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Between the Devil and the Green New Deal

Commune

Issue 2, Spring 2019

By Jasper Bernes
 
 

We cannot legislate and spend our way out of catastrophic global warming.

 

From space, the Bayan Obo mine in China, where 70 percent of the world’s rare earth minerals are extracted and refined, almost looks like a painting. The paisleys of the radioactive tailings ponds, miles long, concentrate the hidden colors of the earth: mineral aquamarines and ochres of the sort a painter might employ to flatter the rulers of a dying empire.

To meet the demands of the Green New Deal, which proposes to convert the US economy to zero emissions, renewable power by 2030, there will be a lot more of these mines gouged into the crust of the earth. That’s because nearly every renewable energy source depends upon non-renewable and frequently hard-to-access minerals: solar panels use indium, turbines use neodymium, batteries use lithium, and all require kilotons of steel, tin, silver, and copper. The renewable-energy supply chain is a complicated hopscotch around the periodic table and around the world. To make a high-capacity solar panel, one might need copper (atomic number 29) from Chile, indium (49) from Australia, gallium (31) from China, and selenium (34) from Germany. Many of the most efficient, direct-drive wind turbines require a couple pounds of the rare-earth metal neodymium, and there’s 140 pounds of lithium in each Tesla.

It’s not for nothing that coal miners were, for much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the very image of capitalist immiseration—it’s exhausting, dangerous, ugly work. Le Voreux, “the voracious one”—that’s what Émile Zola names the coal mine in Germinal, his novel of class struggle in a French company town. Capped with coal-burning smokestacks, the mine is both maze and minotaur all in one, “crouching like some evil beast at the bottom of its lair . . . puffing and panting in increasingly slow, deep bursts, as if it were struggling to digest its meal of human flesh.” Monsters are products of the earth in classical mythology, children of Gaia, born from the caves and hunted down by a cruel race of civilizing sky gods. But in capitalism, what’s monstrous is earth as animated by those civilizing energies. In exchange for these terrestrial treasures—used to power trains and ships and factories—a whole class of people is thrown into the pits. The warming earth teems with such monsters of our own making—monsters of drought and migration, famine and storm. Renewable energy is no refuge, really. The worst industrial accident in the history of the United States, the Hawk’s Nest Incident of 1930, was a renewable energy disaster. Drilling a three-mile-long inlet for a Union Carbide hydroelectric plant, five thousand workers were sickened when they hit a thick vein of silica, filling the tunnel with blinding white dust. Eight hundred eventually died of silicosis. Energy is never “clean,” as Muriel Rukeyser makes clear in the epic, documentary poem she wrote about Hawk’s Nest, “The Book of the Dead.” “Who runs through the electric wires?” she asks. “Who speaks down every road?” The infrastructure of the modern world is cast from molten grief.

Dotted with “death villages” where crops will not fruit, the region of Inner Mongolia where the Bayan Obo mine is located displays Chernobylesque cancer rates. But then again, the death villages are already here. More of them are coming if we don’t do something about climate change. What matter is a dozen death villages when half the earth may be rendered uninhabitable? What matter the gray skies over Inner Mongolia if the alternative is turning the sky an endless white with sulfuric aerosols, as last-ditch geoengineering scenarios imagine? Moralists, armchair philosophers, and lesser-evilists may try to convince you that these situations resolve into a sort of trolley-car problem: do nothing and the trolley speeds down the track toward mass death. Do something, and you switch the trolley onto a track where fewer people die, but where you are more actively responsible for their deaths. When the survival of millions or even billions hangs in the balance, as it surely does when it comes to climate change, a few dozen death villages might seem a particularly good deal, a green deal, a new deal. But climate change doesn’t resolve into a single trolley-car problem. Rather, it’s a planet-spanning tangle of switchyards, with mass death on every track.

It’s not clear we can even get enough of this stuff out of the ground, however, given the timeframe. Zero-emissions 2030 would mean mines producing now, not in five or ten years. The race to bring new supply online is likely to be ugly, in more ways than one, as slipshod producers scramble to cash in on the price bonanza, cutting every corner and setting up mines that are dangerous, unhealthy, and not particularly green. Mines require a massive outlay of investment up front, and they typically feature low return on investment, except during the sort of commodity boom we can expect a Green New Deal to produce. It can be a decade or more before the sources are developed, and another decade before they turn a profit.

“There is an infinity of worlds in which the GND fails—a million President Sanderses or, with more urgency, Ocasio-Cortezes presiding over the disaster.”

Nor is it clear how much the fruits of these mines will help us decarbonize, if energy use keeps climbing. Just because a United States encrusted in solar panels releases no greenhouse gases, that doesn’t mean its technologies are carbon neutral. It takes energy to get those minerals out of the ground, energy to shape them into batteries and photovoltaic solar panels and giant rotors for windmills, energy to dispose of them when they wear out. Mines are worked, primarily, by gas-burning vehicles. The container ships that cross the world’s seas bearing the good freight of renewables burn so much fuel they are responsible for 3 percent of planetary emissions. Electric, plug-in motors for construction equipment and container ships are barely in the prototype stage. And what kind of massive battery would you need to get a container ship across the Pacific? Maybe a small nuclear reactor would be best?

Counting emissions within national boundaries, in other words, is like counting calories but only during breakfast and lunch. If going clean in the US makes other places more dirty, then you’ve got to add that to the ledger. The carbon sums are sure to be lower than they would be otherwise, but the reductions might not be as robust as thought, especially if producers desperate to cash in on the renewable jackpot do things as cheaply and quickly as possible, which for now means fossil fuels. On the other side, environmental remediation is costly in every way. Want to clean up those tailings ponds, bury the waste deep underground, keep the water table from being poisoned? You’re going to need motors and you’re probably going to burn oil.

Consolidating scientific opinion, the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report projects that biofuels are going to be used in these cases—for construction, for industry, and for transport, wherever motors can’t be easily electrified. Biofuels put carbon into the air, but it’s carbon that was already absorbed by growing plants, so the net emissions are zero. The problem is that growing biofuels requires land otherwise devoted to crops, or carbon-absorbing wilderness. They are among the least dense of power sources. You would need a dozen acres to fill the tank of a single intercontinental jet. Emissions are only the most prominent aspect of a broader ecological crisis. Human habitation, pasture and industry, branching through the remaining wilderness in the most profligate and destructive manner, has sent shockwaves through the plant and animal kingdoms. The mass die-off of insects, with populations decreasing by four-fifths in some areas, is one part of this. The insect world is very poorly understood, but scientists suspect these die-offs and extinction events are only partially attributable to climate change, with human land use and pesticides a major culprit. Of the two billion tons of animal mass on the planet, insects account for half. Pull the pillars of the insect world away, and the food chains collapse.

To replace current US energy consumption with renewables, you’d need to devote at least 25-50 percent of the US landmass to solar, wind, and biofuels, according to the estimates made by Vaclav Smil, the grand doyen of energy studies. Is there room for that and expanding human habitation? For that and pasture for a massive meat and dairy industry? For that and the forest we’d need to take carbon out of the air? Not if capitalism keeps doing the thing which it can’t not keep doing—grow. The law of capitalism is the law of more—more energy, more stuff, more materials. It introduces efficiencies only to more effectively despoil the planet. There is no solution to the climate crisis which leaves capitalism’s compulsions to growth intact. And this is what the Green New Deal, a term coined by that oily neoliberal, Thomas Friedman, doesn’t address. It thinks you can keep capitalism, keep growth, but remove the deleterious consequences. The death villages are here to tell you that you can’t. No roses will bloom on that bush.

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Miners in Chile, China, and Zambia will be digging in the earth for more than just the makings of fifty million solar panels and windmills, however, since the Green New Deal also proposes to rebuild the power grid in a more efficient form, to upgrade all buildings to the highest environmental standards, and lastly, to develop a low-carbon transportation infrastructure, based on electric vehicles and high-speed rail. This would involve, needless to say, a monumental deployment of carbon-intensive materials like concrete and steel. Trillions of dollars of raw materials would need to flow into the United States to be shaped into train tracks and electric cars. Schools and hospitals, too, since alongside these green initiatives, the GND proposes universal health care and free education, not to mention a living-wage jobs guarantee.

Nothing new in politics is ever truly and completely new, and so it’s as unsurprising that the Green New Deal hearkens back to the 1930s as it is that France’s gilet jaunes revive the corpse of the French Revolution and make it dance a jig below the Arc de Triomphe. We understand the present and future through the past. As Marx notes in The Eighteenth Brumaire, people “make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.” In order to make new forms of class struggle intelligible, their partisans look to the past, “borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language.” The “new” of the Green New Deal must therefore express itself in language decidedly old, appealing to great-grandpa’s vanished workerism and the graphic style of WPA posters.

Above: 2019 GND poster

This costume-play can be progressive rather than regressive, insofar as it consists of “glorifying the new struggles, not of parodying the old; of magnifying the given task in the imagination, not recoiling from its solution in reality; of finding once more the spirit of revolution, not making its ghost walk again.” On the contrary, in the wake of the revolutions of 1848, when Marx was writing, the symbology of the French Revolution had the effect of suffocating whatever was revolutionary about the moment. Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew, Napoleon the III, was a pure parody of the liberator of Europe. What Europe needed was a radical break not continuity:

The social revolution of the nineteenth century cannot take its poetry from the past but only from the future. It cannot begin with itself before it has stripped away all superstition about the past. The former revolutions required recollections of past world history in order to smother their own content. The revolution of the nineteenth century must let the dead bury their dead in order to arrive at its own content. There the phrase went beyond the content – here the content goes beyond the phrase.

We would do well to keep these words in mind over the next decades, to avoid recoiling from real solutions and insisting on fantastic ones. The project of the Green New Deal is really nothing like the New Deal of the 1930s, except in the most superficial ways. The New Deal was a response to an immediate economic emergency, the Great Depression, and not a future climate catastrophe: its main goal was to restore growth to an economy that had shrunk by 50 percent and in which one out of every four people was unemployed. The goal of the New Deal was to get capitalism to do what it already wanted to do: put people to work, exploit them, and then sell them the products of their own labor. The state was necessary as a catalyst and a mediator, setting the right balance between profit and wages, chiefly by strengthening the hand of labor and weakening that of business. Aside from the fact that it involves capital outlays that are much larger, the Green New Deal has a more difficult ambition: rather than get capitalism to do what it wants to do, it has to get it to pursue a path that is certainly bad for the owners of capital in the long run.

Whereas the New Deal needed only to restore growth, the Green New Deal has to generate growth and reduce emissions. The problem is that growth and emissions are, by almost every measure, profoundly correlated. The Green New Deal thus risks becoming a sort of Sisyphean reform, rolling the rock of emissions reductions up the hill each day only to have a growing, energy-hungry economy knock it back down to the bottom each night.

Advocates of green growth promise an “absolute decoupling” of emissions and growth, where each additional unit of energy adds no CO2 to the atmosphere. Even if such a thing were technologically possible, even if it were possible to generate zero- or low-emissions energy not only adequate to but in excess of current demand, such decoupling would require far greater power over the behavior of capitalists than the New Deal ever mustered.

FDR and his coalition in Congress exerted modest control over corporations through a process of “countervailing power,” in the words of John Kenneth Galbraith, tilting the playing field to disempower capitalists relative to workers and consumers, and making new investment more appealing. The state did undertake direct investment—building roads, bridges, power stations, parks, and museums—but did so not in order to supplant private investment but to create “forever a yardstick against extortion,” in FDR’s high-toned phrasing. Government power plants would, for example, disclose the true (lower) price of electricity, barring energy monopolies from price gouging.

Green New Dealers flag this aspect of the New Deal, since it’s ostensibly so close to what they propose. The Tennessee Valley Authority, a public power company still in operation eighty years later, is the most famous of these projects. Public infrastructure, clean energy, economic development—the TVA brought together many of the elements essential to the Green New Deal. Building dams and hydroelectric power stations along the Tennessee River, it provided clean, cheap electricity to one of the most economically depressed regions of the country. The hydroelectric plants were, in turn, linked up to factories producing nitrates, an energy-intensive raw material needed for both fertilizer and explosives. Wages and crop yields rose, power costs fell. The TVA brought cheap energy, cheap fertilizer, and good jobs to a place previous known for malaria, poor soil quality, incomes less than half the national average, and alarmingly high unemployment.

The problem with this scenario as a framework for the Green New Deal is that renewables are not massively cheaper than fossil fuels. The state cannot blaze the trail to cheap, renewable energy, satisfying consumers with lower costs and producers with acceptable profits. Many once thought that the depletion of oil and coal reserves would save us, raising the price of fossil fuels above that of renewables and forcing the switch as a matter of economic necessity. Unfortunately, that messianic price point has drifted farther into the future as new drilling technologies, introduced in the last decade, have made it possible to frack oil from shale and to recover reserves from fields previously thought exhausted. The price of oil has stayed stubbornly low, and the US is, suddenly, producing more of it than anyone else. The doomsday scenarios of “peak oil” are now a turn-of-the-millennium curiosity, like Y2K or Al Gore. Sorry, wrong apocalypse.

“The problem with the Green New Deal is that it promises to change everything while keeping everything the same.”

Some will tell you that renewables can compete with fossil fuels on the open market. Wind and hydroelectric and geothermal have, it’s true, become cheaper as sources of electricity, in some cases cheaper than coal and natural gas. But they’re still not cheap enough. That’s because, in order to bankrupt the fossil capitalists, renewables will need to do more than edge out fossil fuels by a penny or two per kilowatt-hour. There are trillions of dollars sunk into fossil energy infrastructure and the owners of those investments will invariably choose to recoup some of that investment rather than none of it. To send the value of those assets to zero and force energy capitalists to invest in new factories, renewables need to be not only cheaper but massively cheaper, impossibly cheaper. At least this is the conclusion reached by a group of engineers Google convened to study the problem. Existing technologies are never going to be cheap enough to bankrupt coal-fired power plants: we’d need stuff that is currently science-fiction like cold fusion. This is not only because of the problem of sunk costs, but because electricity from solar and wind is not “dispatchable” on demand. It is only available when and where the sun is shining and the wind is blowing. If you want it on demand, you’re going to have to store it (or transport it thousands of miles) and that’s going to raise the price.

Most will tell you that the answer to this problem is taxation of dirty energy or an outright ban, alongside subsidy of the clean. A carbon tax, judiciously applied, can tip the scales in favor of renewables until they are able to beat fossil energy outright. New fossil sources and infrastructure can be prohibited and revenue from the taxes can be used to pay for research into new technology, efficiency improvements, and subsidies for consumers. But now one is talking about something other than a New Deal, blazing the way to a more highly productive capitalism in which profits and wages can rise together. There are 1.5 trillion barrels of proven oil reserves on the planet, according to some calculations—around $50 trillion worth if we assume a very low average cost per barrel of thirty-five dollars. This is value that oil companies have already accounted for in their mathematical imaginings. If carbon taxes or bans reduce that number tenfold, fossil capitalists will do everything they can to avoid, subvert, and repeal them. The problem of sunk costs again applies. If you slaughter the value of those reserves, you might, perversely, bring down the cost of fossil fuels, encouraging more consumption and more emissions, as oil producers scramble to sell their excess supply in countries without a carbon tax. For reference, there is about $300 trillion of total wealth on the planet, most of it in the hands of the owning class. The global Gross Domestic Product, the value of all the goods and services produced in a year, is around $80 trillion. If you propose to wipe out $50 trillion, one-sixth of the wealth on the planet, equal to two-thirds of global GDP, you should expect the owners of that wealth to fight you with everything they have, which is more or less everything.

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Like a thousand-page novel with a MacGuffin or stylistic outrage on every page, the Green New Deal presents a challenge for critics. There are just so many levels on which it will never work. There is an infinity of worlds in which the GND fails—a million President Sanderses or, with more urgency, Ocasio-Cortezes presiding over the disaster. One might write an entire essay, for example, about its political impossibility given the complete saturation of the US state by corporate interests and a party-system and division of powers that lists badly to the right. Another essay about how, even if it were politically possible, outlays on the order of several trillion dollars per year would most likely wreck the dollar, driving up projected costs. An essay about vested interests and the war they’d wage. An essay about how, even if you cleared both those hurdles, the history of recent monetary interventions into the economy–$4.5 trillion injected into the economy during Obama’s tenure by the Fed’s quantitative easing, $1.5 trillion for Trump’s cuts—indicates that the Green New Deal will struggle to encourage corporations to spend this money as intended, on investment in green infrastructure, rather than funneling it straight into real-estate and stocks, as has happened in all these prior cases.

It’s easy to get lost in the weeds here and lose sight of the essential. In each of these scenarios, on each of these sad, warming planets, the Green New Deal fails because capitalism. Because, in capitalism, a small class of owners and managers, in competition with itself, finds itself forced to make a set of narrow decisions about where to invest and in what, establishing prices, wages, and other fundamental determinants of the economy. Even if these owners wanted to spare us the drowned cities and billion migrants of 2070, they could not. They would be undersold and bankrupted by others. Their hands are tied, their choices constrained, by the fact that they must sell at the prevailing rate or perish. It is the class as a whole that decides, not its individual members. This is why the sentences of Marxists (and Marx) so often treat capital as agent rather than object. The will towards relentless growth, and with it increasing energy use, is not chosen, it is compelled, a requirement of profitability where profitability is a requirement of existence.

If you tax oil, capital will sell it elsewhere. If you increase demand for raw materials, capital will bid up the prices of commodities, and rush materials to market in the most wasteful, energy-intensive way. If you require millions of square miles for solar panels, wind farms, and biofuel crops, capital will bid up the price of real estate. If you slap tariffs on necessary imports, capital will leave for better markets. If you try to set a maximum price that doesn’t allow profit, capital will simply stop investing. Lop off one head of the hydra, face another. Invest trillions of dollars into infrastructure in the US and you’ll have to confront the staggeringly wasteful, slow, and unproductive construction industry, where laying a mile of subway can be twenty times as expensive and take four times as long. You’ll have to confront the earthen monsters of Bechtel and Fluor Corp., habituated to feeding at the government trough and billing fifty dollar screws. If this doesn’t chasten you, consider the world-historical inefficiency of the US military, the planet’s biggest oil consumer and, unsurprisingly, also the planet’s main oil cop. The Pentagon is an accounting black hole, into which the wealth of the nation is ploughed and from which no light emerges. Its balance sheet is a blank.

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I suspect many advocates of the Green New Deal know all this. They don’t really think it will happen as promised, and they know that, if it does happen, it won’t work. This is probably why there’s so little concrete detail being offered. Discussion so far has largely revolved around the question of budgeting, with the advocates of Modern Monetary Theory arguing that there is no upper bound on government spending for a country like the US, and tax-and-spend leftists firing back with all sorts of counter-scenarios. The MMT advocates are technically correct, but they discount the power that owners of US debt have to determine the value of the dollar, and therefore prices and profits. Meanwhile, critics of the Green New Deal confine their discussion to the least problematic aspects. Don’t get me wrong, budget items on the order of tens of trillions of dollars are a big deal. But securing the bag is hardly the biggest problem. Implementation is where it really dies, and few advocates have much to say about such details.

The Green New Deal proposes to decarbonize most of the economy in ten years—great, but no one is talking about how. This is because, for many, its value is primarily rhetorical; it’s about shifting the discussion, gathering political will, and underscoring the urgency of the climate crisis. It’s more big mood more than grand plan. Many socialists will recognize that mitigation of climate change within a system of production for profit is impossible, but they think a project like the Green New Deal is what Leon Trotsky called a “transitional program,” hinged upon a “transitional demand.” Unlike the minimal demand, which capitalism can easily meet, and the maximal demand which it clearly can’t, the transitional demand is something that capitalism could potentially meet if it were a rational and humane system, but in actuality can’t. By agitating around this transitional demand, socialists expose capitalism as an extraordinarily wasteful and destructive coordinator of human activity, incapable of delivering on its own potential and, in this case, responsible for an unimaginable number of future deaths. So exposed, one might then safely proceed to do away with capitalism. Faced with the resistance of the capitalist class and an entrenched government bureaucracy, officials elected around a Green New Deal could safely, with the support of the masses, move to expropriate the capitalist class and reorganize the state along socialist lines. Or so the story goes.

I’ve always despised the transitional program concept. I think, for starters, that it’s condescending, presuming that the “masses” need to be told one thing in order, eventually, to be convinced of another. I also think it’s dangerous, with the potential to profoundly backfire. Revolutions do begin, often, where reforms fail. But the problem is that the transitional demand encourages you to build institutions and organizations around one set of goals with the hope that you can rapidly convert them to another when the time comes. But institutions are tremendously inertial structures. If you build a party and other institutions around the idea of solving climate change within capitalism, do not be surprised when some large fraction of that party resists your attempt to convert it into a revolutionary organ. The history of socialist and communist parties is reason for caution. Even after the Second International betrayed its members by sending them to slaughter each other in the First World War, and even after a huge fraction split to form revolutionary organizations in the wake of the Russian Revolution, many members of the party and its network of unions continued to support it, out of habit and because it had built a thick network of cultural and social structures to which they were bound by a million and one ties. Beware that, in pursuit of the transitional program, you do not build up the forces of your future enemy.

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Let’s instead say what we know to be true. The pathway to climate stabilization below two degrees Celsius offered by the Green New Deal is illusory. Indeed, at present the only solutions possible within the framework of capitalism are ghastly, risky forms of geo-engineering, chemically poisoning either the ocean or the sky to absorb carbon or limit sunlight, preserving capitalism and its host, humanity, at the cost of the sky (now weatherless) or the ocean (now lifeless). Unlike emissions reductions, such projects will not require international collaboration. Any country could begin geo-engineering right now. What’s to stop China or the US from deciding to dump sulfur into the sky, if things get hot enough and bad enough?

The problem with the Green New Deal is that it promises to change everything while keeping everything the same. It promises to switch out the energetic basis of modern society as if one were changing the battery in a car. You still buy a new iPhone every two years, but zero emissions. The world of the Green New Deal is this world but better—this world but with zero emissions, universal health care, and free college. The appeal is obvious but the combination impossible. We can’t remain in this world. To preserve the ecological niche in which we and our cohort of species have lived for the last eleven thousand years, we will have to completely reorganize society, changing where and how and most importantly why we live. Given current technology, there is no possibility to continue using more energy per person, more land per person, more more per person. This need not mean a gray world of grim austerity, though that’s what’s coming if inequality and dispossession continue. An emancipated society, in which no one can force another into work for reasons of property, could offer joy, meaning, freedom, satisfaction, and even a sort of abundance. We can easily have enough of what matters—conserving energy and other resources for food, shelter, and medicine. As is obvious to anyone who spends a good thirty seconds really looking, half of what surrounds us in capitalism is needless waste. Beyond our foundational needs, the most important abundance is an abundance of time, and time is, thankfully, carbon-zero, and even perhaps carbon-negative. If revolutionaries in societies that used one-fourth as much energy as we do thought communism right around the corner, then there’s no need to shackle ourselves to the gruesome imperatives of growth. A society in which everyone is free to pursue learning, play, sport, amusement, companionship, and travel, in this we see the abundance that matters.

Perhaps breakthrough decarbonizing or zero-emissions technologies are almost here. One would be a fool to discount the possibility. But waiting for lightning to strike is not a politics. It’s been almost seventy years since the last paradigm-shifting technology was invented—transistors, nuclear power, genomics, all date from the middle of the twentieth century. Illusions of perspective and the endless stream of apps notwithstanding, the pace of technological change has slowed rather than accelerated. In any case, if capitalism suddenly finds it within its means to mitigate climate change, we can shift to talking about one of the other ten reasons why we should end it.

We cannot keep things the same and change everything. We need a revolution, a break with capital and its killing compulsions, though what that looks like in the twenty-first century is very much an open question. A revolution that had as its aim the flourishing of all human life would certainly mean immediate decarbonization, a rapid decrease in energy use for those in the industrialized global north, no more cement, very little steel, almost no air travel, walkable human settlements, passive heating and cooling, a total transformation of agriculture, and a diminishment of animal pasture by an order of magnitude at least. All of this is possible, but not if we continue to shovel one half of all the wealth produced on the planet into the maw of capital, not if we continue to sacrifice some fraction of each generation by sending them into the pits, not if we continue to allow those whose only aim is profit to decide how we live.

For now, a revolution is not on the horizon. We’re stuck between the devil and the green new deal and I can hardly blame anyone for committing themselves to the hope at hand rather than ambient despair. Perhaps work on legislative reforms will mean the difference between the unthinkable and the merely unbearable. But let’s not lie to each other.

*Note: An earlier version of the essay stated the emissions of shipping as 17 percent. Thanks to Alyssa Battistoni for the correction.

[Jasper Bernes is Managing Editor of Commune. He is the author of The Work of Art in the Age of Deindustrialization (Stanford, 2017) and two books of poetry: We Are Nothing and So Can You, and Starsdown. He lives in Berkeley with his family.]

Extinction Rebellion Training, or How to Control Radical Resistance from the ‘Obstructive Left’

May 6, 2019

By Cory Morningstar

 

 

“New Power” – “The ability to harness the connected crowd to get what you want”

– Jeremy Heimans, co-founder Purpose/Avaaz, B Team Expert

 

Above: XR local coordinator training document. Diagram: The “US” circle on the top signifies Extinction Rebellion. The middle circle identifies “mostly obstructive” political activists (“hard left”) that must be bypassed in order to reach the bottom circle. The bottom circle represents the non-political citizens, the target audience of XR.

Background

Extinction Rebellion (XR) officially launched on October 31, 2018. On November 2, 2018, a video was uploaded to the Extinction Rebellion YouTube account. The video documents the training session held by XR co-founder Roger Hallam: “This was filmed at the Extinction Rebellion Local Coordinator training in Bristol. Roger Hallam explains some the key dynamics of building a mass movement from the level of personal resilience to creating system change.”

Here, it is critical to remind oneself, that this is the XR mass organizing model for the mobilization of a global citizenry. Consider between the official launch on October 31, 2018, in the UK, to December 6, 2018, it grew to over 130 groups, across 22 countries. By January 29, 2019, the Extinction Rebellion groups spanned across 50 countries. On April 27, 2019 XR reported they were nearing 400 branches globally.

