Climate Change Tom Engelhardt Ukraine

Tom Engelhardt: Cold War II or World War III?

Déjà Vu All Over Again
Global catastrophe concept (greenhouse effect, global warming are destroying our planet)

By Tom Engelhardt / TomDispatch

He’s our very own emperor from hell, an updated version of Nero who, in legend, burned down Rome on a whim, though ours prefers drowning Washington.  Why, just the other day, Donald Trump — and you knew perfectly well who I meant — bent the ears of 250 top Republican donors for 84 minutes. Among other things, he assured those all-American (not Russian) oligarchs — and let me quote him in the Washington Post on this — that “‘the global warming hoax, it just never ends…’ He mocked the concept of sea levels rising, disputing widely held science. ‘To which I say, great, we have more waterfront property.’”

Admittedly, he’s talking about flooded property, including possibly whole cities going underwater in the decades to come, but what the hell! Yes, indeed, he was the president of the United States not so long ago and, if all goes well (for him, not us), he or some doppelganger, could win the Oval Office again in 2024, ensuring the arrival of that new, all-too-wet waterfront property.  And yes, he offered up that little gem — about the 9,000th time he’s called climate change a “hoax” (sometimes blaming it on China) — just as a new scientific report came out suggesting that, if things don’t improve in fossil-fuel-burning terms, up to half of the Amazon rain forest, one of the great carbon sinks on Earth, could be transformed into savanna. To quote the Washington Post again:

“The warming consequences of suddenly losing half the rainforest would be felt thousands of miles away and for centuries into the future, scientists warn. It would mean escalating storms and worsening wildfires, chronic food shortages and nearly a foot of sea level rise inundating coastal communities. It could trigger other tipping points, such as the melting of ice sheets or the disruption of the South American monsoon.”

Hey, Donald, what could possibly go wrong on this all-too-embattled planet of ours?

Of course, at this moment, three of the four largest greenhouse gas emitters, Russia, the U.S. (which is now allowing more drilling for oil and gas than even during Trump’s presidency), and China, are locked in what could only be thought of as a deadly embrace over Vladimir Putin’s disastrous invasion of Ukraine. And the grim war the Russian president launched seems likely to guarantee yet more fossil-fuel use on a planet that needs so much less of it, even as he also put the issue of nuclear war back on the table for the first time since the Cold War ended.  How appropriate, if you’re heading into Cold War II to once again raise the possibility — forget about the next Chernobyl — of turning World War III into a nuclear one.

At this point, if you don’t mind a genuine understatement, what a strange planet we now live on.

World’s End, Property of…?

Once upon a time, whatever your religion, Armageddon was the property of the gods; until August 6, 1945, that is, when a lone B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay (named after its pilot’s mother), dropped the first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, essentially obliterating it.

Thought of another way, however, we humans took the power to end the world (at least as we’ve known it) out of the hands of the gods in the nineteenth century when the fossil-fuel based industrialization of Planet Earth began in earnest in Great Britain. In other words, credit our cleverness. In the space of a mere 200 or so years, we’ve developed two different ways of devastating or even ending our life on this planet. Consider that a genuine accomplishment for humanity.

As it happens, recent nuclear and climate-change news should have brought that reality to mind again.  But before I even get to Vladimir Putin, the invasion of Ukraine, and the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), let me mention that, more or less any week, there’s a new study (or two or three) of our climate future suggesting ever more extreme peril for us in the decades (or even months) to come: ever fiercer droughts, intensifying heat, more extreme wildfires, more melting ice, and ever rising sea levels.

Of course, like the rest of us, you already know that story, right? And of one thing you can be sure, the next scientific study, whatever it is, will only offer yet more extremeclimate news (with the rarest of exceptions).  In fact, I had barely begun writing notes for this piece when that IPCC study arrived on the scene with, of course, the latest round of dreadful news about where we’re heading — to a potentially “irreversible” hell in a handbasket, natch. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called it a “code red for humanity,” lamenting that the evidence it details was unlike anything he had ever seen on the subject and describing it as an “atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.”

