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Ecocidal Times


It appears that Superstorm Sandy did not direct enough of its global warming-fueled fury at the headquarters of The New York Times last October. Last Sunday, an historic mass demonstration on behalf of a more sane environmental policy took place in Washington D.C. Forty thousand environmentalist activists and citizens gathered in the nation’s capital to urge President Obama not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline – a project that, if completed, will carry more than 700,000 barrels of dirty Canadian tar sands oil a day from Alberta to the southern U.S. Gulf Coast. As numerous environmental scientists including the leading climate expert James Hansen (director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies) have warned, Alberta’s giant stash of tar sands oil is an epic “carbon bomb” whose release promises to push Earth’s climate past the tipping point of irreversible runaway warming. 

A presidential thumbs-down on the pipeline will do significant damage to the corporate carbon-industrial complex’s capacity to set-off this terrible eco-cidal incendiary. That would buy humanity some time to properly address anthropogenic global warming (AGW), which increasingly poses the issue of human extinction. This is the leading issue of or our any time, something that is understood by the tens of thousands who hit the streets on a cold day in Washington this weekend – the largest gathering the country has even seen on the climate issue. A flicker of, well, Hope, resides in the oval office, whose current resident originally campaigned for the White House on a promise to address that problem and who said in his Second Inaugural Address that America must reduce the “dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet” and honor “the overwhelming judgment of science….for the sake of our children and our future.” 

Remarkably enough, the nation’s “newspaper of record,” the New York Times, did not see Sunday’s historic rally as part of “All the News That’s Fit to print” in the first section of its Monday edition. It was a chilling deletion. Here are some of the news topics the Times did see as fit for inclusion – as more relevant than a mass demonstration against increasingly imminent Ecocide – in that section:

* The tech industry’s growing interest in the gambling industry (page 1).

* A car, van, truck and motorbike police pound (humorously called “the car Guantanamo”) in Kabul, Afghanistan (page 1). 

  • * Irish assistance to an Irish-American neighborhood in Queens (Breezy Point) that was particularly devastated by Hurricane Sandy (page 1).
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  • * The fraud prosecution of a former Israel Foreign Minister.
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  • * Catholics’ confusion about “what to call a retired Pope.”
  • “In a rational world,” the leading liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman argued in the fall of 2009, “the looming climate disaster would be our dominant political and policy concern” (NYT, September 27, 2009). 

    Krugman’s Monday Times reflection focused on the case for a higher minimum wage. He made a smart and admirable argument. Still, his essay could have been marked for later in the week. Monday would have been a very good time for Krugman to publish a column on the issue that would top our list of worries “in a rational world.” 

    The Monday Times did mention Sunday’s historic climate demonstration. The reference came in the paper’s business section, in a story titled “Obama Faces Risks in Pipeline Decision” (NYT, February 18, 2013, B1). The story was placed alongside an article on the Facebook marketing strategies of Universal Studio’s “Fast and Furious” car-racing film series and a report on the rising use of cheaper parts in the manufacture of virtual reality game sets. It under-reported the Sunday protest’s turnout, saying only that “thousands rallied.” Its opening premise held that Obama faces  “a choice between environmental advocates…or causing a deep and perhaps lasting rift with Canada” – as if: (1) the Keystone and climate issues are mainly about green activists, not the harsh material threat posed by AGW and (2) “Canada” is a monolithic entity that unanimously supports tar sands oil extraction and does not contain millions of citizens who are more concerned with the preservation of a livable earth than with the expansion of gross Canadian national petroleum exports and the increase of multinational oil corporations’ super-profits. 

    Environmentalists were rendered invisible in the article’s definition of “Canada,” whose spokespersons were presented as the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and Lorraine Mitchelmore, president of Shell Canada. 

    The story’s related concern that “Canada” might “retaliate” against the U.S. if Obama says no to Keystone XL was deceptive and almost amusing given the Canadian government and corporate sector’s deepening incorporation into the economic and imperial orbit of the North American Superpower. 

    The Times said nothing about another risk Obama faces: soiling his legacy with a decision that will significantly accelerate the climate catastrophe and help further mark him as a monumental environmental hypocrite. 

    By placing their reportage on Sunday’s climate rally in the business section, the Times’ editors suggest that the Keystone pipeline is mainly a corporate and marketing matter, not an issue of central public and political concern for the fate of the species and other living things.    

    After this horrid coverage on Monday, it was fitting that Tuesday’s Times published a personal assault on Hansen and the leading environmental activist and Keystone opponent Bill McKibben by the thuggish Times columnist Joe Nocera. 

    “Like it or not,” Nocera proclaims, “ fossil fuels are going to remain the world’s dominant energy source for the foreseeable future, and we are far better off getting our oil from Canada than say, Venezuela.” (NYT, Feb. 19, 2013, A23). 

    Left-led Venezuela, after all, uses oil proceeds to attack poverty and to foster Latin American resistance to U.S. imperial control, whereas conservative-run Canada is a reliable subordinate partner in trade, investment, neoliberal ideology, and imperial violence. 

    Who exactly are “we?” I am aware of more than few (United States of) Americans – myself included – who prefer to fill up our beaten-up old Japanese cars with Venezuelan petroleum. 

    Meanwhile “the foreseeable future” is looking (with all due respect for smart Marxist critics of “catastrophism”) more dystopian than ever, thanks in no small part to the profits system’s inextricably linked addictions to fossil fuels, epic waste, accumulation and growth.[1]     

    Paul Street (paul.street99@gmail.com and www.paulstreet.org) is an author and activist in Iowa City, IA.  

    Selected Endnotes 

     [1] For a deeply informed reflection that does not feel compelled to choose between (i) Marxist understandings and commitments and (ii) telling harsh truths on ever the more imminent ecological catastrophe (and I might add on the need for materially appropriate localism in the democratically planned production and distribution of goods), see John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark, “The Planetary Emergency,” Monthly Review (December 2012).  

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