Declared 98% successful in destroying Iraqi Scud missiles during the Gulf War, the Patriot missile system was subsequently found to have achieved a success rate “close to zero” by Professor Ted Postol of MIT. But by then the deception had done its job: a further $1 billion had already been invested in U.S. national missile defence systems.
The latest $50 billion “son of star wars” programme will doubtless prove equally ineffective, particularly against the threat of teaspoonfuls of botulinum toxin, used as a pretext for the intensified bombing of Iraq in 1997, and which “could kill 7 million people”, according to Tony Blair. Korea – deemed the least laughable ‘bad guy’ currently available – has been declared the dread threat to be countered. As H.L. Mencken noted: "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."
Mencken omitted to mention, however, that economic and political forces which profit from invented threats, will also seek to block responses to +real+ threats, when such responses are deemed damaging to profits. Today, the same corporations promoting pointless missile systems are working all out to prevent even trivial action to protect the world from the very real, very business-unfriendly threat of global warming.
The facts are very clear: the 2,500 members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations body set up to study the climate, have concluded that a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is required to stabilise global temperatures at existing (high) levels. Three years ago, Nobel Laureate Henry Kendall, chairman of the Union of Concerned Scientists said:
“Let there be no doubt about the conclusions of the scientific community that the threat of global warming is very real and action is needed immediately. It is a grave error to believe that we can continue to procrastinate.”
Shortly thereafter, ‘Hurricane Mitch’ wrecked Honduras, killing 11,000 people, in 1998. A year later, tens of thousands died in the ‘super cyclone’ that hit Orissa, India. In December 1999, 20,000 people were killed in Venezuela’s biblical floods, and many more in giant cyclones that have since struck Mozambique and Madagascar, with hundreds of thousands made homeless. In March of this year, following a record drought, widespread fires in Portugal presented, “a growing threat to the country’s ability to feed itself”, according to the Guardian. Climate scientist Professor Eugenio Sequeira of Lisbon’s New University, declared: “It is very probable that climate change is behind the current drought and forest fires, as it was probably the cause of flooding in Mozambique. If dramatic action is not taken now, much of Portugal may become a desert.” In April, starvation once again threatens Ethiopia after a third year without rain.
In the last decade there have been more extreme weather events than in the previous century. In March 1999 (before the disasters in Orissa and Venezuela), Worldwatch reported that insurance companies had so far paid out $91.8 billion in losses from weather-related natural disasters in the 1990s – four times the weather-related claims handed out during the 1980s. In June 1999, the Red Cross reported that natural disasters uprooted more people in 1998 than all the wars and conflicts combined. Climate change, it warned, was about to precipitate a series of “super-disasters”.
In 1998, marine biologists found that between 70% and 90% of the coral reefs they surveyed in the Indian Ocean had suddenly died as a result of rising sea temperatures. Environmental journalist George Monbiot wrote ominously, “The coral reef ecosystem is the first of the major victims of global climate change.” By 1999, the polar bear and seal populations were estimated to have halved. Scientists predicted that the polar bear could be extinct by 2020. In March 2000, Worldwatch revealed that Arctic sea ice, covering an area the size of the United States, shrunk by an estimated 6 percent between 1978 and 1996, losing an average of 34,300 square kilometres – an area larger than the Netherlands – each year. Over the same period, the ice has thinned from 3.1 meters to 1.8 meters – a decline of nearly 40 percent in less than 30 years.
If these catastrophes had been the result of an ‘evil empire’ indiscriminately tossing H-bombs around the globe, you can be sure that high-tech arms manufacturers, Pentagon chiefs and assorted pals in government and media would be up in arms demanding vigorous action. Endless documentaries would be produced; front pages would be filled. Hollywood films would be made starring Charlton Heston as a gun-toting President (with Heston doing the killing, not the gun), spy-catching cartoons would be shown on TV, school teachers would warn in grave tones of the menace beyond the school gates, walls would grow ears. It would be the issue of the day, every day, as it was during the Cold War.
By contrast, the sum total of the world’s meaningful response to the Climate War raging around the globe is the pitiful Kyoto Climate Treaty. Proposing just a 5.2% cut in emissions, as opposed to the minimum 60% required, the Kyoto treaty is described by Dr. Mike Hulme of East Anglia University as “trivial in terms of stabilising the climate”.
