News that the world's second largest car maker has engaged in an epic criminal conspiracy to bypass anti-pollution emissions laws is vying with news about how much cars themselves will be inconvenienced during this historic visit. For days on end, traffic and shopping will come to a screeching halt. The very atmosphere will be forced to take a breather. For one brief shining moment, the rights of humans to walk will take precedence over the rights of machines to drive.
I'm sure that all the rich irony surrounding his visit to El Norte is not being lost on Pope Francis.
His message that turbo-charged capitalism is destroying all living things on land, sea and air is being drowned in the American shallows of media spectacle for the sake of media spectacle. As he wrote in his recent encyclical:
The continued acceleration of changes affecting humanity and the planet is coupled today with a more intensified pace of life and work which might be called "rapidification." Although change is part of the working of complex systems, the speed with which human activity has developed contrasts with the naturally slow pace of biological evolution. Moreover, the goals of this rapid and constant change are not necessarily geared to the common good or to integral and sustainable human development. Change is something desirable, yet it becomes a source of anxiety when it causes harm to the world and to the quality of life of much of humanity.So, who did Barack and Michelle invite to their White House reception? Who will she be wearing? Will she "stun" as she greets the Pope at the airport? Will LGBT activists and right-to-die reformers be given front row seats on the South Lawn just so that President Peace Prize can one-up the Pope in progressive bona fides? How will stocks react as the Pope shuts down entire miles of Big Apple asphalt? What's the price of a scalped ticket to get close to him as he parades through Central Park? How many scents of Pope Soap-on-a-Rope are available at Macy's? Is the Pope Catholic?
Even when more enlightened media outlets dare to "go there" and write in-depth pieces about the Pope's environmental and social justice messages, unbridled capitalism still gets in the way. When I went to read an online article about his exhortation Laudato Si': On Care of Our Common Home at the New York Review of Books, the very first thing confronting me was an ad exhorting me to purchase a custom-framed cartoon drawing of Pope Francis for $150.
The reviewer, Yale climate economist William D. Nordhaus, is not only disappointed that Francis's core message is being ignored by the media, he is disappointed that the Pope himself is against market-based "cap and trade" and other gimmicks to supplement his anti-consumerism message of environmental conservation and care for the poor. The Pope is not neoliberal enough, apparently. All that the climate needs, according to Nordhaus, is a more "moral market" -- an oxymoron if there ever was one. He writes:
But the growing peril of climate change and many other environmental problems arises primarily not from unethical individual behavior such as consumerism or cowardice, bad conscience or excessive profiteering. Rather, environmental degradation is the result of distorted market signals that put too low a price on harmful environmental effects.I guess that Nordhaus missed the news that Volkswagen's altruism and beneficence caused it to deliberately tinker with the pollution-detecting device in at
"We have totally screwed up," the aptly named Michael Horn, CEO of Volkswagen of America, humble-bragged at a lavish event this week to introduce the company's latest model. He offered the standard explanation given by the rich and powerful and unaccountable whenever they get caught doing the nasty. The crime "was not consistent with our core values," he abjectly schmoozed.
After all, it pales in comparison to Volkswagen admitting decades after the fact that it had used Nazi concentration camp slaves to manufacture its cars for the Folk. Luckily for them, no car officials went to jail for that one. All they had to do was to make some token reparations to their mainly Jewish victims. So they probably hope that this latest scandal will be swept under the rug just as efficiently.
The real test of our political class's seriousness about reducing global warming and combating climate change is how it will treat the Volkswagen crimes. If the company gets the usual financial slap on the wrist, as General Motors recently did despite their officials being, at the very least, accessories to murder, our government officials will have proven themselves irredeemable hypocrites, once and for all.
As the Pope's late, great fellow Latin American leftist Eduardo Galeano put it, the United States is the Vatican of the Church of the Sacred Car. And the depraved religion has spread all over the globe. "The imported faith in the four-wheeled god and the confusion of democracy with consumption have been more devastating than any bombing campaign. Never have so many suffered so much for so few," he wrote in Upside Down.
In Nordhaus's neoliberal view, meanwhile, the problem is not that water is scarce. It's that it is underpriced. The problem is not the number of polluting particulates in the air that we breathe and the ensuing damage to our lungs. It is that the poisons are underpriced. What this planet, and the people and animals and plants residing on it need is not health and conservation of resources and clean-up. What it needs are plutocrats making more money by finding more efficient ways to use their poisons.
Pope Francis has his work cut out for him with such thinking from the allegedly enlightened side of the climate "debate." (Yes, the media conglomerate is still framing the death of the earth as a debate instead of a reality.)
As he puts it in his encyclical, "Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation, or blind confidence in technical solutions. We need a new and universal solidarity."
Meanwhile, even though Laudato Si' is readily available free of charge all over the Internet, billionaire Jeff Bezos is charging people $5.95 to download a Kindle copy from his own Amazon website marketplace. Because the rich rentiers will always parasitize the poor. Commodified humanity is their main course.
We all have got our work cut out for us.