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Dave Lindorff
Published: Thursday 29 November 2012
It seems insane that this nation’s leaders, corporate and political, would even now still be deliberately refusing to take action to protect the Earth, which of course they and their children and grandchildren will also have to live on, and yet almost to a one they are on the side of the deniers or the delayers.

Thinking the Unthinkable: What if America’s Leaders Actually Want Catastrophic Climate Change?

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What if the leaders of the United States -- and by leaders I mean the generals in the Pentagon, the corporate executives of the country’s largest enterprises, and the top officials in government -- have secretly concluded that while world-wide climate change is indeed going to be catastrophic, the US, or more broadly speaking, North America, is fortuitously situated to come out on top in the resulting global struggle for survival?

I’m not by nature a conspiracy theorist, but this horrifying thought came to me yesterday as I batted away yet another round of ignorant rants from people who insist against all logic that climate change is a gigantic fraud being perpetrated, variously, by a conspiracy of the oil companies who allegedly want to benefit from carbon credit trading, the scientific community, which allegedly is collectively selling out and participating in some world-wide system of omerta in order to get grants, or the world socialist conspiracy, which of course, is trying to destroy capitalism), or all the above. (God, whenever I write anything on climate change these people hit me with flame-mail like mayflies spattering a car windshield in mating season!)

What prompted me to this dark speculation about an American conspiracy of inaction was the seemingly incomprehensible failure of the US -- in the face of overwhelming evidence that the Earth is heating up at an accelerating rate, and that we are in danger of soon reaching a point of no return where the process feeds itself -- to do anything to reduce either this country’s annual production of more atmospheric CO2, or to promote some broader international agreement to slow the production of greenhouse gases.

It seems insane that this nation’s leaders, corporate and political, would even now still be deliberately refusing to take action to protect the Earth, which of course they and their children and grandchildren will also have to live on, and yet almost to a one they are on the side of the deniers or the delayers. The business leaders for example overwhelmingly provided campaign funding to the Republicans -- a party that makes jokes about global warming and openly urges more burning of coal.

Okay, a lot of Republicans are wacky believers in a 6000-year-old world where Adam and Eve hunted dinosaurs and god talked to Moses. But it seems equally or even more insane that people who clearly know better, like President Barack Obama, or most of the Democratic Party leadership in Congress, would resist even minimal efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and would directly work to undermine international efforts at reaching a rigorous treaty on global reduction of carbon emissions.

Unless, that is, you consider that in a dog-eat-dog environment of nations struggling to survive in a world that, as the World Bank’s latest report predicts, could be 4°C hotter (7.2°F) by as early as 2060, with mass starvation in Africa, Asia and South America, flooding of critical river deltas and low-elevation population centers like Shanghai, Bangladesh, Holland, etc., and the loss of most of the world’s fish to an acidified ocean, the US could be sitting pretty, at least relatively speaking. Sure low-lying places like Cape Cod, the Outer Banks, the lower Florida peninsula, New Orleans, and the Rockaways and the Manhattan financial district would be gone, but given this nation’s current wealth and military power, its vast natural resources, and its widely varied climate zones, including Alaska, the U.S. could probably come out ahead in such a survival-of-the-fittest struggle.

Consider that perhaps the current breadbasket region of the midwest might become a dust-bowl. Okay, nasty, but the evidence so far suggests that at least for the next hundred years, all the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and other land ice in northern Canada, will be impacting the nation’s northeast by having all that new fresh water pushing the Gulf Stream out to sea (a Gulf Stream that we are told will also be weakening dramatically), actually making the northeast cooler and wetter during that period. That is to say, states from Ohio to Maine, and south to perhaps Virginia or North Carolina, could become better places to grow crops, at least until all the ice up north is gone. Arizona and Florida would be hell for retirees, but they could retire elsewhere. Deep wells could draw on prehistoric aquifers, as farmers in Texas and Oklahoma have done for years, which could compensate for epic climate-change-caused droughts. So what if this would destroy the aquifers eventually? Nobody thinks a century ahead anyhow.

