Sunday, 17 September 2017

Hurricane Irma shows the Power of Nature and the Feebleness of Humanity

There is no doubt that the human species has had a profound affect on the natural world. Deforestation, pollution of air, land and sea, other species extinctions (or near extinctions), ozone layer depletion and rising global temperatures. Not a record to be proud of.

All of which have been accelerated since the industrial revolution. Indeed the industrial revolution would have been impossible without fossil fuels providing the extra energy and the economic growth that came with it. Now we are starting to see the ecological consequences our behaviour.

Of course, there are many, usually completely unqualified to make such pronouncements, who deny man’s part in climate change. I expect they will be out in force when they see this post. But the science is clear, and the evidence gets stronger all of the time, that the climatic changes that are occurring, and they are occurring, is related to human activity. Namely, burning fossil fuels, which produces carbon, one of the main greenhouse gases which causes the planet to warm.

Our capitalist economic system, is remarkably adaptive, in that it can seemingly monetise almost anything, and climate change and its ability to cause ‘natural’ disasters is no different. Naomi Klein details this at length in her book The Shock Doctrine, written in 2007, and subtitled The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Disasters allow an opportunity to make money, which is all that really counts in capitalism.

What the system cannot do though, is resolve the problem of climate change. All kinds of techno-fixes will be put forward, because they are likely to make money, but this is merely greenwash. The central logic of the system, grow or die, the pursuit of infinite economic growth, will not allow a solution to be found.

We are in the hurricane season now, and this year has produced some spectacular and destructive storms already. The ones that attract the most attention are of course, those which make landfall in the USA. Harvey and Irma fit the bill perfectly.

But there is an avoidance of discussion of the causes of such powerful storms, which is attributed to ‘natural causes’. Which they are, but the strength of these hurricanes is increased by warmer sea water, something like 1C warmer in the Gulf of Mexico over the last 40 years, which is sucked up into the storm. To reinforce this avoidance of the discussion of causes, as the Green MP, Caroline Lucas found, mentioning this inconvenient truth, provokes attacks from right wing politicians and their friends in the mainstream media.

The idea that we can tame nature or just ignore it altogether is running out of road though, with each hurricane, flood or drought that occurs. In the UK, we are lucky to not experience many strong hurricanes, but each winter sees more and more flooding and I expect this year will be no different. More money goes on flood defences, but the floods keep happening. We can’t hold back nature indefinitely, we need to address the causes, but you will see little action in this direction.

Twentieth century socialism was not immune from the delusion of humanity being able to control nature either. Leon Trotsky famously declared that the ‘socialist superman’ would move mountains and redirect rivers all to the benefit of his socialist utopia. But the USSR had probably an even worse record than capitalist nations in degrading the environment, and of course failed to bring nature to heel.

But our problem now is solely with capitalism, and the experience of the British so called entrepreneur Richard Branston, is an example in microcosm. I say so called because the extent these days of his entrepreneurship is taking government contracts to run previously publicly run services, like railways. He owns an airline and also has plans for space aeroplanes to be run commercially, which will make climate change even worse. Ironically, he likes to think of himself as 'green'.

Branston owns the Caribbean island of Necker, which bore the full brunt of Hurricane Irma, and all the great tycoon could do was cower in his basement as the storm raged across the island.

Nature cannot be tamed, we have to work with it, everything we do needs to be ecocentric, carefully designed to compliment nature. But there is just no money to be made that way under our current economic system, so it will not happen. Ecosocialism is the only way to go. System Change, Not Climate Change.    

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