What Does Climate Change?
80 Years of Environmental Politics - Left and Right
Cora Bergantiños PhD., Socialist Alternative NYC, Postdoctoral Research Scientist at Columbia University
Joel Kovel, founder of Ecosocialist Horizons, Author of The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World?
Andrew Needham, History NYU, Author of Power Lines: Phoenix and the Making of the Modern Southwest
Christian Parenti, Liberal Studies NYU, Author of Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence
The awareness of a growing planetary climate crisis in the 1990s appeared to coincide with a change: the final collapse of the traditional forces of the Old Left (communism and social democracy) and the consolidation of what many characterize as neoliberalism. For many green thinkers and activists, the political strength of the Right in the 1990s stymied any meaningful attempt to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But the global reach of climate change also generated sustained international resistance, which appears unified in its opposition to fossil fuel extraction. For Klein and climate justice activists, the combined weight of this resistance could “change everything” when coupled with the “erosion” of neoliberalism’s credibility, particularly in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, and the assessment that climate change is inextricably bound up with capitalism (i.e., that climate change cannot be regulated or solved using “greener” forms of capitalism, but would require a “system change”).
Yet amidst the proliferation of activity--from blocking pipelines, to campus fossil fuel divestment campaigns, to blockades to stop hydraulic fracking and mountaintop removal coal mining projects and protests at international climate talks--it remains unclear how climate activism might lead to something different. U.S. Democrats, for example, appear poised to benefit from discontents around inaction on climate change regulation (in spite of advancing neoliberal reforms in the 1990s under Bill Clinton). In the E.U., climate activism has taken a back seat to anti-austerity, as governments responsible for the strictest austerity are largely credited with leadership in decarbonizing their economies. In fact, while an agreement overhauling the Kyoto Protocol seems increasingly likely at the Paris Conference of Parties (COP 21), the same cannot be said about theprospects for “system change.”
The focus of this panel is to consider what remains unchanged by the climate crisis. For there seems to be a continued problem of how discontents under capitalism become readily integrated into new forms of capitalism; a process whereby we unwittingly contribute to the perpetuation of capitalism without intending to. We ask panelists to consider how we might arrive at a post-carbon future from the Left. What would a Left response to climate change look like? How does this differ from the Right?
A panel event held on 30 Jan 7, 2014 at Dalhousie University.
Part of the ESS Lecture Series, Dalhousie University College of Sustainability
- Dave Bedford
Political Science, UNB, author of The Tragedy of Progress: Marxism, Modernity and the Aboriginal Question
- Andrew Biro
CRC in Political Ecology, Acadia University author of Denaturalizing Ecological Politics: ‘Alienation from Nature’ from Rousseau to the Frankfurt School and Beyond
- James Hutt
Activist, Solidarity Halifax, Divest Dalhousie and the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition
- Timothy Luke
Political Science, Virginia Technical University author of Capitalism, Democracy, and Ecology: Departing from Marx
The Dutch atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen recently characterized the period marked by the start of the industrial revolution in the 18th Century to the present as a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. This periodization is meant to capture a change in the history of the planet, namely that for the first time in history its course will be determined by the question of what humanity will become.
This panel will focus on different interpretations of why the Left has failed to deal with the deepening crisis of the Anthropocene through the 19th and 20th Centuries and how and if this problem is interrelated with the growing problems associated with ecological systems across the earth. While Karl Marx would note that the problem of freedom shifted with the industrial revolution and the emergence of the working class - the crisis of bourgeois society that Marx would term capital - the idea of freedom seemed not to survive the collapse of Marxist politics in the 20th Century. We seem to live in a world in which the fate of ecological seem foreclosed, where attempts at eco-modernization seem to emerge many steps behind the rate of ecological degradation. For many, degradation of the environment appears a permanent feature of modern society, something which can only be resisted but never transformed.
Panelists will consider the relationship between the history of capital and the Left—and thus the issue of history and freedom - and how it may be linked to our present inability to render environmental threats and degradation visible and comprehensible, and by extension, subject to its conscious and free overcoming by society.