Damning indeed on a planet where, even before the Ukrainian nightmare, it was obvious that key leaders were doing anything but greening this world fast enough for the health of humanity.  And that, of course, is just the background against which all of us now operate, whether we think about it or not — and in the midst of events in Ukraine, it’s not being given much thought at all — on a planet going to… well, why insult “the dogs”?

Which brings me back to Vladimir Putin.  The strange thing about that other form of planetary suicide, atomic weaponry, is that, since at least the end of the Cold War, it’s generally not been on the table (so to speak) or much in the news.  Yes, in the Trump years, the president did implicitly threaten to rain nuclear hell on North Korea — he called it “fire and fury” — and, at one point, spoke of ending the Afghan War with just such a strike, but most of the time from 1990 to late last night, nuclear weapons (Iran, which didn’t have them, aside) simply weren’t part of the conversation.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  In those same decades, nuclear arsenals only spread and grew.  Nine countries now possess such weaponry and the three great powers on the planet — the U.S., China, and Russia — have all been hard at work. Russia has been “modernizing” its vast arsenal and China moving rapidly to build up its own.

Since Barack Obama’s presidency, the U.S. military-industrial complex has also been — and, yes, this is indeed the term often used — “modernizing” its already mind-boggling arsenal to the tune of $1.7 trillion to $2 trillion dollars over three decades.  That includes, for instance, a new intercontinental ballistic missile known as the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent that, it’s already estimated, will take at least 264 billion of our tax dollars over its lifetime (and that’s before the cost overruns even begin!).  Keep in mind that this country already had an unmodernized arsenal all too capable of destroying this planet many times over into the distant future. With our 1,357 deployed nuclear weapons (3,750, if you count the “inactive” ones), including land-based nuclear missiles, those transported by strategic bombers, and our nuclear subs wandering the world’s waters with their own devastating nukes on board, global destruction would be a given.

With all that activity long underway to remarkably little attention, nuclear weapons — and apocalyptic possibilities — have once again hit the headlines thanks to Vladimir Putin. After all, as his troops headed into Ukraine, he suddenly and all too publicly issued a directive putting his nuclear forces on “high alert” and offered this gem to the world:

“Whoever tries to hinder us, and even more so, to create threats to our country, to our people, should know that Russia’s response will be immediate. And it will lead you to such consequences that you have never encountered in your history.”

To make his point even clearer, he promptly oversaw the test launching of four nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. Since the U.S. still has plenty of tactical nuclear weapons based in Europe, consider us once again, as in the original Cold War, on edge and in a nuclear stand-off. Meanwhile, in Ukraine, the Russians threaten to repeat, of all things, the Chernobyl disaster by taking the nuclear plants they once set up and serviced there in a wartime blaze of horror.  One has already been captured under hair-raising circumstances.

Looking back, maybe the strangest thing of all is that most Americans, maybe most people on the planet, essentially forgot about nukes.  In retrospect, you have to wonder how that was ever possible, especially if you’re my age and remember ducking and covering at school in repeated nuclear test drills, while the media of that time focusedon whether people should share their personal nuclear shelters with their friends and neighbors. And mind you, that was in the years when, in reality, Russian nuclear weapons couldn’t yet reach this country (though the U.S. already had the ability to devastate the communist world).

Here, then, is a strange irony: in the years when we were most truly paying attention, they couldn’t have done anything to us. Once they truly could, we essentially began forgetting those weapons. Now, however, the potential destruction of humanity is back on the table — and this time around, brilliantly enough, in two different ways.

Green What?

Believe me, when you’ve been on this planet for 77 years, you feel like you’ve seen everything.  And then, of course, it turns out that you haven’t. Not by a long shot. Not faintly. At 14, my grandfather, a Jew, ran away from his home in the city of Lemberg when it was still part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.  Between World Wars I and II, it was called Lvov and belonged to Poland.  During that second great war, the Jewish population there was slaughtered by the Nazis.  Since the end of that nightmarish war, it’s been known as Lviv and it’s been part of Ukraine, or rather, if Vladimir Putin has his way, the place that until recently was known as Ukraine. As a result, Lviv is again in the news, big time.

