Climate change is political

If the greenhouse effect is indeed galloping, i.e. non-linear and unpredictable, the scientific models we have are no longer reliable. We can approximate the point of no return, but not define the chronology of what will happen after it is crossed

Those of us who still take the trouble to follow the « media » news, i.e. news that is mediated by and for the oligarchy, have recently been subjected to a new wave of idle discussions at 

About the imminence — or not — of a climate change that would become too costly in human resources and in resources altogether. In Belgium, we have leading specialists who can explain with great pedagogy that the economic consequences of an increase in the average temperature of the globe require an urgent political decision to curb greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, these specialists find nothing wrong with the political question itself: the scientist, as we remember, only talks about scientific facts and prefers to talk about them only among scientists. 

No one denies anymore that the climate is being disrupted and some people sometimes risk a dubious play on words by talking about climate deregulation. There is even a consensus on the existence of global warming. Whatever the hypotheses that are privileged to explain it (natural cycle, solar, volcanic, human activity…), it is time to face the announced consequences and even to (try to) take in hand the multifactoriality of its origin. What are these consequences from a Western perspective and how much control can we exercise? 

Since there is global warming, the average temperature of the Earth is increasing. Underneath this apparent tautology, there is a wide variety of facts. Summers will be hotter and winters colder; some parts of the world will be subject to more frequent flooding and others to droughts and forest fires or the expansion of desert areas; and tropical diseases such as malaria may redefine their epidemic perimeters. The heat wave is certainly painful for the elderly and infants, but the average Westerner has all the less reason to worry since, on the one hand, he benefits from an efficient techno-science (including medically speaking) and, on the other hand, global warming would mainly affect Africa and Asia. The impoverished Westerner has no say in the matter, while the oligarchy remains shrouded in mystery. Of course, by hitting the Third World, global warming will induce population displacements and will affect tourism, but, once again, there is no danger in the house since « Fortress Europe » is watching. 

While it is easily accepted that the retreat of glaciers will lead to rising sea levels and tropical cyclones that will jeopardize life on some islands, the consequences for the Netherlands and Flanders are less clear. Since our readers are not those whom Beyer calls the Lilies of Flanders (2002), it will not be necessary to emphasize that the attachment to blood and soil can only be ephemeral. The disappearance of polar species is not likely to move the informed consumer. 

Still from the point of view of the average Westerner, the cardinal vices of global warming seem to be of little concern. Of course, its effects are not only terrestrial and the oceans are also suffering: soil degradation and water stress (the expression refers to the relationship between the availability of water resources and human needs) are matched by warmer and more acidic ocean water and more intense winter rainfall. There is even talk of a possible interruption of the thermohaline circulation (which includes the Gulf Stream) and a mini ice age. The result will be a dramatic drop in the biovideness of the oceans. So what? Fish farming is a promising investment, that’s all. 

One thing leading to another, the citizen concerned with understanding the stakes of global warming is confronted with two complementary developments: on the one hand, the pure and simple death of oceanic life (starting with plankton); on the other hand, the disappearance of most cultivable species. Habitat destruction leads to species extinction. On closer inspection, however, the problem is not climate change itself, but its nature and speed. Life has already experienced many climatic setbacks and, in the long run, it has always regained its strength and vigor. The Anthropocene compromises this dynamic on two levels: first, the speed of change will not allow the species that ensure our survival to adapt; second, industrial pollution, left to its own devices, i.e. without managers, will only allow the survival of insects. This is particularly true of the insurmountable difficulties of managing the dismantling of nuclear power plants — not to mention atomic weapons — and the storage of their waste. 

The current average temperature increase is estimated at 2.5°C and climatologists predict an increase of 5 to 6°C by the end of the century. Consequently, the fourth report of the G.I.E.C. (2007) already soberly envisaged the disappearance of 40 to 70 % of the evaluated species. At this point, it doesn’t matter what the figures are: if the greenhouse effect is indeed galloping, i.e. non-linear and unpredictable, the scientific models we have are no longer reliable. We can approximate the point of no return, not define the chronology of what will happen after its crossing, i.e. the transformation of the terrestrial atmosphere into Venusian atmosphere. 

These two theses (habitat destruction and the nuclear threat) are put forward by Guy McPherson, Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (see box for a transcript and translation of one of his recent interviews). McPherson’s analysis is very illuminating because, through his training, he can understand the conditions under which species evolve or become extinct. Again, without suitable habitat, a species is doomed. In this case, the problem is the extinction of animal and plant species that support human life, not the increase in temperature itself: everyone knows that it is possible to survive in the desert as long as food and water are available. 