Meanwhile, while the US would adapt fairly handily to the global catastrophe, most of the rest of the world would become a pure hell, with nations desperately battling nations over dwindling water supplies, and famine killing people not by the tens of thousands as today, but by the millions, or perhaps even billions. Think of China and India, our biggest competitors in global markets these days. With their relative poverty, their massive populations, mostly concentrated along low-lying coastal areas, they will be toast in a 4°C hotter world, especially after the Himalayan glaciers that feed their key rivers, the Ganges, the Indus, the Irriwaddy, the Yellow, the Yangtze and the Mekong, melt away and leave them nothing but giant arroyos.

I’m sorry to say it, but I don’t have a hard time imagining most of our ruling elite looking at this scenario and thinking, “Hey! That could work out well for us! With huge oceans separating us from the desperate masses in Asia and Africa, and only a relatively small desert border to protect to our south, and with a small, weak and friendly nation to the north, we could come out of this with the world at our feet, ripe for the picking.” What’s a mass extinction event that wipes out half of all living species to such people? What’s it matter to them if the teeming oceans lose their food chain and become filled with nothing but jellyfish? What’s it matter if hundreds of millions or even billions of poor people starve to death, or if nations in Africa or Asia blow each other up? If they, the US and their companies, can come out of this rubble largely intact, and with the same elites still in charge, where’s the downside?

I haven’t looked closely at the science of this, but I think I’m correct in saying that the US is probably better situated than most other countries to survive a major global warming event. Of course, even in the US, climate change of this scale would be massively destructive and destabilizing, and would cause huge social and political upheaval. This may explain why we keep reading about theDepartment of Homeland Security ordering huge quantities of dumdum bullets (even for places like Social Security Administration field offices!) and building mass detention centers, or about Congress continuing to pass ever more intrusive and invasive police state-type legislation, while militarizing local police.

I’m not suggesting that these leaders would be contemplating just walling off the US, and allowing us all to continue on as the free society that we have grown used to over the last few hundred years, while the rest of the world goes through its death throes, horrendous and unacceptable as that would be. Rather, I’m speculating that the elites may be contemplating a way that they, the ruling class, not we as Americans, could, by doing nothing to stop climate change, come out on top as a result of it.

I realize this is conspiracy thinking, and that as such it is rather far-fetched, and yet what troubles me is that it’s hard to imagine an alternative explanation for the years of complete inaction on combating global warming, and the deliberate undermining of any sort of international accord which America has engaged in for the past decade.

Our leaders, political and corporate, may be puerile, egocentric greed-heads, but they are not stupid. They surely for the most part recognize that the Earth is heating up and heading at full speed towards ecological, social and political disaster. How else to explain, then, their astonishing unwillingness to take action?

ABOUT Dave Lindorff

Dave Lindorff is an investigative reporter, a columnist for CounterPunch, and a contributor to Businessweek, The Nation, Extra! and He received a Project Censored award in 2004. Dave is also a founding member of the online newspaper ThisCantBeHappening! at

Accepting the foundational

Accepting the foundational belief that the 1%'s greed is limitless, I'll argue that the major impediments to dealing with global warming are 1) humans' infinite capacity for delay and denial; and 2) political cowardice born of a pathological desire to remain in office, which translates into complete inability and unwillingness to do anything that might require the electorate to reject point #1.

If you look at our denial behaviors, e.g., smoking cigarettes despite 50 years worth of unimpeachable data about the disastrous health effects of it; consuming sugar at a rate that has produced the most obese and unhealthy civilization extant; clinging to obsolete, dying industries and remaining in locations that depend on those, among many others. The same American optimism that produces the salutary "can-do" attitude also enables this chronic denial. "Oh, something will work out; it always does."

Actually, so far the North

Actually, so far the North American continent has borne the brunt of the damage, at least in terms of monetary value. The tornadoes, hurricanes, and drought, even before Sandy, had lead to a 5-fold increase in disaster payouts by re-insurers, compared to 3 or 4 times on other continents.

By the way, you understate the extent of loss of coastal land - Delaware disappears at about 20 meters, and the eastern seaboard south of New York, including all of Florida and most of Louisiana and Alabama, disappear to the mountains by the time you get to the 60 meters that results from a complete meltdown of the Antarctic and Greenland ice. I just heard that is accelerating faster than anticipated, and there is in the global record evidence of rapid meltdowns within just a few decades. What there isn't is evidence of a forcing as massive as the one we are doing by digging up carbon deposits and burning them.

