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Commonwealth is the third in the series of socio-political analyses from Hardt and Negri which began with Empire (2000) and continued with Multitude (2004). To briefly summarise the series so far; Empire provided an overview of the changes to the structures of power and economic forces from the 1980′s onwards which Hardt and Negri characterise as moving from a nation state dominated imperial system to a globalised networked imperialist power and Multitude subsequently elucidated the emerging forms of networked resistance to the newfound global hegemonic forces of Empire.

Commonwealth seeks to further build upon the work laid out in the first two books through a deeper and more sustained engagement with some of the key concepts originally presented in the first two books, while dealing with some of the most pertinent criticisms leveled at the theoretical frameworks of Empire and the Multitude by other leading left-wing academics and theorists (a point which I will return to later).

Consequently while the book can be read as a stand-alone piece, it certainly helps to have read the prequels which give a thorough contextualisation of where Hardt and Negri are coming from, and also provide far more detailed analyses of the economic background from which they draw the conclusion that since the early 1980′s there has been the beginning of a paradigm shift away from industrial production and towards a form of information-led production which Hardt and Negri argue requires a revised understanding of both power and contemporary forms of resistance.

While throughout the series Hardt and Negri have referred to this newfound mode of production (amongst other things) as biopolitical production – using a term first developed by Foucault – both the Foucaultian orgins of the term and the differences between Foucault and Hardt & Negri’s usages are proscribed in far greater detail in Commonwealth.

Our reading not only identifies biopolitics with the localised productive powers of life – that is, the production of affects and languages through social cooperation and the interaction of bodies and desires, the invention of new forms of the relation to the self and others, and so forth – but also affirms biopolitics as the creation of new sunjectivities that are presented at once as resistance and de-subjectification. If we remain too closely tied to a philological analysis of Foucault’s texts, we might miss this central point: his analysis of biopower are aimed not merely at an empirical description of how power works for and through subjects but also at the potential for the production of alternative subjectivities, thus designating a distinction between qualitatively different forms of power. p59

Crucial to this reading and Hardt and Negri’s reading of biopolitics then is that as a emerging hegemonic form of power in the globalised world, biopolitical production is constantly producing new subjectivities and affects which escape and exceed the capitalist form of value extraction and thus produces newfound alternatives to global capitalism. While they are at pains to stress that this in itself does nothing to guarantee any kind of crisis for capitalism, or that capitalist contradictions and crises necessarily lead to revolution, they do argue forcefully that this opens up new spaces of conflict and resistance and produces alternative possibilities to the current status quo.

As the book’s title suggest, one of the primary focuses of the book is on common wealth, or the commons, again a concept which Hardt and Negri use in Empire and Multitude, but which is explored in far more depth in Commonwealth. Hardt and Negri employ a Deleuzian ontology which combines two traditionally distinct usages of the common, firstly the demarcation of a non-human commons in terms of the ‘natural world’ which is posited as an outside set of resources ripe for expropriation, and also the socially constructed commons, such as language, social bonds, affects, thoughts, and ideas

Wheras the tradition notion poses the common as a natural world outside of society, the biopolitical conception of the common permeates equally all spheres of life referring not only to the earth, the air, the elements, or even plane and animal life but also to the constitutive elements of human society, such as common languages, habits, gestures, affects, codes, and so forth. Whereas for traditional thinkers such as Locke and Rousseau, the formation of society and progress of history inevitably destroy the common, fencing it off as private property, the biopolitical conception emphasises not only preserving the common but also struggling over the conditions of producing it, as well as selecting among its qualities, promoting its beneficial forms, and fleeing its detrimental corrupt forms. We might call this an ecology of the common – an ecology focused equally on nature and society, on humans and the nonhuman world in a dynamic of interdependence, care and mutual transformation. p171

One important way in which Hardt and Negri extend their conception of commonwealth is the caveat that not all common forms of wealth are liberatory and positive. Indeed they contend that many of the ways in which the commons is currently experienced is through what they deem corrupted forms in which commonwealth is partially constrained and thus creates not a resource for all, but a means of exclusion and expropriation which striates the social field and creates hierarchies. Chief among these corrupted forms of the common identified by Hardt and Negri are the nation state, the corporation and the family.

