Via Dolorosa

Corruption and short-termism are pushing us along the path of sorrows.

by George Monbiot

The records go back 800,000 years: that’s the age of the oldest fossil air bubbles extracted from Dome C, an ice-bound summit in the high Antarctic. And throughout that time there has been nothing like this. At no point in the pre-industrial record have concentrations of carbon dioxide in the air risen above 300 parts per million. 400 is a figure that belongs to a different era.

The difference between 399 and 400ppm is small, in terms of its impacts on the world’s living systems. But this is a moment of symbolic significance, a station on the Via Dolorosa of environmental destruction. It is symbolic of our collective failure to put the long term prospects of the natural world and the people it supports above immediate self-interest.

The only way forward now is back: to retrace our steps along this road and to seek to return atmospheric concentrations to around 350 parts per million, as the campaign demands. That requires, above all, that we leave the majority of the fossil fuels which have already been identified in the ground. There is not a government or an energy company which has yet agreed to do so.

Just before the 400-mark was reached, Shell announced that it will go ahead with its plans to drill deeper than any offshore oil operation has gone before: almost three kilometres below the Gulf of Mexico.

A few hours later, Oxford University opened a new laboratory in its department of earth sciences. The lab is funded by Shell. Oxford says that the partnership “is designed to support more effective development of natural resources to meet fast-growing global demand for energy.” Which translates as finding and extracting even more fossil fuel.

The European Emissions Trading Scheme, which was supposed to have capped our consumption, is now, for practical purposes, dead. International climate talks have stalled; governments such as ours now seem quietly to be unpicking their domestic commitments. Practical measures to prevent the growth of global emissions are, by comparison to the scale of the challenge, almost non-existent.

The problem is simply stated: the power of the fossil fuel companies is too great. Among those who seek and obtain high office are people characterised by a complete absence of empathy or scruples, who will take money or instructions from any corporation or billionaire who offers them, and then defend those interests against the current and future prospects of humanity. This new mark reflects a profound failure of politics, worldwide, in which democracy has quietly been supplanted by plutocracy. Without a widespread reform of campaign finance, lobbying and influence-peddling and the systematic corruption they promote, our chances of preventing climate breakdown are close to zero.

So here we stand at a waystation along the road of idiocy, apparently determined only to complete our journey.

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5 thoughts on “Via Dolorosa

  1. Bla bla bla you need to send this link to china/ all relevant corporations
    who are doing diddly squat for the health of our planet.
    so us small people can keep growing our own food and looking after our patch
    like we always have done.
    sorry but im fed up of these links about rubbish science, it distracts me from looking after my bit of land like i always have.
    still if there was solid unquestionable science that this is a bad thing or not depending what your philosophy is. the people who could change emissions won’t.
    im off to my garden bla…..

  2. ^ Good for you and your garden, Knighter.

    Understanding the science is obviously important to people (who aren’t working in their gardens) trying to understand the source of climate change as well as the corruption that drives the fossil fuel industry. I appreciate the range of topics covered.

  3. The problem of excessive carbon emissions does not derive from the inaction of fossil fuel companies to address the problem they begot (as this article suggests); rather, the issue originates from people who consume fossil fuels. Demand fuels supply, after all.

    “A widespread reform of campaign finance, lobbying and influence-peddling” will not solve anything. To solve the problem at the source, fossil fuel consumers must complete three actions. First, they must recognize that excessive carbon emissions is a problem. Second, they must acquire motivation to decrease carbon emissions. Third, they must have the resources necessary to accomplish the task of lowering carbon emissions.

  4. Sam, it’s not simply consumers that choose to use fossil fuels – it’s corporations, infrastructure, industry, etc. That rely on it because it is profitable and what else is there? As a Capitalist society, we can’t stop growing, producing and consuming… economy would tank. So it’s not merely individuals, but the system as a whole relies on fossil fuels. This is why the ‘Fossil Fuel Divestment’ movement that’s currently playing out is very important – it focuses on institutions (colleges, etc) and where their money goes.

  5. The true question is how many of us has what it takes to stare into the abyss of reality without having it crush our spirit or drive one mad. We all are guilty of padding our sense of reality in order to see ourselves as “good”. I am finding now that the only thing keeping me sane is the preparation for future generations to thrive. I think it is the only solution and since I have taken this stance I no longer feel want or desire for consumer goods or notoriety for my accomplishments there is only a growing drive to heal the land within me now.
    It is time for us to listen to our heart when it weeps for the land and do what is good for future generations.

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