Monday, November 02, 2015

“Anthropocene” v "Capitalocene.”

“When industry wins, they win forever. The most we can usually hope for is a stay of execution.” David Brower, ex-Sierra Club official.

The first day of November and the Met Office has said that the UK  recorded its warmest November day ever, with temperatures higher than in Barcelona and the Algarve.

The use of fossil fuels has accelerated the depletion of resources and left us with the legacy of runaway global warming toxic to life as we know it on the planet and it might seal our fate as a viable human species. Some in the environmentalist movement can rightly be called “gloom and doomers” because they see the coming climate change crisis, yet they don’t have much to say about what we can do about it. They correctly deduce that the present system is unsustainable yet offer few real basic alternatives to the system. They see our descent into some form of inevitable collapse of civilization and there are enough post- apocalyptic depictions in modern literature and movies to reinforce such a vision of our future. When sufficient numbers of doctors tell you that you have a terminal illness, you tend to believe it and forget any cure except some palliative treatments to minimise the discomfort of the disease. But sometimes comes along research suggesting a different remedy and you’d be a fool not to investigate its worth and perhaps give it a try. It should be a no-brainer. This is what the World Socialist Movement offers. We aren’t snake-oil salesmen offering quack cures. We simply propose that a new sort of society will produce a new type of world for the planet’s ills that has at its heart, unhealthy practices that must cease for a recovery to full fitness. As long as we have the capitalist system, the demands of for endless economic growth will undermine the creation of steady-state society based upon reciprocity.

The term “sustainable” has been used by so many people in so many different contexts that it has lost much of its meaning. But it is not the excessive use of the word that has ultimately rendered it largely meaningless but the fact that too many efforts to achieve sustainable development do not seriously attempt to actually achieve sustainable development. Capitalism requires a constantly expanding production and consumption of goods, which can only be achieved through the increased exploitation of the planet’s natural resources at an unsustainable rate. Capitalism is not only causing massive human suffering and death for millions around the world today, it is destroying the planet for future generations. Capitalism is dependent on exploiting the planet’s resources at an unsustainable rate in order to constantly increase production and maximize profits. Unless we acknowledge the ecological destructiveness inherent in the capitalist system, our efforts to achieve sustainable development will amount to little more than window dressing. The inevitable outcome is ecological Armageddon. It’s time we recognized this for the sake of our children and grandchildren.

Much is made of in environmentalist circles of the expression “ánthropocene”,  an era in which, human impacts upon the world have become so pervasive and profound that they rival the great forces of Nature and thanks to homo sapiens a sixth great extinction event is underway with growing losses of both terrestrial and marine ecosystems. However, Jason Moore and other left-wing environmentalists argue that it is more historically appropriate to understand humanity’s effects upon ecology as “the capitalocene.” After all, it is only during the relatively brief period of history when capitalism has existed and ruled the world system (since 1600 or thereabouts by some academic calculations, earlier and later by others) that human social organisation has developed the capacity and inner, accumulation- and commodification-mad compulsion to transform Earth systems. Moore maintains that human destruction of livable ecology is best explained by changes that capitalism’s endless pursuit of profit, accumulation, and empire have wreaked on the environment – changes he dates broadly from “the long sixteen century” starting in 1450). His critique of bourgeois climate thought’s historically unspecific and class-blind use of anthropocene as an undifferentiated entity is important and powerful. In fact, evidence suggests that, while capitalism may be many centuries old, it was during the post-WWII era of U.S.-led global monopoly-corporate and emergent multinational capitalism that humanity forever and dramatically impacted Earth systems in ways that pose grave and fundamental threats to life on the planet.

This is a great reminder that the greatest threat to life on Earth isn’t just the neoliberal and “de-regulated,” so-called free market capitalism of the last four decades. The catastrophe cannot be averted under capitalism. Sam Gindin noted in a critical of Naomi Klein’s tendency to focus on “neoliberal” and “free market” capitalism more than on:
“Klein…seems clear enough in the analysis that pervades the book that it is capitalism, yet she repeatedly qualifies this position by decrying ‘the kind of capitalism we now have,’ ‘neoliberal’ capitalism, ‘deregulated’ capitalism, ‘unfettered’ capitalism, ‘predatory’ capitalism, ‘extractive’ capitalism, and so on. These adjectives undermine the powerful logic of Klein’s more convincing arguments elsewhere that the issue isn’t creating a better capitalism but confronting capitalism as a social system. Capitalism does of course vary across time and place, and some of the differences are far from trivial. But in terms of substantive change, we should not overstate the importance of these disparate forms. Moreover, such differences have not increased but contracted over time, leaving us with a more or less monolithic capitalism across the globe….It is not just that any capitalism is inseparable from the compulsion to indiscriminate growth, but that capitalism’s commodification of labor power and nature drives an individualized consumerism inimical to collective values (consumption is the compensation for what we lose in being commodified and is the incentive to work) and insensitive to the environment (nature is an input, and the full costs of how it is exploited by any corporation are for someone else to worry about)….A social system based on private ownership of production can’t support the kind of planning that could avert environmental catastrophe. The owners of capital are fragmented and compelled by competition to look after their own interests first, and any serious planning would have to override property rights — an action that would be aggressively resisted.”

The protection of our environment is part of our class war against capitalism. Chomsky reminded us that if the global environmental catastrophe being created by climate change “isn’t going to be averted” soon, then “in a generation or two, everything else we’re talking about won’t matter.”