Mark's environmentsal panic attack

Mark Jones jones118 at
Thu Jun 8 03:04:59 MDT 2000

Carrol Cox wrote:

> If global warming proved *not* to be a threat, would
> that show that capitalism is eternal?

You seem to think that global warming is something only future generations
must worry about; this is wrong.It is a major problem now, and its effects
are certain to get worse, in floodplains, coastal regions, the Horn of
Africa, in part of America and Europe with elevated rainfall levels and more
besides. But this, tho it is serious enough, is just the small beer of the
issue. What the Hadley Centre's latest models show is that if greenhouse is
stabilised at its present levels, global warming effects will contiue but
less severely and over a longer time span. But this won't happen because in
this capitalist world everything is being done to double or more greenhouse
gas levels while destroying the great carbon sinks. Your attitude is the
same as the first class passengers on the Titanic who  thought they could be
saved by locking the doors to the lower levels. If we don't act now to
reduce greenhouse, the effects on future generations will be really
cartastrophic, and they will have to deal with those effects in an
energy-starved, highly fydfunction world economy. To put the matter as you
do is simply a dereliction of a clear political duty, and the abandonment of
all responsibility for the mess we make. Apres moi literally will fellow
either deluge, or glaciation, or both, and not in the remote future either.
You have no sense of urgency because you havn't got it yet; if you did you
would understanmd the priority this issue has in a different way.

As Jack Goldstone has been pointing out, the rise and fall of industrial
capitalism (we are loving thu the early, but not that early, stages of the
fall) was intimately bound up with the extraction of fossil fuel and its
deployment in new areas: industrial chemistry, lighting, transport, motive
power etc. When Malcolm Caldwekk presciently made the same point in his book
'ealth of Some Nation' (Zed, ?1975) he was instantly condemned as a
'Physiocratic' merely because he pointed to the actually almost self-evident
so-called Advanced Organic Societies of Asia and Europe, which had achieved
so muich, would nevertheless have not been able to mutate into true
capitalism: they would have remained inside the Malthusian Trap. It does
intrigue how economists of all hues mystify this and fetishise their own
models and abstract laws. Mark and Lou and Goldstone et al cannot be right
because if they are this gives a causative priority to surface
(phenomeological) processes which we know are just appearance-forms; the
gigantic machinery of capital  has its own entirely immanent laws of motion,
today with forms of exploitation etc, and cannot be 'compromised' by contact
with coal. Wrong. The oil industry has its economists, like Morris Adelman
and Paul Samuelson, who are like a mirror-invsere of this 'economistic'
marxism; for the neo-classicals no input is critical, resources and inpuits
are all infinitely substitutable, and oil is therefore a 'renewable energy
resource' (in Adelman's notorious phrase) which is infinite in supply and
will never run out, and if did ever run out so what? The magic of the makrt
would instantly conjure up a substitute and life would gon the same. The oil
geologists always thought this was just balls, but they are not so
articulate, what they have to say is not so welcome, so they were kept out
of the loop. Now however even Adelman is having to change his tune.
Yesterday I posted on the CrashList a long op-ed by Robert Priddle,
executive director, International Energy Agency. This is the horse's mouth
speaking and look at what he had to say, in terms so open they barely need
decoding, despite his role which means that his words are picked apart like
Greenspans and can have immediate consequences on spot prices and Opec's
plans. He said among other things, it was time to think about 'outlawing of
futures trading'. This is enough to make you fall off your chair; in the
past 20 years and especially under George Bush, oilo markets everywhere have
been massively deregulated and privatised. Futures are a key way to make
this new market driven world of energy, work. And Priddle suggesting
creating a 'World Energy Organisation' to do the things his own IEA was
specifically set up by western oil-consuker nations after the last great oil
shock, ie manage the energy supply and avoid future upheavals. This is an
admission of defeat, it seems to me. It get better:

"...Oil remains the largest single internationally-traded good in terms
of volume and value, and oil market events have a very high profile.
Global diplomacy clearly affects oil supply security: there is a
marked vulnerability to external political or economic events. The
Arab oil embargo in the early 1970s, the Iranian Revolution and the
Iran-Iraq War in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Gulf War in 1990-
1991 and the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998 are all examples of
external factors which can swing oil prices up and down. ..."

He finishes by blaming global-warming events like El Nino for
disrupting markets, and says of the future that instability will continue:
"Whatever the trigger may be,
doubt has been expressed about whether
all parties would or could go along with a production increase. Some
simply have no unused production capacity."

This asymmetry in the ability to institute pro-rata production
changes could be a major stumbling block for Opec in implementing the
price band.

