Preview: industrial civilization vs climate change

I can’t figure out now how I even found this thread. The thread itself made some more sense after I realized that it’s from an American Enterprise Institute hack, though I still don’t know how I encountered it unless Twitter coughed it up during one of its reversions of my timeline to “Top Tweets” before I shut that shit off like I always do.

That aside, I still think there’s significance in my initial reaction: the thread is a summary of industrial civilization’s response to climate change, past present and likely future.

The context of the Twitter thread is COVID-19 and America’s complete botch job of containing it. The corporate technocrat’s response is unhappy acknowledgment that current conditions are unacceptable, and that some kind of small shared sacrifice from everyone regardless of wealth would help, but the real solution is entirely a matter of waiting for technology to restore control over this disruptive natural phenomenon.

The entire thread also seems like a dismally accurate caricature of how the dominant culture reacts to climate change and is likely to continue doing.

“Business,” i.e. extractive for-profit business, is clearly the author’s priority concern. In three tweets in a row, “business” is mentioned as a key reason why we can’t simply “live with” COVID-19 running unchecked. The loss of human life seems likely to be included among the reasons only because it means loss of “human capital.”

Meanwhile, the omissions are just as revealing as what’s there. While “business” is listed as a concern three times, there’s no mention of nature, the arts, democracy, justice, fairness… Not meaningful to this culture. (The culture which basically dominates our planet.)

Use of the actual words “we need to act collectively” was clearly a last-resort concession made only to an immediately dire reality, which the author insists is temporary and brief. Even this concession, moreover, is essentially insincere. The author makes a couple of references to acting collectively, but he also spells out that what he really means is “we must take individual steps” in larger numbers, voluntarily. The entire existence of the state goes unmentioned. Laws, political processes, actual collective organization, he refuses even now to countenance any of that.

Instead the thread is basically just a deflection of responsibility away from our institutions and their failings—away from the intentional corruption of their problem solving capacity by American Enterprise Institute hacks and others like them—onto millions of individuals. Plus a reassurance that technology’s a-comin’. Presumably at a profitable market rate.

The worst parts of all this self-exculpatory claptrap are that 1) it’s a perspective shared to a significant extent by most of the world’s powerful people and institutions; and 2) this culture, which has brought to America a devastating yet avoidable pandemic and recession, has exactly the same response to offer the entire world on climate change.

Exactly the same. Action is entirely a reaction, taken late and reluctantly, and pretty much only in response to disastrous costs which threaten big capital. Reform to the underlying causes which led us here is strictly off-limits. The prescribed response is a hoped-for technology which does not actually exist right now. To the extent that some sort of stop-gap measure is also necessary, it’s entirely a matter for individuals to provide. Even if some sort of collective action is really inseparable from an effective response, it’s individuals’ responsibility to manage this on a no-obligation basis, and an active role for the state is simply unthinkable.

That’s prevailing business/profit/jobs culture’s response to climate change. That culture’s adherence to the same perspective, even in the face of how obviously it sabotages our ability to manage a manageable crisis, should dispel any doubt that it will offer any more flexibility as the costs of climate change mount.

The extent to which it may be modifiable or reformable, in theory (as opposed to a wholesale revolution) is a fair question I guess. There’s considerable variety among industrialized nations’ results dealing with COVID-19. But, at the same time, COVID-19 is much more vulnerable to stopping at a nation’s borders than climate change is, and neither of the world’s two biggest contributors to climate change (the United States and China) have been among the best managers of COVID-19.

The concept that “COVID-19 is the dress rehearsal for climate change” has been around for months. Its implications were already discouraging, and those have not really improved.

Within that comparison, though, I think the outsized role in both crises of one toxic culture—which thus far is showing negligible indication of coughing to responsibility and giving other perspectives a chance—has to be recognized and understood.

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