By Razmig Keucheyan, May 5, 2014. Source: The Guardian
With the release of the fifth report by the UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change, calls for the international community to once and for all transcend its divisions and get serious at last about climate change have multiplied. The content of the report is nothing less than frightful: global warming has been occurring since the middle of the 20th century at an unprecedented rate, already engendering all sorts of disasters. No doubt is permitted as to the principal cause of the phenomenon: mankind. This changes everything, to quote the title of Naomi Klein’s forthcoming book. Because climate change will affect all of humanity, it renders past conflicts and traditional political categories – left and right among them – obsolete.
Well, this widespread ecological consensus isn’t getting us anywhere, and it will certainly not help us fight climate change effectively. The environmental crisis is not brought about by an endless proclivity of mankind to destroy its environment and deplete natural resources, as Jared Diamond, among others, would make us believe in his neo-Malthusian bestsellers. It finds its origin in the logic of a quite recent system, one that was born in the 19th century: industrial capitalism.
Capitalism is productivist, ie it seeks to increase productivity indefinitely (it has no embedded self-limiting mechanism). Moreover, it is predatory, programmed to exploit and exhaust natural resources and biodiversity. Finally, it is irreparably tied to a carbon – coal, oil and gas – energy system. To use the words of German Marxist Elmar Altvater, industrial capitalism is necessarily fossil capitalism. All three features combine to give way to the dreadful situation described by the IPCC report.
This is exactly why the environmental crisis doesn’t render past conflicts and divisions obsolete, but on the contrary reinforces them. Climate change doesn’t change anything, it rather worsens existing problems. To paraphrase a famous dictum by Lenin, it is the highest stage of capitalism.