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Scientific and Revolutionary Reticence in the Age of the Anthropocene

#1
Just re-read this article in Environmental Research Letters from James Hansen where he clearly frames the challenge within the scientific academy and within major global climate institutions (ie. IPCC) for downplaying the seriousness of the threat of ACC - the idea that there are deeply ingrained cultural and institutional mechanisms/inertia that prevent those most in the position to alert the world to dangers to fall short of their responsibility to induce alarm. http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/2/2/024002/pdf Seems to me there is a parallel here in the world of social science and activism. There is a vast reticence, especially evident within dominant and mainstream environmentalism, to under-conceptualize the depth of embeddedness of conservative views within "the movement". It is also an ever present threat with those who have access to the great wealth of radical systems, of thought, and who feel the visceral existential agony of inaction to neglect to apply that knowledge and spirit to the present activist challenge. Understanding that Hansen isn't a radical by some definitions, yet he exhorts those within his professional realm to "see the forest for the trees" with the injunction to "abandon the comfort of waiting for incontrovertible confirmations" to overcome scientific reticence. In British Columbia there has just been a major breakthrough with First Nations, at least temporarily squashing the Kinder Morgan (now Trudeau) pipeline in its tracks. Beautiful in itself and a nice, packaged triumph of NGO/FN alliances. Damn if we don't hear calls for going much, much further, for example to call for the shut down of corporations themselves and entire industries - airlines, automobiles, transportation and ultimately the system of global capitalism - global sourcing and the global economy itself. Nothing less is called for in the face of what some of the few brave climate scientists and true climate justice activists reveal is at stake.
 
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#2
In the abstract Hansen writes: "Delay is dangerous because of system inertias that could create a situation with future sea level changes out of our control.” The problem is that the scale of change we need to bring about to prevent runaway warming and flooding requires such a wholesale revolutionary transfomation of every aspect of our lives that we fear to even think about it, and have no idea where to start, so the the whole project just seems impossible. What’s worse, we need to do this right now, more or less immediately, because if we "delay . . . things will get "out of our control."

Given our economy, we're forced to focus on the immediate need to maximize growth to maximize jobs, etc. So my guess it that we will continue on this race to the cliff to collapse until the weather and enviro collapse comes down hard on us enough -- perhaps when the forests of the whole west coast go up in flames and temperatures hit the 120s and 130s in Los Angeles -- that suddenly masses of people understand that business as usual cannot go on, and they will want to consider alternatives. By then of course it may be too late and civilization will collapse. That may be our fate. But I think the best we can do in the meantime is to envision utopian alternatives, focus on fighting against the worst fossil fuel atrocities and for the best "transitional" demands we can: shutdowns, retrenchments, transition to renewables, public transit, and try to stay optimistic.

I just read Kim Stanley Robinson's new sci-fi anti-dystopian novel Red Moon which ends in a simultaneous revolution in China and the U.S. Isn't that just what we need? But who knows? I suspect revolution is coming to China at least, fairly soon. So we'll see. As they say, "it never looks darkest until just before the dawn."
 
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#3
Brad, There is another dimension to this that I think is seriously, fatally, neglected. In the call for shutting down industries -- airlines, automobiles, etc -- missing is the upheaval in the lives of individuals. Yes, of course the capitalists see that and count on those individuals to protect their "way of life" from dealing with climate change. We all know that. But what many don't seem to know, or at least won't talk about, is the same thing. By same thing I mean the sharp drop in "living standards" that WILL accompany dealing with climate change.
Clearly, Hanson long ago decided not to talk about any decline in consumption. Five or ten years ago I sat in a packed auditorium in Berkeley where Hanson put on his dazzling slides. I'm sure all in the audience believed. There was a recess and the first question from the audience afterwards was "This means a cut in consumption, doesn't it?" Hanson answered "No" in such a way as to say "No, and I won't address this again." I presume that's why he has turned to nuclear power -- so we can keep consumption going as before. That won't work.
Similarly McKibben won't talk about a decline in consumption. And a lot of us won't either.
The activist side of this issue -- including many, many in SCNCC -- won't talk about reducing consumption. Afraid of losing the audience? Or perhaps denying this reality? Or talking about it abstractly as in "shutting down refineries" as if humans were't affected. There is a similarity between "climate deniers" and climate believers who deny the drop in consumption that is surely going to happen. Better to talk about it rather than deny it. And, of course, start the drop in living standards with high income segments, e.g.the top 20% of the income distribution. As a start.
Gene
 
#4
Thanks Gene and Richard. Like I said, Hansen is not radical in our sense of the term, but we have all gained an immense amount of knowledge from his leadership in his terrain. Gene, you're part of SCNCC and you're talking about consumption - so no one else to blame or praise but the actions you take. In my analyses of capitalism the centrality of production is prioritized, with consumption being derivative, for good reason, but it would take time to explain in this forum. But yes, any move to challenge capitalism for the sake of survival would necessary mean extreme conservation (or perhaps the term materialist austerity?) Best to start with eating the rich. The implications of the capitalist system continuing and of it abruptly collapsing are equally disasterous - no doubt about it. A little like the paradox of the implications of eliminating emissions within the backdrop of global dimming. "Transitional" efforts? Like most theory of change now, it is hard to get past this as a euphemism for delay, reformism, non-impactful action. What are we left with? The "tragedy of intelligence", as Camus put it, if we try to analyze too much without action. And the need to mobilize what critical knowledge we have, simply engage for now in the current, the praxis, saying "stop" to things we know that are immediately wrong.
 
#5
The Solidarity to Solutions Week of Actions began yesterday in San Francisco and will continue throughout the week of Jerry Brown's Global Climate Action Summit. Many anticapitalist messages were on display in yesterday's march. We had an ecosocialist contingent with SCNCC and DSA activists but of great significance, a lot of the organizers of Sol2Sol who are not affiliated with SCNCC or DSA are putting forth sharp critiques of Green Capitalism and calling for system change. I think the belief that we need to get past both capitalism and fossil fuels is spreading very rapidly but the hard part is figuring out how to make a transition. Although I understand Brad's point, "transition" does not have to mean "delay, reformism, non-impactful." It can also mean mass mobilization, building organization and coalitions, and uniting social forces that are capable of making a revolution. I agree with Brad that we need to take action against what we know to be wrong without waiting for a perfect theory. The best theory will emerge when we engage in struggle that brings numerous movements together. To those of our friends who are paralyzed by the magnitude of the task, we need to keep repeating the wise words of Joan Baez, "The antidote to despair is action." I would add that collective action is much more fun than solitary pursuits.
 
#6
I believe the actual authority of "science" as a discipline is purposefully being undermined by capital. Just another aspect of the cultural wars and a big shift from the sixties, when I was growing up and scientists were viewed as gods that won WWII, that sent people into space, that engineered tremendous levels of new economic growth etc... Now they are seen as downers and therefore whether "reticent" or challenging, made less relevant.
As for the notion that consumption and living standards are somehow equated, this should be one of the easiest memes to refute. Cultural/religious/ moral strictures already exist and the modern concept of "simple living", while somewhat ambiguous and far from hegemonic, is certainly pervasive.
And while I am not waiting for a perfect theory, I believe actions need to be in some way commensurate with the actual threat, which yearly, feel-good Climate Marches are not. In fact they are an insult to those who take real risks or are now spending time behind bars.We'll see what Jerry Brown does.
 
#7
The Solidarity to Solutions Week of Actions began yesterday in San Francisco and will continue throughout the week of Jerry Brown's Global Climate Action Summit. Many anticapitalist messages were on display in yesterday's march. We had an ecosocialist contingent with SCNCC and DSA activists but of great significance, a lot of the organizers of Sol2Sol who are not affiliated with SCNCC or DSA are putting forth sharp critiques of Green Capitalism and calling for system change. I think the belief that we need to get past both capitalism and fossil fuels is spreading very rapidly but the hard part is figuring out how to make a transition. Although I understand Brad's point, "transition" does not have to mean "delay, reformism, non-impactful." It can also mean mass mobilization, building organization and coalitions, and uniting social forces that are capable of making a revolution. I agree with Brad that we need to take action against what we know to be wrong without waiting for a perfect theory. The best theory will emerge when we engage in struggle that brings numerous movements together. To those of our friends who are paralyzed by the magnitude of the task, we need to keep repeating the wise words of Joan Baez, "The antidote to despair is action." I would add that collective action is much more fun than solitary pursuits.
Keep us updated, Ted.
 