Sorry, but the premise is

Sorry, but the premise is ridiculous. Nobody is going to come out 'a winner' as global warming plays out.

What is true is that the future of the fossil fuel industry depends on the assumption that we are going to burn the 2,800 gigatons of CO2 that it holds in 'proven reserves.'

So as Bill McKibben says, the business model of the fossil fuel industry envisions the total destruction of life on earth.

The answer? Divestment. It worked to destroy Apartheid when everyone said it couldn't, it will work in changing the fossil fuel industry's business model.

Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has."

What's astonishing to me is

What's astonishing to me is not merely that the fossil fuel industry remains unchecked in its destruction, but that US tax policy actually subsidizes it, despite multi-billion-dollar quarterly profits for oil producers. "Sir, may I contribute to the cost of the gun you'll use to kill me?"

Concerning any policies which

Concerning any policies which are the responsibility of a given USA politician - now notably Obama - one may always ask whether the observed and obviously bad results are due more to the guy's foolery/incompetence or to his deliberate knavery/conspiracy/sabotage. Consider the observed results of various Obama (and administration) policies:

*Reward of the parasitic un-entrepreneurial super-rich, along with punishment of struggling workers and home-owners.
*Promotion and support of existing and new extremist Islamo-nazi movements and regimes in the Mideast.
* Persecution of those who possess substances which will at most harm themselves, but no effective limits on acquiring firearms for killing others.

In much the same category, only with perhaps even more catastrophic global effects:

*Promotion of climate change.

Whether or not conspiracy is actually afoot, the results are much the same as if it were.

It would seem that the total

It would seem that the total betrayal of the human race for personal gain is the ultimate in Treason. Down with the Kings!

A very interesting article -

A very interesting article - thanks for this delectable food for thought. Another possible influence with similar results was expressed by Nelson Rockefeller many years ago at a luncheon in New York. He said that the greatest negative in our system is that politicians look no further into the future than to their next election, thus effectively failing to deal with any long-term problems facing the nation...

I'd substitute "refusing" for

I'd substitute "refusing" for "failing."

---It is indeed tempting to

---It is indeed tempting to see our current situation as being just more business as usual for the power brokers who live by the shock doctrine. No matter what they do, they win.
---If they had followed President Carter's lead and taken the world wide initiative in the development of renewable energy, they would have looked like visionaries and made handsome profits.
---If they keep on the present course, their personal fortunes continue to skyrocket, and they please the gods of greed. A pretty scenario in which they cull the human herd. I'm banking on the second of these two scenarios. It is a safe bet that they know exactly what they are doing.
---But, do we know what they are doing? It's pretty obvious that the captains of industry and their political minions aren't about to write off the trillions of dollars of oil, gas and coal reserves which are already on their books awaiting extraction and sales. They have us neatly divided into opposing camps: liberal tree huggers versus right wing capitalists. As long as we are at each others' throats, we'll never gain the organized strength to put a stop to this nightmare.
---There is a social plan to use people power so as to force our "leaders" into acting sanely. Let's begin the hydrogen economy powered by wind and solar. Further reading Copy to clipboard and paste in your browser's address bar. That's the best we can do until NOC fulfills their formatting options promise.

But wait . . . there's even

But wait . . . there's even more to this Ginsu knife set of catstrophe . . . .

The Three Peaks

"As I mentioned in my previous posts, the human species has created something of a doomsday scenario for itself. My catchname for this event is the three peaks, the peaks being Peak Oil, Peak Population and Peak Wealth Apartheid. Peak Oil refers to the point of maximum yield from the planet's oil resources, a point which is happening right now. Peak Population is self explanatory; the human race is now at roughly seven billion individuals and growing. Peak Wealth Apartheid refers to the increasing sequestration of 80% or more of world's wealth by 20% or less of the world's population.

I took these three variables and created a simple spreadsheet using these factors:

We have reached the Peak Oil moment and the general agreement seems to be that total global oil yield will decrease at a rate of 2% per annum as we go into the future.

