Thanks for having me. The first rule of giving
talks is you’re supposed to start with a joke. I used to but as the stuff that I talk about
gets more and more dire, my heart has gone out of it a little bit. But also, luckily,
many of the people at the conference have already been over to the pub so they might
not notice anyway. So it doesn’t really matter. Now the way I’m going to do this is I am going
to start by telling you – and particularly, I know, the people in the conference – stuff
that you already know because they already know it and they’ve said many of these things.
So I hope you have a little patience with me because I’m going to start really pedestrian.
But then I hope that you see that I’m going to try to reorganize them into a story that
you may not really know or at least not be familiar with anyway.
There it is. There’s a lot of argument about what would the right mean global temperature
be. I don’t want to go into that but there are a number of different ones reported by
the British Met Office and they all pretty much have been going up. See, I’m telling
you things that you already knew, that atmospheric carbon dioxide in parts per million has been
pretty much going straight up for quite a while now. This one is nice because it’s from
the same collection point throughout time so it’s very comparable. This isn’t even up-to-date.
There are now a number of measurements of about 400 parts per million, we’ve broken
400 now. So that’s where we are but you guys already
knew that. That’s just a table summarising a whole bunch of the various IPCC reports
but also I think some of the other models as well. I think one of the more striking
things about all of those is that however much you hear from your local press – or where
I come from, Fox or whatever – they’re all pretty close. You don’t get that impression,
I think, even here possibly. So it’s just something you see, that pretty much everyone
is giving similar guesses as to where things are going. But you already knew that.
Now if we already know this, then that shouldn’t be an issue of contention, right? We should
move on and start talking about other stuff like what to do about it and things like that.
But what’s interesting – or what will be interesting from what I have to say – is that we also
have a lot of good evidence that resistance to even admitting those three things I just
showed you is going up, not down, over our recent past. I’ve got some examples there.
The Harris polls in 2007 found, by their estimate, that 71 per cent of Americans believe fossil
fuel burning caused climate change. By June 2011, it was only 41 per cent. It’s quite
a drop in a short period of time. While not every poll gives the same numbers,
blah blah blah, the drop is pretty noticeable across the board and there has come to be
an increasing fascination as to where does this denialism come from. Now I don’t know
if you guys have had a chance to see particularly the book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway,
Merchants of Doubt. If you don’t read anything else, read that. It’s really an eye-opener.
It’s a tremendous eye-opener, I think. But if you want to know even a little bit
more, I don’t know if you’ve seen this more recent book by Robert Proctor called Golden
Holocaust. That’s not about climate change so much but it is about the tobacco strategy.
It’s probably the best history of the tobacco strategy over the recent past from all those
documents that came from the document dump of the court settlement. In working on this,
Robert Proctor has also coined the term agnotology which I am going to find useful. He’s got
an edited volume on that. I’m not going to do it but the short version
of it is that he thinks there’s a new phenomenon here. That new phenomenon is the conscious
manufacture of doubt in the larger public about very specific issues. So that’s why
the tobacco strategy is so important, Because for a long time even though, as he documents,
they knew that it was causing cancer back in the ’50s and the Nazis knew in the ’30s
– that’s also his work – they knew. So what they’re trying to do is they’re trying to
create confusion. I’m going to come back to that because that’s going to be an important
phenomenon, it seems to me. But anyway, what I’m pointing to now is that
there’s all this interest in trying to explain, how can this reversal that’s happening, this
denial, be brought about? Who’s doing it? How can they do it? I would also argue that
while those books are wonderful, they also fall short. They fall short in a very specific
way, that ultimately both Naomi and Proctor come up against a wall. They can’t really
explain why these guys do it in any satisfactory sense, except that they all believe in free
markets. That’s Naomi’s line, in fact. You can see that all over that.
They believe in free markets so they were willing to – I don’t know – prostitute their
science or something because they believed in free markets. That’s one of the things
I want to think hard about today, whether that’s even believable. I don’t think that’s
exactly right. There’s data on this too. Possibly many of you are not close readers
of the American Journal of Sociology. Strangely enough, I am. There’s a very recent article
by Gordon Gauchat that demonstrates, I think, in a wonderful way with a huge data set, that
much of the science scepticism is really located on the political right.
