The G20 meeting on Bali in November 2022 is focussed on the theme, “Recover Together, Recover Stronger: promoting sustainable finance [and] expanding an inclusive financial system.” Yak columnist Andrew E. Hall asks: Is there something writ larger to talk about?
As G20 leaders gather on Bali to try to resolve how the global community might engineer an economic recovery from the Covid pandemic, one might ask whether their conversations will include another looming catastrophe, that has the propensity to overwhelm the untimely deaths of six million-plus people.
Perhaps, it is apropos that an examination takes place of the neo-classical, and similarly systemic, economic assertion that citizens exist to facilitate economic “growth” and “productivity” in national and corporate accounts – while acknowledging public policy exhortations of most Scandinavian countries, Bhutan, and more recently New Zealand to the contrary – about socio-economic measures that discourage growth and productivity in the interests of broad-spectrum environmental harmony and human health and happiness.
Oh, the sniggering in boardrooms and private bathrooms about the rise and rise of capital by pimped-out primal pump polluters . . .
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its sixth iteration (2022) deemed: “(Global heating is) already impacting every corner of the world, and much more severe impacts are in store if we fail to halve greenhouse gas emissions this decade and immediately scale up adaptation.”
The other five have said the same thing, pretty much. It’s only the urgency in the authors’ tone that changes, as the degree of detail in scientific modelling reveals our predicament in ever more precise terms.
IPCC authors of the seventh report – due in about five years – might as well save themselves considerable pro bono time and a whole lot of verbiage, by issuing a brief statement that reads: “We’re all fucked if you people don’t wake up, grow up!”
DAY-TRIPPING ON THE TITANIC
This year alone has seen catastrophic floods in Pakistan, and eastern states of Australia; droughts that have reduced Europe’s major rivers to a comparative trickle; a heatwave in the UK, and in Canada’s British Columbia a day that topped 50°C. Day trippers in the US are having the time of their lives discovering all sorts of amazing things along the Colorado River because those things are now way above the previous waterline. Lake Mead in Nevada – backed up by the Hoover dam – is at 30 per cent capacity.
In September this year, thousands of column-centimetres in newspapers throughout the world, interminable minutes on broadcast services and tera-bytes on social media were preoccupied with the death and mourning of an elderly UK queen.
In 2019/20 wildfires swept through many, many thousands of hectares of bushland in eastern Australia (prior to “unprecedented” flooding) incinerating (best scientific guess) a billion-plus native species’ innocents and quite a few humans. An epochal conflagration that climate crisis experts attributed to an increasingly rapid redistribution of human-generated atmospheric toxicity. During which a (disingenuous) Christian evangelist and climate heating sceptic (septic?) prime minister named Morrison returned from a Hawaiian holiday subterfuge to disclaim public opprobrium at his absence by saying: “I don’t hold a hose . . . mate”.
Shrug. Move on.
Scientist and conservationist Professor Tim Flannery, one of Australia’s leading authors on climate change said at the time: “Researchers have identified 15 tipping points for Earth’s climate system. They involve things like the melting of glaciers and ice caps, the destruction of the Amazon’s forests and the altering of ocean currents. Trigger any of them and a cascade of consequences is unleashed that will lead to out-of-control planetary heating. Trigger the tipping points, and almost everything about Earth will change, including biodiversity, the coasts, our food and water security, and our health . . .
“Interwoven with self-interest, the Morrison government suffers from a thick strand of climate denialism that feeds on tribalism and wilful ignorance”.
Thankfully, the Morrison muppet show was booted in May by Australian votes tired of trying to figure our if quantum mechanics or sitting theory might explain the deposed government’s “alternative” take on reality.
In September 2022, the Guardian newspaper also reported: “The climate crisis has driven the world to the brink of multiple “disastrous” tipping points, according to a major study
“It shows five dangerous tipping points may already have been passed due to the 1.1C of global heating caused by humanity to date. These include the collapse of Greenland’s ice cap, eventually producing a huge sea level rise, the collapse of a key current in the north Atlantic, disrupting rain upon which billions of people depend for food, and an abrupt melting of carbon-rich permafrost”.
Dr David Armstrong McKay at the University of Exeter, a lead author of the study, says: “It’s really worrying. There are grounds for grief, but there are also still grounds for hope”.
Appreciate it, David . . . as the people of low-slung Pacific islands anticipate Water World.
Deceased monarch Elizabeth II, whose “regal” ancestry encompasses the evisceration of basic human rights during the 19th century industrial revolution in Britain; the calumny of the slave trade to the Americas; and the supervision of capricious slaughter of peoples on the Indian sub-continent, as described in excruciating detail in William Dalrymple’s The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company. Dalrymple asserts that the British subjugation of the sub-continent and its peoples was seminal in creating the global corporatist model that has accrued vast wealth to an ethically bereft minority and led inexorably to the conscious denigration of the “democratic” paradigm, and the evisceration of populations who need to work to eat.
Yet millions of “average” Americans absolve former US president Donald Trump, a neo-fascist narcissist sociopath, of his cynical excesses and preponderance towards personal power.
The heating of our planet is not an artefact of the industrial revolution and its evolution. It is a consequence of decisions made by an entitled few, foisted upon a disenfranchised majority.
A majority not only delineated in human terms, but by a rapidly diminishing spectra of other species that are integral to the biodiversity of a solar-systemic “blue dot” that (as far as we know) wouldn’t be averse to the elimination of all life that currently inhabits its surface.
