Sunday, 9 December 2007

If not us, then who?

Climate change demonstration, Grosvenor Square, London, yesterday:

Big police presence, confronted in a friendly way by drummers:

The rousing conclusion to George Monbiot's speech yesterday:

If not now, when?

If not here, where?

If not us, who?

(Aside: Nobody is going to sort this out for us. The government and the corporations, with their reassuring appearance of permanence, the comforts and temptations they provide, are unviable and unsustainable, built on quicksand, belong to the paradigm of the past, are illegitimate (because based on violent expropriation), the latter based on the enclosure of resources from the commons and depriving (private property - privere) people of their usage, for the purpose purely of private profit, the former of course drawing their sustenance from the latter. The business of the status quo is the only game in town at the moment, conveys prosperity, success, assurance and permanence as I said, and seems to be the rational choice to ally one's destiny, that of one's family, to, but what is evoked and told and realised, so clearly, at events like yesterday, is that this isn't the case [How could it be? The status quo is riven by contradictions which can only be supported and propped up through deterioration into ever greater violence and paranoia, wars and torture and detention centres, a nightmare combination of Hobbes and Malthus (excuse philosophical illiteracy)]; that it is irrational; that this is contested; that the human heart and soul, nature, holisticism, care, joy, embracing, reaching, sharing, must win out, against partialism, reductionism, minds structured and imprisoned by concepts, consumerism, alienation, competition, hubris. The status quo is a wholly unsustainable configuration of human affairs; an alternative is possible, and necessary.

But it's amazing how a brief foray, an excursion, into the reality-based community, in which one feels the rightness of human sharing and truth-speaking and feels one's soul unfurl as a result, juxtaposes with the return to the outside world. Grosvenor Square is just south of Oxford Street, and the experience of leaving marches and protests and reemerging into the commercial atmosphere of that thoroughfare is quite a familiar one - and it's amazing to feel, in order to witness, each time, the closing of the mind that takes place; one can actually feel, the closing from being part of a community to being again a particle, defined by how one looks, looking at other people each one constituted as a mannequin for the day, each committed to incremental personal gratification based on consumption (and this is a self-critique - I shop for clothes on Oxford Street sometimes too).

Scattered notes from Monbiot's speech:
Just 2 days before the Bali conference the UK announced a big subsidy for oil companies, completely contradicting its rhetoric, which is all we can expect, rather than action. (I can't find the story for this on a brief search but will keep looking)
No government's current policies address the supply side of the problem, none of them look at limiting supply; instead they concentrate on reducing demand (getting people to conserve energy in small personal ways etc). But one thing is for certain, every barrel of oil extracted will be used and its emissions will end up in the atmosphere. So we have to leave the oil in the ground. There must be policies that address supply.
Monbiot said that reductions of effectively close to 100% in GHG emissions are needed by 2030, in industrial countries, in order to have any chance of avoiding runaway climate change. Of course this is basically impossible within the current paradigm.
Monbiot cited the projection of Imperial College economist Rod Smith, that based on accepted projections of roughly 3% annual economic growth up to 2030, economic activity will have doubled within the 23 years.
From a recent piece setting this out on

This we knew. But Smith takes it further. With a series of equations he shows
that “each successive doubling period consumes as much resource as all the
previous doubling periods combined.”

In other words, if our economy grows at 3% between now and 2030, we will consume in that period economic resources equivalent to all those we have consumed since humans first stood on two legs. Then, between 2030 and 2053, we must double our total consumption again.

Reading that paper I realised for the first time what we are up against.

Monbiot said we must not be afraid to call the problem what it is - to say that the problem is that the future of the ecosphere is incompatible with capitalism, and to say this is simply to show we have understood the implications of the science (i.e. of projections such as the above, in conjunction with the IPCC synthesis report etc), rather than to be an ideological socialist or communist per se.

The reason the environment is not compatible with capitalism is as follows (interesting aside for Monbiot-watchers - I believe he fleshed this out in an answer to a question about neoliberalism at the pre-march meeting last month, in which he said that the problem is not about neoliberalism even but the economic system it is a permutation of, capitalism):

In capitalism, money is created predominantly through bank lending - every time a bank lends money, the money supply or the velocity of circulation of money is expanded (in modern industrial economies bank lending is relied upon as the means money is created - see Michael Rowbotham's The Grip of Death for an exposition of this).
The supply of goods and services must then rise by a concomitant amount, otherwise inflation (too much money chasing too few goods -> rises in the prices of goods = inflation) will be the result. Central banks are there to ensure by various means (Monbiot didn't go into this, but I imagine these means include manipulating interest rates to ensure the appropriate availability of credit for producers, to encourage them to expand production) that the supply of goods and services does increase. This is what central banks are there for - to promote economic growth.
Economic growth is thus built into the system, is an imperative of the system. This is what gives rise to scenarios like Rod Smiths', with mind-boggling, and wholly unimaginable and impossible future pathways for humanity.
[aside: one is reminded of the famous metaphor of the lilypads doubling each day on the lake, that the day before the lake is full and two days before mass die-off, the lake is only half-full and it appears there is still plenty of room to expand.]
Monbiot said we need an internal philosophical, spiritual revolution on the personal level in order to combat this - which will not be on the agendas of delegates at the Bali conference, nor should we expect anything along these lines from Gordon Brown any time soon!
The conclusion: we need to be 100% committed, with every ounce of our being, every breath, every second, to the cause of averting runaway climate change and saving the ecosphere. This brings us into sharp contradiction, into conflict, with the institutions of the status quo, and these we should articulate with joy, love, kindness and direct action (Ok so Monbiot only spoke about the latter, the former being embellishments).
We need to recognise the radical irrationality of the status quo, trace it through its roots all the way back to the birth of abstract thought, through consumerism, capitalism, individualism, class society, and building from principles of shared humanity, beginning from who we are, what we know and who and what we love, confront the status quo with its hegemonic irrationality, show it its contradictions and reclaim the right of life to a future, contra the partial and marginal yet hegemonic interests of private profit.

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