The Endgame of Carbon Capitalism Confronts The Living Hope of the Many

By Vishwas Satgar

In the contemporary carbon centric life world of capitalism, gas guzzling automobiles, hi-tech aeroplanes, massive container ships and energy using skyscrapers are some of the obvious weapons of mass destruction. The more these resource intensive and carbon centric social relations prevail the more climate change is accelerated. In this version of senile capitalism nature is conquered. The new capitalist nature – under patriarchal domestication, scientifically observed and managed – has to be geo-engineered, carbon must be stored in the deep recesses of planet earth and oil spigots will only be shut when the last dollar is extracted from this deadly resource. The logic of contemporary capitalism, is not merely about dispossession, but about eco-cide, that is, obliterating the conditions necessary to sustain human and non-human life on planet earth. For Karl Marx, this was the metabolic rift of capitalism and for Rosa Luxemburg the conquest of the natural economy.

Neoliberalism has realised its terminus in history and confirmed its ideals. Property rights have spawned the sovereignty of capital, greedy plutocrats wield state power with the crudest of instrumentality and hyper individualism valorised through Americanised consumption and populist media spheres confirm the banality of celebrity culture as common sense. The self determination of the Americanised and nihilistic capitalist subject is the only expression of being human in contemporary capitalist civilisation, authorised by neoliberalism. But even this is not enough. The next step is the trans-human; the technotopian vision of bio and digital capital. Capitalism no longer has common cause with humanity. Married to decades of structural inequality this is the world of neoliberal capitalist utopia. There a no enemies: Soviet socialism is dead, the working class is precariatised, nature is conquered and history has ended. There are literally no left bogeys to blame. Yet a new right wing, neo-fascist, progeny of this neoliberal order has already started its march – from Washington, Brazilia, New Delhi, Budapest to Moscow – it stands at the ready to brutally crush any challenge to this utopia. Moreover, it misdirects publics against scapegoats – the migrant, black lives, the ‘Muslim’ , the indigenous or any over inflated ‘terror threat’.

Capitalism’s endgame has arrived. It will seek to defend the normalcy of capitalism at any cost. However, history and struggle have demonstrated how unsustainable militarised regimes are. The monopoly on violence is never a guarantor of pacification let alone global acquiesce. War also requires scarce resources and is costly. Militarism also in the age of nuclear weapons also comes with its constraints. In addition, mediatised and thin market democracies, openly buttressed by coercion, also face limits. Ultimately, hegemonic governance of brutish inequality is over, while the demos is restless and desperate. At the same time, the democratic subject has a full spectrum gaze, informed by multiple digital information sources and insights. Information about the socio-ecological condition is everywhere and can be accessed. Such a subject can even marvel at the idiocy of imperial power from afar, observe the clumsiness of autocrats and catch glimpses of inspiring assertions of subaltern street power. Put differently, while capitalism will utilise the neo-fascist option, and will even weaponise the digital sphere, this iron curtain of absolute oppression is not free from weaknesses. It is at this intersection, the history of democracy and socialism will thrive.
However, the real terror of the present moment in history is not even capitalist neo-fascism. It is the juggernaut of capitalist eco-cide that threatens not just planetary life conditions but capitalism itself. This makes the second coming of fascism anachronistic. Put more sharply, neo-fascism will also burn in a heating world and carbon capital’s ‘global gas chamber’. It is bone chilling to learn how carbon capital is prolonging its place in the global energy mix despite the alarm bells of climate science and at least one major climate shock every week on planet earth. The prospects of over shoot beyond a 1 degree increase in planetary temperature since before the industrial revolution looms large. Trump has given warrant to more carbon extraction in the US placing it at the top of supply tables and Bolsonaro supports commercial interests that are continuing genocidal violence against indigenous peoples, destroying bio diversity and hastening the release of about 140 billion tons of carbon from the Amazon through slash and burn appropriation. In South Africa carbon ruling classes are continuing to build the largest coal fired powered station in the world, they vaunt fracking and salivate at the prospects of off-shore gas extraction. This is a short list of carbon criminality but which confirms capitalism and its carbon ruling classes threaten everything including themselves. This means even reformist inclinations to manage carbon capitalism or green it are bound to fail, given the dooms day clock.

Given the science of climate change and accelerating carbon emissions, the death of capitalism and all of us by its eco-cidal logic is now patently clear. Africa, the imperial subject of the global north since the Berlin conference is defeated, captured by lumpen bourgeoise interests and is already unravelling in parts due to climate shocks. It is estimated that at least 200 million Africans will be displaced by worsening climate shocks and breakdown. ‘Fortress Europe’ or ‘Prison Complex USA’ will not be able to keep the ‘barbarians’ out because these societies, despite their affluence, will also be facing serious internal fault-lines due to climate shocks. The Sunrise movement, Extinction Rebellion and #FridaysForFuture are merely 1 degree Celsius movements. At 1.5 degrees many more will rise in these societies and will certainly reject being treated as collateral damage by irrational and eco-fascist ruling classes.
Three forms of climate justice disruption, expressing the living hope of the many, is being expressed in national spaces in this new phase of climate justice struggle. Such expressions of living hope are bringing about a convergence of climate justice forces that have been in existence for about 20 years, together with children and citizens. First, symbolic disruption of normalcy. The best example of this is Greta Thunburg and the #FridaysForFuture childrens protest actions. The alarm bell raised by the children is reinforcing the urgency coming through in the climate science and vice versa. Second, tactical disruption through gridlocking carbon including fossil fuel extractive circuits. Calls to boycott Macdonalds, Walmart and Subway because they have interests in slash and burn agriculture in the Amazon or Ende Gelände efforts to blockade coal pits in Germany are all crucial examples in this regard. Third, strategic disruption of eco-cidal capitalism through exits and ruptures through systemic alternatives such as Green New Deals that advance rapid decarbonisation, demilitarisation, democratic systemic reform from below, enabling peoples power to drive the just transition, and a geopolitics of climate justice. In this regard Bernie Sanders Green New Deal, committing $16.3 trillion, is certainly not the classical class compromise of capital and labour but a class project of the excluded 99% against the avaricious and eco-cidal 1%.

Ultimately, these forces will also have the task of confronting the eco-cidal logic of imperial power to ensure the global south can makes its own climate justice choices, including for deep systemic change that advances democratic eco-socialism. On September 20, the day of #GlobalClimateStrike, climate justice forces gathered outside the corporate headquarters of the 45th highest carbon polluter in the world, SASOL, in South Africa. Besides demanding a just transition plan from SASOL so South Africa can achieve its net zero emissions targets and democratise climate policy from below, these forces called for a national and international day of action on 1st May, 2020 to #gridlockcarbon on a global scale. This is about uniting children, citizens, climate justice forces and most importantly trade unions. The power of the organised working class, with all its weaknesses, has to be mainstreamed in climate justice struggles everywhere to advance strategic breakthroughs.

Moreover, a crucial democratic systemic reform, that will have to be further globalised from the periphery is the ‘re-agrarianisation’ of the world through food sovereignty and agro-ecology. Initiated by La Via Campesina, over two decades ago, every community, village, town and city, on a planetary scale will have to embrace such a democratic eco-socialist alternative. This has been under-scored by the recent International Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Biodiversity report (2019) and the International Panel on Climate Change Land Use report (2019). The bottom line is that mono-industrial, carbon centric and globalised food systems are implicated in our extinction.
Ultimately, the ecological horizons of contemporary socialism will be defined by global heating, climate shocks, worsening inequality and the human impulse to live. Water, food, land, forests, oceans and the biosphere – the global commons – are all going to be implicated in the revenge of nature against capitalist eco-cide. The raw power of nature will eclipse even anthropocentric notions of hybridising capitalism’s nature with the web of life. The infinity of nature and the finitude of the human will define the next period of socio-ecological history. It is at this confluence that democratic eco-socialism will learn more deeply from indigenous earth traditions to advance life, reject productivism and affirm a de-alienated relationship with nature. A slow world, operating within the metabolic cycles of nature, is our only hope for the many. Such a world never died but was merely pushed into the shadows by colonial, neoliberal and imperial violence.

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