Lately I’ve been looking into industries that spend hundreds of millions of Dollars attacking climate science in order to make sure we don’t do anything about it. The usual interpretation of this behaviour is that certain vested interests are trying to protect their profits because action on climate change will cost them more money or even drive them out of business. Carbon taxes and subsidies for renewable energy will make fossil fuels more expensive and renewables more competitive. So will removing the massive subsidies currently granted to fossil fuels. Regulation to improve energy and fuel efficiency will mean people burn less fossil fuel, denting the profits of the Exxons and Chevrons of the world. And of course a lot of people in business and their followers just hate environmentalists. Partly this is because they think progress is about moving further away from nature, and environmentalism is about taking us back closer to nature. So environmentalism is against progress. Progress has given us wealth, disposable leisure time, better health and longer lives and has improved the human condition. So environmentalists that want to take us back to nature must be anti-human. Then there are the religious nut jobs who think they’re some sort of chosen people, and that the great American project of wealth creation based on consumption of natural resources is part of God’s plan. So anyone opposing the business of ripping stuff out of the ground and turning it into money is some sort of satanist working against the Almighty’s grand design. Yes folks, you can pretty much blame Henry Ford, Ayn Rand and Jesus (what a trinity that would be – although maybe we don’t need Jesus now that business can transubstantiate oil into greenbacks). Oh, and we mustn’t forget Al Gore, who stupidly made climate change a party political issue by being a Democrat and then banging on about how we had to stop global warming.
In a nutshell, that’s the general explanation for why so many industrial lobbyists and political ideologues fight against action on climate change. But I wonder if that’s the whole story. You see, we’re always told that business is about change and innovation, and all I see in the conventional explanation of fossil fuel lobbying is people trying to stop change and suppress innovation, at least outside the narrow horizon of incremental improvements in ways of getting oil out of the ground and putting it into machines. Surely this can’t be! No, I refuse to believe that these hugely successful businesses are anti-change and anti-innovation. After all, that would mean everything we believe about business as dynamic, innovative, risk taking and go getting is wrong. It might even mean Ayn Rand was wrong about the wealth creators, and I won’t hear that sort of heresy!* Surely there’s something wrong here, and I think I know what it is.
Here’s my theory. The people representing the huge corporate interests that lobby against action on global warming fully accept the science of climate change. They see it for what it is – an opportunity. Climate change will transform the world, changing the natural environment in a way that hasn’t happened in all of recorded human history. These changes will create new needs, as people try to adapt. The potential opportunities for business in this new world are huge. Think of all those coastal cities that will need to spend billions on new flood defences. The areas that will need costly desalination, water transport and irrigation infrastructure. The new cities that will have to be built as people migrate away from areas that become uninhabitable. The new crops that will be needed to feed people in areas where existing crops fail. The technology that will be needed to do the job of all those ecosystems that disappear (think bees folks). The weapons that governments will buy to fight each other over dwindling resources.
And not just that, but as the climate fan sprays more and more shit everywhere, there wil be demands to reverse global warming. Governments will pay businesses to carry out massive geoengineering schemes. Injecting particles into the atmosphere to block out sunlight and cool the Earth. Building space mirrors. Filling holes in the desert with water to counteract sea-level rise. Building scrubbers to suck carbon out of the atmosphere. Dropping iron in the ocean so it soaks up more carbon dioxide. Altering the land surface to reflect more sunlight.
It’s going to be a freakin’ feeding frenzy, and big business must know it. It’s the ultimate in disaster capitalism – a coalescing of innumerable climate change opportunities into one massive catastro-tunity**.
So all this ‘we don’t believe in climate change’ shit is just a cover. If people are angry with the deniers now, just imagine how mad they’d be if they knew this was all part of a massive conspiracy to create a big juicy carcass off which big business could scavenge for the rest of the century and beyond. Because that must be what’s happening. The people heading up the world’s richest corporations must be intellectual giants, right? If they weren’t then they wouldn’t have earned their place at the top of the heap through the social Darwinian, Randian struggle on which we all know human society is based.
But I have one small doubt remaining. Obviously this is because I’m not smart enough to understand that climate catastrotunity business model, so I’ll be happy for anyone smarter than me (say, someone running a Fortune 500 company) to set me straight. My doubt is that the scientists – and even organisations like the World Bank – seem increasingly to be soiling their lab coats about climate change bringing about the end of civilisation or something like that. They keep telling us that we’re looking at a global warming of 7 degrees Fahrenheit (about 4 degrees C), and maybe more, by 2100, and that this is really dangerous for society.
What if this means the collapse of society and – more importantly for business – the collapse of government? Like a lot of people, I hate government, but like the corporations that pretend otherwise, I recognise that government plays a vital role in channelling money to business through all those juicy construction and service contracts and what some uncharitable types call corporate welfare. Now, all of those massive projects that I alluded to earlier are only likely to get off the ground if they’re paid for by governments, so those big corporate interests need to make sure that governments survive and are stable enough to make those investment decisions.
So, to foster the innovation that goes hand-in-hand with creative destruction, we want to make sure that the destruction only goes so far. We need a controlled catastrotunity. Just enough climate change to reshape the world but not so much that global civilization disappears down the can completely. The scientists used to say that we should avoid a warming of more than about 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), and that anything above that would be ‘dangerous’. But now they’re saying that the maximum allowable warming should be a fair bit less than that. To keep warming below 3.5 F, we need to reduce emissions by huge amounts, really quickly. And we’re not doing that – we’re still spewing the stuff out at an increasing rate. So we’re going to cross that threshold whether we like it or not.
So, from a disaster capitalist perspective, we’re running the risk of driving destruction that isn’t creative but rather, well, destructive. If societies and governments fall, the climate change profiteering model won’t work. No doubt those clever ubermensch like the Koch brothers realize this, and we’ll see all the energy that’s gone into climate denial being redirected into climate change profiteering soon. I hope so, because if not, we might miss that catastrotunity.
*I’ve always respected Rand for her forthright condemnation of Christianity as ‘monstrous‘, for her championing of the individual, and for her criticism of the state and the bland and unimaginative parts of society that can only copy and steal rather than create. But her apparent view that the role of a woman is to be subservient to the strong man has always made me feel a little icky. Lately I’ve been wondering if she isn’t just a low-budget Neitsche, or worse, a beta-version of Anne Coulter (no, that’s too unfair). But I need to read more to work out how I really feel.
**I’ve stolen the term “catastrotunity” from The Bugle Podcast.