How Billionaires and Big Carbon are Killing the Planet

By Mike Hembury

Remember those endless days when you were a kid? Days spent out in the sun, down on the beach, lazy days of summer, back before the sun was your enemy, back before kids had to be smothered in factor 50 before they were allowed out? Back before the ozone hole changed the nature of our relationship with something as simple as going out in the sun.

Well, I remember it. Maybe those are my memories, not yours, but you get the picture.

I read somewhere this week that we were actually lucky with the ozone hole. If the scientists back in the Fifties who were looking for a cheap refrigerant had chosen something else, say an organobromine compound instead of cholorofluorocarbons[1], then the damage we did to our atmospheric protection layer would not only have been catastrophically greater, but also irreversible.

So we kinda scraped through on that one.

But we lost a little bit of innocence back there.

Somewhere along the line, a bunch of scientists were not only in a position to notice what was happening, but were also able to mobilize enough public opinion to drag the CFC/refrigerator/gas-making industry kicking and screaming into some more environmentally friendly position.

So this became a kind of meme, a thought model regarding getting people to do stuff about the changes we’re inflicting on the planet. You do your research, mobilize public opinion, convince a few government officials, kick off a few court cases and gradually swing that tanker round, bringing her back onto a less dangerous course.

And we’ve certainly had a lot of losses since then. Countless species, habitats, reefs, forests. We’re living through the Sixth Great Extinction. And we’ve lost countless chances to turn this thing around.

And maybe it’s kind of baffling to a lot of people. After all, we’ve won the argument, right? 97% of scientists say that it’s time to stop doing this shit, that our economic system is frying the planet and in the process of making it uninhabitable.

But that’s the thing with the one percent, with the people running the planet. Sure, they may be completely impervious to rational argument, but that’s not the point. The point is, that they are total products of their business model. On a personal level, they might think it’s a goddam shame, but let’s face it, millions of people dying never stopped corporations from making a buck[2]. If you’ve got all the money in the world, then your attitude towards present and future catastrophes is basically going to be one of the “armed lifeboat”. Oh, and of course that good old trope: après moi le deluge.

Because if there is one thing about our rulers and their relation to their fossil-fuel business model that we need to understand, it’s this: they can’t give it up. It’s the source of all their profits, all their power. They’re invested too heavily in it. Asking them to give all of that up is like asking the slave owners to give up the plantation.

As an aside, someone mentioned to me recently the reason they had a sneaking admiration for Trump was the often-repeated line about him "being in nobody's pocket". He doesn't need to be in anybody's pocket. He's a billionaire for god's sake. He is a perfect example of the US ruling class tooling up to protect its interests, preparing for dictatorship, stoking civil war.

Our rulers know that their number is basically up, that whichever way you look at it, things are going to get rough from here on in.

Rough for us, if they have their way.

You know of course that it effectively took hundreds of years for slavery to be abolished. From the arrival of the first slaves in the New World in the early 17th century, to the end of the American Civil War in 1865, it took centuries of resistance and struggle to take down a criminal and genocidal system of economic exploitation that was considered perfectly normal by the exploiting minority.

And here we are in the early 21st century, with a criminal, ecocidal, planet-killing and hence genocidal system of economic exploitation that needs to be got rid of. But we don't have a couple of hundred years to do it. And with Trump now in the White House, fossil-fuel capitalism is not only going to be digging in its heels, it’s going to be ripping up even something as toothless as the Paris Agreement.

We know that it's already too late to stop a lot of the effects of climate change. But Trump or no Trump, if we want to leave the planet in some form inhabitable for future generations, we have to make the change now.

We have to lose some illusions, and turn that disillusionment into action.

We have to get over our shock at all the racists, misogynists and climate change deniers in the White House and realize that no-one is going to do it for us.

We have to find a fighting bottom line. Get organised. Find some friends. Find some hope. We sure as hell need some.

Well, I’m going to leave you with this.

In spite of everything, I found some hope this past couple of weeks.

I found Ian Angus’s Facing the Anthropocene, which has blisteringly good scientific insight coupled with an eco-socialist manifesto for the 21st century.

I found the Eco-Wobblies—the Environmental Unionism Caucus of the IWW—who bring a radical trade union perspective to the struggles of the environmental movement.

And I found Jeremy Brecher’s call for global non-violent climate insurgency, which basically calls for a planet-wide campaign of civil disobedience against the fossil fuel complex.

And of course, I found the outstanding inspiration of the water defenders at Standing Rock. A group of non-violent, Native American protesters facing up to militarized security forces acting illegally on Treaty-protected land. Check out the media of your choice for #noDAPL, and support them.

This is where we’re at right now. This is how the frontline of the movement is leading by example. These are normal people, motivated by their love for the natural world, and their disgust at the criminal recklessness demonstrated by Big Carbon. People like you and me. They are coming together, coordinating, taking action.

It’s the only way to go.

We may have lost a lot of time, opportunities and illusions.

But now, more than ever, we need to start finding a focus, and hope, and each other.

Because the clock is ticking.

[1] Paul Crutzen, quoted in Facing the Anthropocene.

[2] Check out of course Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism for more on this delightful aspect of our economic system

Previously published as ‘The Only Way to Go’ in The Wild Word magazine.

Mike Hembury is an Anglo-Berliner originally from Portland, England.  He’s a writer, translator, musician, coder, sailor, environmentalist and guitar nerd in no particular order.  You can check out some of Mike’s music projects here:,,

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