Still Smelling the Sulphur

I’m just emerging from a Christmas Eve flu arrival, but wanted to post this story, sent on by my friend Doug Pressman.

Seems that it takes only 16 cargo ships to emit as much sulphur pollution as the entirety of the world’s billion-plus automotive fleet.

This speaks to the uncounted costs of our overclass’s continuing reliance on low-wage globalization, and also to the inadequacy of regulating isolated segments of the immensely destructive and wasteful corporate capitalist transportation regime.

It is also an important reminder of how comprehensive our problems are in this make-it-or-break-it century.

18 Replies to “Still Smelling the Sulphur”

  1. It shows how what we do locally can cause damage not only at home, but to people thousands of miles away.

    It isn’t just the US military with their endless wars, but ALL the small actions that millions of us engage in that are killing the only home we have.

    We need to be much more aware, all of the time, of the final results of even simple everyday acts.

    Blaming business for climate change does not work when it is OUR spending that supports that same business.

  2. Jean, how do you propose people could make choices as isolated individuals that would stop all this? Corporate power is not a democracy. Buying a product at the grocery store is not a directive to the board of directors.

    Corporate owners and managers make these decisions, and rely on the fact that we are all basically stuck going to the grocery store, and the car lot, and the shopping mall. To my eye, they, not us, are 95 percent to blame in this mess.

    Blaming little people for climate change (and all the other ecological catastrophes) strikes me as both wrong and a strategy for perpetual irrelevance. People aren’t stupid. Without equal choices, there are no real choices to be blamed for.

    And another problem with blaming the little people is the media. When TV is king and the corporate overclass owns TV, how do you imagine people are going to get hold of the information they need to make better choices?

    Let’s be careful and fair with our blame.

  3. That is an fearsome statistic, one that is absolutely sobering.
    The supersystem inculcates in us, the individual, self-assignation of blame, of complicity, of world-defining guilt, yet the operations of supertanker commerce and devastation occur at the richly rewarded levels of corporations, nations, anxious elites. As you say, they get the billions of shares and the yachts, we impute to ourselves non-existent command and control.
    How many cargo ships are going to chug along as little continents of greenhouse gas dispensaries in our lifetimes?

  4. Yeah, I was blown away by this, too. The other thing it makes you wonder is to what degree, by regulating sulphur content for automotive fuels, did we merely wind up making shipping fuel more sulphur-toxic? The story I cite doesn’t really flesh this out fully, but I bet Fred Pearce knows.

    It’s kind of like DDT. According to one expert, “DDT usage in the world today is roughly the same as it was prior to the ban by most of the Western countries.”

  5. It is absolutely the for profit system of capitalism that is to blame. It is absolutely absurd (but still profitable) that lumber and fish and other things can be harvested in North America, then shipped to China for processing and manufacture, then shipped back here for sale. Makes sense to the corporate CEO to exploit that cheap labor to maximize profit, but no sense what so ever in any other rational terms.

  6. Maybe the reference is too obvious to mention, but I like it so much I’ll mention it anyway! The title reminds me of Hugo Chavez who keeps saying (as he did at Copenhagen, see here ) that the world (thanks to Obama continuing the policies of The Empire) still smells like sulphur, referring to his reference of Bush II as the devil at the UN some years ago.

  7. So much of what we all buy is unnecassary and useless. We, in developed countries have and buy way more than we need of so many things. If we would limit our purchases to real needs instead of endless wants we would do a lot to limit the damage.

    We are like drug addicts. The drug dealers and suppliers would go out of business if they did not have costumers and, as we have seen with the recession, a lot of business would go under if people bought less junk.

    The little people aren’t to blame for this, but they do support and enable this everytime they go to a store.

    I know there is endless propoganda everywhere urging us to consume and consume and consume, but we also have a brain and the ability to think and make reasoned choices. If people can spend huge amount of time on the internet looking at porn they can also find time to find sites like this to learn the truth about what is happening in our world.

    Those of us who understand this need to talk to our friends and families and get them interested and motivated to do more and for them to pass that on. There are a lot more of us little people than there are of the rich and powerful and united we can bring about real change.

    Our world wouldn’t be on the path it is on without all of us little people supporting death dealing capitalism.

    Our addiction is killing us and we need to stop!

    Shop local, buy only what you really need, buy used, share, trade, make things from scratch.

    This won’t solve the problem, but it will send a strong message that we are no longer going go along with the destruction of our only home.

    My fear is that we will not climb out of our comfotable recliner and our TV addiction until it is too late and our children and grandchildren are the ones suffering.

    Too many of us are a lazy and a greedy bunch.

  8. Well, Jean, there’s no doubt that it takes two to tango, and that human beings always have some access to freedom, even under totalitarian conditions.

    Deciding how you want to analyze the choice-making situations people find themselves in is something that’s up to each of us who is lucky enough to have access to the questions and information it takes to weigh that question.

    Personally speaking, I tend to think it’s a good idea to refrain from blaming the commoners until the commoners have something like freedom of choice and a set of robust alternatives. To my eye, we have nothing like that in the USA. I hate capitalism as much as just about anybody, but find myself going to the store and the mall in order to survive and maintain my social life and sanity. Moving to the woods and living by hunting and gathering is not something I’m prepared to do unless absolutely necessary. I prefer to try to save the good parts of large-scale, technologically-dynamic society by wresting their fundamentals away from our overclass. To fight that fight, I find I need to keep living inside the system.

    And, generally speaking, which is worse: To buy heroin, or to deal it? I don’t think it’s much of an issue. So I wonder why so many on the left continue to blame ordinary people for the sins of the pushers, especially when the pushing done by our corporate masters is far more devious and far more intentional than 99 percent of drug dealing…

  9. On page 55 of British TV journalist Paul Mason’s “Meltdown: The End of the Age of greed,” he writes:

    America, said Paulson, had ‘humiliated itself as a nation.’ Many Americans found this hard to understand: they did not feel humiliated. But, then again, they had not stated their reputations on the free-market philosophy that created this mess. Paulson had; so had Bernanke; so had the financial elites of America, Britain, and many smaller countries.

    This is the summation for our times. I chose, out of informed principle and molecular bull-headedness, not to join the corporate or academic cesspools. I will not revert to some paleolithic existence because of the illegalities and devastation other classmates and college-educated folk of these worlds wrought, though nor will I ever escape the consequences of their moronic escapades.
    Like Jean, I will live amongst the wreckage, but I am neither the cause, nor the end of it. All thinking people are ready for better ways, but these cannot be willed into being through self-abnegation. That Catholic sense of absolution through specious self-assignation of guilt is a philosophy of lunacy.

  10. I wonder how much of our “large-scale, technologically-dynamic society” we can take away from the head guys. I wonder how much sense any of it will make outside the totalitarian, capitalist context in which it was developed — the context that so much of it seems to require.

    I’m far from being an expert, but it looks to me like much of the last century’s worth of technological development has not only been inspired by the capitalist system, but fine-tuned to sustain its illusions and fulfill its unique needs.

    Again, I’m not an economist or a technologist, but what little I know suggests that much of the apparatus of production itself make no sense, and would in fact barely function outside the current capitalist context. What use could any rational system make of these specialized factories, thrown up wherever the labor is cheapest, designed to extract maximum work from a minimally skilled workforce, in what I suspect are less-than-humane conditions? If the system is going to come apart — and it seems determined to — will it even be possible to retool the technology of modern agribusiness to keep people fed?

    Just asking.

  11. As wage levels equalize world-wide, the tendency to throw up specialized factories wherever labor (of appropriate skill level) is cheapest will be abandoned. Other rules will govern where manufacturing happens. Then a worst case would have the working classes of all regions living like today’s lowest cost workers. According to, Madagascar is offering labor at $0.18/hour and Sri Lanka at $0.23/hour. (You have to go through a sequence of photographs to find this.)

    Maybe it won’t be quite so grim. Labor struggle might raise living standards for today’s low cost workers or their descendants so that wage equalization will settle at a higher level than today’s lowest level.

    Today’s world leader in economic power however seems devoted to throwing its weight behind oligarchs wherever its attention lingers, so that labor struggle is often folded into other issues generally associated with “stabilization” (always with its “security” component). This suggests to me at least that labor struggle will be long and bloody and not very successful without a U.S. domestic labor movement renewal and, perhaps more importantly, a renewed and sustained U.S. peace movement.

    But peace movements never seem to get much traction or develop the staying power of other institutional forms in the U.S., suggesting that peace’s opposite has instrumental value as a national organizing principle. War abroad is considered an essential element of peace at home. War abroad is popular.

  12. Fascinating stuff from Forbes there, Mapp, but how is it you conclude that “war abroad is popular”?

    The polls show that over half the voting population was against Obama’s Afghan escalation. And the voting population is the more conservative half of our total population.

    Take a look at Chomsky’s Failed States.

    No offense, but I’m getting damned sick of the left blaming the little people for the sins of the Bigs.

  13. Organizing against foreign war is NOT popular. That much is clear.

    Anyhow, I am thinking more of what Chomsky has called the ‘comprador class’ or rather the domestic analogue of such a class. I don’t blame the wretched of the earth for the condition of the earth.

    But please tell us who comprise the ‘little people’ in the USA and who the Bigs. I ask this in honest perplexity. Is this a comprehensive dichotomy?

    Perhaps you could point me to an item in the TCT archive. Thanks.

  14. Organizing against imperialist wars is not popular, but there a host of powerful sociological explanations for that, not least being that the educational and communications environments make it extremely unlikely that individuals will gain access to the information they need to facilitate the beginnings of rebellious thinking. It remains to be seen if anybody can organize resistance on any topic in our age of tightly managed, wall-to-wall commercial TV. They don’t let cameras roll unedited for 30 minutes at Birmingham or My Lai any more.

    As to the littles: About 70 percent of the US population has no meaningful net wealth. That’s little.

    Meanwhile, there are about a million households in which property incomes are huge and independent of the labor of the occupants, who “work” only if they feel like making that show or because they want to keep an eye on their possessions. These people own half of everything in the country, and are the primary beneficiaries (see Alfred D. Chandler) of the corporate capitalist system and its rigid logic. These people enjoy access and influence in rough proportion to their commanding share of the wealth, and they also govern a system of “democracy” where possession of both major cash and ideological “seriousness” as judged by the commercial media are necessary prerequisites for any significant candidacy for public office.

    Since it isn’t tied to a claim about bodily appearance, defining class is at least as tricky as defining race or gender. My view is that class “membership” (and the corresponding behavioral proclivities) can best be assessed by looking for individuals’ place in three distinct life circumstances: 1) wealth, 2) degree of power over macro-economic and political decisions, and 3) degree of compulsory-ness of work, with wealth ownership being the most fundamental factor. At the top, wealth and power are immense and work is totally optional. In the middle, wealth and power are real but not large enough to make labor optional. The bottom 70 or 80 percent live paycheck-to-paycheck at best, have basically no political power, and must work in order to avoid hard-core poverty. For the excellent reason that nobody represents their interests in the political process, most of the bottoms refrain from voting.

    Contrary to mainstream dogma, individuals’ class position does exert a heavy influence on the likelihood of certain attitudes and behaviors, and these conditioned behaviors explain the lion’s share of how this society works. This is a corporate capitalist society. The interests and actions of the business owners exert a huge (and arguably totalitarian) degree of influence on our overall choices and actions.

  15. Thank you for the prompt reply to my question.

    Concerning the cameras rolling unedited for 30 minutes, you certainly picked a couple of interesting examples WRT my personal history. I can remember Bull Conner sitting on my grandfather’s front porch back in the 1950’s, and I had some eye-opening experiences in the Ca Mau Peninsula in the late 1960’s, though nothing so harrowing as My Lai, more a matter of environmental devastation (‘moonscaping’, I call it).

    What a coincidence, if that’s what it is.

    I look forward to getting your book from the library.

    Oh, and no more annoyance from Mapp.

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