No Time to Disinvest in the Face of the Climate Apocalypse
Apocalypse is one of those words with lots of baggage. It’s also one of those words that is highly politicised and means an insurmountable array of things for a broad spectrum of people; to be crystal clear from the outset: what we mean by an apocalypse is an uncovering, an unveiling, and a revelation. Arguably, we are living in a post-apocalyptic world and we have been since 1988 at the latest, when James Hansen revealed to a broader public that our energy use has global consequences; the unveiling we speak of is the ongoing climate apocalypse. However, ‘our’ energy use doesn’t necessarily mean all of us and, in fact, in such a construction lies the crux in our understanding of the post-apocalypse, climate culpability, and the difficult task of structural upheaval necessary to navigate the climate apocalypse.
Bad news is something that we all seek to avoid and yet it is simultaneously all we ever seem to be subjected to. We are bombarded with crises, catastrophes, and cataclysms on an almost daily basis. Beyond the news of our boldest climate targets, the ozone hole, and ocean acidification it has recently been ascertained that lethal ‘forever’ chemicals, otherwise known as PFAS, now taint the entirety of populations and places on earth as we watch as the nuclear experiment unleashed upon us by the petrochemical industry unfolds1. Not only is our food tainted by chemicals, our built environment makes up 40-60% of our carbon emissions2, meaning that our surroundings and the very food we eat, as well as water we drink, are obviously and painfully unsustainable and yet when we use the term ‘we’ we are really referring to a specific subset of humans: those most affected by the climate crisis such as social minorities, indigenous and nomadic communities, and women. Although the hardest hit are those who already exist in a system of discriminatory oppression where they are seen as disposable, it is the top percentage of wealthy human beings among us that have irrevocably changed the tide of anthropogenic climate change and yet we all must carry the heavy weight of doom and gloom, its ever-present essence like a veil over our otherwise content lives.
However, geological sites such as the Lago Agrio oil field in Ecuador where “Amazonian peoples have borne the costs of oil development without sharing in its benefits and without participating in a meaningful way in political and environmental decisions that affect them” (Kimerling, 2006: 416) have suffered in entirely apocalyptic ways. Rivers of fire, drinking water contamination, birth defects, and increased rates of oil related cancer all add to already precarious living conditions. Their way of life pre oil field was, however, incredibly sustainable and rich in uncountable immaterial ways. Indigenous groups like the Siona, the Kichwa, and the Secoya to name just a few, all entirely individual and independent in their language and societal structures, certainly have one thing in common: they all depended on their natural environment for survival. An environment that was irrefutably poisoned by Texaco and Chevron, both billion dollar corporations. Chevron, the company that acquired Texaco in 2001, still refuses to pay retribution even after admitting “that it deliberately discharged 72bn litres of toxic water into the environment”3 while, at the same time, Steven Donzinger, the main human rights lawyer who backed the case, sits under house arrest on dubious charges. As these devastating contaminations continue today it seems that many corporations have learnt nothing from Minamata disease and the Chisso Coperation, now rebranded as JNC, and the mercury contamination that continued to devastate Japanese people for almost forty years; mostly because their business model of infecting an environment and making the local communities pay for it continues to work.
Although already discriminated groups living in areas of the Earth are forced to experience not only hazardous but also inhospitable living conditions, the West is not without signs of drastic change. The Global Climate Risk Index, published in 2020, revealed that Germany (13.83) is in fact the third most affected country just below the Philippines (11.17) and Japan (5.5)4. This is most likely due to the heat wave in 2018, but still the Alps, that tremendous mountain range, Germany only one of the eight countries they cover, will turn the tide of what fresh water and rapid running rivers means for us across the continent. Those ever-present montes horribilis are a hotspot for biodiversity and as Michael Ruhland explores in his recent National Geographic offering we most certainly will witness its destruction especially if you are under the age of 30:
The Alps are one of the most important climate divides in Europe. Thanks to the high amount of precipitation throughout the region, they represent the most crucial source of fresh water on the continent. Millions of people profit from fresh, steady flowing water from the Po Valley as well as the Rhone or the Rhine and the Inn, Lech, and Isar rivers. Once the glaciers have melted away as a result of global warming - and this will happen in the next 30 to 60 years - streams and rivers will dry up again and again; and the lack of melted snow and ice water will surely be felt.5 (2021: Our translation)
And although that absurdly hot summer of 2018, and the slowly melting ice of the Alps are both interconnected the first feels, at this point, like a fluke, the other a slow erosion; according to Wallace-Wells “[b]y 2040 the summer of 2018 will likely seem normal” (2019: 107). This might seem like news to those of some of us here in the West, however Malcom Ferdinand explores how the double fracture of colonialism and environmentalism promotes “a narrative about Earth that erases colonial history” (2021: 8). The fact that those having lived with colonial brutality, as well as continuing to live with the systemic extensions of said enslavement, are also those living with the worst effects of climate change is not a coincidence and that in fact:
by leaving aside the colonial question, ecologists and green activists overlook the fact that both historical colonisation and contemporary structural racism are at the centre of destructive ways of inhabiting the Earth (Ferdinand, 2021: 11).
