Rain in Dubai: How climate change and dangerous technologies demand an end to nationalism

Rain on Roke may be drought in Osskil
-Master Summoner, Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula K. Le Guin)

One of the most common tropes in discussions of the natural world is that of “balance”. When approaching the topic of using magic to control the weather, most decent fantasy authors include at least some discussion of how meddling with a system that’s “in balance” can have unpredictable, and sometimes catastrophic side effects. When it comes to dealing with the ways in which humans affect our surroundings, there’s a clear history of “cures” causing a great deal of damage all by themselves. One clear example of this was the misguided effort to combat an invasive cane beetle problem by introducing cane toads to Australia. You can learn more about that particular debacle by watching Cane Toads: An Unnatural History. I recommend watching it with friends and intoxicants if that’s your thing. There’s real knowledge to be gained from this film, but the entertainment value is what made the documentary something of a cult classic. Back to the main topic.

Throughout most of human history, we have been largely at the mercy of whatever weather the planet tries to throw at us, and so the notion of using technology to control the weather has long been both a goal eagerly sought, and the source of many cautionary tales. The notion of the world being in some perfect natural harmony has always been more of a romantic fantasy than anything else, but even if one was inclined to put stock in the idea, I think it’s clear that that “balance” has been broken. If nothing else, this entire crisis is being caused by an imbalance between energy entering the planet from the sun, and radiating from the planet into space. Everything is being thrown into chaos, so… what’s the reason to avoid trying to modify the weather again?

Well, there are still some reasons; chemical cloud seeding, for example, can trigger rain by altering atmospheric chemistry, but there are downsides, especially if it were to be done as often as would be needed to keep hot places habitable. Even so, the ability to turn ambient humidity into rain could be extremely useful for emergency disaster relief – like cooling a city if the power goes out during a heat wave. That means getting better at figuring out both what’s effective in triggering rainfall, and what the side effects may be. It’s probably because of the worries surrounding chemical cloud seeding techniques that The UAE has taken an energy-based approach:

Footage recently released by the UAE weather agency shows heavy rain falling in the desert. The fat droplets falling were reportedly the result of a pilot test of the drones. Using unmanned drones that discharge electricity may sound a little foolhardy in the midst of storm clouds, but that electricity could be a key ingredient in getting rain to fall.
Clouds are made up water droplets, which are too tiny to fall out of the sky (hence, clouds exist). The electrical charges essentially encourage those small droplets to collide and condense into bigger ones that do eventually get heavy enough to fall as rain. In a country like the UAE, however, even drops that are big enough to fall as rain can often evaporate before reaching the ground owing to the very low humidity. The electrical charging technique could help fatten those droplets up enough to reach the desert floor and replenish a water table that’s been sinking due the region’s rapacious growth.

 

This is nice for as far as it goes. It’s a way for a dry region to catch moisture that might otherwise pass it over, and using electricity as the catalyst avoids the issues of doing it with chemicals. I think it’s also worth noting that with higher temperatures will come faster evaporation and more water in the air in general, which means this may actually become an increasingly viable technique. I think it could also be extremely useful for supporting or altering ecosystems. That said, I don’t believe that this will be anything close to a solution to the problems that come with extreme heat. There’s a limit to how much a rainstorm can cool a place, and I worry about the dangers of increasing ground-level humidity. I think this is an important tool to have available to us, and I’m glad that it’s being tried, but by itself it’s the proverbial band-aid on a bullet wound. What matters most is how and why it’s used.

Air conditioning, for example, will likely save all of our lives before too long, but it doesn’t just make heat go away – it displaces it. It moves energy from one location (the inside of a building) to another location (outside the building). That’s why an A/C unit only works if it can vent to the outside.

Spending energy on relocating heat within our climate system can, without question, save countless lives, but without addressing the larger crisis, not only will any form of artificial cooling be inadequate, it will cost more and more energy to get the same results as the temperature rises. As I’ve said before, we’re going to need to rely on air conditioning, but the more efficiently we can do it, and the more we can rely on “passive” temperature control like shade, reflection, and insulation, the better our long-term results will be.

