Capitalism in Hot Water
by Michael G. Livingston
As this is being written,
Hurricane Wilma has just ravaged
While Wilma travels northward, yet another named storm is being tracked, Tropical Depression Alpha. And the hurricane season is not over until November. What has fueled these hurricanes, increasing both their frequency and their intensity, is the warming of ocean waters. The ocean waters, in turn, have been warmed by heat trapped in the atmosphere by human-produced greenhouse gases.
It takes lots of energy to heat the oceans. Stored energy, in the form of higher water temperatures, is the ultimate cause of hurricanes. While it took the oceans longer to heat up than the atmosphere, they will also take longer to cool off. Once a giant boulder starts rolling down a hill it does not stop until it gets to the bottom. The same is true of ocean warming and hurricanes. The most recent hurricane season is not a fluke—it is the future.
The increase in frequency and
intensity of hurricanes is just one consequence of rising ocean temperatures.
Another is the rise in the waters around the Antarctic and in the
Two consequences follow from the
warming of the waters around the Antarctic. First, many marine species that
depend on stable, cold temperatures will die off, followed immediately
afterwards by the penguins and seals that feed on them. Second, since less ice
will form on the water during the winter, the water will not be insulated and
will warm at an even faster rate. This positive feedback loop will increase the
rate at which the oceans warm, melting even more ice and creating even more
hurricanes. (See David Adam, “Ocean Warming Threatens Antarctic Wildlife,” Guardian [
Meanwhile up at the North Pole, this past summer the ice cap shrank to its smallest area ever recorded. At the present rate, the North Pole will be free of ice during the summers within 20 to 30 years.
The shrinking of the polar ice cap
has started a capitalist feeding frenzy. Shipping through Arctic routes would
save thousands of miles over current routes. There are three potential routes:
the Northwest Passage from the eastern
As most oil-producing countries
fast approach Hubbert’s Peak, the point when 50% of their total oil supply is
used up, the last remaining extensive reserves are found in the
Continued reliance on the auto
and its internal combustion engine is only part of the problem. The melting of
the polar ice cap creates another positive feedback loop. Without the cap to
insulate the water and reflect sunlight, the water will get warmer faster,
accelerating global warming. A second positive feedback loop may also come into
play—methane frozen in the permafrost could be released as the permafrost melts.
Currently, permafrost is melting like never before across northern
Capitalism has gotten us all in hot water. The expression “in hot water” comes from a so-called test for witches. Women accused of witchcraft were placed in hot, boiling water. Those that did not die, confessed. Now capitalism is boiling the human race alive in hot water. We have nothing to confess, but we have much to do, starting with changing the crazy economic system of capitalism that has placed us in this hot water in the first place.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .