Thinking The Unthinkable

by lizard

Dave Lindorff, a regular contributor to Counterpunch, offered a disturbing “what if” thought experiment today regarding climate change, titled What If America’s Leaders Actually Want Catastrophic Climate Change? Here’s how the article begins:

What if the leaders of the United States — and by leaders I mean the generals in the Pentagon, the corporate executives of the country’s largest enterprises, and the top officials in government — have secretly concluded that while world-wide climate change is indeed going to be catastrophic, the US, or more broadly speaking, North America, is fortuitously situated to come out on top in the resulting global struggle for survival?

I’m not by nature a conspiracy theorist, but this horrifying thought came to me yesterday as I batted away yet another round of ignorant rants from people who insist against all logic that climate change is a gigantic fraud being perpetrated, variously, by the oil companies (who allegedly want to benefit from carbon credit trading), the scientific community (which allegedly is collectively selling out and participating in some world-wide system of omerta in order to get grants), or the world socialist conspiracy (which of course, is trying to destroy capitalism).

What prompted me to this speculation about an American conspiracy of inaction was the seemingly incomprehensible failure of the US — in the face of overwhelming evidence that the Earth is heating up at an accelerating rate, and that we are in danger of soon reaching a point of no return where the process feeds itself — to do anything to reduce either this country’s annual production of more atmospheric CO2, or to promote some broader international agreement to slow the production of greenhouse gases.

Okay, a lot of Republicans are wacky believers in a 6000-year-old world where Adam and Eve hunted dinosaurs and god talked to Moses. But it seems equally or even more insane that people who clearly know better, like President Barack Obama, or most of the Democratic Party leadership in Congress, would resist even minimal efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and would directly work to undermine international efforts at reaching a rigorous treaty on global reduction of carbon emissions.

Despite the lies that spewed from Republicans about Obama’s energy policies, America is poised to overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer by 2017.

“Energy developments in the United States are profound and their effect will be felt well beyond North America – and the energy sector,” the IEA said in the annual long-term report, giving one of the most optimistic forecasts for U.S. energy production growth to date.

Yeah, optimistic. Unlike the reality of permafrost thawing, the acidification of the oceans, and the disappearance of arctic sea ice.

Personally, I avoid reading articles about climate change, because it’s incredibly depressing. I’m not surprised how many people opt to be deniers with this issue.

I am a little surprised that Dave Lindorff is willing to open himself up to the ridicule of “thinking the unthinkable” with his off-the-deep-end speculation. Here is how his piece concludes:

I realize this is conspiracy thinking, and that as such it is rather far-fetched, and yet what troubles me is that it’s hard to imagine a alternative explanation for the years of complete inaction on combating global warming, and the deliberate undermining of any sort of international accord which America has engaged in for the past decade.

Our leaders, political and corporate, may be puerile, egocentric greed-heads, but they are not stupid. They surely for the most part recognize that the Earth is heating up and heading at full speed towards ecological, social and political disaster. How else to explain, then, their astonishing unwillingness to take action?

Good question.

  1. Daniel Geary

    Write globally. Act locally. The liberals’ choice, Mayor John Engen, sits by silently as the Norway maple trees in our town are placed on the “eradication” list under the open space management plan. No tree sequesters more CO2 than does this, the defining tree of our green canopy. Engen’s conspiritorial abilities extend about as far as his next pay raise, but it is sadly entertaining to consider a broader plot.

    • Matthew Koehler

      I served on the Greenough Park Advisory Committee (GPAC) for about the past 6 or 7 years. One of the major problems facing Greenough Park was the fact that the non-native Norway maple trees were completely taking over the park, shading out the native cottonwood and ponderosa pine seedlings. These non-Native maples also impact the ability of native shrubs and plants (seviceberry, Rocky Mtn maple, chokecherry, etc) to do their job in the understory.

      At least as far as Greenough Park is concerned, while the Norway maple might be pretty, they were essentially leading to the extinction of the Park’s native forests and shrubs.

