Arctic and energy supplies reveal that the concern of most military strategists is not how to protect vulnerable citizens from climate change, but rather how rich countries and their privileged classes can continue to control critical resources of food, energy and water. Turning climate change impacts into a matter of security for the few entrenches the injustice intrinsic to the climate crisis—that those who played the least role in causing it will feel its impact the most.

 
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