Time For Some Black Sky Thinking

September 2004


When there's a man-made disaster like, say, an oil-tanker leaking over a wide area of coastline and sea, questions are asked quite broadly: of the shipping company, of the insurers, of international regulations, of government agencies, of all the different companies involved. Why, then, does nothing like that happen even after two months of extreme weather events ranging more widely still, from Bangladesh to the China plains, from Florida to Grenada and Jamaica?

Why, for example, does no-one now stick a microphone under, say, Richard Branson's nose and ask, 'So in the light of these floods and hurricanes and heavy rains are you going to abolish some flights, then? At least until such a time as humans have figured out a way of doing them which doesn't wipe out half of the arable crops in Bangladesh and England?'

Who will now put pressure on the EU to rescind the licences of Go and Easy Jet and Ryan Air? That these airlines are grounded until such time as the Arctic is crunchy not sloshy is in the scheme of things a rather modest measure. Hey, let's wait, until the permafrost's sphagnum moss has stopped growing trees, then we'll review the Ski Weekend Option, whaddyasay?

Why doesn't the Guardian say, 'Right, we will no longer run adverts for weekends away in Barcelona or Vienna? There is no excuse for flying short-haul - for leisure purposes, certainly - and we have to see to it that before too long this fashion this becomes seen as being fully as naff and verboten as wearing a mink stole or smoking while pregnant or shopping at M&S.'

Why isn't someone from the government asked to defend its support for BP's Baku-Ceyhan pipeline project which will release 365 million cubic tons of CO2 into the atmosphere per year? (A pretty dodgy project anyway, if you ask me. The BP pipelines will take oil and gas from Baku Azerbaijan to Ceyhan in Turkey. Transparency International has listed Azerbaijan as 'the world's third most corrupt regime'. Although there's some speculation that Azerbaijan may have fixed the result by slipping a bung to Colombia to swap second place.)

Why isn't the BBC asked whether, following these extreme weather disasters, they are going to axe those, ugly, fossil-fuel dinosaurs Jeremy Clarkson and Quentin Willson. Just out of repect for the dead. And the living.(And, given Quentin Willson's family resemblence to Dracula, the Undead. I mean, it's not 1958 anymore outside of White City. This is no time for a broadcaster to 'balance' those who complain of cyclists on the pavement with people who don't like SUV's and 4x4's. No, the time we live in now is one where - at the every least - all cyclists (especially ones whose first name begins with R ) should be given a daily stipend of 250 - paid to them by owners of aforesaid vehicles as a kind of retrospective carbon-credit - since those drivers were among those who claimed carbon-trading would work if we just left things how they were!

Still, if governments are not going to go after climate criminals, big or small, then we have to make sure crime don't pay another way.

The Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change, the IPCC, concluded that 'there is a discernible human impact on climate'. In terms of scale and responsibility we might talk about a corporate impact on climate. Now that the Pentagon and the UK government's chief scientific advisor are warning that climate change is the greatest threat to the world, then the debate should have moved on to how much reparations Ford or General Motors or Cargill (or any and all oil-intensive operators) are going to have to start paying the rest of us, once they've settled out of court with the farmers and growers and communities they are wiping out.

Wild-eyed though my suggestion may sound to you, gentle reader, it is, in fact, rather a quaintly conservative and already outdated proposal, for it pretends to a normalizing and stabilizing of the crisis, and that is not going to happen under the present economic system. Or anything like it. But if we think about this issue in terms of what needs to be done for the survival of the species rather than in terms of where the debate is now and what people are likely to countenance tomorrow morning, then we come to rather more exciting conclusions, rather more difficult questions. How much worse, for example, will it have to get before we think seriously about the Dissolution of Corporations? Wait too long and there will be a State of Emergency which will only entrench the fuckers.

Politically unrealistic? Ah, but here's the central epistemological truth of our time. Never so suddenly ripped a chasm between what is 'politically realistic' and reality itself than that opened up by climate change.

Time for some black sky thinking, everybody.