The Carbon-Civilization Combustion Complex

On October 10, 1989 the Chicago Tribune published my article on climate change. I argued that “lowering the Earth-threatening heat” would probably be the consequence of protest and action by peasants and city people, not of any initiatives taken by state intellectuals and corporations.

About six months later, on April 20, 1990, the Wall Street Journal reprinted a fragment of my article, which denounced the behavior of fossil fuel companies. Energy corporations, I said, are blinded by greed. They threaten the Earth with unimaginable ills: rising temperatures, rising sea levels, widespread impoverishment of the natural world and human destruction of epic proportions. It would be foolish to assume that the same companies would sacrifice their profits for a less threatened, much less, safer world.

I was also critical of the propagandists of the carbon-civilization combustion complex. Like the military-industrial complex, this new condominium includes the military, oil, automobile, and electricity industries – owners, politicians, economists, academics, and bought-and-sold think tank lobbyists. I accused them for tilting science to cover up corporate crimes against nature and human beings.

I was then working for the US Environmental Protection Agency. The day the Wall Street Journal printed the excerpts from my article, April 20, 1990, EPA was celebrating Earth Day. That was also the day I found an official “letter of reprimand” on my desk threatening me with “removal.”

The EPA official who signed the letter of reprimand (and almost certainly other senior EPA managers) conspired with the Wall Street Journal in order to have me fired because of my political views. How else is one to explain the simultaneous appearance of the article reprint in the Journal and the threatening letter I received from EPA?

In addition, on September 4, 1990 Senator Conrad Burns (R-Montana) wrote to William Reilly, administrator of EPA, asking him whether or not my views were private or represented those of EPA. At the end of September, Linda Fisher, a Republican political appointee at EPA, assured Senator Burns that I wrote as a private citizen and not as an employee of EPA.

Even before Senator Burns was outraged with my article, on July 9, 1990, another senior EPA official, Lewis Crampton, associate administrator from the Office of Communications and Public Affairs, wrote a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal in which he explained my article was my personal opinion, not official EPA policy. Crampton said my article was a “fanatical diatribe against capitalism as an earth-heating, destructive, suicidal system.”

EPA administrator Reilly dismissed all allegations against me and I retired from the EPA in 2004.

But who has embraced fanaticism? Certainly, not me. Science tells us that burning petroleum, methane and coal is dangerous because it heats the Earth. But why, and despite that danger, are companies in a frenzy of selling fossil fuels for maintaining wasteful and toxic systems of war, agriculture, energy and urban living?

The mean-spirited reaction of EPA officials and Senator Burns against me shows the footprint of the carbon companies within the government. The government still subsidizes coal, petroleum and natural gas companies: the very organizations that brought us climate change.

The great paradox of this crime against the Earth and civilization is that scientists have been documenting floods, fires, heat waves, and hurricanes – probably connected to rising temperatures. Scientists also warn us that as the Earth gets hotter, and the remaining mountain and sea ice melts, additional calamities are inevitable.

So how does one explain this world trajectory into danger and certain future catastrophe? Twenty-six years after my article and numerous scientific studies, international scientific organizations like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are warning us of unequivocal anthropogenic climate change.

A recent book, “The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View From the Future” by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway (Columbia University Press, 2014), shines light on this perplexing question. Oreskes and Conway bring to this small book of science and science fiction an admirable record of history of science writing, which made possible “Merchants of Doubt,” their magisterial book on the corruption of science and climate change.

The fictional historian reports from the Second Peoples Republic of China in the year 2393. His account covers 1988 to 2093, especially the Great Collapse and Mass Migration of the years 2073 to 2093.

The result of blending scholarship and fiction is a fascinating if grim story of how and why global temperatures started rising in the nineteenth century with the industrial revolution, and, unbelievably, accelerated in the twenty and twenty-first centuries.

The heart of the matter, however, is the politics of corruption that converted countless pundits (at universities, think tanks, media, and politicians) into dogmatic defenders of fossil fuel combustion. These rising millionaires ignored the warnings of scientists, thoughtlessly repeating the mantras of polluters.

“A shadow of ignorance and denial had fallen over people who considered themselves children of the Enlightenment,” the author from the future reports. He explains how the culture of oil, electricity, car and giant agriculture brought down Western civilization. The beneficiaries of fossil fuels embraced lies and self-deception. Such delusion, the author says, was rooted on an “ideological fixation of free markets.”

True, market fundamentalism has been a roadblock to government regulation and, in the end, abolition of fossil fuels. Solar power has always been an alternative to petroleum, coal, and methane.

The beauty of this great little book is that, in the form of a science fiction story, it tells a non-fiction truth: how people of power (especially, those who own and benefit from the burning of fossil fuels) are corrupted by power, becoming dangerous to the rest of us – and the Earth.

Read this well-written, insightful, and important book. It includes a useful lexicon of “archaic” terms like capitalism, environment, environmental protection and market failure. It also includes a marvelous and revealing interview with the real authors of the book.

All in all, “The Collapse of Western Civilization” is a concise summary of the deleterious forces and politics that fuel climate change: forces and politics that, left unchecked, are certain to destroy our society and the planet.

Global warming threatens the collapse of much more than the collapse of Western civilization.

Global warming is real. It’s going on right now. According to Erik Conway: “We have overwhelming evidence that we’ve already triggered a rapid rate of oceanic and atmospheric warning.” And Naomi Oreskes confirms the reality of global warming. “We are sure,” she says, “that climate change is happening – we already see damage – and we know beyond a reasonable doubt that business as usual will lead to more damage, possibly devastating damage.”