3 Responses

  1. Richard Smith January 22, 2014 at 10:04 am |

    Climate scientists like Kevin Anderson may call for “changes at all levels” and even “degrowth” but I have yet to see any climate scientist in the UK or elsewhere mention the word capitalism let alone suggest that we would have to abandon capitalism and replace it with an entirely different economic system to get the sort of changes we need to save the humans. I hope this particular change will happen soon because that is the public debate we need to be having right now. Phil has a point that my post appears to lump Anderson together with James Hansen, Rajendra Pachauri and other climate scientists who promote carbon taxes. I apologize for this ambiguity. That was not my intention. I thought it was completely clear from Clarke’s quotes that Anderson strenuously opposes carbon taxes as “doomed to fail.” My target was, rather, Hansen and the pro-carbon tax crowd. Still, what I said was climate scientists “imagine that carbon taxes and similar fiddling can save us.” I put Anderson’s call for “strict energy/emissions standards for appliances and industrial equipment” under the “fiddling” category. We need all those, of course. But, as I said, and have written in my papers, despite impressive gains in energy efficiency, these gains have been and tend to be regularly outstripped by ever more growth. What we really need, for example, is not so much new energy-efficient cars as fewer cars — massively fewer, hundreds of millions fewer cars, with virtually no production of new cars (and also no more new planes, ships and so on) for a very long time, till emissions drastically fall. That’s the ONLY way GHG emissions in the transport sector can be massively wrenched down by 2050. But of course, changes like that are incompatible with capitalism and would require a new, post-capitalist economy. If climate scientists are going to venture into discussion of the economy, that’s what we need to be talking about.

  2. Richard Smith January 11, 2014 at 10:06 am |

    “Revolutionary” climate scientists? I wish.

    Climate scientists are not ecosocialist revolutionaries yet but the implacable logic of capitalist destruction of the planet is driving them in that direction. I just wish they would move a little faster. We don’t have a lot of time for remedial classes.

    I read every abstract and watched most talks at that conference. There were plenty of calls for “radical” cuts in emissions and consumption. But when the conference turned from the climate science to the social science, there was no talk of radical economic change, let alone revolution. When the conversation turned to the economy, radicalism vanished.

    Andrew Simms of The New Economic Foundation called for “green growth” (viz. throw out everything you have now and buy new “green” stuff). Others talked of “degrowth”, “personal carbon trading,” “using the power of shame” to pressure people to cut consumption.

    Kevin Anderson called for “radical reductions in energy demand” and a Marshal plan to convert to renewable energy.

    Alice Bows-Larkin showed how shipping could be technically upgraded to reduce emissions. I liked the paper on “low carbon fun” the best (really).

    Naomi Klein, in her keynote address, gave a rousing call for a “radical movement to push for those radical emissions cuts.”

    One paper hinted that the climate change debate was “missing the knowledge of political economy.” (Indeed!) But there was no discussion, or even mention of the word that must not be mentioned if scientists want to keep their jobs: capitalism. There was no discussion, or even mention of the radical systemic change out of capitalism, that would be necessary, as prerequisite, to enforce those radical cuts in emissions.

    It’s all very well if we adopt energy saving lightbulbs, cars, ships, and airplanes (as several participants suggested). But what difference does it make, really, if industries are free to produce ever more lightbulbs, cars, ships, and planes?

    Dozens of scientific studies have shown that all the energy gains of the past three decades have been outstripped time and again by ever more growth — less polluting planes but ever more planes means ever more pollution. William Stanley Jevons showed why that tends to be the case back in 1865.

    You would think climate scientists and environmentally focused social scientists would have read this stuff by now and moved on to grapple with the deeper systemic problems are driving ecological collapse: the growth imperative of capitalism, the inability of corporations to commit economic suicide to save the humans, what would happen to our capitalist economy if we all really did “stop shopping” to save the planet, the imperative need for large-scale economic planning, even on a global scale, to deal with the global ecological crisis we face, the need to smash the treadmill of consumerism so that we can really have some time off to enjoy that “low carbon fun,” and so on.

    But for all their brilliant understanding of climate change, climate scientists seem remarkably daft about the most obvious basics about capitalism and the reality of money and political power in capitalist society. With shocking naïvete, they still, at this late date, imagine that green taxes and similar fiddling can save us, that giant multinational corporations who buy and sell politicians and entire governments like so many prostitutes, would ever allow the enactment of serious carbon taxes that would savage their profits or even drive them out of business. James Hansen is particularly bone-headed in this regard with his endless loop mantra about carbon taxes.

    Those scientists need to be disabused of their illusions. And they need our help to give them the backbone to stand up against the politicians and funders who will come down on them for even suggesting that capitalism is a problem, let alone the problem.

    We need to call them out at their conferences, pile into their inboxes, push these people to grok the understanding that the engine of planetary collapse is the capitalist system and that the only alternative to global ecological collapse, if not our actual extinction, is global social revolution, the (peaceful non-violent) overthrow of the capitalist world order and it’s replacement with a global eco-socialist civilization — and asap.

    As they’re always telling us, time is short.

    1. PhilW January 18, 2014 at 8:15 am |

      A lot of what Richard Smith writes is fair comment, but there are two things he says that I want to challenge. One is that climate scientists who make a political stand will necessarily put their jobs in jeopardy. I’m not sure this is the case, at least in the UK: it may be different in the USA and Australia. In the final analysis, it depends on the balance of forces, i.e. if there are enough people willing to act in their defence if they are victimised for their political positions. It may not be a useful starting point to suggest that speaking out is so hazardous!

      Secondly, Richard has missed the important difference between James Hansen’s position and that of Kevin Anderson and his colleagues. Renfrey Clarke’s report shows that Anderson argues strongly against carbon taxes on grounds of their ineffectiveness in the face of the intensity of the climate crisis. I think that is a strong argument. Hansen has been careful to present his carbon tax proposal as redistributive, in an attempt to render it immune from criticism as socially regressive. This makes arguments about whether or not it would work more important and Anderson and colleagues seem to be saying it won’t.

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