Although 97% of scientists agree that climate change is a real and present danger, the U.S. government has not been treating it as an emergency. Quite the opposite; our political bodies seem strangely reticent to act. Moreover, despite being a matter of facts, figures, and rising tides, there is a strong partisan divide. The canned answer is that humans are simply too short-sighted, selfish, and greedy. Yet people have mobilized before (with both citizens and companies rationing during WWII, for instance), and further, we are currently facing austerity measures in the form of cuts to many public programs, including schooling. We are already making sacrifices.
So why are we failing to act on climate change?
While Divergent is by no means a political group, understanding the world of politics surrounding climate change is important to our mission. We aim to improve the planet by making incredible products. Our technology will be implemented by those people best equipped to make positive changes.
In Naomi Klein’s book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, she unpacks some of the thornier realities underlying the environmental movement. The underlying thesis: in order to effectively battle global warming, we have to majorly restructure our current societal set-up. This would involve confronting big corporations and big money individuals, empowering disenfranchised countries and peoples, and letting the needs of the environment and local economies trump free market capitalism. In other words, when conservatives argue that the green movement’s hidden agenda is wealth distribution, they are only half wrong. According to Klein successful programs would require the privileged few to relinquish some of their power.
For those who won’t acknowledge the failures of our current laissez-fare system, there are many reasons to deny climate change. Some deniers accept that it may be getting warmer, but denigrate rash action and insist that our small emissions problem may be curbed by gradual, system-sanctioned means. Emissions restriction policies are too often rendered immediately moot by the doctrine of continual GDP growth and by the fact that corporations can easily buy their way out, game the market, or otherwise avoid penalties. Serious change is needed, Klein maintains.
Even green groups have fallen into the trap of inadvertently working to uphold the interests of corporations. While the 60s and 70s saw everything from the Clean Air Act (1963) to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (1976), Ronald Reagan’s presidency ushered in an ideological shift. Accustomed to being political insiders, activists scrambled to continue as such. As a result, coal and oil companies now sponsor the most important summits of many groups, which in turn invest their own wealth in these same players. In one particularly egregious conflict of interest, the Texas City Prairie Preserve ended up drilling for oil on its own property despite the decline and eventual die off of the bird it was trying to protect.
Siphoning off responsibility to benevolent billionaires and scientists developing high tech fixes is also no good. Just as no corporation wants to limit its business, no billionaire wants to lose money. Meanwhile, high tech fixes are extremely high risk. For instance, an initiative to block out the sun by simulating the activity of a volcano would interrupt the Asian and African summer monsoons. The resulting draughts would effect billions of people. The winner? Wealthy westerners who could buy their way out of any problems.
Luckily not all hope is lost. While top-down environmentalism is floundering, grassroots movements are gaining traction. “Blockadias” or areas involved in direct resistance are cropping up everywhere from Greece to Inner Mongolia. Typically, response from governments and corporations in such cases is brutal. For instance, the Nigerian government reacted to protests by torturing residents and razing villages; in one instance soldiers conducted lethal raids using a helicopter taken from a Chevron operation. However, the number and effectiveness of protests is growing as citizens gain knowledge and corporations are forced to expand their reach to include places with more political power.
While many local protestors may not have much political experience, the feel connected to their land and often view it as essential to their way of life. Meanwhile, a coalfield worker Klein interviewed said he trained himself to think of the Powder River Basin as “another planet” that he could raid without consequence. Coalitions of rights-rich-but-cash-poor people are teaming up with (relatively) cash-rich-but-rights-poor people to effect change. Aboriginals are finding help from the green movement; treaties against land contamination are now being upheld more regularly. Despite minimal government assistance, local people are winning victories.
Klein presents her arguments in a compelling way, peppering hard facts with personal anecdotes. Her descriptions of the plight of ordinary people faced with climate change are at turns heartbreaking and inspiring. Divergent believes that its technology can contribute to this local, personal green movement, leading to a more even playing field for anyone concerned about their land and their way of life.