Cloud seeding, as with more conventional air conditioning, moves heat around. Most of us learned about the water cycle as being how water moves around the world, but every stage of that cycle also moves energy. In order to stay in the air as vapor, water requires a ratio of pressure and temperature. If you take the time, you can watch clouds form and dissipate on a clear day. That’s not water fading in and out of existence – the same amount of water is there regardless. What’s happening is that the water is moving in and out of pockets of cooler, or lower pressure air. For this discussion, I’m going to focus on temperature. As the cloud forms, heat is transferred from the water vapor to the cooler air, condensing the water into droplets. If a cloud hits warmer air, it absorbs that heat, turning from a cloud of droplets into invisible vapor.

That heat transfer is also going to be happening, to some degree, as we use technology to create clouds and rainstorms, and in a climate that’s already too hot and chaotic for comfortable living, it’s hard to know what side effects we might get from widespread use of this sort of weather modification. I’m really not sure, but it seems like extensive use of this technology in one location could create an artificial heat wave nearby. The UAE, or the United States, or any other country could well make local conditions better through weather modification, but even with the climate thrown into chaos, moving heat around like that could worsen conditions in other areas. If the world is still operating as a collection of nations in competition with each other, then it’s almost guaranteed that countries with the power to do so will improve their own conditions at the expense of populations who’re unable to protect themselves.

It always seems to come back to this, but the risk/reward analysis is always going to be different depending on who’s calling the shots. As the planet becomes more dangerous, and the actions taken to survive become more drastic, I think nationalism and nationalistic tendencies will become also much more dangerous.

There’s already a long-standing problem of more powerful nations using those with less power not just for cheap labor (or slave labor) but also as dumping grounds. When we’re dealing with any form of artificial cooling, heat is what is extracted and discarded. With much of the world coming ever-closer to the limits of human heat tolerance, for at least some parts of the year, I think that the concept of heat as a waste product is going to become much more familiar.

If we’re going to avoid the same old pattern of enriching a minority by making huge parts of the planet worse, then we need to view nationalism (and fascism in particular) as an immediate existential threat to the entire species. If we’re going to get through climate change, it will be by helping each other on a global scale as various parts of the world become uninhabitable, or suffer crop failures or unexpected disasters. The way the United States responded to the COVID-19 pandemic may give you some insight into how well that “cooperation” thing will work out under a nationalist framework.

This is my worry for virtually every aspect of climate change. The Pentagon rightly describes global warming as a “threat multiplier,” and I would say that includes the threats of nationalism, capitalism, and fascism. Economic and political philosophies that view parts of the population as either expendable or as targets for mass murder already actively hinder international cooperation, and cause massive amounts of death and misery. Many of the refugees at our southern border are fleeing the combination of US-generated political instability and the warming climate. There is zero question in my mind that Guatemala, for example, would have been far more able to cope with its climate disasters had the US not deliberately plunged the country into decades of brutal civil war and genocide. The same goes for Nicaragua, El Salvador, and numerous other countries in Central America, South America, Africa, Asia, the Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, and we’re kinda running out of parts of the planet. At the same time, U.S. officials involved in those atrocities still hold influence in the United States – go through this tiny list of indictments for the Iran-Contra Affair and see who, of those still alive, still have sway on corporate boards, political campaigns, and administrations. And remember – those are just the ones who got indicted, in a country now famous for protecting its war criminals.

In the coming decades, we will need to make a planetary effort unlike anything in the history of our species. We need to work together for the benefit of all humanity, and of every other species on the planet that we can save. We will need weather modification technology for cooling, or watering entire forests, or helping to grow crops. We will need nuclear power. We will need to build new infrastructure. We will need to develop the means to relocate large amounts of goods and large populations without using fossil fuels. We will need to radically increase the efficiency of the technology we use, and we will need to end profit-driven overproduction.

