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Fossil Rebellion

August 12, 2019 - 21:50 -- Admin

In the midst of climate breakdown, governments around the world
are funding and protecting the fossil fuel industry

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 7th August
2019

The tragedy of our times is that the gathering collapse of our
life support systems coincides with the age of public disservice. Just as we
need to rise above self-interest and short termism, governments around the
world now represent the meanest and dirtiest of special interests. In the
United Kingdom, the US, Brazil, Australia and many other nations, pollutocrats
rule.

The Earth’s systems are breaking down at astonishing speed. Wild
fires roar
across Siberia
and Alaska, biting,
in many places, deep into peat soils, releasing plumes of carbon dioxide and
methane that cause more global heating. In July alone, Arctic wildfires are
reckoned to have released as much
carbon into the atmosphere
as Austria
does in a year
: already the vicious twister of climate feedbacks has begun to
turn. Torrents of meltwater pour from
the Greenland ice cap
, sweltering under a 15°C temperature anomaly.
Daily ice losses on this scale are 50 years
ahead of schedule
: they were forecast by the climate models for
2070. A paper in
Geophysical Research Letters
reveals that the thawing of
permafrost in the Canadian High Arctic now exceeds the depths of melting
projected by scientists for 2090.

While record temperatures in Europe last month caused discomfort
and disruption, in Southwest Asia they are already starting
to reach the point
at which the human body hits its thermal
limits. Ever wider tracts of the world will come to rely on air-conditioning
not only for basic comfort but also for human survival: another feedback
spiral, as air-conditioning requires massive energy use. Those who cannot
afford it will either move or die. Already, climate breakdown is driving
more people from their homes
than either poverty or conflict, while
contributing to both these other factors.

A recent
paper in Nature
shows that we have little hope of preventing more than 1.5° of
global heating unless we retire existing fossil fuel infrastructure. Even if no
new gas or coal power plants, roads and airports are built, the carbon
emissions from current installations are likely to push us past this threshold.
Only by retiring some of this infrastructure before the end of its natural life
could we secure a 50% chance of remaining within the temperature limit agreed
in Paris in 2015. Yet, far from decommissioning this Earth-killing machine,
almost everywhere governments and industry stoke its fires.

The oil and gas industry intends to spend $4.9 trillion over the
next 10 years
, exploring and developing new reserves, none of which we can
afford to burn. According to the IMF, every year governments subsidise
fossil fuels
to the tune of $5 trillion: many times more than they spend on
addressing our existential predicament. The US spends 10
times more
on these mad subsidies than on its federal education budget. Last
year, the world burnt more fossil fuels than ever
before
.

An analysis
by Barry Saxifrage
in Canada’s National Observer shows
that half the fossil fuels ever used by humans have been burnt since 1990.
While renewable and nuclear power supplies have also risen in this period, the
gap between the production of fossil fuels and low carbon energy has not been
narrowing, but steadily widening. What counts, in seeking to prevent runaway
global heating, is not the good things we start to do, but the bad things we
cease to do. Shutting down fossil infrastructure requires government
intervention.

But in many nations, governments intervene not to protect humanity
from the existential threat of fossil fuels, but to protect the fossil fuel
industry from the existential threat of public protest. In the US, legislators
in 18 states have put
forward bills
criminalising protests against pipelines, seeking to crush
democratic dissent on behalf of the oil industry. In June, Donald Trump’s
government proposed federal legislation that would jail people
for up to 20 years
for disrupting pipeline construction.

In several nations, led by the
Philippines
, Global Witness reports, governments have incited the murder of
environmental protesters. The process
begins with rhetoric
, demonising civil protest as extremism and
terrorism, then shifts to legislation, criminalising attempts to protect the
living planet. Criminalisation then helps legitimise physical assaults and
murder. The first stage has now begun in Britain, with the
publication
by a dark money-funded lobby group, Policy Exchange, of a report smearing
Extinction Rebellion
. Like all such publications, it was given a
series of major platforms by the BBC, which preserved its customary absence of
curiosity about who funded
it
.

Secretly-funded lobby groups – such as the TaxPayers’ Alliance,
the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute of Economic Affairs – have supplied some of
the key advisers
to Boris Johnson’s government. He has also
appointed Andrea Leadsom, an enthusiastic
fracking advocate
, to run the department responsible for
climate policy, and Grant Schapps, who chaired
the British infrastructure Group
until last month – promoting the
expansion of roads and airports – as Secretary of State for Transport. Last
week the Guardian revealed
documents
suggesting that the firm run by Johnson’s funder and adviser Sir
Lynton Crosby has produced unbranded Facebook ads on behalf of the coal
industry.

What we see here looks like the denouement of the
Pollution Paradox
. Because the dirtiest industries attract the
least public support, they have the greatest incentive to spend money on
politics, to get the results they want and we don’t. They fund political
parties, lobby groups and think tanks, fake grassroots organisations and dark
ads on social media. As a result, politics comes to be dominated by the
dirtiest industries.

We are told to fear the “extremists” who protest against ecocide and challenge dirty industry and the dirty governments it buys. But the extremists we should fear are those who hold office.

www.monbiot.com