The global expansion is being led by Margaret Klein Salamon [Source], founder of The Climate Mobilization, who launched the Extinction Rebellion US Twitter account on October 31, 2018 – the same day as the launch of Extinction Rebellion in the UK. The Extinction Rebellion demands are not only complementary to The Climate Mobilization’s emergency strategy now in motion; they are a mirror image of it with the slogan, “Tell the Truth”. [Further reading: The Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg – for Consent: The House is On Fire! & the 100 Trillion Dollar Rescue, ACT IV]

Training the XR Local Coordinators

Above: Extinction Rebellion co-founder Roger Hallam

During the training session, Hallam draws a chart with three circles. The small circle on the top signifies Extinction Rebellion – people that want to get things done. The middle circle is quickly identified as the contentious one. This circle identifies the “mostly obstructive”, highly political, a “hard left”, which must be bypassed in order to reach the bottom circle. The bottom circle, the largest in size, represents the non-political citizens, the target audience of XR: “The people who’re shitting themselves and want something to be done but aren’t highly political.” [Source: XR Local Coordinator Training]

Hallam:

“I’m just going to finish on something that’s a bit of a taboo subject, okay? But it’s another major issue you’re going to find when you organize, which is difficult, political people.

 

Okay, so I’m going to do a little chart here.

 

You usually find, like most of us people in this room, that are really political, but we’re really practical because we want to get some things done. Okay?

 

And then below us, in inverted commas, there’s another group of people that are really political and don’t want to get things done, because they’re so political. (lots of laughter). I will separate those people out in a minute.

 

And then below that, this is like a thousand times bigger, they really want to do something well there actually not political, you see what I mean.

 

These people really want to get things done. Then they go down here and try to involve these people, and these people basically grind it to death.”

Hallam speaks of the dangers posed by the “extreme hard left” viewpoints, “extreme intersectionalism” (“we need to be all perfect and that sort of stuff”), extreme desire for diversity, “extreme veganism”, etc. His examples are deliberately misleading and ridiculous. His mention of anarchism provokes more laughter.

Hallam concedes “and often they’re right” yet has zero interest in empowering this group to further empower the bottom “non-political” masses targeted by XR. Rather, his aim is to recruit the ones that can be persuaded into adopting pragmatism, while silencing those that refuse to conform.

In the Rebellion business, ethics isn’t a driving force, rather it is a detriment:

“Look, all the most effective movements have a central concept and that concept is balance. Balance the pragmatic need and the ethical imperative to change society versus the need to be eternally ethical.”

The message is clear – target the practical and pragmatic. Distance yourself from the self-centered “purists”.

“They’re [the 20%) not actually interested in political effectiveness. They’re interested in a political approach that makes them feel good.”

Although XR claims, “We are working to build a movement that is participatory, decentralised, and inclusive” – this runs in stark contrast to XR’s own conduct:

“The name of the game is to bypass these people, or at least recruit the little bit of them that get it … and go down here. And that’s how we’ve managed to mobilize thousands of people in three months. By having a public meeting. And if the public meeting is constructed around participative principles, you won’t have the SWP [Socialist Workers Party] guy standing up at the end. Everyone’s feeling good and he does a rant about how it has to be socialist, otherwise it’s rubbish. Which brings everybody down. It happens over and over again. And how we do that, we don’t have a Q & A. Q&A’s encourage nerdy people and absolutists, (laughter), we all know this, right? I mean you can have a Q&A if you’re super confident and you’re in a group of people that are generally like, in the real world, but if you have a public meeting 8o% of the people will be normal people, who are basically interested in the issue, and 20% of the people will be political absolutists. And they will there to appropriate your energy.”

And this ideology upheld by Hallam is the very foundational ideology being taught, encouraged and nurtured by Extinction Rebellion. Hallam: “This is how you mobilize lots of people.”

This , in essence, forms the key strategy of Extinction Rebellion. To isolate radical voices and to dominate the narrative. While targeting the non-practical and pragmatic. A narrative and an orchestrated campaign that serves the ruling class. To give a faux sense of inclusion, while mocking those who have, first and foremost, an allegiance to the Earth. Framing those who recognize that the very capitalist system destroying all life on our finite planet, will not and cannot be magically reformed to save us, as “political absolutists”. As Hallam effectively frames those identified in the middle circle as not “normal”, he seeks assurances from his students by ending sentences with a pleasant “yeah?” and “okay?”, at which point – largely due to the power of conformity in a group setting – they agree. Laughter ensues. There is no challenge to Hallam’s diatribe. The deliberate framing of those that do not conform as “obstructive” is effective social engineering.

Although Extinction Rebellion takes no position against capitalism, Hallam has no issue with taking a swipe at socialism. Using the Mondragon experiment in Spain as an example, Hallam explains that the central concept must be balance, “not socialism or anything”.

These are the main points captured by/for the XR Local Coordinators:

“They’re [the middle group] not interested in political effectiveness, they’re interested in things being perfect and good. This is not a personal judgment, but it won’t help.”

 

The majority, to be herded like cats (GCCA/TckTckTck – Global Call for Climate Action) are “[T]he people who’re shitting themselves and want something to be done but aren’t highly political.”

 

“Don’t have a Q & A. This allows the extreme people who want it to be one way to bring everyone else down.”

 

80% are normal people [and] 20% political absolutists. There to appropriate your energy.”

 

“It’s not about climate change information, it’s about the emotional way that we say it – needs to create that emotional response, personal reactions are incredibly powerful.”

For XR leadership, the enemy of Rebellion is not corporate dominance such as Unilever or Volans (as recently confirmed by XR Business). The enemy of Rebellion is not the capitalist economic system devouring everything in its path. The enemy of the Rebellion is the radical activist, prepared to defend the Earth “by any means necessary”.

 

Pacifism as Pathology

“In certain situations, preaching nonviolence can be a kind of violence. Also, it is the kind of terminology that dovetails beautifully with the ‘human rights’ discourse in which, from an exalted position of faux neutrality, politics, morality, and justice can be airbrushed out of the picture, all parties can be declared human rights offenders, and the status quo can be maintained.” —  Arundhati Roy, How to Think About Empire

Hallam recommends to his students that they study: “The Psychology of Persuasion“, “The Radical Think Tank” (“How to Win“), and “This is an Uprising” by Mark Engler (with glowing forewords by 350.org’s Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein).

Here, is another orchestrated and ongoing effort to further pacify the working class in servitude to the state. One would be wise to toss “This is an Uprising” and instead read “Bloodless Lies: Book Review of This is an Uprising” (November 7, 2016). This is an excellent example of what those enmeshed in the non-profit industrial complex do not want you to read.

Rather than educating citizens why it is paramount that we become revolutionaries in order to protect the last vestiges of the natural world, Hallam encourages his newly-minted coordinators to embrace the role of “generalists”. [XR Generalists: “run meetings, be good with people, know how society changes, etc.; Revolutionary theorists – hard work is already done!; Books to read – This is an Uprising (Mark Engler)”] [Source]

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The Elites in Service to Capital

As touched upon in the conclusion of the Manufacturing Greta Thunberg for Consent series, ACT VI, Extinction Rebellion ties to some of the world’s most powerful NGOs at the helm of the non-profit industrial complex (Avaaz, 350.org, Greenpeace et al.). A largely white-led movement serving white power.

XR co-founder Gail Bradbrook, is also highly influential with decade-long ties to the tech industry. In his workshop, Hallam chuckles when he laments, “Like Gail, she’s got these connections with the elites. She’s on the phone with George [Monbiot]”. Bradbrook’s “connections with the elites” is no exaggeration. Featured in “The Financial Times”, the prestigious publication writes of Bradbrook: “Clad in a crimson coat and matching hat as she dashes between fundraising discussions with a London hedge-fund owner and meetings to rally Extinction Rebellion volunteers…” Indeed, “activism” has never been so en vogue, and a £50,000 donation by a hedge-fund owner to Extinction Rebellion [Source], raises no eyebrows whatsoever. It is safe to say that the hallowed out remnants of Western environmentalism have reached a new stage of commodification and normalization of such. This is not rebellion. This is business. Of course Bradbrook is not the only elite at the helm.


Above: Farhana Yamin at the prestigious Extinction Rebellion headquarters [Photo: Vice]

Farhana Yamin is “one of the movement’s leading voices” in Extinction Rebellion (Financial Times). Yamin who “spent 27 years in UN climate negotiations” and “helped midwife the 2015 Paris Agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions” serves as a board member/trustee to Greenpeace. [Source: The rise of Extinction Rebellion, The Financial Times, April 12, 2019]

“Yamin, the international lawyer, who is also a trustee of Greenpeace UK and will soon take up an advisory role at the World Wildlife Fund, wants to build a bridge with existing organisations to forge a much bigger “movement of movements”. “We need to tap into the new form of leadership that’s being asked of us now,” she says. [Source: “Extinction Rebellion, inside the new climate resistance”, The Financial Times, April 10, 2019]

Former Vogue “climate warrior” (2015), Yamin is the founder and CEO of Track 0: “Track 0 is an independent, not-for-profit organization serving as a hub to support all those transitioning to a clean, fair and bright future for future generations around the world compatible with the goals set out in the Paris Agreement. We convene leaders and provide strategic research, training, advice, communications and networking support to governments, businesses, investors, philanthropies, communities and campaigns run by civil society.”

Partners of Track 0 include GCCA (TckTckTck), CAN (Climate Action Network), Avaaz, ClimateWorks (The Climate Group, We Mean Business), The Rockefeller Foundation, E3G (founder of GCCA), The Prince of Wales Corporate Leaders Group, European Climate Foundation and Chatham House. [Full list]

Advisory members of Track 0 include Sharon Johnson, “CEO Havas Media Re:Purpose”. This is incredible yet not surprising as Havas created the 2009 TckTckTck campaign a decade ago. Other advisory members include Betsy Taylor (served on boards of One Sky which merged with 350.org, Ceres, The Climate Mobilization, etc.), and Bernice Lee, Director, Climate Change at World Economic Forum.

One can glance through the Track 0 “Individuals & Organizations on Track” section to understand who is considered “on track” for “net zero” by Yamin et al. Certainly not those obstructionists found in Hallam’s middle circle.

In addition to founding Track 0, Yamin is an associate fellow at Chatham House and a member of the Global Agenda Council on Climate Change at the World Economic Forum.

Above: Track 0, Twitter

Yamin served as an adviser to the European Commission on the emissions trading directive from 1998-2002, later serving as special adviser to Connie Hedegaard, EU Commissioner for Climate Action. “She is lead author of three assessment reports for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on adaptation and mitigation issues. She continues to provide legal, strategy and policy advice to NGOs, foundations and developing nations on international climate change negotiations under the UNFCCC.” [Source]

As discussed in “A Decade of Strategic and Methodical Social Engineering”, while the International Policies and Politics Initiative and GCCA controlled the “movement” at COP15,  the same forces also controlled the message via the Carbon Briefing Service (CBS). The news service was launched by Jennifer Morgan (WWF, WRI, Greenpeace,etc.) and Liz Gallagher (E3G) in late 2014 with additional funding by the ClimateWorks Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, the Oak Foundation, the Villum Foundation and Avaaz. [Source] Yamin was a participant of the invitation only group. [Source]

In 2015 Yamin attended a week-long retreat hosted by Avaaz. [Source]

Those who have read my past work as well as the Greta series, will know Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund are both founders of GCCA (TckTckTck) – and are both at the helm of this faux movement. These NGOs and others at the helm of the non-profit industrial complex are tasked with creating another “Paris moment” momentum needed for the coming financialization of nature to be implemented in 2020 (#NewDealForNature) – as well as the unlocking of monies needed for the fourth industrial revolution (to save capitalism itself).

Above: Track 0, Twitter

Above: Avaaz endorsement by Christiana Figueres [Source: Avaaz website]

Above: Track 0 highlights, September 24, 2014

Here we witness the social-organizational psychology experts grooming tomorrows “new champions“, “global shapers” and “new power” “thought-leaders” as determined and ultimately dictated by the world’s most powerful elites. In the 21st century, psychology is not only an extremely important tool in influencing public opinion, it is now considered to be perhaps the single and most important tool. The necessity to comprehend the mental processes, desires and social patterns of the populace at large cannot be understated. Working in lock-step with controlled media and the best marketing executives foundation money can buy, today’s faux activists, thought-leaders and media lapdogs are the very mechanisms of modern-day perception.  – The Pygmalion Virus in Three Acts [2017 AVAAZ SERIES | PART II]

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[Further reading: The Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg – A Decade of Social Manipulation for the Corporate Capture of Nature, ACT VI – Crescendo]

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In 1966, Stokely Carmichael stated: “And that’s the real question facing the white activists today. Can they tear down the institutions that have put us all in the trick bag we’ve been into for the last hundreds of years?”

This is the real question facing legitimate activists today. Are we tearing down the institutions, or keeping them propped up? Extinction Rebellion has been tasked with the propping up of the very institutions we must dismantle. There is a reason manufactured “environmentalists” and celebrities are recognized as key influencers. It is a deliberate undertaking that Hallam recommends “Rules for Revolutionaries” (based on US Senator Bernie Sanders’s presidential run), rather than highlighting true revolutionaries such as Marilyn Buck, Malcolm X, or the land defenders on the frontlines today. The ones who often receive no press (until they are murdered). The ones that would belong to Hallam’s middle circle. It is a burying of radical political resistance. A reframing of resistance – into an obedient compliance. Note that Rules for Revolutionaries is written by Zach Exley, current advisor to US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It is notable that praise for the book, from a bevy of authors includes Robert B. Reich, author of Saving Capitalism.

The influencers for the ruling classes are worth their weight in gold.

We Mean Business – Top Ten Climate Change Influencers, Twitter

British actress/celebrity Emma Thompson, Extinction Rebellion festivities, April 19, 2019

Emma Thompson for Global Optimist. The Climate Optimist campaign was launched in 2017 by The Climate Group in partnership with Futerra

Emotion – Not Information

Another critical imperative Hallam highlights for mass mobilization is “emotion – not information”. Hallam laments that the people who will lead the “rebellion” will be young people:

“The last thing to reiterate is the emotion – not the information … so the people that are going to lead this rebellion are going to be young people, 14 & 15 year olds …omg – a 14 year-old is in tears, right?, on television, about what’s happening…”

Thus, a key strategy for XR was (and continues to be) “How to engage with younger people – youth mobilisation, talks in schools/colleges, figuring out how to engage on ‘youth’ social media.” [Source]

We Mean Business is ecstatic over the climate strikes. As is Christiana Figueres.

Figueres, an anthropologist, economist and analyst having studied at London School of Economics and Georgetown University presided over the negotiations that led to the 2015 Paris Agreement. For this achievement Ms. Figueres has been recognized as “forging a new brand of collaborative diplomacy”. With almost four decades of experience in multilateral negotiations, high-level national and international policy, coupled with extensive involvement in the corporate/private sector, in 2016, TIME magazine named Figueres one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Today, Figueres serves as vice-chair of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy; member of the board of directors of ClimateWorks; World Bank Climate Leader; B Team leader, leader of Mission2020 (“exponential transformation” focusing on six sectors that will play a key role in municipal governments and “Green New Deals”); and board member of the World Resources Institute.

Christiana Figueres (top right corner) podcast series: It’s Going To Be Tremendous

When the oppressor and the oppressed find themselves cheering as one, this is indeed “tremendous” for the elites. Yet, as the designs of the ruling elites take hold, which is already well under way, we will soon recognize that the citizenry themselves were grossly manipulated to usher in a nightmare that would only further their own demise.

[Further reading: So who exactly is Christiana Figueres?]

Above: The We Mean Business newsletter, April 30, 2019

April 30, 2019: “Welcome to the April edition of the We Mean Business coalition newsletter…Amid fresh waves of protests demanding accelerated climate action, more and more businesses and policy makers are stepping up and delivering the level of systemic change required to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

We Mean Business – “a coalition of organizations working with thousands of the world’s most influential businesses and investors.” The founding partners of We Mean Business are: Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) (full membership and associate members list), CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), Ceres, The B Team, The Climate Group, The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group (CLG) and World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

The Climate Group was incubated by Rockefeller Brothers Fund as an in-house project that later evolved into a free-standing institution.

Together, these groups represent the most powerful – and ruthless – corporations on the planet, salivating to unleash trillions of dollars for the fourth industrial revolution. This, coupled with the financialization of nature, will create new markets, reboot global economic growth, and most importantly, rescue the global economic capitalist system that is destroying our biosphere.

We Mean Business, February 20, 2019: “People are desperate for something to happen.” Twitter

Christiana Figueres, B Team Leader [Source]. The B Team is a founder of We Mean Business

Emotion To Mask Information: BioEnergy Carbon Capture Storage

“The Institute has a unique and unrivalled membership including governments, global corporations, private industry and academia. Amongst its representation, are the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Japan and Australia, and multinationals such as Shell, ExxonMobil, Toshiba, Kawasaki and BHP.” — The Global CCS Institute, website

In the May 3, 2019 Extinction Rebellion newsletter (#20), the subject line reads “Parliament meets our first demand!” In the body of text: “There’s plenty of more obvious good news, though – most prominently Parliament’s declaration of climate and environment emergency.” What XR does not share with the public is that the UK CCC climate legislation was a victory for the carbon capture and storage (CCS) industry. In similar fashion to the financialization of nature, carbon capture legislation and projects are making huge strides behind closed doors – with zero opposition.

Global CCS Institute, May 2, 2019, Twitter:

“The Institute welcomes @theCCCuk report, which recommends that the UK commits to cutting its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to net-zero by 2050 and highlights the crucial role #carboncapture and storage needs to play to achieve this goal.  #NetZeroUK #climateaction”

A zero emissions industrial civilization is not possible. For the continuance of industrial civilization, CCS is a necessity.  This is the promise of unabated business as usual. The future of energy will be dominated by the burning of our remaining forests, coupled with CCS. Akin to the depleted uranium left for future generations to contend with, CCS will inject the increasing CO2 into the ravaged Earth. This is the gift to be left to Greta Thunberg and the youth she inspires.  A gift to span generations.

More than this, “net zero” does not mean zero emissions. And it never did. Yet another inconvenient truth is that ‘The terms ‘net zero emissions’ and ‘carbon neutrality’ are interchangeable. This is the beauty of language and framing.

“Carbon Neutral is a term used to describe the state of an entity (such as a company, service, product or event), where the carbon emissions caused by them have been balanced out by funding an equivalent amount of carbon savings elsewhere in the world.” Carbon neutrality is most often sought/achieved through carbon offsetting (purchasing offsets, trading and projects).

Question by Richard Branson’s The Elders NGO to Farhana Yamin (2014): How is carbon neutrality different to ‘net zero emissions’?

Answer by Yamin: “The terms ‘net zero emissions’ and ‘carbon neutrality’ are interchangeable.”

Q: Global News, Dec 3, 2018: What is net-zero emissions?

A: Catherine Abreau, executive director of the Climate Action Network: “In short, it means the amount of emissions being put into the atmosphere is equal to the amount being captured.”

Militarism – as one of the key drivers of climate change, ecological devastation, and death of millions, remains a non-issue. The global “green new deals” guarantee further imperialism and an escalation in wars. These realities have been deliberately and successfully removed from the conversation. They are buried in the 20% circle with the purists.

“The evidence makes it clear. CO2 needs to be removed from the atmosphere, known as carbon dioxide removal (CDR), using negative emissions technologies (NETs) to meet global warming targets. Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is emerging as the best solution to decarbonise emission-intensive industries and sectors and enable negative emissions.” — March 14, 2019, Bioenergy and Carbon Capture and Storage, The Global CCS Institute

 

“[F]or BECCS technology to be truly effective in reducing CO2 emissions, massive tracts of arable land need to be cultivated and these are not always available, or easily utilised.” The Global CCS Institute

Emotion to Mask Information: The Financialization of Nature

The next phase for the implementation of the financialization of nature commenced April 29, 2019 with the IPBES Global Assessment gathering (the IPCC for Biodiversity).

The “first global biodiversity assessment in 14 years”, will be released on May 6, 2019, with the expected “summary for policymakers” section. We can expect a top “scientific endorsement” for a full package of financialization of nature policy tools, including global metrics for valuation, commodification and offset schemes.

The five-day gathering was held last week at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, ending on May 4, 2019.

There were no protests.

Above: John Elkington: Co-founder of Volans, B Team expert (founded by Richard Branson, The B Team is a co-founder of We Mean Business), member of the WWF Council of Ambassadors, and Extinction Rebellion Business signatory (along with Gail Bradbrook, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion)

Together, these deals read like the biggest land grab since Britannia ruled the waves. This is the big deployment of measurement and financial instruments that the corporate sector, finance and ruling classes have developed. Every little bit of sequestration will be used to further satisfy natural capital ambitions under the guise of climate protection.

The public face of this grotesque undertaking are the campaigns “New Deal For Nature” and “Voice For The Planet”. These are being led by WWF – co-founder of GCCA. The NGOs comprising the GCCA have played the lead role in orchestrating the global mobilizations for climate change over the past decade, in full servitude to their funders.

The “Voice For the Planet” is especially egregious, as it is presented by the World Economic Forum “Global Shapers” youth group.

The gross exploitation of youth for capital expansion rivals only the gross exploitation of Indigenous peoples. The appropriation and utilization of Indigenous imagery to promote market solutions is long documented.

The world’s most powerful corporations and NGO partners appropriate Indigenous culture imagery for emotive branding as they unleash and uphold market “solutions” which further displace Indigenous peoples. They undermined the 2010 Indigenous led People’s Agreement and then buried it. They speak of Indigenous protection – while they actively promote “green” marketing schemes and “green new deals” that will further displace Indigenous peoples. That will further accelerate the ongoing genocide of Indigenous Peoples.

Promotional illustrations/video for Green New Deal by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis for support of the New Green Deal

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They exploit the global youth to steal the natural world the beneath their feet.

They exploit the love for nature – to further enslave nature.

As GCCA co-founder WWF aids and abets Indigenous displacement, beatings and deaths, under the guise of conservation, GCCA partners are silent. This is the normalizing of a continued colonization repackaged under the guise of conservation and “green”.

Industrial civilization – is the enemy of the natural world. We defend industrial civilization – or we defend the planet. This is the choice. The question is, which side are we on?

And the answer to that question is perhaps the most terrifying thing of all.

 

“No One Believed in Capitalist Schemes and Promises Any More” part of the new “Scenes from the Revolution” series. Acrylic on canvas, 30″x30″, Artist: Stephanie McMillan

 

 

[Cory Morningstar is an independent investigative journalist, writer and environmental activist, focusing on global ecological collapse and political analysis of the non-profit industrial complex. She resides in Canada. Her recent writings can be found on Wrong Kind of Green, The Art of Annihilation and Counterpunch. Her writing has also been published by Bolivia Rising and Cambio, the official newspaper of the Plurinational State of Bolivia. You can support her independent journalism via Patreon.]

 

Further resources:

“Trees don’t grow on money – or why you don’t get to rebel against extinction”, by Tim Hayward

Climate Capitalists, by Winter Oak Press

“This Changes Nothing, The Paris Agreement to Ignore Reality”, by Clive Spash

Video: Selling Extinction, by Prolekult

Between the Devil and the Green New Deal

“New Power” – “The ability to harness the connected crowd to get what you want” – Jeremy Heimans, co-founder Purpose/Avaaz, B Team Expert

Trees Don’t Grow on Money – or Why You Don’t Get to Rebel Against Extinction

Tim Hayword 

April 29, 2019

 

Money doesn’t go on trees, and although people can make money out of trees, they cannot make trees out of money. This much may seem platitudinous, but it is worth keeping in mind.

What is true of trees is true of the natural world as a whole, including the human beings that are part of it. Nature is real; money is an abstraction. If money seems real that is because our institutions and practices are so deeply premised on beliefs in it. There is an important sense in which those institutionalized beliefs – in crediting it with a certain value – make money real; but it is not real in the way the natural world is real. If a bank goes bust, if a whole economy crashes, the social upheaval that follows may be immense, but life goes on – people will pick themselves up and start again (and some people, meanwhile, will likely have found a way to profit from it!). By contrast, if a species goes extinct, if an ecosystem collapses, then there is no prospect – certainly not on human timescales – of a recovery. The threat of extinction to our own species is the ultimate threat.

Extinction Rebellion has given publicity to critically important concerns of our time – the ecological crises as exemplified by dangerous climate change and biodiversity loss.[1] But it also gives rise to some perplexity.

A circumstantial puzzle is how an apparently spontaneous social movement of protest comes to have the energetic backing of big business interests and even to receive notable support from influential sections of the corporate media.

On deeper reflection, what does it even mean to stage a rebellion against extinction? Rebellions usually involve a group of people rising up to protest or overthrow another group that wields unjust or illegitimate power over them. How can you ‘rebel’ against extinction? It is not as if you can choose to disobey the laws of nature.

The website that asserts the copyright © Extinction Rebellion, states certain demands directed at government.[2] The moral clarity of their seemingly simple message, however, could be deceptive.[3]

Two key demands are: “halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.”

These may sound like goals that any ethically rational person could wholeheartedly endorse, and yet, as a recent critical study by Cory Morningstar has demonstrated, what their pursuit entails does not necessarily correspond to what people might imagine.[4]

First, reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero does not mean eliminating emissions, or even necessarily reducing them at all. It refers to the possibility of engaging in other activities to offset them. The offsetting may be accomplished by various means of  technological fixes and/or accounting innovations, but what these means have in common is that they will be profitable to engage in. As was made explicit some years ago in the influential Stern Review of climate economics, a policy approach allowing emissions offsetting creates great opportunities for businesses and the financial sector.

‘Capital markets, banks and other financial institutions will have a vital role in raising and allocating the trillions of dollars needed to finance investment in low-carbon technology and the companies producing the new technologies.’ (Stern 2006: 270)

‘The development of carbon trading markets also presents an important opportunity to the financial sector. Trading on global carbon markets is now worth over $10bn annually’. (Stern 2006: 270)

By attaching a price to carbon, a whole new commodity is created over which the distribution of rights represents a new income stream. So it’s good for shareholder profits, but what about nature? How confident can we be when its protection relies on a new multi-billion dollar market involving the same people responsible for the global financial crisis?

The other key goal, to halt biodiversity loss, sounds like one that should not allow wriggle room for profiteers to game it. And yet, consider for a moment how one might propose – even with the best and purest of intentions – to bring biodiversity loss to a halt. The sheer extent of activities around the world that are undermining habitats and ecological systems is so great and complex, it is hard to conceive what exactly could and should be done, even given determined political will to do it. The proposed policy in reality, therefore, is not literally to stop doing everything we are currently doing that compromises biodiversity. Instead, it once again centres on putting a price on the aspects of nature that market actors attach value to. The premise is that if we accept it is not possible to halt the destruction of biodiversity in some places, it is still possible to protect and even re-create biodiversity in others. Thus, just as with carbon emissions, the ideas of substitution and compensation play a pivotal role: biodiversity loss may not be literally halted, but it can be offset.

And how is biodiversity loss to be offset?[5] Here comes the familiar move: in order to weigh the loss in one place against a putative gain in another they must be subjected to a common scheme of measurement. Biodiversity being something of value, the way to record how much value any instance of it has is taken to be by reference to monetary price. Hence we learn that ‘biodiversity conservation and the related concept of “natural capital” are becoming mainstream. For instance, the Natural Capital Coalition is developing the economic case for valuing natural ecosystems and includes buy-in from some of the biggest players in business, accountancy and consulting. And the financial industry is moving toward more responsible investing.’[6]

Yet this unidimensional quantification of value completely disregards the point that biodiversity is a complex and quintessentially qualitative phenomenon. It is of the essence of biodiversity that its biotic components and their environments are diverse. Being diverse means being different in ways that cannot be reduced to the measure of a single common denominator. Hence the essence of biodiversity is an irreducible plurality of incommensurables. The idea of ‘compensating’ for loss of biodiversity of one kind by the protection or enhancement of biodiversity of another kind elsewhere means disregarding the very meaning of biodiversity.[7]

The idea of biodiversity offsets, then, does not have its rational basis in ecological concern but in the expansionary logic of capitalist profit seeking.

A rebellion that really has any prospect of fending off disaster for our biosphere and ourselves needs to be based on a proper understanding of who and what needs to be rebelled against.

Extinction Rebellion publicity material says that it is apolitical. Yet there is nothing apolitical about the real struggle that is required for people to seize the power currently concentrated in the hands of plutocrats. And to those who say – rightly – that ecological issues are greater than mere politics, it may be responded that this is why we cannot let it be “dealt with” by those who currently so misuse their political power.

Asking governments to enact policies that corporate and financial backers are lining up to draw massive profits from is not what the people protesting against impending ecological disaster have in mind. It needs therefore to be clear that you can’t actually protest against disaster. You need to take on those who are driving us towards it. So you need to know who they are and how they are doing it. It’s a good idea to look carefully at who is shaping the demands you are being enlisted to make, and what exactly they entail.

land-savings

[1] For other, less discussed but no less significant problems, see Rockström et al. (2009).

[2] Why they are directed at government without reference to the central role of powerful corporations is not completely obvious, and nor is the reason why the site also says the protest is ‘apolitical’, a question to be returned to.

[3] We humans, especially the worst off – and not even to mention members of other species we share the planet with – certainly have powerful reasons for concern at the ecological crises being provoked by our collective global exploitation of the biosphere. But what “we” can do about that is nothing like as clear.

In fact, there is no “we” that can act as a collective. There are multifarious different people, groups, tribes, classes, and nations that have competing interests. “We” are not organized to respond in a concerted, ethical and rational manner.

On the other hand, a very small group of people – who alone command as much of the world’s aggregate resources as half the rest of the world’s population put together – is very well coordinated. At the highest levels of corporations and financial institutions they hold great power. With their immense wealth comes control over those – including politicians, journalists and various “thought leaders” – who exercise greatest influence over publics. Their power to manipulate public perceptions vastly exceeds most people’s awareness of it.

So we – ordinary members of the public, whether old or young – can protest and engage in symbolic actions and go green in aspects of our lifestyle, yet to real little effect. In our heart of hearts we may know this, and yet we may still believe it important to try and to act as we think all should. So when the makings of a real social movement appear, we energetically embrace the opportunity it appears to present for making some more noticeable impact. Hence the enthusiastic welcome of Extinction Rebellion, in which school kids and pensioners have united around the moral and existential cause.

But what sort of ‘rebellion’ is it that is conjured into action by a consortium of corporate-backed organizations and given extensive positive coverage in the corporate media? The commitments and beliefs of the multifarious individuals and groups on the ground are various and sincerely held, and they do tend to converge around something like the headline goals stated in the publicity material ©Extinction Rebellion. But the exact goals being endorsed focus on two very specific demands: “halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.” And in this post I am arguing that it is very easy to be misled into thinking these capture what we really want to achieve, whereas in reality they may in fact capture our acquiescence in the further extension of corporate power over the natural world and our own lives.

[4] Morningstar’s set of six articles makes for somewhat demanding reading, and her purposes have sometimes been misunderstood or misrepresented on the basis of apparently rather casual perusal. Certainly, this has been noticeable in comments on Twitter, so I tried to distil some of her key points, without her detail or her critics’ distractions, in a Twitter thread: https://twitter.com/Tim_Hayward_/status/1120748645069021185

[5] Some useful introductory sources are World Rainforest Movement: http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/tag/green-economy/; Clive Spash 25 minute talk: https://vimeo.com/33921592; and the collection of material here: http://naturenotforsale.org/author/berberv/

[6] Richard Pearson, ‘We have 15 years to halt biodiversity loss, can it be done?’, The Conversation, 26 Oct 2015 https://theconversation.com/we-have-15-years-to-halt-biodiversity-loss-can-it-be-done-49330.

[7] For a pithy presentation of the basic ideas here see the short video ‘Biodiversity offsetting, making dreams come true‘ https://vimeo.com/99079535.

References

Rockström, Johan et al. (2009), ‘A Safe Operating Space for Humanity’, Nature 461: 472–75.

Stern, Nicholas et al. (2006), Stern Review: The Economics of Climate Change, London: HM Treasury.

WATCH: Selling Extinction

WATCH: Selling Extinction

Prolekult Films

Published April 26, 2019

“Selling Extinction is a short introduction to the capitalist notion of a “Green New Deal”, the NGOs that support it and the recent Extinction Rebellion protests in London.” [Running time: 23:43]

 

[Prolekult is a Marxist film, writing and culture platform based in Birmingham, England. The project is presently run by James Bell (writing and narration) and Alex Bushell (editing and filming). The purpose of the project is to provide high-quality film content looking at world politics, culture and economics from a Marxist perspective. You can support them on Patreon and follow them on Twitter.]

REBELLION EXTINCTION: A CAPITALIST SCAM TO HIJACK OUR RESISTANCE

Winter Oak

April 24, 2019

 

Special report

XR logo

[UPDATE. WEDNESDAY APRIL 24 2019. FOLLOWING WIDESPREAD GRASSROOTS DISQUIET OVER THE XR BUSINESS WEBSITE, IT HAS BEEN TAKEN DOWN. WHAT THIS MEANS FOR XR AND ITS POSITION ON CAPITALISM IS NOT YET CLEAR. WE WILL PUBLISH FURTHER REPORTS AS INFORMATION COMES IN]

When Extinction Rebellion first burst into action in the UK last November, it felt as if something was finally going to change.

Their high-profile arrival on the political scene had a noticeable effect on awareness of environmental issues and gave people permission to speak more freely than before about our society and its relationship to nature.

Yes, there were many criticisms of XR tactics and language from the likes of the new Green Anti-Capitalist Front and activist Emily Apple.

But when this month’s big week of action in London got underway, with Waterloo Bridge and Oxford Circus blocked and Marble Arch occupied, it felt as if something important and radical was happening.

And perhaps it was, because, presumably, the vast majority of those who turned out, including the nearly 1,000 who were arrested, genuinely believe that our civilization needs to change course if life on this earth is to survive.

But the integrity of XR as an organisation was dealt a fatal blow on Easter Monday, when its Twitter account started plugging links to a new website called XR Business, which had been announced in a letter to The Times.

Among the signatories was Gail Bradbrook, director and shareholder of Compassionate Revolution Ltd and Holding Group member of XR. This is just not some separate support group, but an intrinsic part of the XR apparatus.

The very existence of the site was bad enough, but the home page was (and is) hideous. A corporate satellite view of Europe lit up like a Christmas tree. What sort of environmental movement would choose such imagery?

xrbusiness

We should have seen this coming. We had, after all, already read investigative journalist Cory Morningstar’s excellent digging into the “climate change” industry on her Wrong Kind of Green blog.

But somehow we wanted to give XR the benefit of the doubt and even naively plugged the London protests in our last bulletin.

The XR Business site, however, is a declaration of Rebellion Extinction. This is now officially an ex-Rebellion, shorn of all pretence of radicalism.

Instead, what we find is a list of “business leaders” who have identified environmental catastrophe as yet another get-rich opportunity.

And they are prepared to hijack and exploit people’s real love for life and nature in order to push their profiteering agenda.

First name on the list of these so-called “leaders” is Seb Beloe, partner at WHEB

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Seb Beloe

WHEB describes itself as “a positive impact investor focused on the opportunities created by the transition to a low carbon and sustainable global economy”.

It adds: “We focus on nine sustainable investment themes with strong growth characteristics, derived from providing solutions to major social and environmental challenges”.

On a page headed “thought leadership” WHEB announces that it is “actively involved” in organisations “at the leading edge of sustainable and responsible investment”.

These include the Global Impact Investing Network, which explains in turn on its website that it brings together “impact investors and intermediaries who have the capacity to invest and intervene at scale, making multi-million dollar investments and aggregating funds large enough to access institutional capital”.

Another XR “business leader” is Amy Clarke, co-founder of Tribe Impact Capital LLP, which boasts the snappy tagline “A New Wealth Order”.

XR-amyclarke
Amy Clarke

Clarke is very proud of having “spent time” at investment firm EY (“helping clients embrace industry disruption as an opportunity“), PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers), Microsoft, and the Bank of America.

Needless to say, Tribe Impact Capital shows little interest in challenging capitalism (the clue is in the name!) or in calling for degrowth. Its goal is, rather, “long-term positive impact and growth for everyone”.

XR “business leaders” John Elkington and Louise Kjellerup Roper, come from Volans Ventures Ltd.

They are involved in the Tomorrow’s Capitalism Inquiry backed by companies like Aviva Investors, The Body Shop International, Covestro, and Unilever, the massive transnational consumer goods company.

XR-paulpolman
Paul Polman

Paul Polman, until recently CEO of Unilever plc, is also on the XR roll of honour, in fact.

And Jeremy Leggett, very active in promoting XR Business online, is founder and director of Solarcentury Ltd, which names Unilever as one of its “partners”.

Another XR business groupie is Jake Hayman, whose Ten Years’ Time programme “is tailored for the next generation of high-net worth families who are looking to invest capital into ambitious new ideas rather than following the crowd to safe ground”.

It’s that c-word word again!

Another XR Business enthusiast for “green” technology is Samer Salty, co-founder and managing partner of the infrastructure and private equity fund manager, Zouk Capital LLP.

Its site tells us: “Zouk’s infrastructure strategy capitalises on the global shift to greater sustainability.

XR-samer-salty
Samer Salty

“The fund targets a diverse range of sectors across Europe, including emerging utility-scale battery storage projects as well as wind, solar, waste-to-energy, electric vehicles and geothermal”.

It was announced in February 2019 that Zouk is entering into exclusive negotiations to manage the UK Government’s £400m CIIF investment fund aimed at helping to increase the uptake of electric vehicles in the UK.

No vested interests involved there, then, nor with XR supporter Michael F. H. Bonte-Friedheim, CEO and founding partner of NextEnergy Capital, “the leading international solar investment and asset manager”.

XR Business also boasts the support of Tomas Carruthers, CEO of Project Heather: “We’re building a stock exchange for the 21st century. It’s time to add ‘impact’ to ‘risk and reward’”.

The key to understanding the XR phenomenon comes perhaps from its business backers Charmian Love and Amanda Feldman.

They are co-founders of Heliotropy Ltd, terming themselves “Builders of a brighter future”.

XR-heliotropy

On the surface everything seems yummy and wholesome. Explaining its name, the site says: “Heliotropy is a phenomenon in nature where certain plants (or parts, like flowers) grow in response to the stimulus of sunlight, so that they turn to face the sun.

“We believe humans are similarly motivated by the power of heliotropy. We will grow taller, faster and stronger when motivated by light, warmth and positivity, rather than fear and despair”.

Heliotropy says it is all about “Mobilising Movements”. It declares: “Today’s problems are interconnected, and movements must join forces to solve them. We are convening emerging leaders from global movements to imagine new ways of collaborating”.

But Heliotropy is a microcosm for the world of XR as a whole. Beneath the nicey-nicey surface lurks something rather nasty-nasty.

If you click on the section entitled “Reimagining Corporate Capital” you are taken to a site called Corporate Impact X.

XR-corporateimpactx

This explains: “Corporate Impact X is a practitioner-led project designed to support corporations in developing high impact venturing, collaboration and investment strategies”.

It offers a report called “Investing Breakthrough: Corporate Venture Capital”. Sadly the link does not work properly, though it does point the would-be investor towards Volans, the aforementioned buddies of XR, Tomorrow’s Capitalism and Unilever.

The link to a second report, “Beyond the B1nary – Delivering Profits and Purpose Through Corporate Venturing” does work.

The “Thank You for Reading” section here is extremely revealing:

“Thank you to Elizabeth Boggs Davidsen of the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF), of the Inter-American Development Bank Group, for managing this project and to the Inclusive Business Action Network (IBAN), a global partnership implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) for providing the funding. We are grateful for the support of Global Corporate Venturing and Saïd Business School, Oxford University”.

It adds that the project was developed and delivered by Charmian Love (CorporateImpactX), whose email is given as charmian@corporteimpactx.com

Just to be clear, this is Charmian Love of the fluffy-sounding Heliotropy Ltd, who is one of XR’s select band of business leaders.

XR-corporateventure
This Corporate Venturing project was developed and delivered by Extinction Rebellion’s Charmian Love. Well done Charmian!

It should be clear to anyone who has taken a look at the snarling capitalist agenda behind XR’s smiley eco-mask that they are not to be trusted.

If the movement is as democratic as it claims to be, it may still be possible for genuine environmentalists to wrest control of XR. Who knows?

Otherwise, decent people should get out as fast as they can and form new networks of resistance which fight to bring down the ecocidal industrial capitalist system, rather than to prop it up.

As the eco-activist Judi Bari put it: “There is no such thing as green capitalism. Serious ecologists must be revolutionaries”.

 

Extinction Rebellion or Socialist Revolution

Architects for Social Housing

April 24, 2019

By Simon Elmer

On Easter Sunday, after a week of protests and over a thousand arrests, Extinction Rebellion’s political circle coordinator, the climate change lawyer Farhana Yamin, announced that the week of protests in London would now be ‘paused’ as commuters went back to work and shop. This would show, she said – although she didn’t say whom it would be showing – that ‘we are not a rabble’.

Above: L-R: Jennifer Morgan, Greenpeace International, Al Gore, The Climate Reality Project, Generation Investment, Farhana Yamin, Track 0, Extinction Rebellion. Yamin helped “midwife” the Paris climate agreement

This is not language that anyone who has organised or participated in popular protest, and has seen their efforts dismissed as the actions of a ‘rabble’ by politicians, newspapers and the BBC the following day, would ever use. Its implications are that any popular protest that can’t be switched on and off by its leaders, or at least its lawyers, is a rabble. As such, the statement is taking great care to differentiate the Extinction Rebellion protests from, most contemporaneously, the 23 weeks of Gilets Jaunes protests in France.

And, indeed, where the protests of the Gilets Jaunes have been a genuinely popular uprising that has avoided leadership and allegiance with already existing political parties or unions, has so far refused to be dragged to the negotiating table by offers of concessions from politicians, and has physically stood up to the violence of the French police, Extinction Rebellion, in contrast, appears to have a leadership – although it’s not clear who that is at present – and, according to its official announcement, is directing its protests specifically towards the negotiating table. It is also very deliberately non-confrontational with the British police.

This appears to be based on a prior agreement with the Metropolitan Police Force. From both Extinction Existence spokespersons and the Met there have been widely reported statements about the light-touch the police have taken towards protesters. There have been claims, from people I spoke to on Waterloo Bridge on Wednesday night, that there are simply ‘too many’ protesters for the Met to clear; that the ‘passivity’ of the protesters, as one tabloid reported, has disarmed the police; that police have been ‘really, really nice’, as I heard a protester with a microphone tell the listening crowd from a parked truck, to those they have arrested; and that the police ‘don’t do kettling anymore’.

Now, this is all rubbish. The Met alone has 50,000 officers, and even without the various other armed forces the Mayor of London and UK government can draw on, they could quite easily clear away the protests on Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus, Parliament Square and Marble Arch in a matter of hours, and they could do so, as they usually do, under the cover of darkness having sealed off the relevant streets from the press, media and public. They could also quite easily charge each and every protester, no matter how passive they are, and issue them with a dispersal order making their return to the sites of protest a criminal offence. And I can report from first-hand knowledge that a cop spraying someone in the face with CS-gas or punching them in the throat compels even the most peace-loving hippy to raise his or her arms in protection, and that’s all it requires for a charge of ‘Assault PC’. Extinction Rebellion requires that all participants ‘maintain nonviolent discipline both externally and internally’, which may be very admirable but does not dictate how violent the police are in return. As for not kettling anymore, that’s exactly what the police did in Oxford Circus, although it didn’t stop them allowing Emma Thompson through (and presumably back again) to address the press from the pink yacht moored there.

Extinction-rebellion-peaceful

So the otherwise inexplicable circumstances that have permitted a truck and a yacht to block two of the major thoroughfares in London for a week can only be explained as a result of a prior agreement between the leadership of Extinction Rebellion and the Metropolitan Police Force, most likely through the accommodations of the London Mayor, who likes to depict himself as an environmentalist while doing nothing to curb CO2 emissions and authorising the destruction of our green spaces for new developments.

Something very similar to this happened in July 2017 when the Tories Out! demonstration was held in London, and the whole thing kicked off in Portland Place, just up the road from Oxford Circus, with an even bigger truck than the one Extinction Rebellion parked on Waterloo Bridge. At the time I wondered how the organisers of the march had got permission for such an occupation, but it quickly became clear that, behind its ostensibly ‘grass-roots’ and popular appearance, this was a Labour Party-organised event that had appropriated the language and spectacle of street protest to serve its parliamentary aspirations.

not_one_day_more-11

Earlier that year, in February 2017, a demonstration against Donald Trump, also purporting to be popular, was held in Parliament Square, on which had been erected a huge stage, with a lineup of musical acts, performance poets, a gospel choir and speakers from the Houses of Parliament. Again, I was struck by the fact that this ‘protest’ was in a Government Security Zone, where the Metropolitan Police Force has free reign to arrest and otherwise assault you on the mere suspicion that you’re about to do something anti-social let alone illegal, and that holing a march there requires prior authorisation from the London Mayor – who had in fact given it. And, once again, it turned out that this ‘popular’ protest was in fact organised by Owen Jones, the Socialist Workers Party, the People’s Assembly against Austerity, Unite the Union, Momentum, and other fronts for the Labour Party.

To its credit, Extinction Rebellion has distanced itself – at least verbally – from any political party or pre-existing organisation, such as the Green Party or Greenpeace, and in this it has common ground with the Gilets Jaunes. And in doing so it is strategically different from the so-called ‘grass roots’ Labour fronts that have reduced the equally effusive housing movement of 2015 to the obedient acolytes for Jeremy Corbyn of 2019. But apart from its adoption of the spectacle of street protest, which has presumably drawn into these protests far more people than are aligned with the umbrella organisation, Extinction Rebellion also clearly has more than a few quid behind it. The first thing I thought when I saw the pink yacht moored in Oxford Circus was not: ‘What a great way to block the busiest high street in London!’, but: ‘Who’s got a yacht to spare?’ (though I have no doubt it will be returned by the police to its rightful owner – the right to property being the only human right observed in the UK). So, where’s the money coming from?

On its website Extinction Rebellion says that its raised £180,000 in the past six months, some of it from donors, a lot from grant funds, even more from crowdfunding. This doesn’t strike me as anything like enough to pull off the stunts it has. And even if it is, it doesn’t explain the far greater influence it has on the London Mayor, the Met, Transport for London, the media, and all the other forces of the establishment that might otherwise have been expected to rally in organising opposition to it, as they have for instance, in silencing the protests against London’s housing crisis and homelessness.

A clue might have been let slip last Thursday when, on the advertisement that is wrapped around the front and back pages of the London Evening Standard, beneath the headline: ‘Fourth day of chaos from climate protests’, Adidas has taken out a double-page spread with the sales-pitch: ‘We can’t change the world in one day. But we can take the first step.’ This was followed by a masterpiece of salesmanship specifically designed to appeal to the youth market:

‘For the past 6 years we have been working on a product that you’ll never throw away. A shoe that is made to be remade. You buy them – wear them – and when you’re done you give them back to us. We remake them. It is our first step. A statement of intent to end the problem of waste. We have a problem with plastic waste. We buy, we use, we throw away. But there is no away. Every piece of plastic ever made is still in existence somewhere on our planet. In our ecosystem. Poisoning our earth. Before this makes-use-waste e-system changes everything, we must change it.’

 

For some time now I’ve been arguing that protesting is the new clubbing, and just as multinational corporations very quickly turned the underground scene of acid house and rave into a form of stadium rock in the 1990s, so the same corporations – which shape and mould our desires and future far more than the Houses of Parliament – have cottoned on to the fact that in the 2010s the newest popular social phenomenon on which they can capitalise – and in doing so subsume that phenomenon into a reaffirmation of capitalism – is protest.

Why else, if not in order to appeal to a teenage consumer market, has Extinction Rebellion chosen a 16-year old Swedish girl in pigtails to be its global spokesperson? Protesters might argue that in doing so they are using the strategy of mass marketing against itself, but in that struggle there can be only one winner, and its name is Adidas, Nike, McDonalds, Coco-Cola, etc.

But besides finding new markets for their environment-consuming commodities, why else would multi-national corporations be interested in climate change?

As the West loses its grip on the world, and the economies of formerly impoverished countries like India, Brazil and China expand at exponential rates, the demand on the world’s resources increases. As we watch the Communist Party of China buy up vast tracks of land in Africa and across the world, the call on such rapidly industrialising economies to halt production, curb expansion and reduce emissions is more likely to find acceptance amongst a European and North American middle class experiencing a drop in its standard of living for the first time since the Second World War if that call is aligned with green politics, in which the approaching disaster (for us) of the West losing its economic pre-eminence in the world is equated with an environmental catastrophe the whole world is facing.

Emmanuel Macron tried something similar in France when he justified the raising of taxes for the working classes by arguing that it was necessary to save the environment. And, to their credit, the Gilets Jaunes saw through and rejected his attempt to capitalise on the environmental crisis. The vast sums of money donated to the rebuilding of Notre Dame de Paris in France by France’s billionaires in the same week that Extinction Rebellion has been calling for a drastic reduction in CO2 emissions in Britain has revealed the extent of the French President’s lies.

Extinction Rebellion’s demands to have our global climate and ecological state declared an ‘emergency’, to ‘act now’ to reduce carbon emissions, and to form a ‘citizens assembly’ to oversee that action, attributes the environmental disaster we’re facing to abstract forces. But in reality, the changes to the environment that threaten our continued existence are not caused by ‘humankind’ or ‘greed’; nor are they a product of the ‘anthropocene’. This newly popular term, which has been adopted by Extinction Rebellion, attributes the current state of the natural world to the humanist, anthropological and a-historical abstraction called ‘man’, with which environmentalists and feminists alike are so disgusted. However, a growing body of research argues that the environmental changes threatening us are not a product of man but of capitalism, for which the corrective term ‘capitalocene’ goes some way to attributing the ecological deterioration of the world to the historical particularity of capitalist relations of production and capitalism’s structural need to expand in order to generate profit.

Despite this, nowhere in their demands have Extinction Rebellion named this economic cause or called for its change, presumably because doing so would align them with social and political forces from which Farhana Yamin’s negative description of a ‘rabble’ has taken care to distance them. As Extinction Rebellion state in their list of principles: ‘We avoid blaming and shaming – we live in a toxic system, but no one individual is to blame.’

Some of us disagree. The rabble that, for the 23rd week running, have protested in France against the capitalism they have identified as the cause of the rising inequality to which they are not alone in being subjected, and of which the environmental disaster we are facing is a bi-product, saw through Macron’s attempt to place that disaster in the service of monopoly capitalism. As the leadership of Extinction Rebellion meets with politicians this week to discuss their demands, will they risk alienating the class and corporate interests that have given them this platform by aligning their environmental demands with the social, political and economic revolution that alone is capable of averting this disaster?

What is becoming increasingly clear is that capitalism will either be overthrown and superseded or it will lead us to extinction as a species. If it is not to be just another ideology of liberalism to which Extinction Rebellion unfortunately bears numerous points of resemblance, an environmentalist project must at the same time also be a revolutionary project.

Further reading:

The Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg – A Decade of Social Manipulation for the Corporate Capture of Nature [ACT VI – Crescendo]:

http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2019/02/24/the-manufacturing-of-greta-thunberg-a-decade-of-social-manipulation-for-the-corporate-capture-of-nature-crescendo/

 

Do Philanthropists Actually Love the Planet?

Books & Ideas | La Vie des Idées


December 11, 2018

by Edouard Morena

 

“Philanthropic foundations are now publicly acknowledged and celebrated as essential actors in the climate struggle. But for what results? As Edouard Morena shows, these foundations actually perpetuate the dominant economic order—an order that many hold accountable for the deepening climate crisis.”

 

Dossier: Who Will Save the Planet? Capitalism, climate change and philanthropy – A collaboration between the US magazine Public Books and La Vie des idées/Books&Ideas.

 

Beyond the calls for urgent action and pledges to commit more resources to the fight against climate change, a noteworthy feature of the first One Planet Summit, held in Paris on December 12, 2017, was the importance given to philanthropists and philanthropic foundations. Far from simply occupying a secondary or supporting role there, foundations were publicly acknowledged and celebrated as essential actors in the climate struggle alongside governments (especially cities and local governments), businesses, investors, and civil society organizations. Bloomberg Philanthropies funded and orchestrated the event.

On the morning of the summit, President Macron hosted a meeting at the Élysée Palace with a group of leading philanthropists, including Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, and Richard Branson, where he insisted on philanthropy’s unique role as catalyst of climate action. He also called upon the group

“to convene a task force to target and expand philanthropy’s role in the accelerated delivery of the ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement, including through the development of partnerships with governments and public finance agencies.”

The group of 15 or so individuals that attended the Élysée meeting were representative of a small group of well-endowed private foundations that dominate the climate philanthropy landscape. [1] In 2012, according to one report, the combined spending of the OakHewlettPackardSea ChangeRockefeller, and Energy foundations made up approximately 70 percent of the estimated 350 to 450 million philanthropic dollars allocated annually to climate mitigation. These “big players” share common characteristics. In line with the liberal tradition, they view themselves as neutral agents acting in the general interest and present climate change as a “solvable problem” requiring pragmatic, nonideological, bipartisan, and scientifically grounded solutions.

Yet upon closer scrutiny, their funding priorities and approaches to philanthropy reflect a distinctive and ideologically charged worldview, one premised on a belief that the market knows best and that individual self-interest is the best rationale for saving the climate. For most of these large climate funders, environmental protection and a liberal economic order are not only compatible but mutually reinforcing. Behind their altruistic, pragmatist veneer lies a genuine desire to solve the climate crisis while simultaneously perpetuating the dominant economic order, an order that many observers hold responsible for the deepening climate crisis.

