Milan keeps telling me that we should not confuse the problem of climate change with every single other issue the left concerns itself with – both because of the fear of climate activism being discredited through its association with other issues about which there may actually be two sides, and because it misses the transcendental nature of climate change with respect to other tragedies: if we don’t have a climate, there is no world in which we can fight for justice. And that’s fair enough – one might imagine an alternative version of Al Gore’s “Mmmm I’d just like to have some of those gold bars” with a scale whose pretence is to weigh the entire planet against the precariousness of migrant workers, or the suffering of populations directly caused by US aggression. I’ve responded to these points mostly by attempting to show that democratization of some sort seems the most promising possibility for passing climate mitigation.
There is another sense, however, in which comparisons to social injustice and imperial aggression is relevant to climate un-mitigation, to climate denial campaigns, and to the general disregard capital and state executives seem to have for the survival of the species. (If you haven’t already, please read Milan’s post previous to this on Canada’s despicable “climate prosperity” campaign).
The comparison to be made is with the way imperial powers describe past crimes, or rather don’t describe them, even though the facts are clear and the damage has been done. This should be the situation in which it is most difficult to lie about crimes – it should be most difficult to fool populations, and most difficult to escape responsibility. But, if we look at the history of the way the Vietnam War is described by the American administration, there is no apology, and in fact the blame is placed more and more greatly on the victim as time passes. As Chomsky outlines in his recent talk on the US crimes committed in Fallujah, Iraq, whereas the Carter administration claimed the US owed no reparations to Vietnam because “the destruction was mutual”, Reagan claimed the US bore no responsibility for the atrocities because their “motives were good”, and Bush the first went even further to say “we will never forgive them for what they have done to us”. The positions in the scholarly literature and the media are, according to Chomsky, between “doves” who claim the war was unwinnable, and “hawks” who claim that if more resources had been allotted, the Vietnam war could have been won. I don’t know the scholarly literature on Vietnam, so if anyone with that expertise could comment on this point that would be helpful. If true, it is quite significant that the issue of Vietnam as a US war crime could be excluded from the academic discourse. Anyway, the point is – imperial power is good, even in a democratic context, at excluding mention of its crimes from its own communications, and from the mainstream discussion – even after the fog of war has lifted, and the research is complete.
The story is the same, although certainly much younger, with Fallujah. As I’ve already blogged on NorthernSong, the fallout of US bombings of Fallujah on infant mortality appears comparable to the effects of Hiroshima. The story is fairly simple – a scientific report was released, and it was picked by very few newspapers despite it being an extremely significant finding concerning a US war crime in Iraq. America is the dominant world power, and one would imagine that the world media would be quick to be critical of crimes. But, in fact, only the Belfast Telegraph, Arab News, and China.org picked up the story in short order. Months later, Pravda managed to pick up the story – but a Google News search shows the story is mostly only covered in the radical press, and left wing think tanks like The Centre for Research on Globalization.
Now, what might the implication of these concealments be for Global Warming? Simply that strong states are never forced to acknowledge their crimes, even when it becomes clear, and it is not uncommon for the overwhelming majority of mainstream media to cater to the US position. Therefore, we might actually think it’s astonishing that The Globe and Mail actually picked up the story when James Hansen spoke out against oil sands development. If we interpret climate denial and the avoidance of climate mitigation as a crime against humanity, then compare it to other crimes against humanity committed by the US and its allies over the last 65 years, we find it is actually receiving, comparatively, a critical treatment in the media.
The point is this: there is nothing surprising or new about state policies which advocate or apologize for atrocities, nor is there anything new about capital (and here I’m referring not especially but not only to media capital) going to extreme lengths to keep the question of responsibility for those crimes from public discourse. We should therefore look for the objective interests which are served by policies which require the committing of atrocities, and work to either/both change those interests, or change whose interests get to be served.