The False Dichotomy of Climate Change Narratives: Green Abundance or Righteous Austerity

 edited by O Society September 24, 2019

Since we don’t consider this site to be left wing (we regularly get in arguments with the orthodox types), it shouldn’t be surprising we aren’t comfortable with what Dorman (below) depicts as “the two acceptable views” of “goodthinking lefties” on climate change. My position is probably more like: “Too late, the Jackpot is coming. Responses will be erratic and not well-coordinated.”

And in case you have not read Gibson’s book The Peripheral, the Jackpot is a roughly 40-year period in the 21st Century in which most people die due to climate change and pestilence. The story is still optimistic given his givens. In this passage from the book a character from the future, named Wilf, tells the novel’s heroine, called Flynne, what is to come in a future not far from now:

[The Jackpot] was androgenic, [Wilf] said, and [Flynne] knew from Ciencia Loca and National Geographic this meant because of people. Not that they’d known what they were doing or had meant to make problems, but they’d caused it anyway. And in fact the actual climate, the weather, caused by there being too much carbon, had been the driver for a lot of other things. How it got worse and never better, and was just expected to, ongoing. Because people in the past, originally clueless as to how it works, fucked it all up, and then not been able to get it together to do anything about it, even after they knew, and now it was too late.

So now, in her day, he said, they were headed into androgenic, systemic, multiplex, seriously bad shit, like she sort of already knew, figured everybody did, except for people who still said it wasn’t happening, and those people were mostly expecting the Second Coming anyway. She’d looked across the silver lawn Leon cut with the push-mower whose cast-iron frame was held together with actual baling wire, to where moon shadows lay, past stunted boxwoods and the stump of a concrete birdbath they’d pretend was a dragon’s castle, while Wilf told her [the Jackpot] killed 80 percent of every last person alive, over about forty years. ….

No comets crashing, nothing you could really call a nuclear war. Just everything else, tangled in the changing climate: droughts, water shortages, crop failures, honeybees gone like they almost were now, collapse of other keystone species, every last alpha predator gone, antibiotics doing even less than they already did, diseases were never quite the one big pandemic but big enough to be historic events in themselves. And all of it around people: how people were, how many of them there were, how they’d changed things just by being there. ….

But science, he said, had been the wild card, the twist. With everything stumbling deeper into a ditch of shit, history itself become a slaughterhouse, science had started popping. Not all at once, no one big heroic thing, but there were cleaner, cheaper energy sources, more effective ways to get carbon out of the air, new drugs that did what antibiotics had done before…. Ways to print food that required much less in the way of actual food to begin with. So everything, however deeply fucked in general, was lit increasingly by the new, by things that made people blink and sit up, but then the rest of it would just go on, deeper into the ditch. A progress accompanied by constant violence, he said, by sufferings unimaginable. ….

None of that, he said, had necessarily been as bad for very rich people. The richest had gotten richer, there being fewer to own whatever there was. Constant crisis bad provided constant opportunity. That was where his world had come from, he said. At the deepest point of everything going to shit, population radically reduced, the survivors saw less carbon being dumped into the system, with what was still being produced being eaten by those towers they’d built… And seeing that, for them, the survivors, was like seeing the bullet dodged..

“The bullet was the eighty percent, who died?”

Needless to say, we’re not betting on the “rescued by science” part.

by Peter Dorman

While I was preoccupied with other things, the left-wing in the US seems to have settled on a pair of competing climate change narratives. By the time I looked, the choice was down to just these two, as no other views could be considered.

View #1 Green Abundance

Combating climate change means unleashing the power of renewable energy. Fortunately, according to this story, renewables are already the cheapest way to go, or if not quite, they will be once they are scaled up through a massive infusion of public investment. And this investment is a golden opportunity to ameliorate other problems like anemic economic growth, un- and underemployment, and sluggish incomes. We will provide green jobs at union wages for everyone who wants one, with special opportunities for workers in the fossil fuel sector. We will do for this generation what FDR’s original New Deal did for our grandparents, restoring prosperity and a building a vibrant middle class.

We’ll do it even better this time, because we will design our programs to fight racism, sexism, and the oppression of LGBTQ people, immigrants and indigenous nations, along with every other impediment to social justice. Meanwhile, we will tax the handful of giant corporations that are responsible for most of the carbon emissions, using their ill-gotten gains to finance an environment that’s healthy for people and other living things. Climate change will turn out to be a godsend, because the struggle against it will unite us around an all-inclusive economic, ecological and social agenda.

View #2 Righteous Austerity

The root cause of the ecological crisis is capitalism’s incessant drive to expand, which has fostered the toxic ideology of economic growth. We can’t have endless growth on a finite planet, so growth has to end right now. We don’t need a bigger economy, because we can be happier and live more meaningful lives by shifting away from the false god of consumption. Another benefit of a non-growing economy is that it will force us to undertake redistribution, since that will then be the only way the poor the can advance.

Of course, by curtailing economic growth we will also be overturning capitalism, which means that all the other ills caused by this irrational, outmoded system will diminish or disappear altogether. We can then finally say goodbye to our political overlords who have forced us to endure economic growth whether we wanted it or not. Ultimately, climate change is a message delivered to the human race from a beleaguered planet that can’t absorb any more of our exploitation. We must heed this message and radically change what we value and how we live, abandoning excessive material desires for the deeper pleasures of community and spirituality.

And then there are those on the left who adopt both views: they are for ending economic growth and producing an abundance of green, well-paying jobs for all. They want to eat their cake and not have it too.

As far as I can see, this is the progressive political landscape on climate change.

Anyone else besides me feel left out?


Science Won’t Save the Planet. New Values Will Save the Planet

The Interlocking Crises of War & Climate Chaos

Why Catastrophic Climate Change is Probably Inevitable Now

Our problems are deeper than “capitalism” (and “socialism” alone can’t solve them)

One thought on “The False Dichotomy of Climate Change Narratives: Green Abundance or Righteous Austerity

  1. At the moment, liberals are obsessed with climate change because this is what Democrats selected (a few months ago) as their 2020 theme. The left, by definition, remain focused on core socioeconomic issues and the politics/war behind it.


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