I mean, invading Ukraine at this moment?  How truly mad.  It’s still hard to take in what’s happening, including the million-plus children who have already fled that country. Of course, ever more people are in motion on this planet today thanks both to war and climate change. Yet, in a sense, there’s really nowhere left to go, is there?

As it turns out, our leaders have done all too good a job of providing options for ending the world.  I mean, in a century when it should be hard not to know that, if the burning of fossil fuels isn’t brought under control, life as we’ve known it will cease to exist, two great powers with preening, overweening leaders thought it made far more sense to order their militaries to invade other countries based on lies.  Because of that, cities were destroyed and deaths made all too plentiful.  Vladimir Putin’s ongoing invasion and destruction of Ukraine has been denounced by much of the world led by Joe Biden’s America.  Russia is now experiencing potentially devastating sanctionswhile from sports to entertainment to fast food, much of the planet has been turning its back on Russia.

But here’s the odd thing: Russia invaded its neighbor, which once indeed had been part of the Soviet Union. The other great and invasive power I had in mind struck two countries thousands of miles away — Iraq (based on the lie that its autocratic ruler was developing nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction) and Afghanistan.  And yes, as the present conflict will undoubtedly prove a catastrophe for Russia and the people of Ukraine, so those wars proved disasters for the United States but even more so for Afghans and Iraqis.  Strangely enough, however, the world didn’t condemn the U.S. for its acts. No sanctions were put in place.  No weaponry was sent to Afghans or Iraqis to help them defend themselves against the occupying imperial power.  And stranger yet, in retrospect, the present president of the United States, then a senator, voted to invade Iraq and subsequently even developed a plan to divide that U.S.-occupied country into three different states.

And so it goes on this endangered planet of ours, while the greenhouse gasses from unending fossil-fuel burning invade our atmosphere with devastating effect, yet create next to no headlines at all.

Armageddon-Makers

Today, 76 years after World War II ended (I was 1 at the time), the heartland of Europe is again embroiled in war, death, and destruction. And more than three decades after the Cold War ended, the new tsar of Russia, now a rickety petro-state with an economy smaller than Italy’s, is responsible.

Confused yet?  Well, you should be on this god-forsaken planet of ours.

If you look at the American experience, whether in Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan (or the Russian experience in that same country), the one thing you know is that this can’t end well, not for Vladimir Putin or Joe Biden or Donald Trump or the rest of us, not on a planet that humanity insists on taking down.  A tip of my hat goes to the outraged Russians who have hit the streets to protest the war in Ukraine, as Americans did (myself included), however briefly, in that spring of 2003 when the invasion of Iraq loomed.

Given our world, we should all probably be in the streets now. I mean, here we are heading into Cold War II, while facing the possibility of World War III on a planet that, thanks to the way we live and produce energy, is heading for hell. Think of climate change in its own way as perhaps the equivalent of World War IV, though somehow, while Ukraine is endlessly in the headlines, the climate emergency, no matter how horrifying the news, remains in the shadows, even as the Republicans call for yet more fossil-fuel drilling.

The peacing of Earth? Not likely. The greening of Earth?  Not likely either, it seems.  In our own fashion, we have indeed taken the place of ancient gods of every sort.  We are now the Armageddon-makers and, sadly enough, it seems that we’re just gearing up.

Tom Engelhardt

Tom Engelhardt created and runs the website TomDispatch.com. He is also a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of a highly praised history of American triumphalism in the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture.  A fellow of the Type Media Center, his sixth and latest book is A Nation Unmade by War.