If we are to realise that the planet is undergoing a defining time of revelation, it is important to realise that that revelation, the current slow post-apocalypse, is undeniably important in revealing the colonial and structurally racist conditions of technological productions, resource extraction, and maritime economy to name just a few areas of ‘existence’ culpable for climate change.
We might be accused of being guilty of shock tactics in the form of inequality charts as seen in the ‘dinosaur graph’ above, however the most important issue to point out is that these shocking numbers of ‘inequality’ are related to how “some manage to turn their wealth into power over others: or that other people end up being told their needs are not important, and their lives have no intrinsic worth” (Graeber & Wengrow, 2021: 20). This, and this alone, is the real intent of the facts, figures, and charts; not to merely reveal the already obvious inequality of wealth and economic disparity in the world, but to point to the detrimental anti-human nature of said inequality. Just because those who create such disparity, which, in turn, leads to ecological and not merely economic disparity, are pen pushers rather than acting from behind the triggers of guns, does not mean that those responsible are not, in fact, answerable for what Julia O’ Faolain, in her heart wrenching account of falsely accused IRA prisoners, calls “legal murder” (2019: 47).
“Beyond a critical point within a finite space, freedom diminishes as numbers increase. This is as true of humans in the finite space of a planetary ecosystem as it is of gas molecules in a sealed flask. The human question is not how many can possibly survive within the system, but what kind of existence is possible for those who do survive” - Dune (Herbert, 1965: 559)
If the coronavirus response is any indication, a disappointingly large fraction of the public is unwilling to sacrifice much of anything for the public good. Arguably our COVID-19 response has been a dress rehearsal for climate change. In a sense we have experienced an apocalypse: the revelation being that global health requires something beyond your own agency. In another sense the pandemic has shown us that what we continue to experience is unlike a classical apocalypse, that humans are incredibly resilient, and that injustices that were always painfully obvious for some have been revealed for others. Like the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate apocalypse will require more than individual action to mitigate. After all, it took more than individual action to cause. Some people, in the face of restrictions and lockdowns, are mistakingly conflating short term inconvenience for prejudice and oppression; mostly because they have no real understanding of their privilege. Which begs the question: Are we willing to restructure our lives and adjust to the new paradigm? Chekhov’s insipid Ivan Ivanych in his short story Gooseberries declares, regaling his brother, that “a man needs more than six feet of earth” instead “he needs the whole wide world, the whole of nature” (2015: 47). With such human hubris the fantasy of progression is revealed and, subsequently, enforced. Each of us, especially us humans in the west, must instead like Ivan, learn to be humbled by, as he eventually does, the sweet taste of homegrown gooseberries again and outright reject the idea that we could ever own the whole of nature, let alone a single part of it.
When we come to temporally tainted discussions about the climate catastrophe, asking ourselves when is the end, what is an end, and when was the start of the end? It becomes startlingly obvious that the current climate crisis we face is different to millennial, eschatological, and theological understandings of the/an apocalypse. Eschatology in particular is, according to Craig, “the description of the destiny of the spatiotemporal world and its human inhabitants” (2008: 601). Doomsdays, final judgments, and prophetic, predicted, and mystical cataclysmic events across the religious spectrum, suggest (mostly linear) dates and times in which the world will experience an apocalypse. Whereas here and now “[f]or the first time in planetary history” suggests Altvater “humanity— acting through capitalist imperatives — is organising nearly all its productive and consumptive activities by tapping (and depleting) the planets energetic and mineral reserves” (2016: 145).
We now know that climate change in the anthropocene will be, and indeed already is, an act of slow decay rather than the overly represented sudden catastrophe and breakdown of ecological systems so often regurgitated throughout Hollywood; as well as in other apocalyptic scenarios seen in films and novels. In other words, there will be no Day After Tomorrow scenario. Instead the day after the apocalypse will be every day; we are already living in it (See Colebrook, 2017). Instead every day is the day after a fresh apocalypse.
Masco, amongst others, suggests that in the case of nuclear war, for example, it “is short and fast and in the hands of a few” while, on the other hand, “climate change is long and slow, a cumulative and accelerating effect of industrial activity” (2018: 77). Masco’s main argument, drive, and goal however is to “proliferate modes of conceptualisation and visualisation of ecological conditions that can allow wide contemplation of the complexity of human interventions into natural processes and, most importantly, evolve radically with those understandings” (2018: 102). With this, we wholeheartedly agree. Radically evolving is the only option that remains to us. Because although the climate catastrophe is, unlike other catastrophes, an act of slow decay, forest fires, as just one example of climate changes destruction, are fast. Franzen, while recounting the Jüterbog forest fires of 2019, says: “I emotionally grasp how fast the calamities are approaching. The image that stayed with me was the speed” (2021: 6-7). Not only is our natural world starting to burn, but its starting to melt too. In Montana, for example, there used to be 150 glaciers; whereas “today, all but 26 are melted” (Wallace-Wells, 2019: 107). The problem may be a slow one, kicked into gear by the industrial revolution and the colonial storm; the long term effects of climate change will also be slow but rising oil prices, limited resources, an oncoming massive refugee crisis, rising sea levels, wet bulb conditions6 becoming scarily prominent around the world including the US making more and more places uninhabitable, and the continued production of huge amounts of carbon dioxide emissions due to institutionalised war7, as well as cheap tourism, are all factors that will speed up the climate apocalypse and also, most likely, lead to a kind of unprecedented chaos we may not have experienced before.
Although establishing a multiplicitous way in which we can also discuss and disseminate climate change is, of course, not only important but necessary, it also simultaneously disregards the necessity to focus efforts on the long history of petrochemical capitalism and in the process open our eyes to the most detrimental forces; forces which have ultimately acted in perpetrating the climate apocalypse. The anthropocene as a proposed geological epoch has its own issues. Specifically relating to conceptualisations of climate decay as well as levels of climate culpability. For example Marran, whose work on ecology, storytelling, and slow violence acts as a bridge for ecocriticism and ecopolitics, suggests that “[t]he totalizing language of Anthropocene discourse needs the human species to operate as an intelligible entity for political action”, and that for some of us , “such a global commons is the only way to achieve ecopolitical change” (2017: 119). “Anthropocene discourse”, explains Marran, “requires thinking at the level of species as declared in the name of the concept itself and, in that sense, is trapped by a tautology of human exceptionalism” (2017: 118). The problem, then, with the definition of the anthropocene is thus twofold in that it ignores the historically destructive power of capitalism spawning from colonialism and it’s unwillingness to accept the concept of slow decay; as such it cannot be entirely resolved due to the necessity, now more than ever, for truly global activism combined with local, grassroots action. However, as Polak proposes “disco can be danced alone, as befits the domineering ‘I’ of the Anthropocene” (2020: 198) and to arrive at a point in time and place where such collective activism and local action can take place we must wade through our understanding of worldview.
Pessimism and optimism, like so many other eclectic attitudes toward climate change, are merely views; worldviews to be precise. They are lenses with which to view the world and, as such, they are also akin to what Žižek calls event frames (2014). These frames form narratives; shape as well as twist and transform them; they do not, however, alleviate oncoming and undeniable atrocities. Without stating the obvious, it is as such that the event of climate change, which unlike many events which happen suddenly, on the whole, changes the way we perceive, judge, and view things. Žižek, in reference to Heidegger, states that “[c]atastrophe is not our ecological ruin, but the loss of home-roots which renders possible the ruthless exploitation of the earth” (2014: 32). The climate apocalypse began long ago, and was predicated by our relationship to nature and the earth upon which we reside.
Nevertheless, it is within this relationship that we find the crux to our modern day polarity toward the climate ‘debate’. Moore explains that the “story of Humanity and Nature conceals a dirty secret of modern world history” (2016: 79). His use of capitalisation, or better said synthetic capitonyms, bolsters the nature/human dichotomy while he expands on the hidden meaning of this secret namely:
how capitalism was built on excluding most humans from Humanity — indigenous peoples, enslaved Africans, nearly all women, and even many white-skinned men (Slavs, Jews, the Irish)[…] these humans were not human at all. They were regarded as part of Nature, along with trees and soils and rivers — and treated accordingly (Ibid).
The way in which the anthropocene, or better yet the capitalocene, is framed is upon the basis of a set of humans being exploited as natural resources in a system that is made up of what Mary Gaitskill, in her humane homage to loss, calls "brutal, impossibly complex social forces” (2020: 56) . Many believe that we are already experiencing the post-apocalyptic in the face of the slow decay that is the climate catastrophe. If that is the case, and there is more than enough empirical evidence to back up such a claim, then no matter where one stands on the pessimism/optimism divide, the day after the apocalypse is always, and always will be, day one.
Of course, this worldview divide is a delicate subject. Everyones is doing what they believe is correct and just in their own worldview. However, if you get the impression that what has been done so far is significant enough to avoid apocalypse (it isn’t) nothing will change. If you get the impression that the situation is hopeless (it isn’t) nothing will change. Reverend Toller in the atmospheric A24 film First Reformed (2017) declares: “You can’t know what the future will bring, you have to choose despite uncertainty” (Schrader 2017, 19:56) . However, at the same time, “[e]ach of us”, declares Franzen “has an ethical choice to make” (2021: 33). To reinforce this, Franzen draws an analogy to the Protestant Reformation “when ‘end times’ was merely an idea, not the horribly concrete thing it is today, a key doctrinal question was whether you should perform good works because it will get you into Heaven, or whether you should perform them simply because they’re good” (2021: 33). Independent of worldview there exists universal right and wrong; which is not to say that universal morality exists. For example, if something is worth fighting for then it must have already been established by an individual as right. Environmentalism at a base level is not just an arbitrary understanding and love of the eco system and nature, it is rather a base necessity for continued survival.
“The earth is not dying, it is being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses” - Utah Phillips
Our days of morally charged binary opposites, as often seen in famous works of literature such as Herman Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund, Goethe’s Faust, or Stoker’s Dracula to name just a few, are, undoubtedly, long gone. Instead, we live through days of Machiavellian antiheroes8, the blurring of the lines between good and evil often so obscured that the question of morality becomes the raison d'etre of the literature, film, or television series in question. The shift in our cultural and social understanding of morality is, evidently, a shift in a more humanistic and positive understanding of the complexities of the human psyche as well as our relational actions toward others and ourselves.
Although this may appear obvious as we are all fallible and are capable of inflicting great hurt upon one another, our understanding of good and evil was, historically, far more of a dichotomy. In the West, our religious views of good and evil as well as sin and chastity greatly inform our understanding of moral judgments regardless of our own personal religious beliefs; mostly due to the long and expansive history of the Christian Church. Of course, historically speaking, as well, the Axis of Evil, which assumes the biblical rendering of good and evil to consecrate the metaphor, is just one more recent example of the use of this dichotomy to establish vilification. Sturm notes that “President Reagan and members of his government were known to make apocalyptic and religiously motivated statements” (2010: 134) which, in turn, reveals that the “protean American geopolitical world view and othering practices are funnelled through the dispensationalist prism cast of the Bible” (2010: 150). However, as we move through the 2020s we have seen our understanding as well as celebration of villains change indefinitely. The shift from crazed and obviously evil supervillain to antihero is most prominent in more popularised forms of media such as the Marvel cinematic universe. Popularised forms of media that are consumed on a massive scale; as such, this antihero narrative is also being disseminated on a massive scale. Venom (2018) and its prequel Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) as well as their latest Loki (2021) series are prime examples of the archetypical antihero. Loki the god of mischief has committed an uncountable amount of crimes in this fictional multiverse including removing his father, Odin, from the throne as well as the alien invasion and massacre of endless amount of people in the Battle of New York and yet, the character remains not only a fan favourite but the new series hints that he isn’t as mischievous as he may seem after all. It is revealed that he may have a more penitent side and ends up in a rather ridiculous romance with another version of himself. Despite the solipsism, he is still capable of extreme acts of love in the face of uncertainty. In the latest Spider-Man offering No Way Home this disturbing dichotomy whereby no one ever really dies and no one is ever really evil is taken even further when all the previous villains of various Spider-Man franchises are brought back, quite literally, from the dead and eventually saved from their own evil egos. They are subsequently sent back to live a renounced life in an America that they helped - if not destroy - then damage, extending their materiality as well as their redemption through space and time. If a huge amount of mass murdering villains in our fictional renderings on film and in books can turn the tide and become upstanding citizens of society, it makes it increasingly hard for us to make moral judgments about people who have committed evil offences in real life. The trend also goes hand in hand with cancel culture as our villains become more and more complex but real life people can be completely socially and culturally ostracised just as easily as the wrongdoings of our fictions’ villains can.
Although this leads to a plethora of characters with actual depth in some of our most popular stories, in both film and the written word, and a far more entertaining representation of actual humane and human characters who are just as flawed as we are, the climate crisis is in dire need of a villain. That is to say, making the decision that trying to deal with climate change doesn’t necessarily mean casting a villain but that also empathy doesn’t mean letting those who are the most culpable for the continued destruction of our planet continue said destruction. Although the anthropocene fails to accept the sins and genocidal logic of colony and white empire; assuming that we are all culpable to a certain degree, it is also yet to incorporate the culpability of certain companies, as well as certain historical periods, into the framework. It is undeniable that humanity has a drastic effect upon planet earth and the realisation of that fact takes form with the face of the anthropocene, but if our eco system had a villain it would be the fossil fuel and petrochemical industry, and this age old battle would have begun many years ago in this bold, brave narrative. This villainous narrative would also reveal that the companies answerable for the destruction of the planet are also those answerable for the oppression of marginalised groups.
Micro-consumerist trends are excellent, especially if they are applied properly so that almost obsessive consumerism isn’t only replaced by more pious consumerism, and they have started to enact widespread changes (see the following). However, things are going to get worse before they get better in the face of a climate apocalypse (or better said post-apocalypse), and you might be feeling like @bontanUK below while separating the rubbish, cycling to work, going vegetarian or vegan, or avoiding micro-plastic cosmetics. But airlines, energy corporations, and plastics9 polluters have already put the metaphorical nail in the coffin of our discontent as the obsession with profit margins and business models leads to the continued destruction of the ecosystem. As Bock and Burkhardt have established “radiative forcing due to contrail cirrus can be expected to increase faster in the future than that due to CO2” (2019, 8172). That is, even if you offset the emissions of your flight, the contrails the flight creates cause a similar effect. The only solution is for all of “us” to fly less.
And although discouragement is futile this realisation is still incredibly sobering to say the least. The realisation that no matter the worldview, no matter the belief of right and wrong or good and evil, certain companies and conglomerates are answerable for the climate apocalypse should act as a statement of how much more radically we need to act and not that we have failed.
To put this into perspective let us explore a few analogies. Although Tolkien might be ‘guilty’ of creating morally charged heroes and villians he has also gifted us with a story which reflects our current situation incredibly closely. When Gandalf, in Tolkien’s epic fantasy laced with the underlying eco critical comment found in many modern sci-fi novels and movies nowadays, declares reservedly that:
There are many powers in the world, for good or for evil. Some are greater than I am. Against some I have not yet been measured. But my time is coming (2005: 220).
It is impossible to not feel that these words still ring true today. For while Saruman and Gandalf , both members of the Istari; a council of five Maiar or spirits, exist in a kind of cosmological servitude to Manwë with spiritually binding preexistence, one decides to save Middle-Earth from destruction while the other elects for greed and power under the guise of necessary subservience to Sauron. Although both these powerful spiritual beings and wizards sit on the same council, after “being lulled by the words of Saruman the Wise” (Tolkien, 2005: 251), Gandalf understands Saruman’s actions to be not only wrong but criminal. Not only has he broken his spiritual bond, but he is answerable for the destruction of the forests and the recurred militarisation of Middle-Earth. Despite Saruman’s newfound cloak of many colours (Tolkien, 2005: 259), a metonymy for his deceptiveness, “All that is Gold does not glitter” (Tolkien, 2015: 247). Once wise head of a grand order of peacekeepers and spiritual guides, Saruman who liked to “watch the stars” (2015: 260) instead watched as “dark smoke hung and wrapped itself about the sides of Orthanc” (Ibid) as the engines of war and the rape of the earth is underway. Gandalf, despite his love for his friend, as well as all of Saruman’s cunning deception and argument for imminent new power struggles and the way of least resistance, understands him to be wrong, false, and also culpable. He also understands, more importantly, that he must be stopped in his destruction of the earth.
In another fantastical world where parts of the planet hold the proverb "Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall; Death is the fifth, and master of all” to be true (Jemisin, 2015: 149) the narrator of the novel in question asks from the very first pages: “Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we? Get it over with and move onto more interesting things” (2015:1). Another, final, more direct, and possibly more important analogy can be found here in N. K. Jemisin’s award winning The Fifth Season, the first book in the Broken Earth series, when Syenite, a woman with the ability to control energy, is asked what she is looking for she replies that she does not know. It is, however, her thoughts that speak louder than almost all of the words that the novel contains when she almost subconsciously thinks to herself: “A Way to change things. Because this is not right” (2015: 371).
The systems (in which we have been living) and climate change are intrinsically tied to one another or, rather, as Scheidler puts it, the ‘megamachine’, i.e. his jargonistic word for the complex and violent system of hegemony encompassing neoliberalism as well as capitalism, is currently “in the process of undermining the Earth’s great life-supporting systems, devastating flora and fauna, soils, forests, oceans, rivers, aquifers and the climate system” (2020: 7-8). Such a system is inherently dependent on our biosphere and thus “a far-reaching, systematic upheaval is inevitable” (Scheidler 2020: 7). As the inevitability of the situation takes hold however, we might be asking ourselves what we as individuals can do. Curtis explores how that we might need to surrender our individualism to see change:
This is a sort of forgotten idea, is that actually you surrender yourself up to a big idea and in the process you might lose something. But you’d actually gain in a bigger sense because you’ve changed the world for the better. […] [T]he forgotten thing about politics, is that you give up some of your individualism to something bigger than yourself […] you can spot real change happening when you see people from the liberal middle classes beginning to give themselves up to something, surrender themselves to something bigger than themselves. (Curtis, 12/12/2016)
Nonetheless, we exhibit spaces of this earth as individuals regardless of our societal and familial roles. So, what if anything can you individually do? Sure, you can go vegan or vegetarian, drive less, etc. And maybe you should do those things. But you shouldn’t believe that will be enough. Nor can you use that as a deliberate strategy to avoid confronting your individual role in all of this amongst the broader systemic role.
As we have seen, the history of capitalist development is almost always the history of state-guided development. To reform capitalism - and to move beyond it - the Left needs to place the state front and center in its strategic considerations. Appeals to corporate social responsibility, attempts to shame capital into reform, strategies that declare politics “broken” and seek to circumvent the state, or escapist hyperlocalism - all hallmarks of American environmentalism - are fundamentally unrealistic. (Parenti, 2016: 182)
Albritton, who offers practical and rational action in a time when all of us seek to wade through misinformation maelstroms and the death throes of capitalism, suggests that “[I]n the next 25 years we will see if power of the people can divert the power of capitalist corporations away from the seemingly continual mining and using up of fossil fuels, various metals, rare earths, and chemicals” (2019: 75). Truly global problems await and Albritton stresses the necessity for “global solutions, global cooperations, and global caring” (Ibid) all of which are not only in their fledgling phases but also difficult to achieve. However, global solutions do not mean that local activism and local action are unimportant and in fact they are key to coming to terms with our current climate apocalypse as the “the size of productive organisation should be as local as possible” (Ibid).
Unfortunately, the mitigation of and adaptation to global warming and climate change are incredibly complicated and complex; they require both global and also local action but also an awareness that technocratic and techno-utopian ideals and ‘solutions’ are also eons away from the realism of the situation. In their recent 2021 book Calamity Theory: Three Critiques of Existential Risk Woods and Schuster make an incredibly convincing argument for the necessity for more than just extravogant technological solutions or billionaire playboy space colonisation but rather ecological methods of environmental justice.
A metaphor that we find useful when thinking about system change and structural upheaval is a metaphor related to the systems in which we have been living and global ‘warming’. As the world starts to burn: how do we extinguish the fire without a fire extinguisher? In other words, how do we avoid violent solutions in a structurally violent system?
First, we must think differently. The problem is a slow and steady one; but the effects of said problem, such as forest fires, are furiously fast. Local and seemingly small movements are not only important but also all the individual can really do faced with systemic institutionalism and the sheer size and scale of the problem at hand.
As Kostera has explored in her book on radical activism and organisation:“politics and organizing can directly contribute reciprocally to each other in order to support social movements that resist oppression and injustice” (2019: 170). It is not only within the political system that answers to our ecological ends can be found but also without. For example Kostera also argues that “anarchism can have a constructive contribution to a number of key organizational issues, supporting autonomy and anti-authoritarian leadership” (2019: 171). With that in mind “any movement toward a more just and civil society can now be considered a meaningful climate action” says Franzen (2021: 37). A mere handful of these climate actions include:
Instituting humane immigration policy, advocating for racial and gender equality, promoting respect for laws and their enforcements, supporting a free and independent press, [and] reducing the number of assault weapons in circulation (Franzen, 2021: 37).
In a similar way, by coming to terms with the revelatory aspect of the latest IPCC reports (which is not to say that over thirty years ago we didn’t know that climate change and carbon emissions would be not only a local problem but an apocalyptic one), means coming to terms with the idea that the time to take the bull by the horns on climate change has, inevitably, come and gone. All of these, furthermore, assume that the feedback mechanisms aren’t that bad. Historically the IPCC reports have been, according to Franzen “massaging scientific data to produce more politically palatable predictions” (2021: 54). There is nothing to say that the reality of climate change won't be, unfortunately, much worse. According to the sixth IPCC assessment report: “Warming substantially larger than the assessed very likely range of future warming cannot be ruled out”10. What then will happen to the already disadvantaged global poor who are the ones, ultimately, having to experience the full force of climate catastrophes when so few are willing to do so little to change the trajectory of our planet? And while rightwing climate skeptic politicians do what they do best and deny to both the public and themselves and many on the left vie for attention and activism to finally ‘get to work’ (and mostly because they are stuck in a tautological trap whereby they must continue fighting for change because the right continues to deny that change), there is still meaningful work to be done. With the revelation of this knowledge, we begin to live in the post-apocalyptic present and ask questions such as: How can we make this world a better place to live? How do we disinvest in WMDs and instead invest in demilitarisation; especially in a world once again confronted with nuclear threats? How do we preserve and protect species of animals and plants (both sentient and non-sentient)? How do we finally put an end to social and economic injustice propagating the continuation of industrial colonialism? And, finally, how do we start to force immigration policy to a more humane standard in the face of a great climate migration? Because although carbon emission reduction is a worthy and noble battle, we need to learn, as Donna J. Haraway’s book title suggests, to stay with the trouble (2016). The future of climate activism will inherently “consist of some large hopeless battles and some smaller battles that can be satisfyingly won” (Franzen, 2021: 58). We are, of course, already facing a huge climate catastrophe but in the eternal words of metaphysical poet John Donne: “No man is an island” (1959: 108). None of us can afford to disinvest in the face of a post-apocalyptic climate change realised world (anti-natalism is not a solution).
Before we can even begin to be able to answer any of these questions concerning how we make the world a more habitable place for all, however, we have to consider our current contradiction: We must maintain a hopeful disposition while also remaining unsatisfied with progress. In other words, we must consider the cognitive dissonance of our contradictory calamity and the unequal distribution of climate culpability and conclude that mitigating climate change will be an uphill struggle. Our environment is undoubtedly and most definitely going to get worse before it gets better. We have attempted to show that climate change in these turbulent times is, principally, a genocide of the poor, however blaming individual actors or oneself is ultimately unhelpful as there exists an unequal distribution of culpability when it comes to climate change. Understanding that privilege, or at the very least the continued exploitation of the global poor, and climate destruction are intrinsically linked as Ferdinand (2021), Moore (2016), and Scheidler (2020) have all shown, however, is important. And with that crystal clear view of maintaining hope against hope and the refreshing understanding that we have been living through the post-apocalypse since it was revealed to us that there is no point of no return; that the system we live within is not only part of the problem but rather the problem we can begin to see that a non-violent upending of the entire worldly organisation is not only necessary but indefinitely inescapable. Checks and balances for the petrochemical industry, urban planning as well as landscaping and architecture, plastic polluters, and the arms industry need to be put in place. What is necessary is nothing short of the remaking of the world into a form which is more equitable. An immanentizing of the eschaton, as it were. Of course, we will fail; we already have failed. But we must continue to try.
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