“Desert”: on the future of human civilisation
A friend recently pointed me to the essay “Desert”, by an anonymous author. i'm glad she did - it's excellent.
The spectre that many try not to see is a simple realisation — the world will not be ‘saved’. Global anarchist revolution is not going to happen. Global climate change is now unstoppable. We are not going to see the worldwide end to civilisation/capitalism/patriarchy/authority. It’s not going to happen any time soon. It’s unlikely to happen ever. The world will not be ‘saved’. Not by activists, not by mass movements, not by charities and not by an insurgent global proletariat. The world will not be ‘saved’. This realisation hurts people. They don’t want it to be true! But it probably is ...
Neither we, nor anyone else, can create a libertarian and ecological global future society by expanding social movements. Further, there is no reason to think that in the absence of such a vast expansion, a global social transformation congruent with our desires will ever happen. As anarchists we are not the seed of the future society in the shell of the old, but merely one of many elements from which the future is forming ...
Even if an area is seemingly fully under the control of authority there are always places to go, to live in, to love in and to resist from. And we can extend those spaces. The global situation may seem beyond us, but the local never is. As anarchists we are neither entirely powerless nor potentially omnipotent, thankfully.
i found the essay to be refreshingly and satisfyingly realist.
Over the last few decades, my leftist politics has gradually drifted from strongly statist to strongly anti-statist[a], but a common theme i've encountered is a lack of realism regarding the likelihood of certain political outcomes. For example:
- the idea that the liberal-democratic states of the Global North[b] are going to ever have a government elected that does anything other than significantly prioritise the ability of the wealthy to get wealthier over all other considerations[c].
- the idea that the liberal-democratic states of the Global North are anywhere near being replaced by some sort of fundamentally different leftist political structure, statist or not.
i feel that neither of these notions are realistic regardless of the fact that environmental change is actually happening more rapidly than many predicted.
A friend recently shared a screencap from 2014, showing a French weather presenter doing a mock ‘forecast’ for France on 18 August 2050. That ‘mock’ forecast turned out to basically be the actual forecast for some days in mid-June this year.
However, despite the fact that it's the Global North's carbon dioxide emissions primarily causing climate change[d], it's those in the Global South who are typically most affected as a result.
Around the world, women and girls are far more likely to experience harm from fossil-fueled environmental changes and climate disasters like heat waves, droughts and floods. This is because they are more likely to live in poverty and too often lack basic human rights and financial security. With their imperative to protect the widow, orphan and stranger, our ancient texts understood this reality all too well.
In developing countries, this looks like daily challenges such as women and girls traveling farther to collect potable water and families forced to make painful trade-offs between basic needs after their crops fail.
As a specific example, take the recent heatwaves in the subcontinent:
During the 2022 food crises, India began taking steps to export more wheat, in part to fill the gaps created by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, the heatwave caused increasing local prices and lower supply, issues also exacerbated by the war increasing fertilizer prices. The heat wave occurred mostly during the final weeks of the wheat growing season, killing the plants shortly before harvest. The heatwave caused a reverse in policy by Indian government, from trying to import to address the crises, to halting exports.
The heatwave has also severely impacted peach and apple harvests in Balochistan.
The heatwave has resulted in birds falling from the sky in Gujarat.
The Hassanabad Bridge in Hunza Valley, Pakistan collapsed after a glacial lake released large amounts of water into a stream caused by the heatwave.
But the Global North keeps itself relatively insulated from the global effects of its actions, via things like:
- restrictions on the movement of labour/people - restrictions promoted even by (often particularly by) those who claim to be ‘pro-free-market’.
- directing at least some financial resources to at least some of those affected by climate change in each Global North country.
- the mass media choosing to limit the extent to which they cover events and daily life in the Global South (whether driven by a political motive or a profit motive).
It's certainly true that it's become increasingly difficult for people here in Australia to ignore the effects of climate change, given our recent years of catastrophic bushfires and floods[e], events which probably contributed to the recent electoral defeat of the incumbent, centre-right, climate-change-denying, Liberal/National Coalition federal government. For example, the seat of Brisbane saw a ~10% swing against the Liberal incumbent, and a ~5% swing towards the Greens candidate, who won the seat[f]; and more generally, the election resulted in the victory of several ‘teal independents’, independent female candidates who are economically conservative, but socially progressive and wanting action on climate change.
