In 1844, Friederich Engels, the one who later collaborated with Karl Marx, visited Manchester, England, to observe his father's factory in that city and to chronicle the terrible poverty and misery there and in the surrounding Midlands area after four decades of the Industrial Revolution. He wrote much of human misery, but he did not overlook the environmental catastrophe that revolution wrought, and he said of the main river of the city:
"At the bottom flows, or rather stagnates, the Irk, a narrow, coal-black, foul-smelling stream, full of debris and refuse. ... In dry weather, a long string of the most disgusting, blackish-green, slime pools are left standing on the bank, from the depths of which bubbles of miasmatic gas constantly arise and give forth a stench unendurable even on the bridge forty or fifty feet above the surface."
And so too throughout industrial England, every waterway replete with industrial poisons - chlorine, coal tar, mercury, lead, sulfuric acid, copper sulfate - that joined with offal and garbage to make a country of gray-black ribbons in which only algae and slime could grow. Fish that were once plentiful were driven from the water, game large and small, and only humans remained to drink the stuff. The toll upon life, all forms of life, was enormous.
Only the indomitable spirit of avarice seemed to flourish in this atmosphere. Engels tells the story of remarking to a Manchester manufacturer that he had never seen so ill-built, unhealthy, and filthy a city. "The man listened quietly to the end, and said at the corner where we parted: 'And yet there is a great deal of money made here; good morning, sir.' "
Late last month, a very detailed and alarming report was issued warning of the catastrophic results America was heading for, in the very near future, as a result of extreme weather (storms on the East and Gulf Coasts costing $35 billion a year), ocean rise and coastal inundation (costing between $66 to $106 billion in lost real estate), declining crop yields particularly in the South and Midwest, increased carbon output into the atmosphere, polar ice melting, soaring electricity demand (rising $12 billion a year), and increased wildfires in the Southwest.
No, that was not another U.N. disaster warning, though we have had plenty of those. This comes from a group of high-profile bipartisan business leaders who are worried in a purely economic sense about the future we are making for ourselves and leaving to our impoverished children. It was commissioned by multi-billionaire businessmen Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, former Treasury Secretaries Henry Paulson, George Shultz, and Robert Rubin, Cargill executive Gregory Page, and former cabinet officers Dona Shalala and Henry Cisneros.
Not your wooly-headed scientists and alarmist environmentalists but a set of sober, realistic people who look at the damages this economy is wrecking and what its impact will be on the earth if we keep on going as we are.
The report, issued by the Risky Business Project, was entitled, not surprisingly, "Risky Business: The Economic Costs of Climate Change in the U.S." It is highly detailed, compiling material from academic and economic surveys over the last decade, but its warnings and alarms are simple for anyone, especially anyone in the business world, to understand. It concludes, "Every year that goes by without a comprehensive public- and private-sector response to climate change is a year that locks in future climate events that will have a far more devastating effect."
And then it adds, in bold letters, "With this report we call on the American business community to rise to the challenge and lead the way in reducing climate risks."
Did you hear anything about this? Front-page banner headlines, evening news special reports, regular missing-plane-type cable-station analyses? Cries from the politicians of Washington, President Obama in the Rose Garden? Huge sell-off in the stock market as the business world finally awoke to the tragedy that this economy, indeed the world economy, was producing now and for the immediate future?
Not a bit of it. The report was dropped into the media and political memory hole, just like the similar "World Scientists' Warning to Humanity" in 1992, the Ecosystem Millennium Assessment of 1,360 scientists in 2005, and the comprehensive statements of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1990, 1995, 2001, 2007, and 2014. In fact, the stock market paid so little attention to a document calling for economic disasters that the Dow soared to a record 17,000 two weeks later.
The economy is saying: "And yet there is a great deal of money made here; good day, sir."
Kirkpatrick Sale, a resident of Mount Pleasant, has written 12 books, including "Rebels Against the Future: The Luddites and Their War on the Industrial Revolution" and "After Eden: The Evolution of Human Domination."