Why nothing is done about climate change?

Disaster is a natural part of my evolution, toward tragedy and dissolution.”

Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

These are apocalyptic times. We are already acquainted with the inconvenient truths concerning climate change. Pollution, overpopulation, deforestation, etc. are making Earth into a ticking time bomb. Yet even when the evidence is overwhelming and catastrophe certain, there is not a lot of will to do something about it. We are not unhelpful pessimists when we say that all climate summits up until now have been failures and while we all know the Kyoto Protocol, we also know that the major polluters of this world (notably the United States) refuse to take part in it.

Recently Lieven De Cauter, a Belgian philosopher and political activist published a book containing a chapter on this topic. The book is called ‘Entropic Empire’ and the chapter I will discuss is ‘The Mad Max phase of globalization’. De Cauter gives a convincing explanation why the global elites are so reluctant and what global (dis)order is awaiting us if nothing changes quickly. I will here summarize his article and give some context and commentaries.

The inertia of acceleration: a race toward the stars

Capitalist economy is based on the presumption that it can incessantly grow. A structural quality of capitalism is that capital must be accumulated. Commodities are produced and sold in order to make more capital, which is then reinvested in the production of more commodities and this ad infinitum. This means that capital should grow and keep growing. In earlier centuries this was not a problem, but nowadays this growth is bumping into its limits. The infinite economic system is contradicted by the finitude of the Earth and its ecosystems. This has led the businessman and politician Cecil Rhodes into saying that:”

The world is nearly all parceled out, and what there is left of it is being divided up, conquered and colonized. To think of these stars that you see overhead at night, these vast worlds which we can never reach. I would annex the planets if I could; I often think of that. It makes me sad to see them so clear and yet so far.”

De Cauter claims that the growth economy is stuck in ‘the inertia of acceleration’, by which he means that growth of polluting production and consumption is accelerating at an incredible speed and can only be stopped by an external force. Capitalism is structurally linked to incessant growth and cannot in itself find the strength to stop itself. The result is permanent catastrophe. Normally a catastrophe is an interruption of everyday time, but now disaster follows so quickly upon disaster that catastrophe becomes the permanent structure of time. Ruptures bomb linear time until it shatters completely.

But why be so negative about the spirit of commerce? Is there no trick waiting in the sleeve of the invisible hand? If Smith was right about the invisible hand of capitalist economy, then there should be a possible balance between the demands of nature and what humanity can supply. Even within the Green Movement the majority of activists and politician believe in a green economy. Wouter Van Besien, head of the Flemish Green Party, even claimed that entrepreneurship could be the motor of a ‘warm capitalism’. The optimists live in the spirit of Kant. The German philosopher, in his famous ‘Towards an eternal peace’, argued that commerce and peace are inextricably linked. Global capitalism will avoid war and disaster because they are ‘bad for business’.

Neoliberal disaster capitalism: shock therapy for the healthy

De Cauter argues that the optimists do not see that the invisible hand sometimes behaves like a fist. Capitalism has indeed adapted itself to permanent catastrophe, but not by avoiding it. Instead it has exploited it. As a result, we enter the stage of disaster capitalism. Disaster itself has become a highly profitable business. De Cauter links this part of his discourse explicitly to Naomi Klein’s ‘The shock doctrine’. The book meticulously documents a series of examples of disaster capitalism (Pinochet’s Chili, Yeltsin’s Russia, the Iraq invasion, etc.). Almost every example can be divided in four subsequent phases:

1) In the beginning there is a state of equilibrium. Most of the times this is a kind of welfare state mix of capitalist and socialist economy. There is a free market, but there is also a strong state to counteract the exaggerations of the market and ensure the fair distribution of basic goods through nationalized companies. The majority of the people benefit from this system, but the rich are unsatisfied because their desire for profit is frustrated. In the shadows of the Keynesian economists there develops a new, neoliberal way of understanding economics. This new school is embodied by Milton Friedman and his Chicago School. The latter naturally hardly find any popular or democratic support for their undemocratic policies.

2) The equilibrium is interrupted by a disaster. In the beginning of the new era of disaster capitalism those catastrophes were unplanned events like revolutions (Poland) or natural disasters (Indonesia and Sri Lanka). But as time goes by disasters are deliberately created for profit (the ‘Shock and awe’-strategy of the United States in Iraq). Those catastrophes are the decisive moments for Milton Friedman:”

Only a crisis -actual or perceived- produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.

3) When the population of a state is still in shock, neoliberals take control over the policies of those states in distress (mostly through international organizations like the IMF or the World Bank). They enforce budget cuts, austerity measures and privatize all public services.

4) When the people regain consciousness and sees what is happening, they are of course not amused. As a result the austerity policies are met with massive protests, strikes and political activism. The government answer to these dissenters is colossal violence and repression. Klein gives here a detailed history of the rise of new torture techniques invading all countries where neoliberal ‘shock therapy’ was administered through the ‘helpful, invisible hand’ of the CIA (think, for instance, of the American involvement in the repressive regimes in Latin America during the Cold War). Repression continues until the spirit of the people of that country is broken and they start complying with the new state of things.

De Cauter claims that climate catastrophes can henceforth be encapsulated within capitalism without the latter having to account for the demands of the environment. Natural disasters can become a market in their own right. But what kind of society would be the result of this new mode of production?

Capsular civilization: the blue pill or the red pill?

The Iraq invasion was the first privatized war. Most of the US military was composed of mercenary troops managed by companies like Halliburton, Bechtel and Blackwater (in which many of the main actors in the war, like Dick Cheney, had a share). The reconstruction of the country too was in the hands of multinational companies. As a result soldiers were not simply citizens exposing their lives to the horrors of death for their country, but also consumers. The providing companies satisfied consumer needs by dualizing social space. The Iraq environment was divided in a green and a red zone. The latter was the outside, the war zone out there. The green zone, on the contrary, was a kind of simulation of America within the threatening outside. It is Halliburton City, a safe sea of pleasure and relief in the midst of terror.

De Cauter uses this example to foretell our post-apocalyptic future. Given the rapid sequence of disasters already occurring and the power of disaster capitalism, we could even say that we already live in post-apocalyptic times. Our social space is also divided in a green and a red zone, but De Cauter writes about hyper-real, infra-real social space and the walls in between them.

Hyper-real space. Most of the western countries form a kind of big green zone amidst the troubles of the Third World. The paradigm of this space is the theme park. The world is a bog collection of commodities to be enjoyed and spectacles to be fascinated about. De Cauter is here heavily influenced by the French theorist Jean Baudrillard. The latter, on whose work the film ‘The Matrix’ is based, claims that reality has disappeared. Instead we are left with simulations disconnected from whatever made reality real. For instance, what makes our environment real is that it can sometimes contradict us. We can feel the reality of nature when it shows itself as a non-human force of destruction (a natural disaster, for example). Today however, nature is not a contradicting force but only an element within the (disaster) capitalist system. Destruction is a calculated event. As a result, that same natural disaster that was once a reality, is now only a simulation of itself. It is a human product that mimics the characteristics of reality. Nothing more. At the most it can be a spectacle on the television screen, a tourist attraction for our theme park. The televised spectacle is more disastrous than the disaster, more natural than nature, in short, a perfected simulation that has outdone and replaces reality.

Infra-real space. The theme park is only a matrix within an outside of slavery and despair. Next to the idyllic suburbs of the megalopolises there are seas of slums (think of the stark contrast in the geography of cities like Lagos). The paradigm of these environments is the state of nature Hobbes talked about. The slums are the residence of the war of all against all for survival. Social reality cannot take shape, not because it is hyper-simulated, but because it cannot attain the cultural level to make reality social. We are left with the mute reality of man reduced to beast.

The new walls. To protect the matrix from the state of nature walls have to be erected to keep the infra-real out. The hyper-real is capsulated and fortified through the construction of new walls and razor wire (the walls between the US and Mexico, around the cities of Ceuta and Melilla, the severe immigration policy of Fortress Europe). Walls have indeed regained their old medieval function. Medieval city walls functioned as constructions to keep strangers out. During the Cold War, the Iron Curtain served the opposite purpose; citizens were to be kept inside. Now the walls return to their former infamous glory. To keep both worlds apart the walls are supplemented by a series of detention camps to abandon intruders to. We are talking about the refugee camps, asylum centers and Guantanamo’s of this Earth. De Cauter takes his discourse on the camp from the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben. For him, the camp is the space of the state of exception. In the camp the law no longer applies and the subjects within it are reduced to bare life. All cultural traits are stripped from the individual until only naked existence remains. More radical than De Cauter, Agamben would even claim that the camp is the paradigm of all social space. The state of exception has become the rule (think of the anti-terrorist legislation which can arbitrarily suspend nearly all human rights for the sake of state security). We are all potentially bare life, because every morning two police officers can sit at our bedside and tell us that we are arrested, just like Joseph K in Kafka’s The trial. The truth is that those two police officers are no longer necessary. The state of limbo between acquittal and execution of Joseph K are already our everyday state of being. Guantanamo doesn’t need an arrest warrant.

Eventually our discussion of De Cauter’s essay boils down to one simple question. That question is: do we take the blue pill and stay in wonderland forever, or do we dare to take the red pill and to see how far the rabbit hole goes?

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46 thoughts on “Why nothing is done about climate change?

  1. REd or Blue?
    What would we make the movie about if we didn’t have this choice?
    We will want to watch it later if this staged quest eludes tradgedy and turns comedy. : )
    Best of luck to all of us!

  2. brandfantom says:

    I don’t think we know what a do about climat change any ways. How we know if we are even affecing the temp? If so by how much? Think about it an intire Ice age go by and no humans were responsiblr for that.

  3. As far as the capitalism & growth argument is concerned, there is nothing new here. It has all been said before, and from all points of the political spectrum including the far right. The problem is not that politicians don’t know that growth is finite; it is that acting as though that were true will cost them votes.
    Manmade global warming is another matter entirely. There is no evidence that such a thing exists. (Pause for inevitable “You don’t understand the science” gibbers—No, my friend; you don’t understand the science). Belief in manmade global warming is yet one more form of religion in an increasingly post-religious West. The need to believe is so deep-rooted that most of us can’t exist without a faith, so when we no longer believe in the church or the synagogue we have to fill the void with something. Thrown out God? Okay, try one of these: Manmade global warming; Psychotherapy; Socialism; Anarchism; Japanese cooking—there’ll be one for you. Just remember the most important thing about a religion is that it makes you superior. You know and they don’t. You are among the Elect and they aren’t. That means, if anyone disagrees with you, you’re entitled to scream at them until they shut up.
    Carry your religion as far as you can. Demand attention, change and money from other people—it’s your right.
    Or, of course, you could go back to believing in the Virgin Birth. It may not get you any closer to Heaven, but you’ll cause a hell of a lot less trouble.

    • Stoshwolfen says:

      Say it enough and you’ll get believers. Works just like any other religion in that there is NO VALID SCIENCE behind Anthropomorphic Global Warming and actual Climate Change involves energies of a Solar level in power and effect.

      You can’t quote any real facts to support the Green Agenda because there aren’t any.

    • robmehigan says:

      Religion may have something to do with security and superiority, I grant you. Global warming may also be a belief (but not a system of beliefs) but to say that there is “no evidence” is quite a hollow throw-away comment. Retreating glaciers, record breaking temperatures in many places (Yes I know that records have only been kept for a maximum of 200 years.) and the recollections of colder conditions in the past by our older citizens, makes the myth argument just a little bit shaky. There are many objective scientists trying to gather data to test the proposition. The vast majority agree that climate change seems to be occurring, and the vast majority of this group attribute some of the cause to human influence. Here’s the thing: There was a lot of hype about the Y2K bug (a mere 14 years ago). Organisations got ready and spent millions of dollars preparing for it. Nothing happened. The pessimists said we wasted our effort since there was no disaster. The optimists said: “Whew: Isn’t it great that we fixed the problem before it was too late!” If you would like to sit on your hands then that is your prerogative, but you may just be owing your life to the ones who took action to avert a (partially?) man-made global catastrophe – that’s if we are not already too late.

      • Really? And what about the evidence that drinkable wine was produced in the British Isles 2,000 years ago? (Wine is made in the British Isles today–I used the word “drinkable” advisably). Or, to go to the other extreme, how about the documented experience in the Northeast of England 248 years ago? Twenty-two widows and fifty-three orphans were created in Sunderland on a single day when the wind blew sixteen heavy keels from the river and out to sea, where they sank. (A keel was a heavy boat that carried coal from staithe to ship, and these keels were fully loaded with coal and had men and boys on board). If that happened today, we would hear that man-made global warming was to blame, but it happened in 1765 and people then said that God was punishing the sinful. In fact, it was merely a symptom of global climate cycles, which are far more powerful than anything that human beings can effect. As for “the vast majority” agreeing with you, it would mean nothing even if true, because throughout history the vast majority have shown themselves capable of believing almost anything–but you produce no evidence for the existence of this vast majority, and the reason you don’t is that there is none. Man-made global warming is one more in the long, long series of scams designed to take money from the gullible and give it to the crooked.

  4. bliss steps says:

    ~ I just hope more people would be courageous enough to take the red pill. What’s happening with the world right now is so devastating that it contradicts sustainability in the long haul. And even if people have sensible choices, some people are just too nonchalant and too blind to see and act to be responsible individuals of this world. I hope your post would inspire other likeminded souls and those who chose to be left in their own black holes. Congrats on being FP! – Bliss, The Lurker’s List

    • Stoshwolfen says:

      Sustainability resides in the essential Adaptability of Human Ingenuity. To act as if there are no rational alternatives is silliness at its finest.

  5. jayantadeepa says:

    Climate change is perhaps the most talked about and the most neglected topics of our times. Despite the lip-service by every nation, nothing much is being achieved. Scars me to think what this planet will morph into in the next 50-100 years

    • Stoshwolfen says:

      Even lip service is too much when you remember the lack of reproducible results and the database scandals. Newer evidence based on NASA satellite data (only a few decades of actual evidence) seems to indicate that the whole Climate Change / AGW issue is right up there with Astrology as a scientific theory.

  6. @fulcra says:

    Reblogged this on fulcra and commented:
    Truth will come out.

  7. @fulcra says:

    Truth will come out.

  8. ivenlee83 says:

    it is very hot in summer, and very cold in winter!

  9. good post …
    .
    http://www.bayofhealth.wordpress.com
    .
    a way towards a healthy life… Follow it before your life becomes slave of medicines …

  10. Forceful commentary. Well written and thought provoking.
    Thanks for sharing; congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  11. […] via Why nothing is done about climate change?. […]

  12. This is really interesting. I feel like this same philosophy could be applied to a lot of issues facing us. Do you think that if climate change were framed differently in the media we could avoid some of the inaction we’re experiencing now?
    http://stepstochangetheworld.wordpress.com/

  13. ofopinions says:

    I think one of the reasons that nothing is done about climate change is because governments do not tend to be proactive. They make five year plans and whether it is them or the opposition next time around, it is more or less the same five year plans. There is an inertia of political agenda whichever side one is on. You may use different words, adopt different methods or concern yourself with seemingly different things, but you are not looking at the bigger picture. And the bigger picture includes an awareness of climate change. The debate about capitalism is well known. Capitalism is conscious and more so, inevitable. What one needs to be made conscious about is the choices to make.

  14. ravensmarch says:

    ” If Smith was right about the invisible hand of capitalist economy, then there should be a possible balance between the demands of nature and what humanity can supply.” That would be grand. I’ve only recently read Smith, and was pleasantly surprised to find that he suggested that it was foolish to let capitalists (under the heading of ‘merchants’) set national policy, as their interests were necessarily inimical to those of everyone else in their country. We’ve got some excellent examples on the go of his being right on that point.

    I won’t say I enjoyed your article, as it’s deeply depressing, but I will definitely be pointing others towards it because it is presents worthy thoughts in a well-reasoned manner.

  15. Lisa says:

    You’re analysis drew me in and hooked me. I think you’re right and wrong, hitting all the points that make this such a complex problem. Yet, there are solutions without taking the red pill. I recently found out about The Venus Project and it very realistically changed my dooms day perspective. http://bravesmartbold.com/2013/07/16/dream-home-in-venus-domes/

  16. segmation says:

    We must take the red pill and dive right in!

