The Final Solution To The Climate Question? The ordinary citizen labours under the huge disadvantage of an inadequate imagination. Against those who are able to envisage the most appalling behaviour; conceive the most heinous crimes; the ordinary person stands defenceless. Small lies, told in little matters, are no match for the gross impudence of those who possess the Devil’s imagination.
THE ONLY TRULY outstanding insights the Nazis ever shared with the world were those pertaining to propaganda. The most memorable of these was Adolf Hitler’s explanation of “The Big Lie”.
“[I]n the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily, and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters, but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously … the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down.”
“It would never come into their heads”. The ordinary citizen labours under the huge disadvantage of an inadequate imagination. Against those who are able to envisage the most appalling behaviour; conceive the most heinous crimes; the ordinary person stands defenceless. Small lies, told in little matters, are no match for the gross impudence of those who possess the Devil’s imagination.
Consider the behaviour of the tobacco industry. It discovers that medical science has identified a causal link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. Their product, if used as demonstrated in countless movies and television advertisements, has the capacity to kill the people who purchase it. What to do? The ordinary citizen would, naturally, expect the industry to either shut itself down voluntarily, or, be shut down by the regulatory authorities. After all, retailing a poison to unsuspecting customers is self-evidently immoral.
What the ordinary citizen failed to account for, however, was the Devil’s imagination. With billions of dollars at stake, the tobacco industry devised an extraordinarily effective defensive strategy. The evidence linking cigarette-smoking with lung cancer was, they insisted, contested. The science wasn’t settled. More research was necessary. To outlaw smoking – a perfectly legal personal habit – would be a gross over-reaction.
Decades later, the smoking of cigarettes is still perfectly legal. Governments have found the courage to warn smokers of the dangers, but nowhere has there been a government brave enough to ban tobacco-smoking outright.
So successful was the tobacco industry’s self-preservation strategy that the fossil fuel industries copied it. As the scientific community’s warnings about anthropogenic global warming grew in volume, the global suppliers of coal, oil and natural gas argued strenuously that the evidence was contested. The science wasn’t settled. More research was required.
The crisis confronting Big Coal, Big Oil and Big Natural Gas was, however, much more serious than the one which confronted Big Tobacco. Historically-speaking, capitalism and the burning of fossil fuels are joined at the hip. Curtail one and you curtail the other. Any effective strategy for dealing with global warming could not help but reduce the power and reach of the capitalist system. But, as Vice-President Dick Cheney so succinctly put it: “The American way of life [by which he meant the global capitalist system] is not negotiable.” It was, once again, time to summon up the Devil’s imagination.
Hence the Fossil Fuel Industry-inspired “Big Lies” that anthropogenic global warming is either a scientific “hoax” or a “left-wing plot” to bring down the capitalist system. Earth’s climate is always changing, they argue. Long before human-beings made their appearance, the planet was, by turns, boiling hot and freezing cold. If, and the word “if” is emphasised, the planet is going through another warming period, then 1) it’s not our fault; and 2) there’s nothing we can do about it except adapt the best way we can. After all, with just a tiny fraction of the technology they now possess, human-beings made it through the Ice Age!
Which is all very well, as far as it goes, but not even Big Coal, Big Oil and Big Natural Gas are stupid enough to believe their own propaganda. Indeed, their own scientists were among the first to realise the danger which industrialisation’s vastly increased emissions of carbon-dioxide posed to the planet. Their Big Lies have bought them some time – but that’s all.
Besides, the rest of the capitalist system’s major players aren’t as easily gulled as the broad masses who voted for Donald Trump. The Devil’s imagination will have to come up with something much more effective than simply “muddling through”.
And it would need to be a little more sophisticated than simply buying up land in New Zealand. The consequences of runaway climate change promise to go well beyond the capacity of the “One Percent” to manipulate and manage. From the multiple crises unleashed by global warming there is simply no way that the safety and survival of the global ruling-class can be assured – not on a planet overburdened with nine billion increasingly desperate human-beings. It might take them a while, but eventually enough of the living dead will make to the front gate of Peter Thiel’s bunker.
Unless, of course, 90 percent of those human-beings could be made to disappear. What would it take? Just one billionaire and one brilliant bio-chemist who believes with all his heart that the planet’s survival depends upon a sudden and decisive crash in the human population. The attraction, from the billionaire’s perspective, being that he gets to decide who will perish in the world-wide viral pandemic his mad scientist has cooked-up – and who will be given the vaccine.
If such a terrible final solution to the climate question has never come into your head, then it is only because, to your credit, you lack the Devil’s imagination.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 2 October 2018.