2007 - 2021

The Deluge

It’s been raining for days. Chucking it down. The downpour is biblical. The rail line between Dumfries and Carlisle has been shut for safety checks on a viaduct. Two bridges have collapsed. The River Annan is flooding. The BBC reporter tells us this news but doesn’t mention climate change.

Everything is disconnected.

My timeline and the surround-sound of the media reverberates with a mixture of cold fear and abject moronism: Mike Graham interviewing Cameron Ford from Insulate Britain being a sort of exemplar of the latter. The Talk Radio host exhibited a level of stupidity only matched by their inability to realise afterwards that he had become a national humiliation. Graham is just one of a collection of over-represented men that dominate the proliferation of right-wing media outlets, from Richard Madeley to Piers Morgan all clamouring to express their complete incomprehension of climate reality. It’s like a heavily gendered display of ignorance where the stupider you are the more media exposure you get until our tv’s and timelines and newspapers are just filled with all these men proudly brandishing how little they know about anything. Only Emma Barnett’s “Would you nationalise sausages?” really gets a look-in for the ladies.

But this is all passing trivia, just an example of a world that doesn’t make any sense. It feels like meaning itself is slipping away as everything descends into a weird performative spectacle.

And still it rains.

Glasgow is more Raintown than dear Green Place. I’m imagining Glasgow next week as a sort of grim soaked city with Greta muttering a Rorschach-like testimony to the Blue Zone about the “rain washing all the scum away…”.

The problem – as Laurie Macfarlane points out (‘Tackling climate breakdown and delivering economic justice must go hand in hand’) – is that the years of inaction have now mounted up and up – making the task now a huge one. Everything is outsourced and offshored – everything is pushed away.

Macfarlane writes: ” …delayed action means that emissions must now fall on a near-vertical trajectory. Each passing year of inaction produces a compounding effect, necessitating ever steeper carbon reductions in future years. According to a report published this week by the UN Environment Programme, countries’ current pledges would reduce carbon by only about 7.5% by 2030, far less than the 45% cut scientists say is needed to limit global temperature rises to 1.5°C. Unless radical action is taken, by the time the next major COP meeting comes around in 2026, the prospects for limiting warming to 1.5°C will have all but vanished.”

As Macfarlane points out not only is the ‘national lens’ an inadequate way to view our predicament, but the rich countries of the global north have a disproportionate historical carbon legacy:

“Rich countries therefore have a moral obligation to lead by example at home, while also paying for a global just transition that acknowledges their historic responsibility for the crisis. But in the context of globalised capitalism that breeds inequality both within and between countries, looking at the climate crisis through a national lens is inadequate. Many countries in the Global North have ‘offshored’ their emissions by outsourcing manufacturing abroad, while many countries in the Global South are still suffering from the legacy of colonialism.”

This observation is picked up in Capital and Imperialism by economists Utsa and Prabhat Patnaik. They argue that capital accumulation in the global North requires an imperialist relationship with the global South, not as a deviance but as a built-in requirement. The book also updates Utsa Patnaik’s research on the British colonial drain from India. The new data puts the total figure at $66 trillion. It’s the sort of figure that would have Britain’s commentariat sweating with nostalgic culture-war cold-fever.

As George Monbiot tells us (‘Capitalism is killing the planet‘): “The looting takes place not just across geography, but also across time. The apparent health of our economies today depends on seizing natural wealth from future generations”

The New York publisher tells us: “Utsa Patnaik and Prabhat Patnaik argue that the accumulation of capital has always required the taking of land, raw materials, and bodies from non-capitalist modes of production … looking at the history of capitalism, from the beginnings of colonialism half a millennium ago to today’s neoliberal regimes, they discover that, over the long haul, capitalism, in order to exist, must metastasize itself in the practice of imperialism and the immiseration of countless people. A few hundred years ago, write the Patnaiks, colonialism began to ensure vast, virtually free, markets for new products in burgeoning cities in the West. But even after slavery was generally abolished, millions of people in the Global South still fell prey to the continuing lethal exigencies of the marketplace. Even after the Second World War, when decolonization led to the end of the so-called “Golden Age of Capitalism,” neoliberal economies stepped in to reclaim the Global South, imposing drastic “austerity” measures on working people. But, say the Patnaiks, this neoliberal economy, which lives from bubble to bubble, is doomed to a protracted crisis. In its demise, we are beginning to see—finally—the transcendence of the capitalist system.”

But the significance of the exposure of this relationship in climate terms is crucial.

Not only does the global north exploit the global south (from sweatshop labour to African ‘ghost-acres’ from Bhopal to Shell and the Ogoni) – it will be required not just to cut emissions in our own hyper-consumer world – but also pay for the transition process globally.

In a world where geography, place and seasonality have effectively been erased, in which everything and nothing is connected – this will be a difficult process.

Apart from watching the moron media in shock the other image that haunts me from this week was the man spraying ink onto the faces of the Insulate Britain protestors. The defiant protestors were seated or kneeling as the young man ‘anointed’ them with the ink. It was a strangely religious image with the (mostly elderly) protestors meekly accepting the ink. The media re-broadcast these and other attacks on the protestors with barely concealed glee, and you have to hope that someone is not injured or worse as the attacks on the peaceful protests are framed.

As COP descends onto Glasgow the predicament we are in seems a dire one. I hope the rain keeps lashing down. As the American writer Wendell Berry has told us: “We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the assumption that what is good for the the world will be good for us.”

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Comments (20)

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  1. Bill Fraser says:

    It is our moral duty to reduce and reverse carbon emissions because of our children, not because the global north started it.

    1. The two aren’t mutually incompatible?

      As I quoted: “The looting takes place not just across geography, but also across time. The apparent health of our economies today depends on seizing natural wealth from future generations”

      1. Gordon Asher says:

        Indeed Mike

        Bill – not just, not mutually incompatible, but necessarily linked, if the objective is to successfully address the nature of the eco/environmental crises???

    2. Mons Meg says:

      According to bourgeois ethics (the ethics that emanate from the relations of production that obtain under capitalism; duty-based or ‘deontological’ ethics; the ethics of ‘rights’ and ‘obligations’), we’re imperatively bound to honour the debts or obligations we owe others as defined by the contracts or agreements we explicitly or tacitly have with them (e.g. our common humanity, the terms and conditions of our associations, etc.).

      Thus, according to bourgeois ethics, insofar as (say) we owe others reparations for the harm we have done them by wrecking their environments, we have a moral duty (‘are imperatively bound’) to honour that debt by making those reparations.

      And thus, according to the same ethics, insofar as (say) we also owe our children the inheritance of a habitable world, we also have a moral duty to honour that debt by ensuring that they inherit a habitable world.

      So, if your moral sensibility is constructed by bourgeois ethics, and if you accept that we owe a debt of reparation to those whom we’ve harmed AND that we owe a debt to our heritors, then it follows that we have a moral duty to reduce and reverse our carbon emissions ‘because of our children’ AND ‘because the global north started it’.

      Mike’s right: it’s not an ‘either/or’.

  2. Roland Chaplain says:

    So glad Mike that you’ve highlighted Utsa Patnaik’s $66 Trillion figure for what potentially is the level of “restorative climate justice” owed by the UK just for what we and our ancestors stole from “the commons” in India. Lets do the same calculations for all of the nations of the Global South. That sure would put into perspective the level of failure even to get anywhere near meeting the Paris agreement’s “£100 billion per annum by 2020” levels of reparations. At the very least there should be a new target of £100 Trillion over the next 5 years to be released from where that legacy wealth is now concentrated. Where is the global leadership to make that happen ??

  3. Tom Ultuous says:

    COp26 are to vote on a deal to give $100 billion (~£73 billion) to poorer countries to help in the fight against the impending destruction of the planet. That isn’t even twice the amount the clown wasted (Bitcoin pushbacks excepted) on a virtually useless track and trace system. Doesn’t sound as though they’re taking this very seriously.
    Meanwhile the clown and his cohorts are in the process of outsourcing farming CO2 emissions to Australia & NZ. “UK” emissions go down, AUS & NZ’s go up but overall there’s a net increase due to transportation costs. Not that it’s confined to farming. As mentioned in the article they’ve already did it for almost everything else which is the reason the “UK”‘s emissions per capita seem respectable compared to the likes of Canada and the US. All they’re doing is rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Depressing.

  4. Robbie says:

    Capitalism is a Crazed animal and will rule by any means as they see fit, governments will tow their line and will use the forces they command including the press and the Bah heed tv crowd you mention to keep ordinary people beaten and submissive till it’s to late for everyone and the planet. From now on it s gloom and doom , you can be sure of that, Money is King

    1. Mouse says:

      Socialism drained the Aral Sea. Climate change doesn’t give a shit about capatalism/socialism/politics.

      1. Mons Meg says:

        Indeed, the indifference of whatever (if anything) lies beyond our ken can be taken as salutary. As a species, we take ourselves far too seriously, as if we somehow mattered especially. ‘Creatures of a day. What is someone? What is no one? Man is but a shadow’s dream.’

      2. Bill Fraser says:

        Exactly

  5. J Galt says:

    And just where is this $66 Trillion reparation to come from?

    Me?

    On minimum wage, nae private pension, a week’s wages away from the street?

    Were my ancestors the bad yins?

    The merchant seaman crammed in the foc’sle of a tramp steamer on the North Atlantic in 1943?

    The miner’s weans scrambling to collect stray coal along the rail tracks during 1926?

    The Lancashire mill workers working 14 hours a day and living no better than the slaves who grew the raw material?

    Global “North” bad – global “south” good?

    Sorry, too simplistic.

    1. I don’t think anyone mentioned reparations? Nobody asked you for anything.

    2. Mons Meg says:

      No, the liability lies with the nation with which you identify, J.

      That’s another problem with nationalism: it makes us all collectively responsible as nationals for the failures as well as the achievements of our imagined community or ‘nation’ irrespective of whether we had any personal involvement in those failures and achievements. As Scots, we plundered other people’s land and labour to create our national wealth. Whether or not we personally did any actual plundering ourselves as individuals is neither here nor there.

      As my grannie said, ‘Gin ye flee wi the craws, ye get shot wi the craws.’

      1. Alistair Taylor says:

        @monsmeg

        Aye.

  6. Alistair Taylor says:

    Thank you Mike for this article, and for BC, in general.

    I am going to try to focus and submit some writing to you in the foreseeable future, but in the meantime (aka, now) this wee ditty will hae tae dae. (Have to do, for the overseas readers).

    Y’know, I am even getting tae like Mons Meg, as wordy and learned as she/he/they may be.
    And the craic wis guid, tae quote Van the Man.
    Pass me the Razor, Occam.

    Och, full disclosure, lads n’ lasses, ah huv a diagnosis o’ yon “bipolar disorder” and yet, and yet, I Micht huv a brilliant mind. Ha!
    An’ if ye cannae laugh at yirsel’ , who can ye laugh at?

    My pal, Paul Rask, the famed Canadian Twin Otter pilot used to say, when asked on the radio, “how are you today, Paul?” ” Oh, up and down”.
    Aye, the old ones are the best.

    Well, enough for now. Oats tae cook an’ dirks tae sharpen.

    I’m leaving here tomorrow
    I’m leaving here today
    If i have caused you sorrow
    Then i don’t know what to say

    (A Highlanders false lament on the stabbing o’ Boris)
    Songs for the new age/ Streams o’ Pish publishing
    :-))
    Wi’ a nod tae Rabbie, (& Dylan as weel)

    PS, an’ ah hiv actually been to, or near (s pole lots, n pole near, lots) and can confirm the climate scientists are no lying. An’ Whit’s a wee bit mania between greens? Greens? Ffs.. Freens
    We’ll be a long time deed, as the saying goes.

    1. Alistair Taylor says:

      PS, talking tae ma’sel. A sign of madness? Replying tae ma’sel? Well, ah dinnae ken… Ah actually think that ah’m ane o’ the saner folks aroon’. Tho’ ah ken ah’ m jist settin’ ma’sel up tae get shocht doon.
      Spikkin’ Doric in Glesga? Thick as a Brick,eh?

      But seriously, Mental Health and the COP26.
      There’s a whole book right there.
      Observation 1: my friend in Paisley cannot get to her important NHS work in the W end of Glasgow because of CoP26. Could they not have done the whole Jamboree by Zoom call?