      As such, we fully supported the city aggressively removing the Norway maple in Greenough Park. Anyone walking in the park can clearly see that in portions of the park where the Norway maple were removed thousands and thousands of Cottonwoods have sprouted up naturally, the native shrubs also.

      I’m not certain if the non-native Norway maple sequester more CO2 than native cottonwood, ponderosa pine and native shrubs, forbes and grasses, but regardless, I believe that removing non-native Norway maple and letting the native trees and vegetation come back (in addition to some strategic planting of native vegetation) is the right thing for Greenough Park, Missoula and the environment. Thanks.

  2. BlackBart

    The IEA report has been soundly debunked inside the oil industry (if not the popular press) and the U.S. will only pass the Saudis if the Saudis have been lying about their reserves and have already passed their peak production. Insiders also point out the Bakken wells are proving not likely to be long-term producers, one of the reasons for the pipeline cancellation today.
    The Pentagon has already warned about the effects of climate change and how it will affect their business, so I see no conspiracy there.
    The killer’s going to be methane, and not from cow farts. It’s coming out of thawing permafrost all over the higher latitudes and it’s 10 times more potent than CO2.

  3. I think the biggest winner really is going to be Canada – warmer climate is going to be good for most of Canada, or at least not disastrous. Agricultural land lost to drought and flooding will be made up for by land further north being more arable, and melting sea ice is making the Northwest Passage a reality.

    But I think there is a very simple explanation for our inaction, and I don’t think it has much to do with the Pentagon or national security. Instead, it has more to do with the fact that we don’t choose our leaders from a representative sample – the are heavily skewed towards wealthy people 50+. They know they will be dead by the time things truly go downhill, and they know there’s a good chance their kids will be rich enough to avoid the biggest problems.

  4. I think PW makes a good case, not only for inaction on Climate Change, but for a lot of political problems. I think it’s also clear that Obama knows that if he were to take the necessary actions against Climate Change, they would be drastic, and incredibly unpopular. We are talking about Americans after all, and politicians want to win.

    On a side note, there are numerous intellectuals and experts in existential risk, that don’t place the high priority on climate change you’d think they would. For some, climate change is too slow to matter, when compared to the development of technology. Many think we will have our AI/nanotech crisis long before we even have 2 more degrees, let alone 4. If we survive AI/nanotech, then we can solve the problem, and if we don’t survive AI/nanotech it doesn’t really matter. This argument really is gaining ground.

    There’s also the difficulty that comes with predicting the future. In 2005, the U.N clearly stated, “by 2010 the world will need to cope with as many as 50 million people escaping the effects of creeping environmental deterioration.” They forecast “this new category of ‘refugee.” In 2008 the Srgjan Kerim, of the U.N. General Assembly, upped the prediction, saying there would “between 50 million and 200 million environmental migrants by 2010.”

    That’s not at all meant to reduce the terrible things that could come from climate change. But personally, I lean towards technology being the worry. Every fifty years or so, we invent things that could pretty much kill us all off.

  5. lizard19

    I didn’t make this connection explicit in the post, but here’s another quote from Lindorff connecting the probable social destabilization climate change will produce, and preparations being made now:

    This may explain why we keep reading about the Department of Homeland Security ordering huge quantities of dumdum bullets (even for places like Social Security Administration field offices!) and building mass detention centers, or about Congress continuing to pass ever more intrusive and invasive police state-type legislation, while militarizing local police.

    preparing for a crisis is logical, but talking about FEMA camps is conspiratorial, right?

    well, let’s take the most recent crisis, superstorm Sandy, and actually look at how Sandy “refugees” are being treated. this article is from Reuters:

    It is hard to sleep at night inside the tent city at Oceanport, New Jersey. A few hundred Superstorm Sandy refugees have been living here since Wednesday – a muddy camp that is a sprawling anomaly amidst Mercedes Benz dealerships and country clubs in this town near the state’s devastated coastal region.

    Inside the giant billowy white tents, the massive klieg lights glare down from the ceiling all night long. The air is loud with the buzz of generators pumping out power. The post-storm housing — a refugee camp on the grounds of the Monmouth Park racetrack – is in lockdown, with security guards at every door, including the showers.

    No one is allowed to go anywhere without showing their I.D. Even to use the bathroom, “you have to show your badge,” said Amber Decamp, a 22-year-old whose rental was washed away in Seaside Heights, New Jersey.

    this article is like conspiratorial candy for people like Alex Jones, and because it’s picked up by those kind of people, it will be easy to dismiss.

    but I think it’s a sign of what’s to come, and because the authoritarian creep is happening incrementally (a little homeland security here, a little NDAA there) too many Americans remain clueless that the foundation has already been put into place.

    • Liz – read about the conditions in Haitian disaster camps after the earthquake, especially conditions for women, and you’ll see why that kind of security is easy to understand. Anytime you have a lot of strangers who recently experienced catastrophic life changes living together, you’re going to see the best and worst humanity has to offer. I imagine constant illumination and ID checks are part of that

      • lizard19

        yes, in a post-crisis environment, “strangers” can be very dangerous, especially black people. once law and order disappears, the latent violence of black people rises to the surface, turning them into dangerous looters. I mean, look at Katrina. it makes total sense the National Guard would point guns at people trying to survive hellish conditions instead of trying to help them.

        so in your mind, PW, it makes sense to force people to show ID in order to take a piss, because it’s all about security, right? and it makes sense to flood this “camp” with lights 24/7 because by the cover of darkness these animals may attack each other, rape women, and do god knows what to the Mercedes Benz dealership in the vicinity.

        your mentality is right where they want it to be. sad.

        • Really, lizard? This is about race now? I was unaware. In Haiti you had a situation where security post-disaster was minimal, and the results of that are entirely clear – violence in general and sexual violence in particular skyrockets when social norms are disturbed and the chance of prosecution is minimal. In such situations it is usually the most disadvantaged who suffer the most – meaning that in the US, it is people who belong to minority groups who suffer the most from the lack of security.

          As to State violence in Katrina, it’s well documented that state violence is more prevalent and more vicious when security is low – when the state feels weak. Hence the murders of civilians in New Orleans after Katrina.

          It is entirely possible that the security is overbearing, but given the most recent examples of analogous situations, having to show ID before you go pee is better than refusing to use latrines at night because you’re afraid you’ll be raped or assaulted, which is a very real circumstance in Haitian camps that are not fully lit and do not have heavy security.

          • Steve W

            “As to State violence in Katrina, it’s well documented that state violence is more prevalent and more vicious when security is low – when the state feels weak.”

            Did you really write this, PW? Please direct us less intelligent people to where this is well documented.

            Are jails less violent, is crime less prevalent in jails, is rape less prevalent in jails, since there is lots and lots of security and the state feels very powerful?

            • I did write it, and I wrote it because it is true. Look at every state facing insecurity, and you’ll see a dramatic increase in violence. As the Nation State became more and more powerful, state violence against its civilians became less and less necessary – look at the history of rebellion and insurrection in Europe, and compare it to the history of torture and capital punishment in Europe. Where the state is less powerful, it is more likely to resort to violence to retain control. Similarly, insecurity and intolerance are intimately linked – a state losing control is much less likely to tolerate dissent and difference than one in full control of its people.

              There are a few great examples – the commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania was known in the early reformation as a haven for Jews, Protestants, and Muslims to worship freely. It was not coincidentally a stable, wealthy, and powerful state. Following wars with Sweden, Prussia and Russia, the state, seeing its power erode, reversed positions, initiating an extended period of anti-Semitism, counter-reformation, and religious intolerance.

