Four climate futures

Submitted by martin on 24 November, 2020 - 9:24 Author: Zack Muddle
Climate Leviathan

See a review by Todd Hamer here.


Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future by Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright is an interesting read, with much to criticise, but some interesting and important questions raised. As the title suggests, it attempts to theorise and sketch possible or likely political developments, globally, in the light of climate crises’ impacts and attempts (failed or otherwise) at adaptation and mitigation. This is arguably a gap in much left-wing environmental discourse, and even though the authors don’t fill the gap well, they at least attempt to.

The authors are influenced by, on the one hand, the climate justice movement, and, on the other, Eurocommunism, a 1970s-80s social-democratic or liberal strain of post-Stalinism; and their book is shaped by a dry academic lens.

Their relation to the climate justice movement makes them, I think, soft on its severe limitations. More fatally, they seem to see it as the starting point, and that, combined with their other political influences, paints the organised working class as a key environmental agent out of the picture. Their perspective has a large dose of what used to be called "Third-Worldism" (seeing progress as coming from a battle of poorer countries, all or most classes combined, against richer countries, all classes combined): indeed, one of their two non-capitalist futures is named after Mao Zedong.

Their preferred future, “Climate X”, may seem libertarian, but they celebrate many aspects of Maoism, a "Third-Worldist" Stalinism, and see a “red thread running from Robespierre to Lenin to Mao”. They distance themselves from Bolshevism by conflating it with authoritarianism and Maoism, so they jettison the valuable lessons from Bolshevism, but simultaneously they are influenced by some of their warped perception of a Lenin-Mao "red thread".

The poor record of Stalinism on the environment is ascribed to Leninism: “The Leninist tradition has much to offer, certainly, but there is a reason that so few Marxists prioritised the question of nature during the twentieth century.” They make a strange argument as to why Gramsci was not a Leninist, based in large part on debates over idealism vs. materialism. Beyond brief and positive mentions, they don’t engage with existing ecological Marxist literature.

Their vaguely-aspired-to “Climate X” seems to reflect a critique of “governmentality” derived from Michel Foucault and post-modernist authors; inspirations from predominantly indigenous groups and tendencies such as the Zapatistas; and the limited focus and strategy of the “blockadier” movements that the authors have participated with.

"Climate X" is one of four futures, or elements of futures, that they sketch. "Climate Leviathan" is where capitalism still exists but with a global “sovereign” or world-government which takes responsibility for climate mitigation and adaptation. “Climate Behemoth” is a reactionary capitalist opposition to this, based on nationalism or an assertion of national sovereignty against “planetary sovereignty”, and with support “from the fraction of the capitalist class with ties to fossil fuels.” The other two are “an anticapitalist, state-centred Climate Mao… and an anticapitalist, antisovereign Climate X”.

Some of the interesting and important questions which I took from the book can, I think, can be straightforwardly answered from a third-camp Trotskyist perspective, while others require further consideration. A mix of both:

• What are the likely political and economic developments over the coming century, in response to climate change and pushes for adaptation and mitigation, particularly while capitalism survives? What are the roles of ideology and of economics in this? How can we intervene?

• How should we think about and critique pushes for “Green capitalism” which are often “Green Keynesianism”, for example “Green New Deal” initiatives? Does supporting them legitimate the idea that climate change is solvable within capitalism, or that moving beyond capitalism is not on the cards?

• How far can international treaties between competing capitalist nation states get in mitigating and adapting for environmental crises? Would a unified capitalist world state, with more centralised direct control, get further? Will there be a push towards a world capitalist state? How far will it succeed and what will the backlash resemble, and what ideologies will these dynamics generate? What role will crises, climate migration, climate wars, play in such dynamics?

• On what basis, from what origin, and with what identity would such a “global sovereign” exist and come into being? Might part of the identity be — as they suggest — (cynical) claims to global stewardship, global environmental stewardship?

• What role will developments in space weaponry have in global politics? How will it relate to the establishment (or otherwise) of a planetary sovereign?

• And geoengineering? How far will current widespread opposition to it influence the future? How can we intervene? Given that most proposals harm some parts of the world significantly in order, theoretically, to help others, what will the political implications be? How will international agreements fare? Will these considerations push towards a planetary sovereign?

• How important a role does global spatial economic unevenness play for global capital (in terms of production and consumption)? Does this cut against a global state? Does it strengthen nationalism? Does opposing inequality and nationalism make a global state more likely?

• Would a global capitalist state be more or less likely to be authoritarian than a competing capitalist nation state? Or is this primarily down to class struggle? Does the possibility of no societies being free from a potentially authoritarian state pose particular threats to the socialist project?

• What would global inequality look like under a planetary sovereign? What would climate adaptation look like, and how would that relate to global inequality?

• In the face of climate crises, how should we think about nation states, sovereignty, nationalism, rights to national self-determination, and internationalism?

• Why is it — or is it? — more widely accepted that there is a failure, perhaps an insurmountable one, of capitalism in dealing with climate crises, than that there is a failure of “sovereignty”, or of competing nation states?

• Should we oppose moves towards a capitalist planetary state? Or, more aptly, under what conditions should we oppose or not oppose such moves?

• Do international integration and co-operation, lowering of borders, etc., that we favour, point towards an international state while capitalism exists? How can we further bring them about?

• Would UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) and the COPs (Conferences of the Parties) form the basis of a global state?

• How should we think about UNFCCC and the COPs? What kind of protests should we direct at them? Do we want to strengthen them and beef them up, or destroy them? Does demanding that they do their job better strengthen an ideological hegemony in which capitalism and the nation state is assumed? How applicable in this situation are the perspectives of third camp Trotskyism about demands we make of bourgeois states, about united fronts, transitional demands, workers’ governments, etc.?

• Would a global state or sovereign be necessary in the first stages of socialism?

• Is there a problem with — beyond capitalism — a single “sovereign” planetary democratic and federated order? What are the limits of “sovereignty”, or “rights” to national self-determination — conceptually and politically?

• What role should people, and movements of people, currently living outside of direct capitalist social relations — e.g. some “indigenous people” — play in stopping climate change and capitalism, and building socialism? Do we need to be more imaginative about our envisioned post-capitalist societies?

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