The Guardian • Issue #2064


What is to be done, and how not to do it

The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis.

I have been inspired to write this by reading Amitav Ghosh’s brilliant novel The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis, which ends:

“Much, if not most, of humanity today lives as colonialists once did – viewing the Earth as though it were an inert entity that exists primarily to be exploited and profited from, with the aid of technology and science. Yet even the sciences are now struggling to keep pace with the hidden forces that are manifesting themselves in climatic events of unprecedented and uncanny violence.”

We must realise that to succeed in saving the earth, we have to stop appealing to those making profits from exploiting it.

Are the rich owning up to their destruction of the planet? Are the multinational fossil fuel corporations immediately cutting back on their rape of our earth? Of course not, that old privileged “white” greed learnt from colonial times is prevalent in their thinking. They are superior to the “lesser” races – those races who are actually doing no harm to our world. They have no respect for Nature, that’s been obvious for the last two hundred years at least. Their thinking won’t change: it needs to be changed for them by those of us who are going to pay the price for their greed.

This mindset has pervaded capitalist development. With the Industrial Revolution humanity proved its control of nature. With the discovery of oil our way of life has been inescapably consolidated. The wars of the twentieth century were won by access to oil, which is why the Middle East has become so important geopolitically. In the First World War British control of oil was paramount, but after the Second World War the United States took over many British naval bases and now its role of guarantor of global energy flows maintains what Ghosh calls “the US strategic dominance and its position as global hegemon.”

Fossil fuels have given the western powers superiority in war-making. As Ghosh says, “Today the Pentagon is the single largest consumer of energy in the US – and probably the world.” But we don’t know what percentage of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions derives from the military and this is due to the fact that the US requested that emissions related to military activities were excluded from the negotiations at the 1997 Kyoto Protocol! Knowing that the three branches of the US military consume approximately 25 billion tons of fuel per year (one fifth of America’s total consumption, and in excess of the energy consumption of around two-thirds of the planet’s use), why is this being swept under the carpet? During the Iraq War the US military consumed approximately 1.3 billion gallons of oil annually, just for Middle East operations. It has been estimated that the US Department of Defence generates 500,000 tons of toxic waste annually, more than the top five US chemical companies combined, and that the armed forces of the major world powers produce the greatest amount of hazardous waste in the world.

There’s no point appealing to the better nature of people who are beholden to the fossil fuel capitalists. That has been tried.

This is a fight for survival and it’s going to be nasty.

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