Stop signs — perhaps the most ubiquitous form of taxpayer-funded socialism found in the U.S. today — exist for a reason. People who barge through them are putting others in active danger, and anyone doing it deliberately would be considered a fool and a menace by pretty much everyone else.
The Amazon rainforest is on fire. The Arctic is on fire. Swaths of Indonesia and central Africa are on fire. The Greenland ice sheet melted virtually overnight and caused the ocean to visibly and measurably rise. Iceland is holding funerals for melting glaciers. These are stop signs, huge ones that can be seen from space.
Climate disruption is not lurking in some faraway land of maybe; it was here yesterday and the day before, and last week, and last year. It is here today, and will be here tomorrow, and for the rest of our lives. It will never get better, and is going to get worse, but if we heed the stop signs, we have the chance to, perhaps, keep it from driving us into extinction.
Clearly, the president of the United States doesn’t see it that way. “I’m an environmentalist,” said Donald Trump after blowing off a G7 meeting on the climate crisis. “A lot of people don’t understand that. I think I know more about the environment than most people.” In his mind, nuking hurricanes and buying Greenland to plunder its newly ice-free resources is what environmentalists do.
Now, Trump the “environmentalist” has also reportedly ordered Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to open Alaska’s 16.7 million-acre Tongass National Forest — the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world — to logging, energy and mining projects.
Not satisfied with his quest to erase Barack Obama from the history books, Trump has begun erasing Clinton-era environmental protections like the one that has defended Tongass for 20 years. “Trump has taken a personal interest in ‘forest management,’” reports The Washington Post, “a term he told a group of lawmakers last year he has ‘redefined’ since taking office.”
This, as right-wing Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro spurns G7 money to help fight Amazon wildfires caused by cattle and soybean farmers who are deliberately torching the land with Bolsonaro’s direct approval. The Brazilian president has ostensibly turned down the fire-fighting funding because French president Emmanuel Macron said mean things about him, but in truth, Bolsonaro sees the Amazon as nothing more than a cash machine. He wants these fires to burn.
Trump and Bolsonaro: “environmentalist forest managers” at the vanguard of the end of everything.
“How can they do this?” people will exclaim.
“Because someone asked them to,” is the proper reply.
Trump and Bolsonaro are undeniably dangerous leaders whose oppressive policies must be resisted. The origins of the plunder we are witnessing, however, do not lie with them. Plunder is the reason the United States exists, and has been the reason since the first European ships cracked the horizon on their way to the North and South American continents. Plunder has been the point of the exercise for more than 400 years. Trump and Bolsonaro are not aberrations. They are the fulfillment of ultimate purpose, the triumph of U.S.-style capitalist practices.
Here in the U.S., we use red-white-and-blue bunting to cover up the scars, and the well-manicured lawns preside over stolen lands as they hide the mass graves. The big bank accounts are all offshore, and soot from the burning chokes the poor neighborhoods and what’s left of nature.
There is a lot of talk about “saving the environment” and “stopping climate change,” which is good, because awareness must come before action. That awareness, however, must encompass the fact that we will not save even the smallest fraction of the environment unless and until we derail the ravenous juggernaut of capitalism.
U.S.-style capitalism heeds no stop signs. It exists to feed, to plunder, and to despoil for profit. Trump and Bolsonaro are energetic avatars of the practice, one which is older than the country that birthed it. It is the capitalism of slavery, the cotton field and the lash, of the burned forest and the poisoned well. It knows only hunger, and is never sated. If we are going to save ourselves from the apocalypse of climate collapse, saving ourselves from the capitalism causing it is where we have to start.