Will The Rich Escape Climate Apocalypse?

| Educate!

Above Photo: Richard Branson, the billionaire owner of Virgin Atlantic airlines has funded a $25 million program to suck greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere, a method not proved to yield substantial results in hitting zero-carbon targets. The aviation industry contributes to 2 percent of global emissions.  REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

The billionaire class are preparing for doomsday. Only problem is, the rest of us aren’t invited. Tom Whyman explains.

Each day, it seems, a new headline in a newspaper or social media feed makes clear just how close we are to environmental destruction. And yet politics seems eternally consumed by the same old nonsense, governments whining about migrants or penny-pinching over austerity. Where is the political response to climate change?

The disturbing truth is that it’s already here. With the effects of climate change already beginning to devastate the Global South, Western governments are militarizing their borders against anticipated refugees. The investigative journalist Christian Parenti calls this response ‘the politics of the armed lifeboat’. If you’re not already on it, you’re in line to get shot.

Seen from this perspective, rightwing populist movements like Brexit, as well as Trump’s whole ‘build the wall’ thing, can be considered as nascent climate-change policy responses, or perhaps just indicators of what’s to come. As ever, I suppose, Western governments are willing to sacrifice the rest of the world in order to keep their own citizens relatively content.

But even people callous enough to support the Right in these various ‘security measures’ would be well advised not to allow themselves to get too complacent. In time, the tide will turn on most of us sailing inside the armed lifeboat as well. And I don’t just mean because the weather’s going to get even less predictable.

The selfish interests of the rich already diverge from those of the poor. Last year’s record-breaking wildfires in California were fought, in part, by private firefighters hired by insurance companies to protect only the houses of those able to afford their services. While everything else burns around them, the estates of wealthy homeowners are sprayed with flame retardant and surrounded by fire-breaking trenches.

In Miami, rising sealevels are driving gentrification, with richer residents buying houses in traditionally poorer areas that sit on higher ground; those they displace are often forced to seek affordable housing in areas where flooding is more common. By this logic, as Miami is gradually claimed by the sea, the poor will be the first to drown.

When it comes to the super-rich, things get even more extreme. Tech billionaires like Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel have already bought property in New Zealand/Aotearoa, which is perceived as a safe haven. Last year, the country passed a law banning most foreigners from buying homes there – but billionaires needn’t worry too much about that, as Thiel’s former Paypal colleague Elon Musk has plans to colonize Mars. For those who can’t make it into space, Silicon Valley speculators like Sam Altman and Google’s Ray Kurzweil are preparing to upload their minds to supercomputers and live forever in ‘the cloud’.

Some of these responses might seem ridiculous, the result of boys who read too many sci-fi books managing to luck their way into far too much money as men. But, crucially, they offer these billionaires the promise – whether futile or otherwise – that they might be able to ride out the apocalypse without doing the thing that would most benefit us all: mitigating or reversing the effects of anthropogenic climate change. The tech writer Douglas Rushkoff tells stories of super-wealthy men asking him how plausible it would be to use special disciplinary collars in order to maintain the loyalty of a private army in the event of environmental collapse. I, for one, can’t wait to be drafted.

The actions of rich preppers are a reminder that climate change is class war. The super-rich will let the rest of us burn because it simply isn’t in their interests to curb their excess. It has become starkly apparent that billionaires are a luxury no society can afford. We owe it to ourselves as a species to requisition Peter Thiel’s property in New Zealand and prepare a wave of cyber-attacks against Ray Kurzweil’s mind. That would be the political response to climate change we all need.

  • mwildfire

    Of course, none of these schemes will actually work. The downloaded mind, even if this were possible, would be vulnerable to what people with bodies do to maintain them–or don’t do. The notion that it would be possible to terraform Mars into a livable place, when they can’t manage to maintain the viability of a planet with perfect distance from the sun, plentiful water, ozone layer, atmosphere appropriate to life and ecosystems in which we’ve evolved is so absurd I have to question the intelligence of anyone who thinks this is the answer. New Zealand is more viable except that the kiwis are liable to be hostile to American billionaires in their midst who created the problems to get rich, then tried to hole up in New Zealand, appropriating resources and labor there to maintain their lifestyles–they’ve already slammed the door on land purchase by foreigners. But as long as these wealthy idiots dream that they have this escape hatch, they aren’t motivated to work with the rest of us on real solutions. I think part of the problem is that many are technophilic androtheists–they just don’t want to hear about any solutions that involve cross-class cooperation or lower levels of tech. “Read too much science fiction as boys” hits it on the head.

