Confession time: I'm an optimist, especially about the ideas of social progress that emerged in Europe at the end of the middle ages and became mainstream in western politics in the early 20th century. I called the outcome of the Brexit referendum wrong (by underestimating the number of racist bigots and Little Englanders in the UK population: Brexit is a proxy for English nationalism, which is absolutely not the same as British nationalism), and I called the US presidential election wrong (underestimating the extent of gerrymandering and micro-targeted black propaganda driven by data mining in the campaign).
Since January 20th we've seen a degree and type of activity emanating from the new US administration that is markedly different from anything in my politically aware lifetime (loosely: since Reagan). Blanket bans on entry to the USA by anyone associated with certain nationalities, mass firings at the State Department, a president railing against a "so-called judge", the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff being booted off the National Security Council and replaced by a white nationalist ideologue, and a former CEO of Exxon in the Cabinet: what's going on?
Let me pull on my pessimist's hat and advance the most scary hypothesis I can imagine that explains the current situation.
Please note that the following scenario assumes that what we are witnessing is deliberate and planned and that the people in Trump's inner circle actually have a coherent objective they are working towards. (I desperately hope that I'm wrong on all counts.)
Here's the thing: we are looking at an administration that is very clearly being operated on behalf of carbon extraction industries. Trump's cabinet picks are almost all climate change deniers. While there are some questionable exceptions--Tillerson has apparently conceded some human link with climate change--even those who are "soft" on climate change existing at all stand to benefit from interests in the coal and oil industries.
There is a huge asset bubble tied up in uncombustable fossil fuels--the carbon bubble. In addition, there is a base of approximately $70Tn ($70,000 billion--let that sink in for a moment) of installed infrastructure for processing fossil fuels and petrochemicals (with plastic and composite manufacturing being relatively small compared to packaging, shipping, and burning the stuff for energy).
Meanwhile, rival power industries are coming on stream rapidly. Solar power and electric cars could halt growth in fossil fuel demand as soon as 2020. The cost of solar has fallen by 85% in the past 7 years: by 2035 electric vehicles could make up 35% of the road transport fleet, and two-thirds by 2050. These estimates are conservative, based on the assumption that breakthrough technologies will not emerge to permit photovoltaic cells and battery capacities vastly better (or cheaper) than today.
It follows logically that if you have heavily invested in fossil fuels, time is running out to realize a return on your investment. Buying a US administration tailored to maximize ROI while fighting a rear-guard action against action on climate change and roll-out of a new, rival energy infrastructure is therefore rational (in business terms).
Russia and the Putin angle is best understood as part of this; oil and gas exports accounted for 68% of Russia's export revenues in 2013. The possibility that Trump is personally heavily invested in Rosneft via shell proxies while being at loggerheads with Merkel might be an inversion of the normal state of affairs in international relations for the past 70 years but is entirely consistent with the big money picture: Germany is trying to push (heavily) for renewable power (as well as generally being welcoming to refugees--see below).
It isn't possible for a US administration to make a ban on solar power and electric vehicles to stick globally. By its nature, solar will work well in equatorial regions, and these are where economic growth is currently focussed (China, India, and Africa all having huge population bases and demand for rapid roll out of infrastructure). Because PV is local, the need for capital-intensive centralized power stations and distribution grids is avoided: this will make it easier for Africa to catch up, just as the large-scale roll-out of telephony is sub-Saharan Africa has largely leap-frogged fixed wires and gone straight to cellular. Late adopters get better infrastructure.
Looking ahead, the carbon barons have to know that in 10-20 years time the USA will be stuck with obsolescent infrastructure and a loss of relative advantage if they pursue this course (although they, individually, will be a whole lot richer). What is to be done?
Let's consider the other strand of the Trump administration: white nationalist revanchism.
