furuhashi.1 at SPAMosu.edu
Sun Nov 19 00:06:16 MST 2000
From Lou Paulsen to Jose:
>If I understand what you are saying, it is that the imperialists are using
>global warming as a club to prevent the oppressed nations from developing
>their own industrial production. Of course this is true, and of course we
>have to unite in fighting it. So I hope we have agreement in practice
If we have complete agreement in practice, perhaps the debate is
merely scholastic, not political? Or will practices diverge
depending on occasions (that is, if we consider environmental
struggles other than imperial nations' effort to make peripheral
nations bear the cost of environmental clean-up), and if so in what
ways? Can we make the debate more concrete?
As it happens, folks are having a related debate on PEN-l, and the
following is taken from one of my recent posts on the topic:
+++++ Date: Sat, 18 Nov 2000 23:41:24 -0500
To: pen-l at galaxy.csuchico.edu
From: Yoshie Furuhashi <furuhashi.1 at osu.edu>
Subject: [PEN-L:4630] Re: Re: oil and socialism
Jim D. writes:
>At 10:53 AM 11/18/2000 -0500, you wrote:
>>And I might add that dire warnings of the global warming, etc. are
>>not likely to bring about the emergence of a collective of
>>political agents capable of abolishing capitalism; they tend to
>>depoliticize folks. Discussion of the environment has to be rooted
>>in analysis of political agency & power. No political subject, no
>>transition to socialism.
>maybe we can avoid being "dire," but global warming sure seems to be
>happening. I'm told that it's now possible to sail from the Atlantic
>to the Pacific Oceans by going north of Canada (the famous
>"Northwest passage"). Or is this urban myth?
It's a fact:
***** The Guardian (London)
September 11, 2000
SECTION: Guardian Foreign Pages, Pg. 17
HEADLINE: Ice retreats to open North-west Passage: Mariners have been
seeking the fabled route to the Orient for 500 years. But is its
opening a sign of impending environmental catastrophe?
BYLINE: Martin Kettle in Washington
Global warming in the Arctic may have finally achieved something that
generations of explorers from Tudor times to the present day failed
to accomplish - the opening up one of the world's most fabled trade
routes to international commerce.
Sixty years ago, the St Roch, a ship belonging to the Royal Canadian
Mounted Police (RCMP) battled its way through the pack ice of two
winters at the top of the world to complete the first west to east
journey through the North-west Passage after 27 months at sea.
This year, another RCMP ship, named the St Roch II in honour of its
1940 predecessor, completed the same voyage from the Pacific to the
Atlantic in just over a month, finally emerging into Baffin Bay, west
of Greenland, last week.
At no point in its journey across the Arctic ocean north of Canada
did the St Roch II encounter any of the pack ice which defeated so
many of its predecessors in the search for a westerly sea route from
Europe to the Pacific Spice Islands.
"Concern should be registered with the fact that we didn't see any
ice," the vessel's skipper Sgt Ken Burton reported last week. "There
were some bergs, but nothing to cause any anxiety. We saw some
ribbons of multi-year ice floes, all small and fragmented, and we
were able to steer around them."
As so often, though, one man's environmental concern is another's
financial opportunity. The success of the St Roch II's summer
crossing opens up the possibility that commercial shipping may
eventually begin to use the route - shortening the journey between
Europe and Asia by around 5,000 miles and sharply reducing
"It is still a risky venture, but the day of the famed North-west
Passage, the shortcut to the Orient, may be just around the corner,"
Sgt Burton said.
That possibility has raised fears among conservationists that the
regular use of the Arctic ocean by large commercial ships could cause
some of the environmental damage that has already been done to
Alaskan waters and coastlines by increased shipping, including cruise
At least two other ships apart from the St Roch II have cruised in
the Northwest Passage this summer, one from the United States and the
other from New Zealand. The growth of maritime traffic this year is
a sign of things to come, the conservationists believe.
The St Roch II's voyage is another dramatic sign that the temperature
of the Arctic ocean could be rising to a point at which existing
assumptions about the once Frozen North may need to be rethought -
though the causes of the change are still fiercely debated.
Comparison of submarine sonar probes beneath the Arctic ice suggest
that the thickness of the polar cap is now less than 60% of what it
was less than half a century ago. Satellite photographs show that
the size of the Arctic ice cap in the midsummer months is now some 6%
smaller than it was in 1980. Last month it was reported that clear
water had been found at the North Pole, though subsequent reports
have called into question whether this was as unique as it was first
"We don't know enough about the Arctic to know if this is global
warming, climate change, or maybe we were just plain lucky," Sgt
The St Roch II left Vancouver on July 1 on its journey around the
north of the North American land mass, aiming to reach Halifax, Nova
Scotia, by October 10, before sailing on to New York. Its voyage
through the normally frozen area from Tuktoyaktuk near the Alaskan
border to Baffin Bay could have been accomplished even more quickly
had it not been for a number of land visits which the St Roch II made
to isolated outposts along the route.
