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General News    H3'ed 3/24/22

Tomgram: Aviva Chomsky, A Planet on Fire

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Recently, making my way through the New York Times and yes, at 77 and a creature of habit, I still read its paper version I found two articles of special interest to me, one above the other, on page 17. These days, I hardly need to say that the front page (and its online equivalent) remains a riot of Ukraine news. That day, four major Ukraine stories were piled atop one another there (plus grim photos) with the overarching headline being: "Survivors Found in Theater Rubble, but Suffering Widens."

There can be no doubt that the ongoing disaster in Europe and Russia remains a story of major and developing, even world endangering, significance. Still, I wondered whether there shouldn't also have been a place somewhere far more obvious for those two buried stories on page 17. The smaller one at page bottom was headlined, "Drought Conditions Expected to Worsen, and Spread Farther, Through the Spring." Just 12 modest paragraphs, it offered the latest news on the climate-change-induced megadrought, the worst in 1,200 years, that's now struck much of the western half of this country and shows no sign of letting up soon on this ever hotter, more disturbed planet of ours. Above it, taking up a significant part of the page, was a story headlined "Largest Federal Utility Chooses Gas, Undermining Biden's Climate Goals." Oh, and like the Postal Service, led by a Trump appointee, that now plans to spend $6 billion purchasing 165,000 new gasoline-powered mail trucks, the Tennessee Valley Authority's board is "dominated by members nominated by former President Donald J. Trump, who frequently mocked climate science and was an ally of the fossil fuel industry."

At the heart of both those stories lies a human inability at least as devastating as the one in Ukraine to deal with a peril of world-endangering significance. It seems to me that it should now be eternally in our sight lines, but anyone who watches TV news or checks out major mainstream websites knows that it seldom is. Yes, we can live 24/7 with horrifying news of the developing disaster that is Ukraine, but not the one that increasingly is our entire planet.

As you may have noticed, however, TomDispatch does consider the climate emergency an ongoing top-of-the-news story, not just a page 17 item, which is why today it's publishing the latest piece by TomDispatch regular Aviva Chomsky, author of the new book Is Science Enough? Forty Critical Questions About Climate Justice, who focuses on the way the very organization of this planet in terms of our well-being or lack of it (think, for instance, about the 700 American billionaires whose wealth only grew by $1.7 trillion in the pandemic years) has helped heat this planet to what increasingly looks like the boiling point. Then think with Chomsky about just how this world of ours is organized at present. Believe me, it's a headline story or at least it should be. Tom

The United States Is Exceptional
Just Not in the Ways Any of Us Should Want


Three years after the end of World War II, diplomat George Kennan outlined the challenges the country faced this way:

"We have about 50% of the world's wealth, but only 6.3% of its population. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security."

That, in a nutshell, was the postwar version of U.S. exceptionalism and Washington was then planning to manage the world in such a way as to maintain that remarkably grotesque disparity. The only obstacle Kennan saw was poor people demanding a share of the wealth.

Today, as humanity confronts a looming climate catastrophe, what's needed is a new political-economic project. Its aim would be to replace such exceptionalism and the hoarding of the earth's resources with what's been called "a good life for all within planetary boundaries."

Back in 1948, few if any here were thinking about the environmental effects of the over-consumption of available resources. Yet even then, however unknown, this country's growing wealth had a dark underside: the slow-brewing crisis of climate change. Wealth all too literally meant the intensified extraction of resources and the production of goods. As it happened, fossil fuels (and the greenhouse gases that went with their burning) were essential to every step in the process.

Today, the situation has shifted at least a bit. With approximately 4% of the world's population, the United States still holds about 30% of its wealth, while its commitment to over-consumption and maintaining global dominance remains remarkably unshaken. To grasp that, all you have to do is consider the Biden White House's recent Indo-Pacific Strategy policy brief, which begins in this telling way: "The United States is an Indo-Pacific power." Indeed.

In 2022, the relationship between wealth, emissions, and climate catastrophe has become ever clearer. In the crucial years between 1990 and 2015, the global economy expanded from $47 trillion to $108 trillion. During that same period, global annual greenhouse-gas emissions grew by more than 60%. Mind you, 1990 was the year in which atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) first surpassed what many scientists believed was the level of safety 350 parts per million, or ppm. Yet in the 22 years since then, more CO2 and other greenhouse gases have been emitted into the atmosphere than in all of history prior to that date, as atmospheric CO2 careened past 400 ppm in 2016 with 420 ppm now fast approaching.

Inequality and Emissions

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("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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