There are the terrorists, who get attention out of all proportion to their actual clout, and then there are those with big-time clout — I think of them as the terrarists — who get almost no attention at all. Back in May 2013, I came up with that term and here’s how I described those I thought it should apply to:
“We have a word for the conscious slaughter of a racial or ethnic group: genocide. And one for the conscious destruction of aspects of the environment: ecocide. But we don’t have a word for the conscious act of destroying the planet we live on, the world as humanity had known it until, historically speaking, late last night. A possibility might be ‘terracide’ from the Latin word for earth. It has the right ring, given its similarity to the commonplace danger word of our era: terrorist.
“The truth is, whatever we call them, it’s time to talk bluntly about the terrarists of our world. Yes, I know, 9/11 was horrific. Almost 3,000 dead, massive towers down, apocalyptic scenes. And yes, when it comes to terror attacks, the Boston Marathon bombings weren’t pretty either. But in both cases, those who committed the acts paid for or will pay for their crimes.
“In the case of the terrarists — and here I’m referring in particular to the men who run what may be the most profitable corporations on the planet, giant energy companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP, and Shell — you’re the one who’s going to pay, especially your children and grandchildren. You can take one thing for granted: not a single terrarist will ever go to jail, and yet they certainly knew what they were doing.”
Almost four years later, there’s a new set of names to be added to the ranks of those terrarists, including Donald Trump, Scott Pruitt, Rex Tillerson, and every climate-change denialist and energy-company aider and abettor now in the ranks of the U.S. government. And almost four years later, as TomDispatch regular Michael Klare points out, the early evidence of what their dystopian crimes will mean on a planetary scale is on display in Africa and Yemen — and it couldn’t be grimmer.
In 2013, I concluded: “To destroy our planet with malice aforethought, with only the most immediate profits on the brain, with only your own comfort and wellbeing (and those of your shareholders) in mind: Isn’t that the ultimate crime? Isn’t that terracide?” Read Klare’s piece, think about the greenhouse gases that will be pumped into the atmosphere in prodigious amounts in the Trump years, and tell me that we’re not talking about the greatest crime of this or any other century and, even among the worst butchers of history, potentially the greatest criminals of all time. Tom
Climate Change as Genocide
Inaction Equals Annihilation
By Michael T. Klare
Not since World War II have more human beings been at risk from disease and starvation than at this very moment. On March 10th, Stephen O’Brien, under secretary-general of the United Nations for humanitarian affairs, informed the Security Council that 20 million people in three African countries — Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan — as well as in Yemen were likely to die if not provided with emergency food and medical aid. “We are at a critical point in history,” he declared. “Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the U.N.” Without coordinated international action, he added, “people will simply starve to death [or] suffer and die from disease.”
Major famines have, of course, occurred before, but never in memory on such a scale in four places simultaneously. According to O’Brien, 7.3 million people are at risk in Yemen, 5.1 million in the Lake Chad area of northeastern Nigeria, 5 million in South Sudan, and 2.9 million in Somalia. In each of these countries, some lethal combination of war, persistent drought, and political instability is causing drastic cuts in essential food and water supplies. Of those 20 million people at risk of death, an estimated 1.4 million are young children.