Endless Curiosity

March 9, 2009

Why strong, bossy states will be necessary

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 12:06 pm

I wasn’t planning on writing a blog entry, but I’ve just been reading Rootless Cosmopolitan, the latest entry being an article by Gavin Evans called Confessions of a Teenage Marxist. In the latter part  of the article, Evans predicts that the State will become increasingly important because of what he calls a paradox ingrained within capitalism:

For close on two decades, this evolving form of globalised capitalism was the only game in town. But then, wouldn’t you know, it turned out there was indeed a paradox ingrained within it. I’m not talking simply about the fissure exposed by the current economic crisis, nor about the contradictions that Marx had obsessed about, but rather, something far more fundamental: the very thing that made capitalism so strong and vibrant – its immense capacity for innovation, expansion and growth – turned out to be the source of its most profound challenge. The reason for this is that the more we produce, the more the earth protests, which in turn could destroy the capacity for production and for life.

Even if you don’t agree with Evans, Montbiot, or Lovelock, this should definitely give you food for thought. Many people will simply disagree despite having no knowledge and no hard facts. Most of us don’t want to believe that these things will happen, especially since there’s basically nothing we can do about it, and the easiest way to deal with the discomfort is to disagree with it. But our agreement or disagreement is irrelevant. What will be, will be. Reality rules.

When I began writing about climate change, I clung to the hope that if we only geared the world to war footing, we had a shot at keeping global warming within 2-degree C of pre-industrial levels. I read the Stern Report and the IPCC report and watched Al Gore’s movie and came away with a sense of urgency. Well, perhaps I have since been reading too much James Lovelock, or too much George Monbiot, but I am now less hopeful. Monbiot cites figures showing we’ll need to cut carbon emissions by over 87 percent per person within the next 40 years to have even a 50-50 chance of avoiding the tipping point, after which climate change becomes self-sustaining and irreversible. Lovelock suggests the tipping point has already been reached and that we may exceed 6 degrees C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century – and that 90 percent of humanity will be wiped out. Our main task, he says, is to adapt to these changes.

To take an Old Testament analogy, Monbiot is like the prophets warning the chosen that unless they turn from their wicked ways, plagues and pestilence will descend. Lovelock is like Abraham telling Lot that, sorry mate, destruction is certain, so get the hell out, chop-chop. But when it comes to climate change, the differences are less profound, because even if Monbiot is right, there’s not much hope of us turning from our wicked ways – or not far enough, quickly enough. An example: China is building 544 new coal-fired power stations (old-style, dirty coal) and 80 percent of its power comes from coal. Another example: the world’s population will grow from 6.7 billion to nine billion over the next 30 years. More people means more carbon emissions (just by breathing, let alone whatever else they do), as well as more over-crowding, less food, less water and more population relocation, but no government other than one-child-per-couple-or-else China, has a serious population reduction strategy.The word ‘impossible’ seems apposite.

We are currently enduring a global recession caused not just by the greed of bankers, but by a systemic failure that has exposed the limitations of markets and the importance of state intervention. It has shaken the confidence of monetarists and of supply side economics more generally, and has presented a fundamental challenge to the underlying philosophy of the libertarian right. I have to admit to a touch of schadenfreude in all this, but, beyond that, there are positive elements to this crisis. The reason I say this is because the coming years climate change will produce political and economic spinoffs far more profoundly challenging than the credit ‘crunch’. These challenges will either be met by massive state intervention – more big brother, more United Nations, more European Union – or they will overwhelm us. We’ve already seen the consequences of the politics of water shortages in Dafur and the West Bank, and its very early days yet. Add in massive food shortages, large parts of the world that become uninhabitable, rising sea levels, floods, droughts, and all the political problems that come with these inevitabilities (mass migration from south to north, more conflicts and wars that take on religious or national or racial hues, and the continued rise of competing forms of religious fundamentalism as people search for answer to the destruction of their ways of life), and you can see why strong, bossy states will be necessary.

Here’s the whole article.

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