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On climate change, Part II

            Climate change, however, is not the godsend that the left may think it is. There are three major issues that the left must face if it is to continue on its climate change crusade: first, the science is still being contested by some scientists—legitimately or not—, which enables capital and its organic intellectuals to articulate climate change as a plot of the left or, at best, as mistaken science; the second concerns the more intellectually honest right’s ability to accept climate science as it is, but articulate that the answer is more capitalism, not less; the last issue is the question of global development and the inherent injustice of allowing the developed world to pollute indiscriminately during its phase of industrialization, while forcing currently developing countries to curb their output or potential output during their phases of industrialization, essentially paying for the sins of the West. Therefore, climate change is also being articulated in the Global South as the West’s rouse to undermine development in the South.

            The question of whether or not warming has been occurring in accordance with human action should be questioned, as all science should be; however, at a certain point, a scientific judgment must be rendered hegemonic in order to do something. The theory of climate change has become hegemonic—like Darwinian evolution—and now we must take this premise and work with it; certainly this does not discount that all science cannot be turned on its head, a la Kuhn. However, unlike the social sciences, where one can clearly make the case that all is contestable and self-evidently ideological, with the natural sciences the case is much harder to make, since the units of analysis are empirical and can be tested and measured again and again with consistency in outcome.

           Nevertheless, the contestability of climate science is causing serious political problems, particularly in the United States. A perfect example of this is Pat Buchanan on Chris Matthew’s, Hardball:

Pat’s discourse is the type of discourse that we, on the left, should be the most worried about. It represents the height of the destructive logic of selfishness and individualism, which leads humanity to damnation under capitalist subjectivity; indeed, all of the negatives associated with capitalist subjectivity and history are embedded in his arguments, the type of ‘human nature’ that Cohen has given up fighting. For example, he doesn’t want money to go to Third-World countries, and with Buchanan you know race is involved, and believes that every country should look out for itself. Like microeconomists, they don’t understand that the environment does not end at borders and that what make sense at the ‘micro’ level, is counter-balanced at the macro-level. A perfect example is Matthew’s argument about the deforestation of Brazil’s rainforest. The discourse is good enough to quote:

Matthews: Do you challenge that it’s better not to have them [the rainforests] raped and torn down, do you want everything developed?

Buchanan: No I don’t, I would tell Brazil stop burning down the rainforest, I wouldn’t have to bribe them.

         Let us stop there for a moment, Buchanan, the arch-capitalist, is appealing to non-capitalist methods of motivation. To a capitalist, only market incentives work to incentivize people to do something, thus, is Buchanan no longer a conservative-capitalist ideologue, by appealing to higher moral sentiments, therefore, ideology? Therefore, denying the validity of instrumentalist/rational choice perspective of politics that the right depends on?  Buchanan forgets that the rainforests are being burnt down for profit—or, reason in instrumentalist political science terms; thus, is profit, ergo, capitalist instrumentalism bad in some circumstances? If profit is bad in some circumstances based on an “unknowable” notion of public good, a la Hayek, then what is left of the right? Interestingly, he claims that he doesn’t want to “bribe” them to change their behaviour —it is important to note that ‘bribe’ is, ironically, the market mechanisms of buying parts of the rainforest to compensate developing countries for the opportunity cost of not developing their rich natural resources, which are being proposed by the negotiations at Copenhagen. One wonders, what is the alternative in Buchanan’s world? Non-market mechanisms of ‘coercion’, as liberals like to call it, i.e. regulation in favour of the public good over individual good? Moving on:

Matthews: Well suppose they [Brazil] won’t do it.

Buchanan: Well if they don’t do it, they’re responsible for it.

Matthews: ...are we on this planet together, or is it every man for himself? 

Buchanan: It is every country for itself.

Matthews: It is!?!

Buchanan: It sure is.

            The same illogic pervades in microeconomics, an overly simplistic abstract world-view looking at what is in the interest of the individual firm, or in this case, a country and somehow the ‘invisible hand’ will make sure that this will translate into a public good. That for some reason what happens outside the firm, or the country, won’t affect the firm or country; therefore, denying the very existence of society. Indeed, we should not forget Thatcher’s infamous, “there is no such things as society, only individual men and women”. The very notion of the social is totally obfuscated and the separation of economics from society, or in this case country A’s climate from the global climate, is part of liberalism’s never ending reification of knowledge. This act that renders us defenseless and increasingly in danger of collective suicide masked as individual prosperity. However, we know it doesn’t happen that way and this has always been a fundamental critique of the left.

            As Henry Veltmeyer states: “non-dialectical, non-Marxist [liberal] thinking is unable to grasp reality in its vigorous dimensions as a totality. It tends to decompose reality into various parts and fragments, reifying them as if they had an independent existence—the economy, politics, society, culture—each viewed from a distinct angle, with its own domain and intellectual apparatus...abstract in form without substance (513). This is best summarized by Slavoj Zizek, as usual. He argues:

...if one wants to establish civil peace and tolerance [under a liberal hegemonic order], the first condition is to get rid of "moral temptation": politics should be thoroughly purged of moral ideals and rendered "realistic," taking people as they are, counting on their true nature, not on moral exhortations. Market is here exemplary: human nature is egotistic, there is no way to change it - what is needed is a mechanism that would make private vices work for common good (the "Cunning of Reason"). One should follow this line to its conclusion: a fully self-conscious liberal should intentionally limit his altruistic readiness to sacrifice his own good for the others' Good, aware that the most efficient way to act for the common good is to follow one's private egotism. The inevitable obverse of the Cunning of Reason motto "private vices, common good" is: "private goodness, common disaster. (The Market Mechanism for the Race of Devils)

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