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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