Remember the scene in Apocalypse Now where Marlon Brando’s character, the crazed Colonel Kurtz, tells Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) of the shock he felt upon realizing the strength of his enemies?
“And then I realized… like I was shot… like I was shot with a diamond… a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought: My God… the genius of that. The genius. The will to do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we.”
That same bullet struck me recently while reading Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.” Her argument: that the U.S. government and now, ever increasingly, multinational corporations not only view disasters as fortune-making opportunities but actually work to hasten the onset of such opportunities, whether through coups, economic strong-arming or willful neglect (think New Orleans).
Suddenly, it struck me that some of the world’s power players might be viewing climate change the same way. Maybe some corporate and political leaders see rising sea levels, widespread drought and global destabilization not as outcomes to be avoided but as opportunities to be exploited for maximum profit. How else to explain the continued surge of cash to climate skeptic groups and the ongoing rush to build more and more coal-fired power plants?
I put that question to author/activist Bill McKibben (“The End of Nature,” “Deep Economy”) during a recent blogger conference call, and discovered I’m not the only one with that concern.
“It’s a very real possibility,” McKibben said. “Disaster capitalism is strong. It’s a signal of the kind of bottom-feeding we’ve allowed our economy to descend to.”
McKibben says he sees some potential for change in the coming U.S. presidential elections, though not if the office goes to either John McCain or Hillary Clinton.
“(Barack Obama) may be a necessary precondition,” McKibben said. “Who knows whether he’ll be able to reign in the Halliburtons of the world?”
The greatest and best hope for change, McKibben said, lies with us — individuals acting for change at the local level and mobilizing on a global scale via the Internet. And the issue of climate change, he added, is the one rallying cry most likely to inspire us to act. That’s why he launched StepItUp in 2007. And that’s why he’s leading the 350 Challenge (as in 350 parts per million of atmospheric carbon dioxide) now.
“It takes every bit of cleverness we can get from people,” McKibben said. “The path in front of us is pretty darn daunting.”