Opinion - Environment

2007 - 2022

Climate Chaos – Can we stop it before its too late?

This is the first in a series of ‘Case for the Commons: The kinder Society we want’ posts – the second will argue that international agreements have failed and will fail: what is needed is a ‘Commons’ approach to the climate and related crises…

Copenhagen was “the last chance to stop climate chaos”, Cancun was an afterthought, and no one thinks about the next global climate meeting in Durban.

If we had to turn the whole ship round by 2012 to stand a chance but are now racing even faster for the rocks, if the experts think we’re heading for at least 650ppm CO2 in the atmosphere, and a rise of 4C that will make most if not all the world uninhabitable for humans, and if Climate Change is yesterday’s craze, like Make Poverty History, or Ban the Bomb, then where do we find the time from to stop it?

Contrary to popular belief: We are not too late to stop the devastating impacts of climate change, because we are not too late to stop the economic-industrial complex from pumping out carbon emissions.

These emissions have raised overall global temperatures 0.8C since pre-industrial times, and our industrial activity over the last 30 years means we have another 0.6C temperature rise in the pipeline. This means we are committed to a rise of 1.4C.

If the scientists are right, then rapidly reducing and halting emissions – and then reversing the process through enabling the soils, the oceans and the forests to regenerate – means we are only committed to climate chaos to the extent that we are committed to this economic-industrial system.

We can only de-couple our everyday activities from this system if we propose and enact an alternative, and if we can succeed in enacting it in the face of all the forces that would stop it taking place.

It doesn’t have to happen everywhere all at once, but it has to happen, and it has to be able to spread like wildfire through people, communities and countries being inspired to take it up, and through their refusing to back down in the face of the forces that would stop it. Such change happens regularly throughout the world and throughout history – it depends entirely on individuals and networks and communities and peoples saying ‘enough, and no more’.

One of the strongest ways of stopping people from pursuing an alternative to what has become an ecocidal system, is to persuade us that there is no alternative, that human nature is such that any such change is unrealistic, that there is no evidence that it is possible, that change itself is not possible.

Yet, quite clearly change is fundamental to being human. Our creativity and malleability is evident across thousands of different societies and histories. And furthermore what is clear – looking across the historical and contemporary record – is that our current dominant arrangement (in which an economic-industrial ‘boom and bust’ Market is imposed by the State) is the exception rather than the rule.

When we fail to be persuaded that this is how it has to be, that there is no other way of being human, then the argument with which we are countered is that any other way is far inferior, that no other way can meet our needs, can feed the world.

Yet this way of feeding the world – destroying the topsoil, draining the soil of its fertility, emptying the ocean of life – destroys the basis of human life and only feeds some and not others. There is plenty to go round, but in a system driven by scarcity and greed, many starve. There is plenty of land to grow what we need in a system shaped by concern for the well-being of each other, ecosystems and other species.

To be realistic is to be completely pessimistic about our chances of survival if we think we can only put our faith in what has become an ecocidal economic and political system. To be realistic is to be optimistic if we put our faith in each other.

The stakes get rapidly higher, the chance to fudge a compromise long past. We’re rapidly entering all or nothing territory. Wake up and remember the touch of a blade of grass on your cheek, or bury yourself in newsprint, blogroll, numbing stories of the powerful places where self-important powerless people obediently do what they are told, and hide from truths too obvious to speak. A blade of grass pushes up through fissures, soil or tarmac, as it always does . . .

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  1. Tocasaid says:

    ‘Enough to go around’. Indeed. Interesting but on last night’s news only minutes after learning about Save the Children’s latest appeal to save millions facing drought in Africa, we learned the winner of the ‘World Hotdog Eating Contest’.

    Strange too that our ‘mission for humanity’ in Libya doesn’t stretch to other parts of Africa.

  2. John Riley says:

    My God, you are the eternal optimist Justin, which I hugely admire. As you well know, I personally gave up due to the futility of this fight. However, if anybody is to make any significant in-road into the powers that be, you should send this letter, stating your case to Cameron, Obama and Salmond, demanding a meeting, not just a polite diplomatic letter in response. I think we spend too much time demonstrating and writing articles, instead of asking for a face to face meeting. We would expect them to say “No”, but they might just say “Yes”. If they say “No”, expose their intransigence in the press.

  3. bellacaledonia says:

    What worries me is that the mainstream media have treated climate change on a par with MPs dodgy expenses, the latest royal wedding or Ryan Giggs sex life. They’ve “covered it” when it was newsily scary then moved on to the next five minute crisis. As a result even the term “climate change” has become passe and switches many people off who’ve become accustomed to absorbing “news” in this passive commodified manner. Therein lies a fucking great problem…


  4. Justin Kenrick says:


    I completely agree that we need to directly engage with politicians, and I have no expectation that they will do anything until . . .

    bear with me, over the next few days I want to try and develop a sketch for how we might move forward (and I expect this will happen more in response to the bust of financial melt down, and less to do with dealing with the booming CO2 consequences of economic growth) .

    . . . and yes the 24 hour news is not about informing and thinking through, it is about bedazzling, silencing, presenting hypocritical contradictions side by side as if naturally given – and in the process naturalising hyper inequality, and protecting from thought a system doing unthinkable harm.

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