“I can’t understand how life goes on the way it does… Don’t they know it’s the end of the world?”
As I was collecting my sources for this column, seeing devastating hurricanes wreck Puerto Rico, Cuba and Florida, massive flooding destroy Pakistan and terrible typhoons upend Vietnam, I thought of Skeeter Davis's song “The End of the World.” How strange it is to fret over next week’s exams when millions of people are being displaced, or worse, because of extreme weather.
Call me an alarmist if you like – I am alarmed. Now is the time to be alarmed. But while it may feel like the world is ending, it would be incorrect to declare a climate change apocalypse is upon us. That would imply nothing can be done.
Before discussing what to do about climate change, it is first necessary to determine how climate change is happening, who is responsible and what effect climate change is having upon the world.
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According to the United Nations, climate change “refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns.” The overwhelming scientific consensus sees human activity since the Industrial Revolution as the main driver of climate change, primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels.
That final point is crucial. Individual actions like recycling or using reusable water bottles aren’t going to cut it when faced with climate catastrophe. The scientific fact is the climate is changing and climate change is a systemic issue.
A 2017 CDP report found that 71% of all greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 can be traced to just 100 fossil fuel producers. You should definitely recycle your Coke cans. But don’t get any illusions about saving the planet through your own individual actions, not when you’re up against Shell and Chevron.
So, the climate is changing, and the fossil fuel companies are largely responsible – what does this have to do with hurricanes, typhoons and monsoons?
Because of climate change, air temperatures have risen. Because of rising air temperatures, air can hold more moisture. This has the seemingly paradoxical effect of climate change causing longer and more severe droughts around the world, and at the same time producing intensified rainstorms.
Human-generated climate change is real, mainly perpetuated by fossil fuel companies and has devastating effects for people across the globe. We know this now. ExxonMobil knew about this in 1977.
Long before climate change became a public issue, the company formerly called Exxon employed top scientists to study how carbon emissions were affecting the planet. Upon learning the truth about what their business was doing to the planet, what did they do? They spent the next several decades trying to cover it up and sow doubt about climate science. Naturally!
[Related: IU is researching ways to make the university carbon neutral, curb greenhouse gas emissions]
“Après moi le déluge! is the watchword of every capitalist and of every capitalist nation,” Karl Marx wrote in 1867. “Hence Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the laborer, unless under compulsion from society.”
For those like myself who don’t speak French, that quote begins with “After me, the flood.” The capitalist is not worried about the health of their fellow man, or the damage they do to the planet. That is a future problem. The worst of climate change, after all, is still to come.
Formulated in this quote from Marx’s “Capital” is the problem and solution to the climate crisis. The endless greed of the capitalists, and the exorbitant profits from fossil fuels, is the problem. “Compulsion from society” is the solution.
The fossil fuel industries must be taken out of private hands. Nationalization and the phasing out of fossil fuel production is the answer. In government hands, fossil fuel production levels and prices can be planned according to public needs while we transition to cleaner energy production. It is profitable in the short term to destroy the planet – nationalization can eliminate this motive.
It has become increasingly clear: we must choose people over profits, and the Earth over capitalism.
Jared Quigg (he/him) is a junior studying journalism and political science.