Posts Tagged 'Climate'


“What is to be done?” asked Nikolay Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky in the title of his 1863 novel about the situation of Russian. Chernyshevsky wrote, from prison, something of a “handbook of radicalism,” postulating a sort of utopian peasant/commune/industrial socialism. Perhaps, though, the most important thing about the book was the burning titular question, which fired debate and influenced, among many others, Kropotkin, Luxembourg, and Lenin. Tolstoy, too, although of a different tenor: his What is To Be Done? was published 1886. Lenin used the question as the title of his 1902 pamphlet arguing for a vanguard party to lead the workers and peasants towards communism, part of the split of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party into “majority” (Bolshevik) and “minority” (Menshevik) factions.

I think of this question, and its ultimate disaster of an answer in Bolshevik dictatorship, when it comes to climate breakdown. (George Monibot argues that “climate change” is entirely too mild for is going to — excuse me, I mean, what IS happening now.)

Because… What is to be done? “How will the world respond politically” to climate breakdown?

In Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright offer some…guidance? They argue that a globally sovereign “Climate Leviathan” is taking shape, via the existing international order/hierarchy of the capitalist economies of the global North (largely responsible for burning fossil capital in the first place), “to enable the world’s most powerful states to engage in planetary management.” Since we essentially already have this, and the “state of emergency” model that liberal democracies already frighteningly depend on, this definitely looks like the approach the world is taking. But can a green Keynesianism do the trick, allowing adaptation to rising waters, flood/draught pattern shifts, intolerable heat, agricultural transformations, mass migration, political conflict, resource fights, etc? Will liberal capitalism (liberal in the economic sense) get us out of the mess it has created? Or will it just save its elites, and maybe some of their lucky dog-walkers and maids along the way?

Our authors postulate three other responses:

Climate Mao: an authoritarian, anti-capitalist model which justifies state terror in the interest of the collective (the “red thread running from Robespierre to Lenin to Mao”). The current Chinese state-capitalist regime is definitely more Leviathan and Mao now, but Asia, with its billions of climate-breakdown victims to come, is the potential locus of this model, which would also use the emergency model (“we have to do this to save human lives”).

Climate Behemoth: this is the reactionary conservative, “populist,” anti-reason model in vogue now in Central Europe, India, Russia, the Philippines, Brazil, the US…. Here militant minority factions (in the US: older white religious conservatives) rally to demagogues fronting for plutocrats, especially resource-extractors. “Different forms of racial, national and gendered prejudice” organize voters for Trump, Modi, Obran, Putin, etc., but all call for the necessity of otherness, an enemy, as foundational to these new fascisms. You will not be surprised, I think, to discover that the MAGA-bomber was foreclosed not by any of his would-be targets, but by his idol Trump’s rapacious Secretary of the Treasury.

Climate X: the authors choice, X for the unknown, but non-authoritarian, non-capitalist built on equality, inclusion and dignity of all, and “solidarity in composing a world of many worlds.” They leave the details vague. (The point, it seems, is not to philosophize about the world but to change it.)

“Whether we know it or not, all our thinking is environmental, even when it rebels against nature.”

“If good climate data and models were all that were needed to address climate change, we would have seen a political response in the 1980s. Our challenge is closer to a crisis of imagination and ideology; people do not change their conception of the world just because they are presented with new data.”

“The planetary crisis is, among other things, a crisis of the imagination, a crisis of ideology, the result of an inability to conceive any alternative to walls, guns, and finance as tools to address the problems that loom on the horizon.”

Referencing Scranton’s Learning to Die in the Anthropocene “[…] we do not need to learn to die, but to think, live, and rebel. Moreover, the problem is hardly ‘us’ in the abstract, as if the catastrophe were built into human nature. The problem is largely associated with a specific minority of ‘us’ and the way that minority’s ‘civilization’ have determined the fate of the entire planet. Rather than accept that ‘civilization’ is dead, we need to struggle to create one that is truly civilized.”

Frankenstein’s Planet

I re-read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, recently. The book is 200 years old this year (see the exhibit at the Morgan). If you have not read it, it is profoundly different from the Frankenstein created by the commercial media over the years.

The strangest transference may be the naming thing: “Frankenstein” has become the creature created by Victor Frankenstein. The man has become his monster. And the prefix “Franken-” has become shorthand for any and all technological nightmares.

Above all it is an astounding work, especially when you consider that Shelley was twenty when it was published. True, her parents, anarchist William Godwin and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, were remarkable in their own right. Mary Godwin (or Mary Jr. as I like to call her), however, never knew her brilliant mother because she died soon after giving birth. And of course Mary Jr.’s partner was no mean cultural force himself. Percy Shelley wrote the preface to the first edition, published anonymously, which he dedicated to his hero William Godwin. (He was initially thought to be the author of the whole thing.)

The novel begins and ends in the Arctic. The first of three narrators, Walton, is determined to get to the pole, that icy lodestar of the northern hemisphere, focus of so many European obsessions. On the voyage into the ice, he runs into both Frankenstein and the creature. Cue Frankenstein’s narration: he is chasing his creation. And his creation is urging him on: “Follow me: I seek the everlasting ices of the north, where you will feel the misery of cold and frost, to which I am impassive.” (Yes, this creature talks, and talks well.)

It’s notable that the early world of the industrial revolution makes no appearance in the novel. (The Romantics were quite reactionary in some ways.) The sciences, too, are scarcely discussed: Victor’s means of animating life are kept a secret. But there is no escaping this context of the novel; coal-power was exponential increasing the power available to humans. Their own muscles, those of draft animals, wind and water, were as nothing compared to steam heated by burning ancient fossilized lifeforms. Here was the letting loose of a creature of another kind, Prometheus unbound, burning past millennia for power… and carbon dioxide.

Frankenstein’s creature, that unnatural born philosopher, is last seen heading into an Arctic that two centuries later has shrunk to a shadow of its former self. He plans on burning himself to death in a funeral pyre. presumably made out of the wood of the sled.

The fire was lit: the “everlasting ices” turned out to have an expiration date.

[Pictures: Iceland, 2010, the closest I’ve been to the imaginary line of the Arctic Circle.]

The Overstory

“What use are we, to trees?”

Richard Powers’s novel begins with Roots, separate stories, capsule biographies. These are illustrated at chapter start with leaves of the trees prominent in each story. In one case the tree isn’t named, since the character is oblivious to this tree, but the description is more than suggestive and the unique leaves starting the chapter, as in some medieval tome, confirm it. Of course, this tree comes to play another role later.

While this reader was wondering how all these roots would all come together, on or about page 131, things start jumping. The next section “Trunk” is separated by the crosscut ornament illustrated on the title page. (Another dingbat! Shall we call this one a… dendron?) But this is fiction, and I will reveal no more than the question I came away with: what use are we to the trees, or the oceans, or the atmosphere? Some of the beginnings of answers in the book are profoundly thought-provoking.

So, what are we to do? Particularly in light of the latest UN climate report, which warns of dire consequences within two decades. Two decades! This is not climate change, it’s climate breakdown, and it’s already occurring. The IPCC report, remember, is by its very nature conservative, watered-down and consensus-driven: these are not radicals by any means.

I’ll be a septuagenarian if I make it to 2040. Most of the children of friends will only be in their twenties or early thirties. Damn, I’m so old I remember when we had centuries or at least a century, before really bad things were going to happen. When cautious scientists said such and such was of only of the extreme probability. Now some of those things –the end of Arctic ice, the death of coral reefs (among many other devastations to the sea), the undermining of West Antarctica– are virtually yesterday’s news. One of the best advocacy groups fighting against increasing CO2,, started in 2008. They named themselves after the goal of keeping CO2 in the atmosphere under 350 parts per million. It’s now 405 ppm.

Actually, I have to admit to being a worst-case scenario-ist from the get-go. I don’t think this is pessimism on my part.

