November 16, 2015

#BadDino vs Our Children

Imagine that, sixty-five million years ago, a comet did not hit the earth, and kick up a dust cloud. Nuclear-winter-like conditions did not follow. The planet remained balmy, and dinosaurs prospered. Further, imagine that even though dinosaurs roamed the earth, there was still enough biological space for mammals to develop, finally producing homo sapiens sapiens with all our ingenuity, our agriculture, our technology, and our addiction to such things as "Call of Duty" and "Candy Crush Saga".

Now suppose that there has been genetic cross-talk, and evolution, and that the dinosaurs that survive after all that time have taken on the shape of businesses. Some are small, some are large; some are behemoths. Some of the most successful ones do trade in those things that are even older than dinosaurs, fossilised carbon in all its forms: coal, oil and natural gas.

This carbon was largely deposited around 300 million years ago, in a geological era called, fittingly, the Carboniferous. So those carbon deposits were already ancient when dinosaurs came on the scene, 230 million years ago. The burning of that carbon yields the carbon dioxide that is now de-stabilising our planet's atmosphere.

Photo by Marcin Polak

Here's the thing about dinosaurs: They have - by definition - a reptile brain. This brain governs the quests for food and for mates. It is associated with such behaviours as aggression, dominance, and defense of territory. These properties are all manifest in the behaviour of today's dinosaurs surrounding their digging up, refining and selling of carbon-based fossil fuels, which they call business.

Think also of the Gary Larson cartoon of the crocodile in the witness box saying, "Well of course I did it in cold blood, you idiot! ... I'm a reptile!"

Here's the other thing about dinosaurs: They lack the mammalian brain. This is the part of the brain that makes mammals care for their young, sometimes for decades, despite the sacrifices that entails. This is where empathy lives, and language, and planning. Nobody knows where love resides, but it is one of the defining characteristics of our species: that we love. And nothing and nobody takes up as much of our love as our children.

In contrast, reptiles don't even know their children: they lay their eggs, and walk away.

It is no wonder that the dinosaurs of the fossil fuel industry misunderstand the significance of a law suit brought by a band of courageous young people, except in its implications for their business.

A number of teens across the United States have sued the government for neglecting its duty under the Public Trust Doctrine. That doctrine, an eminently human concept, states that the government must protect the natural resources that enable the survival and prosperity of all its citizens, including its future citizens.

The children claim that the government is not doing enough to assure a livable climate for future generations. Their organisation, Our Children's Trust, has the backing of excellent lawyers; Their "guardian" is Dr. James Hansen, one of the foremost climate scientists of our time.

The young plaintiffs have filed suits in their own states, and in August 2015 they filed a Climate Lawsuit against the US Government and the President. As stated in their website, "Plaintiffs seek a court order requiring the President to immediately implement a national plan to decrease atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (“CO2”) to a safe level: 350 ppm by the year 2100."

This lawsuit has rung the alarm bells with the fossil fuel industry, who regard it as an encroachment on their territory. They have awakened, and stirred, and in an unusual move they now have banded together to defend that territory. Their ranks include ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Koch Industries and their trade groups, such as the American Petroleum Institute: we're talking about Big Oil and Big Coal.

This group of fossil fuel behemoths are proposing to "intervene" in the court case, saying the children's lawsuit is “a direct threat” that could constrain “the sale of the product they have specialized in developing and selling.”

I don't know what they mean by "intervene", but it sounds ominous. The imbalance of strength borders on the ludicrous. As MSNBC put it: "Big Oil joins legal fight against little kids on climate change". Never mind David and Goliath: this is more like the sling in the young herder's hand versus the firepower of the combined armed forces of the United States.

And adults are standing back and letting it happen. The story was covered by EcoWatch, by MSNBC, and a few local newspapers. And there is a piece in Slate by the intrepid Eric Holthaus. But otherwise there has been a eerie silence surrounding the issue that ought to make us all shout with anger. Apparently it doesn't qualify as "news" that a cabal of major corporations set out to stomp on our children's rights, and on the children defending those rights.

Adults must not let these fossil fuel interests play with our children or our children's future: they are not benign. They are not our children's friends. Let us all call them out for what they are: bad dinosaurs.



You may also like:
1. Big Oil joins legal fight against little kids over climate change
2. Fossil Fuel Industry Files Motion to Intervene in Landmark Climate Lawsuit
3. Teach Your Parents Well: Children's Views on Climate Change


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