Wednesday, August 30, 2006

At 6 degrees rise (inevitable by 2100), sea levels will rise 60 feet

Climate change is about as severe, and we are about as able to do anything about it, as world poverty. All the statistics which are the story of "elsewhere" at the moment - of 800 million people going to bed hungry each night, 2 billion people not having access to safe water, 5,000 children dying of preventable diseases each day - all these statistics which are paralysing in their enormity, which make of the world, which seems so stable and so "sensible" in the North's profitable manufactured dream, instead entirely fraught with and saturated with contradictions, will come to be our story too, with the advent of climate change. It's the same Pareto imbalance, shared by these twin effects of global capitalism, global warming and global poverty, unsustainability and exploitation. The horrendous plight of others wasn't enough to make us care enough to look closely enough to realise the reality of the effects and thence the constitution of the system and to dismantle it in time. So we will face mortal calamity. And in this way, by experiencing the remorseless, pitiless, relentless material reality of capitalism's effects, we will realise all the lies of the system at once - the security it engenders, but only for a progressively narrowing minority; the sense of choice it gives, though the fundamental choice - not to live under capitalism - is forcibly guarded from us; and of compromise - never if it contradicts the imperative of capital accumulation - always to be rolled back in the interest of this latter; of dignity, again only for the minority; of enjoyment of the - individual, isolated, solipsistic, selfish - and yet participating in something real and human and social too (this is how it can work, how the paradigm can be propagated and maintained successfully, tragically so) fruits of capitalism: personal career advancement (bound to contributing to the effects of the paradigm), social motion (always contingent, always removable), physical motion (travelling fast in cars for example), technological advance (used 20% for good etc) etc.

Because we lived as individuals, and allowed ourselves to be beguiled and to travel our solitary furrows, while having (increasingly) global effects with every action we took, humanly, and environmentally, we have created the situation which will correct itself by once again binding us to our effects, unravelling the contradictions. Because we allowed ourselves to forget the cord which binds us to all fellow life, that within us which cannot and will not be happy, if by making somebody or something else unhappy - universality. The elite, pareto control of our society, us, pareto control of the world, wrought it.

It's always this 80-20 proportion - capitalism also contains something within it of reality, not just in the way it's experienced, but in its constitution. Interacting with the material world is hard; and material rewards are beguiling. Both of these properties find their places in capitalism, as an apology for it and an unspoken incentive to it respectively. In an ideal socialism on the other hand, both these factors find their rightful subjugation in properly human-level considerations - material reality is hard, but we interact with it as an oeuvre of love, willingly hewing it and ploughing it to feed ourselves, and for the love of the socially beneficial transformations we make of it; material rewards are beguiling but they are nothing, nothing compared to the love and companionship of our fellow beings, which if we are lucky we are reminded of continually.

Capitalism, before it feudalism, before it, the first hierarchical societies, all concealed the new pact of existentially unbearable subjugation of the human to the material with the cloak of seeming necessity. They all contained that element of something which was true, or something which seemed beneficial because it spoke to true qualities and aspects of human existential and material development (the surface and the new are 20% of reality, 80% the content and the earth), and they always lifted the 20% who benefited and at the same time and because of that had power to decide, and therefore would decide in favour.

With climate change, our actions are saturated with their effects. Even a little bit of greenhouse gas emission is bad. The system is highly sensitive to our industrial processes; temperature rises began accelerating in 1860. Every plume of smoke everywhere, every bit of oil-produced or transported apparatus or food around us, is choking the planet, desiccating it, flooding it, causing wind and disease to scour it. The 20% will feel it 80% less, but they will feel it too, 20% of them, in Florida, and in lowlying parts of England.

Climate change is karma, and adds the most credence yet to the idea the world is alive, and that life has meaning. Because as it saturates 100%, as the smoke fills the room, we won't see the illusions and the divide between us will get weaker and dissolve. The surface will remain as wracked husks and we'll, life will, be left, to read the truth in them.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The news has been so appallingly grim recently that it's really hard to know what to say, never mind do. From yesterday's Independent:

The hungry planet

As stocks run out and harvests fail, the world faces its worst crisis for 30 years

By Geoffrey Lean
Published: 03 September 2006

1:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's true, new stories about environmental catastrophe and squeezes on resources come thick and fast from all sides, all the time, seemingly frighteningly unreal but actually just putting the seal on something we've known for a long time, the deep-veined wrongness and unsustainability of our society...

Reading that article, it's striking the bit about the biofuels - these were heralded as such a great solution, because they potentially (although they don't) allow us to carry on as we were before - that's the thing everybody prizes. Nobody wants to drive less, or consume less. We don't want to redistribute - whether resource usage or other aspects of environmental footprint - not if our life depended on it, and it does. That would be anathema. Instead we want a technofix, and lo and behold because it maintains the same enormously imbalanced structure of power and benefit, it merely displaces the problems and exacerbates them in all sorts of ways. For the profit motive, rainforests are clearcut to grow palms for biofuel; for the profit motive, land is used to grow crops while people starve; etc. The whole premise is crazy as well - biofuels still give off carbon, but the idea is because things have grown, they have already taken in carbon - well the land might feasibly be used to grow things anyway, so enough with the abstract accounting! In the current severe pass we're at we need to grow much carbon absorbing plants as we can, and cut down on car usage.. the profit motive won't let us.. In the 1600s sheep ate men, now it's cows and cars, and it's exactly the same dynamic throughout.

PS I'm far from hectoring you, as I know you're on the same page, though do point out if you disagree w/any of this... just makes one want to rant. Anyway to borrow one of your phrases, pint!

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