We are at Peak Population, but still growing. Again, the general agreement seems to be that the human population will grow from the present 7 billion to 8 billion, more or less, by 2025.

Wealth Apartheid figures show that 20% of the world's population owns 80% of the world's wealth, and the remaining 80% of the world's population own only 20% of the wealth.

The dynamic of the spreadsheet is this: I made the assumption that all of the world's wealth is generated using oil - literally - as the fuel which drives the economic engine. If not exactly 100%, I think that my assumption is close enough. I then assigned - by percentage - the amount of wealth owned by each billion people in the 20% bracket and also in the 80% bracket. The result of this calculation showed that in 2012 there were 1.4 billion people in the 20% bracket, and their wealth-per-billion share was 57.14%, for a total of 80% ownership of all wealth. There were 5.6 billion people in the 80% bracket and their wealth-per-billion share was 3.57%, for a total of 20% ownership of all wealth. Then I applied the 2% annual decline of oil yield as a direct decline in the total available wealth. Assuming that this decline was shared equally, my chart showed - predictably - that all the world grew poorer, but at the same 80/20 split. However, due to the fact that - applying population growth to the spreadsheet - the absolute population growth numbers of the wealthy were far less than the absolute population growth numbers of the poor, the poor grew poorer at a much faster rate than the wealthy. The poor simply had to cut the slices of their aggregate wealth thinner than the wealthy. It is important to note here that for the purposes of this exercise, I did not assume any changes in percentage to the 80/20 wealth split, though it is manifestly apparent that the top 20% are purposefully and radically increasing their already bloated share of the world's wealth while at the same time diminishing the "select" group of individuals who benefit from it. I kept this at flatline, for a reason you will see. Finally, I made one more assumption that is actually a reflection of reality rather than assumptive; that despite the overall decline in wealth, the top 20% would maintain ownership of 80% of the wealth available as expressed in 2012 numbers. The obvious result of this would be that their percentage of total global wealth ownership would increase for each year of global wealth decline, and the percentage of ownership held by the bottom 80% would likewise decrease. Which leads me to the ultimate point of this line of reasoning: how long will it take for the top 20% of the population to own 100% of the world's wealth and the bottom 80% to be reduced to 0% ownership? The answer was somewhat surprising to me: the spreadsheet showed 100% wealth ownership by the 20% occurring right at the end of 2018, a mere six years in the future. Before I did this exercise, my estimate was that this finality would occur in perhaps 2050.

Now, admittedly this is meataxe math and, to use one of my favorite sayings "Figures lie and liars figure." But it was the dynamic between the three prime variables I was interested in: the wealth ownership endgame, so to speak. Depending on what other variables you use, we might hit this endgame state in 2016 or 2024, but it is immaterial to my point.

Here is a link to the spreadsheet:

I'll leave it up to you to consider the implications - both for the world and your own life over the next few years."




Was it Twain or Will Rogers

Was it Twain or Will Rogers or someone else who said that it's hard to get a man to understand a thing when his paycheck depends on not understanding it? There have been a few people who argue that more carbon dioxide and a higher temperature will increase food production in Canada, Siberia, etc. But for most thought leaders, I think it's a scenario of the frog in the boiling water. They don't live in a flood plain, they have air conditioning, and a couple of degrees of rise in temperature wouldn't make any difference. For people who live right at sea level, like in Bangladesh or the Netherlands, they confront their vulnerability every day.

I think we passed the point of no return a decade ago. We could have accelerated alternative energy development and created a carbon tax, but our leaders did not want to spend the political capital to educate a reluctant public to do so or actively opposed it. Even now, when the national debt and trade imbalances are supposedly a catastrophe in the making, we can't even discuss raising some money from a carbon tax. I'm afraid our social and political systems are just not up to the tasks of long-term thinking.

I don't even think they are

I don't even think they are up to the task of short term thinking. The so called "fiscal cliff" looks like the grand canyon to them, though it's little more than a speed bump.

We may soon learn the entropy

We may soon learn the entropy limits of the planet.