Continuity and Change

Philanthropy has a long history of involvement in the climate debate. In the 1980s, established liberal foundations such as the Rockefeller, Ford, and Alton Jones foundations and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund funded scientific research on “global environmental change” and helped to establish the global processes and multilateral institutions that continue to underpin the international climate regime: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Guided by the belief that, given the right multilateral institutions, along with adequate resources and information, a global and mutually beneficial solution could be reached, they supported the formation of a “global civil society” space through funding to NGOs and think tanks (e.g., World Resources InstituteClimate Action Network), support for research and communications, and the convening of international symposiums.

Over the course of the late 1990s and early 2000s, various contextual factors led some of the leading climate funders to abandon the climate debate, others to reassess and adapt their strategies of engagement. These factors included the US federal government’s reluctance to commit to ambitious mitigation targets, conservative-backed climate denialism’s effective scaremongering tactics and attacks against climate science, and growing reservations about the UNFCCC’s ability to actually deliver an ambitious and legally binding agreement in the post-Kyoto context.

This period also coincided with the arrival of a new brand of philanthropists and foundations that would go on to reshape the climate funding landscape. While retaining core liberal principles and values, they promoted a distinctive theory of change when it comes to philanthropic giving in the climate field.

A number of these newcomers were products of the technology and financial boom of the period. This was the case of the Schmidt Family Foundation, launched in 2006 by the CEO of Google, and the Gordon and Betty Moore foundation, launched in 2000 by the cofounder of Intel. Other newcomers include the Sea Change Foundation and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, both of whose founders made their fortunes in finance. For these new foundations, a number of which were based in the San Francisco Bay Area, philanthropic engagement in the climate debate represented a means of distinguishing and legitimizing themselves in the public sphere and within US elite liberal circles. These circles were traditionally dominated by East Coast elites whose fortunes originated in the industrial boom of the early 20th century and whose names were often associated with older, well-established liberal foundations like Ford and Rockefeller.

This new brand of “philanthrocapitalists” or “venture philanthropists” mobilize “their business acumen, ambition, and ‘strategic’ mindset” to solve the climate challenge. [2] foundations also set up the International Policies and Politics Initiative, in 2013, to “highlight opportunities for philanthropic collaboration, joint strategy development, resource pooling, and grant-making alignments in the arena of international policies and politics of climate change” [3] and create the conditions for a global climate agreement in Paris.

Through their joint efforts, the most active climate funders sought to create an environment conducive to a societal shift toward a low-carbon economy. From the outset, investors and businesses—and not states—were viewed as the key stakeholders in this process.

Priority was given to policies, initiatives, and projects that sent positive signals to the markets and created incentives for financial and business actors to invest in the green economy. Efforts were also deployed in the field of research and development, to support the large-scale deployment of new, clean technologies and industrial processes. A few months ago, major climate funders such as the Hewlett and MacArthur foundations have decided, for instance, to support research on and the deployment of controversial carbon capture and storage technologies.

A Veneer of Respectability

Despite their comparatively limited resources—climate philanthropy represents less than 0.1 percent of total climate finance—foundations’ combined efforts over the past 30 years have had a significant impact on the international climate debate. As I have argued elsewhere [4] they played an active and influential role in the lead-up to the Paris COP.

As the ECF wrote shortly after the Paris Conference, “although we should be careful not to overstate our role, it is important to recognize that the climate philanthropy community’s activities prior to and at the COP helped to lay the basis for the outcome.” [5] As the 2017 One Planet Summit illustrates, world leaders and other key players in the international climate debate also recognize the central importance of philanthropic foundations.

Has their influential role contributed to curbing climate change? According to the UN, the years from 2015 to 2018 have been the four hottest on record. While climate philanthropy cannot be blamed for rising temperatures, its efforts to curb climate change must be critically scrutinized. We must hold it accountable for its role in developing and promoting the voluntary, market-based, and bottom-up approach that presently dominates the international climate agenda and that has clearly not delivered the required results. As Marc Gunther wrote in a recent op-ed, “if philanthropy is to be judged by its outcomes—and how else should it be judged?—climate philanthropy has failed.”

How then can we explain the fact that, isolated voices such as Gunther’s notwithstanding, relatively few people have raised questions about climate philanthropy’s role and responsibility in the ongoing—and deepening—climate crisis? I believe that three main reasons can be advanced to explain this.

The first reason relates to the fact that many prominent climate NGOs and networks—Climate Action NetworkFriends of the Earth350.org—partially or entirely rely on philanthropic money to function. The limited available resources, especially for organizations active at the international level, and particular nature of the climate philanthropy landscape—dominated by a handful of well-endowed and closely aligned foundations—means that climate funders have a strong influence on the civil society space.

In Europe, for instance, the ECF—which channels and redistributes funds from a number of prominent climate funders—acts as an unavoidable access point for anyone wishing to seriously engage in the climate debate. From a prospective grantee perspective, “the ability to shop at one source—rather than making the same pitch three or more times,” as Mark Dowie observed about the US-based Energy Foundation, can be advantageous. [6]However, by channeling a large proportion of available climate funds, there is also a risk of concentrating power in a single organization and, hence, toward a single approach—to the detriment of groups that offer alternative visions or wish to pursue alternative strategies. The ECF and other large climate funders become de facto reference points and, given their domineering position, difficult ones to openly challenge.

The second reason relates to businesses’ and governments’—especially in high-emitting countries—reluctance to take decisive action on climate change. With the blessing of many governments and international organizations, foundations increasingly appear the only ones capable of breaking the “climate deadlock.” From a criticizable weakness, their lack of accountability and legitimacy becomes a unique and commendable asset.

This idea is promoted by funders themselves. As George Polk, the former chairman of the executive committee of ECFpoints out,

“One advantage foundations have in the policy arena is being shielded both from the political cycles that interrupt policy continuity and coherence and from the market barriers that get in the way of readily available solutions like energy efficiency upgrades in buildings. This means that foundations can often build bridges over tricky waters that governments and firms hesitate to cross.”

The third reason relates to liberal foundations’ broader function in US and global politics. As Inderjeet Parmar has convincingly argued in Foundations of the American Century, liberal foundations have traditionally played an influential role in transforming America from an “isolationist” nation into a global superpower, and in promoting and anchoring liberal ideals both domestically and internationally. [7] The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, by undermining the Party-led UNFCCCprocess, has further strengthened their position in this regard and, by extension, within the climate debate. Trump’s isolationist stance has prompted liberal philanthropists and foundations, as the Bloomberg example illustrates, to step up their efforts in a climate debate that historically forms a symbolic battleground in the war opposing liberals and conservatives.

Climate funders act not only as defenders of the climate but also as guardians of the liberal order, a US-inspired liberal order that is currently being challenged by Trump and other hard-line conservatives across the globe.

Our House Is Burning

It is in this increasingly unstable US and global political context, and in the face of a worsening climate crisis, that philanthropic foundations are increasingly looked to and celebrated as “climate champions.” As we have shown, the consensus surrounding climate philanthropy masks a longstanding, active, and ideologically motivated involvement in the climate debate. Such a consensus also downplays foundations’ errors and responsibilities. To paraphrase former French president Jacques Chirac in 2002, our house is indeed burning down, only now we stare, uncritically, at philanthropists.

Further reading

Mark Dowie, American Foundations : An Investigative HistoryMITPress, 2001 
Marc Abélès, Les Nouveaux Riches : Un Ethnologue dans la Sylicon Valley, Odile Jacob, 2002

List of Philanthropic Foundations

The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation
ClimateWorks 
The Energy Foundation
The Ford Foundation
The William & Flora Hewlett Foundation
The W. Alton Jones Foundation
The David & Lucile Packard Foundation
The Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation
The Oak Foundation
Rockfeller Brothers Fund
The Rockfeller Foundation
The Schmidt Family Foundation
The Sea Change Foundation

 

[Edouard Morena is Lecturer in French politics and history at the University of London Institute in Paris (ULIP). Over the past six years, he has been researching non-state actors’ involvement in international environmental and development processes – and in particular the role of philanthropic foundations. He is the author of The Price of Climate Action: Philanthropic Foundations in the International Climate Debate (Palgrave, 2016) and co-editor (with Stefan Aykut and Jean Foyer) of Globalising the Climate: COP21 and the Climatization of Global Debates (Routledge, 2017).]

An Indigenous Critique of The Green New Deal

PacificStandard

March 4, 2019

By Malcolm Harris

 

(Photo: Ron Whitaker/Unsplash)

The most common introductory example we use when we teach kids about interdependent ecosystems is insects. They may seem gross and small compared to the charismatic megafauna, we say, but insects play all sorts of important roles: pollinating plants, breaking down organic matter, feeding bigger animals. Without insects the whole web would collapse. I don’t think many of us who have given this lesson actually contemplated the mass death of the world’s insects as a possibility, imminent or otherwise. We should have.

A new study in the journal Biological Conservation takes a look at the global status of entomofauna (insects), and the picture is not good. The topline finding is that over 40 percent of insect species are threatened with extinction. That’s a situation hard to describe without sounding like a heavy metal concert billing. (Megadeath, Ecocide, etc.) And the lesson about the ecosystem wasn’t wrong: Without insects, Earth’s environment as we’ve become familiar with it is toast. Even our apocalyptic thought experiments are coming true.

The trouble with combating climate change, we’re often told, is that it’s hard to imagine, hard to see. The philosopher Timothy Morton calls climate change a “hyperobject”: It’s so widely distributed and conceptually sticky that we can’t really perceive it except in partial local instances. “When you feel raindrops falling on your head, you are experiencing climate, in some sense. In particular you are experiencing the climate change known as global warming,” Morton wrote in 2010. “But you are never directly experiencing global warming as such.” Humans don’t have the right sensory faculties.

Maybe it was possible to think that way in 2010, but, less than a decade later, I think many of us have developed the ability to see global warming. We are no longer empiricists who route information through our senses to our brain for analysis; we’re conspiracy theorists, every raindrop or sunbeam encountered as hyperobject. Now the totality hits us first. At the beginning of this essay, I didn’t say the insects were being killed off by global warming—but didn’t you assume it?

To people who don’t feel the omnipresence of global warming, people like me sound off. Not necessarily because they refuse to believe the data, I think, but because some of us are no longer bothering with the scientific method. We’re not analyzing evidence to develop a theory; we are convinced of what’s happening before we hear the particulars. Our question is not whether today’s forecast reflects climate change, but how. And we’re not wrong.

Since global warming is a fact and in one way or another an imminent threat to the well-being of every living thing known to mankind (including us), I think our increased ability to perceive it represents progress. The positivist method is not the only way to produce knowledge, and though “science” gets a lot of credit for sounding the alarm on climate change, it has been comparatively slow on the uptake. If we pay any attention at all, we can see and feel and hear that nature’s cycles are broken, and some peoples have understood for centuries that a society built on extraction and accumulation would burn the whole planet alive. Western science has a lot of nerve showing up just as we’re on the precipice of a biospheric death spiral to brandish some graphs and offer to block out the sun just a little.

“Indigenous peoples have witnessed continual ecosystem and species collapse since the early days of colonial occupation,” says Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, an activist/scholar from the Nishnaabeg nation and author most recently of the book As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance. “We should be thinking of climate change as part of a much longer series of ecological catastrophes caused by colonialism and accumulation-based society.”

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson.

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson.

(Photo: Courtesy of Leanne Betasamosake Simpson)

From this perspective, it’s a mistake to think of global warming in historical isolation, as merely the carbon cycle gone awry thanks to an excess of CO2 emissions. Climate change is the name we’ve given to the constellation of ecological crises that emerge as capitalist modernity runs out of new places to despoil.

For the insects, today’s crisis stems not just from temperature change (which is, of course, a contributing factor) but also from other associated environmental practices: the conversion of land for intensive agriculture, the widespread use of pesticides, and the reckless introduction of invasive species. Matt Shardlow, chief executive officer of the conservation non-profit Buglife, told the Guardian that unconsidered factors like light pollution could be more harmful to insects than we’re imagining. These aren’t problems that can be solved by decarbonization, no matter how many green jobs are attached. Our whole way of life has to change.

Insofar as mainstream American society reckons with indigenous intellectual/scientific practices, it’s as “non-overlapping magisteria,” i.e. if they’re true then they’re not true in a way that would directly challenge our truths. So when Simpson speaks of the need for “ethical systems that promote the diversity of life,” I think most Americans would understand “diversity of life” as an unquantifiable abstraction that we can translate into liberal ideals like interpersonal tolerance and non-conformity. But what if we took it literally instead?

The mass death of insects is an observable and measurable disrespect for the diversity of life on Earth, to which we can and should compare other patterns of human practice.

“Indigenous knowledge systems are rigorous, they pursue excellence, they are critical and comprehensive,” Simpson says. “The global roots of the climatic crisis and the exploitation of natural resources are issues indigenous peoples have been speaking out against for hundreds of years.” The proof is in the pudding: Colonists were warned by word and weapon that a system of individual land ownership would lead to ecological apocalypse, and here we are. What more could you ask from a system of truth and analysis than to alert you to a phenomenon like climate change before it occurs, with enough time to prevent it? That is significantly more than colonial science has offered.

The devaluation of indigenous political thought has nothing to do with its predictive ability. The ruling class produced by accumulation society simply will not put its own system up for debate. Thus the climate change policies we discuss—even and perhaps in particular the Green New Deal—take for granted not just the persistence of commodity accumulation, but its continued growth. As the economists Enno Schröder and Servaas Storm complain in their analysis of proposals for “green growth”: “The belief that any of this half-hearted tinkering will lead to drastic cuts in CO2 emissions in the future is plain self-deceit.” Economic output as we understand it, they say, must shrink.

If the indigenous critique sounds like an anti-capitalist one, it should. Drawing on the work of communist Glen Coulthard from the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, Simpson recognizes the language of Marxism as her own. “There is an assumption that socialism and communism are white and that indigenous peoples don’t have this kind of thinking,” she writes. “To me, the opposite is true.” In As We Have Always Done, Simpson makes a gentle case for non-native comrades to follow this lead. For their part, contemporary Marxist scholars like Silvia Federici and Harry Harootunian have been reassessing doctrinaire ideas about the progressive nature of capitalism and the supposed backwardness of indigenous societies, a line of revision that’s supported by recent changes to anthropological assumptions regarding the sophistication of pre-colonial technology and social organization.

Green growth, even in its social-democratic versions, isn’t going to save the insects. But there exist alternative examples for the left, and for the world. While America’s beehives are bare, Cuba’s are thriving, which led to the tragicomically western Economist headline: “Agricultural backwardness makes for healthy hives.” “We” are just now reactivating the millenia-old Mayan practice of harvesting from wild stingless bees (“meliponiculture”), which used to produce an unimaginably large variety of honeys. These entomological examples support Nikitah Okembe-RA Imani’s audacious claim about the history of African thought: Those who study what has been suppressed can see the future.

As for what is to be done about climate change, there’s no real mystery. “The issue is that accumulation-based societies don’t like the answers we come up with because they are not quick technological fixes, they are not easy,” Simpson says. “Real solutions require a rethinking of our global relationship to the land, water, and to each other. They require critical thinking about our economic and political systems. They require radical systemic change.”

To this end, Simpson has called for a shift in focus from indigenous cultural resurgence to the anti-colonial struggle for territory. That unsurrendered conflict has continued for hundreds of years, and we should view our living history in its firelight. The best environmental policy America can pursue is to start giving back the land.

 

[Malcolm Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia and the author of Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials.]

WATCH: Quiet Storm – Technology & Social Control

WATCH: Quiet Storm – Technology & Social Control

sub.Media

Published April 2, 2019

 

“We’re on the brink of a new era. In the coming years and decades, rapid advances in the fields of robotics, artificial intelligence, data analysis, nanotech, quantum computing, bio-engineering and 3D-printing promise to drastically restructure our societies – much as the steam-powered engine and personal computer did during earlier phases of capitalist development. Coming waves of automation are expected to eliminate the majority of current job categories, raising the spectre of widespread unemployment and the potential for newer, more sophisticated forms of economic servitude and social control. These transformations will take place under the watchful eyes of a high-tech surveillance state, aided by a new generation of AI-driven facial recognition software, and the further proliferation of networked ‘smart’ devices that record nearly everything we say or do.

Many of the technologies of tomorrow are being designed today in the universities and corporate R&D labs of Shenzen, Singapore and Silicon Valley, by scientists and engineers working at the behest of military contractors and multi-billion dollar tech companies. Claims that ‘technology is neutral’ ring hollow in a world dominated by powerful states and capitalist social relations. It’s clear to anyone keeping score that those who control and shape technological development and mass production are best situated to reap the benefits. But at the end of the day, capital and the state don’t hold a monopoly on innovation. There are many anarchists also working on building new technologies to help thwart our enemies and unlock new paths of resistance. And despite what you may have heard, the master’s tools can be used to dismantle the master’s home – provided the person swinging the hammer knows where to aim.” [Source: sub.Media] [Running time: 33:26]

 

 

Catastrophism, Disaster Management and Sustainable Submission

libcom

March 27, 2019

Originally published in April, 2008

 

 

In this book first published in 2008, Jaime Semprun and René Riesel examine the attempt by predominantly First World governments and NGOs to utilize the specter of an environmental apocalypse as an alibi to save “industrial civilization” by imposing a rationed form of “survival”, justified by a terroristic propaganda campaign based on fear, enforced by an expansion of the state’s coercive powers, and facilitated by the mass conformism and resignation that “industrial society” has induced in the population by creating an “anxiogenic environment” of “insecurity and generalized instability”; “[f]or the fears proclaimed by the experts … are in reality nothing but orders”.

Catastrophism, Disaster Management and Sustainable Submission – René Riesel and Jaime Semprun

“Even if liberty had entirely perished from the earth, such men would invent it. For them slavery has no satisfactions, no matter how well disguised.”

Étienne de la Boétie
Discourse on Voluntary Servitude

Preliminary Clarifications

The final extinction to which we are being dragged by the perpetuation of industrial society has over the last few years become our officially recognized future. Whether considered from the point of view of energy shortages, climate disruption, demographics, refugees, the pollution or sterilization of the environment, or the artificialization of life, from all of these points of view simultaneously or from a few others too, since there is no shortage of categories of catastrophism, the reality of the ongoing disaster or, at least, of the risks and dangers posed by this process, is no longer only grudgingly admitted; today, it is constantly being reported in detail by government and media propaganda. As for us, who were so often accused of apocalyptic complacency due to the fact that we took these phenomena seriously, or were branded as “passé” for having noted the impossibility of choosing between the reality and the promise of industrial mass society, we hereby announce that from this very moment on we shall desist from adding anything to the hideous scenes of total ecological crisis that are being depicted from so many angles by so many certified experts, in so many reports, articles, television programs, films and books, whose data is diligently compiled by government or international agencies and the relevant NGOs. These eloquent warnings, when they come to the chapter about how to respond to such pressing dangers, generally address their appeals to “humanity” and exhort it to “radically modify its aspirations and its way of life” before it is too late. Note that these injunctions are actually addressed, if one wants to correctly translate their pathetic moralizing into a somewhat less ethereal language, to government leaders, international institutions, or even a hypothetical “world government” that the situation will require. After all, mass society (that is, those who have been integrally formed by it, whatever their illusions in this respect may be) never talks about the problems it claims to “manage” except in terms that make its perpetuation a sine qua non. Thus, while the collapse is underway, it can only try to postpone for as long as possible the dislocation of the ensemble of desperation and madness that this society has become; it can conceive of no other way to do this, whatever anyone may say, than by reinforcing all means of coercion and making individuals submit more completely to the collectivity. This is the real meaning of all those appeals to an abstract “humanity”, the old disguise of the social idol, even if those who voice them, taking advantage of their experience in the University, industry or management (which are all the same thing, of course), are motivated for the most part by less lofty ambitions and only dream of someday being able to get a leadership position in an ad hoc group; meanwhile, significant parts of the population are prepared to volunteer for the dirty work of decontamination or the protection of goods and people.

We expect nothing from a putative “general will” (which is assumed to be good by those who invoke it, or at least susceptible to becoming good as soon as it is subjected to a severe enough reprimand to correct its illegitimate inclinations), any more than from a “collective consciousness of the universal interests of humanity” which at such a level has no way to form, not to speak of being put into practice. We therefore direct this text at individuals who are already opposed to the increasing collectivism of mass society and who have not ruled out associating with others in order to fight against this oversocialization. In this way we believe that we are being faithful, in our opinion more so than if we were to have ostensibly perpetuated its rhetoric or its conceptual framework, to the most authentic qualities of the social critique in the context of which we came of age forty years ago. Thus, regardless of its deficiencies, so abundantly evident in hindsight, or, if you prefer, in view of the disappearance of the movement which it sought to penetrate, the principle quality of that critique is the fact that it was the work of individuals without any specialty or authority backed by an ideology or by a socially recognized career (“specialized knowledge”, as they say now); individuals, therefore, who, having chosen a side, did not express themselves, for example, as representatives of a class that was preordained to carry out its revolution, but as individuals who sought the means of mastery over their lives and only expected others, likewise “without qualities”, to know how to act on their own account to re-appropriate control over the conditions of their existence.

Since we only rely, for the purposes of deflecting this sinister course of affairs in a more felicitous direction, on what individuals will do of their own accord—and perhaps most importantly on what they will refuse to do—we shall make no predictions. Prophecies proclaimed in an oracular tone, which so often inflicted such harm on the old revolutionary critique, are less appropriate today than ever. We have often been criticized for allegedly having a predilection for the morbid, when all we were trying to do was to faithfully describe the changing world, which is a necessary prerequisite for any attempt to transform it. The few quotations that will be encountered in notes are for the purpose of demonstrating the continuity of our reflections, to further develop the ones that are still relevant now or to correct, where necessary, erroneous or imprecise formulations. This one, in any event, can be left as it stands: “We do not reject […] what exists and is breaking down in an increasingly noxious manner in the name of a future that we claim to represent more faithfully than its official owners. We think, to the contrary, that they represent the future perfectly, the entire future that can be extrapolated on the basis of the present degradation: it is, furthermore, the only future they represent and we can leave it to them in its entirety” (“Preliminary Discourse”, Encyclopédie des Nuisances, November 1984).

I

In just the last few years, the parallel between the environmental collapse that took place on Easter Island long ago, and the one that is currently unfolding on a planetary scale, has become a perfect summary of our historic situation. It would appear that the exhaustion of that island ecosystem was effectively due to the foolish pursuit of a particular kind of productivism: in that case it involved the construction of those sinister statues known the world over, symbols of a desolation their manufacture augured; just like the monumental esthetic of today’s megacities. Popularized by Jared Diamond, we shall soon become acquainted with this image of our planet spinning in infinite space, just as stripped of resources in its disaster as Easter Island was, lost in the middle of the Pacific, even in the propaganda of Électricité de France about the “energy sources of tomorrow”, among which, of course, nuclear has its place; which, redeemed by climate disruption, will be so useful for us in order to power, for example, the already indispensable desalination plants; or even to produce via hydrolysis the hydrogen that will so advantageously replace petroleum as the fuel of motorized alienation.

So the mystery of Easter Island is solved; but there is no mystery at all concerning the future of world society, which can be made totally clear thanks to scientific knowledge: that is the real message being disseminated by the propaganda. The currently exhaustive knowledge of the catastrophe that overwhelmed a small group of primitive people utterly lacking any idea of an ecosystem to preserve, serves to guarantee the knowledge that we possess concerning our own ongoing catastrophe. All kinds of well informed experts hardly prone to paranoid hallucinations thus inform us with all the authority at their disposal that “the old millenarian fears” now have, “for the first time, a rational basis” (André Lebeau, L’Engrenage de la technique. Essai sur une menace planétaire, 2005).

II

Günther Anders’ theory of the “world-laboratory”, according to which the “laboratory” became co-extensive with the planet at the time of the first nuclear weapons tests, has been positively recuperated, without any rebellious or critical intention whatsoever: as a bland confirmation of our confinement in the experimental protocol of industrial society. There once was history, but now there is only integrated “resource” management. Duly modeled, with all the required parameters, the historical process is reduced to a calculable result; and all this, coincidentally enough, precisely at the moment when the experts possess an unequaled and constantly growing power of calculation. The fate of humanity is therefore scientifically sealed: all that remains is to optimize the preservation of its fragile terrestrial biotope. That has been the program of scientific ecology and it is becoming the program of all governments.

III

Musil observed that “the peculiar predilection of scientific thinking for mechanical, statistical and physical explanations that have, as it were, the heart cut out of them”, gave rise, under the pretext of a love of truth, to “a predilection for disillusionment, compulsiveness, ruthlessness, cold intimidation, and dry rebuke”. And Adorno pointed out a little later, concerning “the activities of science, which is on the point of bringing the last remnants of the world, defenseless ruins, under its yoke”, in which intellectual energy has certainly been prodigiously displayed, but only in particular socially controlled directions: “The collective stupidity of the research technicians is not simply an absence or regression of intellectual faculties, but a proliferation of the thinking faculty itself, which consumes thought with its own strength. The masochistic malice of young intellectuals springs from the malignance of their disease”.

In all the discourses of scientific catastrophism what clearly stands out is the same delight they all display when it comes to telling us about the unavoidable constraints that will from now on burden our survival. The technicians of the administration of things rush to announce with a triumphant air the new misfortune, the one that finally renders otiose all disputes concerning the government of men. State catastrophism is an openly avowed endless propaganda campaign in favor of planned survival; that is, for a version that is managed in a more authoritarian manner than the one that currently exists. Ultimately, after so much data is evaluated and so many deadlines are estimated, its experts have only one thing to say: that the immensity of what is at stake (of the “challenges”) and the urgency of the measures that must be adopted nullify the idea that the burden of social coercion could be lightened, so natural has it become.

You can always count on the old leftists, the most strident of all when it comes to denigrating the revolutionary aspirations of forty years ago. On the pretext of having renounced their former beliefs, they are still marking time, with the same passion with which they once intoned the slogans of their former groupuscules, disseminating the new slogans of submission: “The era does not incite the invention of another providential utopia to make the world a better place. It only forces us to submit to the imperatives of life so that the planet can remain viable” (Jean-Paul Besset, Comment ne plus être progressiste … sans devenir réactionnaire, 2005). For the imperatives of life certainly deserve the sense of history to justify “the dictatorship of the most knowledgeable, or those who consider themselves to be the most knowledgeable”; and it surely shows a certain realism when one expects the ecological state of emergency to give rise to, rather than a revolution, the establishment of a finally effective bureaucratic collectivism.

In these calls to submit to the “imperatives of life”, freedom is systematically slandered in the image of the remorseless consumer, whose incorrigible individualism, propelled by the hedonism of ’68, has, as everyone knows, ravaged the planet with complete impunity. To respond to the threat—particularly that of the “climate crisis”, which the promoters of catastrophism like to compare with “the shadow of fascism that spread over Europe during the thirties”—the only choice will be to either submit penitently to the new directives of ecological collectivism, or pure nihilism; anyone who refuses to take responsibility, to participate with enthusiasm in this citizen-based management of planetary waste, thus exhibits the profile of the potential terrorist.

IV

Since we have been so often accused of defeatism, and above all precisely of catastrophism, it is perhaps surprising that we are now, when the catastrophe is like a movie trailer that is projected again and again on every screen, with regard to the future, declaring our hostility to what could nonetheless seem to be an accession to consciousness, or at least incipient lucidity. But such surprise would be groundless, because it would imply a kind of double entry bookkeeping: with regard to both what we said in the past, and what the experts who have become such alarmists are saying. We are not talking about the same catastrophe,1 and the total catastrophe they are talking about is nothing but a fragment of the real catastrophe.

V

In order to prevent any misunderstanding, we must nonetheless make it clear that the critique of catastrophist representations by no means implies that we view them, as is sometimes done, as mere inventions without the least basis, spread by governments in order to assure submission to their orders, or, more perversely, by groups of experts who have an interest in advancing their careers by disproportionately dramatizing their “field of research”. Such a denunciation of catastrophism is not always the affair of people who defend one or another sector of industrial production that is particularly implicated, or even industry as a whole. Thus, we witness the case of curious “revolutionaries” who maintain that the ecological crisis concerning which we are now inundated with information is ultimately nothing but a spectacle, a decoy by which domination is trying to justify its state of emergency, its authoritarian consolidation, etc. We can clearly discern the motive for such an expedient skepticism: the desire to salvage a “pure” social critique, one that only wants to take reality into account insofar as it gives a new lease on life to the old schema of an anti-capitalist revolution condemned to appropriate, of course by “superseding it”, the existing industrial system. As for the “proof”, the syllogism goes as follows: given that media information is obviously a form of propaganda for the existing social organization and that said information now concedes a great deal of attention to various terrifying aspects of the “ecological crisis”, therefore this crisis is nothing but a fiction invented to disseminate the new slogans of submission. Other deniers, as will be recalled, applied the same logic to the extermination of the European Jews: given that the democratic ideology of capitalism obviously was only a false disguise of class domination and that said ideology made ample use during the postwar years of Nazi horrors in its propaganda, therefore the extermination camps and gas chambers can only be inventions and staged frame-ups. In that case it was also largely a matter of salvaging the canonical definition of capitalism by refusing to acknowledge its “aberrant” development (that is, a development that was not foreseen by their theory). And even before that, during the Spanish Civil War, there were intransigent extremists who blamed the revolutionaries for confronting fascism without first having abolished the State and wage labor.

VI

Just as we do not have any intention of adding anything to the catastrophist inventories of a “total ecological crisis”, we shall not undertake an assessment of the elements upon which they are based, nor shall we quibble regarding the details of one aspect or another of the ravages they catalog. For the essential points of this infernal catalog of threats has finally been authenticated by “the entire scientific community”, as documented by the States and international institutions; they are also promoted by the media, quite pleased at the prospect of exploiting such a fruitful “gold mine”, and consecrated by industrial investment in “sustainable development”. Their conclusions, that is, in everyday language, the choices that should be addressed or the nature of the challenges that will have to be faced, will from now on be debated without interruption. Since the admitted ambition of these catastrophist experts is to initiate such “debates”, it should not be surprising that they see this as involving something like “consciousness raising”. What is more surprising is that people who are not experts look at it the same way, and that these people sometimes venture to declare themselves enemies of industrial society.

If we do not see it this way at all, but to the contrary, as an augmentation of false consciousness, this is not due to an excessive taste for paradox or some perverse spirit of contradiction. For it is something that we have been forced to admit, despite our convictions, and for some time now.

The irreversible degradation of terrestrial life due to industrial development has been described and denounced for over fifty years. Those who explained the process, its cumulative effects and the predictable points of no return, thought that consciousness-raising would put an end to it by leading to some kind of change. For some, this change would take the form of reforms actively implemented by governments and their experts; for others, it was principally a matter of a transformation of our way of life, the precise nature of which remained generally somewhat vague; finally, there were even those who thought, more radically, that it was the entire existing social organization that had to be overthrown by a revolutionary transformation. Regardless of their differences concerning the means that should be employed, all shared the conviction that knowledge of the magnitude of the disaster and its unavoidable consequences would lead at least to a certain questioning of social conformism, or even to the formation of a radical critical consciousness. In short, they expected that the spread of such knowledge would not be a vain undertaking.

Contrary to the implicit postulate of all “critiques of harmful phenomena” (and not only that offered by the Encyclopédie des Nuisances), according to which the deterioration of the conditions of life are a “factor of rebellion”, we are compelled to state that the increasingly more accurate knowledge of this deterioration was easily integrated into submission and above all became a component of adaptation to the new forms of survival in an environment of extremes. It is true that, in the so-called “emerging” countries, from the very moment they are engulfed by the industrial disaster, there are still mass uprisings of the peasant communities in defense of their way of life against the brutal pauperization that economic development is imposing on them, but such uprisings can dispense with the kind of knowledge and “ecological consciousness” with which the NGOs seek to enlighten them.

When the official recognition of the ecological crisis (especially in the form of “global warming”) led to alleged “debates”, the latter were strictly delimited by the grossly progressivist representations and categories that even the least insipid catastrophist discourses uncritically pronounce. It never occurs to anyone to consider catastrophism for what it really is, to understand it based on what it is saying now about present reality, its causes and the deterioration that it seeks to anticipate.

VII

In all the representations disseminated by catastrophism, in the way they are elaborated as well as in the conclusions they inspire, we see above all an astonishing accumulation of denials of reality. The most obvious is the one that refers to the ongoing, and already consummated, disaster, which is hidden behind the image of the hypothetical catastrophe, when it is not calculated or extrapolated. In order to be able to understand the extent to which the real disaster differs from the worst scenarios announced by catastrophism, we shall attempt to define it in a few words, or at least specify one of its principle features: by utterly ruining all the material foundations, and not just the material ones, on which it is based, industrial society creates such conditions of insecurity and generalized instability, that only an increase of organization, that is, of submission to the social machinery, can still cause this collection of terrorizing uncertainties to pass for a habitable world. This will give you a good enough idea of the role actually played by catastrophism.

“Another world” was, after all, “possible”: our world, concerning which one must ask just what it has in common, in any sense, with the more or less humanized world that preceded it and of which, once the latter became a clean slate, this world declared itself the heir because it vitrified the corpse of the old world.

VIII

To provide examples of precocious lucidity with regard to the process whose culmination we are now witnessing, the same sublime authors are always quoted, whom nobody otherwise ever actually reads; otherwise the claim that the disaster has already been practically consummated would not seem so extraordinary. We shall cite a relatively little known example, which proves in any case that defining modern history as a continuously advancing process of imprisonment within industrial society is no abstraction, a posteriori reconstruction or fantasy steeped in a noxious defeatism. Narrating his travels through Spain between 1916 and 1920, Dos Passos recounts the words spoken in a café by a “syndicalist” who had recently escaped from prison (it is to be understood that in the Spain of those years a syndicalist was something very different from what goes by that name today; and that Spain’s neutrality during the First World War proved to be favorable for an economic “take-off”): “We are buried under industrialism just like the rest of Europe. Our people, even our own comrades, are rapidly acquiring the bourgeois mentality. We are in danger of losing all our hard-fought gains…. If we had been able to seize the means of production when the system was young and weak, we would have developed it gradually for our benefit: we would have been able to make the machine a slave to man. Every day that passes renders this more difficult” (Rocinante vuelve al camino, 1923).

IX

In connection with its implicit postulate which holds that the accurate knowledge of the deterioration of the environment would necessarily be a “factor of rebellion”, the critique of harmful phenomena has tended to concede an exorbitant role to concealment, the lie and the secret: according to an old schema, if the masses knew, if the truth was not hidden from them, they would revolt. Modern history, however, has not been unproductive of examples of the contrary, which instead illustrate, in said masses, a rather consistent determination on their part not to rebel in spite of what they knew and even—from the extermination camps to Chernobyl—a refusal to understand despite the evidence; or at least to behave, in spite of all the evidence, as if they did not understand. Against the unilateral explanation by way of “secrecy”, we must recall that the “French nuclear power program” was approved and implemented publicly (unlike the “final solution”). Does anybody really believe that transparency, if it had been extended from the very start to the millirems and picocuries, to the calculation of the “maximum allowable exposures” and debates on the effects of “low doses” of radiation, would have prevented universal support for civilian nuclear energy, for “atoms for peace”? You did not have to have a PhD in nuclear physics to have had more than enough information to get a fair idea of what the development of the nuclear industry was and what it implied. The same goes for genetic engineering. On the other hand, since the principle mechanisms of the “ecological crisis” have been recognized, confirmations of its effects continue to accumulate, and new factors come to light, and “positive feedbacks” are defined; and all of this is explained and broadcast without being concealed from the public, in fact, quite the opposite is true. However, the apathy with regard to these “problems” is even greater today than it was thirty or forty years ago. Could anyone imagine a demonstration the size of the one at Malville (1977) taking place today against the ITER project, which is even more senseless than the Superphoenix? The cyberactivists would rather dress up like extras and perform as the backdrop to the summit meetings of heads of State. The explanation for this absence of any reaction, even as the winds blowing from Chernobyl were leaving their mark, is very simple: in the seventies, France was still feeling the impact of the effects of ’68. One must therefore conclude that rebellion, the taste for freedom, is a factor of knowledge, and not the reverse.

It is of course true that concealment and the lie have been utilized a thousand times by industries and States; this is true now and it will be even more true in the future. There are all kinds of operations that must be conducted with the greatest discretion and which are best brought to light only as faits accomplis. But since the principle fait accompli is the very existence of industrial society, submission and its imperatives can calmly proceed to introduce increasingly more extensive zones of transparency within this society: the citizen perfectly inured to his work as consumer is eager for information in order to establish his balance sheet of “benefits and risks”, while, for their part, each and every polluter engages likewise in an attempt to escape blame by slandering the competition. Thus, there will always be raw material for “revelations” and “scandals”, as well as merchants prepared to process it: alongside the dealers in poisons, the dealers in journalistic exclusives, the indignation of the citizenry and sensationalist investigative reports.

Under these circumstances, the essential aspects of the disastrous course we have embarked upon have never been secret at all. Everything necessary to understand where “development” is leading us has been at our disposal for decades: its magnificent results spread everywhere, at the speed of an oil slick or the construction of a “new city” next to the highway. The fetishism of quantitative knowledge has made us so stupid and so short sighted that anyone who says that a little esthetic sense—as long as it is not acquired in art school—is all it takes to pass an informed judgment on such matters is considered to be a dilettante. In reality, it was largely artists and writers who were the first to declare their revulsion at the “new world” that was being established. But rather than criticizing them and the sometimes ridiculous narrowness of their points of view—which was precisely what allowed them to concentrate on this aspect of the world—in order to discount them in advance by defining them as “reactionaries” (more recently, certain Young Turks of postmodern radicality—We shall mutate together in the chaos and ecstasy of barbarism!—have rehabilitated this polemic in the form of a parody, attacking a hypothetical “man of the Ancien Régime”), it would be more correct, and more dialectical, to accuse the adepts of social critique of being quacks who were blind to such symptoms, as if the ugliness of everything was nothing but an insignificant detail, and only offended the bourgeois esthete. Even the best representatives of social critique, obeying a kind of progressivist superego, almost always refrained, and did so for a very long time, from any critiques that could have exposed them to the charge of being “old fashioned”. The celebrated Situationist International did not expel the neo-urbanist Constant for his hideous plexiglass models, which are so highly esteemed today, of cities with buildings made of titanium and nylon, roof-top airports and suspended plazas from which one could enjoy “a splendid view of the traffic on the highways below” (I.S., No. 4, June 1960).

Stendhal’s aphorism is still valid, but reversed: ugliness is the promise of unhappiness. And the decline of esthetic sensibilities goes hand in hand with that of the capacity for happiness. One must be quite hardened to misfortune, desensitized like a person who has been repeatedly bludgeoned by duties, in order to be able, for example, to contemplate without anguish, in an old photogravure book, photographs of the landscapes of the Mediterranean shoreline before that focal point of civilization was extinguished, back in the days when no one ever spoke about the environment. (It is of course true that life then was not “idyllic”, we shall happily concede this fact to imbeciles: it was better than idyllic, it was a life that was alive.) One begins to torture oneself into being convinced that the brutally imposed dynamism of production possesses its own beauty that one must learn to appreciate (now, that is estheticism!), and one rapidly descends to a condition of being absolutely incapable of perceiving what is terrifying about this brutality and this display of power. For there is no need for Geiger Counters or toxicological analyses in order to understand just how deadly the world of the commodity is: before suffering from it as a consumer, everyone must endure it as a worker. The catastrophe hypostatized and projected into the future has already taken place here, in everyone’s everyday existence, in the form of “details … which are anything but minute details”, in the words of Siegfried Kracauer, who also said: “We must rid ourselves of the delusion that it is major events which most determine a person” (Die Angestellten. Aus dem neuesten Deutschland, 1929. English translation published under the title, The Salaried Masses: Duty and Distraction in Weimar Germany, Verso, 1998).

X

Faced with the spectacle offered by our contemporaries it is sometimes hard to avoid the impression that they have ended up loving their world. Obviously, this is not the case; they are only trying to adapt to it; they have to “get a grip” and are helped along in this by being prescribed tranquilizers, while they have the vague feeling that their body is falling apart, that their spirit is lost, that the passions they surrender to miscarry. However, since they can no longer love anything but this parasitic existence that is now proclaimed to be without any alternative, they cling to the idea that, since the society that subjects them to the tortures of permanent competition also supplies them with the psychotropic drugs that allow them to endure those tortures and even to enjoy them (in conformance with the model of the Stakhanovites of hedonist-careerist heroism that the spectacle holds up for emulation), it will also be capable of perfecting the compensations in exchange for which they have resigned themselves to depending on it for everything.

This is why, well trained in the sophisms of resignation and the consolations of impotence, they can remain unperturbed amidst the cascade of sinister predictions in which they are inundated. One might think that the apparent urgency and significantly mandatory nature of their official sanction, as much as their content, would arouse at least some anxiety in even the most confident citizen. And this anxiety would have plenty of reasons to turn into panic when confronted by the inability to imagine any practical solution for the emergency, one that could lead one to have faith in the incongruous hodge-podge of principled petitions, moral injunctions and appeals to renounce certain techno-commercial conveniences (in exchange for other more sustainable ones) which describes practically everything that can be explicitly opposed to the perspective of a “final extinction” or, more correctly, of an end of the world that is rationally predicted this time. The fact that this is not the case, that catastrophism is being tranquilly disseminated throughout the social body, is denounced precisely for being a form of denialism by the most extreme catastrophists, those who supplement “scientific” prediction with the hope for social renewal, or even a “change in our way of life”. But they think that this denialism affects only the “threats” whose list they update on a daily basis, when it consists principally in representing as threats, which is just what they are doing, what is in fact a present reality: social practices and relations, managerial and organizational systems, harmful phenomena, toxic chemicals, pollution, etc., which have produced and continue to produce in the most tangible way deleterious effects on living beings, the environment and human society. This can be proven without resorting to statistical indices: it is enough to breathe the air of the cities or to watch a group of sports fans.

In the light of the long journey that we have undoubtedly travelled along the roads of the end of the world, it will be conceded that it is impossible to take catastrophism and its threats seriously; it is just as impossible as judging the disaster of world society by what the latter says about it. The representation of the catastrophe is the offspring of established power: praise for its technical resources, for its scientific qualities, for its exhaustive knowledge of the ecosystem that now allows for the best possible regulation of the latter. But since it was precisely these intellectual and material means that served to build this world that is now threatened with destruction, this giant with feet of clay, and which are now being employed to make the diagnosis and prescribe the remedies, it does not seem too bold to suggest that both are equally dubious, and that both are condemned to failure.

XI

Any reflection on the state of the world and on the possibilities for intervening to change it, if it begins by recognizing that its point of departure is, hic et nunc, an already fully consummated disaster, encounters the need, and the difficulty, of discerning the depths of this disaster where it has produced its principle destruction: in the minds of men. For this task there is no accurate instrument of measurement, no dosimetrical files, and no statistics or indices to which reference can be made. This is probably why so few have ventured to explore this terrain. There is a lot of talk going around about an “anthropological” catastrophe, concerning which it has not been decided whether this catastrophe must be situated in the death throes of the last “traditional” societies or in the fate that awaits the poor people of modern societies, perhaps because there is still some hope that the former can be preserved and the latter integrated. However, it is thought that the last word on this subject has been pronounced when it is denounced as a product of “neoliberal” perversity, seemingly recently invented by the famous “economic globalization”: this makes it possible to avoid acknowledging the fact that, after so many years and so many “anti-imperialist” slogans, this aspect of the disaster has something to do with a logic of universalization that has been underway for a long time and which implies much more than a simple “westernization of the world”.2 The innumerable syncretisms—halfway between local idiocy and the universality of the market—that contribute to such a powerful acceleration of this machinery of standardization (the Indian, Chinese, etc., economic booms, which benefitted from regional particularities, that is, from the human material that previous forms of oppression have so effectively prepared) prove that there is no servitude, ancient or modern, that cannot be harmoniously combined—in that special meaning of the word harmony for which post-bureaucratic Russia provides such a magnificent example—with submission to total society; not to speak of the absolutely unprecedented monstrosities that are produced as soon as this modernity clashes with those regions of the world which have yet to experience their economic booms: one need only think of the spread of AIDS or the child-soldiers of Africa. Generally speaking, however, no one dares to cast a furtive glance at what is happening there with regard to the possibilities and desires of real men. Speaking plainly, although using the usual terminology: in the “North” as well as the “South”, the middle class, the “marginalized” and the “excluded” think and want the same things as their “elites” and the “owners of the world”.

A hackneyed cliché, used in an attempt to provide a dramatic illustration of the “dead ends of development” and to call for repentance, asserts that in order to guarantee an average American lifestyle for the world population, we would have to have six or seven planets just like Earth. Obviously, the real disaster is, instead, the fact that this “lifestyle”—in reality a parasitic, shameful and degrading life whose stigmata, easily visible in those who bear them, receive their finishing touches with the facelift of cosmetic surgery—seems desirable to and is effectively desired by the immense majority of the world’s population. (This is why the vulgarity of the nouveau riche can be displayed with such complacency, without preserving any trace of bourgeois composure and discretion: they arouse envy—despite everything they still need bodyguards—but not the hatred or the contempt that were the prelude to the revolutions of the past.)

Furthermore, certain advocates of the “curtailment of economic growth”, probably not entirely convinced of the feasibility of their recommendations, sometimes refer to the need for a “cultural revolution” and finally call for nothing less than a “decolonization of the imagination”! The vague and soothing nature of such pious wishes, concerning which nothing is said about how they are to be fulfilled, besides evincing an orientation towards state and neo-state recruitment that is certainly consubstantial with the anti-growth proclamations, appears to serve the purpose of repressing the intuition of the serious conflict that will inevitably be entailed by an attempt to destroy or even to seriously consider destroying the totalitarian society, that is, the technological macrosystem to which human society has been reduced.

Ever since medical science has made available the machinery that ensures a kind of maintenance service for semi-corpses, and thus indefinitely prolongs their last days, it is often said, with respect to the decision that has to made regarding these living dead, the decision—which, whether you like it or not, you will have to make some day, whether for financial reasons or perhaps ethical reasons—to interrupt this semblance of survival; it is said, then, with great eloquence that they will have to be disconnected. The transposition to total society, where all of humanity finds itself subject to connections and intubations of all kinds, is in this case applied to the lone individual. But it also illustrates why it is nearly impossible for the inhabitants of this closed world to imagine being disconnected from the machinery of artificial life: if some of them, among the most over-equipped, enjoy, if the opportunity arises, as an experience, material scarcity, it takes the form of an vacation on an organized trekking expedition, with its cell phone and the certainty of the flight home in a jet. And one could truly ask oneself, and justifiably so, what ruinous condition this human species would come to if it were to be definitively deprived of the impulses transmitted by its machinery. So that the improvement of its connective apparatus is for many the most realistic solution: “The only escape for our children: to put on a suit implanted with all the biosensors that Moore’s law has been able to supply us with in order to feel, see and touch virtually, to swallow a good dose of euphoric drugs and to go at the end of each week to the country of their dreams with their favorite star, to a beach from before the sixth extinction, with their eyes fixed on their visor screens, without a past and without a future.” This is not an excerpt from some homage to the visionary genius of the Philip K. Dick of The Days of Perky Pat; it is the conclusion of a very well documented work (Jacques Blamont, Introduction au siècle des menaces, 2004) written by one of the members of the scientific establishment who, having come to the end of his professional career and settled into retirement, sings like a canary.

XII

The belief in techno-commercial rationality and its benefits has not collapsed under the blows of the revolutionary critique; it has only been obliged to moderate its pretensions with regard to the few “ecological” realities that it has no choice but to admit. Which is to say that most people still support it, along with the kind of happiness it promises; and that they will only accept, by degree or by force, self-discipline, minor constraints, etc., in order to preserve this survival concerning which they now know there is not an unlimited supply; this survival that will instead be rationed. The catastrophist representations that are so massively disseminated are certainly not conceived to induce a renunciation of such an enviable way of life, but to induce acceptance of the restrictions and regulations that will allow it, so it is hoped, to last forever.

How can you believe in something like “peak oil”? When what you see is, for the most part, a shocking multitude of motors, machines and vehicles of every type, to speak in terms of necessary rationing, low emission cars, renewable energy thanks to the ethanol industry, etc., is to desert the side of the truth.

What all these catastrophist representations have in common is the persistent ideal of technical rationality, the determinist model of objective knowledge; it consists, then, of conceding more reality to the representation that the instruments of mediation allow to be constructed than to the reality itself (what is “directly lived”); it consists, in fact, of granting the status of knowledge only to that which has passed through the filter of quantification; it consists in believing, now and forever, despite so many denials, in the efficiency promised by such knowledge. The determinist postulate of a future that is calculable by extrapolation is, in its current version of black futurology, just as illusory as it was in its rose-colored, euphoric version of the fifties (a version that makes us laugh today when we compare it with what has actually transpired). In the scenarios and models of the catastrophe, those parameters are privileged whose development and effects appear to be measurable, in order to save at least the idea of some possible action or adaptation. But in reality, the scientists know nothing, or at least nothing certain, about the processes they insist on modeling; neither about the depletion of petroleum reserves, nor about future demographic trends, or even about the timing and the precise effects of a process of climate change that is nonetheless not very far advanced. (What can be known in the last instance, and there are those who have already done so, is to quantify—in billions of dollars—the contribution of biodiversity to the world economy.) The same is true with respect to pollution and contamination of all kinds: the inventory of their combined and cumulative effects reflects, after a long delay, and only vaguely, the complex and terrible reality of the generalized poisoning, which is actually impossible to apprehend with techno-scientific means.3

If we say that the reality of the disaster is incomprehensible by using the very means that contributed to bringing it about, we do not thereby mean to say, as will be understood, that this reality is any less overwhelming than the way it has been depicted for us by those same means.

XIII

The two principle traits of the progressivist mentality, in its heyday, were the faith in the capacity of science and technology to rationally dominate the totality of the conditions of life (natural and social) and the conviction that in order for them to do so, individuals had to submit to a collective discipline capable of ensuring the smooth functioning of the social machine, so that security would be assured for all. We see that these traits, far from having been erased or attenuated, are even more marked in that shamefaced progressivism comprised by catastrophism. On the one hand, the latter expresses its firm belief in the possibility of acquiring a precise knowledge of all the “parameters” of the “environmental problems” and therefore in the possibility of controlling them and “solving them”; on the other hand, it accepts as obvious that this can only be achieved by means of coercive measures imposed on individuals.

No one, however, can ignore the fact that, in the image and semblance of the always-lost war waged by the deranged public health establishment against microbes, every step forward in securitization has brought in its wake new dangers, previously unknown risks and never before suspected plagues; whether with regard to urbanism, where the “criminogenic” spaces spread along with increasing control, segregation and surveillance; or in industrial livestock farming, the sterilized environment of hospitals and the laboratories of catering, where, from Legionnaire’s Disease to SARS, new epidemic illnesses prosper. The list is too long to recount here. But none of this discourages the progressivist. It would seem, to the contrary, that each new failure of securitization gives him reassurance in his belief in a general tendency “towards improvement”. As a result it is completely useless to attempt to reason with him, as the naïve souls do who enumerate for him the “ravages of progress”.

The way that certain texts of a critical inspiration have defined modern technology as “totalitarian” has at times seemed unfair. Modern technology could indeed be totalitarian, if one takes the prophecies of propaganda literally, which announce a perfect control, a definitively securitized world; in short, the perfected police utopia. (In this sense, for example, the accusation has been leveled against biometric control that, as it develops, it will render “all critique and all dissent” “impossible”; it is, however, the other way around: the resignation of all thought is what allows for and requires the establishment of this control as well as all the other kinds.) In reality, totalitarianism (in a precise historical sense) has never itself attained the police perfection to which it aspired and which its propaganda always presented as being on the verge of realization, after another round of executions (where it came closest to this achievement, in Maoist China, it was only at the price of the chaos with which we are all familiar). It is in precisely this aspect, however, that an essential trait of totalitarianism as perpetual motion resides; that of projecting a perfectly chimerical goal: the way it removes its delirious assertions to control from the present, by pretending that only the future will reveal their merits, guarantees that as long as it maintains its most organized apparatus in full force, the Party, its members will be incapable of being influenced by either experience or argument. The militant who has accepted this first assassination attempt against common sense will accept anything: no fiasco, no refutation of the ideology by reality will ever disturb him. His identification with the movement and with absolute conformism seems to have extirpated his faculty of being affected by his most direct experience. In this sense, in any case, it can be said that modern science and technology are, as organizations, like a totalitarian mass movement; and not only (as Theodore Kaczynski pointed out) because the individuals who participate in them or identify with them obtain a sense of power, but also because once they have accepted this profoundly insane goal which is the total control over the conditions of life, once all common sense has been abdicated in this way, no disaster will be big enough to make these fanatical progressivists see the light. To the contrary, they will perceive such a disaster as one more reason to reinforce the technological system, to enhance securitization, to enforce denominations of origin for food products, etc. This is how one can become a catastrophist without ceasing to be a progressivist.