H&N go on to contend that whereas the common is produced through love, which they trace conceptually back to Spinoza’s writings on love and joy arguing that love is what produces cultural forms of commonwealth ‘Every act of love is an ontological event in that it marks a rupture with existing being and creates new being…To say that love is ontologically constitutive then, simply means that it produces the common.’ (p181) However Hardt and Negri go on to warn that

Just like the common itself, love is deeply ambivalent and susceptible to corruption. In fact what passes for love in ordinary discourse and popular culture is predominantly is corrupt forms. The primary locus of this corruption is the shift in love from the common to the same, that is, from the production of the common to the same or a process of unification. p182

As such the identitarian forms of love such as patriotism, racism and certain religious fundamentalisms which are grounded on a love of the same and seek to impose that sameness or unity upon heterogeneous elements they classify as ‘outside’ of their identity. Thus Hardt and Negri characterise these belief systems and structures not as grounded in hatred, but in a form of love, albeit a corrupted form which seeks to reproduce unity and homogeneity rather than the diverse and heterogeneous positive forms of the common. This they define as evil; not evil as in the traditionally transcendent binary which stands diametrically opposed to the category of good, but as instantiations of particular forms of love and the common gone bad. This theortisation of evil,

Gives us a Spinozan explanation for why at times people fight for their servitude as though it were their salvation, why the poor sometimes support dictators, the working classes vote for right wing parties, and abused spouses and children protect their abusers. Such situations are obviously the result of ignorance, fear and superstition, but calling it false consciousness provides meager tools for transformation. Providing the oppressed with the truth and instructing them in their interests does little to change things. People fighting for their servitude is understood better as the result of love and community gone bad, failed and distorted. The first question when confronting evil then, is, what specific love went bad here? What instance of the common has been corrupted? p194

Whilst this does provide a novel approach for understanding why people fight for their servitude as though it were their salvation, one criticism to be made here is that Hardt and Negri are vague as to what kind of social forms they envision replacing ‘corrupted’ forms such as the family and the state, contending instead that these forms are currently unimaginable and must arise out out of the practical experimentation and experience of the multitude. While there is a logic which reflects their political position in refusing to project a teleology of the multitude, the failure to provide alternatives to contemporary corrupt forms of the common is somewhat unnerving, the lack of propositions for constructive alternatives to current systems makes the focus of Hardt and Negri’s theorising primarily negative, seemingly aimed at combating corrupt forms of the common without really suggesting the kind of positive alternatives they wish to see created. Where I found Commonwelath far stronger, was where Hardt and Neri reiterated some of the concrete proposals they first outlined in Empire with the addition of far more nuanced details in arguing for a living wage for all, the removal of the restriction on human movements imposed by state borders and universal open access to the commons in order to

Develop fully and put into practice the multitude’s abilities to think and cooperate with others. Such an infrastructure must include an open physical layer (including access to wires and wireless communications networks), an open logical layer (for instance, code and protocols) and an open content layer (such as cultural, intellectual and scientific works). p308

The criticism of the lack of concrete progressive forms for the multitude with respects to the family and the state feed into the second major current of criticism of their earlier works which Hardt and Negri seek to contest in Commonwealth. The first strand of critique, as advanced by the likes of Pierre Machery and Ernesto Laclau, is the argument that a plural and polyphonic choir such as Hardt and Negri’s conception of the multitude cannot function as a coherent political actor due to its heterogeneous composition. Whereas in the past the figure of the party, the people, or even the state and the nation have functioned in a way to unify differences and mobilise populations to create social transformation, and certain critics have argues that without a similar point of unification the multitude can act only as a cacophony of contradictory voices which cannot act commonly. Hardt and Negri’s retort to this is that

It is true that the organisation of singularities and decision making is not immediate and spontaneous, but that does not mean that hegemony and unification, the formation of a sovereign and unified power – whether it be a state a party or a people – is the necessary precondition for politics. Spontaneity and hegemony are not the only alternatives. The multitude can develop the power to organise itself through the conflictual and cooperative interactions of singularities in the common. p175

The second main line of critique which Hardt and Negri respond to are the arguments brought forth by Paolo Virno, Etienne Balibar, Slavoj Zizek and Alain Badiou, that whilst the multitude may be capable of acting as a political actor – albeit one which substantially differs from traditional forms based around unity – there is no guarantee that the consequences of such a political form would be liberatory and progressive. The actual contents of these critiques of the multitude vary widely, from Virno’s realist position which acknowledges that the formal structure of the muiltitude in now way guarantees the contents of its politics, to Zizek and Badiou’s positions which effectively argue that the multitude is merely an oppositional figure to contemporary character, and that this oppositional resistance can never be more than a mere component of that power from whence it derives, and I find myself giving more credence to Virno’s line of thought than Zizek/Badiou’s.This line of critique is dealt with far less effectively, and while Hardt and Negri do outline some very useful protocols for a liberatory or progressive politics of the multitude, and trace a genealogy of progressive political groups and movements, Virno’s critique in particular seems valid when assessing forms of contemporary networked radical Islamist groups, which exhibit many  structural properties similar to the composition of the multitude, however their ideology exhibits extreme forms of what Hardt and Negri descibe as corrupt forms of love and the common.

On the whole then, Commonwealth provides a useful exploration and expansion of a number of key concepts previously presented by Hardt and Negri, while partially addressing some of the most pertinent criticisms directed at their earlier works. As such it certainly provides interesting points for discussion and reflection for people involved in the various social and ecological movements which have grown out of the alternative globalisation movement, and provides some concrete proposals for an alternative to the current global system alongside some detailed analysis of geo-political and economic developments over the last few years. Personally though, I would recommend most readers new to Hardt and Negri’s work to start with their earlier writings, in particular Multitude, which provides a more accessible point of entry to the writings of two of the contemporary left’s most exciting political theorists.

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So it seems that after a flurry of activity for the climate swoop last week where climate activists met at six strategic locations before converging on Blackheath to set up this year’s Climate Camp the mainstream media have largely lost interest in events.

On the Guardian website today we have bibi van der Zee claiming that ‘Five days in and the campers admit things are a little boring – there are no more toilets to put up and the police have vanished. But a plan for direct action should put the zip back into things’

If you took reports like that seriously you would believe that essentially nothing has been going on at camp since the set up on Wedsnesday and Thursday last week. In fact the site has been awash with activity as the camp has hosted roughly 30-35 workshops a day in addition to the daily neighbourhood meetings.

These workshops have covered everything from creating bicycle powered sound systems to the science of climate change and the current state of geoengineering, from creating your own media to understanding the subtleties of carbon trading schemes, from communicating climate science to lay audiences to building your own wind turbines, from direct action and legal observer training to understanding the links between the arms trade and climate change, from consensus based decision making and direct democracy to creating biochar as a green energy source.

In fact there have been so many disparate workshops, seminars and debates that it would be impossible to to attend more than a fraction of them. Meanwhile, the small amount of mainstream media coverage still focusing on the camp (largely in the Guardian) sees the likes of Van der Zee moaning that the camp has come boring because there aren’t campers being beaten up by the police like at the G20. It truly indicates the sad state of corporate media when even the allegedly left wing papers are interested in issues only so long as they are presented with dramatic images of police attacking protesters.

Somewhat bizarrely in yesterday’s Observer Peter Beaumont claimed that ‘the protesters should spend more time convincing others that their actions are sound,’ it’s hard to understand what he believes the workshops on the science of climate change and the careful efforts of campers to provide factually accurate workshops which clearly delineate why they are involved in protesting around these issues, but somewhat unsurprisingly he fails to mention that any workshops are taking place, instead focusing on what he claims are Climate Camp’s ‘often hazy messages and complex inner negotiations.’ Quite how specifically targetting institutions such as the European Climate Exchange, Barclays Bank and Shell, while holding discussions and workshops which communicate precisely why these targets have been chosen can be understood as ‘hazy’ is somewhat beyond me. In fairness it merely appears to be another case of a lazy journalist writing poorly researched rubbish having been disappointed at the lack of sensationalist images of police fighting with protesters.

