Saturday, 15 January 2011

Emergence and Ecoshock in 2011

Just now emerging from a general funk imposed by a confluence of small but unpleasant events, necessary tasks and research reflections over the holiday period. Uncertainty about the state and future of Higher Education in the UK has been one concern, a pervasive worry for anyone in academia, as well as new and old lecturers entering the job market and all potential students (for whom the debt burden is likely to be ratcheted up by 200%). To this one can add the typical mountain of grading that arrives just before the Christmas vacation, plus the need to find some time, somewhere, for one’s own research and writing.

My mood probably hasn’t been helped by the nature of one of my book projects. This entails staring directly into an abyss of projections for the near future: climate change and a world four to six degrees hotter, peak oil and increasing resource scarcity, further economic upheaval and probable collapse, food shortages, flooding, population migrations, terrorism and resource warfare, and even disappearing bees. It’s not comfortable material, but then that’s my basic point. I’m developing some of the arguments made by Clive Hamilton in Requiem for a Species pertaining to the psychological inability of anatomically modern humans to adequately respond to these type of problems and threats (e.g. the psychology of denial, wishful thinking, blame shifting, misplaced optimism etc.) and conjoining this with evolutionary material (evolutionary overshoot and how successful, adaptive species can become maladaptive), philosophy (existential analysis, Speculative Realism and Schopenhauer) and some religious studies and theological material (specifically the manner in which many religions feed the psychology of wishful thinking and optimism). It’s one of those projects that I feel I have to write, perhaps particularly because I have young children, but for any of you who have attended any recent climate change conferences, you probably know that it doesn’t make for happy smiley people.

For those of you interested in political responses to climate change, you should check out John Michael Greer’s review of David Shearman and Joseph Wayne Smith’s recent book The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy. Shearman and Smith develop the argument that liberal democracies are wholly incapable of responding to anthropogenic climate change and need to be replaced by some form of political authoritarianism that can enforce compliance with the necessary ecological principles. One of Greer’s reasonable and particularly damning criticisms of this line of argument is that it does a huge disservice to climate change activists and the environmental movement. Targeting Shearman specifically, Greer notes:
Did it never occur to him that people who disagree with his views would read the book, and make abundant political hay out of it? They have, dear reader, and it’s a safe bet that they will, as hostile reviews of The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy are already showing up on conservative websites. To be fair, it would demand superhuman forbearance for them to steer clear of what is, all things considered, a climate denialist’s wet dream: a book in which a significant figure on the other side ‘fesses up to an authoritarian agenda extreme enough to support even the wildest accusations of the far right. Climate change activism is already reeling from a nearly unbroken sequence of body blows in the political arena, and an even more serious loss of public support; by the time the climate denialists finish working it over, using Shearman’s book as a conveniently blunt instrument, there may not be much left of it.
You can also find some discussion of the demand for direct, militant eco-activism over at Alex Smith’s Radio Show Ecoshock , notably this week’s Against Civilization interviews with filmmaker Franklin Lopez and deep green writer Derrick Jensen. I suspect that most readers of this blog will be rather critical of the cries for, and the practice of, increasingly aggressive eco-activism. It is, though, one of many understandable outcomes of the ecological, economic and socio-political (i.e. capitalist, neo-liberal) processes that we are "living" through. I have spoken on several occasions about the likelihood of there being a steady increase in the membership of nature religions, such as Paganism, Wicca, Shamanism, Druidry and animisms, as the level of ecological degradation intensifies in the coming years. I think that one can very confidently also predict that eco-activism and eco-militancy will significantly increase during the same period.