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Paul Street is one of the more insightful writers I follow and he has a new essay out which lists his version of the top threats to modern civilization. The conspicuous absence of these grave dangers from our political discourse prompts him to start off his article as follows:

The content and character of the 2012 U.S. presidential election does not bode well for the human race and other life on Earth. If the American people do not broaden the sphere of public concerns that matter far beyond the ones being discussed in this the latest big money-big media -major party-narrow spectrum-corporate-managed candidate-centered “electoral extravaganza” (Noam Chomsky’s phrase[2]), then there is not going to be a decent, desirable, or democratic future worth inhabiting. If we accept this and other such periodic U.S. elections as an adequate expression and spectrum of democratic politics and popular voice, we’re done for.

Well Paul, it is all corporate-funded theater and bread & circus for the mesmerized and pacified masses. What more would you expect from a society whose governing institutions and news media have been usurped by the greed of monied interests? Both mainstream parties are on the corporate dole, a situation best summed up by the following comment:

…America’s history has always been about the battle between plutocracy and democracy. Since WWII, we’ve built the military-industrial complex, we’ve allowed campaign funding to reach insane proportions, we’ve introduced the most effective means of propaganda ever created (the TV) into every home, and we’ve de-regulated Wall Street into a behemoth. We’ve allowed the corporate structure to infect our democracy at the deepest levels as well as most people’s personal lives in a fundamental way (health care and pharmaceuticals, banking and debt, the fact that most of the country has to shop at Walmart to be able to break even each paycheck, etc.).

The plutocrats have been routing democracy in a steady succession the past 50+ years. Our democracy is now a hollowed-out shell completely subservient to corporate interests at all levels. This is not crazy liberal talk – it’s simple reality. Citizens United was just the icing on the cake…

Number one on Paul Street’s list cannot be denied – climate change. Here’s what he writes about this civilization-ending problem which has been avoided at all costs by the mainstream media even after the devastation in New York:

Number two on Paul’s list is the ever-present threat of nuclear war. He should have mentioned that a warming planet will lead to increased conflict over resources such as water and food.

Climate change is a threat multiplier. It will make unstable states more unstable, poor nations poorer, inequality more pronounced, and conflict more likely,” Huhne is expected to say in a speech to defence experts. “And the areas of most geopolitical risk are also most at risk of climate change.”

He will warn that climate change risks reversing the progress made in prosperity and democracy since the industrial revolution, arguing that the results of global warming could lead to a return to a “Hobbesian” world in which life is “nasty, brutish and short”.

And the U.S. military already acknowledged the threat of human-induced climate change to the stability of nation states in a 2007 report, National Security and the Threat of Climate Change. In recent years, congressional witnesses speaking on the dangers that climate change poses have been unequivocal in their warnings:

· On October 15, 2009, retired USAF General Charles F. Wald testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee, reiterating the CNA finding, saying that “we must… now prepare to respond to the consequences of dramatic population migrations, pandemic health issues and significant food and water shortages due to the possibility of significant climate change” and that “Energy security and a sound response to climate change cannot be achieved by an increased use of fossil fuels.”

· In May, 2009, retired USN Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee pointed to an “over reliance on fossil fuels” and said that “climate change has the potential to create sustained natural and humanitarian disasters on a scale and at a frequency far beyond those we see today.

So we should expect that a future of unstable climate which increasingly puts our food production in jeopardy will also lead to an increased risk of weapons of mass destruction being used by failing countries – desperate and angry fingers on the trigger of nukes. Homer-Dixon’s scenario on climate change and armed conflict is prescient. An article from 2007 reveals the inevitable truth about the energy-water-food-climate nexus and social breakdown:

…Homer-Dixon was writing more than 15 years ago about climate change leading to a rise in violent conflict and state failure.

Then, his pronouncements found only a small audience, and held little sway in the halls of power in Washington or New York.

Now, he is briefing UN Security Council members about his theories of “synchronous failure”, a much in-demand author of a bestseller warning of impending catastrophe, The Upside of Down.

…Homer-Dixon believes “major volatility” in nation-states and in the international order is the inevitable outcome of climate change. His theory rests on the premise that many nation-states are highly stressed and hopelessly addicted to energy, what he terms the “master resource”.

Climate change will be the factor that pushes many vulnerable states to the edge, and over it.

Some nations will find their resources overwhelmed as they struggle to cope with massive internal movements of people displaced as fertile land becomes unproductive and water shortages emerge.

…a rise in the Earth’s temperature of one to two degrees – will have significant impacts.

He says modern states are in a similar predicament to the declining Roman Empire.

The massive cost to Rome of maintaining and feeding its subjects, bureaucracy, militaries and cities required more and more energy. In the end, the energy could not be found, leading eventually to the collapse of a great empire.

Similarly, a “complex” globalised world is expending more and more energy to underpin societies reliant on relentless economic growth.

In what Homer-Dixon describes as an “astonishing statistic” he notes that the energy consumed in producing and transporting food around the world has risen 80-fold in the past century while the population has quadrupled to 6 billion over the same period.

Using a measure he called the “energy return on investment”, Homer-Dixon finds the search for energy is requiring an ever-increasing amount of resources at a time when demand for it is rising rapidly.

It is a situation that he says is fast becoming unsustainable. Oil will become too expensive, while nuclear energy requires a massive investment in money and energy, just to get it off the ground.

And he notes another dilemma. Fixing the effects of climate change will require massive amounts of energy in itself.

“Building sea barriers, moving huge numbers of people displaced by changing weather, building new infrastructure … all these types of things, the solutions to climate change, require lots and lots of energy.”

And as governments become incapable of discharging their basic responsibilities of statehood, the vacuum will be filled by chaos and conflict…

Number three and four on Paul’s list is mass poverty and inequality. He writes:

Perhaps we should mention that mass poverty and inequality stem from unfettered capitalism which has reached its full fruition in the buy-off of our government and the total corruption of regulatory, judicial, and legislative institutions by the profit-driven interests of multinational corporations. The social contract has been broken; the political discourse for the public has degenerated into meaningless wedge issues; and society has been atomized and isolated into ‘individual consumers’, a mere member of a marketing demographic whose only voice is to choose between product X or Y.

Number five on Paul’s list is the likelihood of another epic financial crisis. Our financial system is limping along, but its demise is written in stone. Without cheap energy, the underlying backbone of our economy, our growth-oriented system cannot survive for very much longer. As I said before, money is simply a token of energy exchange and has no intrinsic value of its own. If we now take into account our fossil fuel energy system’s external costs (environmental damage, ill-health costs, climate change destruction, resource wars such as Iraq, etc), then we’d be in debt up to our eyeballs. As I explained in this post, the net benefits of burning fossil fuels will eventually be negated by the net costs.

Number six on Paul’s list is “long-term structural employment and enforced obsolescence of tens of millions of formerly middle and working class Americans.” The worker is disposable, and long-term unemployment is endemic to capitalism. The corporate drive for maximizing profits is the primary goal and thus follows the policy of keeping worker numbers and their wages as low as possible. Automation, outsourcing of jobs, and employing part-time workers are some of the ways corporations suppress labor.

Paul lists number seven as “racism and racial inequality.”:

…Nobody raises a peep about racially disparate mass incarceration or segregated schools or black inner city neighborhoods with unemployment and poverty rates over 40 percent…

Looking back in history to the genocide of Native Americans and now to today with the ‘War on Terror’ and its related racism towards Muslims, the U.S. empire has always demonized anyone who stands in its way. Nationalism, racism and xenophobia always rise in times of economic downturns, no matter the country, when scapegoats are created to vent people’s anger and frustration as well as shift blame. Today is no different:

And the last one is U.S. militarism. I would rank this one much higher on the list and I’ve posted on this subject extensively, but the following video does a nice job of summing things up: