Archive for September, 2010

Some notes on the ghastliness of the U.S. government

September 23, 2010

Empire's diabolical assemblage

“At no time has the poverty of humanity stood in such crying contradiction to its potential wealth as in the present—at no time have all powers been so horribly fettered as in this generation, where children go hungry as the hands of the fathers are busy churning out bombs.”1

The Obama administration has reportedly finalized a proposal for the largest single arms-deal in U.S. history—one valued at $60 billion, to be sent to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) over the next 5 to 10 years. This mass arms-sale would see the U.S. upgrading 70 of the KSA’s aging Boeing-manufactured F-15 fighter-jets and selling it 84 new ones, in addition to 70 Longbow Apache attack helicopters, 72 Black Hawk transport helicopters, and 36 multi-purpose Little Bird gunships.2 (The proposed deal stipulates no further sales of transport or attack helicopters outrageously bearing the names of Native-American groups nearly exterminated historically by settler colonialism, such as the Comanche or Chinook.) Israel is said to have been involved in the drawing-up of the arms-sale; indeed, the deal seems to have proceeded only with Israel’s support, for neither the KSA-owned F-15s that are to be upgraded nor their new counterparts are to carry what are termed as standoff systems, which are said to permit these death-machines to target long-range land- and sea-based targets.3 Of course, not on offer to the KSA are the next-generation F-35 aircraft, 20 of which Israel reportedly spent $3 billion on last month.4 The F-35s, said to be expected to be available in 2015 at the earliest, are being termed the “costliest and most technically challenging weapons program the Pentagon has ever attempted.”5

In addition, U.S. officials are said to be contemplating putting together a further $30 billion deal aimed at upgrading the KSA’s naval forces.6 Furthermore, negotiations are reportedly underway between the U.S. and the KSA toward enhancing Saudi Arabia’s defense capabilities against short- and intermediate-ballistic missiles: this would entail upgrading its existing Patriot-missile batteries and potentially even the purchasing of the Terminal High Altitude Defense system (THAAD), a joint Lockheed Martin-Raytheon production said to be the first weapons-system designed to provide defense against missile attacks from both within and beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.7 It should be noted that a similar arms-deal was negotiated with the KSA in the closing days of the Bush administration, though the difference in cost and scope—the package provided by Bush was valued at $20 billion8—is striking.

If the purported contents of this proposed weapons-deal have been reported correctly, it would seem that the U.S. is not attempting to arm the KSA in preparation for an attack the Islamic Republic of Iran—the same, of course, cannot be said of the F-35 sales to Israel. The deal instead appears to largely promote of the KSA’s defense capabilities, although it must be said that various components of the proposed package could well serve the U.S./Israel against the Islamic Republic if war were in fact to break out: it is to be imagined that the KSA’s upgraded air force could serve as a double to that of the United Arab Emirates, described by General David Petraeus in 2009 as a force that could “take out the entire Iranian air force” by itself—this before the UAE had 80 F-16s delivered from the U.S.9 Writers for both The Guardian and The New York Times expect the proposed arms deal, brainchild of Obama, to pass through Congress easily, considering that it is estimated to provide for some 77,000 jobs across 44 states10—this in the midst of a formidable recession.

Although its scale is perhaps considerably greater than pre-existing arrangements, this proposed deal conforms with long-standing U.S.-government designs to project its hegemony over Southwestern Asia, ones that have been helped along by efforts made by Bush and Obama to tie the “moderate Arab” regimes into a de facto military alliance against the Islamic Republic; the most recent manifestations of such policy would be the deployment of Patriot missile batteries in the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait.11 What is more, Pentagon officials cited by Thom Shanker and David Sanger of the New York Times report that the RKSA deal would further promote the ability of the U.S. military to engage in “power-projection”12—that is to say, to further assert its barbarous domination.

To summarize, then: the largest single arms deal negotiated by the U.S. during its short but thoroughly nasty history—one that will likely meet approval, even a warm embrace—would award one of the world’s most reactionary regimes with arms that could well significantly increase tensions among the various states of Southwestern Asia toward the possibility of open war. Such a war, like all wars, would be terrible, a “monstrous act of imperialist criminality,” as Alex Lantier of the World Socialist Web Site has it.13 “Countless thousands of Iranians would be killed in the first hours of [such] a war,” with thousands if not millions more victims to come after the opening salvo, and it would surely “bring the entire world closer to the day of a global nuclear conflagration.” In addition to the horrifically catastrophic direct human toll such a conflict would bring with it, it would likely also result in the cessation of hydrocarbon-export from Iran, with severe consequences for those who depend upon such for such things for fertilizers, transport, and so on.

Assuming that plausible alternatives to the alarming present tendency advanced by hegemonic powers exist, as they clearly do,14 it would seem to follow that they be adopted. One alternative could simply be not to have the deal to begin with—given the present array of forces, this would of course in practical terms necessitate the intervention of a “global self-conscious subject.”15 Another alternative would be to dedicate the between $60 and 90 billion currently being considered to things other than militarism and the promotion of catastrophe. One reasonable such project would be to dedicate significant resources to the development of solar power and other non-hydrocarbon-based energy sources, given the severity of the climate crisis. Another worthy project would be to provide more resources than have been afforded the peoples of Pakistan and Haiti, devastated as they have been by severe disasters in recent memory—that of the former undoubtedly largely the result of the anthropogenic climate change caused to date by industrial capitalism. Perhaps the $60-90 billion could be employed toward providing food-supplies to the approximately 1 billion humans who currently starve16—or in particular, to the millions of Sahel residents who presently run the serious risk of dying from starvation17—or medicines and health-care access to innumerable number of people who suffer and die from diseases and lack of medical treatment. Moreover, there clearly exists a dire need to provide Southern societies resources with which to attempt to mitigate the catastrophic effects that climate change is wreaking on their lives: principal among these would be the radical disruption of the potential for agricultural production, the drastic reduction of fresh-water supplies, and the provocation of severe floods and landslides.

Such projects, reasonable and humane as they may be, are naturally not on the minds of State functionaries; they are particularly absent in the U.S. government, imperial defender of reified, pre-historical existence. This barbarous entity is complicit with an innumerable number of first-order failures: inter alia, it has dramatically failed to come anywhere near the pathetically minimalist international norm calling on industrialized societies to provide 0.7 percent of their annual GDP to official-development assistance to what is termed the Third World, still refuses to become a member of the International Criminal Court, and stunningly continues to bankroll fascist Israel in its colonial project against the Palestinians—it should be remembered, of course, that the U.S. House of Representatives voted 390 to 5 to back Israel’s winter 2008-2009 assault on Gaza18; a similar resolution in the Senate met with unanimous support.19 It is at present unclear whether the Obama administration and the present Congress have yet repudiated the Clinton administration’s 1996 rejection of the international right to food, but one imagines this not to be the case. The U.S. government is furthermore remarkable for the lack of social protection it renders to its own citizenry, as Chris Hedges20 and John Sargis21 have compellingly argued on the recent health-care ‘reform’ advanced by Obama and mandated by Congress.

Among the various negations and crimes for which the U.S. government is responsible, both past and present, few can be said to approach the U.S. Senate’s tabling in July of consideration of legislation putatively aimed at mitigating U.S. contributions to anthropogenic climate change. This act—far graver than the Waxman-Markey bill passed through the House of Representatives in June 2009, which, in mandating a 4-7 percent reduction in U.S. carbon emissions on 1990 levels by 2020, fails even to meet the entirely inadequate reduction-trajectory called for by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol—is simply an abomination. It radically undermines the possibility of moving toward an international accord that could in theory begin to address the unfolding climate catastrophe, to step back from the brink of oblivion—though one must not put one’s faith in proposals endorsed by capital and the state. This prima facie failure on the Senate’s part is radically removed from the mass-suffering that anthropogenic interference with the Earth’s climate systems is already imposing on the peoples of the world, to say nothing of its non-human inhabitants; it amounts to a radical rejection of the recommendations made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its 2007 Fourth Assessment Report—itself highly conservative and based in part on largely dated data—which call for a global peak in anthropogenic carbon emissions by 2015 and an expeditious decline thereafter. The IPCC’s proposed plan of action, it must be said, would itself only provide a 50 percent chance of limiting average-global temperature increases to 2ºC beyond pre-industrial levels—”a death sentence,” write David Spratt and Philip Sutton,22for billions of people and millions of species.” The Senate’s astounding decision not to consider climate legislation essentially renders the upcoming Cancún climate negotiations, as well as the subsequent South Africa round, totally hopeless, at least as regards progress toward a global climate-change accord. The potential dialectical importance of the Cancún and South Africa talks for the development of anti-systemic movements within international civil society—Adorno’s “global self-conscious subject”—is a different question.

It must be remembered, of course, that the Senate’s denial of a bill aimed at regulating carbon emissions as well as the proposed mass-arms sale to the KSA—two aspects of the appallingly monstrous present state of affairs—have been prosecuted by a Democrat-majority Congress and a Democrat-occupied White House. The prospect of further regression in light of the possibility that the Republican party make significant electoral gains in November is absolute. The necessity for revolutionary praxis directed at dismantling the present system—one that Fidel Castro rightly indicted in his desperate comments during a 3 September speech as “jeopardi[zing] the very survival of humanity”23—is similarly absolute.

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1Max Horkheimer. “Materialism and Morality,” Between Philosophy and Social Science: Selected Early Writings (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1993), p. 35

2Ian Black, “Barack Obama to authorise record $60bn Saudi arms sale,” The Guardian, 13 September 2010; Adam Entous, “Saudi Arms Deal Advances,” Wall Street Journal, 12 September 2010

3Adam Entous, “U.S.-Saudi Arms Plan Grows to Record Size,” Wall Street Journal, 14 August 2010

4“US pushes $60bn Saudi arms deal,” Al-Jazeera English, 13 September 2010

5Entous, op. cit. (14 August)

6Entous, op. cit. (12 September)

7Entous, op. cit. (12 September)

8“Bush moves to seal Saudi arms deal,” Al-Jazeera English, 15 January 2008

9Chris McGreal, “US raises stakes on Iran by sending in ships and missiles,” The Guardian, 31 January 2010

10Entous, op. cit. (12 September); Black, op. cit.

11McGreal, op. cit.

12Thom Shanker and David E. Sanger, “Obama Is Said to Be Preparing to Seek Approval on Saudi Arms Sale,” New York Times, 17 September 2010

13“Is a US attack on Iran imminent?” World Socialist Web Site, 30 March 2010

14Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, “Obama on Iran: The Substance behind the ‘Signal,'” MRZine, 5 August 2010

15“Progress,” In Benjamin: Philosophy, Aesthetics, History , ed. Gary Smith, trans. Eric Krakauer (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1989), p. 85

18“US congress votes to back Israel,” Al Jazeera English, 10 January 2009

21“The crisis of the US health care system and Obama’s bill,” International Journal of Inclusive Democracy, vol. 5, no. 4/vol. 6, no. 1 (Autumn 2009/Winter 2010)

22Climate Code Red: The Case for Emergency Action (Melbourne: Scribe, 2008), p. 99

23The first third of the speech can be watched here

On Climate Refugees

September 14, 2010

NB: Also published on Climate & Capitalism

The French Collectif Argos’s 2007 volume Réfugiés climatiques (Climate Refugees) has recently been translated into English. The work, a series of essays and sets of photographs that examine the lives of a number of social groups from around the globe who have been or likely soon will be victimized by anthropogenic climate change, is the product of four years of investigation; much of it seems to have been written shortly after the publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 2007 Fourth Annual Report. The work itself is a testament to massive human-rights violations, whether past or possible future, as well as to the stunning “loss of ethnodiversity” that climate catastrophe threatens to bring about. Though much of its textual argumentation is allied to reformism, its coverage of a number of regions in which individuals are menaced by climate change—the Arctic, Bangladesh, Chad, the Maldives Islands, the Gulf Coast of the U.S., northern Germany, Tuvalu, northern China, and Nepal—is important; moreover, many of its photos are certainly worthy of reflection.