XIV

As a form of false consciousness spontaneously born from the soil of mass society—that is, from the “anxiogenic environment” that has been created everywhere—catastrophism thus expresses first of all the fears and sad hopes of all who expect their salvation from a securitization based on the reinforcement of coercive measures. It is also perceived, however, sometimes clearly enough, as an expectation of a completely different kind: the aspiration for a break with the routine, for a catastrophe that would really be a culmination that would clear the air, casting down, as if by magic, the walls of the social prison. The taste for this latent catastrophe could be satisfied by means of the consumption of the numerous products of the entertainment industry that were manufactured for just such a purpose; for the bulk of the spectators, this discharge of anxiety-pleasure will be enough.

Outside the market, however, some propose other fictions, more theoretical or political, that “make them dream” of the downfall of a world. These speculations concerning the redemptive catastrophe have their more sophisticated versions in the ideologues of “curtailing economic growth” who speak of a “pedagogy of catastrophes”. But the most intrepid Marxists also want to believe that the “self-destruction of capitalism” will leave a “vacuum” that will constitute the tabula rasa upon which we might at last feast at the banquet of life. They remain in the orbit of denial, since they do not recognize the unified ruin of the world and its inhabitants except in order to immediately get rid of it by grace of “self-destruction” and to deceive themselves with this fantastic fairy tale: a humanity that emerges intact from its collapse into industrial modernity, more ready than ever to revive its innate love of freedom, without getting at all entangled—maybe because it uses Wi-Fi?—in the cables of its connectedness.

There are, however, harder theories, truly extremist in their idea of salvation through catastrophe, in which not only is the catastrophe given the job of producing the “objective conditions” of emancipation, but also its “subjective conditions”: the kind of human material that such scenarios require to personify a revolutionary subject. The whole range of fictions of this kind can be found in the Vaneigem of 1967: “When a water pipe burst in Pavlov’s laboratory, not one of the dogs that survived the flood retained the slightest trace of his long conditioning. Could the tidal wave of great social upheavals have less effect on men than a burst water pipe on dogs?” The only difference, certainly noteworthy, is that the “miracles” that were then attributed to the “battle for freedom” are now expected from a catastrophic collapse, that is, from harsh necessity. The proponents of such theories believe that even more deteriorated conditions of survival will lead, in the most devastated, ravaged and polluted zones, to such an absolute degree of poverty and to such misfortunes that what will then happen, on a universal scale, at first chaotically and sporadically, and later, with the multiplication of those enclaves where the insurrection will become a matter of life and death, is that an “authentic catharsis” will take place, thanks to which humanity will be renewed and will accede to a new consciousness, one that will be simultaneously social, ecological, living and unitary. (This is not a caricature, but a faithful summary of the last chapter of Michel Bounan’s book, La folle histoire du monde, 2006.) Others, who proclaim that they are more interested in the organization and the “experimentation of the masses” already see the decomposition of all social forms as an “opportunity”: just like Lenin, for whom the factory trained the army of the proletarians, for these strategists who are betting on the reconstitution of unconditional solidarities of the clan type, the modern “imperial” chaos is training the gangs, fundamental cells of their imaginary party, that will combine into “communes” in order to join the insurrection (The Coming Insurrection, 2007). These catastrophilic fantasies all agree in their declared gratification with the disappearance of all forms of collective discussion and debate by means of which the old revolutionary movement had tried to organize itself: the one makes fun of the workers councils, the others make fun of the general assemblies.

To get a more precise idea of what we can expect from a collapse of the material conditions for survival, as well as a return of the clan-forms of solidarity, it would seem advisable to take a look at the testing ground of the Middle East, a kind of infernal incubator where each agent takes turns sowing his monstrous seeds on a foundation of runaway ecological and human disaster.

XV

We might easily, after the manner of a certain semi-critical sociology, relate the various modalities of catastrophism with hierarchically distinct social milieus, and point out how each one of them develops its corresponding false consciousness, idealizing as a “solution” the professional or voluntary managerial activity each performs in disaster management. Such myopic perspicacity, however, leaves out the most salient point: the fact that there is almost no one who refuses to endorse the authentic proscription of freedom that the diverse catastrophist scenarios unanimously declare, regardless of their differences in other respects. For even where they are not directly interested in regimentation and they speak of emancipation, it is only in order to postulate that this emancipation will be imposed as a necessity, not as something desired in itself and consciously pursued.

Such is the power of industrial enclosure, and the scale of the unified deterioration of thought that it has achieved, that those who still have the courage to fight against being completely swept away by the current and proclaim their willingness to resist, seldom escape, however much they condemn progress or technoscience, the need to justify their denunciations—or even their hope for a saving catastrophe—with the data supplied by the bureaucratic experts and with the determinist representations that such data allow them to uphold. All of this is undertaken to disguise the laws of History—the very same ones that are going to ineluctably lead us from the reign of necessity to that of freedom—as scientific proofs; according to which, for example, Carnot’s theorem will put an end to industrial society, once the exhaustion of fossil fuels requires it—or at least its managers—to embark upon a convivial curtailment of economic growth and the enjoyment of life.

Our epoch, which is otherwise so obsessed with the resources we are all so familiar with, and with the hypothesis of their exhaustion, has never bothered to make forecasts about those other resources, which are inexhaustible by their very nature, to which freedom can provide access: beginning with the freedom to think contrary to the ruling representations. The trite objection will be raised that no one escapes the prevailing conditions, that we are not any different, etc. And, of course, who can boast that they are doing anything but adapting to the new conditions, “getting by” in the face of such overwhelming material realities, even if one does not become so unconscious as to feel satisfied with it except for this or that detail? Instead, no one is forced to adapt intellectually, that is, to accept the fact that they have to “think” using the categories and the terms imposed by managed life.

XVI

At the beginning of his Reflections on History, Burckhardt observed that knowledge of the future, if it were possible (which, in his opinion, it was not), would imply “a confusion of all desire and endeavor. For desire and endeavor can only unfold freely when they live and act ‘blindly’, that is, for their own sakes and in obedience to inward impulses”. Our epoch, when it refers to itself, believes it can read the future in its computer models, on whose screens the calculus of probabilities, if not the laws of thermodynamics, traces its Mene, Tekel, Upharsin. But it will probably see it, to return to Burckhardt’s intuition, as the effect rather than the cause of the torpor of historical energy, of the loss of the taste for freedom and for autonomous intervention; or at least it will have to consider that where humanity has lost a certain vital courage, where it has lost the impulse of acting directly on its fate without certitudes or guarantees, it is no longer fascinated and shocked by the projections of official catastrophism.

XVII

To once again parody a celebrated incipit, we may say that the whole life of world industrial society now presents itself as an immense accumulation of catastrophes. The success of the propaganda advocating authoritarian measures (“Tomorrow it will be too late”, etc.) is based on the fact that the catastrophist experts present themselves as simple interpreters of forces that can be predicted. But the technique of infallible prediction is not the only one that was recuperated from the old revolutionary prophecy. This scientific knowledge of the future effectively serves to introduce the old rhetorical device of the crossroads, according to which “humanity” is confronted by a choice that is thus posed on the model of “socialism or barbarism”: the salvation of industrial civilization or collapse into barbarous chaos.4

The trick in this propaganda consists in simultaneously asserting that the future is the object of a conscious choice, one that humanity can supposedly make collectively, as one man, with full knowledge once instructed by the experts, and that this future is ruled by an implacable determinism that reduces this choice to that of life or death; that is, living in accordance with the orders of the organizers of planetary salvation or dying because we have not abided by their warnings. A choice like this is therefore reduced to an imposition, which resolves the old problem of knowing whether men love servitude, since from now on they will be compelled to desire it. As Latouche so poignantly asserts, with a simplicity that might not be intentional: “Ultimately, who rebels against the protection of the planet, the preservation of the environment, the conservation of fauna and flora? Who supports climate change or the destruction of the ozone layer?” (Le pari de la décroissance, 2006). According to Arendt, the problem of totalitarian domination was “to fabricate something that did not exist, namely, a kind of human species resembling other animal species whose only ‘freedom’ would consist in ‘preserving the species’” (The Origins of Totalitarianism). On a devastated Earth, which will be effectively transformed, by means of the technical artificiality of the survival that will still be possible, into something like a “spaceship”, this program will cease to be a chimera of domination so as to become instead a demand on the part of the dominated.

“Enlightened false consciousness”, as it was called by a certain author who came to such a bad end that there is no point mentioning his name, was obliged to submit daily to such a quantity of overwhelming information with regard to the dangers that threaten industrial society and the life of those who are imprisoned within it—all of us—that it accepted with obvious relief the hypothetical scenarios supplied by the experts and disseminated by the media. For, no matter how bleak they may be, they at least allow for the organization, in accordance with a coherent plan, of a disaster which it would otherwise refuse to understand. We have long known that, in the countries that are called, by default, democratic, since they are not totalitarian, the information that is so excessively abundant, and now the “society of knowledge” of the internet, due to the need created by explanation, is an essential aspect of propaganda. Therefore, in the current mobilization to “save the planet”, the catastrophist representations transmit, together with their explanatory schemas, positive slogans: they dictate the new rules of behavior and disseminate correct thinking. For the fears proclaimed by the experts (“If we do not radically change our lifestyle”, etc.) are in reality nothing but orders.

This has allowed the manufacture of consensus to concede the title of “ecological consciousness raising” resulting from its own operations, to the docile readiness to repeat its slogans and submit to its requirements and prescriptions. It celebrates the birth of the reeducated consumer, the eco-citizen, etc. And just as in the epoch when it had to inculcate the rules of behavior required by abundant consumption, nowadays, when it is necessary to get people to adopt the rules of rationed and rationalized survival, children are the first targets of the propaganda, those who must scold their parents like the television commercials have taught them (“Without your help, the antibiotics will no longer work”). One hesitates, of course, to continue to speak of children when speaking of these beings who are so precociously well versed in all technological operations and disciplines, and who are now so uniformly informed regarding biodiversity and its degradation, the rate of increase of CO2 in the atmosphere, etc. They zealously memorize the testimony of the campaigns to inculcate a sense of responsibility (“The whole is what counts”) and vigilantly prosecute the correction of their progenitors. Aware of the fact that the latter, and adults in general, will have to render accounts concerning what they have done to “preserve the planet that they will receive as their inheritance”, they do not refrain from demanding that starting this very moment they must respect the slogans. Trained in this fashion as a militant citizenry, they will denounce to the green police the non-compliant whom they detect among their friends and family. And this is hardly an extrapolation in view of a very official pamphlet that, several years ago, instructed the youth with recommendations like these: “I separate my garbage, I report on any water leaks…. I take note of any restrictions issued by the town council in case of drought and transmit them to my parents…. I will not let my parents smoke in dry brushland….”

XVIII

However closely they may be interwoven, we shall distinguish, for the purposes of a quick summary, the principle catastrophist representations of the future that are spread by propaganda and we shall see how they lead us not only “to swallow the poison of servitude without finding it bitter”, but also to find it delicious and redemptive.

We shall rapidly pass over the apocalyptic school, which speculates on a possible annihilation of the human species whose model remains the nuclear holocaust. A salaried philosopher could of course have an interest in perpetuating a tedious commentary—a pathetic rehash of the most obsolete Anders—on the need to “think in the shadow of the future catastrophe” (Jean-Pierre Dupuy), but it is primarily due to its nature as a diffuse representation of a horrifying end, nourished by diverse fictions produced by the culture industry, that this apocalypticism influences the most common form of resignation with the carpe diem of the reprieved death sentence, thus reinforcing acceptance with the feeling of an unexpected new lease on life.

The school of global warming is obviously the one that counts the largest number of supporters, since it is the one that benefits from the most constant media support. What is effectively tranquilizing about this “inconvenient truth” is the fact that it attributes the multiple dangers and hazards to which we are now exposed to a single factor (the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases). Although the exact course of the warming is still quite uncertain both with regard to its tempo and its effects—while we are all nonetheless educated enough to be capable of speaking about permafrost, albedo and even clathrates and the “oceanic conveyor belt”—the scenario of climate change allows for the promotion of a whole range of “solutions” that simultaneously rely on the State, industry and the individual discipline of the conscious and responsible consumer: fiscal, industrial-ecological (including nuclear), planetary geo-engineering, imposed but also voluntary rationing measures, and even those modern indulgences purchased by those who fly in passenger jets who pay for “emissions credits”.

The school of resource depletion, which is often associated with the warming school because of its appeal to rationing and its advocacy of alternative energy, speculates above all on the depletion of reserves of fossil fuels, but also on the depletion of reserves of water, arable land, biodiversity, etc. This multiple catastrophe is debated and subjected to the most precise measurements every day because knowledge is accumulating as fast as its object is disappearing. Here, too, in order to impose “a change of course”, a “more austere society”, etc., resort is had to the State, industry, good citizenship, etc.

The school of pollution is represented by a wide array of experts and counter-experts who form the great battalion of the “watchdogs”. Strictly specialized by virtue of their positions, they record in detail, according to scientific criteria, the already observable or foreseeable effects of the innumerable forms of pollution (agro-industrial processes, hormone disruptors, genetic damage, nanotechnologies, electromagnetic waves), without forgetting the “classics” (chemical and nuclear), and are usually careful not to trespass beyond the limits of their specialties, except to denounce a “public health threat”. Such precaution with regard to critique has not been enough, however, to prevent the spread of a feeling, based on experience but fully documented thanks to them, of the practically definitive contamination of the environment. And although the protean reality of a pathogenic environment is inconsistent with the hopes for salvation from technology and with the fervent appeals of the citizen’s movement for managerial vigilance, it is nonetheless very advantageous for the multiplication of hygienic and sanitary obsessions, in the service of which everyone has to work constantly in order to preserve a health that is almost entirely beyond our reach. This false, privatized “narcissistic” consciousness of very real dangers now supports a vast sector of commodity production (from “organic” foods to nutraceuticals). It is only by understanding the fact that this obsessive form of taking responsibility allows one to remain blind to the disaster is it possible to explain, for example, the fact that the city council of Naples, the capital of a region of Italy that is world-renowned for its varied toxic waste dumps managed by the Camorra, could decree in November 2007 the prohibition of smoking in its public parks without provoking universal ridicule (this measure, to the contrary, seemed so wise that the city of Verona in turn adopted a similar one on the following day).

Finally, the school of chaos emphasizes social and “geopolitical” dislocation. Unlike the most common catastrophist representations, this school does not conceal the fact that the “great ecological crises” will not take place in a climate of universal peace and the relaxation of international tensions. It is not satisfied, unlike the “geostrategic” reflections of certain media journalists and analysts, with compiling the inventory of the zones of breakdown of the stillborn “new world order”, and is at the same time aware of the dispersal of the means of destruction, the end of the State monopoly on violence and the various forms of emerging “brutalization”. It has even provided evidence of a process of dehumanization that is not without its connections to the universal spread of the new technological environment. Completely incapable of proposing anything that would even resemble a solution, since it does not call for “correct worldwide governance”, it obviously does not generate much of an echo.

XIX

It might seem excessive, or even absurd, to assimilate the dominant catastrophist representations to a propaganda campaign. Just consider, however, the discrete way the nuclear industry and its notable contribution to the quality of our environment have been blurred together—in preindustrial epochs we would have said, “dovetailed”5 —in the catalogue of threats elaborated by the catastrophist experts. The so-called civilian nuclear industry, concerning which we know how easily it can cease to be civilian in order to return to its original military vocation, is sometimes mentioned by the heralds of the school of chaos with reference to the risks of “dissemination” and “proliferation” it poses in the matter of armaments; less frequently, it is mentioned by other observers due to the proven release of contaminants after various “incidents”. Most often, however, it acquires a much more honorable place in the arsenal of technological remediations, thanks to which it is alleged that we will overcome the looming difficulties in order to reach the Promised Land of a sustainable economy. Some wax enthusiastic over fusion, a true panacea that will usher us into that “hydrogen economy” that the illuminati of revolution via industrial progress have even come to see as the sole prerequisite still lacking for the realization of communism. Others, more prudently, point out that it will take at least a century, in the best case scenario, to master this marvelous energy source; and that, in the meantime, the only solution for reducing greenhouse gases is to immediately start building new nuclear power plants, with the so-called “Third Generation Reactors”, which might be a little less safe than their successors, of the “Fourth Generation”, but which are already available. These propagandists who characterize actually existing nuclear energy as clean energy, or almost clean, are among the most active boosters of the scenario of climate crisis. And for this job they do not need to be officially accredited by the Atomic Energy Commission or discretely in the pay of the nuclear industry: it is enough for them to have a realistic view of the period of “energy transition” through which industrial society must pass. Besides the ecologist-cyberneticist Lovelock, there are many catastrophist experts who emphasize the particularly irresponsible character of continuing the debates over the virtues and inconveniences of nuclear energy, when China is building one coal fired power plant each week and is planning to add several tens of millions of cars to its roads each year. Other experts, more numerous yet, are content not to broach this controversial topic of the indispensable resort to nuclear energy, which might somehow mar for them the panorama of a future sustainable society. As for the rest, none of them bother to point out the derisory contribution of nuclear energy to total energy production, whether with regard to today’s situation—France included—or in the event of an eventual intensive resurgence of nuclear energy. The same kind of silence is applied to the question of the availability over the next century and a half of coal reserves and the conditions that might facilitate overcoming the objections (cost, “capture” of CO2) against the utilization of so-called coal to liquid technologies and that would allow for the production of fuel by the liquifaction of coal.

XX

After having dared to point out that “the accurate diagnoses of Lester Brown, Nicolas Hulot, Jean-Marie Pelt, Hubert Reeves and many others, which inevitably conclude with an appeal to ‘humanity’, are nothing but watered down sentimentalities”, the journalist Hervé Kempf recently invited us to “understand that the ecological crisis and the social crisis are only two faces of the same disaster” (How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth, 2007). In a way, what he is proposing is therefore the elaboration of a social critique of harmful phenomena. We shall pass over the hardly novel nature of this theoretico-journalistic scoop. However old this news is, his intention is laudable and meritorious, coming from someone who is such a beginner on this terrain. One is therefore curious to discover just what this “environmental specialist” of the newspaper Le Monde means when, during the course of his “radical political analysis of the current relations of domination” he feels compelled to address “ecological anxiety” without delay: “Within the next ten years we will have changed course.” Because despite everything Kempf is an “optimist”: “solutions are appearing”, “from Seattle and the protest against the World Trade Organization”; “the social movement has awakened” and the oligarchy could be divided (and one sector of it “might be clearly shifting towards support for civil liberties and the common good”); “journalism could awaken”; and the “prostrate” left could be renewed by “uniting the causes of inequality and ecology”. As we shall see, there is no chance that social critique and the analysis of the relations of domination will lead to nothing more radical than the denunciation of the villainies of the predatory oligarchy and the greed of the “mega-rich”.

Although none of this is any more convincing or enlightening than an anthology of the best of Le Monde Diplomatique of the last twenty years, Kempf is interesting, and even instructive, for what he does not say. Since his critical enterprise omits, in an exemplary fashion, any analysis or even any mention of the most important and certainly the most visible aspect of the “current relations of domination”, the one that a 20th century devastated by the “transitional totalitarianisms”, in Mumford’s formulation, has bequeathed to our century: the bureaucracy. In this way, as always happens in the inoffensive substitutes for critique that seek to question economic development without ever taking the State’s responsibility into account, the best contributions of a century of social critique are, innocently and quite conveniently, condemned to oblivion.

Without going all the way back to the anarchist polemic against Marxist statism, it is in the organized workers movement, that is, in the political and social framework of the workers struggles, where the formation of a modern bureaucracy was first observed and analyzed, one that was different from the old bureaucracy of State officials. Michels and, before him, Machajski (Le Socialisme des intellectuels) quickly identified some features of what would soon, in Russia, become a new class by way of the totalitarian seizure of power. In parallel with this development, in the countries where the relations of production were still dominated by private capitalists, the rationalized organization of mass production and consumption (the need to coordinate the labor that an increasingly more comprehensive division of labor was smashing into tiny pieces) was gradually giving birth to a bureaucracy of managers; at the same time, the Great Depression compelled the United States to regiment private capitalism, establish regulatory economic mechanisms, undertake vast public works projects to absorb unemployment, etc., the inception of a system of planning which become known as the New Deal. This tendency towards the bureaucratization of the world, within which the renovation of totalitarian methods of rule by fascism and Hitlerism seemed to be foreshadowed, was theorized by Rizzi, and later by Burnham, in an apparently objective form but in actuality in the form of apologetics (in the name of the “sense of history”), which, applied to such repugnant realities, was original enough at the time. After the Second World War and the defeat of the fascist form of totalitarianism, a defeat brought on by extremely irrational strategic choices (the Stalinist form, although more irrational in terms of economic management, owed its membership on the winning team to the fact that it had managed to survive for several decades), the development of a managerial bureaucracy was continued, together with that of a “scientific research” establishment that had undergone an equal degree of bureaucratization during the war and was afterwards put directly at the service of industry: the organization and division of labor in the factory itself were extended everywhere with commodity abundance. But it was primarily in the State bureaucracies (first in nation-states, and then, perhaps even more so, in the supranational organizations) where the influence of the planners, managers and other technocrats, who are considered to be, and who view themselves as, the embodiment of the superior rationality of capitalism understood as a “system”, flourished. The cybernetic ideology—from which, we should recall, the notion of an ecosystem is derived—corresponds to this ascendant phase of the bureaucracy of experts and expresses their anti-historical illusions, just like structuralism, which is its offshoot in the “human sciences”.

During the late sixties, and above all during the seventies, in response to the critique that so many people, and particularly the youth, directed against the production and consumption of commodities, a program of bureaucratic-ecological stabilization of the economy began to take shape among the planners, who were forced to admit that we were now immersed in an “out of control race” to catastrophe. During that epoch a Marxist could have correctly expressed ironic disdain for this new manifestation of false consciousness on the part of a handful of experts who, after having deceived themselves regarding the real scope of their activity when they were planning an infinitely organized growth, were now content to reverse that ideological representation by now expressing their belief that they could impose a program of “zero growth” on capitalism that is incompatible with its very essence; our Marxist could have also pointed out, and with no less accuracy, that “the ecologists refrain from specifying exactly what social and political forces they think they can rely on in order to carry out such a revolution in the machinery of the capitalist State” (Pierre Souyri, La dynamique du capitalisme au XXè siècle, 1983). This same author would go on to add some extremely sensible observations, which bring us to the heart of our argument: “The alarmist campaigns regarding the planet’s resources and the pollution of nature by industry do not actually portend any intention on the part of capitalist circles of putting an end to growth. Rather the contrary. Capitalism is now up to its neck in a phase in which it will be forced to mobilize a whole range of new technologies of energy production, mineral extraction, recycling of wastes, etc., and to transform a part of the natural elements essential for life into commodities. All of this heralds a period of intensified technological research and innovation that will require enormous investments. Scientific data and ecological consciousness are used and manipulated in order to construct the terrorist myths whose purpose is to cause the efforts and sacrifices that will be indispensable for the new cycle of capitalist accumulation that it is proclaiming to be accepted as absolute imperatives.” (Ibid.). The perspective thus outlined—in a posthumously published work that was written before 1979, when the author died—had the merit of conceiving the possibility that, without going beyond the limits of the capitalist mode of production, the contradiction between the latter’s objective dynamic and an authoritarian regulation of the economy in the name of ecological rationality could be overcome.

In consideration of the fact that a permanent regime of “crisis management” has now been established, one might ask if it is the bureaucracy of experts that has risen to power or whether it is power that, amidst the collapse of industrial society, descended to within the reach of the experts. This would most likely be a mistaken way to understand the issue. For who assumes the responsibility for disaster management, or is prepared to do so? They have never ceased to ply the waters of power, and to cross them. It would be tiresome to provide a detailed description of these networks, since it is not our purpose to write a sociology of organizations. In the final accounting, no one who is even slightly aware of what planet he lives on will be surprised by the connivances, the cooptations and the exchanges of favors that ensure the recruitment of new staff members for the teams and bureaus. It was here, among the designers and agents of the development programs that were implemented in the post-war era, where a minority of dissident insiders—some would even declare themselves “opponents of growth”—would begin to “raise the alarm” without losing their foothold, or their influence with their friends, within the institutions, the seminars, and think tanks, which pragmatically incorporate the advocates of an ecological critique purged of any connection to social critique. A “win-win” scenario: the so-called dissidents provide the technoscientific arguments that the institutional mainstream elements are eager to hear so they can speak the same language; the latter, joined by the mainstream environmentalists who are even more eager to find someone who will listen to them in the big international organizations, embody that representation of “civil society” that is so indispensable for all institutional lobbying strategies.

In any case, contrary to the views of the devotees of a melodramatic and conspiratorial fiction-critique, this changing of the guard in “the coopted cast that manages domination” is carried out in the full light of day and orchestrated with a great deal of fanfare, “displayed on the stage of the spectacle”; and the least that can be said about it is that it is not perceived like the bolt of lightning, “which is only seen when it strikes”. It will soon be forty years since it was first announced, through the mouths of wise oracles, that time is running out, that we have no more than ten years to change course, and to confront this radically new, “magnificent but terrible” challenge, etc.6 (In 1992, 1,600 scientists, among whom were 102 Nobel Prize winners, issued a “warning to humanity” in which they claimed that “we only have one or two decades before we lose any chance to escape the threats that menace us and the perspectives for the future of humanity will be drastically curtailed”.) One could laugh at a state of emergency that was declared with such a distant deadline, but the explanation for it is quite simple. All that is required is that, once a certain threshold has been crossed in the violations of natural equilibriums, the so-called “negative externalities”, the capitalist management should learn to recognize their positive potential and should come to see them, in the form of the only “consciousness raising” that can be activated by the catastrophist experts, as a perpetually profitable gold mine which in order for it to exploit, it only needed to convince customers and shareholders.

XXI

In response to those beautiful souls who were offended when an American manager hastened to define the tsunami of December 2004 as a “marvelous opportunity” (“which has been very profitable for us”), it is relevant to point out that by saying this he was only expressing, although in a rather inopportune manner, a reality of capitalism (see Naomi Klein, “The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”, The Nation, May 2, 2005). It does, however, demonstrate a certain ingenuousness to trace the beginnings of this “disaster capitalism”—a formula which is itself a variety of pleonasm—to the devastation of Central America by Hurricane Mitch (October 1998) and to give first place under this rubric to the foreign operations of the U.S. government and the World Bank, planned to simultaneously prepare the next military interventions and the reconstruction of countries slated for destruction. (In this connection, however, we have seen how New Orleans, devastated by a hurricane, was delivered over to the same firms as Iraq and Afghanistan, so as to be rebuilt prettier and cleaner, more quaint and less black.) The unleashing of innumerable calamities, with their unforeseen combinations and brutal escalations, is universally inaugurating a fabulous opportunity for construction projects for the planetary trusts of capitalism.

