Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Planetary Oblivion: or, how I learned to stop worrying and love capitalism. posted by Richard SeymourI am told that David Aaronovitch is planning a book entitled 'Voodoo Histories' which is (oh, bless), a book about 'conspiracy theories'. Presumably in an inspired moment, he thought that title up all by himself, (although why should it be that the terms for mystical nonsense so frequently refer to beliefs attributed to colonised Others - Wheen's 'Mumbo-Jumbo' is such an example?). This flood of tributes to various kinds of supposedly irrational belief (religion, pomo, New Age, etc) is itself the latest outbreak of obscurantist drivel, a fetish, a symptom of the utter lack of intellectual and moral responsibility among the literati. Having been accessory to something approaching genocide its awful criminality, these guys - the contemporary equivalents of Julius Streicher - want to say something about irrational beliefs and their pernicious effects on politics. A moment's reflection would surely compel the conclusion that the main types of irrational belief formation that threaten humankind are those that enable colossal damage to be done to us and our life-support systems. I mean to say that those incorrect beliefs that are encouraged by corporate-funded propaganda are covering for the worst, ongoing threat to human life that we have ever faced, bar nuclear war.
Suppose the oil corporations were correct in one single respect - that the predictions so far made by all the prestigious scientific bodies and global panels such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are all wrong to date. Suppose, however, that instead of being dire pessimists, these bodies have been outrageously happy-go-lucky in their assessments, and that things are much worse than we have so far understood. As George Monbiot points out, this is what is entailed by a recent NASA-led study:
The IPCC predicts that sea levels could rise by as much as 59cm this century(2). Hansen’s paper argues that the slow melting of ice sheets the panel expects doesn’t fit the data. The geological record suggests that ice at the poles does not melt in a gradual and linear fashion, but flips suddenly from one state to another. When temperatures increased to 2-3 degrees above today’s level 3.5 million years ago, sea levels rose not by 59 centimetres but by 25 metres. The ice responded immediately to changes in temperature(3).
As well as drowning most of the world’s centres of population, a sudden disintegration could lead to much higher rises in global temperature, because less ice means less heat reflected back into space. The new paper suggests that the temperature could therefore be twice as sensitive to rising greenhouse gases than the IPCC assumes. “Civilization developed,” Hansen writes, “during a period of unusual climate stability, the Holocene, now almost 12,000 years in duration. That period is about to end.”
And what's stopping the government from doing something about it? Why is the Stern Report so pathetic in its recommendations? Why does it so irrationally propose to solve a problem with means that its authors explain will not solve the problem? Oh, business as usual. The CBI - the ruling class in congress - might withdraw its support. The newspapers aren't exactly communicating much of this urgent reality or the political consequences, because fossil fuels is good advertising revenue. In fact, the state of scientific knowledge seems to make as little impress on this situation as the putative good intentions of the very powerful. Perhaps some sectors of the ruling class are unwilling to see the environment in which their system operates disintegrate, which is going to take place without urgent action in the next couple of generations. Yet they balk at the costs of the necessary measures, perhaps correctly assessing that they could trigger a social revolution (I mean it). Perhaps BP really does mean Beyond Petroleum. Perhaps Shell really is turning green in the face. Yet, for some mysterious reason (something to do with capital accumulation or, to be even more technical, profit), they continue to mine the ancient remains of carbon-based life-forms, sending tremendous pulses of carbon dioxide into an ecosphere that is not equipped to handle it, thus effecting massive chain-reactions that will eventually obliterate the basis on which much of the ruling class subsists. (It might also do something rather nasty to you and I, but we don't really count except as labour power.) And the core industries continue to insist that all is rosy. If it isn't rosy, it's murky - very complex, unclear, mixed signals etc. Aside from the 1.2 million road deaths each year, which we are not supposed to notice, the implanting of oil use into the - you might say - genetic make-up of advanced capitalist economies is driving a global series of oil wars. Oil is not the only cause of conflict in Nigeria, Angola, Colombia, Russia, Aceh and so on, but it is a commodity unlike any other, and ensuring its profitable distribution and transportation is a very important goal for the world's ruling elites. In the same way, coltan wasn't the only cause of conflict in the Congo, it simply happened to cohere and augment every other cause of the conflict. Sadly, if someone wanted to write a Black Book of Capitalism, those particular instances would be far down the list of depravity. Capitalism is organised crime, but these are among the lesser busts that could be made.
Of course, as Monbiot also points out, by a colossal and ugly historical irony, the regions most responsible for what we tweely refer to as 'climate change' are those that would be struck last, and struck least. Those that will drown to death or have to flee with clutched belongings to overcrowded and shrinking land masses will not be the wealthy. Those who will starve to death because of the ruination of fertile soil, lack of water and reduced crop yields will not be Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. As New Orleans showed, the increasing frequency and intensity of tropical storms will not be borne by the rich, who will have guards perched beside housebound turrets with automatic weapons aimed, in case anyone comes a-begging. And if they can batten themselves down in gated fortress communities, the ruling classes would sooner ride out the deluge than part with a solitary iota of their power and wealth to alter the course of this calamity. This is the same class of people who are callous enough to poison us on a regular basis: who still try to sell children tobacco as a lifestyle choice (and not as it might more properly be understood, as a style of death); who vend unhealthy slop and call it diet food; who give us carcinogens in our food and atmosphere; who pump fumes into our environment that give us bronchitis and asthma; who allow shit to go into our burgers with letting on; who allow toxic chemicals into our food; who give us BSE (and then try and blackmail us into Buying British); who give us radiation poisoning and asbestos sickness; who give us unsafe environments to work in; etc etc etc. These are not our allies in the struggle against planetary oblivion.
The most menacing and dogmatic voices of unreason are therefore: the mad extremists who insist on continuing in our present state of affairs; the utopian idealists who think that it can bring us a poverty-free, well-fed, sustainable planet; the evildoers who profit from it; the cool psychopaths who try to charm us into believing that all will be well; the cruel men of violence who will go to all lengths to conserve and defend the system. Root out the evil ideology within, I say. We have been indoctrinated for too long by this slavish cult of capitalism, and I say we have endured enough together.