  • il corvo

    and if all else fails someone like Obama will bail them out with our tax dollars.

  • jwreitter

    If banning fossil fuels and animal ag does not work, carbon sequestration and geoengineering may be the only solutions left to heal a broken “earth system”.
    A sulfur veil or parasol solution needs much more research, before it is too late. When the heat becomes unbearable, as it already has in large parts of the planet, we will be desperate to try anything to cool the earth and make it more habitable. Tipping points of no return are already being passed and the warming process may already be irreversible. Cascading feedback loops are accelerating the heating of our planet more than any time in history. To stop the onslaught of catastrophic climate disasters we must use every possible means in our “tool kit” to limit greenhouse gasses and shade the earth from the glaring sun. (Removing carbon from the air is just one possible tool). Otherwise the planet could eventually become another Venus. The earth could become toast. This is not a conspiracy theory.

  • Jon

    Can anyone remember when anything like 150 tornadoes in a week have been reported? use to be one here one there. Missiles can’t defend against a tornado!

  • VancouverDoug42

    Nicely put. Especially ‘technophilic androtheists’. I’m stealing that to replace my nearly worn out ‘technoutopian’.

    And I’m perpetually both stunned and amused at the techno-millionaire and billionaire’s belief that their wealth and power will somehow ameleorate climate change. As a species we crossed the line of no return in the 1950s. This was the inflection point on CO2 and population graphs. After that, thanks to neloliberalism and the fetishization of obscene wealth, the elites have used their wealth to accelerate the leming-like race to the cliff. I honestly think they look upon catastrophic climate change as a way to cull the human ‘herd’ and that their near infinite wealth, along with yet-to-be-even-invented adaptation technology will make them overlords over the surviving half a billion. It’s irony that never gets old. They will be the first to be eaten.

  • mwildfire

    No but your solution is just as dangerous as climate change. Read Clive Hamilton’s Earthmasters or just check out the ETC group’s section on geoengineering for a discussion of the pitfalls. To vastly summarize: all geoengineering schemes run the risk of reducing pressure for the one thing we need to do yesterday, cutting GHG emissions; schemes of the radiation management variety, like your sulfur veil or parasols, have the enormous drawback that they don’t actually reduce the level of GHG in the atmosphere so as soon as you stop doing whatever blocks the sunlight, the temperature shoots up to whatever it would have been if you’d never done it, creating an even more drastic, sudden rise in temperature, even more impossible for species to adapt to. Blocking sunlight will reduce the effectiveness of both photovoltaics and photosynthesis. Many approaches also change rainfall patterns, and ANY such change, or even the suspicion that changes result from geoengineering, will exacerbate conflicts as someone benefits and someone loses (e.g. Pakistanis accusing India of “stealing our rain”). Iron in the oceans was tried on a small scale and didn’t work. Sequestration is the only sensible approach, and only via natural means as machines to suck CO2 (at 415 parts per billion) out of the air are bound to be ridiculously expensive including in energy terms; attaching them to fossil fuel plants would be more efficient but it reduces the efficiency of the plant so you need 30% MORE coal, or presumably gas for the same energy. Changing agricultural practices to sequester carbon is a win/win/win as it enhances soil fertility and food value while reducing CO2, but I’m skeptical it can solve the whole problem. Actually–we have to finally accept LIMITS!

  • mwildfire

    No they won’t. Their wealth will protect them for awhile. But not forever, and their kids will have no protection. Actually, I think it’s their kids who will lead the mobs to their parents’ bunkers. Since they’ll probably make the mistake of letting their kids know the locations and access codes. But I think you’re right that they speak, when they’re sure they’re among their own kind exclusively, about how the hordes of unwashed, ignorant masses are like cockroaches sucking up resources and something will have to be done. But what? My theory is that their ideal solution is a germ that wipes out at least half of people, doesn’t affect other species, and has a 100% guaranteed vaccine or antidote to protect their own precious asses. And they’d have implemented this solution before this, but efforts to ethnically tailor the bug have failed, and their scientists can’t get the antidote to 100%. Of course, this IS a conspiracy theory…maybe they just figure they can keep doing nothing, collapse is coming soon and the culling will happen naturally while they wait it out in their enclaves…

  • sabelmouse

    given how vaccines [do NOT] work there’s hope 😉

  • sabelmouse

    animal ag done right is carbon sequestration!