33 comments

  1. Great piece, Tom! Sums it up pretty well, so glad you mentioned the culpability of 2 “great” powers …

    Mentioning the Gods – for most of our existence, the warnings about what would happen if we transgressed God’s law, starting from the Great Flood, referred to a male God and His laws, 10 Commandments, e.g., having to do with interpersonal relationships, along with the injunction to worship no one else – fealty to Father Sky, if you will – at the same time as those traditions encouraged men to subdue the earth – Mother Earth. Her status as a God with a duty of respect, if not worship, has been tromped on, literally and otherwise, for a good long time …

    But, here’s the thing – fact is we all come from the Earth, we depend on her for our very lives, and when our blip on the screen is over, we all will return to her (Musk and Bezos aside), one way or another. The other thing about Mothers is that they are (almost) infinitely patient with their offspring – but they do have their limits and when they are reached, watch out – as they say, Hell hath no fury like the wrath of a woman scorned ….

    So, here we are, as Tom says, at an interesting time, between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea – and both are closing in – quite literally, it appears … If fealty to the Sky of lightening and thunder, death and destruction, power and might, leads us to finally lay waste to the Earth, Mother Earth, it is we, her children, who will all be the losers …

  2. Your words, and our condition, take my breath away. Historical imagination evoked. I remember duck and cover. I have always remembered the nukes, the Enola Gay, that picture of the girl with her clothes burned away by the blast, running, fleeing; Hiroshima and Nagasaki needn’t have happened.

    You have a decade on me. May we both see another.

  3. If Americans took global warming seriously, there would be far fewer cars on the roads. And as for “Russia invading Ukraine,” Democrat loyalists inevitably leave out the part that caused Russia to push west — pushing back against the massive number of US/NATO troops moved into Eastern Europe since Biden took office, now along portions of Russia’s border, in utter disregard of the 1990 NATO agreement.

  4. As E.O. Wilson once put it: “The real problem of humanity is the following: We have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall.”

    1. To Jim,
      Wilson – excellent summary of our condition! Thanx for the quote ….

  5. imperialist emglehard propaganda—nothing disastrous about denazifying ukraine….the global warming hoax is described by the French Marxist Alain Badiou as “a crude counter-revolutionary issue”…no surprise coming from an amerikan liberal

  6. According to Engelhardt, we’re on “a planet that humanity insists on taking down.” What planet is he on? Last I looked, most of humanity still has little to no say-so over our own lives, let alone the planet. That’s reserved for the power elite, as C. Wright Mills called them. You know, the ones who create cold wars and world wars, whatever problems they can subject us to, real or imaginary (like pandemics and climate change), so they can keep providing us with their solutions – until we arrive at the final solution. Don’t get caught in the cons of class rule.

    1. @niko
      The human race fits the medical definition of being a cancerous tumor on the Earth. The problem started thousands of years ago with use of agriculture instead of getting food naturally, and has now ballooned into the disastrous situation we’re now in. Of course the rich & powerful are more responsible for our current problems than everyone else because they have more power to control things, but the problem is humans as a whole with only rare exceptions. There was no money when people started destroying the Earth with agriculture, and the large majority of people today see nothing wrong with living unnaturally and consuming far too much, and with far too many of us, all of which is destroying the planet.

      Time to look in the mirror and at everyone, not just the rich & powerful. Saying that the rich & powerful are the only problem is as wrong as saying that the only political problem in the U.S. is Republicans.

      1. I don’t recall saying the rich are the only problem, just summing up the nature of our social system of class rule, which did not automatically arise with agriculture yet has much more to do with unsustainable societies. That we can be conned into consenting to ruling class ideology, like that Malthusian variety which you, Engelhardt, and others promote, indicates our own responsibility in the struggles of class war to subdue us, and our ability to revolt and build a better way of living on the earth.

      2. @niko
        I’m not a Malthusian, far from it. My concerns about human overpopulation are about the great environmental and ecological harms that it’s caused and is continuing to cause to the Earth, its ecosystems, and all the plants and animals here. Malthus was concerned about humans running out of food.

    2. Niko, I think you are underplaying the importance of the information war and the necessity of fighting tooth and nail for socialist, anti-war, anti-capitalist, anti-imperial messaging.
      That we are all fucked is an alternative view.
      Still, I take heart in Chris Hedges’ aphorism, “I don’t fight fascists because I think I can win; I fight fascists because they are fascists.”