There is, however, a narrow escape route that, unless I am mistaken, McPherson is not considering. The extinction of oceanic life and the problem of the generalization of tropical agriculture in the world are theoretically susceptible to a techno-scientific treatment apparently less hazardous than the geo-engineering projects, some more titanic than others (read P. Lannoye on this subject(1)and the developments of entomophagy (see Guangdong Entomological Institute or PROteINSECT). I am talking about the possibility of using genetically modified organisms. The journal Science has been reporting on this since the 2000s, referring for example to research conducted by Monsanto and BASF on drought-resistant corn varieties. GMO technology began in the 1970s with the research of Paul Berg (1972) and Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen (1972). In 1973 Rudolf Jaenisch created a transgenic mouse. The first genetically modified plant was created in 1983. It should be noted that this research quickly gave rise to conservation measures, in particular in the form of the creation of the « Nordic Gene Bank » on Svalbard Island in 1984. In 2006, the work on the « Svalbard Global Seed Vault » began; it will continue until 2008. It would be worthwhile to look at who sponsored it and how it was done. 

In short, the real danger of global warming lies in the total destruction of the human habitat. Its consequences are easy to foresee: first, famines, pandemics, riots, massive migrations and wars that will purge the world population on a very large scale; second, the food slavery of the survivors who will only have access to genetically modified foods, the only ones that can still be cultivated or synthesized with the help of a refocused and moribund petro-chemical industry 

Global warming, and even more so its escalation, confronts the oligarchs with a spectrum of possible political actions, a spectrum that stretches from preventive measures (in the broad sense of the word, since the damage has been done) to curative measures (still in the broad sense of the word, since the loss of habitat cannot really be remedied). The former would be imposed before the civilizational collapse which, moreover, is also announced through innumerable other crises (social, economic, financial, energetic, demographic, geopolitical, techno-scientific, cultural and even ideological — not forgetting Fukushima Daiichi); they would require a mode of « governance », to say it with a fashionable word, totalitarian. In fact, it is in the light of these converging crises that we must read the transformation of our societies with the help of the « grand narrative » of the Terror(2). Regimenting the crowds will allow for the imposition of appropriate behaviors for the genocidal transition. The latter would come to manage the world in the aftermath of the loss of habitat, and thus the disappearance of all forms of natural food in favor of GMOs, by imposing sine die the hardest totalitarianism.

We will thus have the choice between prophylactic totalitarianism and therapeutic totalitarianism, the first imposing degrowth, if possible in an orderly and rigorous manner, and the second managing anarchy. This doubly infernal vision is not without consequences for the posture that the average citizen must adopt: it allows him to regain the power to conceive possible futures and thus to try to ward off fascist bifurcations. For the totalitarianism that is coming is indeed that of the extreme right, not that of a benevolent socialist hegemony. 

In fact, none of this is new. As soon as peak oil was announced (1956), the most informed observers understood that the days of market democracy were numbered and that only a muscular regime would allow privileges to be maintained during the transition or the collapse. Since 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has unfortunately only proposed a technocratic interpretation of climate change, an interpretation that is complacent in its own contradiction: instrumentalized by Western government policies, it claims to remain confined to « hard » science. 

Let us understand that it is not because market democracy is outdated that capitalists will go bankrupt. Everything is a source of commercial and speculative opportunities. Speculation is now attacking not only basic foodstuffs but also arable land and water; the transformation of agriculture will continue to involve the intensive use of herbicides, insecticides and fertilizers; the Kyoto Protocol has created a new field of speculation — the « carbon exchange » — with the adoption of the CO2 emissions trading scheme. Above all: the disappearance of the natural environment is the secret dream of every self-respecting neoliberal(3).

What to conclude? Firstly, faced with the threat of a galloping greenhouse effect, we must put an end to industrial civilization before it puts an end to us. Secondly, climate change is political: it is due to a particular ideology, it is maintained by this same ideology, and it will necessarily lead to a totalitarian development of this ideology. Thirdly, the confirmation of the 2040 deadline, already hypothetically put forward by the Club of Rome report in 1972, will be appreciated. Fourthly, the double climatic threat that McPherson denounces (the climatic extinction of the species and the decay of nuclear power plants) must be related to the fate that bad weather will have on coastal power plants, which will be drowned, and on river power plants, which may no longer be cooled in case of drought. In both cases, the radioactive discharges will be massive. Fifth, let’s point out a slight misjudgment by McPherson. To claim that the terminally ill behave — at last — like human beings is a beautiful metaphor that is worthy of illuminating the psychology of most of our contemporaries. Unfortunately, it does not at all account for the psychology of the oligarchs, which is fundamentally paranoid (in the clinical sense), which is equivalent to saying that any apocalyptic scenario will be welcomed by these sociopaths who will seek to ensure if necessary that nothing and nobody survives them… In this respect, the noises that one hears everywhere, and more particularly those associated with the installation of the « anti-missile shield », which cannot be intended to prevent a totally non-existent Iranian threat, but rather to make a preventive strike against Russia possible(4)The question of the temptation of nuclear winter, the well known side effect of a global thermonuclear war, which would solve the ethical, technical and economic question of the use of geoengineering, must be addressed. 

