Of all people, Prince Charles helped lead off the Glasgow climate summit with a warning that the planet needs to move to a “warlike footing” to save the planet—and then he, and most of the other heads of state who spoke, made clear exactly why this is going to be such a difficult process.
The Prince of Wales said that the “private sector” was ready to help, if we can “build the confidence of investors” to pour “trillions, not billions” into climate-friendly technologies. He compared the climate crisis to Covid, and talked about how “the private sector can speed up technologies.”
For the record: The research that led to the Covid vaccines was largely funded by governments, not private investors.
Then President Joe Biden said that “we will do what’s necessary” and that this is “an opportunity for all of us, and inflection point in world history.”
He talked about raising the standard of living all over the globe, to fuel “greater growth, new jobs.”
But as The New York Times noted, there were not a lot of clear proposals about how to proceed from here.
Some of this is the predictable geopolitics, but there’s a much deeper problem that so far none of the major speakers have begun to address.
Addressing climate change in any serious way is going to require massive changes in the global economy. None of the major world leaders today mentioned that anyone would have to sacrifice anything for that to happen.
But we know how this works: People are going to have to change the way they live, and it’s not going to be easy. And the people who right now will bear the heaviest costs are people who the world has no right to ask to sacrifice anything.
And that’s the political issue that is really the “inflection point” in world history.
The policy measures (such as they are) that the leaders are talking about involve things like carbon taxes, and “incentives” for rich investors and big corporations to change their business models.
All of those changes will, in the short term, hit hardest on millions of people in the US—and billions more around the globe—who are already severely traumatized by centuries of racism and 40 years of neo-liberal policies that have devastated communities in the name of enriching the few.
Biden said he might be able to get $100 billion to help developing countries shift to a carbon-neutral energy system. That’s maybe five percent of what’s needed. Maybe less. It’s also what the top five billionaires in the US made during the pandemic.
I get the idea of a carbon tax—but I also understand that a lot of people in this country right now need to drive to work (or drive as work). They are not rich; they are barely surviving. They can’t pay their rent or mortgage, and can’t send their kids to college.
And now we are going to ask them to pay more for gas at the pump.
Families that have depended for generations on the union jobs in the coal industry are going to have to give that up. The current solution: Send them back to community college to learn to install solar panels. A 50-year-old who is barely above water today isn’t going to take to that kindly.
While a handful of people who are richer than most of us can even imagine are taking joy-rides into space, the rest of us are being told to stop eating hamburgers.
And the Democrats wonder why they are losing the working class.
Nobody at Glasgow seems to want to talk about the policies that the big capitalist countries have enacted since the 1980s, and the unthinkable poverty and desperation that those policies have created in a wide range of communities.
Biden sort of admitted that Trump was wrong to pull out of the Paris Accords. He never said that Ronald Reagan and two Bushes and Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were wrong in accepting and promoting policies that destroyed middle-class America.
He never said that a country that allows Jeff Bezos to make more money in one year during a pandemic than it would cost to provide free health care to millions of scared, sick kids and seniors has done something fundamentally unacceptable.
Prince Charles—who has never had to sacrifice anything in his disgustingly charmed life— never said what he is willing to give up to save the planet. President Biden never said what he would ask the billionaires to give up to save humanity. He never said what ExxonMobil or its executives would have to pay for the damage they have done.
That’s not going to work.
The only way that society can come together to address the climate crisis is if the necessary sacrifice is fair and equitable. That means everyone who got rich off destroying the planet pays to fix it more—way, way more—than the working-class folks who can’t understand why they get evicted while William Shatner plays in a rocket ship.
Gil Scott Heron made the point a long time ago:
This era of inconceivably ostentatious wealth, beyond anything human society has ever seen, is not only a problem—it’s THE problem. It’s the reason we can’t stop climate change. It’s the real inflection point.
And until these political leaders get that, they are just going to fail. I hate to say that, but it’s true.
President Biden, Prince Charles: If you want your constituents to accept the changes that are necessary to save the planet, start at the top. Tell us what the billionaires are going to give up. Tell us how the vast wealth that has been created in the past four decades while wages have fallen and desperation has risen will be redistributed.
Them maybe the millions of people who shake their heads and wonder why you can’t make their lives better will start to listen.