It has been very hot and humid in the American Southwest and because of the exceptional heat I have to pick my kids up from school before mid-day when classrooms without air conditioning become dangerous. This heatwave and the disruption it means for my workday coincide with the final run up to the People’s Climate March in New York, with solidarity rallies around the country. The organizers have deemed the event a disruption and there is a film called Disruption that attempts to document the organization of the march and to provide a wide range of reasons that people should, absolutely must, join in. Hopefully, the increasing frequency and intensity of disruption to people’s lives will move them to disrupt the forces that prevent a serious reckoning with global warming.
I will need to watch it again to be sure, but I don’t think the word “capitalism” was uttered once throughout the entire film. While political economy was central to the film, the thrust of the discussion amounted to an argument for green capitalism. Ultimately, the film argues, we can replace carbon-based energy with renewables while preserving, even creating, jobs. The power of the carbon industries rests on a corruption of the market, in which they have managed to externalize the costs of pollution (Van Jones’ irritating quip about individuals not being able to pollute but energy companies being free to do so is in the same horrible camp as treating the government like a family that must balance its budget). The obstacles to internalizing the costs of pollution and thereby making renewables such as wind and solar competitive are political in so far as powerful energy interests have a practical monopoly on political power. As a consequence, mass mobilization of concerned people around the globe is the best chance of inspiring the political class to action. The Civil Rights movement and Nixon’s environmental record are the model events. And the process for mobilizing people today is rooted in a-historical cognitive functions that make climate change seem too distant–if they see bodies in the street, you can get away from the “rational” part of the brain and into the emotional (which doesn’t explain why some people’s brains want to march now and others’ don’t without seeing millions of protesters). Moreover, there is an example of where a sustainable capitalist economy seems to be emerging, namely Germany. The conclusion you can draw from this film, then, is that a large protest movement can mobilize the powerful to act in the interests of humanity along proven lines of economic policy.
From a marketing and mobilization stand point, the exclusion of the word capitalism makes sense. Seeing the application of labels such as socialist and communist to economic policy that is nothing of the sort suggests that any inclusion of the word capitalism will be met with hysterics and ultimately undermine any effort to mobilize the masses. That a-historical brain function is, in fact, colored by schemas of capitalist existence. That is, the “rational” problem solving and temporal frameworks of the brain should be understood in the rationality and temporality of capitalism. As a result, arguments against capitalism can appear as arguments against what appears commonsensical and what appears to be the normal flow of time.
Moreover, there is no anti-capitalism that lays out any kind of vision for the future. Left anti-capitalist discourse almost always concludes with a call for a new vision of the future but with little indication of where that vision would come from. By contrast, the climate justice movement promises a sustainable status quo. Maybe Naomi Klein’s new book will, but I’m guessing that even if it does the details will be far less clear than a green capitalism that already has the basic processes of social life laid out. The once climate activist Paul Kingsnorth suggested that there is a great deal of self-censorship among environmentalists. This self-censorship is an obstacle to the process of creating a new vision of the future, one that I believe will have to be anti-capitalist. By not putting anti-capitalist voices up front from the start, they risk being marginalized once a green capitalist movement is raging. But there may be no movement if anti-capitalism is the starting point.
In any case, watch the film and join a march this weekend!
Update: Almost immediately after I posted this I saw this tweet[tweet https://twitter.com/dechristopher/status/511567777514414080]
It linked to the website http://floodwallstreet.net which has a call for an anti-capitalist protest the day after the People’s Climate March. Here’s the description from the site:
Join the flood on September 22 starting at 9 am. The economy of the 1% is destroying the planet, flooding our homes, and wrecking our communities. After the People’s Climate March, wearing blue, we will bring the crisis to its cause with a mass sit-in at the heart of capital.
The schedule includes pre-protest speakers Naomi Klein and Chris Hayes, both of whom were prominent in the Disruption film. In the film, Klein made the point that the technologies for a sustainable economy were already available while Hayes most notable contribution was an aww shucks explanation of oil wealth as billions of dollars put in the ground by the sun. It’s hard to imagine Hayes crafting a coherent anti-capitalist message. Either way, I imagine that there will be some dissonance between the messages on the 21st and 22nd of this month.