Regarding global warming it is occasionally said, in order to provide the indispensable note of optimism, that grapes will soon be cultivated in Great Britain, wheat will be grown in Siberia, or that with the melting of the Arctic ice new sea routes will open up and make it possible to search for the oil that surely lies beneath the Polar ocean. But these corroborative reports only very partially explain what kind of Northwest Passage is being opened up by the debacle of nature for the benefit of economic rationality, especially when it will be necessary to manufacture everything from scratch, an entire artificial life, with its increasingly more expensive, that is, profitable, technological surrogates and palliatives. On the model of the “Terraforming” projects conceived for creating more or less survivable conditions on those planets accessible to space travel, so-called “geo-engineering” techniques have been proposed, since it is the Earth itself which has now become a hostile and uninhabitable planet and thus the location for the first experiments in territorial management on the scale of the solar system. NASA and the major American research labs have thus discovered the opportunity to promote an “environmental version” of the anti-ballistic missile defense program known as “Star Wars”. (Edward Teller, the same man who engineered the downfall of Oppenheimer and directed the development of the Hydrogen Bomb, and later inspired the “Strategic Defense Initiative”, was one of the first people—in 1997—to publically advocate geo-engineering.)

These grandiose projects, which the most reasonable climatologists reject due to the “unpredictable effects” they could set in motion, call to mind the ravings of a mad scientist. There are also other more prosaic, although no less representative examples of the “marvelous opportunities” offered by an Earth that has now become unlivable. Industrial ecology now has plans for sustainable cities or eco-cities “with zero emissions”, waste recycling, solar energy and all the electronic conveniences. These new colonial cities will be built—in an architectural style that will of course be respectful of local traditions—first of all in China or Abu Dhabi, model cities for the technological imperialism that has earned a certificate of environmental quality. But the research departments of the engineering firms have set to work everywhere in expectation of the new rules that ecological governance will dictate. In his euphoria after “la Grenelle de l’environnement” (“The Grenelle Environment Round Table”) which sought to establish market quotas, a certain businessman naturally adopted the martial airs of the Kolkhoz director proclaiming the goals of the Five Year Plan and the slogans of the Great Leap Forward of the sustainable economy: “national mobilization … ecological emergency … defense of our planet … our children’s future”; without forgetting to emphasize that “the political will for the renovation and the construction of ecological houses, neighborhoods and even cities represents for industry a formidable growth opportunity” (Gérard Mestrallet, president of Suez, “L’environnement, catalyseur d’innovation et de croissance”, Le Monde, December 21, 2007). To put the finishing touches to this picture and also in the interests of parity, we shall also quote a directive on sustainable development issued by the group Veolia-Environnement that is no less enthusiastic: “‘Green’ construction and renovation are in progress, it is an immense, abundant, thrilling and very promising market, so much so that the new El Dorado of today is clean tech construction, that is, clean technologies with reference to the imperious need to reduce the carbon footprint of all the world’s buildings, in conformance with the established road map” (Geneviève Ferone, 2030, le krach écologique, 2008).

XXII

The role that has always been played by wars over the course of modern history to accelerate the fusion of State and economy is well known. And it is precisely a war that must be waged in order to conquer a nature that has been ravaged by the previous operations of economic rationality and replace it with a integrally produced world that is better-adapted to alienated life.7 One of the American propagandists for the ecological-bureaucratic reconversion of capitalism (less hallucinatory than Rifkin with his end of work and his hydrogen economy), Lester Brown, has explicitly called for a “wartime mobilization” and has proposed the model of the reconversion of the productive apparatus that was carried out during the Second World War; he did, however, highlight the difference that, since this time it is a question of “saving a threatened planet and a civilization in danger”, the “economic reconstruction” must not be temporary but permanent. Recalling “the year 1942, which witnessed the greatest expansion of industrial production in the country’s history” (an American poet who had served as a soldier in the European theatre summarized it this way: “For every artillery shell that Krupp fires, General Motors returns four”), he is thrilled by the memory of such a total mobilization, with its rationing and its authoritarian organization: “That mobilization of resources showed in a matter of months that a country and, in fact, the world could rebuild its economy quickly if it was only convinced of the need to do so”. Excited by the example of the vast massacre provided by the industry of that era, he expressed in the style of public relations what the previous era had expressed through indoctrination: “We have the technology, the economic instruments and the financial resources necessary […] to steer our society away from its declining course and to put it on a path that would allow it to continue to pursue economic progress” (Plan B 2.0: Rescuing A Planet Under Stress And A Civilization In Trouble, 2006).

This almost perfect prototype of the ecolocrat, a catastrophist expert for almost forty years, is certainly not the only person who “has a plan” (others speak, for example, of a “Climate Marshall Plan”), but his has the incontestable merit of being formulated in the American style, with a straightforward brutality and an absolutely clear conscience, without the rhetorical precautions and the circumlocutions that entangle the left wing statists and the members of the more or less anti-growth civil society movement here in Europe. Written according to the standards of bureaucratic management (graphs, tables, statistics and calculations of financing various projects; we can even acquaint ourselves with the cost, “due to the loss of potential income”, of the “diminution of the Intellectual Coefficient linked to prenatal mercury toxicity”: 8.7 billion dollars), it does not attempt to conceal the fact that it is calling for a concentration of power: “What the world needs now is not more oil, but more government”. This “road map” for an ecologically correct disaster capitalism has not, however, offended anybody, so advanced now is the education of the public recommended by this same road map (“The need for media governance also ushers in the parallel need for political governance”). So Lester Brown can be quoted favorably, by Latouche for instance, at the same time that he brags about being aware of a hypothetical threat of “ecofascism”.

An almost universal consensus has been established, then, in just a few years, among the defenders of “our civilization” regarding the need for reinforced governance to confront the total ecological crisis; and it is necessary to deduce from this fact that the “neoliberal” detour is coming to an end, during which capitalism restored the profitability of its investments by drastically reducing not only its wage bill but also its “extraordinary state expenditures”. It has at times been attempted to precisely date this change of course, placing it in retrospect in the year 2005, since after that date the signs of an ideological aggiornamento (modernization) in the sphere of power began to multiply; in particular, the “Stern Report” of October 2006: “This document removes ecology from the political arena, occupied for thirty years by the NGOs and the anti-liberal [sic] leftist parties, and definitively inserts it into the heart of the development of contemporary capitalism” (Jean-Michel Valentin, Écologie et Gouvernance mondiale, 2007). But in reality the open collaboration of environmentalist groups, NGOs, corporations and government officials goes back in certain sectors to the nineties.

The attempt at an ecological-bureaucratic reorganization that is currently underway is by no means a cold-blooded “rationalization” procedure. It is taking place in the midst of the catastrophe, since in the heat of the burning world the various bureaucracies responsible for the specialized management of each sector of mass society are approaching their fusion point. The already initiated process can only be accelerated by the financial crisis that is putting an end to a speculative cycle, but which is, in itself, more a manifestation of the fact that the approach of the ecological deadlines announced so often will dissuade capitalism (much more effectively than any grandiloquent denunciations of “financial madness”) from giving itself too much credit. (In this way, the collapse of real estate speculation in the United States is also an effect of the end of cheap oil.) The project of capitalism’s ecological adjustment arrives in time for the reorganization of production, especially that of the vast sector of “public works”—which includes “civil engineering”—the heavy industry of a “new industrial revolution” whose utopian model is Dubai, “which produces its water through desalination, regulates its temperature, filters the sun’s rays, controls all the parameters of life in order to realize the ideal oasis; where time, climate and the world tarry in a perfect present” (Hervé Juvin, Produire le monde. Pour une croissance écologique, 2008). In this post-historical utopia, the dream of an “escape from nature” (“The supreme achievement is in our grasp: that nothing will ever happen, anywhere, ever, that we have not decided ourselves”, ibid.), survival, organized and regulated as a whole by disaster management, will be sold to us at retail prices in the production of commodities.

XXIII

The bureaucracy of experts that emerged with the development of planning, manufactures for all the managers of domination a common language and the representations thanks to which the latter understand and justify their own activity. With its diagnoses and forecasts, formulated in the neo-language of rational calculation, it cultivates the illusion of a technoscientific control of “problems”. Defending the program of an integrally managed survival is its job. It is this bureaucracy that regularly issues alerts and warnings, counting on the emergency it proclaims to enable it to be more directly associated in the management of domination. In its campaign for the establishment of a state of emergency, it has never lacked the support of all the left wing statists and other citizenists, and will henceforth hardly encounter any resistance from the managers of the economy, since most of them view the perspective of an endless disaster as a permanent resurgence of production through the quest for “ecocompatibility”. One thing that is now certain is that when the time comes for the application of the old Keynesian recipe of public works programs, summarized in the formula “digging holes in order to fill them up again”, there will be enough “holes” already dug, devastation to repair, wastes to recycle, pollution to clean up, etc. (“We will have to repair what has never been repaired, manage what no one has ever before had to manage”, ibid.).

The training of this new “labor corps” is already on a war footing. Just as the New Deal obtained the support of practically all the leftist intellectuals and militants in the United States, the new ecological course of bureaucratic capitalism is mobilizing on a world scale all the “kind-hearted apparatchiks” of environmental and humanitarian just causes. The latter are young, specialists, enthusiastic, competent and ambitious: trained in battle, in the NGOs and other associations, in leadership and organization, they feel capable of “driving things forward”. Convinced that they embody the higher interests of humanity, and of having history on their side, they are equipped with an absolutely clear conscience and, as if that were not enough, the knowledge that the laws are on their side: the laws that are already on the books and all those which they hope to promulgate. For they want more laws and regulations, and this is where they agree with the rest of the progressives, “anti-liberals” and militants of the State party, for whom “social critique” consists, in the style of Bourdieu, in calling upon the “ruled” to “defend the State” against its “neoliberal dismantling”.

Nothing is more indicative of the way the catastrophism of the experts is something different from a “becoming conscious” of the real disaster of alienated life than the way it strives to make every aspect of life and each detail of personal behavior into an object of state control, subject to rules, regulations and prohibitions. Every expert converted to catastrophism knows he is a depository of a fragment of the true faith, of the impersonal rationality that is the essential ideal of the State. When he directs his accusations and recommendations at political leaders, the expert is aware of the fact that he represents the higher interests of collective management, the imperatives of the survival of the mass society. (He will speak of the “political will” that is required when referring to this aspect of the issue.) The management of the experts is Statist not only because of its habits, because only a reinforced State can apply its solutions: it is structurally Statist, in all its methods, its intellectual categories and its “membership criteria”. These “Jesuits of the State” have their idealism (their “spiritualism”, as Marx called it), the conviction that they are working for the salvation of the planet; but this idealism often reverts in everyday practice to a vulgar materialism, in the eyes of which there is not one single spontaneous manifestation of life that cannot be reduced to the status of a passive object susceptible to being administered: in order to impose the program of bureaucratic management (“producing nature”) it is necessary to combat and eliminate everything that exists independently, without the aid of technology, and which therefore must be irrational (as were, until just yesterday, the critiques of industrial society that proclaimed its foreseeable disaster).

The cult of impersonal scientific objectivity, of knowledge without a subject, is the religion of the bureaucracy. And among its favorite devotions is, for obvious reasons, statistics, the State science par excellence, which effectively attained this status in the militarist and absolutist Prussia of the 18th century, which was also the first society, as Mumford observed, to apply on a grand scale to education the uniformity and impersonalism of the modern public school system. Just as at Los Alamos the laboratory was transformed into a prison, what the world-laboratory is now announcing, as the experts represent it, is a barracks ecology. The fetishism of data and the puerile respect for anything that can be presented in the form of an equation has nothing to do with the fear of error, but rather with the fear of the truth, which the non-expert can formulate without any need for numbers. This is why the non-expert must be educated and informed so that he can submit in advance to the ecological-scientific authority that will dictate to him the new rules, which are so necessary for the smooth functioning of the social machine. In the voices of those who passionately repeat the statistics that are disseminated by catastrophist propaganda, it is not revolt that resounds, but submission in advance to the states of emergency, the acceptance of the disciplinary regimes to come, and support for the bureaucratic power that pretends, through the use of coercive measures, to assure collective survival.

XXIV

If we were to subscribe to the formula of Nougé (“Intelligence has to have teeth, because it attacks problems”), we would be tempted to concede only a very mediocre intelligence to Latouche, the leading thinker of the “anti-growth” movement, that ideology that presumes to be a radical critique of economic development and its “sustainable” products. He provides evidence of a distinctly professorial talent, which verges sometimes on genius, of being able to make a mess of everything he touches and to transform any critical truth, by translating it into the neo-language of the anti-growth tendency, into an insipid and sanctimonious vulgarity. We must not, however, assume that he deserves all the credit for a suave and edifying dullness that is the result of a certain kind of politics: the one the left-wing experts use to attempt to mobilize their troops by recruiting all those who want to believe that we can “escape from development” (that is, from capitalism) by remaining within it. We shall therefore refrain from judging the writings of Latouche as personal works (in this respect, the genius of language is more cruel than any judgment could ever be: his prose faithfully reflects the content of his works). That such a stew, in which all the clichés of eco-compatible citizenism float, could be presented as the bearer of any kind of subversion—even if it were only of a “cognitive” sort—itself gives you an idea of the reigning conformism. On the other hand, with regard to our present topic, Latouche is perfect: he is a master when it comes to flattering the good conscience and nourishing the illusions of the subordinate personnel who still cling to “the social fabric” and who will soon be hired for jobs in the disaster management industry. This is what he calls, at the beginning of his most recent breviary (Petit traité de la décroissance sereine, 2007), supplying “a useful working tool for any executive director of any group or any committed politician, particularly at the local or regional level”.

It should be recalled that the program of those who want to “curtail economic growth”, as it is conceived by Latouche as well as both the decaying citizenism and ecologism in search of a way to rebuild, is reminiscent of the one sketched in 1995 by the American Rifkin in his book The End of Work. Even then he intended to “announce the transition to a post-commodity and post-wage labor society” by way of the development of what Rifkin calls the “third sector” (which roughly translates into French as the “associative movement” or “social economy”); and by the encouragement towards that end of a “mass social movement” “capable of putting pressure on both the private sector and the public authorities” “to achieve the transfer of a part of the enormous benefits of the new information economy towards the creation of social capital and the reconstruction of civil society”. But the anti-growth movement is instead counting on the harsh necessities of the ecological and energy crises, on the basis of which they propose to found so many other virtues, in order to put “pressure” on industrial corporations and the States. Meanwhile, the militants of the anti-growth movement must practice what they preach and show how pedagogically austere they are, in the vanguard of a kind of rationing baptized as “voluntary simplicity”.

Precisely because the advocates of curtailing economic growth present themselves as the bearers of the most resolute will to “escape from development”, it is among them that one can best measure both the depth of the guilt they have to feel (inverted in self-flagellation and commandments to virtue) and their lasting imprisonment in the categories of “scientific” argumentation. The thermodynamic fatum fortunately exempts us from having to choose which road to take: it is the “law of entropy” which constitutes the only alternative to the road of curtailing economic growth. With this Egg of Columbus, laid by their “great economist” Georgescu-Roegen, the supporters of the anti-growth movement are confident they have the irrefutable argument that cannot but convince at least businessmen and leaders of good faith. If not, the consequences, which are predictable and calculable, will compel them to make the inevitable decisions (as Cochet says, whose book Pétrole apocalypse often quotes Latouche: “At one hundred dollars a barrel for petroleum, civilization will have to change”).

Defining society as thermoindustrial likewise permits the discounting of everything now taking place in regard to coercion and recruitment, and everything that does not contribute, or only makes a small contribution, to the exhaustion of energy resources. All such factors are happily passed over, especially when one is an accomplice in public education or other forums. Attributing all our problems to the “thermoindustrial” nature of this society is therefore easy enough, as well as simplistic, for the purpose of satisfying the critical appetite of arriviste fools and cretins, the last remnants of ecologism and the “associative movement”, which comprise the grassroots of the anti-growth movement. The care taken not to offend these grassroots with overly crude truths, by flattering them with a smooth transition to “the joyous rapture of shared austerity” and the “paradise of a convivial curtailment of economic growth”, leads Latouche, who is not after all an idiot, to such voluntary poverty, words of wisdom on the electoral circuit or papal encyclical as the following: “It is becoming increasingly more likely that, beyond a certain point, the growth of GDP translates into a reduction of well-being”; or even, after having dared to impute the desolation of the world to the “market system”: “All of this confirms the doubts we have expressed about the incompatibility of capitalism with a society of the curtailment of economic growth” (Le pari de la décroissance, 2006).

Although most advocates of the curtailment of economic growth feel that it is premature or inadvisable to formally create an “Anti-Growth Party” and that it is preferable at this point to attempt to “influence debate”, it is nonetheless the case that there is a kind of party waiting in the wings, with its informal hierarchy, its rank and file militants, its intellectuals and experts, its leaders and its smooth-talking politicians. All of this works marvelously in the virtuous conventions of a citizenism which it is careful not to upset with any sort of critical excess: above all, it is crucial not to offend anyone at Le Monde diplomatique, to be nice to the left and parliamentarism (“The radical rejection of representative ‘democracy’ has something excessive about it”, ibid.) and, more generally, to progressivism, by not giving the impression of indulging in nostalgia, technophobia, or anything that might be considered to be reactionary. The “transition” to the “escape from development” must be conducted vaguely enough so as not to impede the scams and con games that are ritually denounced as “professional politics”: “The compromises that may have to be made regarding the means of transition must not lose sight of the goals with respect to which we must not make any compromises” (Petit traité de la décroissance sereine, 2007). Latouche recites these goals in a style worthy of the schools for Party cadres: “We must recall these eight objectives that are capable of unleashing a virtuous circle of serene, convivial and sustainable curtailment of economic growth: reevaluate, reconceptualize, restructure, redistribute, relocate, reduce, reuse, and recycle” (ibid.). With regard to what is to be reused and recycled, Latouche is the first to set an example, repeating again and again from one book to another the same pious wishes, statistics, indices, references, examples and quotations. Going around and around in his “virtuous circle”, he nonetheless tries to innovate and has thus enriched his catalog with two more Rs (reconceptualize and relocate) since the era when the glorious proposal to “undo development, rebuild the world” was issued under the aegis of UNESCO (Survivre au développement : De la décolonisation de l’imaginaire économique à la construction d’une société alternative, 2004). What is not so easy to understand is the absence of a ninth commandment, to reappropriate, having cleansed the word of any revolutionary taint (the old “Expropriate the expropriators!”); thus decontaminated, it nonetheless fits like a glove on the expedited enterprise of recuperation to which the anti-growth movement has devoted itself in order to supply itself in the blink of an eye with a gallery of presentable precedents (where we now find “an anarchist tradition within Marxism, rejuvenated by the Frankfurt School, councilism and situationism”, Petit traité de la décroissance sereine).

According to Latouche, the “gamble of curtailing economic growth […] consists in thinking that the attraction of the convivial utopia combined with the pressure of the requirements for change is capable of creating a situation that is favorable for a ‘decolonization of the imagination’ and arousing sufficient ‘virtuous behaviors’ that are conducive to a reasonable solution: ecological democracy” (Le pari de la décroissance). But, with respect to the “requirements for change”, we see clearly just what the advocates of the curtailment of economic growth are good for—to take over, with their calls for self-discipline, from the propaganda for rationing, so that, for example, industrial agriculture will not run out of water for irrigation—but on the other hand it is harder to understand just what attraction could be exercised by a “utopia” whose “semi-electoral” program claims to make room for happiness and pleasure by proposing to “stimulate the ‘production’ of relational goods”. Certainly, no one would precipitously put their faith in lyrical outbursts about shrinking futures;8 but there is hardly any danger that such a thing would happen when these beggars appear with their funereal faces and begin to declaim, with the enthusiasm of a socio-cultural emcee, their promises of the “joy of life” and convivial serenity. The unfortunate attempts to inject a little fantasy into their austerity are as inspired as those of Besset, who sings of the beauty of surrealism as a prefect at the inauguration of the René Char library in a certain provincial city. Happiness seems to be such a new idea to these people, and the idea that they have of it is so similar to the joys promised by a macrobiotic banquet, that there is no other remedy than to suppose that they will die of boredom or that some casseur de pub9 has called their attention to this fact. Now they are basically devoted, particularly in their “theoretical” journal Entropy, to proving that they are big fans of art and poetry. So now we are seeing this in posters and flyers (“On Sunday afternoon at the offices of the groups of Moulins-sur-Allier, from 3:30 to 5:00, the club of local poets and the association of Breton sculptors will present an entertaining performance, followed by an ecological snack”).

The ideology of the curtailment of economic growth was born in the milieu of experts, among whom, in the name of realism, they would like to include in a “bio-economic” accounting those “real costs to society” incurred by the destruction of nature. It preserves the indelible stamp of its origins: despite all the usual talk about the “re-enchantment of the world”, its aspiration, in the style of any technocrat of the Lester Brown type, remains that of “internalizing the costs in order to achieve an improved management of the biosphere”. It preaches voluntary rationing to the rank and file, to set a good example, but demands from government measures from the highest levels: redistribution of the tax burden (“ecotaxes”), subsidies, regulations. If on occasion it ventures to profess anticapitalism—in total contradiction of proposals such as that of a “universal basic income”, for example—it never dares to profess antistatism. Its vaguely libertarian tint only serves to placate part of the public, and to provide a touch of very consensual and “anti-totalitarian” leftism. In this manner the unreal alternative between “ecofascism” and “ecodemocracy” serves primarily to avoid any mention of the bureaucratic reorganization currently in progress, in which one serenely participates by agitating in favor of consensual regimentation, hyper-socialization and conflict resolution. The fear that is expressed in this childish dream of a “transition” without struggle is much more a fear of some disorders in which freedom and the truth could be embodied and cease to be academic questions, rather than a fear of the catastrophe the threat of which it brandishes in order to make their leaders repent. Which is why, quite logically, this curtailment of the growth of consciousness ends up finding what it was looking for in the virtual world, where one can, without feeling guilty, travel “while having only a limited impact on the environment” (Entropy, No. 3, Fall 2007); as long as, however, one forgets that in 2007, according to a recent study, “the information technology sector, worldwide, has made just as much of a contribution to climate change as air transport” (Le Monde, April 13-14, 2008).

XXV

However much Latouche manages to refrain from excess in carrying out his “iconoclastic duty”, the movement to curtail economic growth also has its revisionists, who invite it to dare to appear for what it really is and to once and for all beware of that subversive attire that is so unbecoming to it: “An initial proposal for consolidating the idea of a peaceful curtailment of economic growth would be to clearly and unequivocally renounce revolution as a goal. To damage, destroy or overthrow the industrial world seems to me to be not only a dangerous folly, but also an open appeal to violence, just like the project of overthrowing the social classes was in Marxist theory” (Alexandre Genko, “La décroissance, une utopie sans danger?”, Entropy, No. 4, Spring 2008). Even Besset himself, despite the fact that he is the spokesman for Hulot and a supporter of “la Grenelle de l’environnement” as “a first step in a project of transition towards an ecological, social and cultural transformation of society”, finds it difficult to follow this up with a more moderate caveat: “Considering the magnitude and the complexity of the task, long-winded proposals or doctrinaire catechisms will not exactly be of much help…. However much we accompany the curtailment of economic growth with sympathetic adjectives—convivial, equitable, happy—the thing will not be pleasant … the transition will be terrible, and the break with the past will be painful” (ibid.). These bitter warnings make it clear enough in their own way why the recommendations of the movement for the curtailment of economic growth by no means constitute a program whose content will provide an opportunity for debate, and concerning what kind of compulsory musical score will determine how they play their minuet (decrescendo cantabile), by way of an swan song for an epoch of industrial society: a “new art of consumption” among the ruins of commodity abundance.10

The image of what was not so long ago referred to as the “free world”, has actually hardly varied at all since Yalta: that democratic conformism, armored in its certainties, its commodities and its enviable technologies, was certainly somewhat shaken for a moment by the revolutionary unrest of 1968, but the “fall of the wall” seemed to assure it of a kind of eternal life (some then spoke expeditiously of the “end of history”) and it thought it could congratulate itself that its poor relatives would want to have their turn, and as soon as possible, at access to such delights. Later, however, it had to begin to experience unease at the number of cousins it had, especially the most distant ones, and to ask itself if they were really related, when they recklessly set about increasing their “carbon footprints”. What disturbs the whole world is no longer only the classic scenario of overpopulation, where, despite the increase in productivity, food supplies would prove to be insufficient for meeting the needs of a growing population, but an unprecedented situation in which, with a stable population, the threat is an excess of modern people living modern lives: “If the Chinese or the Indians have to live like us….” Faced with this “catastrophic reality”, the technological panaceas with which we still want to deceive ourselves (nuclear fusion, human transgenesis, colonization of the oceans, space exodus to other planets) hardly bear the aspect of radiant utopias, except for a few enlightened ones, but instead look like palliatives that will in any event come too late. It will therefore be necessary to continue to preach about “hard sacrifices” and “painful breaks” to populations that are going to have to “decline by several stages in the scale of food, mobility, production and lifestyle” (Besset); and, with respect to the new industrial powers, there will have to be a return to protectionism in the name of the fight against “ecological dumping”, in the hope that as a result there would be a more conscious appraisal of the “environmental costs” and the measures that should be adopted to deal with them (a reorientation that is currently embodied in China by Pan Yue).

The “urgent requirements” that the realism of the experts takes pleasure in repeatedly proclaiming are exclusively those that impose the preservation and planet-wide generalization of a condemned industrial way of life. The fact that they can only be applied within a system of needs whose dismantling would allow us to confront, amidst the insane complications of the managed society and its technological orthopedics, the vital problems that only liberty can address and solve, and the fact that this rediscovery of material obligations confronted without intermediaries could be, in itself, in the activity itself, a form of emancipation, are ideas that none of those people who speak to us of the immense dangers created by our entry into the anthropocene era dare to openly and clearly expound. When someone ventures to timidly suggest something of this kind—that depriving ourselves of the comforts of industrial life might not be such a painful sacrifice, but rather the contrary, an immense relief and a sensation of finally returning to life—he is generally pressured to retract his statements, and he is aware of the fact that he would otherwise be tarred with the brush of antidemocratic terrorism, or even of totalitarianism or ecofascism, if he were to follow his argument to its logical conclusions; this explains the proliferation of works in which certain pertinent observations are diluted in an ocean of reassuring considerations. Almost nobody conceives of the advocacy of their ideas not as a banal strategy to win over public opinion on the model of lobbying but rather as a commitment within a historical conflict, in which one strikes without seeking any other ally than an “offensive and defensive pact with the truth”, as a Hungarian intellectual said in 1956. For this reason one cannot but feel terrified at the unity of points of view, the absence of any independent thought and of any really dissident voice. If we take modern history into account, even if it were only the last century, it is dizzying to note, on the one hand, the variety and the audacity of so many positions, hypotheses and contradictory opinions, of whatever kind, and, on the other hand, what has now replaced all of that. In response to the brainwashing to which so many still living protagonists have voluntarily delivered themselves, in the best cases they will sometimes respond reasonably to these historical works, but they will feel that they belong to paleontology or the natural sciences, so far removed are these authors from imagining that the elements they bring to light could have any critical use today.

