In the current discourse about climate change, concepts like Humanity and Science are often deployed in olympian terms. A recent example of this phenomenon are the “Marches for Science” organized in hundreds of cities as a reaction to Trump’s denial of anthropogenic global warming. Humanity was recently brought into the analytic of natural history through the term “Anthropocene”, where the root of the word implies that Humanity in general is the main force driving the current global warming.
Science and Humanity as discoursive terms have much in common with terms like God and Morality,; concepts that rise above the petty concerns of politics and individual interests. In the context of climate change, Science revealed an impending ecological doom, and therefore Humanity must act in unison in order to not face catastrophe. Science and Humanity can convince the leaders of the modern world to shed off their greed and mutual differences, in order to build a global strategy against climate change. The Paris Agreement follows from this discourse; hundreds of countries that compete geopolitically and economically agreed upon limiting the temperature increase of the Earth.
Yet, as a marxist, I know that all discourse mediates power differentials between social classes and nation-states. The construct of God has always expressed the interests and ambitions of different classes – from justifying the plunder and enslavement of whole continents, to being a tool used by the marginalized and oppressed to fight for social justice. Although, Science and Humanity conjure a certain objectivity that lies beyond politics, their use is precisely political, mediating socio-economic interests. By ascribing responsibility to Humanity at large for global warming through terms like “Anthropocene”, the current discourse obfuscates and hides the social forces that are responsible for bringing us close to catastrophe. Humanity at large didn’t cause the forcing that is moving the Earth-system closer to cataclysmic change, but a specific economic system wielded by a very small percentile of the Earth’s population. This economic system is Capitalism. By ascribing the guilt and responsibility of the Earth-system to humanity at large, the leaders of the modern world avoid laying the blame on the the powerful, and therefore, safe-guard the interests of the capitalist class.
Empirical evidence shows that those who benefit the most from Capitalism share the larger chunk of the responsibility for global warming. Not only do the richest, and most powerful countries, which are also the largest beneficiaries of the current economic system, have the highest CO2 emissions per capita, but carbon footprint correlates positively with household income. It is preposterous to think that the poorest billion of humans, the indigenous in the Americas, the hunter gatherer societies in Africa, the people living in favelas in Rio de Janeiro, are the ones guilty for our current predicament. Not only are these people powerless under the current conditions of capital accumulation, but empirically, each one of them leaves a much smaller carbon footprint than the suits currently dictating the world economic policies in Washington, in the IMF, and in Brussels. Furthermore, the logistical and cultural apparatus behind the global market drives the Earth-system into disequilibrium in very complex and subtle ways – think about the spiritual and physical landscape created by real estate companies, automobile corporations, and oil companies – that sterile, concrete sea of carefully manicured lawns, beige houses and cars, and the resources required to electrify these spaces and fill them with consumer goods. The powerful not only manufacture a culture that makes us desire for the ecologically and socially devastating suburban sprawl that they produce and sell, but they also lobby against the greener and more socially equitable alternative of public housing, sustainable urban planning, and ultimately, against a world beyond commodities, of leisure time and less work.
Finally, by pretending that Science is sufficient reason to combat climate change, that is, that the world will accept a greener alternative given the scientific evidence, specialists and technocrats refuse to acknowledge the political dimension of climate change. If our current ecological predicament follows from the rules that organize the present global, economic system, rather than something endogenous to Humanity itself, then the only way to fight global warming is destroying those rules. That question is ultimately political, because it implies a new economic and moral order that doesn’t allow an upper percentile to benefit from ecological ruination while the rest of the world has to suffer the consequences. Defanged Science that only exists within the realm of technocratic and polite conversations in peer reviewed journals, is useless without a moral and political vision that hurts the interests of the capitalist class.