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David Swanson: New Year's Utopianism Needed Fast

New Year's Utopianism Needed Fast

By David Swanson

Unbeknownst to many Americans, there is overwhelming consensus among scientists that we are very close to reaching a point of no turning back on global warming, which is caused by the burning of fossil fuels. We are approaching a point at which all of the following will become unavoidable: massive desertification, rising sea level, explosive growth of insect populations, widespread habitat destruction, mass extinctions, mass migrations (including of humans), the disappearance of sea life, and in all likelihood wars over drinking water that will make the wars over oil look civilized. These changes are likely to lead to human disease, starvation, and death on a scale that will dwarf the current reality, much less what Americans are currently able to imagine. The desperation and suffering involved, combined with the too-late awareness of the planet's fate, will almost certainly bring about a blossoming of religious and magical thinking that will make current American evangelists look reasonable.

As the end of human civilization begins to look inevitable, myths that make it look desirable will grow in popularity. Enlightenment notions of human progress will reach extinction as the long-term planning of slow projects becomes seen as futile. Of course, we're almost at that point already. Were we not, we would not be destroying the world of our great grandchildren with the mad furiousness with which we are knowingly destroying it. That is, some of us know we are doing it. And most of us lack the future-historical attention span to process the knowledge. We are pounded with such a flood of infotainment about this week that next century is unthinkable. And so we don't think about it, for now. But unless we very quickly think and act, global warming will take over and violently instruct us or our children as to what we will think about.

The loss of hope for the future will be devastating, even if lessened by religion and already shortened attention spans. For a moment, it will look less worthwhile to save and plan for retirement, to research diseases, to study archaeology, to attend architecture school, or to practice the violin. For just a second it will look less significant to prevent torture or the proliferation of nuclear weapons. For an instant it will seem to matter less if you are cruel to someone else. These painful impressions will come and go, but not last long. In part, again, this is because we are almost there already. Already we imprison not to reform for future years but to prevent freedom this week. Already we do not save or plan. Already we seek pleasure in the face of a looming catastrophe that we could stop. Already our political horizon is never further than two years. But the world of global warming will be a leap into fatalism unlike what most of us are used to. That alone will not, however, alter our microscopic, self-absorbed sense of priorities, decency, manners, or ethics. We will struggle through, recognizable, to the end. But why should we – or rather, our grandchildren – have to face this fate?

This New Year's let's make a resolution together that we will accept the responsibility that has been thrust upon us. Resolved: we will treat global warming as a dire emergency and reverse the behaviors that cause it before the year is out.

How will we do that? We will begin by recognizing the root cause of global warming as a power structure that places immediate corporate profits ahead of even the survival of the human species. We will go on to envision the possibility of a different power structure dominated not by corporate greed but by the needs of people. We will quickly restore to its necessary role in our lives the all-important mechanism of utopianism. And our utopia will be a democracy driven by the will of the majority of a well-informed population.

We will inform each other of these facts: We must reduce carbon emissions by at least 50 percent, not the 7 percent we have thus far refused to live up to. By "we" I mean those of us in the United States, where we make up 4 percent of the world's population and produce 36 percent of carbon emissions. We are leading the destruction and can lead its reversal. But we cannot do so with our current government.

Rather than directing the necessary shift to wind and solar energy and mass transit, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have led us into an expanded use of oil and coal. They led the effort to remove the Chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change because he favored addressing climate change. They have led efforts to water down, censor, and block reports on global warming, eliminated funding for a series of observation stations called the Climate Reference Network, and defunded Amtrak and fired its president for opposing its elimination.

Of course, we could sit back for two more years of destruction and then elect Al Gore president, Al Gore who served eight years as Vice President having already at that time published a book on global warming but who for eight years did nothing to slow or reverse it, Al Gore whose current proposals are seriously insufficient, Al Gore who thought Joe Lieberman would make a good vice president, Al Gore who is not even running for office, Al Gore who would face a Congress still controlled by oil corporations.

Or we could refuse to watch two more years of destruction edge us closer to the point of no return. We could seize this opportunity to impose change on Washington and shake up our political system in just the way that might allow the necessary changes to be made in time to make a difference. We will need to begin by restoring the rule of law, including Article 2, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution: "The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."

We have a President and a Vice President who have lied us into a war, spied without warrant, detained without charge, tortured, murdered, reversed laws with signing statements, and engaged in criminal negligence in the face of global warming. We have a duty to remove them from office. We have an opportunity to save the world by doing so.

We will end up with a new version of someone we just lost: Gerald Ford. (Whimpers of "But then we'd have President Cheney" will be as common as cries of fright over "President Agnew".) We will compel the new Ford to begin the repairs, and when we throw the new Ford out, along with his party, in 2008, it will be with the newfound political strength to lead the world in a direction we currently cannot even dream about: utopia.


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