The politics of nations and national borders are an impediment to all of that, and will increasingly undermine our ability to do anything as the situation gets worse. Everything I just listed can be used or misused to harm people, if used for that purpose. It can also harm people if used neglectfully. I like the anarchist approach to political change not because I necessarily think that we’ll achieve an anarchist society in my lifetime, or because I think such a society would have an easy time dealing with global warming, but because I see it as the best means for people to build collective power and resilience to take collective control of decisions that affect all of us.

Our ability to influence the weather isn’t magic, but I see no reason why the precautions that might be taken by a responsible wizard would not also apply to weather manipulation via technology. In either case, the consequences of doing it for the benefit of a tiny ruling class could be as disastrous as the results of doing it for the benefit (and with the consent) of all humanity could be wondrous.


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We’ve known for decades that a climate refugee crisis was coming. Now it’s here, and we aren’t ready.

About a decade ago, I was part of a Quaker climate action group that was trying to get New England Quakers to take a leadership position – both in political activism and in direct action – to deal with the problems of climate change. We started with putting together a presentation that we’d do at various Quaker Meetings around the region. I don’t remember the exact format, but the basic approach was to simultaneously try to drive home the scale of the horrors we face, and then follow that shock up with discussion of constructive action that could be taken at the community level. We showed a video, and then the 3-5 of us there (it was a small group) would give our own presentations/perspectives on the issue. Mine centered around a discussion of the iguanas I got to help study in college, the dangers presented to them by sea level rise, for example. The video we used, called Wake up, Freak out, then Get a Grip, and I think it’s still worth watching now. The animations are well done, and I expect most of you will be able to see where we’re at in the series of events they forecast:

I think we have passed that point of no return. We can slow the warming, and maybe we can reverse it, but even if we do manage to end fossil fuel use by 2030, I think the temperature is going to keep rising, absent any new actions by humanity. In fact, as we stop using fossil fuels, the corresponding drop in particles in the atmosphere is going to cause a brief increase in temperature, as less sunlight will be reflected back into space before it can heat up the planet. There are proposals to deliberately increase particulate pollution to cool the planet, but they are likely to have bad side effects, and will really only kick the can down the road.

As I’ve said, we’re at a point where we need to work out how to live on this hostile new planet, while we work to make its conditions more hospitable to us and the ecosystems of which we are a part. That means infrastructure that’s either extremely resilient, or that’s designed to be very, very easy to relocate.

It also means finding new homes for billions of people, because where they currently live is fast becoming uninhabitable.

Apparently this hasn’t been clear to all of my readers, so I’ll say it outright – my goal is for humanity to thrive. That obviously requires survival, but more than that it requires that we keep fighting for a more equitable, democratic system. There’s little chance that this struggle will be over at any point in the next couple centuries, and if people try to set aside any issues of social, environmental, or economic justice “until we get climate change dealt with”, then not only will that mean billions will die never seeing justice – even if they all die of old age, which they won’t – it will also undermine or even destroy our efforts to deal with climate change. People who are oppressed will always fight their oppression. The more that work has to be done to deal with immediate survival, then less we will be able to pull together for the good of the species. Likewise, we need to take care of the ecosystems around us, and take action to reduce the scale of the mass extinction we’re currently causing.

As with slavery and genocide, simply ceasing is not enough. Reparations are needed.

And as with those other issues, reparations are not – and never have been – about punishing people for doing bad things. One can argue whether or not there’s a place for that, but it’s a separate issue. The point of reparations is not to harm the perpetrator, but to heal the victim. Material harm has been done, and that requires a material response. Simply apologizing for stabbing someone will not solve the problem – the wound must be cleaned, the damage repaired, and the attacker must be prevented from harming others. There are a whole host of actions that need to be taken before anything can be considered “resolved”.

For the rest of our lives, the fastest growing human crisis is going to be that of those killed by climate change, and those fleeing lethal conditions. To stick with the earlier metaphor, the wounds caused over the centuries by colonialism and capitalism never received treatment, and are now badly infected.

The way we have dealt with refugees historically is not acceptable. It has never been acceptable, and on a rapidly heating planet, incompetent and inhumane management will turn into outright extermination.

