Monday, September 09, 2013

Some reading on ecological rift


This won't be a long essay on the topic.  Instead, I'm going to share some links as this matter seems to be ticking upward in various locations.

On Salon, Naomi Klein has a new interview during which she talks about green activism's embrace of corporate-centered solutions:

We now understand it’s about corporate partnerships. It’s not, “sue the bastards;” it’s, “work through corporate partnerships with the bastards.” There is no enemy anymore.

More than that, it’s casting corporations as the solution, as the willing participants and part of this solution. That’s the model that has lasted to this day.

I go back to something even like the fight over NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. The Big Green groups, with very few exceptions, lined up in favor of NAFTA, despite the fact that their memberships were revolting, and sold the deal very aggressively to the public. That’s the model that has been globalized through the World Trade Organization, and that is responsible in many ways for the levels of soaring emissions. We’ve globalized an utterly untenable economic model of hyperconsumerism. It’s now successfully spreading across the world, and it’s killing us.

For more about this problem, I actually recommend the current issue of Monthly Review in its entirety, or at least the two front articles.  MR's editorial perspective is Marxist, and the editor in chief, John Bellamy Foster, has actually written books focusing on Marx's theory of ecological rift under advanced capitalism.  The lead article (now available to read online)  is by Foster, and analyzes the boom in production of non-conventional fossil fuels and their economic as well as political consequences.  Foster is one writer who does not shy away from the grim consequences of continued inaction, the very real risk that we will pass the 2-degree threshold that sets uncontrollable consequences and feedbacks in motion -- the boulder getting away from us and rolling downhill.  While there are still options, governments and industry seem incapable of responding to the reality that confronts us.

That segues nicely into the next article in the current MR, "The Myth of Environmental Catastrophism" by Ian Angus (and also available online).  The truth of what is taking place is a little hard to take, and those who speak about it are experiencing pushback.  Those telling the truth about our predicament, like James Hansen, who recently left NASA's Goddard Institute and is now teaching at Columbia University, and who has been very active about the consequences of carbon emissions and coal production especially.  (See his TED talk here.)  The 'catastrophism' complaint is that if you tell the truth about an emergency, it will turn people off and they will resist doing anything about it.  While on the right, this is about belittling environmental science and positing conspiracy theories, there have also been denialism and conspiracy theories on the left -- either in resistance to the economic reforms that action would require, or in some cases as a proxy fight about Marxist theory which is beside the real point.  Interesting article.

For much denser, policy-oriented reading, the United Nations 2013 Human Development Report is available online (go here for the summary) which notes the ecological cost of global production as it interacts with climate change, and the implications for the near future.

The data are ominous but what really kills us in the end is human inertia.  As Angus writes,

If a runaway train is bearing down on children, simple human solidarity dictates that anyone who sees it should shout a warning, that anyone who can should try to stop it. It is difficult to imagine how anyone could disagree with that elementary moral imperative.

And yet some do.

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