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Climate of Fear

 
by William Bowles • Saturday, 3 June, 2006
 
  
 

Blair … backed down from plans to take a tough line on global warming and the Kyoto Treaty, which Washington still has not signed … In the end, Blair merely claimed: “We must act on climate change”, but did not go into detail.

Blair even made a joke about US interference, “I hope that isn’t the White House telling me they don’t agree with that. They act very quickly, these guys.” – London (AFP) May 28, 2006

So finally, the reality of global climate change hits the media? The BBC for example, is blasting the public with blood-curdling doccies with titles like ‘Climate Chaos’, the series, and they’ve roped in the venerable David Attenborough to host, along with the predictable line-up of ‘experts’ suitably equipped with charts and computer predictions of impending doom, in a propaganda barrage that seeks to shift the blame for global warming onto us, the public.

Thus, we have to do ‘our’ bit by consuming less, using smaller cars, flying less, re-cycling, buy local and so on and so forth. But go into your local supermarket (if you have one that doesn’t require you getting into your car) and try and buy local and see how much you come away with.

The one word that doesn’t get mentioned in the avalanche of melting glaciers and rising sea levels is Capitalism. Instead, it’s our ‘lifestyles’ which are at fault, as if through some mystical process, our ‘lifestyles’ exist independently of the economic system we live under.

It’s called Squaring the Circle, that is, without altering one iota an economic system that is based upon the endless expansion of production called Growth, somehow, through ‘efficiency’ and new technologies, we can reduce the production of carbon to levels that will halt the rise in the Earth’s temperatures.

What never gets mentioned, along with five hundred years of capitalist exploitation and a literal rape of the planet, its resources and its people, is that we have been exhorted to produce and consume as if there is no tomorrow and now, when it looks like there is no tomorrow, the blame is first shifted to us.

This is followed by blaming those damn Chinese and Indians who have, after fifty years of Cold (and not so cold) War, finally ‘seen the light’ and embarked on the same insane course that the West has been on for the past five hundred years. Indeed, the threat of War has hung over their heads if they didn’t join the ‘club’. So now they have and the Western economies can conveniently shift the blame onto them! What a fucking nerve!

So whilst the Earth heats up, the West, rather than deal with the crisis that confronts us, would rather make the world safe for Capital by invading those countries who possess the resources that make the continuation of capitalism possible. It’s all total madness!

But search in vain for any reference to these contradictions in the so-called documentaries being shovelled out by Propaganda Central.

The contradictions of shifting production to sweatshop economies by the West are never mentioned, where even greater volumes of useless junk can be produced at even cheaper costs (to the capitalists) nor is the fact that the Cold War was in large measure all about opening up the economies of the former socialist and post-colonial states to consumer capitalism.

One could call it bad timing, that is, the awful reality of what runaway production has resulted in, but the reality is that without a fundamental shift away from the endless production of ‘new’ products that the capitalist system is inextricably bound up with, global warming is indeed irreversible.

But search in vain for any reference to the economic system that is the cause. It’s an amazing sleight of hand. Business as usual is the order of the day, so is it any wonder that Blair’s ‘government’ is now pushing nuclear as the solution?

The simple fact is that capitalism is based upon continually expanding production and new markets as it seeks to maximise profits. Nothing short of revolution will alter this fundamental reality.

To talk of reducing consumption when the entire rationale for capitalism is based upon the continual creation of demand for ‘new’ products is pure fantasy. Of course, the BBC are not going to suggest that the fundamental cause of global warming is the capitalist economic system, that would be a step too far.

And in a not unrelated issue, in a response to my pieces from Portugal, MC said

We cannot expect to change this world until you, peoples of the enriched countries, recognise that part of your richness came from our unyielding exploitation and relentless impoverishment for centuries.

An observation that I wholeheartedly agree with and I said as much. But MC goes on to say

As to mass consumption and its sameness, it is not actually a bad thing if we think about equality. All this talk about exclusiveness in consumption – something that the mass media always connects to freedom of choice – is a snobbish and divisive idea, characteristic of class society: after all, the exclusivity of a yacht or a ‘real’ Parmesan cheese (or a Gucci, a Versace or similar label) has its price.

Mass consumption is entirely the product of capitalist production and as such it’s based upon the mass production of commodities as opposed to the production of real use values, thus whilst (perhaps) we’d all like luxury yachts and Gucci handbags, the fact is that in order for a few to possess such objects, many have to go without.

In other words, the production of most consumer commodities is based not upon real needs but simply to make a profit. Furthermore, it’s evident that finally, people are not satisfied by such flagrant consumption as it just creates the need for more in an endless cycle of consuming for the sake of it.

MC then says

The important question is: when will the system change to allow the poorest, exploited peoples of the world, access to the most basic of the mass produced commodities, improving their living standards and promoting a real advance in human condition?

Needs can be satisfied without such mass production, indeed the technologies we possess today allow small scale production of high quality products and, as the re-invention/rediscovery of craft production amply demonstrates, people like hand-made products, they satisfy a real need as they put people back in touch with each other through the product itself; the imprint of the hand and the individual on the object is, in itself satisfying.

But in order to achieve this means the wholesale re-structuring of the capitalist economy, not only the abolition of large scale private ownership but of our objectives and our relationship to Nature, something that is not going to be achieved overnight.

If anything comes from the realisation of climate change’s impact, it will be the fact that along with the abolition of the capitalist mode of production, we need to alter our relationship to Gaia, so rather than subduing Nature, something that even the socialist economies didn’t do in their competition with capitalism in order to satisfy essentially artificially created needs, we need to re-establish our relationship to our home, the Earth.

In fact, I would suggest that for the people of the developed countries, rather than an appeal based upon the traditional socialist approach based as it is on the abolition of poverty, one based upon human values and the rediscovery of the collective, fits the situation.

Such an approach also relates directly to the poor countries of the world, who although materially impoverished, possess something that we in the developed world have lost, namely a sense of belonging, of where we came from. And this is no mere sentimental view but one based upon my own direct experience.

Thus far, the left insofar as it exists, has failed miserably to understand this, caught up as it is in its historical relationship to the capitalist mode of production. For it too, fails to see that it is the product of capitalist relations, a process that is not neutral but entirely determined by the capitalist mode of production.

It should obvious therefore, that it is not enough merely to consume less but to entirely alter what it is we produce and consume. This means transforming the objectives and values of society, something that requires that we also look afresh at how we organise ourselves politically. It means dumping the false notion we have been fed of what democracy is and how it functions. No mean feat for us to achieve, reared as we have been on a diet of alleged representation rather than direct participation in the process of social organisation and decision-making.

In the meantime, we have immediate and pressing needs, first and foremost to resist and defeat a desperate system which would rather destroy than create, that spends billions on weapons of mass destruction when the world faces a crisis of literally global proportions. Making the connection between this global crisis and capitalism is our first order of business.

Although I agree broadly with MC’s observations, an analysis based upon on the ‘guilt’ of those of us fortunate enough to have been borne in the developed world is not the answer, for it does not address the issues that confront us even if it makes some feel better.

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