The Perils of Left-Wing Dystopia

Climate change future

As the massive devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have frighteningly illustrated, climate change is no longer some abstract, distant threat. The effects are unfolding now, right in front of us. Climate change, more than any other urgent social issue, represents perhaps the gravest, most dire threat to humankind’s continued existence.

Capitalism—a system that eschews planning and concern for future generations in the interest of short-term profit—is killing the planet. While liberals point to capitalism’s excesses and individual consumer choices as the main drivers of global warming, this narrow perspective fails to understand the precise nature of capitalism. It is, in the end, an inherently exploitative system that reduces everything—including the ecosystem that supports all life on the planet—to a commodity.

There is little doubt the climate crisis is quite dire. Climate scientists warn we must make dramatic reductions in CO2 emissions if we are to avoid a four-six degree Celsius rise in global temperature. (Scientists and world leaders view anything less than two degrees as the “safe zone.”)

As Naomi Klein writes in her latest book, No Is Not Enough, “We are almost at midnight on the climate clock.”

At the same time, however, the left gains nothing by drowning in pessimism and despair–if not outright fatalism–in discussing global warming. So many leftists are downright bleak when it comes to assessing mankind’s ability to adequately confront the climate crisis.

Chris Hedges’ Sept. 10 column, titled “The Great Flood,” is characteristically dour.

“Droughts, floods, famines and disease will eventually see the collapse of social cohesion in large parts of the globe, including U.S. coastal areas,” Hedges writes. “The insecurity, hunger and desperation among the dispossessed of the earth will give rise to ad hoc militias, crime and increased acts of terrorism.”

This is, no doubt, an enitrely plausible future scenario—unless, of course, we act now to topple capitalism and overthrow the ruling elites that have poisoned our planet. But Hedges does not even entertain the latter prospect. Indeed, his piece offers no blueprint for actions readers might take or environmental groups they could join.

He instead continues to outline his dystopian, climate-ravaged society:

We will react [to climate change] like most patients with a terminal disease as they struggle to confront their imminent mortality. The gradual diminishing of space, perception and strength will weaken our capacity to absorb reality. The end will be too horrible to contemplate. The tangible signs of our demise will be obvious, but this will only accelerate our retreat into delusional thinking. We will believe ever more fervently that the secular gods of science and technology will save us.

But this ignores the vast numbers of people throughout the globe who are taking action to halt—at least as much as is now possible—the effects of climate change.

The environmental movement has undergone something of a radicalization in the last decade or so. Many of the leading environmental groups, including Greenpeace and 350.org, understand that it is capitalism–or, at the very least, the extractive oil industry– that is the cause of the climate crisis. These groups have, in recent years, engaged in targeted campaigns singling out top corporate polluters like ExxonMobil and the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines.

Much of this radicalization has been driven by the college students and young people who make up a significant part of the environmental left. These young people understand fully well the grave threat global warming poses to their future, and the future of all life on Earth.

Anjali Appadurai, then a student at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, seemed to speak for young activists throughout the world when she addressed the U.N. Climate Summit in Durban, Africa, on Dec. 9, 2011.

“I speak for more than half the world’s population,” said Appadurai, then-21-years-old. “We are the silent majority.”

She went on:

You have given us a seat in this hall, but our interests are not on the table. What does it take to get a seat in this game? Lobbyists? Corporate influence? Money? You’ve been negotiating all my life. In that time you have failed to meet pledges, you’ve missed targets, and you’ve broken promises.

… There is real ambition in this room, but it’s been dismissed as radical, deemed not politically possible. Stand with Africa. Long-term thinking is not radical. What’s radical is to completely alter the planet’s climate, to betray the future of my generation, and to condemn millions to death by climate change. What is radical is to write off the fact that change is within our reach.

Hedges is difficult to peg, politically. He describes himself as a socialist, but his writing typically has more of an anarchist-bent. (Perhaps Hedges is best characterized as what Jacobin editor, Bhaskar Sunkara calls an “anarcho-liberal.”)

While Hedges correctly points to the fossil fuel and animal agriculture industries as the driving forces behind the decades-long corporate campaign to cast doubt on the overwhelming scientific consensus of climate change (“They fear that a rational, effective response to climate change will impede profits,” he writes), he stops short of singling out the system of capitalism.

In the absence of any course of action one might take, readers are left feeling depressed, demoralized, and politically disengaged. “The damage suffered by Houston, Tampa and Miami is not an anomaly,” Hedges concludes. “It is the beginning of the end. Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”

Shit… I guess it is a good thing I do not have any kids, in that case…

When Hedges, in some of his books and other columns, does offer suggestions for how readers might fight back, they tend to be vague and unspecified. He often calls for leftists to retreat into “self-sustained communities”—a tactic that reeks of petit bourgeois, “buy local” campaigns.

But we cannot simply disengage from capitalism while the rest of the world around us literally burns. Our goal must be to smash the system and create a new one.

None of this is to suggest we should be pollyannaish about climate change. Indeed, the inverse of pessimism devoid of hope is perennial—and often delusional—positive thinking, a phenomenon Barbara Ehrenreich explores in her 2009 book, Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America.

That said I fully disagree that “hope is a bourgeois construction,” as an ultra-left commenter said last year at a public talk I attended at the University of Southern Maine. (Most people present at the talk, including the speaker, disagreed with this statement.)

Whether we deem the proverbial glass “half-empty,” or “half-full,” our job as socialists is not merely to interpret the world, as the philosophers of our time have. Rather, the goal, as Marx once wrote, is to change it.

We owe it to ourselves and, especially, to future generations, to do everything within our power to prevent the worst impacts of climate change—no matter how bleak the situation may be. Succumbing to despair and pessimism does nothing to fulfill that obligation.

In the words of the Swedish punk-rock band, The Refused, “I’d rather be forgotten/Then remembered for giving in.”

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

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Here Comes the Flood: Capitalism Causes Climate Chaos

hurricane-harvey-flood-victims

Hurricane Harvey, which has all but devastated Texas, is on record to be the worst “natural” disaster in U.S. history. I put “natural” in quotation marks, because while the storm itself cannot be blamed solely on climate change, there is little doubt the warming oceans and wetter atmosphere caused by global warming, augmented Harvey’s strength and power.

Harvey has left 50 people dead, 30,000 Texas residents seeking shelter, and about 100,000 homes damaged or destroyed by flooding. Indeed, the storm is almost Biblical in the amount of rain it has produced: 24.5 trillion gallons of water, according to the Washington Post.

We are seeing many of the same socio-economic discrepancies playing out with Harvey as we did in Hurricane Katrina, which wreaked a similar path of destruction in New Orleans in 2005, and New York’s Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The rich and those with the means to evacuate have managed to escape the worst destruction, while the poor, the infirm, and people of color have been left to drown.

(In a twisted irony of Trumpian nationalism, many undocumented immigrants in Houston and other flooded areas are afraid to seek out help and shelter for fear they will be deported.)

In the end, it is the poor and working class who will bear the brunt of climate catastrophe. The wealthy will escape into their sheltered enclaves, in a scenario reminiscent of the Neil Blomkamp sci-fi film, Elysium.

And it is not just Texas that is underwater. Less reported on in the corporate media have been the equally horrific monsoons in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, which have left more than 1,200 dead.

Welcome to life in the Anthropocene. And, unless we take action now to radically reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, climate-charged hurricanes like Harvey are only going to become stronger, deadlier, and more frequent.

Climate scientists warn we are perilously close to reaching key planetary “tipping points.” Passing these thresholds could trigger a procession of warming “feedback loops,” wherein warming increases, thus further exacerbating the climate crisis. The most alarming of these tipping points is the potential release of methane gas stored in the permafrost of the rapidly melting Arctic. Methane has about 30 times the heat-trapping potential as carbon dioxide.

Additionally, because greenhouse gases like CO2 and methane linger in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, any warming beyond two degrees Celsius—itself widely regarded as a “catastrophic” increase in planetary warming by the scientific community—would be “locked in” for at least a century—perhaps longer.

And all of this—the melting Arctic, the rising sea levels, the increase in cataclysmic storms like Hurricane Harvey—is happening much faster than the climate models predicted.

As Naomi Klein warns in her latest book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, “We are almost at midnight on the climate clock.”

But, as important as it is that those of us on the left are clear about the science and the urgency about climate change, we must also be unambiguous about its cause: Capitalism.

While liberals tend to point to the excesses or the short-sightedness of the system—arguing those excesses could be tamed through market-oriented solutions like cap-and-trade legislation, or with more “capable,” “enlightened” leaders in government—this view fails to accurately account for the nature of capitalism. It is an economic system that views everything—including human lives, and the ecosystem that supports all life on Earth—as a commodity. Exploitation and unceasing economic expansion are built into capitalism’s DNA.

As such, there is no harmonious balance where capitalism and a sustainable, habitable environment can co-exist. There is no such thing as “green” or “ethical” capitalism. Indeed, the choice humanity now faces is quite stark: We can, in the words of eco-socialist, Fawzi Ibrahim, “Save the planet and ditch capitalism, or save capitalism and ditch the planet.”

Does this mean we must wait for a working-class revolution before we can adequately address climate change? Of course not. Given the current weakness of the U.S. left and its overall lack of organization, this is simply untenable. The urgency of the crisis demands that we push for whatever environmental gains we can get out of the system that currently exists, in the here and now—however minimal they may be.

But pointing out both the scope of the climate crisis and its primary driver (capitalism) is not meant to disempower or overwhelm citizens concerned about the future of the planet. It is merely to illustrate the task we are up against.

“If we are to save our world,” writes Chris Williams, author of the book, Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis, “it will not be enough to chip away at the walls; the people of the world must take a hammer to the entire foundation.”

Yet all is not lost.

I, for one, am encouraged by the degree of radicalization the environmental movement has undergone within the last decade. Many of the leading environmental advocacy groups (The Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and 350.org, to name just a handful) have largely dropped the individualist-oriented approaches to combating global warming that have characterized much of the environmental movement for the last two decades.

These individualist “strategies” for fighting climate change include using energy efficient lightbulbs, driving less, biking to work, eating a vegetarian or vegan diet, and the ultimate petit bourgeois con—shopping local. These are all noble endeavors in and of themselves, which nobody concerned about the environment or just living a healthier lifestyle should be discouraged from undertaking. But, given that oil companies and corporations are responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions, even if every U.S. citizen ditched their cars tomorrow, it would still make little overall impact.

In place of these individualist lifestyle measures, groups like Greenpeace and 350.org have engaged in more militant, activist oriented campaigns aimed directly at the fossil fuel industry—and oil giants like ExxonMobil, and the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines, in particular. Leading environmental activists like Bill McKibben have even been arrested, protesting the Keystone XL pipeline in front of the White House, in 2014.

Obviously, the left still has a lot of work to do. But this burgeoning radicalization—much of it encouraged by the young people and college students that constitute a major part of the environmental left—is certainly an encouraging sign.

We have the technology to begin the transition to a green economy right now. What we lack is not the “political will” to tackle global warming, as liberals often claim.

It is, rather, the fact that working-class people have no control over implementing the transition to wind, solar, and tidal power, and other forms of renewable energy on the mass scale needed. Such decisions are instead in the hands of a tiny group of wealthy business executives and CEOs–the very people who caused the climate crisis, in the first place. And the nature of the profit-driven capitalist system demands they focus more on maximizing profits than on saving the planet. Yet we are routinely assured this warped way of organizing society is the “best we can do”–that there is “no alternative.”

As Paul D’Amato writes in his socialism primer, The Meaning of Marxism:

The very advances made in human productive powers under capitalism that have brought us the possibility of a world without want are also altering our environment in ways that threaten the future viability of life on planet earth. As the renowned environmentalist and activist, Bill McKibben notes, “We’re moving quickly from a world where we push nature around to a world where nature pushes back–and with far more power.”

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

 

Trump to Planet Earth: Drop Dead

Smokestacks

In a recent conversation with Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman, Professor Noam Chomsky outlined the two gravest threats to the survival of the human species: Nuclear war and climate change.

“Has there ever been an organization in human history that is dedicated, with such commitment, to the destruction of organized human life on Earth?” Chomsky asked of the Republican Party, which he called the most “dangerous organization in world history.”

“Not that I’m aware of. Is the Republican organization—I hesitate to call it a party—committed to that? Overwhelmingly. There isn’t even any question about it.”

Case in point, President Donald Trump has followed through on his campaign promise to pull the United States out of the 2015 Paris climate change treaty. The unilateral decision, which Trump announced on June 1, was met with strong condemnation from world leaders, and 400 protesters marching in New York City.

The Paris accord is, admittedly, far from perfect. The emissions reductions nations committed to are mostly voluntary. Still, the deal was the best one to come out of the annual, largely fruitless, climate change conferences, since the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. And Trump’s decision to withdraw from the deal makes the U.S., in the words of the Bangor Daily News editorial board, “a climate change pariah.”

The U.S. is the world’s leading contributor of CO2 emissions.

In his speech announcing America’s departure from the Paris agreement, Trump rehashed the standard conservative argument that protecting the environment is at odds with accelerating economic growth, “creating jobs,” and maintaining a strong economy.

Trump—an ignoramus who, by his own admission, does not read books, newspapers, scientific reports or his own White House intelligence briefings—joins most of his peers in the Republican organization in blatantly denying the science of anthropogenic, or human-induced, climate change, in the first place. While the GOP has long harbored sentiments of anti-intellectualism, its wholehearted embrace of the trend in recent years is perhaps its most disturbing quality.

Yet, there is a sort of perverse logic to the right’s insistence that we can either have a clean, healthy environment and a habitable planet, or a “robust” economy, but we cannot have both. It is the logic of capitalism.

The bourgeois capitalists—particularly those in the oil and gas industry—understand that any environmental regulations or mandated emissions reductions will hurt their bottom line. And they simply cannot allow that to happen. The logic of capitalism demands capitalists maximize short-term profits above all else—regardless of any unfortunate consequences or catastrophes that may occur down the road as a result.

As author, Paul D’Amato explains in his socialism-primer, The Meaning of Marxism, trying to get corporations—or their state-appendages in the government and the military—to “act as stewards of our environment,” is like “trying to get wolves not to hunt.”

Thus, where scientists and environmentalists view the rapidly melting Arctic as an ominous sign of a planet literally in its death throes, the corporate elite see another business opportunity. Indeed, the system of capitalism, and its tendency to turn everything, including the very ecosystem that supports life on the planet, into a commodity may well be the living manifestation of Freud’s theory of man’s subconscious “death drive.”

And despite whatever emerging markets there may be for solar, wind, and tidal power and other forms of renewable energy resources, capital’s reliance on cheap, dirty fossil fuels is unlikely to be abated any time soon–at least, not soon enough to save the planet. ExxonMobil, BP, and Royal Dutch Shell intend to forcefully extract every last drop of oil from the planet before their CEOs ever begin to consider a new business model.

As Alyssa Battistoni writes in a Dec. 11, 2015 piece for Jacobin:

Capital came into the world dripping from every pore not only with dirt and blood but also coal dust and oil; it very well may be inextricably bound to fossil fuels to power the contemporary pace and scale of global production. It’s certainly never existed without them.

In other words, we cannot sit back and wait for the innovations of The Market to intervene and save us.

Nor, can we place our faith in individual consumer habits or lifestyle choices to make a significant difference in reducing carbon emissions. For decades liberals and environmental groups have advocated we drive less, bike or walk more, become vegetarians or vegans, and shop exclusively at local businesses.

These are all noble endeavors, no doubt, which nobody should be discouraged from undertaking. But climate change is a global problem of such vast proportions individual lifestyle changes alone will, sadly, prove insufficient in remedying it.

Furthermore, the individualist solutions so long proffered by the “Big Green” groups like the Sierra Club or the Natural Resources Defense Council incorrectly place the blame for climate change on the entire populations of industrialized nations—not taking into account the vast disparity in class within those countries.

For instance, a working-class person who owns one car and rents a home has a considerably smaller “carbon footprint” compared to a wealthy investment banker who owns multiple vehicles, two “McMansion”-sized homes, a boat, a plane, and spends his time crisscrossing the globe. In fact, just 90 corporations are responsible for generating two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions since the Industrial Revolution, according to a Nov. 20, 2013 story in The Guardian.

Thus, climate change really is a crisis created by the bourgeoisie and dumped, like so much garbage, onto the doorsteps of the working class.

Fortunately, many of the “Big Green” groups have slowly moved away from individualist solutions in recent years as the environmental movement has become more radicalized. Groups like 350.org and Greenpeace have adopted more activist-oriented campaigns aimed squarely at ExxonMobil or the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.

The sub-title of Naomi Klein’s landmark 2014 book, This Changes Everything, speaks to this emerging radicalization in the environmental movement: Capitalism vs. The Climate.

It is clear by now that we cannot rely on presidents, Congress or market-driven solutions to halt the worst impacts of climate change. Only the working class, by seizing the means of production and developing a rationally-planned, sustainable society based not on profit but on human need, can hope to avert climate catastrophe.

“[O]ur economic system and our planetary system are now at war,” Klein writes. “Or, more accurately, our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth, including human life. What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature.”

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!