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What's Good for GM is Gonna Kill Us All

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Erstwhile GM Chairman"Engine" Charlie Wilson once famously opined, back in the '50s, that "What's good for General Motors is good for America."

What to make, then, of the latest announcement that GM is planning to set up a plant in China to produce Aveo cars--200,000 a year to start--and to become "a household word" in China?

No doubt, before long, they'll be talking like Chrysler, which is planning to co-produce cars with China's Cherry Automotive Co. for the global market, including the U.S.

Obviously, having Chinese workers making American cars, whether for the Chinese domestic market or for the global or US market, is a bad idea for American workers, and ultimately for America. It might--though not necessarily--mean cheaper cars for Americans, but the cost would be yet another hammer blow to one of the country's major industries.

But there's a much bigger problem with this picture.

It's global warming, which is looking scarier by the day. The latest bad news is that the vast tundra expanses above the Arctic Circle, stretching from northern Scandinavia, across Siberia, and on to Alaska and Canada's Yukon and Northwest Territories are losing their permafrost. As a result, millenia's worth of decayed vegetation and peat are suddenly being thawed and exposed to the atmosphere, and are already spewing out ungodly quantities of methane--a gas that is over 20 times as potent a global warming blanket as is carbon dioxide.

What this means is explained in some recent articles that have run in the Canadian and European media--but not in the U.S. media, which is too focussed on Barbaro's latest injury to pay attention. (For more on this nightmare scenario, check out: The Hydrate Hypothesis in The Canadian, Siberian Thaw to Speed Up Global Warming in The Observer, as well as Global Heating in Countercurrents)

Scientists warn that the methane phenomena means the predictions regarding the pace of global warming--both optimistic and pessimistic--are way too conservative. Global warming is not, as was formerly thought, going to slowly creep up on us over the course of the century, but will more likely be sprung on us, perhaps over the next 5-10 years. It may even be too late to do anything about it, since there's nothing that can be done in terms of cutting gas emisions that will re-cool the earth and refreeze the permafrost.

Is it just me, or is there something obscene about the American car industry, which did so much to ruin America over the last century and to create the global warming crisis in the first place, going to China with the goal of ruining the world altogether by putting a car in every Chinese home?

I'm not sure what can be done at this point. We need not just a union, but a shareholder rebellion at Chrysler and GM. No more damned cars spewing out exhaust into the air. Make 'em so they use hydrogen or just shut the assemblylines down! But we need more than that. We need a new political movement that targets parents and grantparents, and makes them focus on what is facing their offspring, instead of on how much gas costs, or whether their 401 K is growing fast enough.

It's time for a new paradigm. One that doesn't start with: "Growth is good."

Not any more it isn't. Growth is deadly.

Al Gore made a nice film, but it has an unrealistically upbeat ending: we can turn this around if we act in the next ten years. In that he's wrong. Al didn't factor in the methane problem, and other positive feedbacks that are making a bad situation worse.

The truth is--and you can say you read it here--we are past the point of avoiding global warming. It's here and it's trying to kill us all.

Now it's about survival and minimizing the scale of the disaster.

The first step is to stop making things worse, and that certainly means not helping and encouraging China to become a car society.

From there, we need to start thinking about a new kind of society--one where people live frugally, eat locally, work where they live, share what they have--and where they plant a lot of trees.

Capitalism is finished, folks. It won't do to base a social system on the idea that people can invest and make a profit through growth, because growth for growth's sake means encouraging demand, and that just means more energy and consumption. End result: more global warming.

Socialism, at least the socialism of our era, is dead too, because it simply boils down to the notion, in one way or another, of making all citizens in a society stakeholders in the national corporation. It's still premised on the idea of growth as a positive good.

We need to give that all up and think about a society built around the concept of sustainability and about sharing in ways that will permit us to downsize our demands. No more pool in every yard, no more car in every driveway, no more house for every family. We need to start thinking collectively.

This, I'm sure, all sounds crazy in an American context. It would sound pretty crazy in China too, I know. But check out that methane, and tell me you want the alternative. We are all on this globe, and we're going to survive collectively, or die collectively.

As for GM, let's tell them if they go build those cars in China, they won't be seeing us in their showrooms.

Pathetic, I know, but hey, it's a start.

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of the collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper He is a columnist for Counterpunch, is author of several recent books ("This Can't Be Happening! Resisting the (more...)

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