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Climate & Capitalism: Hung for a Sheep as for a Lamb

4:13 pm in Uncategorized by cassiodorus


Global warming and capitalist history

I don’t know if you caught Chomsky’s most recent column, as reproduced in the pixels over at Alternet: “U.S. Plunges the Cradle of Civilization into Disaster, While Its Oil-Based Empire Destroys the Earth’s Climate.” There’s some good stuff there, but Chomsky finds it hard to remain focused when he’s pouring on the dire warnings. After some dire warnings about Mideast politics, he proceeds to discuss the most recent IPCC draft report. Here’s some good news: the IPCC is now on the side of the “keep the grease in the ground” movement, the movement I suggested back in 2009. As the Democracy Now piece tells us:

If global warming is to be adequately contained, the report says, at least three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground.

Chomsky indeed mentions this too. (Remember, folks — my heterodox thinking will become mainstream in a few years!) At any rate, one of the main points of this piece is that “humanity is responsible,” which oversimplifies the idea of “humanity.” Here’s how Chomsky phrases it:

The era of civilization coincides closely with the geological epoch of the Holocene, beginning over 11,000 years ago. The previous Pleistocene epoch lasted 2.5 million years. Scientists now suggest that a new epoch began about 250 years ago, the Anthropocene, the period when human activity has had a dramatic impact on the physical world.

But the human race is not 250 years old. The human race is 200,000 years old. As for the “era of civilization,” perhaps the era of settled agricultural society, from 11,000 BCE to the present, “coincides closely with” the geological era marked from the end of the last ice age, but it isn’t agriculture that’s bringing about the imminent climate disaster we will be experiencing soon. It’s when we start thinking of the “anthropocene” that we become confused about the causes of the current crisis.

So what is it that’s 250 years old? I know! It’s capitalism! Thus Jason W. Moore proposed an alternative to the “anthropocene” — the “capitalocene.” Here’s the gist of Moore’s argument:

the Anthropocene argument obscures, and relegates to context, the actually existing relations through which women and men make history with the rest of nature: the relations of power, (re)production, and wealth in the web of life.

So it’s these relations, the relations of power, that developed over the last 250 or 300 years to create the global warming world in which we currently live. The global warming world isn’t the outcome of human nature, or even of history — but merely that of capitalist history. This is so because capitalist relations, the relations of people as workers and consumers to capital as a globally predatory force, relations of nation-states locked in struggle for planetary domination, and relations of “development” and “administration,” characterize our current predicament.

Violence and hegemonic power

So what distinguishes capitalist history from the rest of history? The “early” history of the human race indeed witnessed a profound transformation of ecological relations on planet Earth. But only recent history can claim to witness what we have now — the vast simplification of terrestrial ecosystems with the potential outcome of mass human death.

Chomsky’s piece mentions in several places the ongoing violence in world human relations. Here’s one:

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The decade of lame excuses: “Catastrophism” and abrupt climate change

3:51 pm in Uncategorized by cassiodorus

I think that’s how future historians will remember the “teens” — that glorious decade between 2010 and 2020 when we suffered chronically higher unemployment and paid for improved access to health care with something less than 8% of our gross annual incomes and with continuing insurance company hegemonic control over the whole process.

For this is the decade of lame excuses, the decade of “we didn’t have sixty votes” and “Obama can only do so much” and “the Democrats don’t have enough money to contest every race” and “the Republicans invented the sequester” and “Obama can’t close Gitmo” (did I say “Obama can’t close Gitmo“?) and so on. And that’s not to mention the far more numerous Republican lame excuses that are floated every day! (I might add that this isn’t about Obama or the Democrats so much as it’s about the decade of lame excuses — if we didn’t think they were credible, we wouldn’t be making so many of them.)

At this point I think that the heartland of the realm of lame excuses, now in the fourth year of this decade, has got to be in the public discussion of climate change. For how could it be otherwise? The linchpin of the movement to mitigate climate change is the effort to stop the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, but opinion polls suggest that Keystone XL is broadly popular, and they’ve already created other pipelines that do the same thing (according to a great diary by Lefty Coaster).

Now, I’m OK with climate change mitigation being a lost cause. It’s definitely not a lame excuse to say “this is a lost cause, but we’re pursuing it anyway.” What I’m not OK with is this: Lost causes would be much, MUCH more fun if we didn’t have to make and support lame excuses for why we’re not pursuing the SAME cause in a way which might actually stand a chance of winning.

I think we’re also making lame excuses in that we can’t bring ourselves to support this flawed climate-change mitigation movement while at the same time working to improve the movement itself — and in this regard I will discuss a book titled “Catastrophism.” I will explain below. Read the rest of this entry →