Without derailing into a close examination of the creed of this movement, I'm going to generalize by saying that the alt-right are overtly anti-muslim, anti-semitic from the grass roots up, and Steve Bannon is effectively setting foreign policy. (They're also anti- just about every minority group you can think of, including anyone who isn't neurotypical, able-bodied, conformist, and predictably supportive of their agenda.) Bannon believes in an existential war between Christendom and Islam; he doesn't believe in international institutions like the UN, NATO, or the EU (even though these were in most cases created by US foreign policy during the era of containment. What alliances the Bannon administration is building overseas are being made with extremists and neo-fascists. Trump appears to be attempting to destabilize Australian PM Turnbull, who is vulnerable to a back-bench challenge and is "soft" on immigration policy compared to such lunatics as Tony Abbott (his predecessor) or Pauline Hanson (and Australian immigration policy is an international disgrace). Trump seems to be happy to deal in France with Marine Le Pen, a court-confirmed fascist (she lost a libel case against a journalist who described her as such), or UKIP's former leader Nigel Farage (whose school habits included researching and singing old Hitler Youth drinking songs). And the authoritarian, homophobic strand in Russian politics is just another piece of the jigsaw.
To talk in terms of a white supremacist neo-fascist international doesn't seem extreme at this point. The fourteen signs of fascism are politically convenient to the carbon entrepreneurs. Fascism's disdain for facts plays well with climate change denial. It's elevation of nationalism above all other virtues helps anyone whose goal is to play divide-and-conquer, profiting by arbitrage of commodities trafficked across international borders (such as coal and oil and gas). And so, fascism is promoted and prospers under a carbon bubble bust-out regime.
But there's a more dangerous end-game on the horizon, once the oil men have packed their bags and retired to enjoy their riches.
Note that climate change denialism is a flag of convenience for the folks at the top. It's a loyalty oath and a touchstone: they don't necessarily believe it, but it's very convenient to fervently preach it in public if you want to continue to turn a profit.
If you believe in anthropogenic climate change but dare not admit it, you cannot be seen to do anything obvious to remediate it. But there is one remediation tactic you can deploy deniably: genocide.
We are on course to hit 10 billion people by the end of the 21st century, and although the second derivative of the curve of population increase is flat, our peak population won't begin to decline at this rate until well into the 22nd century. Estimates for the Earth's human carrying capacity vary and may be ideologically biased to support various conclusions; Malthusian ideas persist despite constant upward revision of the peak population. One thing is sure, for decades now other folks' population has been a political football. Thanks to the Green Revolution in agronomy we're well past the previously posited breakdown points of the 1960s.
I am going to posit that a foreign policy set by white supremacists in support of a carbon extraction regime is going to cleave to certain pseudo-scientific ideas, notably Social Darwinism (which isn't Darwinian, isn't social, and is fundamentally flawed as bad science) and Malthusianism (which has been used in the past as an excuse for tactics ranging from the innocuous--improving access to family planning and birth control--to the monstrous--conquest and genocide. And that last point brings us neatly round to Hitlerism.
While the gas chambers and extermination camps of the Final Solution get the most attention, people tend to forget that a large chunk of Hitler's plan for conquest, Generalplan Ost, relied in the short term on the Hunger Plan--to kill 20-30 million people in Eastern Europe and Russia by systematically stealing their food (to feed the Reich's own armies and slave workers who would be engaged in the enterprise of conquest)--and in the long term (post-war) on the systematic "removal" of 45 million more persons, nominally by exile into Siberia, but in practice probably by an extension of the already operating death camp system.
But the Neo-Nazi International won't need death camps in the 2020s to 2030s if their goal is to cut the world population by, say, 50%. Climate change and a clampdown on international travel will do the job for them.
Consider Bangladesh, and the Bay of Bengal fisheries collapse, not to mention the giant anoxic dead zone spreading in the By of Bengal (which means those fisheries won't be coming back for a very long time). There are nearly 170 million people there, mostly living on alluvial flood plains feeding into the gradually rising ocean. If the sea level rises by just one meter, 10% of the land area will be flooded; most of the country is less than 12M above sea level. It's a primarily agricultural economy (it's one of the main rice and wheat producing nations), heavily dependent on fisheries for protein to supplement the diet of its citizens.
Bangladesh can't survive the 21st century on this basis. It's vulnerable to devastating tropical cyclones bringing storm surges, and as the atmosphere heats, these are going to become more energetic. The loss of fisheries may cripple its ability to feed its population, even if temperature rises don't kill off the wheat and rice crops. Flood, famine, and storm look as if they will inevitably render a large part of the country uninhabitable within 50 years.
I see three possible responses:
A rational and humane response to this would involve attempts to: promote GM crops with increased heat resistance and increased bioavailable protein and micronutrient contents to repace the dying fisheries: promote female literacy, education, and access to healthcare (demographic transition correlates strongly with female education and emancipation): redeploy human capital to urban center construction in the northern highlands: invest in survival infrastructure (flood/weather shelters), and so on.
An unplanned, current-day response to this would be to provide ad-hoc famine relief and aid on demand, to wring hands when millions die in heat emergencies or super-cyclone storm surges, to prevent mass emigration by criminalization rather than by trying to make Bangladesh a more attractive place to stay, and so on. You know this scenario because we're living it today.
A white supremacist response to this would be to build a wall around Bangladesh--probably a "virtual" one patrolled by killer robots--and starve the inmates to death so they don't pump any more carbon into the atmosphere. After all, the residual carbon content of a dead foreigner is measured in single-digit litres.
All the pieces of the neo-Nazi solution to climate change already exist. Walls: look to the West Bank barrier or the Mexico-United States barrier for examples. Drones for border patrol are already a thing. The global crack-down on immigration by the developed world should need no introduction; there are loopholes (so called "Investor Visas") for anyone with six or seven digits in cash who wants to move freely, but these are generally out of the reach of even the western middle classes. (Free movement of labour as well as capital would defeat the core principle of arbitrage upon which economic imperialism depends.)
So here's what I expect to see if the alt-right get their way globally:
- The obvious stuff (the agenda dictated by the fourteen signs of fascism) is a distraction
- The real plan, in the short term, is to maximize the liquidation of capital investments in the carbon bubble on behalf of the principal shareholders
- Once the carbon bubble has deflated, the angry and impoverished citizens of the first world will be pointed at a convenient scapegoat--foreigners overseas
- A clampdown/shutdown on most international travel will ensue (hint: there's a reason Bannon et al hate the EU, and it's not economic: it's all to do with the bit about freedom of movement)
- Tighter controls on "immigration", enforced out of sight by killer drones, will replace relatively permeable frontiers with exclusion zones enforced by bullets and bombs
- Climate-change induced famine will replicate the intent of Hitler's "hunger plan", without the need for hands-on involvement by Western soldiers who might be traumatized by the requirement to shoot the surviving "living skeletons"
- A systematic genocide of the Middle East and the Islamic world (hint: that's where the eliminationist rhetoric of the islamphobes leads if you follow it to its logical conclusion) will reduce Earth's human population by up to 30%: other culls elsewhere will be enforced by containment of would-be migrants and the primary tool of murder will be famine and lethal heat waves.
- This will be presented to the citizens of the west as a "solution" to anthropogenic climate change for which they should be grateful, and framed as defending us from hordes of dark-skinned alien terrorists and asylum seekers who want to come to our lands and out-breed us and convert us to their weird and scary way of life and enslave our women (and you know the rest of this dismal litany of racism already, so I'll stop here).
Never say Nazis don't learn the lessons of history. This time round, the Final Solution to Anthropogenic Climate change will be entirely deniable! There are no gas chambers or Einsatzgruppen involved: any bullets will be fired by autonomous robots, without a human finger on the trigger, and will be an automatic reaction to an attempted border crossing, so not the fault of the perpetrators. The victims will have only themselves to blame, for being born in the wrong place, in the wrong century, and for failing to adapt, and for starving themselves, and for inviting the attention of the border patrol drones. It will be a slow-motion atrocity on a scale that dwarfs the Holocaust. And it is the logical conclusion of the policies our new fascist international overlords appear to be working towards implementing.
Please can you explain to me why I'm wrong to fear this outcome?