The world is a gas chamber, and not just in the general sense that the world’s a type of chamber (a vaulted space) filled with gas (nitrogen, oxygen, etc.). The world is (or, rather, since the industrial revolution, has become) a gas chamber in the particular sense of a space filled with poison gas, that kills people, animals, etc. Yes, although they’re most notorious for killing people with hydrogen cyanide, gas chambers are also known to use carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide to kill whatever happens to find itself trapped within their confines.
And, did you hear? The carbon dioxide-reading research stations of the planet, including those in Antarctica, now register (and are expected to continue to register for decades) concentrations exceeding 400 parts per million. A level not seen in 4 million years, incompatible with life as we know it, the gas chamber we’ve made of the planet has just reached a new degree of lethality.
Unlike the gas chambers of the Nazi genocide (or, closer to home, the constellation of gas chambers used to execute – often innocent – prisoners throughout the US), the gas chamber that the world has become is not being filled with poison gas for the purpose of killing people, and other animals.
Yet, in spite of this lack of intent, widespread harm and death is a completely foreseeable consequence of our particularly exploitative political-economic system. That is, though widespread killing (the sixth great extinction no less) may not be committed with the specific intention of killing, it is done entirely knowingly (a state of mind sufficient to confer criminal guilt). The causal relationship has been beyond all reasonable doubt for years.
Classified by the World Health Organization as a leading carcinogen, the very air we breathe is responsible for not only lung and bladder cancer but for conditions ranging from emphysema and heart disease to mental illness and cognitive decline. And let’s not overlook the fact that the pollution streaming from countless power plants, livestock lots, tailpipes, and other sources of poison, also produces the devastating heat waves killing so many worldwide.
Like the super storms straddling the barrier between norm and deviation, the changing climate is not a cause of harms but an effect of the toxic runoff of our global political-economy. Organized around the pursuit of exchange value (money), as opposed to use value, the global political economy not only poisons the air, water, soil, and bodies of the human and non-human animals of the world as a matter of business, it leads as well to such ecocidal phenomena as deforestation, desertification, and the expansion of oceanic dead zones.
Monstrous in itself, the devastation of these ecosystems’ forests and marine algae (responsible for converting so much carbon dioxide into oxygen) exponentially compounds the toxicity and volatility of the gas chamber of a planet in which we’re all confined – a gas chamber that cannot be meaningfully dismantled until the prison (i.e., systems and relations of domination), which it’s an adjunct to, and outgrowth of, is dismantled as well.
Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and adjunct professor. He lives in New York City and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @elliot_sperber