      1. As my comments typically stress, I think we’re in psychological warfare (more inclusive of emotional as well as cognitive elements than info war) that’s socially engineering us into a techno-totalitarian system, in line with the WEF’s Great Reset blueprint. It’s Scheerpost’s articles which not only underplay, or altogether miss, the importance of what’s going down across the world, but contribute to the propaganda and false consciousness, including with climate change narrative that has been weaponized by ruling class institutions like the IPCC. I concur with such resolve of fighting fascism if for no other reason than being rooted in what is right or true, spiritual death being worse than physical death, it being better to die standing than live on one’s knees, etc. However, Hedges is on the wrong side of this war.

  7. Tom’s focus on our climate crisis is quite correct, but he holds to some inconsistencies about the war in Ukraine. First, he limits suffering from the war to Ukrainians and Russians, but in fact, many others will suffer from this war, including the Americans–we already do so just from military spending.
    Second, he says speaking of Lviv, “During that second great war, the Jewish population there was slaughtered by the Nazis. Since the end of that nightmarish war, it’s been known as Lviv and it’s been part of Ukraine…” It was the Ukrainian Nazis, led or inspired by Stepan Bandera, that committed this genocide. They also killed Roma and Slavs. Descendants of these Nazis are still in Lviv, and were the shock troops to accomplish the 2014 Maidan coup. They also spearheaded attacks on ethnic Russians resulting in the Odessa Massacre and the secession of the Donbas and the Crimea.
    It was increased attacks by the Nazis on the Donbas that prompted Putin to poise many thousands of Russian soldiers, and with the failure of Western diplomats to even begin to address Russia’s concerns that led to the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. This is what ‘denazification’ and ‘demilitarization’ means.

      1. Is the US arming Nazis in the Ukraine? Why yes, indubitably. A case in point is John Conyers’ amendment to the 2015 spending bill specified restricting military aid to the Azov Battalion (Nazi paramilitary from western Ukraine), but this was stripped out by the Pentagon [https://www.thenation.com/article/politics/congress-has-removed-a-ban-on-funding-neo-nazis-from-its-year-end-spending-bill/]
        There are numerous online videos of Americans training Ukrainians with clear Nazi insignia–there are numerous far right, ultranationalists in Ukraine, followers of Stepan Bandera, but I just call them all ‘Nazis’.
        Finally, the US has a long history of using extremists of one kind or another in its extramilitary adventures, starting after WW II with Nazis in Europe, perhaps seem most clearly with the mujahideen in Afghanistan and Syria.

      2. Thank you. My son has been educating me about this. He mentioned Stephen Bandera and since reading here my knowledge continues to grow. None of this is taught in our schools. My son has an interest in weaponry that has educated him about eastern European politics. I feel woefully ignorant about this and am grateful for the information.

    1. Your – not our – climate crisis (which conveniently deflects from very real ecological crisis caused by capitalist controlled systems of science and science). Climate science is not exactly an exact science, if even it should be called science, and you might be interested in looking into competing and dissenting science on the subject, showing for instance the lack of any correlation, let alone causal connection, between CO2 (essential to life cycles) and planetary warming, rather than likelier solar connections – anything other than anthropogenic factors has been ruled out tout de suite by establishment science – as well as exposing the pseudoscience perpetrated by rigged computer modeling of rigged data. If you can locate any of the dissenting science, that is, given in this case as in most others the control and censorship of competing science by false consensus science that is little to no more than an extension of the (fascist) corporate state imposing means for ruling class control over resources of wealth, including human populations subjected to technocratic rule of expertise for social engineering, as from manufactured crises of pandemics and climate change. That Engelhardt relies on the IPCC, a (fascist) public-private institution of centralized transnational class control like the WTO or WHO exposed for corruption (e.g., East Anglia University scandal), should itself be enough to call into question all the panic porn, reminiscent of religious end-of-the-world predictions constantly in revision due to their failure to materialize, from this bureaucratic branch of legally organized crime as it’s dutifully passed on by those ‘following the science’ here as with the scamdemic.

