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The New Dark Age

By Evaggelos Vallianatos - posted Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Brave New Planet

On Thursday evening, October 27, Bill Mckibben gave a speech to more than 2,000 students and non-students at Pomona College. McKibben, best-selling environmentalist, is the Steve Jobs of "climate change." He even looks like Steve Jobs. Tall and thin in his blue jeans, he gives the impression of confidence and know-how.

He speaks eloquently about a "climate-disrupted world." He is cautious on matters of corporate power. Yet in the crisis of a warmer earth, he is straightforward. The petroleum and coal companies did it; the US is responsible for 40 per cent of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. He invents strategies for spreading the news that business as usual is raising the planet's temperature.


McKibben spoke warmly about the bountiful gardens of Bangladesh, how much he admired the climate adaptability of the Bangladeshis. Yet the people of Bangladesh, at no fault of their own, will pay the ultimate price for the "right" of industrialized countries to fossil fuels. The rising waters of the polluters will wash Bangladesh away.

McKibben then turned to the Canadian Keystone XL pipeline, scheduled to carry tar sands oil over the United States to the Gulf of Mexico. He rightly attacked such an insidious scheme because it guarantees a steady and deadly rise of the amounts of carbon in the atmosphere. The very idea of such a pipeline makes mockery of caring for the earth and human survival.

After all, we know that the burning of petroleum, coal, and natural gas is primarily responsible for global warming. We also know that temperature and life have always been in a balance. Change the temperature, as we are doing, and life enters an unknown though risky zone. The heat trapping molecules of burned petroleum, coal and natural gas, for example, will be doing their dirty work for a millennium.

So given such a picture of danger, why are most states apathetic? Why has the United States been fighting petroleum wars? Has the US government given up on science, public health and the protection of nature or has it become a subsidiary of behemoths like Exxon Mobil and BP?

The answer, of course, comes from the theatre of the Canadian pipeline where the State Department colluded with the owners of the pipeline. Thus the Obama administration, no less than the pro-petroleum George W. Bush administration, is defending the burning of petroleum. In other words, the Obama administration is risking life on earth for the ephemeral profits of the petroleum establishment.

These unspoken thoughts probably explain why McKibben insisted we call our senators - hoping that Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein could probably embarrass Obama to, at least, delay his approval of the pipeline until after the 2012 election. Obama did just that.


Hymning the earth

Meanwhile, at Claremont, during the next two days, October 28 and 29, a lively debate took place in the town's large Presbyterian church. This time hardly any students showed up, their colleges mired in corporate profits and unwilling to wake up the students from a deep sleep.

The crowd was made up of men and women over 50 years old. These men and women call themselves "Progressive Christians Uniting." They started the conference with cheerful music. What I found almost ground breaking about their attitudes and motivations was the ecological lyrics of their music, hymning our suffering and life-giving earth. Biblical passages did intrude into the music and speeches but, in general, they were like afterthoughts in an all-round prayer to the earth.

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About the Author

Evaggelos Vallianatos is the author of several books, including Poison Spring (Bloomsbury Press, 2014).

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