Will the rich escape the climate end of the world?

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Will the rich escape the climate end of the world?

Billionaires are preparing for the end of the world. But there is one problem – they have not invited the rest of us. Tom Whyman explains.


Richard Branson is the billionaire owner of Virgin Atlantic airlines. He is paying for a $25 million program to take greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. It is not yet proved that it will bring big results for zero-carbon. The airlines create 2 per cent of global emissions. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

Every day, it seems that a new headline in a newspaper or social media makes it clear how close we are to environmental destruction. But politics seems interested only in the same old problems. Governments complain about migrants or not enough money. Where is the political answer to climate change?

The terrible truth is that climate change is already here. Climate change is already beginning to destroy the Global South and Western governments are using the army to protect their borders against future refugees. The journalist Christian Parenti calls this ‘the politics of the armed lifeboat’. If you’re not already on the lifeboat, you will be shot.

Rightwing populist movements like Brexit and Trump’s ‘build the wall’ seem like the beginning of climate change policies, or perhaps an idea of what will come. Western governments seem to want to sacrifice the rest of the world to keep their own people happy.

But people who are hard-hearted enough to support the Right in these policies need to be careful. In time, things will change inside the armed lifeboat as well.

The selfish interests of the rich are already very different from those of the poor. In part, private firefighters fought the 2018 record-breaking wildfires in California. Insurance companies hired them to protect only the houses of the people who had enough money to pay for their services. In Miami, rising sea levels mean that richer people are buying houses in poorer areas that are on higher ground. The poorer people then must look for houses where there is more flooding. In Miami the poor will drown first.

With the super-rich, things are even worse. Tech billionaires like Paypal’s Peter Thiel have bought houses in New Zealand/Aotearoa, which seem to be safe. In 2018, the country passed a law to stop most foreigners from buying homes there. But billionaires needn’t worry too much about that. Thiel’s former Paypal friend Elon Musk has plans to live on Mars. Silicon Valley people like Sam Altman and Google’s Ray Kurzweil are preparing to upload their minds to supercomputers and live forever in ‘the cloud’.

Some of these ideas might seem crazy and the result of boys who read too many science fiction books and have far too much money now as men. But they offer these billionaires the promise that they might escape the end of the world without doing what would help most of us – helping with or reversing the effects of climate change. The tech writer Douglas Rushkoff tells stories of super-wealthy men asking him if it is possible to use special collars to control a private army if there is environmental destruction.

The actions of the rich remind us that climate change is a class war. The super-rich will let the rest of us burn because they are not interested in spending and buying less. We see now that billionaires are a luxury we cannot afford. We should take Peter Thiel’s house in New Zealand and plan cyber-attacks against Ray Kurzweil’s mind. That would be the political answer to climate change.



(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)