The massive heatwave across southern Europe may not be due to climate change, but who doubts it is the shape of things to come? Trump does, and his belief that climate change is a hoax is widely shared, but today, the Guardian reports the inexorable retreat of glaciers, revealing long disappeared corpses.
As yet, most of the world, but especially the clique (I refuse to describe them as an élite) who are still profiting from adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, still do not take this danger seriously. Apart from gardeners welcoming a longer season, or the more affluent avoiding some holiday destinations climate change isn’t affecting most of us – yet. Forest fires in Portugal can be brushed off as part of a normal cycle, but 72 deaths were the largest loss of life in Portugal’s history.
What if the Sami way of life is being destroyed? They must adapt, as must those who worry about rising sea levels. This narrative appears to make sense if progress through growth is to continue.
Anyway wasn’t all that sorted at the Paris agreement on Climate change in December 2015? Not according to James Hansen it wasn’t. Trump’s infantile irresponsibility in withdrawing merely makes the risk that ‘Paris’ will fail slightly more likely. I am naïve enough to believe that ‘Paris’ was an attempt by the neoliberal clique to prevent the Tragedy of the Commons going too far, but according to Hansen, it was too little, too late.
Fracking is a prime example of a current abuse of the ‘commons’. By the time it is no longer profitable, we shall be way beyond the ecological ‘tipping point’. In his book ‘Poverty and Progress’ (Methuen, 1974), Richard Wilkinson describes the Siane, a tribe in New guinea, as having a strategy of ensuring that everyone had basic needs, so that everyone had an identity of interest in dealing with ecological threats. Easter Island shows what happens if the ‘Tragedy’ strikes before a society has had time to adjust.
If the Basic Income had entered mainstream thinking soon enough, an orderly reduction to what the ecosphere could deliver sustainably might have been possible though difficult, but I doubt it now. We are all hard wired to avoid loss. The only way an overall moderation in demands on the ecosphere could have happened, is by offering everybody security at the same time as the consequences of not moderating demands was spelled out. Taxes could have been switched from activities which deplete resources or produce pollution to Land Value tax and a small, but not punitive level of wealth tax.
We have a long way to go to achieve the necessary mind set. For example there has been much consternation this week at the worrying car sales figures. Sales would have decreased on a planned economic ‘soft landing’, but once the weather begins to disrupt the economy anyway, car sales will be much fewer still.
It looks as though we shall have an accidental economic recession. Redistribution – or conflict – would have been inevitable just to achieve sustainability, but if we wait for the climate to reduce economic activity, redistribution would have to be far more drastic than would be accepted by the better off.
Note the subjunctive. Instead of redistribution, I fear that the response to the coming eco-crisis will have more in common with Easter Island than the Siane.