THE POSITIVE DOOR OPENED BY THE ECOLOGICAL CRISIS

climate_change

The latest report from the ICC warns that a climate catastrophe will likely happen only twenty-two years from now unless drastic systemic action is not taken[i]. Of course, there is nothing positive about this emerging scenario, if we let it unfold it will be an absolute tragedy for humanity. Nevertheless, the ugly prediction itself does carry a positive mask, because it also comes with an emphatic cry to remodel our relationship with the world and with the technologies we created to improve our relationship with the world.

This last point is very important: the technologies we are using that are proving so harmful to the ecosystem, are technologies that were created to make the world a more comfortable place to live in. The planet goes dark at night, so we have technologies that give us light; the winters are cold, so we have technologies that keep us warm; the summers are too hot, but technology can make a space cool; there are huge distances between places, but we have technologies that can move us around quite quickly.

So, if the basic purpose of technology is to make the world a more comfortable place to live in, it is an absurdity to keep using technologies that are incrementing those same uncomfortable factors that they are supposed to be mitigating.

Here we have, what we call, the technology-world paradox. What we created to make us more comfortable is aggravating the discomfort.

Capitalism naturally defends this paradoxical relationship, because it is a perfect cycle for making money. The rising mercury in the thermometers will necessitate more air-conditioning, which makes it hotter, which will further boost the sales of air-conditioners. But not just that, an increase in natural disasters will also create an increase in the economy of reconstruction. Capitalism knows that in every catastrophe there is a potential fortune to be made. Of course, this is a perverse and ultimately internecine game.

Until now, our technology has been created without taking this absurd condition into consideration. However, what should change as the unfolding catastrophe gets closer, is precisely the political attitudes towards this paradoxical relationship. The logical (and anti-capitalist) position that is becoming more and more obvious, is that technology, the purpose of which is to make our lives more comfortable, cannot be allowed if it exacerbates the discomfort levels created by the natural environment. Technology must become clean.

For many of us, perhaps for most of you reading this article, this is an obvious statement; but we also know that capitalism is being stubborn with its propagation of dirty, fossil-fuel technologies, and it seems to want to exploit every single last drop of oil and the last crumb of coal that we have on the planet. For the old capitalism, all this oil and dirt is a marvellous source of free money for those who have created the infrastructures for exploiting it, and those exploiters don’t want to surrender the lovely privileges they have forged for themselves.

Yes, we know we now have the clean technologies to replace the dirty ones, but the catastrophe scenario only worsens, and that is because there is a complete lack of will in the capitalist wealth-system that we are immersed in to make that change.

The fundamental question facing us today, is not how we can change the technology, but how can we make those who control the current bad technologies change.

Currently, are global economy is driven by two kinds of ideologies which have the same liberal basis. On the one hand there is the neo-liberal ideology which opens the door to capitalist desires and promotes the prolongation of dirty technologies, and on the other hand, there is a social-liberalism that wants to put state funding investment into renewable-energy technologies to fill the lack coming from the private sector. As such, an avoidance of the ecological catastrophe depends on the triumph of the latter. And yet, as we get closer and closer to the fatidic date, now 2040, the success of the positive option seems to be growing less rather than more likely of coming about.

Yes, this ideological failure to make a common-sense change is very concerning. So, where is that door we claim to see beginning to open onto a positive scenario?

The positive door is actually created by the growing obviousness of the ineffectiveness of liberalism (i.e. capitalism) to mitigate, let alone resolve, the crisis.

This inability of the system to save itself, opens the door to a radical redrawing of the economy. Instead of financing the transition to clean technology, the real solution will have to come through making the need to finance that change-over irrelevant.

In order to make technologies that will make the world a more comfortable place without making the same world more uncomfortable, we need to pull the spanner out of the works – and that spanner is capitalism.

Until we recognise this, the struggle to save the planet is ultimately a futile one.

Our current hope depends on social democracies gaining enough power to take positive steps forward. Nevertheless, our democratic cycles indicate that those steps will eventually be removed by the arrival of neo-liberal, nationalist governments that will replace them. In other words, if the future of the planet depends on the whims of the voters who are manipulated by Wealth-as power through the media to decide according to short-term political and economic concerns rather than long-term progress, we are doomed. If we call the neo-liberal democracy -A and the social-democracy path +A, we get an equation of -A +A = 0.

What we see through the new door that is opening, however, is the need for a complete overhaul of our capitalist system, and a complete change of perspective on what our money is used for. Not a Marxist redistribution of wealth, but a redefinition of Wealth itself; unchaining wealth from the idea of accumulation of money and/or goods and anchoring it to the idea of human fulfilment. This simple idea revolutionises the concept of labour goals and the purposes of the entire economy. Making money is suddenly not the do-all and end-all, and when and where money is an impediment to fulfilment it should be phased out or restructured.

What this door offers is a new perspective that we can call B. The equation thus boils down to A against B – and the struggle is clearer. B knows who its enemy is. It is not confused like +A which doesn’t realise that a large part of its ineffectiveness lies in its own condition as A. B, on the other hand, is unambiguous. It knows where the root of the problem lies.

Of course, it doesn’t make the struggle any easier, but it does make it clearer.

[i] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/08/global-warming-must-not-exceed-15c-warns-landmark-un-report

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OUR CLIMATE & COMFORT

Hurricane-Irma-NASA

Superstorm Hurricane Irma

How much does our quality of life depend on the climate? How much of civilisation is the taming of climate, or the acclimatisation of our ‘civilised’ living areas? Part climatization, part sanitation … that which makes the cities ‘comfortable’ and for the masses to gravitate towards their ‘comfortable’ centres … What makes up the core of our lives is all a consequence of the process of gravitating towards comfort: the organisation of mobility and communication; the provision of security; and the chance to find work and the subsequent salary which will hopefully be generous enough to make life comfortable in the comfort-zone centre. For most people, civilisation = comfort. And real comfort depends on the acquiring of a good climate, or more correctly, the taming of climate through acclimatisation. So, we could declare from this that: civilisation = acclimatisation.

Yet, what price is paid for this climatization and sanitation? We now see only negative effects on climate itself that operate in a vicious circle that is spiralling civilisation into a rapidly spinning vortex that threatens to blow civilisation itself into the exact opposite of what it desires. The deeper our level of acclimatisation is, the greater is its effect on the deterioration of the climate. This deterioration creates more need for acclimatisation which creates more deterioration which makes more need for better acclimatisation …  until it all collapses.

in the struggle to be comfortable we make the world more inhospitable, until climate change takes on life-threatening proportions. Present scenarios are uncomfortable and the future promises to be more uncomfortable. Is this what we want? Of course it isn’t, and what is demonstrated by the lack of political or economic will to change this ridiculous cycle, demonstrates a) the levels of denial that societies are able to perpetuate; and b) the vicious cycles’ advantageousness for enterprises, especially the energy industries, that are making vast profits from the spiralling mechanism of climate degradation.

It is hard to fight the power that corporations wield, but that difficulty is augmented thousand-fold by the range of denial that is rife in society. We know what has to be done to preserve the comfortable in a sustainable way. We know what we want, and, to get what we want, we need to vocalise it loudly enough to change the hugely profit-making spiral of destructive-acclimatisation before it’s too late to ever be comfortable ever again.

THE CHEATING GAME

cheating

It is obvious that the triumph of Western liberal democracy[i] and its subsequent process of Globalisation has done very little toward bringing humanity more closely together. Quite the opposite is true: we all seem to be drifting further and further apart. But, if it has failed with humanity, what has two centuries of liberal democracy achieved with the individual? How successful has it been in its attempts to forge a society of strong-selves? If we have failed with the whole, then surely we must have succeeded with the individuals who are the antithesis of the whole?

But again it is obvious that we haven’t? In Nietzsche’s terms, we have achieved neither the Human nor the Superman, just the Last Man. The pathetic Last Man, bumbling through a cheating-game world of relativity and conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories because, whether we accept them or not, they point an accusing finger at the basic fabric of the system, undermining all responsibilities and moralities with scepticism. How can one be morally responsible in a system which is inherently corrupt? The individual, rather than standing strong and finding a good position in the competitive world, finds him or herself immersed in a society of cheats. The system has now become a cheating-game and the strong-self has to be identified in such an environment as a morally irresponsible subject.

One can only be a strong, successful player in the cheating-game by being a good cheat. This of course makes all success seem suspicious. Eventually decisions need to be made in which “honesty” is needed, but… who can we trust anymore? A strong leader is obviously a good liar and a very good cheat. This kind of leader is useful at convincing us that we are happy in a world that in reality offers us very little… Useful that is until we start to understand the truth. And the simple truth is that we are being cheated.

The first great lie is freedom as individuality and its idea of the unfettered individual along with the creation of a passion for strong individuals. Freedom is now a term used to propagate the unfettering of power: freedom to dominate; freedom to manipulate. The second great lie is democracy itself. The lie of free choice. The lie of majority rule. The lie of the individual’s capacity for achievement in the system.

The only way to combat the lie is by establishing positive, human objectives. We must look beyond the individual and the tyranny of egos in order to establish goals that are out of the cheating game. Goals without any other reward except progress towards human fulfilment. Goals that would pull us out of the cheating-game into another game with real rules that we know will really protect us and protect the world we depend on for our survival. All the rest is petty bickering, which is inevitable when you’re playing the cheating-game.

[i] See Francis Fukuyama’s thesis THE END OF HISTORY AND THE LAST MAN http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_End_of_History_and_the_Last_Man

THE ABRUPT CLIMATE CHANGE SCENARIO

ImageThe Pentagon Report on climate change carried out by Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall in 2003 claimed that “significant global warming will occur during the 21st century” and that this could lead to: “harsher weather conditions, sharply reduced soil moisture, and more intense winds in certain regions that certain regions that currently provide a significant fraction of the world’s food production.” And concluded: “With inadequate preparation, the result could be a significant drop in the human carrying capacity of the Earth’s environment.”

As a result of this lack of the world’s capacity to carry us there would be:

i)                    Food shortages.

ii)                  Decreased availability and quality of fresh water in key regions due to shifted precipitation patterns causing more frequent floods and droughts (these phenomena are already apparent).

iii)                Disrupted access to energy supplies due to extensive sea ice and storminess.

iv)                These climatic aberrations would in turn force human migrations from severely affected areas to less affected ones, or ones who, though also severely affected, had a technological development that mitigated the disastrous affects.

v)                  The affect of this would be that nations with the resources would build virtual fortresses around themselves.

vi)                Wars related to food, clean water or energy would take place.

In the Pentagon Report abrupt climate change is elevated beyond scientific debate to a US National Security concern.

Basically they are announcing to the US military that they could come under attack from the climate. And in fact several attacks on the USA have occurred since: Hurricane Katrina; the tremendous tornados of 2011; bitter winters, etc..

The report bases its abrupt climate change scenario on the collapse of Thermohaline Circulation in the Atlantic Ocean. The probability of this taking place is a very real scenario and tests have shown that a certain collapse has already begun in the polar regions.

As the Pentagon Report states:

“Is this merely a blip of little importance or a fundamental change in the Earth’s climate, requiring an urgent massive human response?”[i]

It is hard to imagine an “urgent massive human response” occurring until the disaster hits. Politically the Liberal-Democratic world is divided on this reality between believers, sceptics and non-believers with different levels of extremism in each camp. To generate the human response necessary, to justify the changes that will have to be implemented like population control and energy consumption restrictions, to adjust humanity to a revolutionary re-technologising of our civilisation toward eco-friendly systems before the Apocalypse happens – there will need to be a massive conversion of sceptics and non-believers, and such a conversion would have to take place in record time. In short… we have to pray for a miracle.

And even if the political parties suddenly formed a radical consensus to impose the bullying changes that are required and set about creating a new world, the people would demand a more gentle transition. But, the longer we put it off the more severe the bullying will have to be.

The drastic change that is needed will be painful. Deep down we probably all sense the extremism of the decisions ahead of us, and that if we don’t change, change will be forced upon us, by climate change or the extinction of the resources our complex way of life has grown so dependent on. We are not going to just be redecorating our house, we are ill and will need a visit to the dentist, and the surgeon as well. This is not just an aesthetic question it is our health that is being effected. It is a question of life or death. But even so… How many of us put off painting the house even though it is so obviously necessary? How many have postponed the visit to the dentist until the molar starts to ache? How many cancer patients have perished because they could not be bothered to subject themselves to preventive examinations?

We have to change, but are we capable of making such a truly radical switch? We are creatures of habit, aren’t we?

Creatures of habit: we keep telling ourselves this and yet we are changing our habits continually with each new object we buy. No – it would be more accurate to say that we are creatures of adaptation, adapting to a “surplus” environment. Adapting very often to the novelties of lifestyles we do not need, lifestyles that have been sold to us. But our next adaptation has to be more radical and purposeful if we are to survive. We are talking about NECESSARY ADAPTATION and this is such a radical concept for we who have been adapting to the power of the absolutely unnecessary all our lives.

The will-to-want-more is a will-to-want-that-which-we-do-not-need.

In order to get ourselves on to the track of what we do need to do in order to correct the mess we are making, we have to change the fabric of our perception of the world; to change what the Lacanian  Žižek calls our ‘symbolic fictions’. He says that is in the realm of ‘symbolic fictions’ where we can adapt ourselves to ever new situations, and radically change our self-perception.[ii] And radically change our self-perception is exactly what we NEED to do. The new symbolic fictions we need to create would be subservient to a new Master Signifier opposed to the surplus necessity which is the Will-to-want-more of capitalism. Necessity is now to be defined as: the benevolent enemy of the surplus-waste of capitalist consumerism. Consumerism with all its propaganda and symbolic fictions, and which is itself perpetuated through the Master Signifier of the need to improve my life. Necessity would replace the myth of a “better life” with the uncomfortable truth of the need to create a better-life-in-the-world.

Instead of living in-the-world and against-the-world, we must learn to live in-the-world-and-for-it.

Human existence could thus be distracted from its irrational fixation on the great Master Signifier of surplus-improvement[iii] and learn through a new symbolic mythology to take its common interests into the common hands of everyone concerned – for the optimistic side of this disaster is that, as in the case of all disasters, the tragedy effects us all. At last we can say to the rest of mankind, without exclusion, we are all in the same leaking boat. And the only way we are going to get home alive is if we all pull our weight and row together.

THE PENTAGON REPORT SOLUTIONS

To combat the effects of climate change the Pentagon Report on “An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario” suggested these steps:

1)      Improve predictive climate models to estimate better how and where climate change would occur….

Climate of course is a far too abstract enemy for the military, and here it really is being treated as the enemy. As if we must predict when an attack will occur. What they should be asking is: How can we predict when and how our actions will screw things up enough to bring about an abrupt climate change so that we won’t screw things up? But the screwing up is taken for granted. Should we assume that perhaps it’s even desired. Isn’t there a longing for an enemy in any military institution? If not, what would be there reason for being?

2)      Improve projections of how climate could influence food, water and energy.

Here they are saying: we know the climate change that we are causing can affect food, water and energy – but we want to know in exactly what way.

Again, what they are failing to see is what really matters: that we are influencing climate in a negative and dangerous way and we should stop.

3)      Create measures to anticipate which countries are most vulnerable, and therefore could contribute materially to an increasingly disorderly and potentially violent world.

Does this mean that countries will be monitored carefully and even brought to their knees just because they are vulnerable to climate change? Locate the enemy even before they know they are our enemy.

4)      Identify no-regrets strategies such as enhancing capabilities for water management.

5)      Rehearse adaptive responses.

Does this mean rehearsing how to adapt to the Apocalypse?

The feeling is one of surrender. We cannot fight this enemy, the best thing to do is lie down and let the survival of the fittest do its work to create a new race of men.

6)      Explore local implications.

Perhaps it won’t be so bad at all for us.  

7)      Explore geo-engineering options that control climate.

Scientific positivism: we can always invent a machine to clean up the mess caused by all the other machines we have invented.

Never underestimate the military’s capability of turning science fiction into reality.           Nevertheless what would Hollywood sci-fi do with the idea of a weather controlling machine? They have already touched on a similar issue in the film The Core. That deals with a so called Project Destiny: a military weapon that creates earthquakes to defeat its enemies. In the core the military experiments cause the Earth’s core to stop rotating. This in turn threatens the destruction of all life on Earth. Other scenarios are easily imagined. The idea of playing God and getting it all so wrong. Chaos mathematics – the Butterfly Effect.

This optimistic idea may well be more dangerous than what it hopes to remedy.


[i] Schwartz and Randall, An abrupt Climate Change Scenario and its Implications for the United States National Security, October, 2003. http://www.edf.org/documents/3566_AbruptClimateChange.pdf  

[ii] Slavoj Žižec, THE PLAGUE OF FANTASIES p. 119

[iii] “What characterises human existente is thus the irrational fixation on some symbolic cause, materialised in a Master-Signifier to whom we stick regardless of the consequences, disregarding even our most elementary interests, survival itself…” Ibid, p. 120