Sorry but I don't buy the

Sorry but I don't buy the scenarios you describe.
We are all interdependent, what affects one continent affects us all. The "them" versus "us" is no longer a sustainable assumption as we continue to pollute, overpopulate the world, and depend on global economies to move goods from one place to another. The human race will not survive global warming because we have not yet learned how to work together to save the planet.

I don't think corporate

I don't think corporate leaders actually want to cause catastrophic climate change. They are well aware that human induced climate change is a real phenomenon. They are lying when they say otherwise.

But the potential for profit overshadows all other concerns. So they just don't care if fossil fuel use destroys the climate. The plan is, let it happen.

They figure they will be dead when the real bad changes get here. In the meantime they will live better than the kings of old with their unlimited wealth. Those of limited means will suffer unimaginable horrors.

To accomplish their goal of burning all the remaining fossil fuel, the powers that be will need to gain complete control of the electoral/legislative process. That is why they are dismantling our democracy as we speak.

don't ya just love a crazy

don't ya just love a crazy conspiracy? and my dentist owns stock in Hershey's Candy, too.
i believe "they" are quite capable of such duplicity, but i do not believe they are capable of keeping it a secret.
but the real problem with the theory is - it is a huge assumption to make: a wetter, cooler northeast may or may not be good for crops. it depends on the crops. maple syrup, yes. potatoes, not so much.

This is one of the oddest

This is one of the oddest pieces I've ever read and so illogical you couldn't even call it a theory. All the "what ifs" are a selection of incoherent gibberish.

The main reason for inaction is the omnipotent fossil fuel industry et all, not coming to terms with their endangering the planet and shifting their corporate model to the renewables (esp. geo thermal) as continuing profits keep them glued to their monopoly of supplying carbon based fuels. I suggest the author re read the World Bank report again. The WB as an institution of the wealthy, in it's condemnation of one of it's own, the fossils, indicates that even the elites are starting to become alarmed by the predictions of climate science. At a 4 degree celsius increase national institutions (civilization) will begin to break down. At 6 degrees it will become a game of survival around the globe, so what the author is suggesting is that the elites are not only morally defunct ( which they are to some degree) but that they also have a death wish that is overpowering their desire for their continuing possession of mega wealth and power. It is their desire for more, rather than any geo political nonsence that is stalling action being taken to ameliorate the coming heating of the climate.

Sadly I long ago reached more

Sadly I long ago reached more or less the same conclusion.

When "The Limits To Growth" was published (circa 1970) the authors presented two alternative scenarios for the 21st century.

Either we could:

(a) drastically limit both population growth and industrial output immediately (1970) and world population would level out at a sustainable 9-10 billion by midcentury, or

(b) go on overpopulating and living an unsustainable lifestyle and the result would be a massive dieoff starting about now (2nd decade of 21st century) resulting in a sustainable population of maybe 3-4 billion.

Over the last 40 years it has become increasingly clear to me the Powers That Be have chosen scenario (b) - they intend to survive the dieoff in their gated communities with armed guards, private fire fighters, etc, and to hell with the rest of us.

Recall that Carter tried to implement alternative energy, but when Reagan won the White House he had Carter's solar panels removed and basically told Americans to go back to consuming big time.

And the American wars of naked agression of the last decade further confirm this choice of scenario (b). The authors pointed out that as resources become scarce the more powerful will wage wars to corner those resources. Enter GW Bush et al ..

The only other remorely plausible interpretation is that the Powers That Be are completely unaware of the human contribution to climate change - and I simply cannot believe they don't read the CIA's own assessments, which correspond precisely with the conclusions of The Limits To Growth.

They would rather plunge the planet into famine, plague, floods, droughts and wars than cede their (and their progenies') power.

Catastrophic climate change

Catastrophic climate change is good for bidness. Imagine the countless fire trucks, heating equipment, cooling equipment, insulation, water, oil/gas/tar/coal that can be sold to frying people.... What would be best if the climate changes so badly that no one can live on the surface of the earth. People will be forced to live underground and pay for every breath they take in and anything else that maintain lives which will be controlled by those who control the supplies of life-support. That would be an ideal world for the rich in which the controllers would have absolute control over life of everyone who must work for them from birth to death to LIVE!

Even without climate change,

Even without climate change, this sounds like the current 1% vs the 99%.

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