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: