In case anyone hasn’t noticed, the Philippines was just hit by a monster storm that killed more than 1000 people. It’s likely that this is going to be the third year in a row that the Philippines experiences a new record-setting disaster, and this is also probably the fourth biggest storm on record anywhere in the world. Of course, others have noted that certain infamous denialists are trying to pretend that this is just a normal storm, but only idiots would believe such crap. The world has changed. In this same year Australia has had record bushfires occurring earlier than ever before; Japan has suffered at least two moretsu (extremely violent) typhoons, one of which was generally described as “never previously recorded”; Japan’s summer was excessively intense; Japan’s cherry blossom viewing season was delayed by heat; and the Southern hemisphere had the hottest year on record. Britain also had its second strongest storm in 100 years, and Somalia experienced its worst ever cyclone simultaneously with typhoon Haiyan. Natural disasters from storms, flood and fire are coming thick and fast, and every year sees a new record in at least one and often more than one of these dimensions. It’s time to recognize that we aren’t in Kansas anymore.
Scientists, of course, want to proceed steadily without jumping ahead of the evidence. For example, the current thinking in science is that the arctic won’t be ice free for a long time (probably not till 2050, I think) because that is what the theory and models tell us; but the evidence is pointing at 2020 by the latest, and the consequences of extreme arctic melt (such as occurred in 2012) for North Atlantic countries are serious. This year Britain had to import wheat for the first time (Kelloggs stopped producing Shredded Wheat!) because of rain-related crop failures. Hurricane Sandy’s extreme damage was directly related to the arctic ice melt – everyone knows it, but science isn’t able to prove it, so we have to just pretend that yet another extreme weather event was just random variation. Yet nothing about what happened in Sandy or Haiyan matches our understanding of normality – I am quite familiar with tsunami damage and the pictures I am seeing on TV of the wake of Haiyan look to me exactly like the northeast coast of Japan. No typhoon has done that in the last 30 years, and our instincts tell us this. We need to recognize this: the climate has jumped the shark, and science isn’t keeping up.
On the other side of the coin, economists and political scientists are used to the measured rhetoric of equilibrium, and they don’t have a language or a culture that is able to accept what is happening, because what is happening is disequilibrium. Economists are still labouring under the impression that the changes that are coming – and the changes that are happening now – can be expressed in percentages of GDP and the cold calculus that applies to growth in ordinary times. They can’t. Today 8 people died in a riot at a rice factory, because the destruction in the central Philippines is so complete that millions of people are going without food, and desperation is their watchword. The calculus of mainstream economics is not geared up for looting, for the destruction of cities, for life on the edge. And that is where increasingly people are being driven. Economics hasn’t come to terms with the concept of ecosystem services – it’s too far outside the selfish, consumerist culture of economics to make sense – but this is where we’re at. Our ecosystem has turned against us. Which means we’re fucked. Does George Mason University’s economics faculty have a department of We’re Fucked? No, which is why they’re still churning out plagiarized shit about how climate change is all wrong and stuff. Economists still think this is a problem that can be dealt with using the numerical analysis of small changes: Nicholas Stern on the one hand with his arcane trade-offs and debates about discount rates, and the Lomborg’s of the world on the other hand with their ideas about balancing the future costs of adaptation with the current costs of mitigation, and angels dancing on the heads of pins that are buried in the debris of Leyte Island.
No, we’ve entered a new era: the Anthropocene. The era of We’re Fucked. We need to develop a new politics, a politics of Getting Unfucked, and we need it now, not 10 years from now when the baby boomers have finally chuffed off to the next plane and stopped complaining about ineffectual carbon taxes. We need to get desperate, and we need to do it now.
This is going to mean some radical changes. For starters, and most importantly, every developed nation needs to ban coal. Set a deadline: five years from now, anyone who owns a coal-fired power station is done for. Get rid of them. And while we’re at it the main providers of coal need to stop. Australia needs to declare: we ain’t selling no more, 2018 is it. Sorry kids, but your dope dealer is planning to retire. Canada needs to do the same. And this decision shouldn’t be enforced with pathetic halfway measures like taxes. We need to ban that shit, before the planet decides to ban us. What’s going on in Germany – closing nuclear plants and falling back on coal and gas – is absolutely criminal. Let’s not beat around the bush about this. Anyone in Germany who supports this kind of ecocide should get on a plane right now, fuck off to Tacloban, get on their knees in the salty dirt and say “I’m sorry, but your family died because I’m stupid.” There is nowhere on this earth where coal is a good idea, but a country with power and choices like Germany is absolutely behaving like an international criminal in choosing to go back to this poison. Anyone who supports such a move should be ashamed of themselves. Ten years from now people with such views will be being locked up, mark my words.
We also need to give up on the idea that solar and wind are our short-term saviours. Long-term, yes, they are the siznich. But right now, we have a grid that is developed for baseload generators in centralized locations, and we need to recognize that. So we need to go nuclear. It’s the simple, clean, safe alternative to coal. Every country with a major energy economy needs to shift to a world war 2 style war economy of energy, and replace its existing plants with nuclear. Don’t fuck around with new technologies, because we’re heading into a disaster zone. We have perfectly good nuclear plant designs now, so let’s get them up and running. With robust oversight and good monitoring agencies they’ll be fine. Sure, there’ll be accidents, but the reality is that nuclear power is not that dangerous. It kills a crap-ton less people than coal and it’s easy to live in areas with nuclear fallout. It’s not so easy to live in areas that are too hot to grow food, too stormy to build, or too flooded to stay. And – sorry, country folks – if you build nuclear plants in the country, the accidents really don’t affect many people.
Some people say that nuclear is too expensive, it needs heavy subsidies, but who cares? Home owners in Australia get $35 billion a year in state subsidies, and no one would dare interfere in such a sacrosanct subsidy. Why not give another 35 billion to an industry that might save us from destruction? Why quibble? And if you’re going to quibble about the cost of nuclear, then fuck, let’s make this clear: remove all state subsidies to all industries, and let them fight each other to the death. Don’t want to do that? Then stop pretending the electricity market is free of distortions, stop pretending it’s somehow above politics, and above all stop pretending it’s not going to destroy us all if we don’t interfere.
Since the Kyoto protocol was first signed in nineteen fucking whatever, people – well, economists anyway – have been trying to pretend that we can solve the global warming problem through market mechanisms. Well here we are 20 years later, and fate’s duck is crapping on our eiderdown. We don’t have a functioning market mechanism that will prevent diddly squat, and we have ascended beyond diddly squat to epic storms that wipe out cities, fires that threaten whole communities, homicidal heat and wholesale changes to the way we live. It’s time to recognize that the market has had its chance, and every oily fucker, grafter and spiv who had any chance to get in the way has spoilt the opportunity. So let’s drop the pretense and get serious. We need to move to legislative and political solutions to the most serious environmental problem the world has ever faced. Scientists and economists need to take a back seat to eco-fascists and hard-arsed decision makers. Ban coal, bring on the nukes, and let’s fix this problem the old-fashioned way – through the cold, hard application of power.