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Recently George Monbiot has been in the blogosphere for his exchange with Iam Plimer in which he joined the bastion of scientists, bloggers and journalists condemning Plimer’s recent book. Personally I found his debate with Paul Kingsnorth far more interesting,

Kingsnorth criticises Monbiot for seeking to create ‘Liberal Democracy 2.0′ arguing that

‘What we face is what John Michael Greer, in his book of the same name, calls a ‘long descent’ – a series of ongoing crises brought about by the factors I talked of in my first letter, which will bring an end to the all-consuming culture we have imposed upon the Earth. I’m sure ’some good will come’ from this, for that culture is a weapon of planetary mass destruction.’

Monbiot’s retort is that a series of crises would mean billions deaths and an immense amount of suffering, and that this scenario would likely see

‘instead of gathering as free collectives of happy householders, the survivors of this collapse will be subject to the will of people seeking to monopolise remaining resources. Thiswill is likely to be imposed through violence. Political accountability will be a distant memory. The chances of conserving any resource in these circumstances are approximately zero.’

Consequently Monbiot argues that

‘Strange as it seems, a de-fanged, steady-state version of the current settlement might offer the best prospect humankind has ever had of avoiding collapse. For the first time in our history we are well-informed about the extent and causes of our ecological crises, know what should be done to avert them and have the global means – if only the political will were present – of preventing them.’

Of the two perspectives pertaining to the probable and possible outcomes for humanity in the medium term future I would say that I more closely associate with Monbiot’s position of remaining hopefull despite mounting evidence that climate change will create massive detrimental impacts to civilisation as we know it.

Similarly I consur with Monbiot that the likely consequences of inaction are widening global inequalities, which under the current geopolitical climate of nationalism and antagonism fuelled by a neo-liberal drive for competition and self-interest will likely translate into war between nation states for resources, the collapse of social welfare where it does currently exist and a vast amount of suffering for billions. I also agree that this kind of scenario would not represent a positive development.

Where I feel that I differ from both authors however is in the framing of the debate itself. Civilisations are not static objects which can be saved (preserved intact) or destroyed (completely) as some kind of binary pair, they evolve as dynamic processes dependent on a multitude of factors. This means that the actions we take now are relevant as these actions will have an effect on which of the many potential futures we realise. The more sustainable technologies are developed and implemented, the more ghg emissions are cut, the more social solidarity and a sense of community, both locally and globally are constructed in the here and now, the better the prospects for the future will be. The difference may only be a small one, but that will largely depend on how many people decide to actively engage with the problem – larger actions now mean better conditions for the future.

Even if the future looks decidely gloomy, and both Monbiot and Kingsnorth argue that they are, the actions of people today still has some agency (not the myth of unilateral control Kingsnorth critiques, but an active factor in a dynamic causal network) in deciding what the future will be like. While individually our actions are only minutely consequential, collectively they can be massive. That is why I believe in building networks of change from the grassroots up.

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Having mounted a public relations campaign in an attampt to restore the image of the met after the G20 debacle, the police have decided to codename their operation for this year’s Climate Camp Operation Bentham.

The operation’s moniker is a reference to the English social theorist and philosopher Jeremy Bentham. Bentham’s most frequently used concept is that of the panopticon.  The panopticon is essentially a prison where the inmates are constantly aware that they may be under surveillance but cannot know whether anyone is actually watching. Consequently they are forced to act as though they are constantly being surveyed and so internalise the process of surveillance .

The concept of the panopticon was utilised by French theorist Michel Foucault as a metaphor for modern ‘disciplinary socities.’ With the police using badge sized cameras to record activists alongside the report that all campers are to be photographed by the police, we shall wait and see whether the police tactics do indeed revolve around creating an Orwellian situation of self-censoring activists

Alternatively, if the Police do adopt a far more relaxed and less confrontational attitude towards Climate Camp, it will hopefully mean that the huge amount of media attention generated by the camp will actually focus on the issues the camp campaigns around, the workshops meetings and debates which happen at the camp, the array of sustainable technologies used by the camp, the consensus based direct democracy practiced by the camp, all of which has been sadly lacking in the coverage of Climate Camps at Kingsnorth and the G20.

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For coverage of tomorrow and Thursday’s G20 protests acrosss london be sure to check out London Indymedia and UK Indymedia who will be providing live updates on the day’s actions.

As the Police have been talking up the ‘summer of rage’ before any kind of protest/demonstrations have occured it seems likely that there is likely to be some very heavy handed actions initiated by the police, and keeping protestors abreast of events while letting the world know what is really going on in the streets seems like a hugely important job for grassroots independent media.

‘Help report what’s happening by sending your reports from the streets. There are two Indymedia reporting numbers running 28th March – 2nd April: 07588 479 039 : For calling in reports from events – remember the ‘who what when where why’ – and also for sending txt msg updates and MMS picture messages.
08444 870 157: For calling in to leave a short audio recording that can be uploaded to the website. (If you do send pictures or audio messages, include the location and time) Twitter: If you are using twitter and have a report or update for Indymedia, include the hashtag #imcg20 in your message’

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The Three Ecologies is one of the final works published by Felix Guattari (1930-1992), a French philosopher, political militant and institutional psychoanalyst. While Guattari is perhaps best known for his co-authored projects with Gilles Deleuze; Anti-Oedipus, A Thousand Plateaus and What is Philosophy; The Three Ecologies provides an excellent insight into Guattari’s stance on politics, social movements and subjectivity.

The concept of the three ecologies; three interconnected networks existing at the scales of mind, society and the environment, was originally formulated by influential theorist Gregory Bateson in Steps to An Ecology of Mind, however Guattari seeks to elaborate and refine the concept in more detail, while additionally adding a more radical form of poststructuralist Marxism to Bateson’s ecological system.

Pre-empting the global networks of power and resistance described by Hardt and Negri in Empire and Multitude, Guattari argues that ‘The only true response to the ecological crisis is on a global scale, provided that it brings about an authentic political, social and cultural revolution, reshaping the objectives of the production of both material and immaterial assets.’ (28) Whereas previous revolutionary movements have concentrated on creating political changes at the level of the nation state, Guattari claims that the shared nature of the environment that we live in, and our collective impacts on it such as anthropogenic climate change, reveal the commons on which we are ultimately dependent, and thus the ecosophical position he advocates is one of global resistance to what he describes as ‘Integrated Wold Capitalism,’ which is very close to a less deeply theorised version of Hardt and Negri’s Empire, and resonates with Castells’ delineation of the rise of the network society, and Jameson’s understanding of postmodern capitalism.

Such a global and unificatory position may at first appear to contrast sharply with commonly understood models of postmodernism, which following Lyotard claim that postmodernity is marked by the death of the modernist meta-narrative, and indeed some such as George Myerson have claimed that ecology, and ecological crises mark the end of the fragmented and partial era of postmodernism. To such claims, Guattari argues that ‘The ecosophical perspective does not totally exclude unifying objectives such as the struggle against world hunger, an end to deforestation or to the blind proliferation of the nuclear industries; but it will no longer be a question of depending on reductionist, stereotypical orderworlds which only expropriate other more singular problematics and lead to the promotion of charismatic leaders.’ (34) While ecosophy can hold unifying ideas and objectives, these do not insist on a scalar homogeneity – difference and plurality are encouraged at each of the levels of ecology, mind, society and environment – however these differences themselves are not absolute, and so limited unifying objectives aimed at securing freedoms and rights for all subjects are possible under such a philosophical framework.

