It is coming up to the first anniversary of the Paris Agreement on climate change, COP21, or the more technocratic sounding twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) and the eleventh session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP), if you prefer. But will it really save us, or the environment, if you prefer to see the environment as a binary abstraction as many of us in the instrumental and rational west seem to want to. Either way, the agreement generated a lot of nonsensical grandiloquent rhetoric from governments. Indeed, since governments have started meeting-20 times since 1990 no less- to talk about saving the environment, carbon emissions have gone up by over 60%. Yes, you read that correctly, 60%. So the very substance that is causing the problem is going up, while inversely the hope that the political and economic transformation which is needed to combat global warming is actually, in reality, away from all the hype, going down. In mathematics they call that an inverse function: in other words, a function or operation that ‘reverses’ another function.
No, frankly, the environment is not that important, and in fact, for many, it doesn’t even exist outside of glossy picture shoots and artfully crafted BBC documentaries. If the Victorians invented the idea of nature, we have done our best since to promote and sustain that invention. First by mercilessly exploiting once abundant resources without forethought, or afterthought for that matter, and secondly, to salve our conscience, by deifying the natural environment. In other words, we’ve placed the natural environment both above and outside of us, and so therefore outside of both our lived experiences in an increasingly frantic urban world, and crucially outside of our responsibilities as caretakers to the planet as well. And more importantly still, outside of our dominant economic system, and also by extension outside of that other great invented entity of the 19th century: the market economy.
The natural environment therefore is merely an externality, external that is to the self-perpetuating logic of the market and market transactions. According to mainstream economic theory, the kind still largely taught uncritically in most universities, participants in any economic transaction will only ever look after their own interests. So if you buy an SUV, or a yacht, or an oil rig for that matter, the polluting ‘side effects’ are not your concern, they are external to the transaction. So, your only responsibility is to yourself alone or to your company. Not to children in Asia choking on gas fumes, nor to forests in South America, neither to displaced and dispossessed indigenous peoples; let alone to future generations. The idea of intergenerational environmental justice in particular is way too abstract a concept to be taken too seriously.
But how can this be? What happened to the future? Why is it disappearing? Because, there is no tomorrow. The concept of a future cannot be allowed to exist, and certainly not a different type of future. There is only today, only now. There must only ever be a ‘consumerist’ now.-a narrow nowness in which any existential worries are sated by Huxleyian mood music. The ‘nowness’ of Buddhism, awareness of the present moment without grasping and without attachment, has been co-opted and consciously misconstrued by slick, post-modern, 21st century capitalism to serve a very different function: Go to sleep motherfucker. Leave us alone to get on with it.
Moloch! Moloch! Doesn’t give a Fuck about International Law or the Future!
But, that great industrial Moloch of our time, the idea and practice of limitless economic growth, unlike the natural environment, unmistakably is of great importance. This much really should be self- evident at this point; self-evident that is if we take the time and effort to extricate ourselves from the noise, din and obfuscation surrounding so-called global warming ‘debate’. And also, of course, ‘Moloch’ is a multi-faceted and hydra-headed problem.
So rather COP21 was on the whole not about saving the natural environment but was rather manifestly about more development, more development that is based on dirty non-renewable fuels. In particular economic development or even more accurately still: economic globalisation. Which is itself a handy euphemism for unrestrained global capitalism-and the subterranean ‘molochian fires’ which fuel it: fossil fuels. Now, more lately, strategically rebranded as sustainable development. Yet another triumph of marketing over substance from the worst minds of this or any other generation, spewed out from ‘robot apartments and invisible suburbs’; all post-modern irony and the hellish road of Zuckerbergian good intentions. ‘The whole boatload of sensitive bullshit’ as Ginsberg caustically remarked.
COP21 was about, amongst other things, which poor countries will be quietly encouraged to economically develop-primarily for the best interests of international investors of course-further by burning more carbon into the biosphere, and which rich countries will be allowed to outsource their responsibilities to poorer nations by carbon offsetting, while still burning copious amounts of carbon.
Better still, as cost-effective negative emissions technology-we are going to capture all this carbon (BECCS-Bio-energy Capture and Storage) and store it underground despite the inconvenient fact that this saviour technology has never been tested at scale. Sixty years ago, Stanley Kubrick understood how technology was to be our saviour. Not much has changed seemingly.
Did the Paris Climate Talks Achieve an Historical Agreement?
No, almost certainly not. There was no ‘Chamberlain in Munich’ moment. There was no environmental ‘peace in our time’ newsbyte to sate the regurgitating and hallucinatory quality of the 24 hour news cycle. There was no symbolic document flying in the cold Paris breeze for the entire world’s media to latch onto as proof of economic and environmental ‘sanity at last’. Even if COP 21 did reach some kind of agreement it is safe to say that a carefully crafted built-in obsolescence was embedded into the text of the agreement nullifying any potential and serious radical realignment of global energy policy.
And yet all this is very strange. Science is by far our civilisations’ most successful attempt at explaining the world around us. Climate science on global warming is as close as possible to unequivocal at this point, but still it doesn’t seem to matter. On-duty ideologues in the mainstream media, academia (usually economics departments) and in an increasingly dysfunctional political system will see to it that it won’t matter. Profit margins depend on it.
Moloch, the great malevolent god of human sacrifice, worshipped by Mediterranean societies over two thousand years ago demanded obedience from his terrified and willing followers, and that they would sacrifice their children in fire in order to renew the deity’s strength. Two thousand years later, in 1955, Allen Ginsberg in his epic poem Howl called out our economic and political as a modern day Moloch. Is Ginsberg’s violent shamanic prophecy of mental dissonance and apocalyptic collapse, at once both disturbing and visionary, now our explanatory text and road map for the rest of the 21srt century?
Not even near enough of serious substance came out of COP21, and definitely not enough for what is needed at this late stage. Instead, Moloch “whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money!” won way too many strategically ambiguous victories in Paris, as a result, the rest of us can look to the future with trepidation, and a lot more fear.