If you’ve paid attention to the current fascist movement in the United States, you will have gotten a taste of this already. Refugees are fleeing north from Central America. They’ve been forced out of their ancestral homes by colonialism and the neoliberal atrocities it birthed, but also by the changing climate. The response by American fascists has been not just a closed border, but an impenetrable wall (or the fantasy of one), with proposals to electrify the wall, shoot people who approach it, or even lay down landmines. In reality, all of that “active” violence is secondary and in service to the “passive” violence of an impenetrable border wall.

The goal is a desert full of the bones of those who reached the wall and died unable to cross it.

That’s also why they’ve been caught destroying supply drops meant to help refugees survive the already brutal conditions; in keeping with the long history of governments using the elements as a tool of mass murder, and the tradition of treating refugees as undeserving of life, they want anyone trying to flee to the US to die in the effort.

Even if we ended fossil fuel use tomorrow, that problem would not go away. No approach to this problem will succeed without simultaneously working to keep as much of the world habitable as possible, through the use of technology and through land management, but also to ensure refuge for those living in areas that are no longer habitable.

And more than refuge, we need to ensure that they have a say in decisions that affect their lives. The top-down approach has been a consistent failure, and in this new world, things like refugee camps, concentration camps, and “detention facilities” will all become death camps. Refugees need to be able to control their own lives, same as anyone else, especially because it’s a virtual guarantee that anyone in the position of being classified as a “refugee” was not responsible either for the warming climate, or for the decades of misinformation and obstruction that brought us to this point.

Those who are responsible should be held accountable, stripped of all power to harm others, and their resources should be used to help humanity, but that is a secondary concern to ensuring that their victims are made whole to the greatest degree possible. If we are fighting for a better world for humanity, then we must also be fighting for better a better world for those in it right now, not just for those in the future. That’s not to say that no sacrifices will be made. I don’t think that the ruling class will give up their power willingly, and cutting off access to vital resources has always been a favorite weapon of theirs.

I agree that we absolutely need immigration and refugee policies that value human life, but I’m pessimistic about our chances of getting that from the political systems we currently have, not just in the United States, but in many other places around the world. We need to take matters into our own hands, and work to aid and empower people all around the world. The one silver lining is that there’s so much work to be done, that there’s guaranteed to be a role that’s well-suited for just about everyone.


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Privatization of food, water, shelter, and power kills people. We need to take back the world.

I sometimes feel like a bit of a broken record when it comes to climate change and capitalism. It’s clear to me that dealing with climate change in a way that tries to reduce suffering and needless death will be impossible under a capitalist system. Everything about the way our economy is designed pushes the rich to keep accumulating wealth, and to keep hurting other people to do it. With the ubiquity of the internet in our everyday lives, the ways in which capitalists (or any other rulers for that matter) can directly interfere in our lives are ever-growing. I’ve posted recently about the dangers of heat, and I think it’s clear to most people that some form of artificial cooling is becoming as necessary as heat is in the winter. Under those circumstances, a privatized power grid can turn into a sci-fi nightmare:

Apparently this is a shocking statement in some circles, but I do not believe anyone should have the power to play with people’s lives like that. This is a big reason why I favor solar and wind power – they can be decentralized and integrated throughout the areas -in which humans use power, which makes it more difficult for anyone to control access to electricity.

It’s important to understand that this is not limited to electricity, or even technology in general. It has been done with the housing market for ages, creating and maintaining a large homeless population. Homeless people have always been killed by exposure to the elements, but by now it should be clear to you that those numbers are going to start climbing rapidly. People are already willing to accept worsening labor conditions and debt in an effort to keep a roof over their heads. How much more will we put up with in a world where being denied shelter almost guarantees death?

Corporations (most famously Nestle, but there are others) are also in the process of creating a similar circumstance with access to water around the world. As with the question of shelter, access to potable water is going to become increasingly important as exposure to higher temperatures puts both people and crops at risk of dehydration and overheating. I hope it doesn’t need to be said, but if your access to water depends on being able to pay, then you do not have a right to stay alive in any functional sense.

In a similar vein, it should alarm you that Bill Gates, who has killed a lot of people for money by insisting on corporate control over vaccines, has been buying up vast amounts of farmland.

