Climate Change Changes Purpose?

OK, I’m going to do my part to heat the planet by flying to London tomorrow, and continue to use profligate transit for the following six weeks. So sue me!… Don’t worry, I’ll be meeting people, exchanging paper, sharing important conversations and contacts, and doing all the things you’d expect any self-respecting revolutionary traveller to do… but mostly I’ll be having a grand time with my parents and daughter, and a half dozen friends scattered from the UK to Turkey via Germany… reports and photos to follow regularly over the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, I had a lovely get-away with Adri to Orr Hot Springs this past weekend. One of the highlights was a visit to the remarkable Montgomery Woods, a fantastic stand of old growth redwoods. Here I am on a trunk of one of ’em…

Recent readings inspired me to post the following three excerpts. Climate change is on everyone’s lips these days, and from liberal Harper’s to radical Mute, the shifting terrain of discussion is hard to miss. Quickly it’s becoming the all-purpose reason why specific social arrangements are not the problem, but all of humanity faces a crisis that we can only solve together… conveniently overlooking the specific capitalist organization of life that is not just heating the planet and changing the climate but destroying the basis for life far more systemically than that… so here’s three bits, first from Garret Keizer in the June 07 Harper’s… he’s a wonderfully cantankerous writer, blistering prose and many more outstanding turns of phrase than I can quote here.

Harpers’ magazine, June 2007, “Notebook: Climate, Class and Claptrap” by Garret Keizer

The pretense of not knowing what every idiot knows has increasingly come to define our national discourse. To say, by way of example, that it has characterized the protracted denial of global warming is to understate the point. It also characterizes the burgeoning acknowledgement of global warming, the willingness to grant that a crisis exists even as our key players scramble to guarantee that every systemic cause of that crisis remains intact”¦ Global warming, we are told, will have its most devastating effects on the world’s disadvantaged. Therefore, we need not care so particularly about the world’s disadvantaged; we need care only about global warming” as mediated, of course, by those who stand to make a bundle off it. Wonder of wonders: you can now download all of your convictions into this one lightweight, handheld device”¦ To quote Mr. Gore, global climate change is “˜not a political issue; it’s a moral issue,’ glad tidings of great joy to souls weary of such crassly political issues as universal health care, reproductive freedom, the rights of workers, the treatment of captives, the plight of women and men shoveled daily off our sidewalks like so much offal, and who can now devote their energies to transcendently moral issues like the daytime highs in Chattanooga.The bottom line here is, as always, the bottom line, already being parsed out in prospectus form for the eco-savvy investor. Climate change will offer “many unique opportunities for outsized gains,” according to Sprott Asset Management”¦ or [as Greg Easterbrook in The Atlantic invites us to ask in regard to climate change]” “What’s in it for me?””¦ it will come in the form of carbon trading, a shell game allowing polluters to purchase “offsets” in green-energy production, which may or may not come to include nuclear power”¦

We’re told that “the science is in on global warming,” and that it’s just about unanimous”¦ But the science has also been in, and in for a while, and is every bit as unanimous in concluding that we are members of a single species, descendents of common ancestors” family in every conceivable sense of the word. How can we imagine that we will address one overwhelming consensus of scientific opinion without having acted fully on the other?.. the days of paradise for a few are drawing to a close”¦ It is either Earth for all of us or hell for most of us”¦

Next we have an excerpt from Capital Climes by Will Barnes in the latest issue of Mute magazine. After this piece there are several other really worthwhile articles in this issue, all taking issue with the liberal hand-wringing over climate change… not because the science is wrong, but because the way people are addressing it glosses over the deeper reality of planetary destruction, and the real purpose of the discourse to reduce living standards rather than redistribute wealth and reorganize life…

“Capital Climes” by Will Barnes in MUTE vol. 2 #5, Spring/Summer 2007

“¦the pursuit of exploitable “natural resources” for capitalist production on a world-scale has created a geological and biological regression reversing thousands and millions of years of natural evolution”¦ The problem is that specifically capitalist social transformations are borne along by an objective logic whose outcome is necessarily the very destruction of the natural world in its autonomy, cohesion, and otherness, that is, in its abiotic coherence, as living, and as a presupposition of specifically human life: It is the natural world as the totality of earthly nature”¦ that capitalist social transformation takes as its object.”¦ produced in and through the movement of capital, homogenization of the earth will tend towards the creation of nature existing at two poles, uglified raw material basins (denuded forests, open mines, desertified grasslands, etc.) at the start of a cycle of commodity production and toxic wastelands and garbage cesspools (wetlands turned into landfills, decaying urban centers, vast stretches of ocean densely littered with plastic refuse, etc.) at the end of that cycle, i.e. with commodity consumption. Human beings acting and interacting in nature in this form will tend over several generations to become organically, physiologically, and perhaps even anatomically and morphologically a degenerating species.

What is important to recognize here is that the criminality of capital goes beyond the vast and potentially catastrophic problems that climate change has introduced”¦ While capital cannot stem the ecological collapse which its very movement is engendering and within which climate change is situated, it can and, in our view, will meet the warming-induced, climate crisis. Whatever else, the social relations of capitalist production will neither disintegrate nor disappear in the maelstrom of climate change. The real question is whether capital, at unimaginable human cost, will set the terms on which this change is confronted, or whether we shall.

And lastly, just so we don’t go on vacation on a totally gloomy note, a short excerpt from an essay by Paul Hawken in the May/June 07 issue of Orion magazine. I wrote about Hawken’s “Natural Capitalism” in an earlier post, so I won’t bother to reprise my general antipathy to his rosy belief in markets here. Perhaps this essay indicates a lessening faith in market-based solutions? Let’s hope so… anyway, I liked his take on the invisibility of the largest global political mobilization in history…

“To Remake the World” by Paul Hawken, in Orion magazine, May/June 2007

I now believe there are over one million organizations working towards ecological sustainability and social justice. Maybe two. By conventional definition, this is not a movement. Movements have leaders and ideologies”¦. It is dispersed, inchoate, and fiercely independent. There is no manifesto or doctrine, no authority to check with”¦ The movement has three basic roots: the environmental and social justice movements, and indigenous cultures’ resistance to globalization” all of which are intertwining. It arises spontaneously from different economic sectors, cultures, regions, and cohorts, resulting in a global, classless, diverse, and embedded movement, spreading worldwide without exception. In a world grown too complex for constrictive ideologies, the very word movement may too small, for it is the largest coming together of citizens in history”¦ The promise of this unnamed movement is to offer solutions to what appear to be insoluble dilemmas: poverty, global climate change, terrorism, ecological degradation, polarization of income, loss of culture. It is not burdened with a syndrome of trying to save the world; it is trying to remake the world.

I haven’t finished rewriting my book yet, alas, but this last quote dovetails nicely with some of my own thinking and writing. Of course, it also threatens to be terribly naive and pollyanna-ish, which is something I’m also grappling with, but to omit any mention of the myriad forms of visionary and practical opposition is to miss a crucial part of our current world…

next time, from the road…

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