#8
Thanks Gene and Richard. Like I said, Hansen is not radical in our sense of the term, but we have all gained an immense amount of knowledge from his leadership in his terrain. Gene, you're part of SCNCC and you're talking about consumption - so no one else to blame or praise but the actions you take. In my analyses of capitalism the centrality of production is prioritized, with consumption being derivative, for good reason, but it would take time to explain in this forum. But yes, any move to challenge capitalism for the sake of survival would necessary mean extreme conservation (or perhaps the term materialist austerity?) Best to start with eating the rich. The implications of the capitalist system continuing and of it abruptly collapsing are equally disasterous - no doubt about it. A little like the paradox of the implications of eliminating emissions within the backdrop of global dimming. "Transitional" efforts? Like most theory of change now, it is hard to get past this as a euphemism for delay, reformism, non-impactful action. What are we left with? The "tragedy of intelligence", as Camus put it, if we try to analyze too much without action. And the need to mobilize what critical knowledge we have, simply engage for now in the current, the praxis, saying "stop" to things we know that are immediately wrong.
 
#9
Brad, you say "In my analysis of capitalism the centrality of production is prioritized, with consumption being derivative, for good reason, ... ." But production is the same thing as consumption. if what is produced is not being sold, consumed, production shuts down. So, if production and consumption ARE the same thing (and, as you say, explaining why that is is too long for here) then the issue that seems to divide us is this: I would cut consumption by redistributing income by cutting hours of work, with no cut in pay. (You seem to imply that I am talking about INDIVIDUAl actions to consume less. Not at all. Perhaps I misunderstand you on this.)
You would cut production by banning the production of things that are bad, particularly with respect to GHG emissions. Both of us support cutting.
Think about the implications of these two things: Your way is banning oil refineries, shutting car manufacturers, etc. That would throw people out of work and end in civil war, with the heavy guns and fighter bombers on the side of keeping the refineries open and emitting. Very bloody, and in my view endless struggle and ineffective.
My way: By sharply cutting hours of work -- say to Keynes' 15 hours a week, or less in a number of quick steps -- production would drop. This is starting by eating the rich, as you approve. The population would have time to learn the value of time versus buying a shiny object at the mall, to adjust, develop new aspirations for what "the good life" is for what it will.
Gene
 
#10
First, you're right about the two ends being inseparable. Marx: "In the sense that one appears as a means for the other, is mediated by the other; this is expressed as their mutual dependence; a movement that relates them to one another, makes them appear indispensable to one another, but still leaves them external to each other. Production creates material, as external object, for consumption; consumption creates the need, as internal object, as aim, for production. Without production, no consumption; without consumption, no production. [This identity] figures in economics in many different forms." But he doesn't build his theories based on consumption. The specifics of consumption, distribution and exchange all presuppose and structures/conditions relationships in a system of production. To work from just the consumption end assumes the possibilities of volunteerist changes. Who is going to start the process to "cut consumption" by redistribution or reducing hours - the capitlaist state? A whole system predicated on private ownership, extraction of surplus value, wage labour, capital accumulation, etc. requires consumption, and massive system imperatives will militate against any calls for the changes you seem to say are easy to do. So you cannot simply fiddle on one end without changes to the basic operating system - the system of production that really overdetermines all else. I don't agree with nor assume your contentions of "bloody", etc..... Gene, books and books have dealth in depth with this kind of discussion, which is really something that deserves that kind of treatment. It is a good discussion to have on this forum though, particularly in terms of SCNCC strategy. I'll engage more, but not for now. Thanks!
 
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#11
Brad, thanks for the quote from Marx. If we all agree (you, Marx and I) that production and consumption are inseparable, then the question becomes this: If we want to reduce them both, what is the most effective way to do so? My contention, obviously, is to focus on reducing consumption. Workers have repeatedly and successfully fought to reduce hours of work for well over 150 years. This is not individualism but rather workers organized to fight for shorter hours, backed by churches, feminists, and, hopefully, climate activists.
How does that reduce consumption? It transfers money from capitalists to workers, thus cutting the consumption of the richest. It also lowers the wealth of the richest because the stock market will drop as growth slows. It also increases the number of jobs, which should appeal to those currently excluded from jobs, steady or precarious, especially minorities.
As you point out, this deserves a deep discussion. So I too will stop on this thread now. Gene
 
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