The Earth Can't Wait for Political Twaddle

By Bruce E. Johansen

I read in the New York Times about the recent global conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro under the headline: “Global Economy Limits Expectations at Earth Summit in Brazil.” This conference was popularly styled “Rio+20,” after the Earth Summit that produced a global treaty on climate change in 1992, as well as an agreement to protect biodiversity. “The two accords have sweeping ambitions, but have yielded only modest results so far,” said the Times’ account.

If you think 1992’s results have been modest, take a look at this year’s. “There are few expectations for concrete actions,” the Times stated in its special ‘voice-of-God’ manner. As many as 50,000 people gathered in Rio for a mainly empty exercise, because concern about the future of the Earth these days seems, well… so yesterday. Due to global economic problems, the Earth has been told to wait. Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany skipped the conference (as did President Obama)—all preoccupied by domestic politics.

American Exceptionalism

William K. Reilly, who as head of the Environmental Protection Agency led the U.S. delegation to the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 told the Times that “it was untenable for Mr. Obama to go, because he had no financial resources to offer and because he would face substantial criticism at home for seeming to be more concerned with global problems than domestic issues.” Now that’s quite an indictment of our political system. The Times also noted that “President George Bush faced similar criticism in 1992, and decided to attend in spite of objections of his political advisers.” A few months later, Bush lost the election to Bill Clinton.

Reilly then dropped a nugget of 24-karat ‘American exceptionalism,’ as if he was lecturing a child: “The international community is going to have to learn never to hold a big global conference during an American presidential election year.”

Thus, received wisdom inside the Beltway is this: the whole Earth can just wait while we endure a ritualistic twaddle-fest in which any coincidence between issues that will be important to future generations worldwide is an accident. Why consider real issues when we can play political games? As environmentalist Barry Commoner, running for U.S. president on the Citizens Party ticket in 1980, was asked by a reporter in Albuquerque: “Are you a serious candidate, or are you just running on the issues?”

Instead, we are being told that our warm winter recently has been good for business. People spend money when it’s warm. A front-page account in USA Today said that a record-warm spring “boosted tourism [and] bolstered everything from Florida visits by foreigners to ticket sales on Broadway,” according to the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book. The effect was temporary—the winter and early-spring surge has become a summer slump.

Eventually, of course, too much heat will be bad for business—perhaps, for example, when it prevents our food crops from pollinating (a concern for corn during our recent heat wave). If we cannot start decoupling our notions of good times from generating carbon dioxide, we’re looking at eventually frying many species into extinction.

The Corporate States of America

In the shorter term, given the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in “Citizens United,” our election cycle is now becoming a slow-motion coup. Perhaps, ultimately, the right-wing money blitz will lead us to the “Corporate States of America”—where everything is run as a business by an executive, legislators and Supreme Court staffed by people with business experience under the ‘Romney Amendment.’

Anyone who owns shares in a public company is familiar with the model—one vote per share of assets (regardless, of course, of race, creed, gender or sexual orientation) with a single slate of candidates. Anyone who complains that the single slate sounds something like how the Soviets ‘elected’ leaders under Stalin will be gently reminded that at least the “C.S.A.” doesn’t tote you off to the gulag for not voting the right—and only—way.

Petitions may be allowed, of course, but as in today’s corporate ‘elections,’ the board of directors will advise everyone how to vote. Since voting power is calibrated by asset ownership, such advice will hardly be necessary. Look at the CSA as one gigantic Super-PAC.

With such a system, the ostentatious spending of Super-PACs would no longer be needed. How much money do corporate directors waste running for office? Our corporate-compliant Congress could turn its energy to looking for innovative ways to pad company balance sheets in the CSA, where, more than ever, the business of America would be business.

How about private ventures that resurrect the debtors’ prisons of yore? We have plenty of debt. We could fill them with unemployed college graduates who can’t repay their student loans, and put them to work making iPhones for the minimum wage.

All hail the Corporate States of America! Elections soon will be lipstick on the pig of oligarchic fascism. I wish it weren’t so, but I, alas, can’t afford to buy my own politicians.

Those who are staging this coup are buying no time for our collective future on our one Earth. Within a few decades, Earth will have the last word, no matter how many TV ads the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson and Omaha’s own Joe Ricketts buy to install the government of their choice. Without a sustainable environment, the Kochs’ progeny will sing no songs and do no business, unless they build a gated community with an artificial atmosphere on the Moon.

Rice, Doyle and Tim Mullaney. “Warmest Spring Heats Up Economy.” USA Today, June 8, 2012, A-1.

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