There is a very real, very immediate danger posed to humanity, not just by climate change, but by the combination of climate change and capitalist hegemony. I don’t know whether it’s malice or pathology, but it seems pretty clear that the capitalists of the world are happy to consume all of humanity, and they should no more be allowed to do that than a serial killer should be allowed to murder at will.

We need to organize, protect and empower each other, and take all power away from those whose “leadership” has brought us to this point.


If you like my work, please share it with others who might find it interesting. If you’re willing, please also consider contributing as little as one dollar per month to my patreon. For various reasons, this is my only source of income right now, and it’s less than we need to break even. Doing so will get you access to some extra content (science fiction and some nonfiction), and give you some influence on what topics I write about.

Update: Lytton has burned.

On June 28th, I mentioned the incredible heat record in Lytton, BC. Two days later, and the entire town was on fire.

One day after it set Canada’s all-time heat record, a British Columbia village was devoured by flames.

A fast-moving wildfire roared over the village of Lytton on Wednesday evening, which shocked climate scientists when temperature there surged to 121 degrees on Tuesday, breaking Canada’s national heat record for a third straight day.

The blaze was a sobering symbol of a hellscape in the Pacific Northwest and western Canada, where hundreds have died and wildfires are erupting as temperatures climb to astonishing heights. One location in Canada’s Northwest Territories, hit 103 degrees Wednesday, the highest temperature observed so far north.

‘Our poor little town of Lytton is gone’: Village at center of Canada’s heat wave devastated by ‘catastrophic’ fires

The Lytton blaze prompted a mandatory evacuation order at 6 p.m. local time for the village of 250 people about 150 miles northeast of Vancouver.

“The fire, it took maybe 15 minutes to engulf the whole town,” Lytton Mayor Jan Polderman told NEWS 1130, a news radio station in Vancouver. “People, basically they just grabbed their keys, and ran out the door. That’s how quick the fire happened.”

Canada’s Global News reported that several buildings were destroyed and that an “unknown number of injured residents” were taken out of the village by ambulance.

“The town is about a kilometre [0.6 miles] long and there were flames from one end of town to the other,” Polderman told NEWS11. “I saw it with my own eyes.”

Lytton burned as more than a dozen wildfires erupted in British Columbia amid the most extreme heat wave recorded in the Pacific Northwest and western Canada.

This is what global warming looks like, and it is just the beginning. The areas that burn every summer are going to keep growing. I hope I’m wrong about this, but I think it’s likely that areas that were historically too wet for fires like this are going to burn as well. As always, there’s a long list of things we could be doing as a society to respond to this emergency, but we’re not going to for as long as the current system remains in place.

They’re welcome to prove me wrong by using their wealth and power to solve the problem, but rather than hoping they’re going to do that, we should be working taking away their power.

John Oliver: Prison Heat

This is the second of what’s looking to be a series of posts on heat. Very often, when we talk about climate change, there’s a lot of focus on things like sea level rise, big storms, crop failure, and so on. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like there’s less focus on the simple fact that larger and larger portions of the planet will start having regular heat waves that exceed what humans can survive. There’s a time, possibly not too distant from now, when being caught without artificial cooling for too long will lethal to anyone. Maybe it’s just too grim to bear thinking about for very long. Regardless, we’re at the point where we’ve got to think about it, and take action.

If you care about justice, and recognize the problems with the American justice system (or those of other countries with which I’m less familiar), then the relentless rise in global temperature is creating a horrific human rights crisis as we speak:

It’s going to get worse, and we need to prepare.

India Walton: “This is organizing”

India Walton just won the Democratic Party primary for the mayoral race in Buffalo, NY. She’s a socialist, and has centered the working class in her campaign thus far. It’s also likely that, given the voting record of her city, Walton will win her election in November, though obviously nothing is guaranteed.

The line from the speech that I quoted in this post’s title is one I want to dwell on for a moment.

“This is organizing.”

