17 November 2021

Jeff Sparrow: ”Instead of pushing for deep, structural change, [leftists from the 1980s on] increasingly focused on symbolic or cultural reforms, centred particularly on places like university campuses. Though many of the demands associated with delegated politics were entirely valid, the new emphasis had profound consequences — and nowhere more so than in relation to climate change. Global warming is, after all, quintessentially material: a process resulting from the peculiar relationship capitalism mandates between humanity and nature. Yet the new propensity for activists to see politics primarily in terms of culture enabled corporations to shift the focus away from production and into the symbolic realm. … Abandoning economics to the free market right, progressives sought to inspire change either through individual examples (recycling, bicycle riding, etc) or symbolic events such as Earth Hour. Politically, environmentalism often manifested in terms of belief rather than action. With conservatives pandering to climate scepticism, liberals voted for candidates who promised they ‘accepted the science’. Yet, on their own, such statements of faith changed nothing. … Atmospheric carbon does not care about culture war. Neither should we. Global warming exacerbates every kind of inequality, disproportionately affecting the poorest and most oppressed people on the planet. In that way, it creates a tremendous potential constituency for direct politics, for a mass, participatory campaign to fundamentally reshape how humans relate to nature — and to each other. But to seize the opportunity, progressives need a quite different orientation. If we keep fighting in the realm of symbolism, our last, best chance to save the planet will slip through our fingers, too.”

Jeff’s new book, Crimes Against Nature: Capitalism and Global Heating, is worth reading.