Silicon Valley doesn’t give a damn about Earth’s imminent demise

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Bill McKibben at a student meeting at Southern New Hampshire University in Hooksett, New Hampshire. January 21, 2016. Credit: Gage Skidmore.

When it comes to climate change, plenty of people and companies have had a hand in leading the globe down a destructive, possibly irreversible path. In the recently-published “Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?” Bill McKibben, who’s written over a dozen books about the environment and has been called "the world's best green journalist," has no problem pointing fingers at the likes of the Koch brothers and other libertarians, as well as Republicans beginning with Ronald Reagan, and, of course, fossil fuel companies worldwide. This is, after all, humanity’s endgame we’re talking about, and in a matter so serious and wide-reaching, there is plenty of blame to go around.

But his study of the planet’s imminent demise also led him towards an interesting new culprit in the environmental tragedy we’re writing every day: Silicon Valley. In the global tech capital, McKibben found megamillionaires who are less interested in saving this planet and more invested in finding a new planet to inhabit. And the reasoning behind this destructive desire is even more perverse than many would imagine.

“[Tech barons are] believers in some kind of techno fantasy world,’ McKibben tells Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer in the latest installment of “Scheer Intelligence,” “where at least they will be able to survive and prosper. And they’re completely caught up in that world, and not paying much attention to [Earth’s destruction]---in fact, they’re abetting it. We learn with each passing day more about the ways that, say, Google’s tools are being used by the oil industry to find yet more hydrocarbons that we can’t burn.”

“What [tech barons] and the Koch brothers don’t want is society---they don’t want the rest of us in their way. They want to do what they want to do,” the environmental journalist continues.

McKibben traces this ideology, prevalent in Silicon Valley as well as other sectors of U.S. society, to author Ayn Rand and to Reagan and the U.K.’s Margaret Thatcher popularizing an extremely individualistic worldview about life that would go on to reign for the following decades.

“That worldview would have been a problem at any time,” McKibben asserts, “but it’s a tragedy at the moment when we desperately needed government to step in and do something about climate change.”

The Truthdig Editor in Chief maintains that while Republicans and Libertarians certainly played a damaging role in this environmental story, Democrats such as Bill Clinton, who not only continued Reagan’s plans but expanded on them, also share part of the blame.

“Clinton brought the Democrats along,” McKibben concedes. “He was looking for that third, middle way, whatever he called it. But basically, it was a continuation, and very sad. And that’s why it’s good to see the reaction that’s happening now. I’m just not sure that we’ve waited too long.”

Alarmingly, McKibben, who’s credited with bringing climate change to the world’s attention and helped found the environmental organization, thinks it may now be too late to make any significant change to the dystopian trajectory the human race is now on. He does, however, find reasons for optimism in the rate at which green energy such as solar and wind are becoming increasingly more affordable and widely used.

“[The fossil fuel industry is] going to lose,” McKibben tells Scheer. “I mean, 50 years from now we’re going to power the whole world on sun and wind because it’s free. The question is, what kind of world will it be? And if we make that transition quickly, we’ll still have some world left; if we go at our current pace, we’re going to be powering a broken world with solar panels and wind turbines.”

Listen to their full discussion on the environment, gene-editing and other critical topics related to humanity’s collective suicide.




Joshua Scheer