Doomed to Consciousness
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Doomed to Consciousness. 13 Mildly Millennial Theses on Climate Chaos
There is no way that we who have been caught in the meshes of the global economic web can go back to ‘primitive' ways. We no longer have the possibility of developing unconscious behaviour patterns that will lead to a restored and sustainable relationship with nature. The religious props have been removed, the sociocultural reinforcement of appropriate behaviour no longer exists. From here on we are doomed to consciousness. We must know, understand, be aware of, comprehend our relationships with the total biosphere on which our future depends.
- Raymond Dasmann, ‘Toward a Biosphere Consciousness', in D. Worster (ed.), The Ends of the Earth. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1988, p. 279, italics added P. L-N).
It is man's earth now. One wonders what obligations may accompany this infinite possession.
- Fairfield Osborn, Our Plundered Planet. Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1948, p. 66
I am not an optimist because I am not sure that everything ends well. Nor am I a pessimist because I am not sure that everything ends badly. I just carry hope in my heart. Hope is the feeling that life and work have meaning. And you can have that regardless of the state of the world around you.
- Vaclav Havel (Czech dissident and later President)
The phenomenon commonly euphemised as ‘climate change' is the latest and most severe manifestation of the planetary limitsof human expansion.
Corollary: Either the expansion is voluntarily halted or the limits are overshot even further, resulting in systemic collapse and great suffering.
2. Population, Energy, Consumption, Forests
In purely material terms, the key drivers of this expansion are growth in population, (fossil fuel) energy, per capita resource consumption and deforestation.
Corollary: Population growth, fossil fuel use, per capita resource consumption and deforestation must be curtailed if we are to avoid systemic collapse.
3. Peak Everything
Both population growth and oil use are already peaking and will then decline.
Corollary: Societies must now adapt by comprehensively planning for and implementing a lower population and post-oil future (‘gentle energy descent', ‘transition towns', ‘re-localisation', urban farming, decentralised renewable energy)
4. Coal, Consumption and Deforestation
Coal mining, per capita resource consumption and deforestation are currently not peaking and declining but expanding.
Corollary: We must organise to keep coal in the ground, reduce per capita resource consumption in the affluent nations and classes, stop deforestation and begin massive reforestation. The world's poor must be helped to increase their per capita consumption and leapfrog into the solar age without further going through a fossil fuel-nuclear-deforestation stage.
5. ‘Green' Business As Usual
Big Business and their client governments will attempt to continue their ecocidal business-as-usual with the aid of their (a) bandaid hi-tech fixes (nuclear, CCS, geo-engineering, biofuels etc.) and (b) richly loopholed ‘market fixes' (‘carbon trading' and ‘offsetting', green consumerism etc.). These serve to distract from regulation, rationing and systemic solutions, do not radically reduce emissions, guarantee catastrophic climate chaos and prolong the agony of the transition to a decentralised, low energy society.
Corollary: We must seek (if we have the energy) to educate about, counter and prevent the disastrous ‘technical fixes' and ‘market solutions' pursued by the powers-that-be in their own economic interests and at our grave expense.
6. Economic Growth
In socio-economic terms, the key driver of social and material expansion beyond planetary limits is the phenomenon euphemised as ‘economic growth anddevelopment' (i.e. capital accumulation).
Corollary: Capitalism and sustainability are incompatible. Capital accumulation must be curtailed and shrink (i.e. be socially forced to ‘internalise' its now lethal ecological and social ‘external costs').
7. Class Struggle
In affluent societies, post-war capital accumulation, social struggle and attendant welfare states have enabled the weakening or suspension of the perennial social conflict (class struggle) over scarce resources and social control and distribution of the immense wealth and productive forces that have been produced.
Corollary: Unless deflected from above (e.g. into war, nationalism or fascist xenophobia and scapegoating), the curtailing and shrinking of capital accumulation will necessarily involve the resurgence of social conflict within and between all societies over the control and distribution of shrinking resources, wealth and the social costs of energy descent. The global economic crisis is an involuntary form of such capital shrinkage.
8. Power Struggle
To socially curtail and control capital accumulation (investment decisions) for the benefit of the biosphere and human majorities on the planet is to challenge the very basis of industrial capitalism (‘free market') itself and thus necessarily entails some form of popular power struggle against its main global beneficiaries and ruling elites.
Corollary: The first step in this power struggle is to break through the enforced cognitive taboo and realise the all-determining role of economic power, its anti-democratic stranglehold on investment decisions, mainstream politics and the direction of social development and its central role in causing climate chaos, ecocide, global inequalities, imperial control and militarism, social inequality and powerlessness.
This popular power struggle against the ecocidal powers-that-be is already occurring as a ‘world wide web' of many complex and diverse levels all over the planet but its complex synergy needs to become even more globally networked, focussed and conscious of itself as a social, ecological, cultural and spiritual movement for the deep restructuring of local, national and international economies.
Corollary: The planetary movement for global justice and decarbonised re-localisation can conceive of itself as a complex, diverse, fluctuating, self-networking and totally new social phenomenon of resistance and transformation simply by radically reflecting both on the many forms of social and cultural practice that it is already engaged in and on those that are now possible.
10. Role of the State
The role of the state in this grassroots process of gaining control over and reshaping economies can be helpful or hindering: the liberal state can work together with grassroots initiatives to implement post-carbon economies but if systemic collapse ensues or is imminent because of lack of popular awareness and timely self-organisation, an authoritarian emergency state is quite likely (wholesale bans, top-down rationing, bellicose national fortresses, multifarious controls, total surveillance and further loss of freedoms, ‘friendly fascist' or police state, scapegoating of migrants and minorities etc).
Corollary: Globally people need to increase awareness of democratic solutions and massively self-organise from bottom-up, both to implement democratic social alternatives, put massive pressure on their governments and avoid the top-down pseudo-solution of some form of authoritarian emergency state.
The need for social, cultural and economic change is now extremely urgent since there are new material thresholds (e.g. 2 degrees plus or 350 ppm CO2, melting of poles) and temporal thresholds (e.g. the window of opportunity of the next very few years) driven by catastrophic and irreversible ecological tipping points.
Corollary: To avoid systemic collapse and/or an emergency state, we urgently need to act NOW in all possible and diverse ways that express the principles we are fighting for: ecological sustainability, social justice and empowerment, solidarity, mutual aid and interdependence, democratic freedom and human rights, cultural diversity and non-violence.
12. The Great General Strike for Life
The diverse movements for global justice and survival could find a much needed focus in a specific practical proposal: a democratic mobilising process for an active and global Great General Strike for Life. This could be linked to the global Copenhagen meeting on climate change.
Corollary: The purposes of a global Active and General Strike at a time and for a period to be determined could be to: (a) withdraw obedience, taxes or popular energy from the blind machinery of the ecocidal system, (b) creatively occupy places of production, consumption and democracy (town halls/parliaments) and (c) there begin the bottom-up, society-wide Great Dialogue about, and planned transition to, an ecologically sustainable, de-carbonised, globally re-localised, democratically self-managed and socially just economic and social system. These local democratic forums could now be conducted internationally in real time via the internet.
13. The Leap
The planetary process of deep social change needed to prevent run-away climate chaos and adapt to now inevitable climate change amounts to a deep cultural and spiritual revolution in the human psyche itself and thus a qualitative leap in human evolution toward One World Consciousness. This is the obvious ‘utopian' trajectory of human evolution that now needs to be urgently and consciously liberated from within its mostly unconscious carriers: the individuals that make up the world wide web of social and cultural movements of resistance and change. We are evolution's first hesitant attempts at ‘universal individuals'. Like it or not, it is our earth now. We had better start practising. As mainstream realism becomes literally utopian, utopia becomes the only realism left. Soyez réaliste, demandez l'impossible!
Corollary: Meditate. Inform. Organize. Protest. Network. Build alternatives. Enjoy.
[Peter and his wife Barbara manage a 20 acre permaculture farm, including 94 varieties of heritage apples, at Bundanoon in the southern highlands of New South Wales, Australia.]
 Historical overviews of such previous civilizational collapses are provided in Jared Diamond's Collapse. How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive. Camberwell Victoria: Allen Lane Penguin, 2005.
 According to UN estimates in 2001, there were around 65,000 transnational companies with 850,000 affiliates around the globe together making sales of $18,500,000,000,000 ($18.5 trillion or $ 18,500 billion) or about half gross world product, with the largest 100 corporations alone making over a quarter of those sales (S. George, Another world is possible if..., London: Verso, p. 73). The wealthiest 200-300 individuals in the world now possess more wealth than almost half of humanity. Such figures are the abstract lineaments of unheard levels both of social power and potential common wealth that are almost never mentioned in mainstream public discourse.