Climate Change vs Moderation

This is the problem with Crook’s brand of High Broderist faux-moderation. Crook says he supports some kind of carbon tax and public funding for research and mitigation, but he quite obviously hasn’t given the slightest thought as to whether that policy would be enough to achieve his climate goals, or even what those goals are. Instead, he just implicitly assumes that the best solution is one that doesn’t disrupt the status quo very much.

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Political moderation on climate change is many things, but perhaps the most important one is that, as we’ve seen, it is incredibly risky. Such a position is, in effect, courting tremendous damage to human civilization to avoid admitting that the greens might be right about something. ((Ryan Cooper, “Will the vanity of centrists doom us to climate disaster?“))

As for differences between right and left today, the claim that “both sides do it” only qualifies as “Broderism” if you have already determined that one version of the politically correct actually is correct in connection with specific circumstances or issues. Having concluded that climate change theory is correct, that the problem is of paramount importance, and that solving the problem requires the assent of non-scientists, we seem to have no choice but to insist on an ideologically correct line, or coercive enforcement of its dictates, rather than an impossible or at least unlikely process of turning every influential individual or masses of voters into climate scientists. If the political left or green left has the only possible solution to the paramount problem, ((That appears to be the position of those to Chris Hayes‘ and perhaps even Ryan Cooper’s left: See, e.g., “A Second Civil War,” and “Toward Cyborg Socialism” both at Jacobin Magazine.)) then the fact that the left might also be susceptible or even more susceptible to the substitution of ideological discipline for thought or open inquiry would be either secondary or even potentially a plus. Both sides may “do it,” but even being the only side that “did it” would be decisive only if “doing it” impaired achievement of the paramount and indispensable aim. The last is, however, very possible in a liberal democratic political culture, or, put differently, liberal democracy with its moderating or compromising tendencies becomes itself a principal impediment to achievement of the paramount and indispensable aim.

The resulting problem can be put abstractly, or under maximal heightening of respective positions, as follows: If the only way to avert climate change catastrophe is, eventually, the immoderate or total state, then the question would be whether the total state without climate change catastrophe would be better than the moderate or liberal democratic state with climate change catastrophe.

It goes without saying that proponents of climate change prevention will insist that their goal can be achieved without the total state, or with measures beneficial to human beings for other reasons, but we already know that most of them are ideologically predisposed to believe nothing else, and we also know that their adversaries are ideologically predisposed to be more sensitive to infringements on negative freedoms – to see the advent of the total state in measures that the liberal-left is ideologically predisposed to see as simply reasonable. Advancement of the immoderate state always carries the risk of movement toward the tyrannical or autocratic state, which, under conditions of war or catastrophe tends toward the total state. The alignment of power and of (divergent) principle against not merely moderate or radical measures raises the further question of whether the total state would be required to quash opposition to them, as well as whether  the necessary measures already constitute the advent of the total state. Outside of an unprecedented consensus among all or most people, bringing about the total state and operation of the total state both require a willingness to apply coercive force.

The climate change movement would therefore have to prove to the satisfaction of those not already strongly predisposed in its favor that climate change catastrophe would be worse than 1) civil war played out on a global scale, and 2) conditions tending toward or embodying the total state, and, furthermore, it must prove that the civil war could be won and the necessary measures implemented successfully (also taking into account possible direct negative effects of the war itself on achievement of the paramount goal). Proving that a global civil war can be won and that a global state or system of states enforcing ideological discipline and controlling economic activity can be put in place and maintained is more difficult than proving that climate change is occurring and is a significant threat. If projections of climate change catastrophe are accurate, then we should assume that climate change catastrophe will occur, or will have to occur at least to the extent that it establishes itself as a greater evil in the minds of vast numbers of people and of a sufficient number of powerful people. It can be established as such a greater evil in two ways, by the direct impact of climate change catastrophe on people, and by the actions of those and other people, for instance if they are motivated to perform escalating acts of political violence and economic sabotage. Either, but especially both, imply further substantial deterioration of circumstances of life prior to adoption of significantly more meaningful measures.

We should also expect that any such change in opinion on the main question would be accompanied by numerous initiatives about whose efficacy and wisdom there will be great additional divergence of opinion. Geoengineering and enhanced carbon capture or mitigation schemes will continue to be proposed, and it will be difficult to convince non-specialists that an investment in them would not be worthwhile. Even at a very low likelihood of success, the rewards – averting the total state or preserving liberal democratic freedom, averting war, and averting or mitigating climate change catastrophe – would justify a very high investment. Achieving successful geoengineering or other technological rescue might finally also require or produce the total state, but, even then, it might do so under much more favorable circumstances for its eventual unwinding or moderation. At the same time, especially if geoengineering or other technological fixes prove inadequate, again presuming that the forecast of climate change catastrophe is correct and that powerful forces are aligned against necessary measures, we should presume that at least some movement in the direction of global civil war and the total state will also occur.

6 comments on “Climate Change vs Moderation

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  1. wage war against the basis of industrial economy, for some heretofor unproven future threat, pure Delta House,

  2. Good start on expanding the theoretical field. When I read Cyborg Socialism a couple of wks ago, I found it pretty discouraging in that I just couldn’t get traction on how to approach the whole thing.

