Friday, January 1, 2016

In the Thick of the Extractivist Wars

35 years ago, Margaret Thatcher's election in the UK and Ronald Reagan's in the US started a campaign of domination on the part of an extremely small world-wide elite that has become accustomed to acting with complete impunity and pure self-interest.  In terms of distribution of wealth, there has been a huge backward slide in the intervening years.  At the same time, the human population explosion has been accompanied by massive exploitation of the earth's resources, much of them controlled by this same elite, to the point of seriously threatening the earth's carrying capacity. 

Individuals have been anesthetized by consumerism (George Bush asking Americans to shop more after the September 11th attacks), alienated by design (and devices; see Adam Curtis' excellent series, Century of the Self).  Societies have lost their centers and poverty and desperation abound, even in the richest countries of the world.  In the developed world, ours is the first generation to fare worse economically than our parents.  In the developing world, it is entirely unclear that the nascent middle classes are even remotely sustainable (a particularly poignant example is the choking air pollution in Beijing).

I think we have a hard time imagining what it must be like to be in the epicenter of the resource wars, the Middle East, former cradle of civilization.  It's not just the indiscriminate bombing (e.g., the U.S. feeling within its rights to bomb a Doctors without Borders hospital last November), but the drones, described as so stealthy that their victims may not even know they are there.  This must feel like an invisible predator present at all times and I can barely imagine what it must be like to live under this threat (see Jeremy Scahill's excellent work).  When I do try, my heart races and my palms start to sweat.  I don't want anyone to ever have to live under this threat of instantaneous extra-judicial execution.  Yet the government of the country where I was born carries this out almost daily.

Jared Diamond wrote the important book Collapse about 10 years ago, to illustrate where we earthlings are headed.  Just as on Easter Island or with the Incas, let's be cognizant that it will be the elite, off in their hilltop palaces with massive security forces and bunkers full of food and water, that will be the last to go. The very elite that is responsible for putting the rest of us in the position we are in now (wondering how many refugees Germany is truly inclined to shelter; wondering if/when Berlin, like Paris, will see mass murderers roaming the streets; or at least wondering how much more Pegida will continue growing). Meanwhile the clearer-eyed wager as to when the coal/oil/gas will run out and if that will be before or after the water wars begin in earnest.

I never thought of myself as a doomsayer, but I have to say the last decade has severely tried my innate optimism.  Naomi Klein had a good crack at the state of affairs in her recent book, This Changes Everything, but I don't think she captured the importance of the bellicosity of current world affairs.  Perhaps Noam Chomsky is one of the few intelligent enough to grasp and communicate how all these issues are interrelated and of utmost urgency. One may not agree with how far Chomsky goes, but he is one of the few thinkers capable of putting all the issues together, who gets any air time at all these days.

Although it may be coincidence, it is to me quite significant that Paris, less than a month after suffering brutal attacks in November, hosted yet another climate change summit where it was a fore-gone conclusion that the elites, and the nations they control, would once again fail to take decisive action to right the extreme injustice of international extractivism (Klein's term).

Though these issues may seem disparate, in reality the waves of desperate refugees from the oil-producing Middle East, the production lines of young men rabidly angry at the European elite, the destruction of priceless world heritage sites and incessant government surveillance are all symptoms of the same problem.  There is no denying it; you can call them what you want, but we are now in the thick of the climate/extractivist/resource wars, and 2015 has been a very clear manifestation of the future that no longer awaits us.  It is now upon us.

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