The Greek Is Writing Again

We adore and venerate the ancient  Greeks; Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, but modern Greeks are too often pains in the ass.

So it is with history, every great philosopher, politician, scientist, or innovator was a huge pain to the elite of their time because they were creative destructors.

Which is a bit of a long-way-round to introducing Yanis Varoufakis, my favorite Greek destructor du jour and co-founder of DiEM25 (Democracy in Europe Movement). He has no doubt been busy writing and speaking, but somehow disappeared from my personal political horizon.

Yanis’ opinion on Cop26 caught my eye

In a Guardian piece, he posits that “Cop26 is doomed, and the hollow promise of ‘net zero’ is to blame.” We share that feeling of doom, but his reasons are more precise than mine and well worth the time spent reading. Net Zero is a feel-good term and, like most warm blankets in winter, is both cuddly-warm and hides the body it cuddles.

According to Yanis, “Net zero is popular among polluters for good reason – it’s toothless compared to emissions restrictions and a carbon tax.”

Well, what would one expect, when the politicians gathered in Scotland are uniformly paid-off by coal, oil, gas and fracking interests? They aren’t about to shoot their golden goose and there’s just too much heavy-lifting for tired old politicians. No matter the growing floods, wildfires, hurricanes, loss of arable land and cities choking on automobile and industrial pollution—the end-game won’t be played in their lifetimes. Besides, the poor nations are always clamoring for the rich nations to save their ass.

Damn the poor, they’re either constantly begging or sleeping in doorways and making us step over them. Meet me in the bar for a scotch-and-soda and we’ll see if some hookers can be arranged.

Where will the money come from?

Ask Mark Carney. According to Yanis’s article,

Make no mistake, the money is here, if the world wants to use it,” said Mark Carney, the former Bank of England governor who today serves as UN climate envoy, while also representing an alliance of financiers sitting on a pile of $130tn worth of assets. So, what does the world want? If only humanity had the power to organize a global poll based on one-human-one-vote, such a species-wide referendum would undoubtedly deliver a clear answer: “Do whatever it takes to stop emitting carbon now!” Instead, we have a decision-making process culminating in the colossal fiasco currently unfolding in Glasgow.

Lots of reasons, but these three guarantee failure

The first reason Yanis discloses is,

a planet-wide collective action problem over “free-riding”. Large businesses, as well as states, take a leaf out of St Augustine’s prayer, “Lord please make me chaste but not just yet”. Everyone prefers a planet on which no one emits carbon to a planet that sizzles. But everyone also prefers to delay paying the cost of transition if they can get away with it.

I love the St. Augustine quote and will use it elsewhere but “if they can get away with it” is only true if you plan to die comfortably on your yacht in the next decade or so. Kurt Vonnegut claimed, “our big brain is killing us” and never has that been so true as now. A beaver has more environmental foresight than the whole of Western climate sensibility.

Second reason is a global coordination failure. In one sense, Carney is correct: mountain ranges of cash are lying idly in the global financial system, its ultra-wealthy owners keen to invest it in low-carbon activities. But a private investment in, say, green hydrogen will only return profits if many other investors invest in it too – and so the investors all sit around waiting for each other to be the first. Meanwhile, corporations, communities and states join this waiting game, unwilling to take the risk of committing to green hydrogen until big finance does. Tragically, there is no global coordinator to match the available money, technologies and needs.

The risk of committing, eh? All the risk is in not committing. Paraphrasing a poem of mine: “The ruin of the planet is like bankruptcy. All of the agony is in the preparation.”

It’s arguably too late even now. Humanity may survive, eluding the reality of becoming just another failed species. But the planet will never be the same as those of us raised in a mid-20th century world remember.

The third reason is simply: capitalism. It has always gained pace through the incessant commodification of everything, beginning with land, labor, and technology before spreading to genetically modified organisms, and even a woman’s womb or an asteroid. As capitalism’s realm spread, price-less goods turned into pricey commodities. The owners of the machinery and the land necessary for the commodification of goods profited, while everyone else progressed from the wretchedness of the 19th century working class to the soothing fantasies of mindless petit-bourgeois consumerism.

Need I point to the relentless attention anyone under thirty devotes to their cell phones, reassuring themselves that they are relevant, too frightened to miss the next text message?

What needs to be done?

According to Yanis, two things at the very least.

First, a complete shutdown of coalmines and new oil and gas rigs. If governments can lock us down to save lives during a pandemic, they can shut down the fossil fuel industry to save humanity. Second, we need a global carbon tax, to increase the relative price of everything that releases more carbon, and from which all proceeds should be returned to the poorer members of our species.

Okay Yanis, but you better tie that to simultaneous and vast expenditures on renewables. We will still occupy a world that runs on gasoline and oil during a transitional period.

To earn a shot at rising to the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced, we must first confront both the funders and the owners of the fossil fuel industries. Though this clash will not guarantee our future, it is a necessary condition for us to have one.

That’s a brave flag to march behind, Yanis and I’m willing to pick up my drum-sticks and tassel hat. But we’ll have to drag a lot of eyeballs back from social media, because personal relevance means more to voters today than the end of the world as we know it.

Sad to say that, but I just looked out the window and it’s a lovely morning. Sun shining, no cars floating down the street. What’s the big worry?


Image Credit: Neos Kosmos

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