              Of course a similar situation existed at the beginning of the 20th century. For centuries, the Ottoman empire was famed for its acceptance of diverse cultures, in a centuries-old partnership between Turks, Sephardic Jews, Armenians, Greeks, and other groups. This continued as long as the Empire was healthy and powerful. As the Ottomans came under pressure, however, state violence against ethnic minorities and dissidents skyrocketed. I’m not here to talk about Genocide and whether it happened, but its clear that as the Ottomans lost power in successive areas, they became more and more brutal, first with the Greeks, then the Arabs, and finally the Armenians.

              I could go on and on, from Scipio to Trujillo, but the point remains essentially the same: where governments are weakest, they resort to violence the most often. That’s why you’ll find the most atrocities not where governments have complete control, but on the fringes, borders and frontiers of states and empires.

              • Steve W

                Nazi Germany was weak? The Khmer Rouge were weak? Stalin was weak?

                Wow, I didn’t know that PW.

                So is that why the US government imprisons so many more of us than any other country in the world, because they are scared shitless of us and weak?

                Wow, who knew?

              • That’s absolutely correct, Steve. Hitler, Pol Pot, and Stalin were all weak, or at least they were the most violent at their weakest.

                The Shoah is absolutely incomprehensible and irrational, but the rest of Hitler’s crimes are consistent with weakness inciting violence. Compare the civilian massacres in Belgium, Holland, or France with those in Poland, Ukraine, or Russia. Where the border was secure (being the ocean), crimes against civilians are relatively rare, and treatment of POWs fairly respectful. Where there was a real vulnerability, the Eastern Front, and the highest partisan threat, is where the Nazis committed their greatest atrocities.

                The USSR was similarly the most dangerous when it perceived itself the weakest. The purges, gulags, and mass killings were the worst when Stalin was the most vulnerable. He was not in a strong position: he was not Lenin’s chosen successor, disagreed with much of Lenin’s philosophy, and therefore had many enemies. Moreover, the Soviet Union was still in a very weak situation compared to its capitalist rivals. After the Great Patriotic War, even before Stalin died and Khrushchev gave his secret speech, the worst atrocities of the Soviet era were over, because Stalin himself was virtually unchallenged as the savior of the USSR and the Red Army had become a match for any capitalist power.

                And Khmer Rouge? Again, Pol Pot was never an undisputed leader – factionalism was rife in the Khmer Rouge cabal, and their continued survival against domestic insurrection depended on terror and foreign support. The weakness of the Khmer Rouge was demonstrated when Vietnam decided to put an end to them – it took all of seventeen days for a second-tier power to depose Pol Pot once pushed their patience too far.

                And as to the US – in a lot of practical ways, the US government is far weaker than most less violent governments. In what other country can you buy powerful firearms, stockpile them in the woods, write a couple books advocating the violent overthrow of the government, and get together with a couple dozen people doing the same, and still be a law abiding citizen until you miss a tax payment? Millions of weapons in private hands, higher wealth inequality, far more crime and wealthier, better-armed criminal organizations, combined with the amount a government that can’t control weapons, restrict speech, or control political associations and yeah, you have a federal government that is weaker and more insecure than comparable ones in Western Europe or East Asia, and as a result is more violent towards its citizens.

      • Steve W

        Yes, living in jail because you experienced a natural disaster is what it’s all about these days and a fabulous growth industry.

  6. Global warming is very real – it’s an unstoppable cycle.

    12,500 years ago, when the last of the glacial ice covering North America melted, the warming was not caused by mankind.

    Lizard – you’re out of date – the religion of global warming, with High Priest Al Gore is over.

    • JC

      Eric, I see you crawled out from under your rock. After all those missed predictions during the last election where all you republicans ignored the facts, and had your asses handed to you, now you want to weigh in on the (climate) facts again?


      And I didn’t think you guys even thought the world was around 12,500 years ago, now you want to use those facts to infer what is happening now is similar?


      Once you guys figure out amongst yourselves that science is real, and geology tells you the age of the earth is in the billions of years, instead of believing the bible says a few thousand; maybe if you guys can come to a consensus on science, then you’ll be able to argue your point. Until then,


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