The End of the Myth of Green Capitalism

The IPCC report landed in public consciousness on Monday. By Tuesday it was forgotten. On the day the most comprehensive and chilling prospectus on climate breakdown was published most newspapers in Britain led with Strictly Come Dancing. In the evening the BBC’s flagship Newsnight invited a Trump-supporting climate denier on television. Today the UK govt announced they would re-start fracking.  Brazil are on the brink of electing a fascist who wants to cut down the Amazon rain forest.

The report wasn’t so much apocalyptic as precise.

A queue of professional climate science deniers were sufficiently unsettled to evoke their well-trodden disinformation. Over at Steve Bannon’s alt-right BreibartJames Delingpole called the IPCC report: “wailing hysteria and worryingly eco-fascistic policy prescriptions”. Similar panic could be read in all the usual outlets: the Spectator; Sun; Telegraph, Daily Mail; and across the BBC.

The crisis-non-crisis leaves many people in turns utterly despondent, or consciously, doggedly oblivious.

Why can’t we make the changes we need to make?

The first and the most obvious reason is the myth of green capitalism, the myth that any of this is redeemable. Instead of wondering why Exxon or BP aren’t converting their business model, we need to be taking them over, shutting them down and switching them off. Instead we’re rinsing out our bottle tops and demanding a Plastic Straw ban.

Hyper-capitalism requires hyper-individualism. This is incompatible with our species surviving.

As Martin Lukacs has written:

“Anything resembling a collective check on corporate power has become a target of the elite: lobbying and corporate donations, hollowing out democracies, have obstructed green policies and kept fossil fuel subsidies flowing; and the rights of associations like unions, the most effective means for workers to wield power together, have been undercut whenever possible.

At the very moment when climate change demands an unprecedented collective public response, neoliberal ideology stands in the way. Which is why, if we want to bring down emissions fast, we will need to overcome all of its free-market mantras: take railways and utilities and energy grids back into public control; regulate corporations to phase out fossil fuels; and raise taxes to pay for massive investment in climate-ready infrastructure and renewable energy — so that solar panels can go on everyone’s rooftop, not just on those who can afford it.

Neoliberalism has not merely ensured this agenda is politically unrealistic: it has also tried to make it culturally unthinkable. Its celebration of competitive self-interest and hyper-individualism, its stigmatization of compassion and solidarity, has frayed our collective bonds. It has spread, like an insidious anti-social toxin.”

Hyper-individualism isn’t just ineffective it’s isolating and dispiriting.

You can’t buy your way out of climate breakdown, nor can you recycle your way out of this level of crisis. Changing the means of production, changing the endless cycle of productivism and consumerism is the only way back.

Ending the obsession with growth and accumulation is the only way to avoid the catastrophic species loss, collapse in biodiversity, rising sea levels, an ice-free Arctic, ocean acidification, crop failure and the loss of our coral reefs that the report lays out in minute detail.

But this isn’t what the people who run the world want to do.

The problem isn’t that we don’t know what to do.

We know exactly what needs to be done.

As the Canadian author Naomi Klein explains:

“We have not done the things that are necessary to lower emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have been struggling to find a way out of this crisis. We are stuck because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe — and would benefit the vast majority — are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets. That problem might not have been insurmountable had it presented itself at another point in our history. But it is our great collective misfortune that the scientific community made its decisive diagnosis of the climate threat at the precise moment when those elites were enjoying more unfettered political, cultural, and intellectual power than at any point since the 1920s.”

Umair Haque suggest that the “mathematics of catastrophe” means that the other, competing reason we will not manage to survive this process is that the challenge comes at the moment when capitalism is morphing into a form of fascism as it struggles with it’s own failures.

He charts the descent, the closing of a window since the Kyoto Protocol, during which America elected the King of Idiots (“Why Catastrophic Climate Change is Probably Inevitable Now“):

“Before the neofascist wave, the world might have indeed “solved” climate change. Maybe not in the hard sense that life would go on tomorrow as it does today — but in the soft sense that the worst and most vicious scenarios were mostly outlandish science fiction. That is because before the neofascist wave, we could imagine nations cooperating, if slowly, reluctantly, in piecemeal ways, towards things like protecting life, reducing carbon, pricing in the environment, and so on. These things can only be done through global cooperation, after all.

But after the neofascist wave, global cooperation — especially of a genuinely beneficial kind, not a predatory kind — began to become less and less possible by the day. The world was unravelling. When countries were trashing the United Nations and humiliating their allies and proclaiming how little they needed the world (all to score minor-league wins for oligarchs, who cashed in their chips, laughing )— how could such a globe cooperate more then? It couldn’t — and it can’t. So the neofascist wave which we are now in also means drastically less global cooperation — but less global cooperation means incalculably worse climate change.”

That doesn’t sound good does it?

Some people – like Mario MolinaVeerabhadran RamanathanDurwood J. Zaelke and David Wallace-Wells – think it’s far worse.

Molina, Ramanathan and Zaelke, writing for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, point to the fact the IPCC largely ignores the issue of feedback loops, what happens as integrated systems fail and collapse? They write:

“So far, average temperatures have risen by one degree Celsius. Adding 50 percent more warming to reach 1.5 degrees won’t simply increase impacts by the same percentage—bad as that would be. Instead, it risks setting up feedbacks that could fall like dangerous dominos, fundamentally destabilizing the planet. This is analyzed in a recent study showing that the window to prevent runaway climate change and a “hot house” super-heated planet is closing much faster than previously understood.

These cascading feedbacks include the loss of the Arctic’s sea ice, which could disappear entirely in summer in the next 15 years. The ice serves as a shield, reflecting heat back into the atmosphere, but is increasingly being melted into water that absorbs heat instead. Losing the ice  would tremendously increase the Arctic’s warming, which is already at least twice the global average rate. This, in turn, would accelerate the collapse of permafrost, releasing its ancient stores of methane, a super climate pollutant 30 times more potent in causing warming than carbon dioxide.

By largely ignoring such feedbacks, the IPCC report fails to adequately warn leaders about the cluster of six similar climate tipping points that could be crossed between today’s temperature and an increase to 1.5 degrees—let alone nearly another dozen tipping points between 1.5 and 2 degrees. These wildcards could very likely push the climate system beyond human ability to control.”

There are of course other feedback loops, like the issue of climate migration fuelling the shift to fascism that Umair Haque outlines.

Writing in The Intelligencer (“UN Says Climate Genocide Is Coming. It’s Actually Worse Than That”) wrote that:

“…the action needed is at a scale and a speed almost unimaginable to most of us. The IPCC report called it unprecedented. Other activists often see one precedent, in all of human history, citing the model of how the United States prepared for World War II, and calling for a global mobilization of that kind — all of the world’s rivalrous societies and nationalistic governments and self-interested industries organized around the common pursuit of a stable and comfortable climate as though warming was an existential threat.

It is. And the World War II mobilization metaphor is not hyperbole. To avoid warming of the kind the IPCC now calls catastrophic requires a complete rebuilding of the entire energy infrastructure of the world, a thorough reworking of agricultural practices and diet to entirely eliminate carbon emissions from farming, and a battery of cultural changes to the way those of us in the wealthy West, at least, conduct our lives. And we need to do all of that in two, or possibly three, decades. As a comparison, simply the last phase of the recent three-stop extension of New York City’s Second Avenue subway line took 12 years.”

If all of this sounds apocalyptic, I’m sorry.

Molina, Ramanathan and Zaelke, suggest that “neither fatalism nor despair are warranted, but rather a sense of urgent, or even running-scared, optimism.”

There is no doubt that we have the resources, the innovative capacity, drive and imagination to salvage the situation. Jim Skea  co-chair of IPCC Working Group III. said that limiting global warming to 1.5 degree C is “possible within the laws of chemistry and physics” …”But doing so would require unprecedented changes.”

As contrived indifference meets abject poverty and celebrity moronism, it’s difficult to have faith that this is feasible.

We will need to overturn Frederic Jameson’s famous dictum that “it has become easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism”. This is not just a socio-economic crisis of systemic proportions, but also a crisis of the imagination. We’ll need to upset all of the internalised myths we’ve consumed and been groomed to believe in: growth is good, choice is good, endless choice is best; accumulation is a goal in itself, we are masters of nature.

If we can’t throw off these myths we will die of consumption.

 

 

 

 

Comments (23)

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  1. Tam Dean Burn says:

    So we need to move beyond capitalism, we seem agreed on that, aye? Trade Unions are not the answer as suggested- they have narrow sectional interests and put jobs first, understandably. And it’s not about the elites or deregulation. It’s inherent in the nature of capitalism that it cannot solve this. We need to stop pussyfooting around with pointless attempts to tinker with things, like Scottish independence. We need to build the organisation capable of tackling this on a global scale and that has to be capable to taking on and superceding capitalism. No small task but absolutely necessary and I’d call that a communist party. As stated in this article – capitalism is a system uniquely unfit to cope with the ecological crisis that is so obviously gripping the planet…
    https://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1158/growth-for-the-sake-of-growth/
    And as the question of oil is so important in Scotland…
    https://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1162/fossil-fuel-era-continues/

    1. Thanks Tam. Mostly agree. Not all unions are as you describe – for instance working with some on a Just Transition programme on how to avoid the replication of the coal collapse in oil industry.

      1. Willie says:

        Could not agree more Tam.

        Unless and until societies manage to regain objective control over many if the industrial processes the parasitic nature of hyper capitalism, and ever increasing growth strategies, will continue to poison our planet, and all that live on it.

        Washing out bottle tops is but a bit part response to Big Oil’s plastics industry that is more than happy to produce ever more plastic.

        Sadly, it may be a hard fact of life that unless and until our seas are chocked with plastic and we are up to our necks in the stuff that nothing will change.

        Quadrilla’s commencement of shale gas extraction by hydraulic fracturing this week in England confirms that.

        And for my part, like millions of others, fed on a diet of over consumption of natural resources, I’m comforted in the knowledge of playing my part in having given up plastic straws!

        Garde L’eau!

  2. Jamsie says:

    Ah natsie censorship is alive and well!

    1. Jamsie says:

      Apologies Mr Ed.
      That should have read nasty censorship.
      Showing my opinions again!
      Story breaking so will get back on the detail.

      1. Me Bungo Pony says:

        We’re all agog 😉

  3. Justin Kenrick says:

    Excellent article [and what follows isn’t a poem].

    Ultimately this is the only issue that matters,
    and in addressing this we address all the others:

    How do we reclaim our humanity,
    refuse the shackles on our imaginations, our lives and our care,
    take responsibility and action that also liberates all who’ve buried their heads in the sands?

    Each step, each action, on each issue,
    needs to connect with each other:
    highlighting what we are up against
    and that the solutions stare us in the face:
    stop feeding our power to the ‘there is no alternative’ machine.

    Is action born of an optimism
    beyond the reaches of desperation
    the fuel for the changes we need, and the fuel
    for the relationships we need to make that change possible?

    1. Tam Dean Burn says:

      That’s great and ties in with pondering how artistic expressions could be gathered and galvanised to take on the task of showing radical change is vital and possible. But understanding what change is necessary- taking on and defeating capitalism – and finding the mass means to do that, must be priority or action is futile.

  4. Bill says:

    False consciousness, the belief that the way things are is normal and natural and not a created, unnatural and unsustainable system. A response to climate change that has a chance of working will require global changes that would include no more mass air travel, no mass car usage, all commuting to be done by bus or muscle power, meat as a very occasional treat, limitations on family sizes, the end of guaranteed 24 hour a day power in your home, the end of owning more than one home, the end of supermarkets as we know them, the end of anything other than home grown fruit and vegetables, etc. Most people in the UK will see this as a massive downgrading of their current lifestyle and something they will be unlikely to voluntarily enter into. How do you persuade them otherwise? (A serious question – I think it’s the key to getting things done.)