    Timothy Morton calls CC a “hyprobject” in that one one hand its scale is too large for short term experiential understanding, and on the other, we are completely immersed in it. (So the constant conflation of climate and weather.) This contributes to various forms of inaction.

    • You or Morton or both put the problem well. Another way of saying the same thing, as I think at one point or another I have previously argued, and that I think John Gray’s anti-humanist thought (following Heidegger explicitly, resembling Polanyi formally) and some deep-ecological anti-humanism (Curtis White, for example) also embody, is that ecological catastrophe is a kind of “natural” destination for instrumentalist reason, the realization of its intrinsic nullity as annihilation. It would be the essence of our civilization as a global civilization, denuded of the last pre-modern vestments, no longer even “Western,” possibly to be brought to term in the East or former East (thus the roles of China and India). The slightly more optimistic view would be that the evolution or education of the human race could not come about by any other process than the production of a global interest internalized, made perceivable as real, through terror. To be real terror, the possibility of failure to defeat it must be acknowledged as real. We are therefore somehow compelled to put our collective survival in real jeopardy, if not through global warming, then by some other means. It would be similar to the realization of the global interest forced by total war and nuclear weapons, but, in the case of the war threat (which has not completely abated), we needed only to refrain from a particular discrete action: Don’t push the button. Ecological catastrophe as a spontaneous and inevitable product of our way of life seems to require us to change our way of life, to become different from what we are, which is by definition unimaginable – thus the despondency.

  3. This is a poor post. All paranoid fantasizing and hand-waving; no attention to fact and function, on a scientific, technical and economic basis.

    To start with, coal, on a cost-price basis, is still one of the best sources of energy, with a couple of centuries of supply and an EROEI generally estimated around 40. But that is precisely the problem. “Clean coal” is an unproven technology and likely would yield a far lower return on an EROEI basis and on a financial ROI basis. (Geo-engineering schemes are certifiably insane, and virtually no independent scientists would advocate them. Globally, ecological crises are running rampant, independent of AGW, which is an intensification and not a sublation of them, and the ecological consequences of such geo-engineering scheme are incalculable). And nuclear, aside from all its other problems, has proven very costly to build and has very long lead times, aside from the various vapor-ware proposals about breeder reactors or thorium reactors.

    If you don’t understand how the alternative universe of think-tank hackery is constructed to moot numerous “alternative” proposals to obfuscate matters in favor of vested interests, you might consult Mirowski’s work on the “neo-liberal thought collective”:

    Constructing a clean, green renewable and sustainable electrified energy system is perfectly feasible, using a “smart grid” to overcome intermittency/storage problems with wind and solar, given a balancing agency for the grid, most likely hydro. And it would be a far more distributed/small scale system of power generation. Land transport would be electrified too, (since that is vastly more efficient than ICEs), with electric mass transit systems, (which under current technology could be highly “personalized), replacing private autos, wherever population densities permit.

    Along the lines proposed by Arjun Makhijani:

    Or Mark Z. Jacobson:

    From the perspective of individual “freedom”, as well as generalized social welfare or quality of life, such a system would be a large enhancement over centralized systems of energy production and distribution.

    A first crucial step is a carbon tax-and-rebate scheme, which, once implemented, should both buffer the population against rising costs and disruptions and bring along public support and engagement for energy transformation:

    After that, a good deal of public investment and a publicly guided indicative industrial policy would be required, (because of the realization and coordination problems of building new capital stocks and infrastructure, while writing down older investments faster than “normal” depreciation), as well as, restoring the public status of institutions of science and research, from their private, corporate capture under neo-liberal auspices.

    But other than coal, fossil fuel resources and efficiencies are already declining. Peak oil has arrived, and fracking and other “extreme” practices yield poor EROEI and ROI returns. If continued, eventually they would just yield a massive amount of stranded sunk-cost investment losses, and, if in the meanwhile, an alternative energy system isn’t developed, the result would just be a massive depression and collapse. And then, of course, the likelihood of tyrannous authoritarian “total state” politics emerging would be vastly greater, even if also vastly less productive and capable of equitable distributions.

    So why the claim for a “total state” rather than just a differentiated one? And why the concern for “liberal democracy”, in the light of its transformation long since into “post-democracy”:

    Surely, you, of all people, can’t be opposed to the sovereign authority and coercive power of governments? And, given the finitude of human agency, aka “freedom”, on both the individual and collective levels, why would you want to uphold the noli mi tangere, often rather infantile attitudes of American right-libertarians?

    This is surely an issue on which “theological” speculations hold no pride of place.

    • Sorry I didn’t notice earlier, JCH, that your comment was trapped in moderation, on account of the number of links it contains. If it ever happens again, please let me know.

      I’m also sorry that you found the post so dismayingly substandard. For my own part, I’m grateful for your comment both because I find it informative and interesting on its own, and also because I find that it supports my abstract description – esp in 3rd paragraph, after “goes without saying” – of how climate change prevention proponents view themselves, their proposals, their opponents, and the unpersuaded.

      More later, I hope, and I apologize again for letting your comment languish in the “pending” tar pit.

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