Monday, July 16, 2007

Impact of climate change: a scenario

James Galbraith:
The climate collapse—which may bring the flooding of New York, Boston, London, Calcutta, and Shanghai—will be a calamity next to which the end of the Soviet Union will seem very small. Long industrial chains, for jet aircraft, automobiles, telecommunications, electricity, and much else, will crumble, as they did in the USSR and Yugoslavia, particularly if new interior boundaries form and countries break up. And interior boundaries will form, as those on the high ground seek to defend it. The demographic effects will be similarly dire: Older, urban males (like me) with no survival skills will die. Rural New England will turn into a deforested exurban slum.

This brings us back to... public policy. The function of the government, in principle, is to foresee these dangers, and avert them. The powers of the government exist to permit the mobilization of resources required. And only government can hope to do the job.

This is bleak news not only in the present climate of thought, but also given the decay of the public sphere since at least 1981. Whatever government might have been (or seemed) capable of in the 1940s or the 1960s, it plainly is not capable of today. A government that cannot establish a functioning Homeland Security Department in half a decade, a government that is capable of creating the Coalition Provisional Authority or Bush’s FEMA, is no one’s idea of an effective instrument for climate planning. Plainly the destruction of government—the turning over of regulation to predators, military functions to mercenaries, the Justice Department to a vote-suppression racket, and the Supreme Court to fanatics—has been the price of tolerating the Bush coup of November 2000. Soon we will face the aftermath of all this, with the fate of the earth in the balance.

Therefore: government will have to be rebuilt. The competencies necessary will have to be learned. The necessary powers will have to be legislated. Safeguards—against corruption, against abuse, against predation, against regulatory capture—will have to be designed. The corporate consumer culture will have to be brought to heel, and the long food production chains [will] have to be shortened. At the same time, a new project of physical, technological, and urban social engineering will have to get under way.

The reason why the ideological right is absolutely terrified of the climate change issue is that it inevitably raises the necessity of radical government activism and intervention (and redistribution). The causes of global warming are so deeply systemic that only a radical governmentality can possibly hope to abate it. The other prospect is civilizational collapse, somewhere probably long about the middle of the next century.

Personally, I find the latter scenario most likely, that is, civilizational collapse. I believe that the global middle classes stand ready to make literal Louis XIV's famous dictum, après moi le déluge, rather than give up their blighted eidolon of endless growth. Only a global benevolent dictatorship of some sort could derail the ambitions of that global middle class and its political enablers. But the Catch-22 is that any global dictatorship is highly unlikely to be benevolent.

In short, we're fucked.


eredux said...

Check This US Carbon Footprint Map out, illustrating Greenest States and a lot more...

barneswab said...

Nils, I'm circulating this under the title "Too pessimistic?" By which I mean, are not the "global middle classes" either much more highly variegated, ambivalent, changeable than you suggest (a bigger, wider universe if we take "middle" seriously), or a quite small elite segment of the world population --containing some class traitors and ambivalents -- and hence, either potentially educable or potentially defeatable (some combination of the two) by something less than global dictatorship?

Bill Barnes