      OK, that’s enough for one day. I am away to walk outside and get some fresh air. It does one good. Slainte.
      Might even go up the Coe to see the great Buachaille herself/himself/themselves.
      And how I miss Bish McAra…(the Glasgow mountain crowd of yesteryear know him )
      Cheers, asty taylor

  7. Derek Thomson says:

    With reference to the guy spraying the protestors with ink, I saw that, and while I totally admire their Ghandi-like spirit of non-violence, that guy could really have done with a full-on boot in the baws.

    1. Yeah, I thought it was pretty sadistic the way it was so slow and they were so old.

  8. John Monro says:

    Hello Mike, your contributions are regularly so well thought through, apt and often emotionally resonating. I don’t know if you have read or followed the “Media Lens” web pages. Two very patient, moral, sane and committed journalists butting their ethical and rational heads against a collective stone wall of ignorance and greed and corruption in the media. Recently they published an “alert” as they call it “Gaslighting The Public: Serial Deceptions By The State-Corporate Media”. https://www.medialens.org/2021/gaslighting-the-public-serial-deceptions-by-the-state-corporate-media/ If you haven’t read or followed them, please do. I wrote back to David Cromwell (the other worthy is David Edwards) wondering about the term “gaslighting”, as I wasn’t really sure what was meant or implied by this term in this particularly context. I know where and how the term originates, and recently has become a very “in” word in the US and now in the UK, but I wondered if just calling this propaganda or misinformation wasn’t the appropriate word. But when I read your article today I can see now exactly what David Cromwell was getting at. You write: “But this is all passing trivia, just an example of a world that doesn’t make any sense. It feels like meaning itself is slipping away as everything descends into a weird performative spectacle”. You, we, have indeed been gaslighted.

    Like the abused wife in the play, we’ve been made to doubt our own reality, our sanity, our reason by the constant and increasing deluge of misinformation and untruths and absurdities in the media and from our politicians and movers and shakers and the over-rich and the privileged over all these years – the point being is that this is not accidental, but a deliberate and sociopathic ploy to advance their own agendas, wealth and power. In doubting our sanity, we start to query if we’re actually seriously deluded, (and the deeper you think, the saner you actually are, the greater your accumulated knowledge and the stronger your moral compass, the more acute this feeling), but of course, the actual and truly pathological delusion causing all this is in the very players of these manipulations. Their delusion is that we can save ourselves and get back to “normal” after Covid, or perpetually grow our economy and our wealth, or mine coal and burn gas, drill for oil, or build new airports and roads, or not raise petrol tax or reduce air fares, or any of the other thousand and one instances of cognitive dissonance and doublethink that are constantly acted out in the epic tragedy now being performed by these fools and criminals in their public theatre.

    The Guardian today contains a thought and a warning from that wonderful scientist and natural philosopher, now a centenarian, James Lovelock. He says, quite rightly, and will be echoing totally your and my thoughts, Mike, and those of any thinking, humane person: “I don’t know if it is too late for humanity to avert a climate catastrophe, but I am sure there is no chance if we continue to treat global heating and the destruction of nature as separate problems” https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/nov/02/beware-gaia-theory-climate-crisis-earth

    I am presently writing a submission to the NZ government on its “Emissions Reduction Plan discussion document” (Note well, yet another discussion document – from “clean, green NZ, one of the OECD’s most serious emissions criminals and even now, unbelievably, cheating in its promises to COP26), and I’ve already headed my submission with the same thoughts:

    “Nothing else is or ever will be sufficient to deal with or reverse the existential threat of global warming other than a revolutionary change in the way we do business, organise our societies and come to terms with our true place in nature. The Emissions Reduction Plan discussion document (ERPDD) in this regard is a testament to so many basically decent and clever people contributing their very best but doing so as part of a system which they cannot even think to question; as such this is a total failure of imagination and understanding, and dooms us and our children to an increasingly fraught and frightening future. Not all humanity is to blame, hundreds of millions live unenviably simple lives, but the rest of us are, and are thoroughly complicit. We have reached, without understanding it, a fundamental and truly existential crossroad in humanity’s history. To guide us, we urgently need what I call a “New Ecological Enlightenment”. It’s actually incredibly simple, but so disturbing to hear and act on: the health of the planet and its life, so that includes its humanity, comes before anything else, including business and profit. Treating global warming as a “problem to be solved” without this re-examination could well be a definition of futility.”

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