It is not trivial to big business, however. John Grasser, Vice-President of the U.S. National Mining Association and member of the Global Climate Coalition (GCC), an organisation set up by over one hundred major corporations for the express purpose of combating efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions, had this to say at the Kyoto convention:
“We think we have raised enough questions among the American public to prevent any numbers, targets or timetables to achieve reductions in gas emissions being agreed here… What we are doing, and we think successfully, is buying time for our industries by holding up these talks.”
The press has gone some way towards exposing the breathtaking irresponsibility of the GCC in recent years, but it has spectacularly failed to report the seriousness of global warming and the true extent of big business opposition to even the action proposed at Kyoto. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce (U.S. Chamber) and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), for example – together, representing the interests of just about every large corporation you’ve ever heard of – are working all out to prevent action.
As recently as October 1999, the NAM reaffirmed its opposition to the Kyoto treaty. Consider the following declaration, widely available to the public through the NAM website (www.nam.org) but, to my knowledge, unreported anywhere in the press:
“On April 4, 1998, the board of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) adopted the following resolution on the Kyoto Protocol:
We oppose the Kyoto Protocol and urge the President and Congress to reject it… We believe that the Kyoto Protocol to the Convention on Global Climate Change is inherently flawed in its omission of the developing countries and, therefore, will damage the U.S. economy without achieving the desired environmental benefits.”
The immense power of the NAM and similar organisations is reflected in the arguments employed by U.S. climate negotiators. At climate talks in November 1999 in Bonn, the U.S. team insisted it would not match moves by Europe and Japan to ratify the Kyoto treaty by 2002 on the grounds that Congress first “wants more action from developing countries.” The previous year, this had been set down by the Byrd-Hagel resolution, which states that the U.S. should sign no treaty which excludes legally binding commitments from developing countries, or which would seriously harm the U.S. economy. The resolution was passed 95-0 in the Senate.
The remarkable cynicism of these arguments was revealed by the behaviour of Lee R. Raymond, chairman of Exxon, a member of the NAM. In 1997, Raymond exhorted Asian industry at the 15th World Petroleum Congress in Beijing to exploit new oil reserves and fight emissions regulations. Upon his return to the United States, Raymond then proceeded to denounce proposed cuts in American emissions on the grounds that there were to be no emission controls in the developing world.
The influential U.S. Chamber of Commerce takes a near-identical stance to the NAM and the GCC. The following statement is taken from the U.S. Chamber’s website (www.uschamber.org):
“Efforts by environmental extremists to over-regulate the marketplace and put huge new mandates on businesses will be opposed. A new radical environmental movement has started at the grassroots level pushing for regulations based on race and socio-economic status. The U.S. Chamber leads the opposition to these groups… Priorities include:
1. Prevent the implementation of the Kyoto Climate Change Treaty.”
Again, we need only recall the Cold War era and imagine how the media would react were organisations inside society found to be working to undermine attempts to prevent an ‘evil empire’ slaughtering tens of thousands of people around the world. Instead, because the corporate media are of course elements of the same system, are indeed owned by members of the U.S. Chamber and the NAM, the reaction is somewhat different. Journalist Ross Gelbspan has noted how news stories about global warming evoke an “eerie silence”. This, indeed, is the mother of all silences, because the fossil fuel economy is the mother of all vested interests.
But how on earth, we are all wondering, can corporate editors and reporters keep meekly silent in the face of the actual destruction of the world: +their+ world? Gore Vidal provides a kind of answer (it applies equally to women):
“A reporter forms a habit equivalent to lacerating the flesh: He learns to write what he does not naturally believe. Since he did not start, presumably, with the desire to be a bad writer or a dishonest writer, he ends by bludgeoning his brain into believing that something which is half true is in fact nine-tenths true. A psyche is debauched – his own; a false fact is created. For which fact, sooner or later, inevitably, inexorably, the public will pay.”
In the age of global warming, that price, for many, will be the ultimate one.
David Edwards is a writer based in England. He is the author of ‘Burning all Illusions’ (South End Press, 1996) and ‘The Compassionate Revolution’ (Green Books, UK, 1998)