In a previous and apparently somewhat controversial article, I laid out what individuals are likely to do as despair and anger rise over climate inaction. I was not recommending these actions, but some readers interpreted it that way and seemed very threatened by what desperate individuals will do. We must also consider what nations are liable to do, especially those right on the front lines of climate change. Many nations will be desperate – they are literally in a life-or-death situation – and some are certain to take drastic action.
Also known as symbolic actions, these have on effect on someone who really doesn’t care what you think of him. I have previously described the actions of the developed nations as predatory, in that they will still be talking long after the poor countries have devolved into climate chaos.
- Hold an underwater session of Parliament. The Maldives recently did this; Canada and the United States did not change direction noticeably.
- Entreat, appeal to reason, point out the advantages to acting now, etc. The developed countries are locked on their current path by powerful corporate interests, so reason is irrelevant.
- Participate in international conferences, including trusting that the rich nations are sincere and will be honourable. See: Danish text.
Likely Actions: Potentially Harmful to All
Desperate people are likely to take desperate action. Don’t expect them to die quietly for our benefit.
- Make an example of an individual denier. I have suggested charging Rex Tillerson with crimes against humanity. Tillerson is the CEO of ExxonMobil, which has funded climate denial liars for years, and continues to do so. This action would strike at the head of the beast, and may be one of the only ways to move the rich to action. It is also the safest for all of us, though embarrassing that someone else had to take out our trash.
- Make an example of a denier country. Boot Canada out of the Commonwealth, for example. Efforts to do this are already underway. Or, for that matter, charge Canada’s PM Stephen with crimes against humanity. Or fund an effort in his own country to charge him with treason and terrorism.
- Stall. Buy land in other nations in order to grow crops to feed your people. China and Saudi Arabia are doing this in Africa, and it seems certain to lead to conflict.
- Demand that rich nations give land to sunken countries for a new home. Much like was done for Israel but this time willingly by the people who caused the countries to sink. The Maldives are going to disappear and countries like Canada and the US are largely responsible; why shouldn’t the US give Kauai to the people they dispossessed? If Bangladesh must relocate 17 million climate refugees by the end of the century, why shouldn’t Canada accept them as refugees?
- Geo-engineering. Yes, it could destroy much human life on the planet if it goes wrong, but if your country is dead anyway…. And if we don’t stop climate change we’re all dead, so certainly some desperate nation will try. It may not work, but it would cost very little for Bangladesh or an African nation to dump a shipload of iron filings into the ocean to try and cool the planet. Or for China and India to inject sulphur into the atmosphere.
- Steal. Divert water for your own nation’s use. The Himalayan glaciers provide water to 40% of the world’s population in Asia, and they are melting fast. When they are gone, someone is not going to get sufficient water.
- Reduce population any way possible. Wars work, as does starvation if you can prevent rioting. Lenin and Stalin starved millions to death, as did Mao. Some sort of influenza would do the trick, assuming a vaccine was developed in advance and given to the favoured few.
- Go to war. China could invade Russia to get more land. Or Canada. Unlikely? At the moment, yes. If the Chinese government is facing revolution and economic collapse as millions of residents of Shanghai are drive from their homes by rising sea levels, then the scenario becomes much more plausible. Or India could nuke Bangladesh if refugees from that country are overwhelming India.
Some of these scenarios will seem more plausible as time goes by, even with concerted action on climate. This is because we have already set in motion climate changes that will result in, for example, significant sea level rise. Gwynne Dyer covers this well in his excellent book Climate Wars, which used research from the U.S. Pentagon. The Pentagon considers climate change a much greater threat than terrorism, and for good reason: the United States shares a very long border with Mexico, population 111 million. Mexico is rapidly running out of oil and is predicted to suffer badly due to desertification as the tropics warm.
I would much prefer that we get serious about climate change now, before millions are starving, migrating, and warring – before people and nations are backed into a corner with their life on the line. Getting serious means to stop doing things that don’t work, like candlelight vigils or expecting rich nations to act honourably, and to take actual action. Step 1 should be to stab a dagger through the heart of the denier Medusa by charging Rex Tillerson, the lead funder of climate denial.
And while any one country could (and may) do this, it would be far more powerful to have the G77 band together to do it.