      As you note, the crisis in Ukraine has been long in the making, an opportune hot spot for war that wags the dog and misdirects the masses from rising resistance to the emerging biosecurity state with the false-flag covid coup and exposure of crimes against humanity from bio-weaponized eugenic engineering of entire populations under cover of vaccination. WW3 has already begun, two years ago, psychological warfare within the matrix which already has colonized us into a hive mind collectively prepared for final solution incorporation into a synthesized recreation of life under the absolute control of AI. In ways that (previous) Nazis could not even imagine, we are being led to the showers. Unfortunately, too many of us today draw on captive imaginations to form our perceptions of reality and the world.

      1. correction above – “capitalist controlled systems of science and society”

  8. This post is chockablock with history lessons. I hadn’t realized my deficit in knowledge of European history until just this minute.

  9. It is highly likely, based on paleoclimate cycles that significant climate change is coming (or underway depending on how you look at it) but there is NOTHING we can do about it but try to adapt. We have no control over solar, star system and galactic cycles causing these changes.
    Sea level rise IS occuring but at a rather innocuous rate at present (9-10mm pyr), certianly nothing like the ~400 ft rise that occurred in less than 400 yrs at the start of this interglacial with CO2 at about half of current levels.
    Warming (including geothermal) plays some part in the current slow sea level rise but how many appreciate that each gallon of fuel burned generates two gallons of water? Other factors ignored include the continued draining of aquifers and the constant bombardment of Earth by small to moderate sized ice comets. Consider the glyph of the sign of Aquarius, it suggests we are headed toward the center of this flow of ice comets in the near future.
    Obviously we do not need to add “nuclear winter” to the climate picture. If this happens we are at the appropriate time for such a “push” to end this interglacial cycle a bit early and return us to ice age temperatures for the next ~100kyrs. The existing climate/solar cycles on this planet tend to end civilizations and return mankind to the stone age every 12 to 24 Kyrs. If we lack the wisdom to prepare for this, do we really need to hasten it??

      1. “Climate change”, as promulgated by IPPC and western governments is basicly a well funded propaganda/PSYOP/secular religion. The indoctrination starts in or before kindergarten, and since critical thinking is no longer taught, few recognize and recover from it and most of those who do will remain silent to fit in with the groupthink. You cannot get into a graduate climate science program without professing belief in this religion, but when/if you do gain the knowledge and independence of thought to see the truth, speaking out is too disruptive to the previous investment and social acceptance.

      2. Holy crap, I can’t with you people. Try this: Go to a glacier anywhere in the world. Then go back 10 to 20 years later. I have done this multiple times in both hemispheres; some are gone, the others are horrible shrunken. Yet you believe this cockamamie stuff.

      3. @Moderator
        There’s no point in arguing with global warming/climate change deniers. The fact that this problem is real and that humans are causing it was known decades ago, and it’s well beyond discussion. The only people who deny it now are those who profit from causing it, people who are totally brainwashed, and/or those who realize that their lifestyles would be impacted by doing something about it and are too selfish to be willing to change their lifestyles. This denialism is most prominent in the U.S., where we have the most destructive form of living combined with the most sophisticated propaganda.

  10. The gig is up. There is nothing new under the sun. All we have left is the spin. Spin on to oblivion.

  11. Moderator,

    No reply option again to yours above, so here’s an alternative take on Klein and dismissal of the Great Reset, along with a longer list of resources on the Reset, and the Resist, from Winter Oak, fwiw:

    Naomi Klein, Conspiracy Theorist | OpEdNews
    https://www.opednews.com/articles/Naomi-Klein-Conspiracy-Th-by-Lorenzo-Raymond-Austerity_Climate_Conspiracy-Theory_Corporations-210309-128.html

    THE GREAT RESET
    https://winteroak.org.uk/the-great-reset/
    THE GREAT RESIST
    https://winteroak.org.uk/the-great-resist/

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