“What is to be done?” The crises of the present, never mind the coming hellscape of geo-political draught/flooding/mass migration, seem to have already thrown us into the era of “Climate Behemoth.” Neo-fascist, demagogic, the last orgy of plutocracy as it holds democracy down and chokes it.

Bay Co. Florida, where Panama City is, voted 71% for Trump.

Twas the Night Before The Argument

Rock Doves in the rain, through a dirty window and screen.

Ready to do combat with pig-headed or worse (oh, much worse) relatives for the holiday? Here's some social science to mull over:

A brief explanation of why facts — like, say, about global warming — do nothing to convince people.

(It was a religious holiday once, after all.)

I wrote a little more about the backfire effect discussed in the above.

Happy winter festive season!


Tossing their pollen into the air…

Scott Pruitt, the oil and gas industry operative given the hammer to destroy our environmental protections, claims that physics and chemistry are bunk. (Such a good lesson for students, but, then, the person put in charge of education doesn’t even know what education is; she thinks it’s a fundamentalist-infected profit-center.)

We know Pruitt’s paymasters are aware that he’s talking out of his ass. Exxon, for instance, has known for decades that global warming is the result of greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide and methane, both byproducts of their industry (and, of course, the rest of civilization). They have suppressed their own scientists and lied to everyone, including their alleged “owners,” the stockholders.

As I’ve said before, these destructive fools can claim it doesn’t happen, they can destroy and defund, but they can’t stop it. And the bullshit excuse that all these lies are for jobs? Sorry, but what a bitter joke. This is for the profit of the few who claim “liberty” is their right to despoil and pollute.

Here’s a clear explanation of climate change if your friends need one. The author, Erin Blakemore, with whom I work at JSTOR, also provides this sidebar of six irrefutable pieces of evidence.

Hot February

cherriesYesterday, in Green-Wood, some Cherries and a Red Maple were blooming already.Acer rubrumRecord-breaking temperatures raise the bar to the new normal. A nice review of climate change now. People, from the rotting orange head of the regime on down, can say it doesn’t exist; they can suppress research; intimidate scientists; but they can’t change the radical, wide-ranging effects of climate change on the planet, in human societies, and down the block. But, by sticking their heads in the sand, they sure can guarantee worse effects. Acer rubrumimg_2984

We Are Petroleum Junkies

Hydrocarbons are a dog-damned miracle. The things we get out of crude oil, from fuel to explosives, from fertilizers to clothing, from pharmaceuticals to candle wax, from pesticides to plastics, from asphalt to inks… it’s just mind-boggling. Mostly we think of gasoline, but that’s not the half of it. The stuff both powers and rules civilization: we wear it, we eat it, we breath it. And what happens to the stuff when we burn it radically transforms the planet.

That old baked plankton, all that life from at least a 100,000,000 years ago, we shoot it up the mainline! I’ve been reading Eric W. Sanderson’s Terra Nova: The New World After Oil, Cars, and Suburbs. I think everybody should have a copy at home. The first half of the book is how we got here. The second, where we should go. (There’s a discussion of the book in this Roosevelt House/CUNY video.)

Here is where oil, cars, and suburbs have left us. Sanderson gives us a great primer on hydrocarbons and their “siren song,” which lured us into the mess we’re in now, especially during the halcyon days of the “cheap oil window” of the 1930s-1970s. I lived through some of this, but of course the times you grow up in always seem like the way things are, and always have been.

Part Two of the book is his vision of a new world. Here’s a teaser: we have to get rid of the automobile. Check! I’ve been on that track for some 35 years, never having owned a car.

You may have noticed the paucity of optimistic thinking about the future in recent decades, barring the usual bubble-mania-hype of the market. The Right even believes — gotta defend their privileges any way possible — that utopian thought leads, inevitably, to the gulag. Yup, straight line.

Yet in this mire we’re bogged down in, clear-headed thinking about the future, envisioning it (with actually existing technology, not science fiction), and proposing how to make those visions come true (politics) are more vital than ever. With The Dumpster approaching the White House, now more than ever. That makes this book a weapon. Arm yourselves!


Bookmark and Share

Join 557 other followers


Nature Blog Network