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General News    H3'ed 11/18/21

Tomgram: Alfred McCoy, Are Imperial World Orders Heading for Extinction?

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I have to admit that, in 2018, when I first read in the Guardian that, later in this century, the deadliest place for climate-change-induced heat waves could prove to be the North China plain, I was shocked. After all, that region is central to China's agriculture and home to hundreds of millions of people. By century's end, if climate change was not brought under control, that very area could become "the deadliest place on the planet for extreme future heatwaves" and quite literally "unlivable."

Right now, the best estimates are that the urge to keep global temperatures from rising above an already dangerous 1.5 degrees Celsius is little short of a fantasy. A new analysis by Climate Action Tracker suggests that, based on recent promises made at Glasgow, the global temperature could easily rise a disastrous 2.4 degrees Celsius. And, if actual policies rather than future promises are the baseline for such calculations, that number could prove to be 2.7 degrees Celsius, according to a new U.N. report. Mind you, if you live on the burning West Coast of North America; in its megadrought-ridden Southwest; on the Italian island of Sicily where the temperature hit a record 119.8 Fahrenheit this summer; on Greece's second largest island, Evia, which almost burned to the ground in those months; in the Chinese city of Zhengchou, which was flooded in a historically unprecedented fashion; or in any of so many other places on this globe of ours, you know that the 1.1-degree rise already experienced is proving devastating.

Given that Washington seems increasingly geared up for a new version of last century's Cold War, however, I must admit that the sole encouragement I found at Glasgow was thank you, John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua that the U.S. and China managed to craft a statement pledging that their two countries would indeed work together on climate change. It was admittedly vague and lacked all details, but as Michael Klare has been arguing at this site for some time, if the greatest greenhouse gas emitter in history and the greatest one of the present moment can't reach some kind of accord, we're all quite literally cooked!

As Alfred McCoy, TomDispatch regular and author of the just-published book To Govern the Globe, reminds us today, within decades we could be at the end of the imperial era that began so many centuries ago. We may, in fact, find ourselves in a world shaped all too obviously for the worse as we humans take the place of the gods of the past by quite literally making the world's weather in an apocalyptic fashion. With that in mind, consider the thoughts of a remarkable historian on what our world truly could hold in store for us. Tom

To Govern the Globe
Washington's World Order and Catastrophic Climate Change


When the leaders of more than 100 nations gathered in Glasgow for the U.N. climate conference last week, there was much discussion about the disastrous effect of climate change on the global environment. There was, however, little awareness of its likely political impact on the current world order that made such an international gathering possible.

World orders are deeply rooted global systems that structure relations among nations and the conditions of life for their peoples. For the past 600 years, as I've argued in my new book To Govern the Globe, it's taken catastrophic events like war or plague to overturn such entrenched ways of life. But within a decade, climate change will already be wreaking a kind of cumulative devastation likely to surpass previous catastrophes, creating the perfect conditions for the eclipse of Washington's liberal world order and the rise of Beijing's decidedly illiberal one. In this sweeping imperial transition, global warming will undoubtedly be the catalyst for a witch's brew of change guaranteed to erode both America's world system and its once unchallenged hegemony (along with the military force that's been behind it all these years).

By charting the course of climate change, it's possible to draw a political road map for the rest of this tempestuous century from the end of American global hegemony around 2030, through Beijing's brief role as world leader (until perhaps 2050), all the way to this century's closing decades of unparalleled environmental crisis. Those decades, in turn, may yet produce a new kind of world order focused, however late, on mitigating a global disaster of almost unimaginable power.

The Bipartisan Nature of U.S. Decline

America's decline started at home as a distinctly bipartisan affair. After all, Washington wasted two decades in an extravagant fashion fighting costly conflicts in distant lands, in part to secure the Middle East's oil at a time when that fuel was already destined to join cordwood and coal in the dustbin of history (though not faintly soon enough). Beijing, in contrast, used those same years to build industries that would make it the world's workshop.

In 2001, in a major miscalculation, Washington admitted Beijing to the World Trade Organization, bizarrely confident that a compliant China would somehow join the world economy without challenging American global power. "Across the ideological spectrum, we in the U.S. foreign policy community," wrote two former members of the Obama administration, "shared the underlying belief that U.S. power and hegemony could readily mold China to the United States' liking" All sides of the policy debate erred."

A bit more bluntly, foreign policy expert John Mearsheimer recently concluded that "both Democratic and Republican administrations" promoted investment in China and welcomed the country into the global trading system, thinking it would become a peace-loving democracy and a responsible stakeholder in a U.S.-led international order."

In the 15 years since then, Beijing's exports to the U.S. grew nearly fivefold to $462 billion annually. By 2014, its foreign currency reserves had surged from just $200 billion to an unprecedented $4 trillion a vast hoard of cash it used to build a modern military and win allies across Eurasia and Africa. Meanwhile, Washington was wasting more than $8 trillion on profitless wars in the Greater Middle East and Africa in lieu of spending such funds domestically on infrastructure, innovation, or education a time-tested formula for imperial decline.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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