Michel Weber

Philosopher; latest work published:
What revolution do we need? Paris, Éditions Sang de la Terre, 2013.


The oligarchy believes it can claim that the current crisis is only financial and that we will get out of the tunnel by tightening our belts. The most cynical analysts point out that this is a global systemic crisis sealing the death of market democracy (but not of genocidal capitalism). Sometimes we are reminded of the ecological and climatic crisis, but never by asking the question of the (im-) possible adaptation of our habitat to a rise of only a few degrees of the global temperature and therefore of the survival conditions of the human species. The few scientists who ask this disturbing question get a much more precise answer. We know Lovelock who, for the sake of controversy, likes to recall his attachment to nuclear power. This is McPherson, who, in the interest of authenticity, confronts us with our responsibilities. It should be noted that they are not of the same order as those of the oligarchy, for whom any collapse is and will be profitable. 

I. Here we are in October 2013, early October, and in these last few weeks, John Davies, publishing on behalf of the Arctic Methane Emergency Study Group, establishes that most humans will lose their natural habitat by 2040. 

In addition, last week the fifth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was released, which recommends the use of geoengineering or else the greenhouse effect will not be controlled [galopant].

We must therefore conclude that, in fact, we have triggered a galloping [rapid, non-linear, unpredictable] greenhouse effect. 

None of these estimates take into account the twenty-five positive feedback loops we have created through our activities. Twenty-three of these loops are irreversible on the human time scale. We triggered one in 2010 with the methane leaks from the Arctic ice pack (cf. ScienceMarch 2010). Four more were described in 2011 in the scientific literature, six in 2012 and a dozen (so far) in 2013. 

In addition, there are two positive feedback loops that could be interrupted by a simple human decision. The first was in August 2012, when the Obama administration authorized drilling at the North Pole. The second was earlier this year when supertankers cut their way through the melting ice of the North Pole to save a few dollars in transportation costs. 

II. At this point, it seems that industrial civilization is a trap [mortel]. Other civilizations have collapsed but humanity has continued to exist. At least in some cases the survivors were able to adopt the lifestyle of the hunter-gatherers. 

However, this is no longer possible because of all the nuclear power plants spread all over the world. On the one hand, if civilization collapses now, i.e. without having the time to dismantle these nuclear power plants (i.e. about twenty years), they will end up irradiating our entire environment. On the other hand, if we do not put 

a definitive brake on industrial civilization, we will trigger a galloping greenhouse effect. In fact, the galloping greenhouse effect is already a reality. In short, the extinction of the human race in the short term is inevitable. 

III. How to live with this information? How to integrate this information? How to act on this information? Mike Tyson (the boxer, not the philosopher) noted that everyone has a plan until they get punched in the figure. We took a fist to the face. 

We only have a short time on this planet. In fact, we have only ever had a short time on this planet. Let us act accordingly. Let’s act as if we were in a hospice for the incurable, as if we were all in a hospice. As if the planet itself were a hospice. When I observe the behavior of hospice residents, those who have only been given a few weeks to live, I never see them trying to scrape together a few more pennies, as if they still need more wealth when their world is falling apart. 

What I see is that people are looking for the absolute. They pursue what they love. They act with compassion. They become creative and let go of their material possessions. They act as if in a gift economy. Let’s do that. Let’s do it all. To seek the absolute, to pursue what we love, to act as if we were in a hospice, to act as a worthy human being. […] 

Let’s do what we love. Let us act as if our insignificant lives matter to those around us. And I am not suggesting in any way that we abandon the action [politique]. I’m not suggesting that we let ourselves be done and [finalement] that we let ourselves die. What I am basically suggesting is that action is the antidote to despair, as Edward Abbey pointed out long ago. So let’s do it! 

Notes et références
  1. Paul Lannoye, « Géo-ingénierie : un remède pire que le mal », Les Dossiers du Grappe, n°1, 2011.
  2. Michel Weber, « Le 11-Septembre entre mythe et grand récit », Kairos Sept./Oct. 2013 (consultable ici <https://chromatika.>) ; Jean-Claude Paye, La Fin de l’État de droit. La lutte antiterroriste : de l’état d’exception à la dictature, Paris, Éditions La Dispute, 2004.
  3. Jean-Pierre Berlan et Richard C. Lewontin, « La menace du complexe génético-industriel », Le Monde diplomatique, Décembre, 1998.
  4. Voir le rire de Poutine : com/watch?v=4i6nPNpR6PA

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