By Mark Kernan
Dec 8, 2015
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, is manifestly not about the environment, whatever the grandiloquent rhetoric you will hear in the coming weeks. Indeed, since governments have started meeting-20 times since 1990 no less- to talk about saving the environment, carbon emissions have gone up by 60%. Yes, you read that correctly, 60%. So the very substance that is causing the problem is going up, while inversely the hope that political and economic transformation might come is going down. In mathematics they call that an inverse function: in other words, a function or operation that ‘reverses’ another function. Curiouser and curiouser, you might well think.
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 promulgate 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 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. Thus, 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 it disappearing? Because, there is no tomorrow, the concept of a future cannot be allowed to exist, and certainly not a different 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, 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! Who 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, unmistakablely 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 is on the whole not about saving the natural environment but it is manifestly about 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.
So, therefore, COP21 will mostly be about which poor countries will be quietly encouraged to economically develop 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.
To quote Lewis Carroll again: “Do you suppose.” The Walrus said, “that they could get it clear?” “I doubt it” said the Carpenter, and shed a bitter tear.”
Will the Paris Climate Talks Achieve an Historical Agreement?
No, almost certainly not. There will be no ‘Chamberlain in Munich’ moment. There will be no environmental ‘peace in our time’ newsbite to sate the regurgitating and hallucinatory quality of the 24 hour news cycle, although no doubt there will surely be another last minute agreement to justify the expense of it all, there always is. There will be no symbolic document flying in the cold Paris breeze for the entire world’s media to latch onto as proof of economic ‘sanity at last’. Even if COP 21 does reach some kind of agreement it is safe to say that a carefully crafted built-in obsolescence will be embedded into the text of the agreement nullifying any potential 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 close 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.
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?
It is doubtful that little of any great substance will come out of COP21, definitely not enough for what is needed at this late stage. Instead, Moloch “whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money!” will out in Paris, and the rest of us will look to the future with trepidation, and a lot more fear.