Monday, January 19, 2015

Walking toward a Confrontation - a Rustic Perspective on Naomi Klein and Climate Change vs. Capitalism

It is agreed, except by the ones who can't bear to believe it, that we're in the decade now when humanity shows our true moral worth to the ones coming, our descendants, by recognizing that we can't go on in the fiery, consumptive way that we have for some centuries, blasting underground for more coal and petroleum so we can build more of everything, go faster and faster and sell out to an ever-larger customer base in the assumption that our biological support system won't come undone from all the plunder, leakage and reverberation.

When I heard the broadcast review of Naomi Klein's new book This Changes Everything : Capitalism vs. the Climate, Simon & Schuster, 2014 I knew I had to buy it, read it and share it. The scope of the book is enormous; it opens in a chapter titled 'The Right Is Right - the Revolutionary Power of Climate Change,' allowing that the conservative right on the political spectrum, the ones most invested in the fossil fuel economy, are the ones who distinctly grasp that ending our extractive relationship with the earth would amount to throwing off the whole economic order that has enriched them. The tycoons of industries including oil, automotive, armaments, airlines, banking and agriculture, all so heavily wrapped in expectations of steady profit from steady growth, are the ones from whose ranks the sponsors of organizations like the Heartland Institute or the Competitive Enterprise Institute have come. Denying publicly that our activities could add up to anything unbalancing the climate is within the mission of these groups. They want climate catastrophe to be a hoax because only that would uphold the system in which they are experts, masters of profit-making. Unlike the liberal other side, that has sought through various political and techno-means to impose curbs on the release of carbon--whether or not in practice obeying air quality regulations or making investments in cleaner cars or energy efficiency--the right admits that relinquishing our oil, gas and coal-fired largesse would be the end of the capitalist system as we know it. The big-business liberal side can't bring itself to admit this fact in their policy statements.

Chapters further into the book take on the commonly held notion that technological innovation will not only save these same industries--in particular, commercial air travel, a notorious source of carbon emissions, but also leave room for their unlimited growth, and that all we need to do is to wait for engineering geniuses to come up with new clean fuels so we can get on with our lives, when the speed at which we're overtaking the threshold of 2 degrees Celsius that has been set as the presumed safe limit to global warming does not leave time for that kind of waiting much less room for that degree of trust.

Ms. Klein alludes repeatedly to the huge inequalities all over the world, in monetary wealth and opportunity and, as a consequence, in legal clout, engendered by affiliation with or lack of affiliation with the dominant economy. The dire imperative that we break up the consortia that profit from defacing the earth to go after petroleum, bitumen, coal, sulfides, diamonds, in sectors where they've never before been touched--corporations that would seemingly not care if their processes broke the planet into separate chunks spinning and spilling into outer space--opens paths to salvation for societies all over the world who face displacement by the giants. Redressing the climate and the biosphere would also be empowering countless of our very selves in all manner of places, famed or little in renown. This theme is the current of optimism in Ms. Klein's book about a subject at least as grim as any of the oldest tales about the destruction of the world at the hand of ogres, or the Biblical book of Revelation, about justice for the sinful among us, if not all of us.

Subsequent chapters look at localized movements that have succeeded so far in stopping frack wells, for example, or transit corridors for coal and oil, because the people who were in the way had no choice but to stake their whole land-based livelihoods against the operators of the capitalist-backed ventures which, locally and atmospherically, amount to such a force of destruction. Indigenous peoples in their longstanding respect for earth not as a mere cache of raw treasures, or just a big rock washed by treacherous seas, but as a mother and repository of ancestors may be the best examples of who, and whose culture, will survive what we're doing (if, as I say, there will be any survivors, given everything that's self-serving and ignorant in human nature.)

Partly by reading Ms. Klein's acknowledgements crediting all her helpers in researching the topics and preparing the book's text, I was heartened to think of all the many enlightened visions being shared around the world about things that we will have to do in a new age not powered by dirty fuel but by wind, sun, hydro and muscle power as of old and as we now have the technological know-how to do on a sweeping scale that's virtually equal to our modern-day collective demand. While the movement to divest from oil and reinvest in renewable energies goes on, and deadly conflict at the frontiers represented by pipeline routes becomes an ever likelier part of history, some of us continue pursuing what is happening to the wild and non-human. I make and sell art to earn a living, and so I need to go out for polite sneak peaks at other life and its support, making that my support in a shared manner.

On whatever front each of us exerts ourselves while seeing the overworked world for what it is, whether we're negotiating to increase the heating and cooling efficiencies of houses and public buildings, connecting North American First Nations tribal members with the financial resources to be their own job creators so they need not hire themselves out to coal and oil rigs, teaching children of the slums about nature and available services from nature in their home regions, teaching individuals bored to death by automated processes wherever they go about the enjoyment of providing for oneself by hand and controlling their own food and surroundings like never before---there will be newfound joy. There can be prolonged joy in discovering that what we thought was lost is back, or was never really gone.


 A Thawing Scene - 'March Marshland at Crex Meadows' - original watercolor matted on handmade cattail-fibre paper
Today I'll go out to the seemingly voiceless woods and swamp, gnawed by deer in a shortage of the maligned four-legged predators like wolves, crusted with a snow that never really gained any depth so far this winter, burning my calories on my skis and looking for the most interesting snags and stumps, ones full of suggestiveness, almost like driftwood standing ready for a carver to animate with hand tools. Even though it's unnecessary I still photograph them as specimens for reference in my eerie new swampland painting. I've got a little net bag made by somebody out of a recycled athletic jersey which I'll fill with the dried leaves of Labrador tea so they can further dry inside the house and become tea leaves for me or whoever wants to try some. The low-growing shrub of wet cold ground, Labrador tea (Ledum groenlandicum), will shoot out baby leaves in May or so and flower again, lavish and white, in the month of June unless we have a hot, advanced spring as is increasingly possible, affecting all blooming. It becomes urgent to me to get out and come back in and document what characterizes Saint Louis County, Minnesota and nearby Ontario because it will change, and there will be witnesses who mourn the extinctions but go on with their lives and old fondnesses...I somehow trust and expect.

  Labrador tea sprouting in snowmelt

                                                                            Birch snag serves as a trail marker and food cache.