[Marxism] Until We Confront Capitalism, We Will Not Solve the Climate Crisis

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Dec 17 06:03:50 MST 2018

Simon Pirani interview.

Q: You repeatedly emphasize throughout your book that energy 
technologies must be understood as inseparable from the social and 
economic systems in which they function. What is the significance of 
this idea, especially when many institutions promote technological 
fixes, like geo-engineering or carbon capture, to the climate crisis?

A: The story of fossil fuel consumption growth is a story of 
technologies used, misused and moulded by the corporations that control 
them; of capitalist expansion, particularly after the second world war; 
and of government complicity.

Even today, most fossil fuels are used by technologies of the late 
19th-century “second industrial revolution,” and their more-or-less 
direct successors: cars with internal combustion engines, power stations 
and electricity networks, urban built infrastructure, energy-intensive 
manufacturing, fertilizer-heavy industrial agriculture. The technologies 
of the so-called “third industrial revolution” – computers and 
communication networks that appeared from the 1980s – have not only not 
helped make the economy less fuel-intensive, they have made things 
worse. The internet now uses more electricity than India uses for 
everything – not because it could not function more efficiently, but 
because it has developed as a commercial rather than a collective 
network, loaded with commercial content. By contrast, networked 
technology’s tremendous potential to make urban energy systems more 
efficient – to make them integrated, using multiple decentralized 
renewable energy sources such as wind and solar – has hardly been tapped.

Ideologies of “economic growth” and productivism have played a huge part 
in frustrating efforts to deal with global warming in the most effective 
way – by cutting fossil fuel consumption. Enthusiasm for geoengineering 
is the ultimate and most extreme manifestation of such ideologies. 
Carbon capture and storage will probably never work at a large scale. 
Other geoengineering techniques are outside my area of expertise, but I 
know that climate scientists view politicians’ enthusiasm for these 
techniques with huge concern. I recently went to a seminar with 
researchers who worked on the IPCC report on ways of limiting global 
warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. With 
reference to schemes to reflect sunlight back into space, one 
participant reported political pressure on scientists not to use the 
phrase “solar radiation management,” but rather to talk about “solar 
radiation modification.” Someone wants to make it sound less like the 
giant, Promethean intervention in natural processes that it actually is! 
Moving away from fossil fuels will mean completely changing these 
technological systems, and the social and economic systems in which they 
are embedded. Some people point to technological fixes to avoid talking 
about such deep-going change.


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