Organizing is key to any of the changes we want. Any progress towards justice, equality, or even a future for humanity goes against the systems that gave our ruling class their power. Not only will they pour their billions into opposing candidates like Walton during elections, they will also do everything they can to corrupt, co-opt, and disempower such politicians once in office. Organizing is our best tool for fighting back against that – specifically organizing that’s focused on the results we want, not on any particular individual.

Organization that outlasts electoral campaigns is how we can hold leaders of all sorts accountable. It’s how the working class (which includes the “middle class”, by the way) can keep their power ready to use. Organization is the most important maintenance of any system with a pretense at democracy. It’s equivalent to ensuring the brakes work on your car – they’re no good if you don’t think about function and maintenance until you’re in a crisis and need to stop fast.

There will never be a time when we will be safe from people seeking to accumulate power over others. Organization is our best tool to prevent that, or to take that power away. It’s not just about knocking on doors to get votes, it’s about knocking on doors during a power outage to make sure those in your community are OK. It’s about making sure nobody in your community is going to starve if they go on strike. It’s about working together to ensure our would-be rulers cannot achieve their ends by threatening our lives through starvation, exposure, lack of medicine, or any other means. It’s how we defend ourselves, and how we replace leaders when the need arises.

It’s also our best bet at surviving climate change.

The more work we do to organize now, the more likely we are to be prepared for the future, no matter what it throws at us. Collective action is humanity’s greatest strength, and always has been. It’s how we can achieve things that are laughably impossible for any one person alone.

It’s also how the concentrated power of the ruling class can be dismantled – because the left, at its best, is all about using humanity’s greatest strengths for the benefit of all humanity.

A look at Venice’s flood barrier system

This video provides a good look at a flood barrier system Venice recently completed. It’s a remarkable feat of engineering and yet, as the video says, it’s likely to be insufficient to protect against the sea level rise we’re expecting over the next century or so. The video also provides a good overview of the problems in construction, and of the kinds of ecological damage that could face Venice and other coastal cities from relying on barriers like this to protect them from sea level rise.

When wealth makes it legal to steal: “Crime” is a social construct in dire need of reimagining.

“Law and order” is a central theme of US politics. Part of the reason that a simple reformist approach to the problems of police brutality and abuse, and of racial injustice, is that after generations of Cold War and Drug War propaganda, centuries of white supremacist propaganda, there are a lot of people who feel a fierce loyalty to the police. This support of the US system of law enforcement seems to take the place of an actual consideration of the laws whose enforcement they so love.

Even as politicians and pundits work overtime to convince the people that their problems are caused by the most powerless, the largest single form of theft isn’t even a crime:

The thread contains useful resources and discussion further down, so I recommend that you go check it out if you have time.

This same pattern of things being legal for those with more wealth or power can be seen many other places. It’s been mentioned many times that while murder is supposedly illegal, it’s unlikely that anyone involved in the Flint water crisis will see the kind of prison time that they would if they had been involve in killing and inflicting brain damage on so many people in a more direct manner. Governor Snyder was charged in January of this year, but even if he is convicted, there will be little punishment, and no real justice for the victims.

That’s another thing that McKenna gets at – The solution to this problem is not necessarily to inflict harsher punishments on perpetrators of wage theft, or even on the perpetrators of an atrocity like the Flint water crisis. We want to prevent the crime from being repeated, if possible, but I think it’s fair to say that in a lot of cases our resources are better spent ensuring the victim of the crime gets back what was stolen, gets treatment for injuries or trauma, and so on. Restitution matters more than retribution.

Like I said, it’s a good thread and you should go read the whole thing if you can. A big part of the reason this blog ended up spreading out to cover so many topics beyond climate change is that all of our problems are intertwined – they’re part of the same system. I don’t think there’s a way we can solve any of these problems if we’re not solving all of them at once. We need everyone working together, and that’s not going to happen unless we are, at minimum, addressing the root causes and the symptoms of things like racial oppression. None of us is personally responsible for solving everything, but we are responsible for aiding those who specialize on issues outside our own areas of focus.

The current social construction of crime is, and always has been, a source of endless injustice and misery, and we need to put an end to that as part of our effort to pull together to deal with climate change.

