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2003-08-15

George Monbiot: Climate Change Threatens the Future of Humanity, but we Refuse to Respond Rationally

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In the United States millions are without power. Europe is suffering from a record heat wave. In France, the government estimates up to 3,000 people may have died from conditions connected to the heat wave. We talk to George Monbiot on climate change. [Includes transcript]

Click here to read to full transcript

Author and columnist George Monbiot writes in his latest column:

“We live in a dream world. With a small, rational part of the brain, we recognize that our existence is governed by material realities, and that, as those realities change, so will our lives. But underlying this awareness is the deep semi-consciousness that absorbs the moment in which we live, then generalizes it, projecting our future lives as repeated instances of the present. This, not the superficial world of our reason, is our true reality. All that separates us from the indigenous people of Australia is that they recognize this and we do not.

“Our dreaming will, as it has begun to do already, destroy the conditions necessary for human life on Earth. Were we governed by reason, we would be on the barricades today, dragging the drivers of Range Rovers and Nissan Patrols out of their seats, occupying and shutting down the coal-burning power stations, bursting in upon the Blairs’ retreat from reality in Barbados and demanding a reversal of economic life as dramatic as the one we bore when we went to war with Hitler. Instead, we whine about the heat and thumb through the brochures for holidays in Iceland. The future has been laid out before us, but the deep eye with which we place ourselves on Earth will not see it.

“Of course, we cannot say that the remarkable temperatures in Europe this week are the result of global warming. What we can say is that they correspond to the predictions made by climate scientists. As the met office reported on Sunday, "all our models have suggested that this type of event will happen more frequently." In December it predicted that, as a result of climate change, 2003 would be the warmest year on record. Two weeks ago its research center reported that the temperature rises on every continent matched the predicted effects of climate change caused by human activities, and showed that natural impacts, such as sunspots or volcanic activity, could not account for them. Last month the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced that "the increase in temperature in the 20th century is likely to have been the largest in any century during the past 1,000 years", while "the trend since 1976 is roughly three times that for the whole period". Climate change, the WMO suggests, provides an explanation not only for record temperatures in Europe and India but also for the frequency of tornadoes in the United States and the severity of the recent floods in Sri Lanka. "

  • * George Monbiot*, columnist and writer. His latest book is titled, "The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order."

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: The sound of the Blackout Drummers in Union Square last night. Thousands of people gathered, some with flashlights and candles, other just dancing, others sitting around. It’s also extremely hot in New York. Today expected over 90 degrees. It doesn’t compare to the 120 degrees of Iraq, but just adds to the intensity of not having those services. And, of course, electricity, providing so much more than just the name implies, electricity. We realize how everything is connected to everything else, and it is remarkable that we can even do this broadcast. I’m Amy Goodman here with Democracy Now, the War and Peace Report. We’re broadcasting from a hundred year old firehouse. Dennis Moynihan, our outreach director, is downstairs on the third floor on the roof. He got a generator yesterday just after the electricity went out at 4:11pm. We went into the hardware store, they were hardcore, diehard WBAI listeners, which was very nice. An electrician walked in also who listened to Pacifica station, WBAI. All knew there was something terribly wrong because WBAI was off the air. But talking about those weather conditions and how when you put the two together, part of the reason for this blackout is the air conditioning usage and the drain on the power supply. George Monbiot is a reporter who generally writes on, a columnist, on issues like Iraq, is now writing about extreme weather conditions. For example, in Iraq, rather, in France, some 1500-3000 people have died as a result of the heat wave there. George Monbiot, you do an amazing job with connections. Can you talk about the connections of all these issues today, as we talk to you from the midst of the worst blackout in U.S. history.

GEORGE MONBIOT: Well, I think what you are experiencing is a very clear illustration of the massive dependency of modern societies on vast amounts of energy consumption, and as soon as we can no longer consume, and use, and of course supply that energy, then the whole of life as we know it comes to an end, which illustrates, I think, our extreme vulnerability in several respects. First of all, the fact that, of course, the oil is running out. All the independent experts, the geologists in the oil industry, appear to be reaching pretty well a consensus now, that within the next ten or twenty years, global demand for oil will exceed supply. The result of that is the oil prices will become extremely high. The result will be that in many of the poorer countries, where they can’t command oil, because their currencies are weak, will see continual blackouts, like the one you’re experiencing at the moment. And the further result of that is that we’ll find that all electricity generation becomes more and more expensive, that here will be a demand for other forms which are even more dangerous and problematic, such as nuclear power now being discussed in Bush’s new energy review, of course. And we find ourselves in even more trouble as a result. The second big impact, is that because we are so hooked on this high energy society, we find ourselves inevitably contributing to massive degrees of climate change. Now, there are one or two people in the world who believe that climate change is not happening. They receive a great deal of coverage in the media. Very few of those people are climatologists. Even fewer of those people are climatologists who are not receiving money from the fossil fuel industry. Within the professional community of climatologists, the claim that there is no link between human activities and global climate change is taken as seriously as the claim that there is no link between smoking and lung cancer. It is absolutely almost 100% consensus within the community of climatologists, that manmade climate change is happening, and it is happening now. Now, the official range of predictions for how far this climate change is going to go over the next century, are between 1.4 and 6 degrees Celsius Centigrade. We are now seeing some scientists coming out and saying it could go up to an increase of ten degrees Centigrade. What I would point to, is that so far the increase over the previous century has been just naught .6 degrees Centigrade, in other words, just one tenth of the maximum official range that the climatologists have all signed up to, and yet, already, we are seeing vast numbers of deaths, we are seeing extremely wild fluctuations of climate, we are seeing bizarre weather patterns which the world has not seen before. The possibility of having a six degree increase in global temperatures is absolutely terrifying. It effectively means the end of human life on earth. The six degree increase in temperatures, in most of the agricultural zones of the world, the temperature becomes too high to support crop plants. Soil moisture dries out, the water reach in rivers dwindles to nothing. The result is, you can’t have irrigation, you can’t have rain-fed agriculture, the earth’s productivity crashes and human beings will not have the means to survive.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to George Monbiot, of the Guardian Newspaper, usually based in Britain. He’s now in Norway. As you watch the coverage of this historic blackout, in the northeast of the United States extending up into Canada, and you talk about extreme global climate change, we rarely hear, you know, weather reports take up more and more of the newscasts locally in this country, and yet, almost never do we hear a weatherman or woman say the words, global climate change, or particularly the two words, global warming.

GEORGE MONBIOT: And there’s a very straightforward reason for that. The great majority of the media in the United States, and indeed the great majority of the media here in Europe, are owned by a particular interest group, who are the multimillionaires. And what multimillionaires want is a better world for multimillionaires, which necessarily, because it leads to enormous levels of inequality, means a worse world for everybody else. And one of the components of a better world for multimillionaires, is that corporations are permitted to do exactly what they want to do, and of course, that includes the oil companies, the car manufacturers, the energy generation companies, who want to be able to burn as much fossil fuel, produce as much fossil fuel, as they need to to maintain high levels of product — high levels of profit. That problem, that activity is destroying the world, is destroying its capacity to support human life, is of no interest to them whatsoever. But it almost a religious duty on the part of the mainstream media controlled by these multimillionaires not to discuss climate change, because if they discuss climate change, that basically gives the whole game away. It basically says, the economic system we have at present is unsustainable, there is no means by which we can continue living as we do, there is no means by which the American people can continue driving their SUV’s, there is no means by which we can continue to have this degree of air conditioning, this degree of vast expenditure of electricity and energy, because if we do that, we took the planet and we make it uninhabitable for human life, and it’s as simple as that. Yet that is a truth that cannot be told. If it is told, the result is a lack of confidence, in the whole basis of profitmaking for those corporations. So, for the sake of a few years profit, for companies which are already tremendously rich, we are going to sacrifice the possibility of survival on earth.

AMY GOODMAN: George Monbiot, speaking about extreme climate change and talking about industrialization and the fuels we depend on. Here in this country, as you talk about confidence, George Monbiot, it is reported that Wall Street is expected to reopen at 9:30 this morning using backup generators. Does it make you feel more confident?

GEORGE MONBIOT: well, I’m sure it makes me feel confident that supply will be resumed in New York, and, of course it’s desperately important that it is. We can see very clearly and very quickly…

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I’m actually talking about Wall Street and the stock market. That’s what they’re talking about. In fact, when we go back to 9/11, there’s just been a new report put out that says that the White House pressured the Environmental Protection Agency not to warn people about the dangers of pollution after 9/11, this is right in the Wall Street area, or how to clean up their apartments, because they wanted Wall Street to reopen and for the people to be confident, risking their health and lives.

GEORGE MONBIOT: This is almost a perfect parable of the self-destructive nature of the existing economy, that whatever happens, the speculators must continue doing their speculation, they must continue keeping the machine going, which is ultimately destroying the planet. Nothing must be allowed to stand in their way. No truth can be told, which in any way can deflate confidence in what they are doing, and this is the terrifying reality which we face at the moment, and which we, as human beings, and as the media, in particular, simply do not want to grasp. We find this so remote, so terrifying, the idea that the entire basis of our lives will be changed, that, indeed, we might not be able to live on earth anymore as the result of climate change. We find this completely impossible to contemplate, and so we don’t contemplate it, we forget it. We just bury ourselves in the moment and just imagine that what we see around us now, will be how it will always be. Well, I think what’s happening in N.Y. is a very good illustration of how rapidly things can change and just one small aspect of an economy can change, one power station can go down, and everything changes. Well, that’s the sort of scale of change, in fact, it’s quite minor by comparison to the sort of changes I’m talking about, that we can anticipate, as climate change sets in — that whole regions of the earth become uninhabitable. The crop plants that we depend upon simply can’t grow anymore. The carrying capacity of the earth falls from its 6 billion or so, to less than 1 billion, and a great majority of people will no longer be able to survive. We’ve got to get this in our heads, because unless we do, we are doomed. We have to recognize that unless we massively change our behavior, and reduce our consumption of energy to 10 or 20 percent of what it is at present, then there is no possibility of sustaining the sort of lives that we know, the sort of lives which are in any way decent lives, beyond the next thirty or forty years.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve done a lot of coverage of Iraq, and now there’s the big scandal in the inquiry in Britain about David Kelly, the weapons inspector who told the BBC, allegedly said, that the Blair administration had sexed up the, had exaggerated the threats of Saddam Hussein, to justify the invasion of Iraq. And we were just on with Jamie Wilson, who had been in Basra, talking about the riots there, people who were demanding services and electricity, not to mention the protests that have been taking place against the invasion and occupation now. Your comments in linking these issues.

GEORGE MONBIOT: Well, it’s very plain that in Britain, as usual, we are monumentally missing the point. The classic British thing is taking place, whereby we concentrate on a small issue, and ignore the big one which lies behind it. And in this case, it’s a great tragedy, David Kelly committed suicide because of the extreme pressure that he was being placed under, after it became clear that he was the source of the BBC story. That the government’s dossier purporting to show that Saddam Hussein could launch an attack on Britain within 45 minutes had been, you could call it, sexed up, you could call it firmed up, you could call it edited, whatever you like, but had been altered in some way, to try to make British people frightened, to try to create the impression that there was a real threat from Saddam Hussein when, of course, as we know, there was no such threat at all to people in Western nations. But the real issue is not the tragic suicide of David Kelly, the real issue, of course, is that we went to war, on the basis of what was patently false information, and that several thousand innocent Iraqi civilians were murdered by us as a result of that. They were killed because we were lied to. That’s the real issue, and that’s the issue which isn’t being addressed by the Kelly inquiry.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much, George Monbiot, for being with us. Remarkable how all these issues come together: the invasion, what the invasion was for, the issue of oil, the dependence on fossil fuels, the issue of electricity and what fuels this society here in the United States where we’re now experiencing a blackout that has paralyzed Northeast United States as well as parts of Canada, and, of course, has repercussions in many more areas. 50 million people are affected. George Monbiot, thanks for joining us.


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