When it comes to climate change, Murray Dobbin writes, knowledge isn't the problem. We have plenty of it. And it's growing everyday:
We have seen especially alarming predictions in the past few months. Two studies released almost simultaneously claim with a high degree of certainty that the glaciers in the western Antarctic are irreversibly melting. The first, by NASA and the University of California-Irvine, examined a group of large glaciers that collectively contain the equivalent of four feet of sea level rise. They are in "continuous and rapid retreat and there is "no [major] obstacle that would prevent the glaciers from further retreat." They have "have passed the point of no return."
Another study by the University of Washington came to the same conclusion and suggested the melting of the Thwaites Glacier could undermine the rest of the Antarctic ice shield holding 10 to 13 feet of sea level rise. None of this will happen soon and the maximum rise could take centuries, yet Greenland expert and glaciologist Jason Box concludes we have already set in motion 69 feet of sea level rise.
Our problem is our lack of imagination. We are stuck in an old way of thinking, and we can't imagine a new paradigm. But there is such a paradigm. It arises when we rethink the fossil fuel industry -- in the same way we re-imagined the tobacco industry:
The mega-corporations that peddle fossil fuels and effectively sponsor climate change and the melting of the ice caps are not an "industry." They are a plague. And indeed their impact is already tantamount to a plague -- the fastest rate of species extinction since the end of the dinosaurs -- and will over the next hundred years kill exponentially more people than all the plagues in world history combined. Speaking of dinosaurs, if we mobilized to confront the criminal negligence of the fossil fuel empire in the same way we would mobilize to divert a collision-course comet, perhaps we might achieve a realistic sense of the scale of the coming catastrophe and what needs to be done to avoid it.
One of the major political factors preventing serious consideration of major and rapid policy changes is the sheer power of the fossil fuel industry. Unimaginable wealth translates into unimaginable power worldwide. To imagine bringing the industry to heel in a serious effort to slow climate change, we have to imagine treating the industry like we eventually treated the tobacco industry: as an existential threat to human health. For decades the tobacco giants exerted so much political influence they were virtually untouchable. To the extent that this changed (it is obviously still a health scourge especially in the developing world), it changed because the notion of corporate "rights" was successfully challenged.
We live in a world which is controlled by the oil barons. They have worked very hard to thwart the collective imagination. And they buy governments. Until they are seen as a threat to life on the planet, things will not change.