Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Faustian Bargain with the Climate Crisis

Art by Willy Stöwer | CC BY 2.0

You’re a passenger on the Titanic on its fateful maiden voyage in 1912. As it draws away from the dock at Southampton you get a premonition that things are going to go severely pear-shaped, and that the ship is never going to make it to New York. Maybe you’re an engineer and your spidey senses are telling you that the captain and crew are far too cocky for their own good considering that the ship can only sustain damage to four of the 12 bulkheads. Maybe it’s not anywhere near as unsinkable as the White Star Line are making out in the name of PR hype…

But you don’t say anything because you know what people are like when you try to tell them things they don’t want to hear—they get defensive and shoot the messenger. Why are you being so negative on such a joyous occasion, who pissed in your bucket such that now you have to go and piss in everyone else’s? Maybe you should get some professional help. You know how it goes. So after briefly considering making a fuss and demanding the boat be turned around, or just jumping over the side and swimming back to shore, you sit back and say to yourself, fuck it, I’m in first class, if something happens I’ll get priority for getting off the boat…

But here’s the rub, because what you don’t know is that the White Star Line skimped on the lifeboats because they took up room, and they detracted from the claims about the ship being unsinkable anyway. So, when the ship eventually hits the iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland, you get a nasty shock in discovering just how shit out of luck you really are. When you could have done something, the problem wasn’t a problem, but now that it is it’s too late. It was that damn Faustian bargain you made…

And so the exact same logic goes with the climate crisis. The parallels are obvious; take as our inspiration the temptations of capitalist individualism set before us, we make the exact same bargain. The difference in this case however is that we know the disaster is coming; we don’t even need to worry about what our spidey senses say, 97% of all climate scientists agree that the capitalist mentality that sees the world as an infinite resource and infinite garbage dump is warming the atmosphere. We have even less excuse.

But yet, we still make the bargain, assuming that we won’t be the ones to go under when the shit hits the fan. But borrowing once more from our Titanic metaphor, we assume to know all the parameters from our vantage point of comfort and safety before the full brunt of the problem is upon us. Well maybe some of those poor bastards in those low-lying countries South Asia will cop it when the sea levels rise, and maybe there will be a few islands in the Pacific that might become historical relics, but we in our nice relatively quiet and peaceful middle-class communities will be okay…

We do not need a metaphor in this case to see just how incredibly dangerous and irresponsible this kind of thinking is. Let alone the consequences for weather systems and the food chain, which are already being felt, the wars that have already been fought over hegemony-enabling oil supplies will be accompanied by more like the Syrian conflict, that began in the aftermath of climate-change induced droughts around Mesopotamia. Then there is the movement of refugees to consider, and threats to water and food security…

We are not thinking of such things however when we make such Faustian bargains. We are thinking of our stuff, and we are thinking that we can have our cake and eat it too, though as thinking about the reality of the situation as per the above train of thought rends to demonstrate, we can’t. Furthermore, and as Tyler Durden points out in Fight Club, the things we own end up owning us. Maybe our dependence on conspicuous consumption is part of the problem, our tendency to invest our identity in ownership of things instead of developing and independent value system and learning to figure out what we’re about as individuals.

Maybe part of the problem, to borrow from Baudrillard, is our tendency to try to compensate for our general lack of control over the conditions of our own work and of our own lives more generally by throwing an endless torrent of commodities into the bottomless pits of our alienation. Maybe we have the same kind of relationship with consumerism and consumption that drug addicts have with their chemicals, and fear the pain of giving away our emotional crutches to which we are co-dependently bonded with the same fear that religiously orthodox types envision abandonment by the magic man in the sky.

The irony of course is that, like the passenger on the Titanic assuming that there will be enough lifeboats for everyone, the trust we put in the institutions and the general mentalities associated with global conditions as they currently prevail will be commensurately rewarded. Which is to say that we will be left holding the bag as those who created the problem run headlong in the opposite direction to accepting responsibility for the downward spiral of global society into social and environmental chaos and collapse. Such is the nature of Faustian bargains; if there is no honour amongst thieves, there will certainly be none amongst those who have stolen the future.

But just as in waking up from a nightmare, not least of which being the ones they call the Great American and Great Australian Dreams (George Carlin: there’s a reason they call them that and that’s because you have to be asleep to believe it) there is every moment also an opportunity to choose differently. In every moment, we can choose to think soberly and responsibly, to act like growth has limits, to act like workers, women, people rendered the Oriental Other, the flora, fauna and ultimately the Earth itself are more than mere objects only of value as things that can be exploited for profit.

To reject the Faustian pact of capitalist individualism does not ensure that things will all work out like a Disney movie, but it does mean that they won’t turn out for the worst while we make calculated choices about whose rights, freedoms, wellbeing and ultimately lives are more valuable from our positions of class privilege.

More articles by:

Ben Debney is a PhD candidate in International Relations at Deakin University, Burwood, Melbourne. He is studying moral panics and the political economy of scapegoating. Twitter: @itesau  

October 22, 2018
Henry Giroux
Neoliberalism in the Age of Pedagogical Terrorism
Melvin Goodman
Washington’s Latest Cold War Maneuver: Pulling Out of the INF
David Mattson
Basket of Deplorables Revisited: Grizzly Bears at the Mercy of Wyoming
Michelle Renee Matisons
Hurricane War Zone Further Immiserates Florida Panhandle, Panama City
Tom Gill
A Storm is Brewing in Europe: Italy and Its Public Finances Are at the Center of It
Christopher Brauchli
The Liars’ Bench
Gary Leupp
Will Trump Split the World by Endorsing a Bold-Faced Lie?
Michael Howard
The New York Times’ Animal Cruelty Fetish
Alice Slater
Time Out for Nukes!
Geoff Dutton
Yes, Virginia, There are Conspiracies—I Think
Daniel Warner
Davos in the Desert: To Attend or Not, That is Not the Question
Priti Gulati Cox – Stan Cox
Mothers of Exiles: For Many, the Child-Separation Ordeal May Never End
Manuel E. Yepe
Pence v. China: Cold War 2.0 May Have Just Begun
Raouf Halaby
Of Pith Helmets and Sartorial Colonialism
Dan Carey
Aspirational Goals  
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
Sam Husseini
The Most Strategic Midterm Race: Elder Challenges Hoyer
Maria Foscarinis – John Tharp
The Criminalization of Homelessness
Robert Fisk
The Story of the Armenian Legion: a Dark Tale of Anger and Revenge
Jacques R. Pauwels
Dinner With Marx in the House of the Swan
Dave Lindorff
US ‘Outrage’ over Slaying of US Residents Depends on the Nation Responsible
Ricardo Vaz
How Many Yemenis is a DC Pundit Worth?
Elliot Sperber
Build More Gardens, Phase out Cars
Chris Gilbert
In the Wake of Nepal’s Incomplete Revolution: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian 
Muhammad Othman
Let Us Bray
Gerry Brown
Are Chinese Municipal $6 Trillion (40 Trillion Yuan) Hidden Debts Posing Titanic Risks?
Rev. William Alberts
Judge Kavanaugh’s Defenders Doth Protest Too Much
Ralph Nader
Unmasking Phony Values Campaigns by the Corporatists
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail