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.