Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Re-interpreting the words of dead people as support for climate action.
Why Climate Change Would Have Alarmed Dr. Martin Luther King
Jan 19, 2019, 08:39am
As Dr. Martin Luther King’s National Day of Service approaches, I had an interesting thought as a scientist, writer, and human being. Climate change is one of the most significant challenges facing humanity, and its impacts stretch far beyond science. Climate change is often discussed from the lens of agriculture, energy, public health, national security, or weather disasters. However, the most recent U.S. National Climate Assessment report affirms previous studies that climate change disproportionately impacts marginalized, vulnerable, and disadvantaged populations of all races. The question that came to mind is “would Dr. King have been concerned about climate change?”
I think the answer is resoundingly “yes.” There are clues in his writing and speeches that suggest that would he have been very concerned. A common misperception about Dr. King is that he fought for a specific group of people. Dr. King, like most great humanitarians, fought for anyone facing injustice. He likely would have been an activist for the planet once he saw who was most vulnerable (more on that shortly).
There may be a conflict between softminded religionists and toughminded scientists,” he said. “But not between science and religion. Their respective worlds are different and their methods are dissimilar. Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary.”
This narrative clearly establishes that King, a man of the cloth, had no inherent problem or fear of science so let’s dig deeper to find clues about his possible perspective on climate change.
Nobody can know what Dr. King’s position would have been on climate change. But there is a real chance Dr. King’s concern would have been the deadly impact of climate POLICIES on poor people.
Back in 2008, efforts to increase renewable biofuel mandates led to a food crisis in poor countries.
Secret report: biofuel caused food crisis
Fri 4 Jul 2008 04.35
Internal World Bank study delivers blow to plant energy drive
Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% – far more than previously estimated – according to a confidential World Bank report obtained by the Guardian.
The damning unpublished assessment is based on the most detailed analysis of the crisis so far, carried out by an internationally-respected economist at global financial body.
The figure emphatically contradicts the US government’s claims that plant-derived fuels contribute less than 3% to food-price rises. It will add to pressure on governments in Washington and across Europe, which have turned to plant-derived fuels to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and reduce their dependence on imported oil.
Rising food prices have pushed 100m people worldwide below the poverty line, estimates the World Bank, and have sparked riots from Bangladesh to Egypt. Government ministers here have described higher food and fuel prices as “the first real economic crisis of globalisation”.
Despite leaking of the 2008 World Bank report, and rising awareness of the harm biofuels were causing, nobody pulled the plug.
Burning food crops to produce biofuels is a crime against humanity
Wed 27 Nov 2013 02.49 AEDT
EU leaders must vote against a biofuels policy that is increasing world hunger and causing environmental devastation
Burning hundreds of millions of tonnes of staple foods to produce biofuels is a crime against humanity. Since 2007, the EU and US governments have given lavish support to agribusinesses to fill car fuel tanks with food – compulsory targets, and tax breaks and subsidies(pdf) worth billions annually. The result? Increased hunger, land grabbing, environmental damage and, ultimately, hundreds of thousands of lives lost.
EU policies promoting biofuels have, since 2008, diverted crops out of food markets at the bidding of powerful agribusinesses, in their pursuit of private profit. This use of large quantities of food and commodity crops for relatively small amounts of transport fuel has had three disastrous consequences.
First is an increase in world hunger. Almost all biofuels used in Europe are made from crops, such as wheat, soy, palm oil, rapeseed and maize, that are essential food sources for a rapidly expanding global population. Europe now burns enough food calories in fuel tanks every year to feed 100 million people.
Moreover, prices of vital foodstuffs such as oilseeds are expected to rise by up to 20% (pdf), vegetable oil by up to 36%, and maize by as much as 22% by 2020 because of EU biofuels targets (those that are being reviewed). For slum dwellers across the world, who have very little money with which to buy food, this represents disaster.
Second is a massive new demand for land, destroying smallholder farms as well as habitats. Land speculators, hedge funds, and agro-energy companies have been at the forefront of a global rush for land that has forced hundreds of thousands of smallholder farmers off their fields and taken away their livelihoods and water supplies. All too regularly across the world, but particularly in Africa, Asia and Latin America, the monopolisation of land by large biofuel corporations is accompanied by violence: the victims are small farmers and their families.
Third is environmental devastation. The demand for additional land to accommodate EU biofuels plans means expanding cropland, which will result in felled forests, plundered peatlands and ploughed prairies. The evidence is increasingly clear that the climate change benefits of most biofuels are negligible or nil.
The author of the last piece was Jean Ziegler, UN special rapporteur on the right to food between 2000-08, and former member of the advisory committee of the UN human rights council.
Would Dr. King have stood by and watched all that suffering, watched powerful politicians ignore climate policy induced famine afflicting millions of poor people who had no voice, without saying something?
Dr. King was born in 1929, so if he was still alive today, he would have a clear memory of the global cooling scare. Like many of us, he would remember watching Leonard Nimoy’s iconic documentary on global cooling – all that settled science certainty that we were on the brink of a new ice age, quickly swept under the carpet when the thermometers changed direction.
The problem with people like Professor Marshall Shepherd enlisting the dead to their cause, is everyone, myself included, tends to see the words of dead people through the lens of their own viewpoints. The dead are not available to correct any misunderstandings.
Dr. Martin Luther King might have been a deep green environmentalist; or he could have been a tenacious and outspoken opponent of climate policies which kill poor and disadvantaged people.