So if price bands are not the answer to volatility, what is?

The first response is that some degree of price volatility is
inevitable and must be accepted. Some external factors simply cannot
be controlled. But better stock provision and the availability of
alternative energy supplies can soften the impacts of price spikes.
Better data contribute to quicker responses to evolving market
conditions, on an individual rather than a collective basis - the
best way to provide for a timely response to unforeseen and
unforeseeable circumstances. ..."

This is the first time to my knowledge that there has been such an
authoritative public admission that the oil just isn't there, that it is now
(uregtnly!) necessary to look for alternatives (there are none which will
enable the industrial world to survive) and that Opec cannot deliver enough
to keep prices in the $22-28 band, during periods of economic upswing.
However you look at it, oil-shocks and energy famines are on the way and are
already happening, not just in places like southern Africa or Russia, but
even in the US. 25 years after the first oil-shock massive efforts have been
made tio make capitalist economies less energy intensive and to reduce the
energy component of unit GDP by decoupling energy from other factors/inputs.
And the result? The system is in the same position it was, only worse
because this time there are no big oil provinces coming on stream soon
enough or at all, to save the day. At all events, extraordinarily large
investment of hundreds of billions of dollars will be needed just to get
Saudi, Iraqi and other key Persian Gulf production increases which will be
needed. Such massive investment processes will have enormous political
consequences both there and in the Caspian, will drive inflationary
pressures and will reduce living standards and growth rates in the
industrial world. And the result will be to sustain the system more or less
as it is for another decade or so. The Age of Big Oil is already over and
the peak really has arrived at the year 2000, as many predicted it would.

All the carbon that can be burnt will be, and that will include 'dirty'
fuels like coal, tar sands and non-conventionals which emit still more GHG.
The capitalist world system has entered a fatal impasse, it cannot escape
and whatever world we are living in will be a post-capitalist world. It has
exhausted its real material basis, which lay in the exploitation of
non-renewable, exhaustible (as Priddle puts it) and non-substitutable fossil
fuels. (Please no time wasting with blather about photovoltaics, hyrdogen
fuel cells, wind, biomass and other nonsense; they will not save the system,
and these non-alternatives have been debunked many times; if anyone wants to
know why, ask me offlist and I'll send you the urls).

Energy, water and crop famines always result in war and there will be war.
The geopolitical structure of US hyper-hegemony are disintegrating and soon
quantitative changes will assumed a more and more threatening qualitative
is what will be left after the next 50 years as it plays itself out? What
kind of world will there be to inherit? What ought we to do now to shape
events in the most favourable way, keeping in mind always that every
political, social, cultural event/process/outcome which happens is no longer
sufficient to itself but is overdetermined by the part it plays in the
general, final crisis of world capitalism which wer are now going through.
Everything we do, every act of resistance, every planned action, must have
as its goal not ONLY a specific outcome or the resolution of a specific
struggle or problem, but it must connect with the wider process and the
wider goals of conserving as many of the assets and valuyes of this dying
order while facilitating in evry possible way its speedy departure from the
stage. We have had this discussion once a year for the past 4 years or so,
and every time it founders on the rooted scepticism and cynicism of people
who don't know the hard science, or don't WANT to know the hard science, and
who don't want to labelled an apocalypticist, etc. And each year, we see
more clearly, if our eyes are open, that yes, the oil is running out and its
consequences wikll be catartsrophic; yes globally-warmed freak weather
events intensify, even while the evidence about ozone, abnout the loss of
biodiversity, about the fundamental threat to life on earth of
climate-flipping; we see whole new regions slipping off the economic map of
ther world before our eyes (starting with Russia, where the collapse *by
half* of Soviet oil production swiftly led to the complete collapse of the
world socialist system); new regions of drought, flooding, rising sealevels
in South Asia, etc etc. And despite this clear and growing mountain of
evidence, sceptics still repeat their watchwords. It will not do.

Carroll, you can no longer say things like
> Politically, what follows from *either* view of global warming?
> It seems to me that capitalism is an equally deadly threat to human
> well being whether or not global warming is a threat. And I still
> do not see how knowledge (even assuming we had certain knowledge)
> of catastrophes 100 years from now could make a significant
> political difference now.

There is no 'whether or not' any more about global warming. And if you have
some doubt about the science, do more than mutter:

> *even* if Mark and Lou are 100% correct in their science, their
> concern with the issue is leading them away from significant
> political thought.

What bits do you not feel sure about? What further specific kinds of
evidence do you need? Tell me and I'll supply it. Then you have to draw the
appropriate conclusions, and stop looking for places to hide from them

Mark Jones

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