Consequently Guattari’s argument is that ‘Environmental ecology, as it exists today, has barely begun to prefigure the generalised ecology that I advocate here, the aim of which will be to radically decentre social struggles and ways of coming into one’s own psyche… Ecology must stop being associated with the image of a small nature-loving minority. Ecology in my sense questions the whole of subjectivity and capitalistic power formations.’ (2) For Guattari then, as with Bateson, ecology is far more than a concern for the environment, it is an epistemological system based on an understanding of nonlinear systems governed by feedback loops and nonlinear causality. An understanding of connectivity, of balanced systems, network topography and complexity theory are fundamental to the way in which this ecosophical model operates. In contrast to a capitalist system predicated on economic growth, Guattari’s ecosophy seeks balance allied with a reevaluation of what we value; going well beyond GDP as an indicator of quality of life, in what can be understood as a decentred socialism, or ecologically informed variant of anarchism, where goals are collectively negotiated rather than dictated by economic elites.

According to Guattari, creating such an ecosophical society requires a reorientation of thought, so that we understand ourselves, the society we live in and the ecosystem we inhabit as three different scales of ecology, linked by a series of processes (or abstract machines). ‘Now more than ever, nature cannot be separated from culture; in order to comprehend the interactions between ecosystems, the mecanosphere and the social and individual Universes of reference, we must learn to think ‘transversally’. (43) Indeed Guattari goes as far as to argue that ‘It is quite wrong to make a distinction between action on the psyche, the socius and the environment. Refusal to face up to the erosion of these three areas, as the media would have us do verges on a strategic infantilization of opinion and a destructive neutralization of democracy. We need to kick the habit of sedative discourse, particularly the ‘fix’ of television, in order to apprehend the world through the interchangeable lenses of the three ecologies.’ (42)

The role of mediated communications occupies a central position for Guattari, and he is particularly scathing about the effects of television as a centralising and hierarchical media which privileges economic and social elites’ perspective on public discourse, effectively negating the potentiality for a dialogic and democratic debate about how to create more sustainable and equitable relationships within and between the three ecologies. Indeed, Guattari states that ‘An essential programmatic point for social ecology will be to make the transition from the mass media era to the post-media age, in which the media will be re appropriated by a multitude of groups capable of directing its resingularization. Despite the seeming impossibility of such an eventuality, the current unparalleled level of media-related alienation is in no way an inherent necessity.’

The three ecologies was written a few years before the creation of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee, and Guattari’s death meant that he never saw the explosion of user-generated content and dialogic forms of communication which are currently to be found online, and it would have been fascinating to learn as to whether Guattari would classify some of the co-creative models for collaborative communication such as; Indymedia’s open publishing or the wiki’s used by sites such as Wikipedia and Crocodyl, as examples of ecosophic media.

One hugely positive message to be found within the ecological warning of impending disaster across all three ecological registers (the increase of mental health disorders and stress related disorder; warfare, failed states run by competing warlords, the rise of right wing religious fundamentalisms in both the East and the West, and of course the ecological crises of anthropogenic global warming and natural resource depletion) is that the solutions to these problems are already at our doorsteps. ‘Wherever we turn, there is the same nagging paradox: on the one hand, the continuous development of new techno scientific means to potentially resolve the dominant ecological issues and restate socially useful activities on the surface of the planet, and, on the other hand the inability of organised social forces and constituted subjective formations to take hold of these resources in order to make them work.’ (31) Industrial capitalism has enhanced our knowledge and technological capabilities beyond belief. Yet despite this technical and scientific advancement we still are faced with massive inequalities of wealth, poverty on an enormous scale, millions of annual deaths from easily treatable diseases and numerous wars, both between and inside states. As Martin Luther King famously stated back in the 1960′s “We have learned to swim the seas like fish, and fly the skies like birds, but we have not learned to walk the earth like brothers.’ Guattari’s ecosophy then is a philosophical attempt to remedy this situation, calling for a new way of understanding the world and our place in it allied with a new method of being to create an ecologically sustainable and socially equitable world. (more…)

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Much of the rhetoric surrounding Anthropogenic Climate Change has thus far rested on the notion that human pollution is destroying the world, and that consequently we need to take action in order to save the world…

Put simply this isn’t true. The planet that we live on is far too big, and far too flexible a system for us to ‘destroy.’ Even if we tried really hard, say releasing all the world’s nuclear weapons simultaneously, we wouldn’t destroy the Earth. We would wipe out most currently existing life forms from the face of the planet, almost certainly including humanity, but life would go on, and slowly, over a number of millennia, life would evolve increasing complexity again. Of course a similar kind of scenario occurred about 250 million years ago, in what is known as the Permian-Triassic extinction event, in which 95% of marine life and 70% of land based vertebrates became extinct. The cause of the Permian-Triassic extinction is not definitively known, though many experts believe that the extinctions were the result of an asteroid hitting Earth.

Despite the enormous extent of the ecological damage caused by the Permian-Triassic extinction, life went on. It recovered and evolved over millions of years until we reach today’s state of affairs. The notion that ACC; whose most extreme scientific predictions would see it reach near permian extinction levels, but the vast majority of evidence suggests much lower levels of warming, would destroy life in a way that an asteroid hitting the planet could not is quite comical.

Equally the notion that carbon dioxide is ‘pollution’ that it is a substance which is inherently harmful and bad for the planet is just plain wrong. Without the heat trapped by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases the Earth would be too cold for human life to have evolved. What is happening with anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation is that the stable balance of gases which have allowed our species to flourish are being altered in such a way that the continuation of climatic conditions which permit us to maintain social stability; the ability to feed and shelter everyone are likely to change so that life becomes harder for humans.

So when ecological activists want to take action against ACC, what exactly is it they stand for if it isn’t saving the world? There can be many answers, but for me it is mainly a case of humanitarian action. Unlike the planet, the human species is fairly fragile. Small changes to the ecosystems which we depend upon for food, water, shelter and material prosperity have dramatic effects to the societies which we inhabit. In particular the growth of the global human population over the last hundred years means that hundreds of millions of humans around the globe are highly dependent on the stable ecosystems they reside within. ACC risks destabilizing many of these ecosystems.

For example the fertility of rice flowers falls from 100% at 35 degrees C to 0% at 40 degrees C. This means that even a modest warming of 2 degrees will see rice fertility drop by over 30% in warm climates. Similar trends in crop fertility have been found in wheat, maize, soybeans and peanuts – many staple foods in developing nations. Consequently recent research has suggested that global rice production will fall by 5-11% by 2020 and between 11 and 46% by 2050. Consider for a moment that rising population allied with land change use and the rising cost of oil have created widespread food shortages and food riots in many parts of the world and you quickly see why if these estimates are correct they will lead to human suffering on an enormous scale.

As with most effects of ACC the impacts will not be homogeneous; some areas of the globe where the climate is currently just too cold for crop production will become more fertile, however this will be more than offset by the amount of productive capacity lost. Furthermore many of the harshest impacts will occur in the least developed areas, which are also the least able to cope with crisis, as their lack of wealth means that many areas (particularly in Africa) will not be able to afford to import food from other regions. This impact has nothing to do with the world being destroyed, indeed the specter of millions of poor people starving to death is somewhat more mundane than the meta-narrative of saving the world, but nonetheless this is the path we are currently heading down.

Food production is just one areas where the detrimental effects of ACC to humans are obvious. The increased temperature is a consequence of an increase in energy in the Eath’s atmosphere which will mean an increase of droughts, of floods, forest fires, hurricanes, tornadoes and other extreme climactic events, all of which tend to be detrimental to human life. Equally, the anticipated rise in sea levels will mean the displacement of millions of humans from their homes. Already this has begun on the low lying islands of Tuvalu where evacuation plans have been prepared, and areas of Bangladesh, where villagers are losing their homes to rising waters. The refugee crisis threatened by one impact of ACC and exasperated by the food crisis which is expected to be another suggests that ACC will begin to dramatically increase human suffering and misery in many of the world’s poorest areas.

Whereas the notion that ecologists seek to save the world is laughable, people are trying to effect changes that will greatly reduce human suffering in years to come. I have no interest in ‘saving the world’… It simply isn’t necessary. I am however interested in trying to make the world a less adverse environment for people to live in. That this adversity will mainly be felt by many of the world’s poorest people, whose labour is most likely directly tied to their physical ecosystem through subsistence agriculture, and that it is primarily caused by the world’s richest people – those with jet set lifestyles, private yachts and air conditioned mansions – only heightens the sense of social injustice.

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