Saturday, June 28, 2008

Obit for the Old World

by Tom Engelhardt

For those who didn't happen to notice -- perhaps because it wasn't exactly front-page news in most of the country -- NASA's James Hansen, the man who first alerted Congress to the dangers of global warming 20 years ago, returned to testify before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming this week.

This time around, he was essentially offering a final warning on the subject. Unless the United States begins to act soon, he pointed out, "it will become impractical to constrain atmospheric carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas produced in burning fossil fuels, to a level that prevents the climate system from passing tipping points that lead to disastrous climate changes that spiral dynamically out of humanity's control."

For the "elements of a 'perfect storm,' a global cataclysm" being assembled, he placed special blame on the "CEOs of fossil energy companies [who] know what they are doing and are aware of [the] long-term consequences of continued business as usual." He added that they should, in his opinion, "be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature… I anticipate testifying against relevant CEOs in future public trials."

That's a novel thought in our nation's capital. Oh, and while he was at it, he probably should have thrown in George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and crew. What they haven't done (and what they've blocked from being done) over these last eight years may turn out to be their greatest crime of all. Talk about smoking guns... or is it melting ice?

And here is the sad thing: As with so much else in these last years, the only way global warming has gotten the slightest respect in Bush's Washington is as a national security issue. Big surprise. The Navy, for instance, was already holding a symposium entitled "Naval operations in an Ice-Free Arctic" in April 2001. Now it seems that by 2010, or 2015 at the latest, the Navy may have its wish -- an iceless Arctic Ocean in the summer for the first time in perhaps one million years, and a scramble for energy and mineral wealth at the poles.

One office in the Pentagon, war-gaming about climate change back in 2004, wrote up a hair-raising, spine-tingling end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it report on a future planet in eternal conflict amid every kind of weather disaster. And only this week, the U.S. Intelligence Community -- the official 16 agencies gathering the stuff for the government -- chimed in with a grim new report, "The National Security Implications of Global Climate Change Through 2030."

As National Security and the Threat of Climate Change, a 2007 report from the CNA Corporation (a military-allied research organization) indicated, admirals and generals galore have been worrying about the subject for a while. Think, for instance, of those low-lying U.S. bases, like the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, which might just go under. Could climate change not only send millions fleeing from flooding or salinating lowlands, or out of areas of conflict over ever scarcer resources, but start the process of de-garrisoning the globe for the Pentagon? ("Climate change could compromise some of [our] bases…[T]he loss of some forward bases would require longer range lift and strike capabilities and would increase the military's energy needs.") It's enough to set a military-minded group to worrying.

Now, in a striking report, Living on the Ice Shelf, from the front lines of science, Mike Davis, author most recently of In Praise of Barbarians: Essays Against Empire, "welcomes" the new geologic era we are officially entering: a period in which humanity may simply, and catastrophically, outrun history itself.

As he puts it: "Our world, our old world that we have inhabited for the last 12,000 years, has ended, even if no newspaper in North America or Europe has yet printed its scientific obituary.”

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire, a collection of some of the best pieces from his site, has just been published. He is also the author of The End of Victory Culture.

Copyright © 2008 The Nation

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