Kick them when they’re down: The fight we’re in isn’t fair, and we shouldn’t pretend it is.

This is a useful interview on how to deal with tech monopolies, but I think it doesn’t go far enough. The approaches that Doctrow lays out are, I think, an excellent starting place. If we want humanity to survive the next century or two, and to simultaneously build a more just and happy society, we need to be working on a whole lot of changes all at once. That means the kinds of power-building work I’ve talked about before, but it also means using the the political system we have now to make that other work easier, to whatever degree we can. That means both direct organizing, and working through our representative democracy. We have to do it all.

Under the current system, the default approach to change is a sort of timid incrementalism that always seems to treat history as a settled matter, starting yesterday. That means that when a dramatic change is made, there’s generally a great deal of opposition and complaining, but then as soon as anyone suggests changing things back, it’s treated as just as big a problem as the initial change. Change is viewed as both generally bad, and as value-neutral. The problem isn’t the kind of change, it’s the scale of that change.  Taking steps to undo the damage done by “Reaganomics”, or even by the Trump administration, is met with similar or even increased level of hand-wringing, as the initial damage. It’s different people making a stink, but they make about the same level of stink, and more importantly, the media treats it as all being the same.

It’s all just a game played by opposing teams, and it’s “fair” to give both sides equal footing.

Of course, this ignores the fact that, when one side fetishizes procedure and incrementalism, while the other side is committed to getting their way no matter the cost, you get predictable results. Things either move in the direction preferred by the more committed side, or they don’t move at all.

Changes in social norms – like the gradually increasing acceptance of homosexuality – can happen under this framework, but not any real changes in how power is distributed or used.

We tend to treat it as an unassailable truth that the way we operate now is the best way to operate, and so truly systemic change is anathema. That’s why, for all the changes seen in the United States over the last century, power has continued to rest primarily in the hands of the capitalist class, which has used its power to whittle away those changes in things like labor law and social safety nets that gave more power to the working classes.

People whose primary goal is the accumulation of wealth and power will always use the wealth and power they currently have to get more. The more they have, the more they are able to reshape society to funnel more to themselves, and to prevent others from preventing that. This is a path that leads inevitably to monopoly and to oligarchy. Even if someone like Bezos or Gates were to decide that they should burn through all of their personal net worth to solve one problem or another, the end result of that is that they would lose the personal power that society gives to capitalists, and someone else would increase in power by comparison. At best, the changes made by one multibillionaire would be temporary, and rolled back by those multibillionaires who chose instead to continue hoarding power.

Ultimately, the only way out of this trap is to make it impossible for individuals to hold that level of power. Until we do that, there will always be people like the Kochs, like Bezos, like Musk, or like Gates, pulling strings around the globe for their personal benefit, and asserting control over resources that we desperately need for things like dealing with pandemics, or with global climate change.

We need to use the tools we have – taxation and regulation – to decrease the power of the ruling class, much as FDR was doing when he talked about taking power away from “economic royalists”, but we cannot simply stop there. We can’t win in a metaphorical bout of fisticuffs and then walk away having “taught them a lesson”, while still leaving them with outsized wealth and power. History has shown that they will, in general, respond by stabbing us in the back. Their goal is dominance, not winning in a fair fight.

Take away all of their power, and don’t give it to anyone else. Use it for degrowth, for new energy infrastructure, and for adaptation to coming climate change. Use it to make sure that nobody can use poverty or deprivation to force others to work FOR them.

We have to knock down the ruling class and kick them while they’re down. We have to remove that class from existence. That does not mean that we have to kill anyone, necessarily. Ideally, the “horrible fate” I want for today’s billionaires includes guaranteed healthcare, food, shelter, freedom of speech, expression, and movement, and so on. The one thing I want to take away from them is their ability to govern the lives of other people, and I don’t want that ability to go to anyone else in their stead.

We are in a fight for our lives, and for the lives of those with less power than each of us might personally be able to wield. We are fighting against people who have attained their power by exploiting every loophole and weakness they can find, and cheating every person they can. We are not in a fair fight, and we should not pretend otherwise.


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