For more than 500 years, sailors have tried to find a western sea
route linking Europe with China and Japan. From John Cabot in the
1490s, to Martin Frobisher in the 1570s, to Roald Amundsen in the
early 1900s, some of the most famous explorers in history have
struggled to find the elusive North-west Passage.
During his voyage, Sgt Burton and his crew found further evidence of
one of the most famous earlier expeditions, when an Inuk hunter led
them to a series of graves and an abandoned camp thought to belong to
Sir John Franklin's lost expedition of 1845. The expedition, which
included two ships and 128 men, was last spotted frozen in the Arctic
ice in 1847. More than 30 subsequent expeditions have failed to
adequately answer the questions about the fate of Franklin and his
The fact of global warming in itself, however, does not speak for
itself (since no fact speaks for itself). The questions are _under
what political theory_ this fact gets articulated with other facts;
_what social forces_ make use of this fact & _for what purposes_;
whether & how _political strategies & tactics_ change if you take
this fact into account; etc. Socialists need to approach the fact of
global warming not (just) as scholars but (much more importantly) _as
So far, I have not seen any noteworthy socialist political analysis &
organizing based on global warming _in the abstract_. We might,
however, be able to make some political hay if we succeed in
incorporating political analyses of & responses to _concrete_ effects
of global warming into _concrete socialist organizing_.
In politics, we should avoid promoting both abstract fear and
abstract hope; the former paralyzes, the latter stupefies, and both
make people _passive_. In other words, both are the stuff religion &
authoritarian politics are made of. As you know, the Greens _can_
become mystical & authoritarian. Amerikans should be especially
weary of the politics of fear, as they are prone to revivalism,
survivalism, primitivism, the Great Awakening, etc. "What aspect of
life, from the most monumentous to the most trivial, has not become a
workstation in the mass production line of fear" (Brian Massumi, _The
Politics of Everyday Fear_, Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1993)?...
>If it were true that the global warming hypothesis is mere bourgeois
>propaganda, then it would seem to imply that certain important sectors of
>the bourgeoisie (those associated with oil, auto, highway construction,
>coal, electrical power generation) have been bludgeoned into silence, or
>marginality at any rate, by the rest of the bourgeoisie. When did this
>happen? Wasn't there any struggle around it? Why were they so unable to
>defend themselves? If the Greening Earth Society has it right, why aren't
>the Rockefellers and Mellons funding it, instead of a rather marginal
>federation of western-states coal companies? These are some of the problems
>which, in my view, result from the hypothesis that human-caused global
>warming is merely a bourgeois lie.
I believe it is not coal but insurance companies that may have the
largest stakes in the debate on global warming:
***** GROWING INSURANCE ALARM "COULD CHANGE GLOBAL WARMING DEBATE"
The 15th storm to hit the eastern US "in the nastiest winter in
recent memory" promotes a fresh burst of concern from reinsurers.
The concern expressed is not limited to windstorm activity.
According to Stephen Leatherman, Director of the University of
Maryland's Laboratory for Coastal Research, sea level along the
eastern US coast has risen by one foot over the last century, causing
beaches to recede an average of 60-90 metres, and is expected to rise
an additional 14-19 cm during the next 20 years, further threatening
the $2 trillion [US] worth of insured property along the Atlantic and
Gulf coasts. Franklin Nutter, President of the Reinsurance
Association of America, professes that "the insurance business is
first in line to be affected by climate change...it could bankrupt
the industry". Time magazine's correspondent, Eugene Linden, writes:
"These risks and the crucial role played by the [US] $1.41 trillion
insurance industry in the global economy could change the dynamics of
the debate about global warming. Last fall Nutter told an industry
conference that climate change is an issue in which it may prove to
be in the industry's interest to assume an advocacy role....Insurers
have already had an impact on climate change through their actions in
the marketplace. Soaring premiums and insurance cancellations alert
residents of coastal areas that changes in weather patterns can have
profound economic consequences. With 50 percent of the US population
living within 50 miles [80 km] of a coastline, ordinary people may
also begin to draw a similar connection between climate change and
their own well-being, should the windstorms continue." ("Burned by
warming", Time Magazine, 14 March 1994).
GREENPEACE Climate Impacts Database
That insurance or coal or any other companies have economic interests
in scientific debates, however, does not necessarily mean that the
research findings in line with the said companies' interests are ipso
facto false. In fact, sometimes the opposite may be the case. From
a historical materialist point of view, possessing social interests
and discovering empirical facts are not mutually exclusive; it all
depends upon the nature of a given social interest. For instance,
capitalism helped develop natural science _in part_ because many
capitalists had direct & indirect social interests in natural
scientific truths (though _not_ in social scientific ones), compelled
by the need to politically fight against pre-capitalist worldviews &
to economically beat competitors through technological innovations.
In the case of environmental science, we should take note of the fact
that some factions of capital (e.g., extractive industries;
manufacturing industries, especially auto-makers; etc.) have social
interests in greenwashing, while other factions (e.g., insurance
companies, etc.) are likely to benefit from actual greening of
production, at least so that an inordinate number of natural
disasters won't cut into profits or even make them go bankrupt.
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