By J.Andrew HoernerClimate change plays favorites. Not by malice or calculation, but without question. This is the lesson of hurricane Katrina. Global warming makes the entire climate system more energetic. As the planet heats up, you see more extreme events of every kind—rainstorms, droughts, hurricanes and tornados, forest fires, and heat waves of deadly intensity. Warming is forecast to cause massive species loss and the death of traditional lifestyles that are closely allied with nature, from the Arctic tundra to the tropics. The 10 hottest years in history have all occurred in the last decade and a half. Global warming and the greenhouse gases that cause it are already outside the bounds of the last 600,000 years of earth history, and the further we move into uncharted territory, the more likely we are to see sudden, drastic, and unpredictable changes in the basic climate pattern of the world.And who pays the greatest price for this climatic destruction? Blacks, Latinos, low-income households, and indigenous peoples. They are communities who cannot afford air conditioning to combat heat waves or property insurance to cover against hurricane and tornado damage; people who spend the most on basic necessities and who have no access to health care when tropical diseases become more widespread. While it’s true that “working people everywhere” are increasingly being affected by the same problems, the reality is that specific communities are still the first and the hardest to be hit.
The U.S. is the wealthiest and most dominant country in the world, yet it can’t keep the lights on in New York City, nor can it provide power in “liberated” Baghdad. Centralized power production based on fossil fuel and nuclear resources has served to centralize political power, to disconnect communities from responsibility and control over energy, and to create a vast wasteful system. We need to recover democracy. And one key element is democratizing power production.
Let’s face it, we are energy junkies. The U.S. is the largest energy market in the world, and we consume one third of the world’s energy resources with five percent of the population. We are undeniably addicted—our economy is based on the burning of dinosaurs and on wasteful production systems. In other words, oil. Ninety-seven percent of the total world oil consumption has been in the past 70 years.
Alternative models to corporate agribusiness
For thousands of years, small family farmers across the globe have grown food for their local communities, planting diverse crops in healthy soil, recycling organic matter, following nature’s rainfall patterns, and maintaining our rich biodiversity. Today, this agricultural system—which was built on knowledge accumulated and passed on from one farming generation to the next—faces both an environmental and moral crisis.
What’s called “modern industrial agriculture” is replacing family farms with corporate farms, and biodiversity with monocultures. This agricultural model is trading local food security for global commerce.