Day 55: The Politics of Ecology


As indicated in an earlier post, the debate about global warming is increasingly being reduced to a politikum. Today the first half of the United Nations’ Report on Global Warming was published. It paints an obviously bleak picture for our future, which no sane scientist honestly contradicts any more at this point (as the report indicates, there are no reports in any respected scientific journals that contradict the findings outlined in the report). But not only do we have to face a future in which we have to deal with the fact of global warming and the potential for rapid climate change, necessitating the debate about our possibilities for progressively “terraforming” our planet. We also witness the return of quite traditional political problems, such as a trend that has been referred to as “ecological colonialism,” describing the fact that the nations that are the major producers of greenhouse gases etc. are the nations that are the least affected by climate change. The nations bearing the brunt are those in South America and the nations in the equatorial region of Africa (those who ironically produce the least amount of greenhouse gases), the very nations that had to face the horrors of slave trade and colonialism.

However, we are finding ourselves in a political climate that makes it quite difficult to address these vital questions, indicating the degree to which Kim Stanley Robinson may be right when he suggests that making moves toward ecological responsibility is inextricably linked to issues of social justice. We are not merely facing the opposition of the conservative right as represented, e.g., by Christopher Horner. The argument of the right is that arguments for progressive ecological action are just camouflage suits that disguise lefty arguments calling for economic regulation (hence arguing that today’s ecologist is just yesterday’s communist in different clothing). Seemingly opposed to this we also face resistance from the left. Last weekend Alexander Cockburn (in an interview on C-SPAN) claimed that he is weary of the ecological argument, as he believes that it mainly operates within the context of the lobbying efforts for nuclear energy. In between all this (well, not really in between–more as the always scary mixture of both) we find the libertarians–the Ayn Randians of the Cato Institute etc. Last week’s NY Times Book Report contained the following section:

“Libertarianism has now arrived at an interesting juncture. The moment for its grandest ambitions seems to have passed. President Bush is no longer talking about privatizing Social Security, and his free-market approach to rebulding Iraq has proven disastrous. The libertarians at the  Cato Institute, meanwhile, are struggling to persuade people that global warming–the archetypal free-market failure–is a hoax. Yet in an irony worthy of Rand’s collective, the solution to climate change will probably have a libertarian tinge. The global-warming debate is coalescing around a “cap and trade” solution in which energy-efficient companies would be rewarded by the market. In fact, across a range of major issues–energy policy, health care, retirement savings–a hybrid form of laissez-faire capitalism and collectivism seems to be ascendant. The market will be allowed to work its efficient magic, but government will step in to correct the market’s failures. “Libertarian paternalism” is the name two University of Chicago professors, Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler, have devised for one version of this philosophy.”

The politically troubling tendency for me is here the limited choice we have: namely one between a dialogue that turns out to be paralyzing when it comes to actual action, and another discussion that is in itself logically colonized by capitalism, as it is hegemonically occupied by capitalist logic in its attempt to find answers to the problem. Once again, we are attempting to find answers to a problem capitalism has caused (see the ecological colonialism of African countries) within capitalism itself. This should at the very least suggest (to everyone with a small investment in logical thinking) that we are tragically limiting ourselves in our attempts to fix an important problem by remaining defiant when it comes to realizing that free-market capitalism is indeed proven empirically catastrophic when it comes to the one thing capitalist production needs as its basis: the reproduction of the conditions of production. It in fact has proven that it is unable to self-regulate the very destruction of these conditions of production, instead progressively robbing itself of its own basis: a functional, healthy, stable environment. How, then, can someone like Cockburn rightly slam Thomas Friedman’s utopist and out of touch with reality free-market arguments that even the most uninformed reader must recognize as ridiculously ignorant, while himself ignoring the connection between free-market ideology and ecological exploitation and destruction, instead reducing it to a localized argument about lobbying? What is it really that we can do to make a move toward progressively terraforming our earth? It cannot, as people suggest, begin with “sustainable development” (as this leaves the destructive free-market ideology intact). It must instead begin with changing our political climate–potentially, an ecological revolution will bring about the needed revolution moving toward social justice to which it is logically connected as suggested by Robinson. Can ecological political revolutions thus be a better way to logically mobilize people for political change, freeing progressive political action from the cobwebs of outdated and too often uninformed left orthodoxy and fragmenting dogmatism. Can we develop a progressive ecological left that does not have to carry the left’s historical stigma in the US, hence be appealing to a broader basis of the populace?



  1. Can ecological political revolutions thus be a better way to logically mobilize people for political change, freeing progressive political action from the cobwebs of outdated and too often uninformed left orthodoxy and fragmenting dogmatism. Can we develop and progressive ecological left that does not have to carry the left’s historical stigma in the US, hence be appealing to a broader basis of the populace?

    Yes. At any rate, we must; and we ought to begin by linking economic domination to ecological degradation.

  2. Thanks, JCD, that’s exactly what I am wondering about. It seems like there is much political potential in an updated, rigorously “globalizing” version of such a move.
    Have you by any chance read Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest trilogy? A GREAT meditation on precisely this idea and its potential consequences and political nature.

  3. I haven’t; I will look into it.

  4. Hey you guys believe in global warming though right?

  5. this is sooooooo true! I am a Student at rossview High, and i am doing a research project on global warming. I can across this website. IT IS SOOOOO TRUE! I don’t know what is wrong with his head. Does he have like brain damage or something. I mean come on!

  6. If all the dinosaurs died from the ice age where did all the ice go that killed them .Maybe the earth has been warming ever since then because I don’t see all the ice its pretty nice here in Florida come on people one volcano puts more carbon in the air than man can in 100 years lets not waste our money and time trying to stop something we have no control over we will always have time of cold and times of hot

    Krakatoa ,Toba

  7. he doesn’t deserve to be president. hes letting everything happen to us! and you know whats even worse, he doesn’t care!

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