Wiser heads have suggested that we might listen more respectfully to those who have curated continents and their constituents for millennia.
Traditional Owners of “Country” – an Australian First Peoples’ term that applies in a profound way to Indigenous law and lore (also known as The Dreaming) wept at the 2019/20 bushfire carnage (among many other imperial pillages of their nations) and yet another neo-colonial managerial miscarriage, and slight, to the places with which they are, still, materially, culturally, and spiritually intimately interwoven.
THE “SAINTS” GO MARCHING IN
Contemporaneous hagiographers might well punt Peter, Paul and Mary and displace them with the likes of Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, the disgraced Roman Abramovich, the arrogant and entitled mining “magnate” Australians Andrew Forrest and Gina Rinehart.
The supplicants at Bali’s G20 get-together might well agree that these people are exemplary for their respective nations’ bottom-line gross domestic product (GDP), that also acknowledges the cutting down of old-growth forests and placing a commercial value on dead wood as an economic plus.
Thus goes the Amazon rain forest, with the added GDP benefits of mining and agriculture. To the tune of several thousand football pitches a day. To the tune of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World and Brazil president Jair Bolsonaro’s unilateral “fuck you”, especially you pesky Indigenous Amazonians and your habitats. To the wheeze that accompanies the cancer in the “lungs of the world”.
Three of the aforementioned neo-saints are wannabe space cadets.
Branson, an English former record shop owner, leveraged his marketing skills into a global branding exercise, which led to his current obsession of popping people up to the edge of space for a minutes’-long gravity-free frolic; a view of an overheating planet’s curvature; and presumably a bit of champagne and caviar upon return to his New Mexico space base. For a paltry quarter-million bucks or so.
Bezos, one of the United States GDP on-line shopping wunderkind, exploits the vulnerability of his worldwide workforce in ruthless fashion – don’t even think of relieving your bladder while on the production line – is competing with Branson’s extravagant edge-of-space tourism gig and wants to settle people on the moon.
Musk – thanks for the electric cars and trucks, and the curious flamethrower marketing prop, dude – thinks the answer to our global heating crisis is for privileged people to also live on the moon . . . and Mars. Please be on the first rocket champ. We can do without you.
Rinehart and Forrest (whose GDP contribution to the Australian economy is worthy of a hedonistic wank in certain circles) have amassed stupendous fortunes from recolonising Traditional Owners’ land – without paying reasonable rent – dividing First Peoples’ communities; digging up mineral resources that lay beneath ancient landscapes, obliterating tens of thousands of years of cultural and ceremonial significance . . . and selling them, mainly, to China. Combined, these two are arguably the largest land “owners” in Australia.
For those of you who are not “post-truth” devotees, please read Title Fight: How the Yindjibarndi battled and defeated a mining giant, by Paul Cleary.
Roman Abramovich – now on wobbly ground, via a range of international sanctions aimed at disempowering Russians’ support for their country’s despotic war against the Ukraine is/was a scion of “Londongrad”, the financial hub for shifty oligarchs; former owner of the Chelsea Football Club; and Russian natural resources tzar – is a sick puppy and needs to relocate to Moscow on a permanent basis, where he can exist at the pleasure of a paranoic Vladimir Putin.
In Capital in the Anthropocene, associate professor at Tokyo University Kohei Saito writes: “The climate crisis will spiral out of control unless the world applies emergency brakes to capitalism and devises a new way of living”.
As the Guardian Japan correspondent Justin McCurry reports: “Saito’s message is simple – capitalism’s demand for unlimited profits is destroying the planet and only ‘degrowth’ can repair the damage by slowing down social production and sharing wealth.
“In practical terms, that means an end to mass production and the mass consumption of wasteful goods such as fast fashion. In [his book] Saito also advocates decarbonisation through shorter working hours and prioritising essential ‘labour-intensive’ work such as caregiving.
“As the world confronts more evidence of the effects of climate change – from floods in Pakistan to heatwaves in Britain – rampant inflation and the energy crisis, Saito’s vision of a more sustainable, post-capitalist world will appear in an academic text to be published (in 2023) by Cambridge University Press, with an English translation of his bestseller to follow.”
ALWAYS WITH YOU, ALWAYS WITH ME
Self-interested power players, in all their forms will extemporise a status quo that sustains their political, economic, and societal primacy . . . damning the rest of us to wage slavery and corporate kowtow.
Plutocrats and oligarchs are recipients of regressive taxation loopholes that they can drive Tesla trucks, full of money, through.
As the Thucydides Trap – an hypothesis based on ancient Athenian historian and military general Thucydides, in which he posited that the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta was inevitable because of Spartan fears of the growth of Athenian (Greek) hegemony – is set for the USA and its allies, untold resources are poured into weapons of mass destruction and distraction. By the US and China in yet another epic dick-measuring contest . . . while elders struggle to decide whether to explain to their children and grandchildren that their futures are being juggled by people who keep dropping the balls . . . or sit their progeny down to watch a re-run of Happy Feet on the family’s 105-inch home cinema.
Unless, of course, you are part of the two-thirds of humanity who are trying to scratch a living for themselves and their offspring from a desiccated, drowned, and dystopian world; for whom a home cinema might represent a lifetime of food, education, and healthcare.
* Andrew E. Hall is a former journalist, academic, and business manager and magazine editor in Indonesia, and communications adviser to the vice-chancellor of an Australian university.
Ó Andrew E. Hall 2022