Friday, December 25, 2015

The “Hail Mary” Pass in Paris

Reflections on the Environment and Consumerism

I don’t know about you, but the ‘results’ of the Paris talks on global warming were upsetting, yet no one in the bourgeois press dwelled on it.  Instead the happy talk stenographers in the news prattled on about an historic agreement, echoing the government lines.  'Historic,' all right, historically bad.  The New York Times, the paper of ruling-class record, said Paris was “the last, best hope" to deter the more serious effects of global warming.  The post-mortems have now come in from the Left.

Flooding in Wales in 2015
James Hansen, no radical, called the agreement a ‘fraud.’  Hansen thinks the market will fix everything, and yet the agreement signed in Paris did not put a price on carbon.  Pricing carbon interferes with neo-liberal ideas of the market, which does not price environmental costs and never has.  Only Soviet economists back in the 1920s started to take into account environmental damage for economic plans.  They did not carry through with it, perhaps due to the rise of Stalinism. There are political economists right now who are doing so, but their influence is negligible.

The environment minister for Nicaragua said much of it.  Besides not treating or pricing carbon realistically, the agreement is A, voluntary – there is no enforcement except by Mother Nature.  We know how ‘voluntary’ efforts work among capitalist governments.  B, In the agreement there was no specific mention of oil, gas or coal as problems – the words were not even there.  Yet these carbon commodities hovered over the meeting like unnameable dark forces.  They were not named so as not to offend some of the richest corporations in the world. C, There was no bar on the building of coal plants or dirty oil.  D, Nor was there a mention of the elimination of the massive government subsidies to the oil/coal/gas industries.  Britain itself is a league leader in this respect, and the U.S. is no slouch either.  Government subsidies add up to $10M a minute worldwide, according  to the 'Guardian.E, The plan itself admits, even if carried out, it is still over the 2 degree Celsius limit that allows massive climate damage.  F, Conservation was not mentioned; reduction of production in useless items was not mentioned.  G, The plan will go into effect in 5 years, not immediately.  H, The military and aviation are exempted from doing anything about climate change.

Obama’s ‘all of the above’ strategy and the fake idea of natural gas as a ‘bridge’ fuel were implicit in the agreement.  While the U.S. signed this agreement, Obama’s mixed message outside Paris include arctic drilling and the TPP.  WTF?

Carbon emissions have been going down recently, but not enough to significantly alter the main trajectory of climate change.  This is due to recessionary economic pressures in many countries, which is the chaotic form ‘planning’ takes in capitalist economies. And what capitalist wants a ‘recession’?  He wants growth!   It is also due to the effects of real transitions to solar and wind power grids in some countries, electric & hybrid cars, conservation efforts by individuals and cities, the rise of bicycling, local food production, vegetarianism and organic agriculture, better mass transit, the growth of LEED buildings, forest preservation and other efforts.  China is actually leading the way in the world production of sustainable power generation due to their partially-planned economy.  Germany is also making massive strides, as the German state is still capable of some guidance of the market economy.

Ultimately though, the Paris ‘Hail Mary’ pass by the capitalist world governments is a failure.  This is significant.  This is the situation staring the world population in the face.  We are actually already experiencing the effects at this moment, as events in the Middle East and other failed states are not purely political or economic, but also have environmental causes – especially drought and food production in that part of the world. 

The center has not held.  

The real question is, what does this mean for the revolutionary socialist movement?  As dialectics shows, events sometimes are gradual, but build up to a qualitative change.  Climate disasters might roll along for years, but at some point, there will be a serious break – much as the inundation of New Orleans and later New York by hurricanes were ‘breaks’ in the understanding of climate change in the U.S.  It might not happen all over the world, but certainly country by country - until ‘critical mass’ is reached.  The happy talk issuing out of Paris will seem like whistling past the graveyard.  At that moment, the old ruling classes will be politically naked.  The capitalists will be shown to be buffoons and criminals.  Their governments will be ruled incompetent.  And the majority of the population will understand the time for reforms is over.

The political question will then be – a social revolution ... or a return to the world of human-eat-human barbarism, dictatorship, mass deaths, war and religious and national tribalism.  Socialism or barbarism? A cliché but one which never seems to go away - because its roots are based in reality.

The Shelves Are Full

I have had to go shopping a bit for the holidays, and something is bothering me.  In every store I go into, the shelves are groaning with massive amounts of merchandise of every variety.  Really junk mostly.  In each specific store there are hundreds of olive oils or hundreds of colors of lipstick or hundreds of cheap plastic toys or hundreds of T-shirts or hundreds of snacks or thousands of books or DVDs.  This is not just during the holidays – this is year-round.  There is every single absurd commodity that you could imagine, and every variation on it.  It seems our ‘freedom’ really is the freedom to buy almost any commodity we want - if we have the money. 

Something We Need
This is partly a product of capitalist overproduction, which is certainly evident.  It is clearly environmentally wasteful.  As George Monbiot of The Guardian humorously put it, you can…

“…buy them a solar-powered waving queen; a belly button brush; a silver-plated ice cream tub holder; a “hilarious” inflatable zimmer frame; a confection of plastic and electronics called Terry the Swearing Turtle; or – and somehow I find this significant – a Scratch Off World wall map…An electronic drum-machine t-shirt; a Darth Vader talking piggy bank; an ear-shaped i-phone case; an individual beer can chiller; an electronic wine breather; a sonic screwdriver remote control; bacon toothpaste; a dancing dog…” 

“In “The Story of Stuff,” Annie Leonard discovered that of the materials flowing through the consumer economy, only 1% remain in use six months after sale. Even the goods we might have expected to hold onto are soon condemned to destruction through either planned obsolescence (breaking quickly) or perceived obsolescence (by becoming unfashionable).”

But this is the ‘raison d’etre’ of the whole system.  This is what it does!  This is what it is good at!  This is its final wisdom.

What is unmistakable is also how cultural commodities like movies, music, books, magazines, games, TV and cable, internet U-Tube videos, software, applications, streaming videos, etc. are also a large part of the economic mix.  Entertainment and the hardware designed to view, use or produce it, is central to American capitalism.  In a way, even as the economy gets worse, these products are how the majority of the population is pacified and entertained while they are fleeced and dominated.  Sort of like the Roman Coliseum or the role of any drug like alcohol, or the prior role of the ‘boob’ tube.  Culture even beats out the diversion of professional sports.   

Is there a point where we will be over-saturated with entertainment?  I think that point is here or almost here.  The culture drunks might wake up after being over-sozzled by another yuk-yuk TV episode of “Veep.”  Then what?

Happy Holidays
Happy Solstice
Red Frog
December 25th, 2015

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