    1. Jamsie says:

      The problem for me is that we probably create less than 0.5% of the worlds emissions.
      Others who create much more are reluctant to address such issues therefore what actual good are we doing in imposing upon ourselves the strict targets identified by the Scottish “government”.
      Will they really make a difference worldwide or will we just paralyse our economy in the short term trying to deliver what most others choose to ignore.

      1. We are part of a global agreement that took many years and exhaustive diplomacy and acres of scientific evidence: Paris, which everyone is signed up to…

        1. Jamsie says:

          Mr Ed
          Take your point but is the agreement being adhered to by others?
          And are all the largest polluters signed up to the agreement.
          This “government” continually sets targets which are stricter than others in the region and given our economy continually runs in deficit this means we need to find money from somewhere to be able to meet the targets.
          The U.K. may decide at some point to make us live within our means but worse if Indy were to be visited upon us even after 3 or 4 referendums and the SNP are already telling us that austerity will need to continue how will we afford such promises.

          1. Me Bungo Pony says:

            Jeez, even global apocalypse is a price worth paying if it allows J*msie to take a pop at the Scottish govt and helps prevent Scottish independence. “Aye, we might aw be deid, but at least we’d ahve dei’d British” 《the strains of Rule Britannia, played on a scratchy old gramophone, drift across a post apocalyptic wasteland》.

          2. Jamsle says:

            MBP
            I know I know.
            I worry about the silliest wee things but even you must be able to see if we are spending all our money to be greener than others because they are not spending enough then it puts our already perilous economy in a precarious position.
            But now that wee Nicola has adopted Theresa’s mantle and told all you Indy types now is not the time maybe I am worrying needlessly eh?

          3. I worry about the silliest wee things but even you must be able to see if our food supply collapses, unliveable climate change, sea-rising and devastating extinction loss then it puts our already perilous economy in a precarious position.

          4. Me Bungo Pony says:

            Of course, you are correct J*msie. What was I thinking? When choosing life is just so darned expensive, as you have kindly “asserted”, it makes perfect sense to go along with the more affordable mass suicide. Why should Scotland express ambition and want to stand out from the crowd? It’s just so embarrassing for the Unionists among us.

      2. Me Bungo Pony says:

        That’s the attitude that means nothing at all ever gets done. If no one sets the ball rolling, it will sit in the one place forever. This was the case for a great many things we now take for granted like Democracy and it’s ever expanding suffrage, worker’s rights, public services, the banning of child labour, universal education, healthcare, etc. If no-one sets the precedent, we will remain mired in the destructive activities and attitudes that require change.

        With global warming, the stakes are of the highest magnitude. If nothing is done, it won’t only be ecosystems that are upset and destroyed, the collapse of civilisation as we know it is likely as billions of people are displaced due to sea levels rising, flooding, drought, famine, disease and the inevitable wars that will follow (the horsemen of the apocalypse are well named). The West will not be immune. Here too, social collapse is virtually inevitable as the gap between haves and have-nots increases exponentially with ever decreasing resources being hoarded amongst the wealthier echelons of society.

        Scotland may be a small player in the grand, global scheme of things but that should not preclude us from setting an example and help get that pesky ball rolling. It’s not just in our interest, but the entire planet’s.

        1. Bill says:

          I agree with everything that you say, but would observe that most revolutionary change (and make no mistake, this is of that magnitude) has involved violence and repression. Those in positions of power have been aware of climate change since at least the 1980s. They set out upon a deliberate policy of ignoring the issue, of casting doubt wherever possible. What makes you think that they will now change course? Do you think Jeff Bezos will just give up his fortune to help us avoid climate change? The sentencing of the anti-fracking activists is a warning to anyone else who is considering similar action. Legislation is in place, surveillance systems are in place, ready to track and crack down on dissent to the prevailing order. Unless you can get the overwhelming majority of people on your side, including those who generally don’t care or have been exposed to thirty years of propaganda on the subject, then the state will come at you with everything it has. My question is how do we do that?

