Living like a monk isn't going to mitigate global warming.

Living like a monk, under capitalism, will do nothing about global warming. But I'll tell you what might work...

(crossposted at FDL and at Orange)

I suppose this is the newest, most popular conversational trend among the well-heeled now. Buy a Prius, install energy-saving lightbulbs, and stop using so much energy, so you can feel you are "doing something" about global warming. (Or at least talk about those things.) Oh, and leave the capitalist system alone, because (as Saint Margaret Thatcher put it) "there is no alternative."

Maybe a new trend in monastic living will be advertised to suit the vows of austerity that will accompany the declines of fortune among, well, the middle class -- especially the Black and brown middle classes. It will fit current trends in policy, with the chained CPI for Social Security, the Grand Bargain, and so on. I suppose it only seems romantic if you're rich and white. The uber-wealthy can have Marie Antoinette fake peasant villages where they can save energy when guilt over abrupt climate change becomes too pressing or something like that.

But really, folks, what we are talking about here is a class-based approach to abrupt climate change. Oh, maybe you don't feel so rich compared to your neighbors (and one of my neighbors bought into her plot for $950,000 back in '06, so I know what you mean), but, globally, you're rich.  If you live in a rich country and your ecological footprint is 12 times the size of the average Indian's ecological footprint, you no doubt feel significantly responsible for accelerating greenhouse gas emissions.

But here's the catch: how is "consuming less" under capitalism a one-size-fits-all solution? Eh?

Large portions of the world's population live like monks now -- but not because they want to. I'm talking here about the world's poor. You know, that one out of every eight children who go to bed hungry, and so on. The global capitalist system keeps great masses of people poor -- they're the folks who make all that cheap stuff we Americans buy in the stores.  The stuff is cheap because their labor is cheap.  The world's poor -- specifically the world's urban poor (and as Jeremy Seabrook tells us, urban poverty is significantly different in character than rural poverty) -- no doubt want to consume more fossil energy, so they can have food, shelter, jobs, and so on. They aren't going to want to live like monks.

So when the oil producers produce, well, are we just going to tell the world's ambitiously undernourished people that they don't deserve a share of that 74 million bbl./day global oil burning habit? I can tell you how that's going to play out. The Powers That Be in the poor nations, oh sure they're not always nice folks, but they're going to say "hey we need fossil fuels to develop," and the whole "let's live like monks" thing is going to be limited to well-off folks with guilty consciences. And everything will continue along in its merry way until Earth turns into Venus.

And it's easy to imagine what would happen if enough people actually stopped consuming fossil fuels to make an economic impact.  The price would go down!  Less demand means lower price.  Fossil fuel "producers" don't produce for you, they produce for an anonymous "market" that can have any shape it wants depending on who are the buyers.  That is, they do that under capitalism.

Now, of course, the proactive response is for the world to arrange Third World "development" on the basis of alternative energy. That is the point of the Aubrey Meyer Contraction and Convergence schtick. It's a good thing for what it is. Unfortunately, Meyer, like the rest of the world, is too fixated on "emissions" control. For all the good communism it brings to the world, it's still a consumer-based approach. My criticism is, in a nutshell, this: the consumers are never going to put together a global boycott of oil within an economic context of universal dependency upon capital. So you either get rid of capital, with some massive share-the-wealth initiative that grants every family on Earth a solar panel or whatever, or you enact a producer-based approach to climate change. Here's how you do it -- the producers of oil and coal (yeah, and tar sands/ kerogen and so on) must phase out production. It's called "Keep The Grease In The Ground." Bill McKibben, on the problem:

This record of failure means we know a lot about what strategies don't work. Green groups, for instance, have spent a lot of time trying to change individual lifestyles: the iconic twisty light bulb has been installed by the millions, but so have a new generation of energy-sucking flatscreen TVs.

and the solution:

At this point, effective action would require actually keeping most of the carbon the fossil-fuel industry wants to burn safely in the soil, not just changing slightly the speed at which it's burned.

So you need a producer-oriented approach to actually mitigate abrupt climate change. You cement the thing through an international treaty to phase out fossil fuel production. It's an ecosocialist move -- the only way you're going to get the world behind it is by a fundamental leveling of the economic playing field between rich and poor nations.




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Contraction and Convergence

Pythagoras's picture

Dear Casiodorus -

C&C [Contraction and Convergence] has four sequenced 'domains': -

[1] Contraction and Concentrations

[2] Contraction and Convergence

[3] Contraction and Conversion

[4] Damages and Growth

The point of C&C is UNFCCC-compliance. This and production/consumption issues in domains 2, 3 and 4 are captive to the calculations in domain 1. If we are serious about UNFCCC-compliance, none of these really relevant without domain one.

As things stand, an 'evolutionist-struggle' still persists between [b] consumer-sovereignty and [c] polluter-sovereignty and this still routinely misses the point.

Bill McKibben doesn't miss the point and now leads efforts under the new slogan 'Do the Maths'. However, this very sensible idea is something that he [strangely and sadly] has failed to do: -

The weight of being ~ 1,000 years older than you may is not much worse than you being 2,000 years older than everybody else today. But then as Woody Allen says, "eternity is a very long time, especially towards the end" and young or old, we're doomed to go there don't you think?

On this long road, I hope you agree, some things are still so simple and so beautiful: -

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Cassiodorus's picture


As things stand, an 'evolutionist-struggle' still persists between [b] consumer-sovereignty and [c] polluter-sovereignty


Right -- this is the class struggle, and only some great act of gift economy, far larger than private charity, will end it.

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If winning the class struggle

Pythagoras's picture

If winning the class struggle is function of UNFCCC-compliance, then so be it.

However, I don't know whether UNFCCC-compliance will be a function of continuing or even winning the class struggle. Based on the struggles to date, the odds are obviously not good and the are worsening [delay is time lost].

My friends on the left here are fond of saying, "Nothing is too good for the working class!"

Point is, if we don't collectively [and transparently] agree to become UNFCCC-complliant and to subordinate everything to the implementation of that, the unresolved class-struggle and associated fire-fights [like most everything else] will be increasingly over-whelmed by runaway rates of climate change.

On that point McKibben/Hansen should surely agree.

What is absolute is that continuing subordination to the use of the '$' [monetary unit] as the principal 'numeraire' of 'growth' in the climate crisis that is increasingly upon us, [I think 'price'/'cost-benefit' etc] guarantees success to completion with the 'Mutually Assisted Suicide' [MAS] programme in which we appear to have become entrenched.

Those whom the Gods would destroy they first drive mad. Was that Euripedes?


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The only way I see...

cmaukonen's picture

any of this being resolved is through the complete elimination of the capitalistic system we have now.

This will only happen after millions of people lose their lives. I see the coming of a third world war. It may initially be fought with nuclear weapons. But this will be very short lived. The rest of the fighting will be of a brutal and barbaric nature.

For it's is not only the elites you personally benefit from this system but also those who will hang onto it for ideological reasons and those who benefit from it indirectly who will be loath to let go of it peacefully.

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But does that contradict ...

BruceMcF's picture

... "let's try to prevent the loss of life"?

Arguing that the effort is not likely to be completely successful is one claim. Arguing that its not worth trying is a quite distinct claim.

I would argue that the effort to prevent the loss of life is

particularly worth it if some loss of life is inevitable.

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