People have said this, blah blah blah, right? But he demonstrates that actually the attitudes
towards science have been pretty flat on the left or – I hate to call it liberal because
I’m going to talk about neoliberalism in a minute – but that side of things has not changed
all that much. It’s nice, it’s a panel over time. But there’s been a huge, huge decline
which is what we’re curious about and it’s on the right. So that’s useful too.
Finally, we have the phenomenon that I’ve even noticed in the – of course, I managed
to come here right when the carbon tax kicked in so there’s something about that that may
have made this more salient. But you’re getting a real increase of denialism here too, it
looks like to me, like this Ian Plimer book on giving a way to kids and schools to talk
back to their students. Yeah, do you know? Boy, wow. So you’ve got it too.
What I’m interested in is how the left can and should come to understand this and then
what it might do about it. So weirdly enough, that’s one of the main themes of my talk.
The person I’m going to pick on here is Naomi Klein. I’m doing this because I like Naomi
Klein. Naomi’s wonderful, that’s not a problem. It’s just that she falls into what I consider
to be a really serious trap, faced with all that stuff that I’ve just told you.
Just so you know that I’m not making it up – but you know that – I want to read a quote
from her. I should give you the context. She went to a meeting of the Heartland Institute
which is one of the main think tanks in America that promulgates the denialism because she
wanted to figure out what do they really believe and so forth and so on. Her story, in a nutshell,
is that they believe this because they think that the other side will use this as a Trojan
horse for socialism. Just so that you don’t think I’m misrepresenting, let me read you
a quote. This is from her article in The Nation last year, September or something like that.
“Perhaps we should listen to their theories more closely.” She means by them, Heartland.
“They might just understand something that the left still doesn’t get. Heartland’s Bast”
– this is the head guy of Heartland back then – “puts it even more bluntly. ‘For the left,
climate change is the perfect thing. It’s the reason why we should do everything the
left wanted to do anyway.’ Here’s my inconvenient truth. They aren’t wrong. The crowd gathered
at Heartland may be in considerably less denial than a lot of professional environmentalists.
“The ones who paint a picture of global warming Armageddon then assure us that we can avert
catastrophe by buying ‘green’ products and creating clever markets in pollution.”
So are you with me so far? Now we’ve got a relatively famous figure – on the pop left
anyway – saying, well the reason they’re willing to go this route is because they think that
really this is about big political issues about the economy – not the ones that you
think but the ones about oh, this gives them the opening that they’ve always wanted all
along. I’m going to get a little critical here. I
hope I don’t rub anybody the wrong way. This repeats a canard that I think dates back to
JB Bernal and a lot of you are not going to know who he is. It’s too bad because in a
sense, he set up this whole story of politics and science which then became very popular
in the 20th century. The story was that science is on the side of the left. It’s on the side
of the left because it’s rational. Let me just read a small bit of the paper
here. “What Klein has done is revive a theme which dates back to JB Bernal, if not earlier.
If one accepts that the salient political divide is situated between a monolithic market
and the only earthly power which can venture to challenge it, namely the monolithic state,
then science is the best ally that the political left could ever wish for. Implicitly, science
is the province of rationality, prudence and planning whereas the market is the world of
rapture, mania, excess and wishful thinking. Science is from Mars, the market is from Mercury.
“This has also been treated like left and right hemispheres of the cerebellum. Inbred
political stance is reduced to brain abnormalities and FMRI scans. Since neurons are destiny,
science not only tutors us when we’re correct but why our opponents are so congenitally
misguided I’m actually kind of hinting at somebody there.
You don’t know who he is. It’s this Chris Mooney guy who’s actually argued that people
who lean left have different kinds of brains than people who lean right. This is where
we’re at these days. It’s just reporting so far.
I think this line is especially treacherous and that’s part of my argument today, the
line that Naomi is taking. It’s treacherous because it misunderstands science and the
history of science and it’s treacherous because it misunderstands neoliberalism and the history
of neoliberalism. Sounds kind of bad, huh? I’ve got bio-politics in the title so you
all know I had to say something about Foucault, right? I’m going to do it now and get it over
with. In part, I do use the term bio-politics because I think his late lectures on neoliberalism
are amazing. They really are perceptive. I mean, somebody back in ’78 foreseeing what
would – you’ve got to give it to him. Whatever else you might think about him, he saw something.
But I don’t think we’re going to get very far in these things that concern us if we
take Foucault’s definition of bio-politics at face value because he only got neoliberalism,
in a sense, half right. Of course Foucault would be interested in the side of neoliberalism
that’s all about technologies of the self. What else was Foucault about? Of course he
would see that. Of course he would be fascinated by Gary Becker in particular. But he also
allows with the neoliberals that the market exists as a regime of truth in political theory
– this is all for all you Foucaultians out there. I’m not going to go into this.
What’s really noticeable about him in his late work is that he never really applies
that wonderful jaundiced eye to markets in the same way he applies it to the state. There’s
a deep asymmetry in Foucault which I think, if we want to talk about it later – I don’t
think that’s an accident but whatever. All you’ve got to do is give me the asymmetry.
So if you give me the asymmetry, he is not going to help us understand the way in which
these appeals to markets cause people to take these political positions, strangely enough.
Moreover, it also ignores agnotology because he treats the market as a regime of truth.
You see? So all that stuff that I was talking about earlier is, in a sense, unfocused in
Foucault. That’s unfortunate, I would argue, not that anyone really cares. I don’t hear
lots of groans so we can move on. Here’s something that I have to do really
quickly although luckily Jeremy helped out by beginning to tell you. Something I worked
on my whole life as long as I’ve been writing is that what’s amazing about the history of
Western thought is that the market and nature are not two separate things.
I know this is a little disturbing. I think time and time again what I’ve uncovered in
a lot of my own work is that nature is used to define the economy and economy is then
used to define nature. It’s just this incredible round robin. Some of you are going to squint
and say, what do you mean by that? I got all these books that he mentioned, that’s what
they’re about. They’re about utility being a rip-off of potential energy from mid-19th
century energy physics. Do you realise that’s where neoclassicism came from? It’s a physics
rip-off and they said so. You don’t have to believe me.
There are endless examples of this. It gets boring after a while. The Black-Scholes model
for finance, that’s just the heat transfer equation. Did you know that? I couldn’t make
this stuff up. Constantly, constantly they’re taking these models over and defining the
market to operate like a physical process. That’s all you’ve got to give me. Then – I
don’t have time to do this – there’s a lot of transfer from economics into the natural
sciences as well. You know one place where there’s a lot of transfer? Ecology. There’s
a lot of transfer from economics into ecological models. So my point is it goes in two directions.
“What should we take from that bi-directional history? The point of this whirlwind tour
of the history of economic thought and the history of science is to suggest that the
dominant images of nature have never been very far removed from dominant images of economic
activity. Indeed, many of the same formalisms and ontological commitments tend to cover
both, although the periods of orthodoxy in the respective fields may move out of phase.
Therefore, on the long horizon of Western thought, nature is not something external
that hems the economy in. Rather they constitute and mimic one another.”
See, this is the problem. Because I think a lot of environmentalists would prefer to
have it that nature is this rock against which the economy bashes or it’s limited by. But
the problem with that is that if you’ve got this long history of transfer and cross-dressing,
how can that be true? That’s the problem that I want to raise.
I try to get a little cute here. “For in the West, it is as hard to sustain the pretence
that economy and nature are pitted in remorseless conflict as it is to acknowledge that Jesus
was not a Caucasian or that money never buys happiness. Philosophers such as Derrida have
made us more aware of the unstable antinomies or, as he dubbed them, the ghost of the undecidable.”
So that’s what I’m suggesting here. That because we have such trouble knowing where nature
ends and the economy begins or vice versa, it’s almost impossible for people to hold
in their mind the idea that one is opposed to the other. That’s the beginning of my argument.
That sounds awfully vague and generalised and so forth and so on. So let me talk very
briefly about neoclassical economics. Here’s another point that I want to make and I can’t
make it in any short way so I apologise. I’m just going to say it. Neoclassical economics
is not at all the same as neoliberalism, not at all. It is true that the neoclassical economics
profession has become more neoliberal as we get closer to the present. That is true. But
the two are wildly different. While I don’t have time to specify all the
ways that they’re wildly different – although it should tell us something that Hayek, when
he finally gets his big day in the sun, when he gets his little Nobel which is not a Nobel,
it’s a Bank of Sweden Prize – when he finally gets that day in the sun, what does he do?
He starts knocking neoclassical equilibrium. See, then you should realise that there’s
something really going on here, that they really are different.
By the way, my job here is not really to talk a lot about neoclassicism, so I’m just going
to make some generalisations before I move on. Neoclassicism used to be this imitation
of physics which was this idea that it’s a static allocation devise, and I do mean a
devise. It’s like a machine. You’re out of equilibrium, you’re here, you’re here, oops,
let’s trade and get to equilibrium. It’s the allocation of scarce means to give an ends,
that Lionel Robbins definition. See the trouble is that it slowly moved away
from being that over time. Over time, more and more, I would argue that it is influenced
by other natural sciences. Hint, hint, this is Machine Dreams. It’s influenced actually
by the rise of the computer and so forth and in being influenced that way, more and more
of the market becomes defined as being some kind of information processor instead. See
the information processor, static allocation machine – they are not the same even though
luckily – computer machine, internal combustion engine machine – ooh, machines. But other
than that, it’s really, really different. Given that that’s true, how do neoclassicals
talk about the problems that we are concerned with at this conference? Mostly they talk
about market failures and people get misled by this because there’s a kind of vernacular
sense. A market failure means everything’s fallen apart and people are jumping out of
windows. It isn’t like that at all. Market failures here mean you do not reach Pareto
optimality. It’s an incredibly – whatever – it’s a very narrow notion of what failure
could mean. What’s doubly interesting is how that failure
comes about, at least when it comes to issues like pollution. The way it comes about is
because there are these things called externalities. See, I’m sure you’ve heard all this language
before but you’ve got to understand, this is all the neoclassical package. What is an
externality? The way I like to think about it is it’s the ways in which the real world
doesn’t fit the physics model, that in fact what you’re talking about is that the individual
commodity definitions are not independent enough of each other, that you could have
pricing of each of them. I could do this technically if you wanted, they have to span a space,
blah blah blah. So in a weird sort of way pollution, when
equated to being a problem of externalities, does not debilitate or otherwise hurt nature.
You’ve got to get used to this. Rather, it hurts the market. Should I say that again?
Pollution doesn’t hurt nature in this construction. It hurts the market.
So how do you fix it? You fix the market. You’ve got to see that. There’s a real shell
game going on here that’s really interesting in a way. The problem isn’t in that nature,
it’s in the market and the reason for that is because nature and the market are continually
being conflated. See? We’re coming home to my thesis now. There can’t be something wrong
with nature. It’s got to be somehow the market isn’t perfect yet or fully elaborated, there
are missing markets. So nature can never hurt or destroy the economy. In fact, Jeremy had
some nice quotes from Stiglitz and other people at the beginning of the conference that essentially
document the claim that I made. You have to differentiate that from the neoliberal
approach and really this is where the rest of my time is going to be spent. The neoliberal
approach, I want to argue, is different and different in important ways. It’s true there’s
some overlap with neoclassicism for those of you who are going to be sticklers and start
calling me on this and I’ll acknowledge that. But ultimately in terms of the definitions,
it’s very different. First, it’s the neoclassicals who really buy
into that state and market dichotomy. Everything that’s not the market is the state or something.
That’s actually a neoclassical notion. So of course if you buy into that notion, you
immediately believe in what? If you’re of a certain political persuasion, laissez faire.
All we need is just to get that damned state off our backs and then the market will do
its thing. Actually, weirdly enough, that’s kind of a
neoclassical story. That is not the neoliberal story. The neoliberals do not generally make
a strong distinction between state and market amongst themselves. Be careful about that.
Moreover for them – and this is really important – what is a market? By the way, this is why
Hayek got the Bank of Sweden Prize and everything. What is a market? It is a super-information
processor that knows more than any human being can or ever could know. This is actually really
important, it’s going to be part of my story shortly. Got that? So the market is in some
sense this omniscient thing that’s above us. It’s part of us but it’s separate too.
It’s not mechanical as I’ll point out shortly. Well I’ll point it out now, why not? See it’s
important to see what changes and what doesn’t change. What changes for them is rules do
evolve. They don’t believe in society so I don’t have to deal with that but they believe
in rules. Rules evolve and nature evolves. Remember I told you that the neoclassical
story was relatively static where there’s a kind of identity of nature? For them, nature
evolves to ever higher levels of complexity which we also cannot understand. This is really
important. There’s been some lovely work on this. I’m
going to plug Jeremy and Melinda here, they have a great paper precisely on this whole
notion of resilience and the way in which it’s developed both by the neoliberals and
by ecologist sat the same time. That’s just what I’m talking about. There’s this back
and forth going on all the time. So there’s that and also remember I told you
that the way that neoclassicals deal with pollution is that externalities don’t really
exist – sorry, neoliberals deal with it – is that externalities don’t really exist whereas
the neoclassicals believe in externalities? This is why they are not the same story at
all. They can’t handle issues of climate change and so forth using externalities because they
really don’t believe they’re there. For those of you who are in the know, this is the Coase
Theorem and all that crap but I’m not going to do that here. You just need to know that
that’s what I’m pointing at when I say this thing.
Here’s the point for neoliberals. Science cannot fully comprehend the chaotic complexity
of nature and society. You would not expect that it would be able to do so. Only the market
has a prayer of understanding the complexity of evolving nature. See? Does this sound like
neoclassicism to anyone? No. So what is the neoliberal prescription? The rest of the talk
is going to illustrate this. The neoliberal prescription is to use a strong state, take
over the state, to permit the inscrutable but wise market to find its own accommodation
to nature and society. I know some of you are thinking, oh come on, they don’t believe
that. Yes, they do. Yes, they do. Here’s the question that I’m raising in response
to Naomi. I want to know why neoliberals believe what they do and why they win. I don’t think
she understands that. I’m going to suggest that neoliberals win because they mount a
full-spectrum response to global warming. They are not at all deeply concerned with
getting the right price for carbon. Those are neoclassicals. They’re not so sure such
a thing exists. Neoliberals, as I say there, play upon the public mistrust of intellectuals
– I’m going to come back to the denialism in a minute – but also insist that any perceived
problems or markets can be rectified with more markets – this is very important.
Whenever you see a so-called market problem, let’s try more markets. Let’s double down.
But even there, they are open to the idea that that might not be the final solution.
We don’t know it’s the final solution because remember, we don’t know what the market knows.
So the true solution is unknowable to mere humans. Only entrepreneurial activity pursuing
out-of-the-box innovations will truly address the problem in the long run.
What’s interesting about their view which I’m going to describe in more detail is that
they don’t propose one response. Hint, hint – forward-looking here, that’s why they win.
They don’t propose one response. They propose a number of responses to any perceived problem
like global warming. But those different responses operate in different time frames. One is for
short-term – let’s do something now so that the other side doesn’t win. Then there’s a
medium-term solution and then there’s a long-term solution. I state this here but I’d be willing
to have anyone afterwards challenge it. I think the left has nothing that’s remotely
as politically sophisticated as this. Nothing. What have they got? Here’s what they’ve got.
By the way, this is not the whole thing either, this is just the stuff that I can document
and illustrate my point, which is it’s a full-spectrum response. What they’ve got is first they’ve
got denialism. But here’s what I want you to begin to entertain. Denialism is just one
component to the project. It might not even be the major component.
Another component is to immobilise more direct carbon emission abatement through elaborate
carbon trading schemes. I’m going to come back to that in a minute. So really most carbon
trading schemes – cap-and-trade – are neoliberal and I’ll say why in a minute. Then the long-term
utopian is to foster entrepreneurial attempts to restructure and reengineer nature through
a commercialised segment of scientists with science fiction scenarios of planet geo-engineering.
Why are these things all neoliberal and why do they go together? Well first, for those
of you who might say wait a minute, it’s all in your head, they don’t say this – no single
neoliberal thinking proposes the whole package, the full monty. Individually each of these
parts comes from different parts of the neoliberal thought collective. But what’s interesting
is they coordinate so this really is a full-spectrum response.
I want to suggest that this is not special to global warming. You see this all over the
map of neoliberal sorts of proposals. Sometimes neoliberal proposals seem to be totally antithetical
to one another. For those of you who are into it, think of Friedman’s monetarism and then
this crazy free banking stuff which comes out of Hayek and so on. You’d say whoa, those
are two wildly different things. What’s weird is that both are promoted simultaneously by
the same think tanks. Think about that. Why? Moreover, for those of you who feel like we
all have to check back with the Pope to see if it’s really neoliberal, Hayek himself never
actually proposed any of the three components that I’m discussing. All he ever did in his
writing was say that the market would somehow handle environmental problems. What I want
to convince you of is the full-spectrum approach exists to make that be true. So in a sense,
he just points the way, they develop it. Another thing that happens is that al of these things
need state power so this is not about laissez faire. The state has to intervene in all of
these things in order to even begin to make them happen.
Let’s talk about denialism. I’m circling back to the beginning of the talk now. What’s denialism
about? I’m going to suggest something to you. I would suggest that most of the people who
are serious thinkers in the neoliberal thought collective don’t think that they are going
to change the science. By the same token, I would argue that originally the tobacco
companies didn’t think that they were going to change the science either. Sometimes it
helps to look at the tobacco strategy to see how this works.
They don’t think they’re going to change the science. What’s the purpose of this? It is
to fog the mind of the general populace in the short run, to slow and obstruct any action
by opponents on reducing carbon emission to buy time for the other components. You understand?
Do I need to say that again? That basically this is a short-term stopgap to buy time so
that the other components can come into play because they have a much longer time horizon
than obviously just giving kids little books to say, go bug your teacher about global warming.
That’s easy. However, it is neoliberal for a number of
reasons. The most important one is that they do believe in the marketplace of ideas. I
don’t have time to go into this. They honestly think that it’s okay to pump lots of noise
into the marketplace of ideas. That doesn’t hurt things. If you think I’m joking, I’m
not. If you understand the way their understanding of the marketplace works, to pump noise into
the general populace is not a bad thing at all.
Let me put it this way. For neoliberals, income is always going to be unequal and the more
unequal, the better because that just gives people more incentive to struggle and try
to climb the greasy pole and all the rest of it. Inequality is a necessary side-effect
of capitalism for these people. If it’s true for income, it’s true for knowledge too. Chew
on that. Most people will be stupid. A number of them say this and write it. Most people
will be stupid. It’s just the way it is. They have a theory. Moreover – well I’ve got that
there so I’ll let that go. So denialism – notice what I’m saying – denialism is just a short-term,
stopgap in the larger project. How about carbon trading? Carbon trading is
neoliberal. For those of you who know some of the history of it, it goes back to Coase,
not surprisingly. It’s about Coase’s deconstruction of the whole idea of public goods, that if
we just allow the property rights to be exchanged, we will end up in a better situation than
if we force people to react to the existing property rights.
For neoliberals, they like this because inventing more property rights is the best way to attack
the left. Why? Because once you start new property rights, people fight like hell to
keep them. They’re largely irreversible outside of a revolution or something. So they actually
like this because what this does is this puts something in place that’s very hard to reverse.
But also under the smokescreen of efficiency, we know that basically what ends up in most
carbon trading schemes is all kinds of state subsidies bestowed on large existing polluters.
It’s the history of this. Anyone who’s looked into this knows that this is true, this is
the way it always works. There are grandfather clauses and then moreover they inflate the
number of permits through all kinds of offsets and other tricks and so forth and so on. This
is the history of these schemes. I’m surprised that people here aren’t willing to stand up
and say this. I think I’ve got a – where’s my little – yeah,
there we go. There’s the European trading scheme price over the last year. What happens?
They try to shore it up, they start off with good intentions, the cap’s real this time
and all this stuff. Then basically the offsets kick in, all the other goodies kick in and
there are so many of these that basically the price falls and falls and falls. By the
way, this is not the first time. It collapsed at least twice in the last decade. The supposedly
private Chicago Trading Exchange that was started in Chicago closed for many of the
same reasons. We could just go on and on and on.
What’s interesting about this is, don’t they know this? I want you to think about that.
Don’t they know this, that these schemes almost always collapse or even worse? Where’s the
left in this? But still, usually it’s justified under the idea that we have to allow them
to innovate and – see? Innovate starts to move us into the third project. We have to
let them innovate even though it blew up the global economy once before. Let’s double down,
let’s try it again. Basically, the attempt to justify this is an attempt to conflate
whatever goes on with these new markets with technological innovation.
This is a metaphor that has almost no grounding in reality. They are not similar at all. It’s
the way that they have to justify this. It’s almost like, sure it’s going to fail a lot
of times. Didn’t the first five combustion engines fail? You see what I mean? It’s the
same old story. I’m serious. This is how the story works.
But most importantly and I want to stress this, for all the reasons that I just identified
– including, by the way, not encouraging any kind of technological innovation in the direction
of saving carbon emissions – carbon trading does nothing to slow global warming. That’s
very important because maybe that’s the object. Maybe that’s the object. You’re all nodding
when I said that they all fail. Think about it. They know that, they are not stupid. I
have been continuously impressed how brilliant they are. They are not stupid.
What’s the big long-term fix? The big long-term fix is geo-engineering by private firms to
alter the climate. That’s where we’re headed. That’s the real objective. But this one takes
a long time because you have to gear up all these scientists and get them on your side
and get them to believe in these ridiculous science fiction-y things and stuff like that.
That doesn’t happen overnight. Fog, denial can happen overnight. This takes time.
This version makes pact with neoliberal scientists to produce the venture capital and entrepreneurial
solutions to previously market-induced environmental degradation. If you want to know what I mean
here, these are attempts to enhance the Earth albedo, the reflective index of the Earth
with lots of particles in the upper atmosphere or space mirrors. See what I mean by science
fiction, lots of space mirrors? Yeah, right. CO2 sequestration which, by the way, is just
as science fiction-y as the space mirrors – the ocean seeding, the fracking storage,
and so forth and so on. By the way, I was just reading yesterday the latest issue of
Nature, lead article, ocean seeding by iron creates excess algae which then sink to the
bottom. Hurray. It’s coming. Basically, these are appeals – don’t you see,
this is the attractive side of neoliberalism. You’ve got to understand that, that neoliberalism
isn’t just all dour and you’re all going to have to put on more sweaters. It’s not like
that. It’s like hey, tomorrow we’re going to have space mirrors. Even I get a little
– yeah, okay. Here is an example which shows you, I think,
that the purpose of these geo-engineering things is also ultimately not to reduce carbon
emissions. How many of you have heard of SPICE trial? Oh, get on it. This is the cool, new,
neoliberal thing. You’ve got to be with it. Like most neoliberal prescriptions, the most
important fact concerning this tortured mirror image of science and corporate commodification
is that it doesn’t work. Let me relate one incident. For some inexplicable
reason, the British Royal Society has been one of the biggest insider boosters of geo-engineering.
Partly for that reason, one of the earliest consortia of scientists seeking to mount a
pilot program for injecting particles into the stratosphere has been the British Stratospheric
Particle Injection Climate Engineering Project, SPICE, headquartered at Bristol and Cambridge
Universities. SPICE announced in 2011 that it would use
a weather balloon to lift a one-kilometre high hose to spray an aerosol as proof of
concept. This actually is not the real thing because the real thing would have to be sulphur
dioxide to increase the albedo. But you know, that’s a poison so we don’t want to talk about
that right now. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to do it with water just to
show it as a proof of concept. This, believe it or not, provoked a huge hue
and cry in Britain with over 50 scientific organisations opposing even this limited test
project. In other words, they said, this is fake, this will get people’s hopes up. Don’t
do it. In the current neoliberal circumstances, mere political opposition resorting to reasoned
arguments of this sort were not sufficient to stop a well-funded scientific cadre with
some ceremonial credibility and political clout. No. what got the experiment cancelled
– and it was just cancelled last May before it was finally carried out – was a dispute
among the team over intellectual property. Two members of SPICE, Hugh Hunt and Peter
Davidson, had filed for a patent for an apparatus for transporting blah blah blah in the Earth’s
stratosphere by a balloon, dirigible or airship without informing the other members of the
team. Other participants, learning of this, called the experiment to a halt. Just as in
so many other areas of modern science, the faculty here occupied dual roles as academic
researchers and CEOs of their own start-up firm.
So there are a number of ironies to the SPICE thing. One is that, do you know that the first
example of traded permits was sulphur dioxide? So first we control it with – yeah, do you
get it? First we control it with cap-and-trade and then we spew the shit out when we want
to geo-engineer instead. But of course the further irony is that the only thing that
can stop this project or these kinds of projects are further controversies over commercialisation.
That’s the only thing that can stop them now. Mere politics could not.
So you think I forgot about Naomi but I haven’t. This is one of the reasons why Naomi’s wrong.
Do you see this? Naomi’s wrong. Why? Because there’s neoliberal science as well and it
just takes time to [gin] it up. Science can be on the side of the neoliberals too. This
whole Bernal idea that science is on our side is long gone.
I know we all like science fiction. Why is this in a sense not a solution either? It’s
not a solution because it cannot be tested ahead of time. Once you spew that shit up
there, it ain’t coming down very fast. It involves unilateral actions in violation of
scads of international treaties. Think about this. It’s like yeah, sure, let’s just go
ahead. It doesn’t have to be this – let’s just go ahead to the Pacific Ocean and just
fill it with algae. No one’ll care, right? Moreover, it imagines that a few corporations
can hold the entire globe hostage for short-term profit.
But it’s not really about fixing the problem. It’s about finding a new way to make truly
global – I mean, you guys talk about globalisation. You ain’t seen nothing yet. This is truly
globalised profit. Finally, it doesn’t attack the root causes.
If you look at the list that I’ve provided, none of them actually stop CO2 emissions from
rising. We’re almost there. I know it’s been a little involved. Do you see how none of
these projects in and of themselves actually reduce CO2 emissions? That’s the point. That’s
the point. Basically, let me summarise and then this
will be the last slide, I think. Basically the left gets snookered. They want to do something
about CO2 so what happens? They say oh, come on, you’ve got to be realistic. Let’s get
some kind of cap-and-trade. I think a lot of environmentalists – no, that cap-and-trade
doesn’t really do it. But they say, well we’ve got to start somewhere. It’s like this American
idea that you’re going to have healthcare by an insurance mandate. Yeah, right. We’ve
got to start somewhere so let’s start here. So do you see what happens, is that the left
gets signed on to the dynamic – not just to the policy but to the dynamic and the dynamic
is none of these things are actually going to, in any serious way, close down CO2 emissions.
So what is the hope? Remember what I said neoliberalism is? Neoliberalism is the idea
that the market knows more than any of us, it’s smarter than any of us. The real neoliberal
prescription is to let the market do its thing over time. Do you see how this whole set of
schemes achieves that? It achieves the neoliberal prescription. These guys are brilliant, don’t
you think? So let’s have a little discussion. The left needs a different kind of bio-politics,
don’t you think? Political understandings I would argue of nature and society come first.
Science doesn’t naturally support anything. There’s neoliberal science and then there
are other kinds of science. The left, in order to even get into the conversation – which
I would argue they’re not right now – even to get into the conversation, has to promote
rival versions of nature economy that resist reduction to neoliberal scripts. Of course,
you have to understand the script first in order not to be sucked into it.
I don’t have time for this but I would also argue – remember I told you that neoclassical
economics is different from neoliberalism? Neoclassical economics is not the way to fight
it either, I would argue. Because the neoclassical professors have become neoliberal, it becomes
less and less likely that that could be a stand from which one could resist this story.
I think we or the left or whoever have to have an alternative to this idea of the market
as an invariant natural information processor more powerful than any human cognition.
If you can’t crack that – see this is weird, that’s not the thing that people most often
think of when they think of this. If you can’t crack that, I don’t see how you can have a
plausible, alternative, well-developed political program which has short-term things, medium-term
things and long-term things. I know you want the answer, right? I’m just trying to get
you there first to see how strong they are. How’s that for an answer? I’ll just stop there.