  17. evsetia says:

    Climate will involve many people with each insterest. We love and they love too, but unfortunately different.

  18. Stoshwolfen says:

    It seems to me this article overlooks the obvious fallacies in the socialist style, limited resources paradigm of the Climate Change Enthusiasts. First, Capitalism does not require eternal expansion as the opening salvo contends. Capitalism requires only that human beings are free to trade one with another based on each party’s perceived needs. This essential concept appears nowhere in the article.

    Second, the article assumes the earth is an impassable limit for human beings. Recent evidence on the plenty supply of earth-like planets in the galaxy and the discovery of factors favorable to the existence of life on Mars, Titan, and Europa belie this assumption.

    In short, I must disagree with this article entirely as it does not allow for the possibility of new discoveries, new technologies, nor and worst of all no allowance for the freedom of human being to make choices for themselves. In the end I was left with the sinking feeling that my future and the future of my children must be to join in the ranks and dutifully build the next Vally of the Pyramids as a monument to “truth” that we are running out of everything.

    There won’t be replacements for resources in short supply until those resources are actually in short supply. The climate of the earth has been everything from snowball to heatsink without the help of human beings. Before one can accept this claptrap, one must first assume that humans are All Powerful, able to change the very universe around themselves and at the same time All Helpless, unable to make rational decisions for the welfare of themselves and their progeny.

    Sorry guys. This one falls flat, mainly by assuming things that are untrue, both about the earth and about the human race.

  19. ddeclaire says:

    If you have a car, please don’t weigh in. Having a car says everything about what else you do.

    • Stoshwolfen says:

      Oh, good grief. You might as well say, “If you exhale, please don’t weight in.” Humans create far more CO2 by breathing than we do by anything else we do.

  20. J Roycroft says:

    Wow. The myth about climate change continues. As if we haven’t all heard this load of crap before. I must say I laughed through most of your article, especially when you said that Iraq was the first privatized war, and that most of the U.S. troops were mercenaries. Yea, right. It would boost your credibility if you were to get your facts correct. Congrats on winning the Freshly Pressed lottery.

  21. depressed says:

    Its simple, you always leave the hardest part for someone else to deal. Maybe the coming generation will be more eduacated then this one, I know more about climate change today then I did 6years ago.

  22. Climate change is a serious problem today.. and worse in the future..

  23. climate change makes one lazy….really…

  24. Great ideas, points & good write up. Well done.

  25. mokey077 says:

    Nice article but I still there is something very important missing and that is “Where do we find the red pill?” and still more important “How do we do other people swallow it?” If you can also make an analysis about that you can have an article that is not only descriptive but that also has a proposal. The hard part in my case is that most theorists I´ve read are descriptive, maybe you will like Peter Drunken books, what I like about this writer is that he is also proactive. Anyway, thanks for writing this.

  26. Juan Ayza says:

    Reblogged this on A-lux and commented:
    Para leer con calmita … nada de esto por complicado y folosófico que suene, nos es ajeno. Eso es lo grueso!

  27. girlseule says:

    Great article. We seem to be living like we have an infinite supply of land, raw materials and space to dump our wastes and by-products but we are increasingly hitting a wall.

  28. Reblogged this on energy works plc and commented:
    Interesting piece on climate change

  29. walkaway2014 says:

    This article , and the comments below that are Climate Change Dinial, shows how polarised are the views of many.

    Climate Change, and the dire consequences are real. The way of life we have the world over, for the wealthy Anex 1 nations, is about to be smashed by a loaded up climate, with 30 years of ramping coming down the pipe.

    Watch the Arctic Ice disappear.
    It takes roughly 80 calories of energy to melt one cubic centimeter of ice. After that ice is melted, it only take 1 calorie of energy, (in this case Solar) to raise one cubic centimeter of water 1 degree.
    Do the math. Or….watch the great smashing !!!
    Not wishing it.
    There is a need to restore and promote Co-operative Resiliant Giving Communities.
    Great article.

    walkaway2014.com

    Follow the walking….

  30. […] Why Nothing Is Done about Climate Change (rhizomatick.wordpress.com) […]

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