The taste for respectable conformism, and the hatred and the panic-stricken fear of history, except as a univocal signpost, have reached such a point that compared to what today passes for a member of the civil society movement—with his moderate and polite indignations, his priestly hypocrisy, his cowardice in the face of any direct conflict—any left wing intellectual of the fifties or sixties would almost seem like an indomitable libertarian brimming over with combativity, imagination and humor. Seeing such mental standardization, one could very well believe that one is seeing the result of the activities of a thought police. In reality, support for consensus is the spontaneous product of the feeling of powerlessness, of the anxiety that it implies and the need to seek the protection of the organized collectivity via a complete abandonment to the total society. To cast any doubt whatsoever upon the certainties democratically sanctioned by general consent—the benefits of internet culture or those of high tech medicine—could cause one to be suspected of a deviation with respect to received opinion, it could even lead to independent thought or even a judgment passed against alienated life as a whole. And who can be allowed to do such a thing? All of this cannot but bring to mind the motto of the militant’s submission, perinde ac cadaver, as it was formulated by Trotsky: “The Party is always right”. But whereas in the totalitarian bureaucratic societies coercion was perceived as such by the masses, and it was a terrible privilege of militants and apparatchiks to have to believe in the fiction that a choice was possible—for or against the socialist fatherland, the working class, the Party—that is, to have to constantly put to the test an orthodoxy that was never really secure, that privilege has been democratized today, although with less dramatic effect: no opposition to the good of society, or to what society declares to be necessary. It is a civic duty to be healthy, to be culturally up-to-date, to be connected to the net, etc. Ecological imperatives are the latest irrefutable argument. Who is not, of course, opposed to pedophilia—but, above all, who is opposed to the preservation of the social organization that will allow humanity, the planet and the biosphere to be saved? Here is the real mother lode for an already vigorous and widespread “citizen” personality.

In France, what is especially noteworthy is that this frightened submission adopts a particularly oppressive, almost pathological form; but in order to explain it there is no need to resort to a psychology of national character: it is simply because here conformism has had to work overtime in order to shore up its certainties. Since it is necessary for it to condemn in advance the denial that was inflicted on it forty years ago, that critique of modern society and of its “system of illusions” delivered by the revolutionary uprising of May 1968, and which fleetingly penetrated the collective consciousness, inscribed on the ephemeral public space that gave rise to its wild existence. A rival of Latouche in the movement to curtail economic growth, who emphatically declared himself to be “republican” and “democratic”, that is, statist and electoralist, thus expressed his fear that “extremist and maximalist theories and practices” would reinforce in the youth those defects that appear to come natural to them, “such as hatred of institutions or the wholesale rejection of society” (Vincent Cheynet, Le Choc de la décroissance, 2008).

XXVI

Subjected to a campaign of exaggeration every ten years, and this time converted, to put an end to it once and for all, into a deafening racket, the scandal of the “cultural revolution” that the French May supposedly was recuperates, augmented by the contributions of a multitude of false witnesses, the interpretation of the events which was immediately offered at the time by those who did not deny that they were reactionaries. Although the relative restraint shown in the repression that followed the crisis certainly did not in any way resemble the Bloody Week,11 there was no lack of either sociologists (some of whom were quite mistreated in the agitation that preceded the uprising) or commentators and journalist-cops who rapidly vomited up their bile. Concerning that movement without either leaders or representatives (but which some individuals sought to manufacture as soon as possible), in which the most insignificant public buildings were occupied and which, nonetheless, was so lacking in rationality that no one ever even thought of investing the Champs-Élysées or the National Assembly, what can be said about it that will deprive it of its ability to frighten people, except that it was in reality nothing but a pantomime, a psychodrama of baby-boomers playing at revolution, a recreational release valve that the “consumer society” offered its spoiled children, that is, a non-event in the final analysis? It is an enduring irony that “the May events” has become the usual name given to the obsessive vacuity of this non-event.

Piling up on this inaugural falsification that was the stupid journalistic image of the “student commune”, the successive layers of false representations confidently deposited on the occasion of each commemoration tell us instead about the epoch that produced them, and about the persistent difficulty in assimilating the insult that the uprising inflicted on the acuity of the analysts of that era, including all its intellectuals as well as its PhDs in revolution. But it likewise shows that what had led to so much effort and so much controversy over so many years had not ceased to be perceived as a vague threat of dissolution of the entire existing order: it had finally come to discussing, following the model of revisionism a la Furet—for whom the French Revolution unfortunately went wrong because of the existence of revolutionaries—a “demonization of power which is corroding the pillars of coexistence and discrediting the very possibility of a transformative politics” (“Mai 68, quarante ans après”, Le Débat, March-April 2008). Since the irritating “mystery of ‘68” still involves the question of how, starting with a very restricted agitation, whose declared goal was the destruction of the University, so many people enthusiastically participated in the critique in acts of “everything that can be criticized”, it will be understood that almost all of its historical enemies—certified experts or actors credentialed by their frequent appearances on TV—will henceforth join a reassuring consensus in favor of the idea that it is finally nothing but an “impossible legacy”, according to the judicious formula of one of these experts. One could not be more faithful to the truth nor is there any better way to express it than to say that that attempt to reject all the different forms of alienation, old and new, has left nothing for the use of those who, in order to condemn it or to praise it, have ever more confidently proclaimed that the main effect of the movement was to overthrow the archaisms that still restricted French society and which prevented it from carrying out its comprehensive modernization.

This capitalist modernization, well advanced under Gaullism, probably would have been carried out anyway, but the various leftist sects played a supporting role in it that was falsely attributed to the uprising. It is known that only after the end of the uprising, and during the early days of the return to order, once their organizations were reconstituted which had been dissolved by a State that was looking for an enemy whose motives it could understand—and which it opportunely discovered in these sectarian and hierarchical groups, whose methods and goals were radically opposed to the essence of what the occupations movement was and what it had attempted to accomplish—these leftist groupuscules acquired, in just a few years, an influence and a visibility of which they could have only dreamed previously. What they did with this influence was invariably grotesque and revolting; some, who had not all become senators, believing that May was a dress rehearsal of the seizure of the Winter Palace, while others, convinced that they were the embodiment of a new Resistance and that they were on the road towards civil war, dreamed of popular tribunals and summary executions. All of this collapsed very quickly, but by way of the decomposition of all their political illusions and ambitions, which they renounced without, however, renouncing their style and their worst methods, the leftists managed to create a new identity for themselves in a kind of “cultural leftism” whose impact, and whose unequalled contribution to our finally liberated and truly modern customs, is recognized by the whole world. There are those who often express how fortunate it was that, in its stage of delirious mimicry with regard to the military imagination of bureaucratic regimentation, French leftism did not join the flight forward into terrorism, as occurred shortly afterwards in Italy and Germany. One can, however, frame the question somewhat differently and discern that its sectarianism, its ideological dementia, its sacrificial militantism, in short, the whole ensemble of the practices and effective reality of these groups was sufficient, without the need to proceed to the propaganda of the deed, to produce the same effects, by destroying a revolutionary generation in the making, infecting it with ideology and inducing it to loathe subversion as a result of its repugnant play acting. This was the first contribution made by leftism, as negative as it was decisive, to the success of the modernization project whose course had been led to a temporary detour by May ‘68.

XXVII

Gustav Janouch relates Kafka’s disappointed comments after watching a workers demonstration pass by, its flags flying in the wind: “These people are so convinced and so sure of themselves, and are in such a good mood…. They rule the street and think therefore that they rule the world. But they are mistaken. Behind them are the secretaries, the officials and the professional politicians, all the modern sultans, for whom they are paving the way to power…. The revolution is evaporating and all that remains is the mud of a new bureaucracy”. (It was later in the same passage that he would state: “The chains of a tortured humanity are made of office paper”.) Although very muddy, what will be left after the evaporation of the revolution this time cannot be defined as a “new bureaucracy”. The replacement of the personnel of domination took place, of course, but in the usual way of a new generation taking the place of the old in the framework of the existing society. (This was at least understood by the Minister of the Interior during the period of the reestablishment of order when he said, sarcastically enough: “All of these young leftists will end up as deputies or mainstream journalists”.) If the revolution was lost in the muck, this was due to the promotion of new customs, propagated by those same people who had devoted their principle efforts to containing and channeling the flood and which were rapidly adopted by those who had been their spectators to the end; what is most significant is the fact that this spread of pleasant customized freedoms that constitute the customs of the slaves of an advanced society is presented by most commentators, even when they attempt to be critical of such a “market individualism”, as the specific content of that unfinished revolution; not as one of its effects, in conformance with a “classic” process of recuperation, but as its essence and its most profound meaning.

Ever since social revolutions have existed and ever since they have been defeated, we have witnessed restorations that have employed the most varied methods; but we have never before seen them succeed, so rapidly and with such little repression, in carrying out such a disarmament of consciousness. Anyone who took part in the revolutionary unrest of May and then saw Paris in the autumn of 1968 would understand immediately, unless he preferred to deceive himself, what a variety of faces the counterrevolution adopted on that occasion, and would get a sense of just what they all had in common. Along the endless vistas of asphalt streets, it was not so much the ubiquity of the police that characterized the reestablishment of order as the murky happiness of the Directory: a kind of revanchist binge dictated their liberated behaviors to the Muscadins et Merveilleuses12 of a relieved middle class, all the more prepared to surrender body and soul to the revolutionary fashion, and especially to that of the liberation of lifestyles, insofar as it had aspired for several years to enjoy a lifestyle that was more in keeping with the various appliances it had been able to acquire. This was the occasion when leftism made its second contribution, this time a positive one, to modernization. But it was first necessary for its most extremist variants in the microbureaucratic imposture to reach, by way of demagogy and deception, their point of putrefaction.

Concerning the manner in which part of that “untamed youth”—which was the only fragile “heir” of May—joined the manipulative activism of leftism, it has been characterized as “a kind of ‘after the fact’ Leninism” (Kristin Ross, May ’68 and its Afterlives, 2002). Nonetheless, for such a recruitment campaign to be successful, leftism had to add a great deal of adventurism and spontaneist demagogy to its Leninism; or should we say, its Leninism-Stalinism, since it was primarily the Maoists who excelled in this genre, as they would later with regard to media repentance, the promotion of youth culture and festive makeup. At the vanguard of this process of decomposition, an unprecedented “anarcho-maoist” current attempted, as early as 1970, to diversify its range of influence and to confer a more pop culture image on the squalid routine of the militant, adapting the idea of a “revolution of everyday life” to the sinister blindness about the “liberation” of Vietnam on the part of the local Stalinists and other monstrosities regarding the “Cultural Revolution”. At the same time, the importation of the American-style “counterculture” spread the worst clichés of a slovenly consumption, spiced up with the drugs of transgression, in an ideological melting-pot that here in France, and perhaps also in its country of origin, in any case signified an impressive step backwards. All of this culminated during the course of the seventies in a mass hedonism, conventional insofar as it was proudly displayed, to which the most fragile element of the modern social critique contributed its touch of complacent “subjectivity”.13 The renunciation on the part of the leftists of their most draconian ambitions for revolutionary leadership was utilized above all, in the name of certain conveniently rediscovered “individual liberties”, to make up for the time wasted in militant mortification in order to adopt the effervescent style of consumption that would from then on be customary. In this way, the obscene safety valve of the “slave festival” gave way after a few years, as it spread to more and more layers of society, to a festive slavery patronized by the government.

The suddenness and the historical violence of the French May implied the requirement that the “reestablishment of order” would be, more than just a restoration, the accelerated perfection of the new order of the commodity against which May had rebelled. In order to be complete, this brief sketch of the role that the various leftisms played in this respect must also mention the manner in which the latter, by recruiting the bulk of their troops from the student milieu, applied to their future cadres, who were manufactured as quickly as possible to respond to certain growing needs, techniques of training and manipulation that anticipated those that now prevail in the world of the “enterprise” and in much of social relations. In fact, by imposing a kind of interdisciplinary program, the leftists in effect contributed, where the University still lacked such expertise, to the inculcation of new aptitudes and to the forging of the necessary character traits for the graduates of this dual degree program, preparing them for the optimal execution of the tasks that would henceforth be their responsibility in the continuation of the modernization process; the flexibility they were made to display in order to submit to the tortuous political lines pronounced by their respective leaderships could finally be fully utilized. Some sociologists, who had passed from a “critical sociology” to a “sociology of critique”, more attentive to the positive dimensions of the social bond, have attempted long after the fact to give a theoretical form to the phenomenon and have discerned in it a new spirit of capitalism. The trick consists in situating libertarian assertions and the critique of alienation under the ad hoc category of “artistic critique” and in presenting this as something that is quite different from a pure “social critique” that refers exclusively to exploitation and hierarchy, which authorizes the accusation of the “artistic critique” for “playing the game of a particularly destructive liberalism”. It should not be surprising that Jean-Claude Michéa has proclaimed as “definitive” the “analysis” of that pair of pedants (Boltanski-Chiapello), but curiously he was not the only one, for there were some from whom we could have expected more lucidity regarding such a claim to re-found social critique ex cathedra.

XXVIII

If we have engaged in this quick summary of the falsifications of the French May—deliberately attending to just this one aspect—it is not because we feel absolutely compelled to do so by some “duty to memorialize” dictated by the ten-year commemorative celebrations. What, in our view, justifies these retrospective observations is the recent appearance, after so many years of slanders or slanderous eulogies, of a new wave of commentators who claim to defend ’68 even in its most anti-bureaucratic aspects, and who continue to slander it, since according to them we must interpret (in the style of the book by Kristin Ross quoted above, which was published in France by Le Monde diplomatique)14 the “social movement” of December 1995, Seattle and other rejections of “the liberal new world order” as a continuation, an “afterlife”, of “May”. We would only like to point out that, contrary to one of the most admirable features of the occupations movement (its matter-of-fact rejection of the State, of legality and of any “social dialogue”), the “anti-liberal” protests do nothing but deplore the disappearance of the “social State” and its “culture of public service”, stooping so low as to demand its restoration. Nor is it irrelevant to point out that the post-’68 era has witnessed—in addition to a “festivism” that, now that the storm has put out the fires of the party, no longer requires a great deal of boldness to attack—a diversified supply of segmented egalitarian protests, all of which are unified by their reformist conformism which, when not engaging in apologetics for, avoids any criticism, even of a purely verbal nature, of the central realities of technological and commercial alienation. This is of course true of the statist metastases called associative movements. But it is well known that protests like neo-feminism or the homosexual movements that at least fought against the persistence of particularly repugnant ancient alienations, have been able to embody, by means of French theory, a very effective vanguard of normalization and social conformism in which it is hard to discern, with regard to everything from equal rights to gay marriage, just which prescriptions belong to the domain of the politically correct and which to that unitary thought whose expression until not so long ago aroused such passions. In the mouths of its volatile anti-liberal, another-world-is-possible and anti-growth avatars, the civil society movement formulates and uniformly develops “the social demand for protection from the catastrophe”. Its discouraging example thus contributes a useful complement to the classical critique of bureaucracy. The latter applies to the way the State imposes its rules and its control over society. From now on, it is society itself—by means of any men whatsoever who mobilize to combine their various anxieties and to manufacture the image of an alleged “civil society”—which also demands rules and control. It cannot be overemphasized, everything else being equal, how much this muddy land exhibits disturbing similarities with what Primo Levi, in The Drowned and the Saved, designated as the grey zone of the Lager.

XXIX

In his critique of the works in which Burnham first popularized Rizzi’s theory of the bureaucratization of the world, Orwell pointed out how the fascination with the spectacle of force had led Burnham, before he ended up following the crowd and joining the anticommunist propaganda of the Cold War, to overestimate the efficiency of the organization that he called “managerial”, although at the risk of attributing this same irresistible efficiency to Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia due to the circumstances of the time. Orwell noted that this way of predicting the linear continuation of what was then taking place and speaking of “processes which have barely started are talked about as though they were already at an end”, without sufficiently accounting for the slowness of the whole historical process and what we would today call “sociological inertia”, “is bound to lead to mistaken prophecies, because, even when it gauges the direction of events rightly, it will miscalculate their tempo” (“James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution”, 1946). In a later text (“Burnham’s View of the Contemporary World Struggle”, 1947), Orwell once again addressed this tendency “to reduce history and its complex processes to a pure logical schema” and to that kind of “realism” that falsifies the perception of reality, and which in this case leads Burnham to attribute an ineluctable character of necessity and unstoppable efficiency to the bureaucratic concentration of power. An effect similar to that of the “power worship now so prevalent among intellectuals” may be observed in the fascination with regard to the technological system, its rapid growth and its “Blitzkriegs” against nature: they are the same monotonous delusions of infallible rationality, of sudden and brutal transformations, of historical destiny that is sometimes terrible but always grandiose.

For its part, social critique, even when it deserved the name, often succumbed to some of these mistakes: it either indulged in irony regarding the blunders and mistakes of the leaders, made fun of the incoherence and ridiculous failures of their projects, gloated over the “internal contradictions” which, inevitably, undermined the existing society; or else, on the contrary, as a result of a desire for lucidity with respect to the progress of alienation and thus wanting to emphasize, against all the revolutionist illusions, the perfection of domination, conceded to the latter an efficiency, and sometimes even a rationality, that was capable of allowing it to appear to be indestructible. Obviously, the danger always exists that one could fall prey to exaggeration and simplification when one is describing an ongoing process, in this case one that is leading to the establishment of a “green bureaucracy”. But in reality it was almost indispensable to exaggerate in order to make people see precisely in what sense the “new course” of domination cannot be considered a simple face-lift, what the Anglo-Saxons call greenwashing. We are not unaware, however, of how far the bureaucratic project of the sustainable management of disaster, from the moment when it goes beyond a call for taking responsibility when brushing our teeth by turning off the tap or for car-pooling when going to the ecological supermarket in order to reduce our carbon footprint, runs into too many obstacles, both external and internal, to effectively achieve any kind of stabilization on a world scale. (After all, according to its own confession, only on that scale can any results be obtained.) The disaster management whose broad outlines we have attempted to trace will achieve its most striking successes in the countries that are already the most civilized, and most accustomed to over-socialization. And even there it will not, like every bureaucracy, obtain more than a simulation of efficiency. However rapid bureaucratization may develop, precipitated by the states of emergency that it will have to decree, it will “resolve” nothing: it will have to confront, with its enormous means of coercion and falsification, the spread of all kinds of plagues and their unforeseeable combinations. But the intellectual satisfaction of knowing that it is condemned to failure is not much of a consolation for us, especially since this outcome promises what may be a long period during which industrial society will be collapsing on top of us. There is thus no place for any computations regarding its possibilities or any speculation regarding what comes “later”. For the time being it is already successfully stifling, and is doing so with an incomparable efficiency, any attempt to sustain a social critique that must be both anti-state and anti-industrial. In this respect we may venture to draw a parallel with the historical situation of the revolutionaries between the two world wars, at a time when one had to be both anti-fascist and anti-stalinist; the use of the fascist threat by the Stalinism of the popular front is similar in many ways to the statist propaganda now being disseminated regarding the risks of ecological collapse: the same concealment of the real historical causes, the same blackmail of urgency and efficiency, the same manipulation of universally acknowledged noble sentiments.

XXX

The obstinate refusers who attempt to cast doubt upon the benefits, whatever they may be, which the propaganda for oversocialization insists on imposing against all the evidence, and who refuse to enlist with the Sacred Union for the salvation of the planet, can prepare to be treated in the near future as deserters and saboteurs were in times of war. The “state of necessity” and the shortages that will accumulate will first of all force the acceptance or demand for new forms of servitude, in order to preserve what can be preserved of guaranteed survival even if it is only partially successful in this endeavor. (And everyone knows how things stand where no one can boast of such historical conquests.)

The course of this strange war, however, will not fail to create opportunities to engage in the critique in acts of the bureaucratic blackmail. Or, to put it slightly differently: one can predict entropy, but not the rise of something new. The role of the theoretical imagination is still that of discerning, in a present crushed by the probability of the worst-case scenario, the diverse possibilities which nonetheless remain open. Trapped like everyone else within a reality that is as unstable as it is violently destructive, we shall not overlook this datum of experience, which seems to us to be appropriate for resistance: that the action of a few individuals, or of very restricted human groups, can have, with a little luck, effort and will, incalculable consequences.

April 2008

Translated from the Spanish edition: René Riesel and Jaime Semprun, Catastrofismo, administración del desastre y sumisión sostenible, Pepitas de Calabaza, La Rioja, Spain, 2011, 131 p.

  • 1. “The most profound and most real historical catastrophe, the one that in the last instance determines the significance of all the others, resides in the blind persistence of the immense majority, in the resignation of all will to act on the causes of so much suffering, in the inability to even subject them to lucid examination. This apathy will be shattered, over the course of the next few years, in an increasingly more violent manner, as a result of the collapse of all guaranteed survival. And those who represent and support that survival, cultivating a fragile status quo of reassuring illusions, will be swept aside. The emergency will be imposed on everyone and domination will have to speak at least as loudly and as clearly as the facts themselves. It will all the more easily adopt the terrorist tone that is all the more natural for it the more it will be justified by effectively terrifying realities. A man suffering from gangrene is in no position to discuss the causes of his illness, or to oppose the authoritarianism of amputation.” (Encyclopédie des Nuisances, No. 13, July 1988).
  • 2. “One would have to be a Marxist from the Collège de France to be unaware of the fact that the commodity is essentially, in its quality as a social relation, the annihilation of all qualitative particularity and all local uniqueness in favor of the abstract universalization of the market. If one accepts the commodity, one must accept its world-in-becoming, of which each particular commodity is an agent, even before they were manufactured in Taiwan” (Encyclopédie des Nuisances, Remarques sur la paralysie de décembre 1995, March 1996).
  • 3. “The first and most important of these necessary conditions for scientific knowledge was to draw a hard and fast line between the artificial environment of observation and experimentation on the one hand, and the confusion of the world on the other…. The procedures and techniques which have been implemented in the artificial environment of experimentation have so profoundly penetrated the world, they are so completely mixed with it to such an extent that it has become impossible to disentangle even the causes from the effects and there is nothing left that one can know through observation; neither the functioning of a mechanical system that is closed on itself, nor any nature that is not altered by artificialization. Therefore, we can say that science, which in order to be built had to ‘sacrifice’ the world in theory, has ended up by sacrificing it in practice, and has in the process also destroyed itself, since the position of the pure observer that was that of the scientist has by all considerations become unsustainable” (Encyclopédie des Nuisances, Remarques sur l’agriculture génétiquement modifiée et la dégradation des espèces, February 1999).
  • 4. “Ecologism recuperates all of this and adds its technobureaucratic ambition to supply the measure of everything, to reestablish order in its way, transforming itself, as a science of the generalized economy, into a new mode of thought of domination. ‘Us or chaos’, the ecolocrats and recycled experts say, those promoters of a totalitarian control they seek to exercise, in order to overtake the catastrophe in progress. It will therefore be them and chaos” (Encyclopédie des Nuisances, No. 15, April 1992).
  • 5. An untranslatable play on words involving estomper (“to blur, to tone down”) and the double meaning of the verb gazer (“to veil, to dissimulate, to wrap in bandages”, but also “to poison with gas, to gas”). (Note from the Spanish translation.)
  • 6. “Ecologism, otherwise, has not been remiss in becoming political; such a good predisposition could not go unused. From 1972 forward, a multitude of summits and reasonably specialized and alarmist reports were coming to the rescue […]. This is how, after 1987, the international community began to speak of a commitment to sustainable development, a clumsy chimera whose universal success in itself summarizes the progress attained by the imprisonment in the industrial mentality” (René Riesel, Los progresos de la domesticación, 2003).
  • 7. “The ecological state of emergency is simultaneously a war economy that mobilizes production in the service of common interests as defined by the State, and an economic war against the threat posed by protest movements that might unequivocally criticize it” (“Appeal to All Those Who Would Rather Do Away with Harmful Phenomena than Manage Them” [1990], Encyclopédie des Nuisances, No. 15, April 1992).
  • 8. “ … lendemains que décroissent”, an allusion to the “singing futures” (“des lendemains que chantent”), an old slogan of the French Communist Party. (Translator’s note from the Spanish edition).
  • 9. Casseurs de pub (“Destroyers of Advertising”) is a French magazine edited by Victor Cheynet whose views are similar to the postulates of the movement for the curtailment of economic growth. (Translator’s note from the Spanish edition).
  • 10. “Thus, at the very moment that the flight forward of industrial society is irreversibly leading it to collapse, it has chosen to privilege the exchange of Jesuitical arguments about control—scientific, or perhaps civil—over the merits of the public management of this collapse or over the precautions that will have to be adopted in order to make this collapse bearable. How is it possible to see this as anything but a controversy over the customs or table manners that one has decided to observe in the pool of Medusa?” (René Riesel, “Communiqué” of February 9, 2001, at Montpellier, Aveux complets sur les véritables mobiles…, 2001).
  • 11. May 21-27, 1871, when the Paris Commune was crushed and thousands of its supporters were executed by the troops of Versailles. (Note from the Spanish edition.)
  • 12. Muscadins (“dandies”) et Merveilleuses (“fabulous divas”); Fops, Incredibles … names given during the French Revolution to the realists, who called attention to themselves by their affected and elegant attire that verged on the ridiculous, and who made their first appearance in the counterrevolutionary Paris of the Directory. (Note from the Spanish edition.)
  • 13. “The true vanguard of adaptation, leftism (and especially where it was least connected to the political lie) preached, then, practically all the impostures that are now the common currency of alienated behavior. In the name of the struggle against the routine and against boredom, it denigrated any persistent effort, and any appropriation, which requires patience, of real abilities: subjective excellence was supposed to be, like the revolution, instantaneous” (Jaime Semprun, L’Abîme se repeuple, 1997).
  • 14. Published in the United States by the University of Chicago Press.