My guess is that Australian politics will continue to move towards taking climate change as a given, that paying at least lip service to a commitment to climate change action will become increasingly uncontroversial, and that there will be increasing support for things like a significant shift away from fossil fuels and towards renewables[g]. But i very much doubt there will be any particularly large/radical shifts in Australia's contribution to the climate crisis - because like most other countries in the Global North, we have a fundamental policy of prioritising permanent economic growth[h] for the benefit of capital. All other considerations are treated as secondary: there's not even a nod towards the notion of a triple bottom line.
This quote from the 1990 book “Last Chance to See”, by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwadine, continues to feel all too relevant:
Extinctions, of course, have been happening for millions of years: animals and plants were disappearing long before people arrived on the scene. But what has changed in the extinction _rate_. For millions of years, on average, one species became extinct every century. But most of the extinctions since prehistoric times have occurred in the last three hundred years.
And most of the extinctions that have occurred in the last three hundred years have occurred in the last fifty.
And most of the extinctions that have occurred in the the last fifty have occurred in the last ten.
It is the sheer rate of acceleration that is as terrifying as anything else. We are now heaving more than a thousand different species of animals and plants off the planet every year ...[i]
[T]he loss of a few species may seem almost irrelevant compared to major environmental problems such as global warming or the destruction of the ozone layer. But while nature has considerable resilience, there is a limit to how far that resilience can be stretched. No one knows how close to the limit we are getting. The darker it gets, the faster we're driving.
“The darker it gets, the faster we're driving.”☙
[a] Currently i resonate most strongly with ‘individualist anarchism’:
That said, i work hard to try to avoid being dogmatic (which is how i ended up moving from statist to anti-statist in the first place), and certainly don't claim to Have All The Answers (even if i do claim that some things aren't The Answer). Dogmatism is in no way absent from anarchist circles, though. i was gratified when the author of “Desert” referred to planning the ‘ideal’ society as a “personally abhorrent and definitely authoritarian exercise which some anarchists still seem to enjoy”, and subsequently made a “cheap joke at the expense of Murray Bookchin's ridiculous, ‘Social anarchism vs Lifestyle Anarchism’, dichotomy”.
[c] Classic historical example: “the other 9/11”, the overthrow of the elected Allende government in Chile in 1973.
[d] For example, in 2018, Australia emitted 16.8 tonnes of CO₂ per capita and the US emitted 16.1 tonnes per capita, whereas India emitted 1.9 tonnes per capita and Pakistan emitted 1 tonne per capita.
[e] The 2020 bushfires:
As of 28 October 2020, the fires burnt an estimated 14.3 million hectares (35 million acres; 143,000 square kilometres; 55,000 square miles [i.e. an area greater than the land area of England], destroyed over 3,000 buildings (including 2,779 homes) and killed at least 34 people. It was claimed that three billion terrestrial vertebrates – the vast majority being reptiles – were affected and some endangered species were believed to be driven to extinction. At its peak, air quality dropped to hazardous levels in all southern and eastern states.
The 2022 floods in south-east Queensland:
Twenty-two people are known to have died during the disaster. Throughout South East Queensland and the Wide Bay–Burnett, almost one thousand schools were closed in response to the flooding, evacuations took place and the public were advised to avoid non-essential travel. Food shortages were reported across the region, due to the ensuing supply chain crisis as well as affecting communities in outback Queensland ...
In the three days to 28 February, greater Brisbane received 676.8 millimetres of rainfall, the largest three, and seven, day total ever recorded in Brisbane.
The 2022 floods in the Sydney region:
Australia's version of “The Onion”, “The Betoota Advocate”, recently had a piece satirising the views of climate change ‘doubter’, former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce:
[g] Cf. e.g.:
The Labor government [of Victoria] has a plan to increase the share of renewable energy in the grid to 82 per cent by 2030.
[h] i recently saw a poster with the text “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell”, attributed to Edward Abbey, which particularly appealed to me as someone who's had cancer.
[i] And the current situation, 30 years later:
The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report said that unless humankind starts to act sustainably, the earth is on its way to losing 12 per cent of its wild tree species, more than 1,000 wild mammal species and almost 450 species of sharks and rays.