And perhaps most critically, how would provisions that allowed private companies to sue national governments over laws that impinged on their profits dissuade governments from adopting tough antipollution regulations, for fear of getting sued?
What industry calls innovation, in other words, looks more like the final suicidal throes of addiction. We are blasting the bedrock of our continents, pumping our water with toxins, lopping off mountaintops, scraping off boreal forests, endangering the deep ocean, and scrambling to exploit the melting Arctic—all to get at the last drops and the final rocks. Yes, some very advanced technology is making
According to one highly credible study, that amount of carbon is 565 gigatons between 2011 and 2049. And as Bill McKibben points out, “The thing to notice is, 2,795 is five times 565. It’s not even close.” He adds: “What those numbers mean is quite simple. This industry has announced, in filings to the SEC and in promises to shareholders, that they’re determined to burn five times more fossil fuel than the planet’s atmosphere can begin to absorb.”57 Those numbers also tell us that the very thing we must do to avert catastrophe—stop digging—is the very thing these companies cannot contemplate without initiating their own demise.
implausible no-consequences stories all the time, about how we can ravage the world and suffer no adverse effects. Indeed we are always surprised when it works out otherwise. We extract and do not replenish and wonder why the fish have disappeared and the soil requires ever more “inputs” (like phosphate) to stay fertile. We occupy countries and arm their militias and then wonder why they hate us. We drive down wages, ship jobs overseas, destroy worker protections, hollow out local economies, then wonder why people can’t afford to shop as much as they used to. We offer those failed shoppers subprime mortgages instead of steady jobs and then wonder why no one foresaw
Extractivism is also directly connected to the notion of sacrifice zones—places that, to their extractors, somehow don’t count and therefore can be poisoned, drained, or otherwise destroyed, for the supposed greater good of economic progress. This toxic idea has always been intimately tied to imperialism, with disposable peripheries being harnessed to feed a glittering center, and it is bound up too with notions of racial superiority, because in order to have sacrifice zones, you need to have people and cultures who count so little that they are considered deserving of sacrifice.
whatever we do, and its trajectory cannot be predicted. It is a living breathing collection of organisms (mostly microorganisms) that are evolving every second—a ‘self-organizing, complex, adaptive system’ (the strict term). These
“The notion that science will save us is the chimera that allows the present generation to consume all the resources it wants, as if no generations will follow. It is the sedative that allows civilization to march so steadfastly toward environmental catastrophe. It forestalls the real solution, which will be in the hard, nontechnical work of changing human behavior.” And worst of all, it tells us that, “should the fix fail, we have someplace else to go.”
In 2003, O’Connor began to report that, while treating patients in Fort Chipewyan, he was coming across alarming numbers of cancers, including extremely rare and aggressive bile-duct malignancies. He quickly found himself under fire from federal health regulators, who filed several misconduct charges against him with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta (including raising “undue alarm”). “I don’t know, personally, of any situation where a doctor has had to go through what I’ve gone through,” O’Connor has said of the reputational smears and the years spent fighting the allegations. He was, eventually, cleared of all charges and a subsequent investigation of cancer rates vindicated
Put another way, a broken bank is a crisis we can fix; a broken Arctic we cannot.
democratically elected government amounted to an “arbitrary, capricious, and illegal revocation of the Enterprise’s valuable right to mine for oil and gas under the St. Lawrence River.” It also claimed (rather incredibly) that this occurred “with no cognizable public purpose”—not to mention “without a penny of compensation.”46
beginning of the buildup of excess atmospheric carbon. So another way of thinking about this history is that, starting two centuries ago, coal helped Western nations to deliberately appropriate other people’s lives and lands; and as the emissions from that coal (and later oil and gas) continually built up in the atmosphere, it gave these same nations the means to inadvertently appropriate their descendants’ sky as well, gobbling up most of our shared atmosphere’s capacity to safely absorb carbon.
But we will not win the battle for a stable climate by trying to beat the bean counters at their own game—arguing, for instance, that it is more cost-effective to invest in emission reduction now than disaster response later. We will win by asserting that such calculations are morally monstrous, since they imply that there is an acceptable price for allowing entire countries to disappear, for leaving untold millions to die on parched land, for depriving today’s children of their right to live in a world teeming with the wonders and beauties of creation.