February 2017Policy

Climate Change is not a business opportunity

Donald Trump's decision to tap ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State has upset a lot of people. So far his candidacy has faced some semblance of opposition from the Senate, even from Trump's own party. There is a lot to criticize. His ties to Vladimir Putin are most offensive to the establishment, compounded by the daily revelations linking Trump's campaign to the Russians. It's certainly interesting that a man whose company lost billions of dollars due to sanctions against Russia will be responsible for renegotiating them. Tillerson, and Trump himself, may very well be compromised Russian assets, or at least useful idiots -- but it's been surreal watching this be the issue that drives our political elite hysterical. I can understand why Cold Warriors like Sens. John McCain and Lindsay Graham would be wary, but Tillerson's self-admitted crimes against humanity pale in comparison to any supposed treason.

My one consolation is that Tillerson, unlike many others in the GOP, actually believes in Global Climate Change. He was actually ahead of the game compared to most liberals, since Exxon discovered the effect of fossil fuels on the planet a few months before it became common knowledge. This man, who is about to become one of the most powerful people on Earth, made his fortune slow-roasting the planet with full knowledge of the consequences.

For almost a century now Russia has been painted as the existential threat to the United States, and the institution of democracy itself. People have difficulty seeing how anything can be worse than Russian meddling in our elections. People need to have a little more imagination. Individuals like Tillerson are far greater threats to humanity than the likes of Putin. Short of nuclear war, Global Climate Change is the only truly existential threat the human race faces, but you wouldn't know it from the way it's discussed. Most Americans understand that they can survive the sea levels rising a few feet and temperatures getting a little bit hotter. The misperception is that the devastation of climate change in the West -- if it happens -- is going to look like Mad Max, when in fact it's going to look like Children of Men: the refugee crisis brought on by climate change will bring down civilization long before our planet turns to desert.

It's true: most of the world can survive the temperature creeping up a few degrees. That's not the case for the millions of people living in the Middle East, where temperatures are increasing at twice the global average. These people are going to need to go somewhere when their homes become literally uninhabitable. Europe's refugee problem today pales in comparison to what lies ahead, and far-right nativist groups are already threatening to destroy the post-war liberal order. I don't even want to think about what politics are going to look like in the coming decades, but we must prepare for them. Denying these refugees sanctuary will amount to genocide. Liberal democracy, if it survives Trump's social policies, will not be able to survive his environmental ones.

We need to start treating the fight against climate change like the war that it is. We need to be marching by the thousands in protest and organizing general strikes, as if it were the Vietnam War, because this is a war, and the Rex Tillersons of the world are winning. Every day we sit idly by we cede ground we will never regain. We need to bring home the severity of the crisis we're facing as a species. We should be rationing energy and resources as if we were fighting the Nazis. This crisis cannot be treated like a business opportunity, as some national Democrats like to say. We need to commit to fully transitioning to sustainable energy even if it is unprofitable. As a nation, we need to treat green energy technology like it was part of the defense industry. I'm not sure how many solar panels you could build with what a single F-35 costs, but if we're going to get out of this without blood on our hands we need to understand the fight in these terms. The last time our country tried to stop a genocide of this scale, in the 1940s, the top tax rates were 90%. Today's capitalism is simply not prepared to solve the upcoming crisis we've made for ourselves -- especially considering capitalism is what caused it.

At a certain point it's not simply about reining in the excesses of the oil industry, it's about examining the values that allowed and encouraged people to let this happen. The free market will not save us. Anything less than total mobilization will not be enough. We are most likely past the point of "solving" climate change, but we can at least hope to mitigate and prepare for the disasters to come.

See more in categoryReturn to Issue