    2. Me Bungo Pony says:

      Most of those things are probably do-able for the vast majority of people as they are extremely recent phenomenon (car ownership and plane journeys were a fraction of their current level as late as the 1980s). I think many, if not most, people are already thinking along those lines if only due to austerity and the uncertainty of Brexit. The one area I don’t see as a problem at all is energy. The rise of the renewable energy sector has already seen most of our energy supply secured and should see it all produced sustainably relatively soon without recourse to power cuts. It is the one aspect of the fight against global warming that I see as having been all but won …. in Scotland at least.

  5. SleepingDog says:

    If corporations are persons, perhaps we need a corporate death penalty, though not against its human components. With seizure of assets redistributed to a global commons and closing down of ecocidal operations, a steady rate of corporate executions and dismemberments might help focus minds and trigger changes. Elsewhere, rationing, conscription into local self-sufficiency schemes, massive education and de-propaganda programmes might make a difference.

    All this fascination with froth and concern to over-consume has taken huge effort to instill. The effects can be reversed, given time. It might be surprising how quickly objects of obediance, awe and emulation can be turned into targets of vilification, ridicule and revolt. The environment is not the only complex system where feedback loops and domino effects can effect more-than-exponential change, if we regard humans as having intelligence, agency and social purpose. Reject and adapt.

    1. R. Eric Swanepoel says:

      I love your ideas, SleepingDog. The corporate death penalty idea has the merit that it would be headline-grabbing and much educational work could be done on the back of such a campaign. Would you perhaps consider starting a petition or campaign along these lines?

      Of course the very existence of companies run for the short-term financial profit of shareholders needs to be challenged, which would mean major legislative change, and massive reform of the pensions industry, which in my opinion is a major force for evil. See what the MSPs’ pension scheme is (or, fingers crossed, was) invested in: https://biowrite.wordpress.com/2013/07/23/msp-pension-scheme/ .

      That leads me to a related bugbear of mine: the concept of fiduciary duty, which is in general interpreted to mean that employers have an obligation to maximise the financial gains of their employees’ pension investments without consideration for the biosphere or human rights. When it comes to investing in fossil fuels this is utter lunacy. There needs to be a campaign around the interpretation of fiduciary duty. At the very least, it should be an absolute duty of employers to inform employees what their standard pensions scheme invests in and offer them the opportunity of switching to an ethical pension scheme. This is seldom the case, as far as I know. Another obvious reform is to make it clear that an organisation’s professed values and beliefs should not be contradicted/undermined by the pensions scheme run for its employees. This would make it difficult to justify the MSPs’ scheme investing in tobacco, GM crops, etc., – areas in which the Scottish Parliament has clearly legislated.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @R. Eric Swanepoel thanks for the link. I see that “The Scottish Parliamentary Pension Scheme is managed by Baillie Gifford”, major sponsors of the Edinburgh Book Festival.

        I am not an activist or legal expert. But it might be worth getting behind a campaign to establish through the United Nations an international global criminal law forbidding ecocide. Here is one led by a Scottish lawyer, Polly Higgins:
        http://eradicatingecocide.com/polly/

        It appears that ecocide is absent from the recent Scottish Festival of Politics, not really surprising if the dreadful Scottish Question Time episode is any guide. It might be useful to have a Bella-sized article summarising the latest position on getting ecocide recognised. In terms of climate change, the top corporate carbon offenders have been identified by this project:
        http://carbonmajors.org

        I think you are right about fiduciary duty, which I have also criticised although I didn’t know what it was called. Yes, it makes no real-world sense that limited companies are bound solely to shareholders and the default of profit. A point that Higgins makes is that an ecocide law would give protection to those within government or corporations who wanted to do the right thing: they could refuse to approve or carry out environmentally-damaging activities on the basis that parties involved would be subject to criminal prosecution and jail time.

  6. Mathew says:

    Excellent article. Thank you.
    Interesting to note that Chris Stark chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change, which instructs Westminister on targets for emissions has said that the new IPCC report will ‘require answers that the market unfettered will not deliver’ . Guardian 10th Oct.

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