It must be stated immediately that Climate Refugees’s written reflections on the prospect of climate catastrophe is disappointingly tame, this perhaps the product of a reliance on the now-outdated climatological reports that were available when the work was written. One of the book’s introductory essays, written by Jean Jouzel, a high-ranking IPCC official, claims that, while “[s]tabilizing our climate is a huge challenge,” the world’s “political leaders deserve credit for making this issue a centrepiece of their discussions at the international level.” Though this essay was written before the failure of the December 2009 Copenhagen climate negotiations—a “deadline,” indeed, that Jouzel identifies as “key”—it seems unjustifiable to have made such a claim at any historical point, given how inadequate has been constituted power’s response to the specter of climate change. In Collectif Argos’s account, global warming rather euphemistically constitutes the “last straw” for the impoverished of the world—not, as seems to be the case, their death-sentence. The work, in addition, rather dramatically underestimates the possible number of climate refugees—that is, those who (will) have survived and been displaced by the effects of climate change—as being 200 million by century’s end: this, when some 20 million were displaced by unprecedented flooding in Pakistan within a matter of weeks in recent memory. Sadly, furthermore, the already-horrifying numbers proferred by the authors regarding the recession of the Himalayan glaciers—that 2 billion people “could be affected” by what are termed “water shortages” within 50 to 100 years—also seem unjustifiably optimistic. Somewhat strangely, indeed, the Collectif endorses a 2ºC average global temperature increase as a goal toward which to strive—that is, a more than doubling of the temperature-levels whose frightening effects they examine in the work. It should not be surprising, then, that Climate Refugees’s short appendix includes a reference to the reformist organization Greenpeace “for more information.”

Despite such drawbacks, however, much that is found in Climate Refugees is in fact quite good, in addition to being crucially important. An Inupiaq woman residing on an island threatened by warming seas in northern Alaska is quoted as saying she has “trouble imagining a future for [herself].” In Bangladesh, Collectif Argos demonstrates the undeniable dangers posed by rising sea levels, including the penetration of saltwater into bodies of groundwater, a development that quite simply renders-impossible agricultural production. Writing honestly, Donatien Garnier, the author for the Bangladesh section, states that “[p]rospects for survival seem grim.” Additionally, Climate Refugees examines the life of Chadians who reside by the ever-retreating shores of Lake Chad and depend upon it. Lake Chad, of course, is a body of water that has reduced in size from 25000 km² to 2500 km² in the last 40 years; Aude Raux, the author of the article on Chad, quotes UNESCO as asserting that the fate of Lake Chad constitutes “the most spectacular example of the effects of climate change in tropical Africa.” Climate Refugees also explores the phenomenon of outburst floods of glacial lakes in Nepal, formed through the marked retreat in recent years of the Himalayan glaciers; these outburst floods, or GLOFs, undoubtedly jeopardize the existence of underlying human populations. Collectif Argos furthermore considers the prospect of agricultural collapse in Tuvalu, where rising saltwater has come to sterilize soils, and in northern China, a region subject to increasing desertification—said to be increasing by an astounding 2500 km² each year in the country as a whole. Raux’s article on China at points constitutes a particularly compelling examination of migrant labor-refugees who, abandoned by capitalists and government, remind one of the masses of humanity dispossessed and proletarianized around the world with the introduction of capitalist social relations. The work’s treatment of the expanding Gobi Desert also illustrates the general trap which capitalism has imposed on Chinese society, as on global society as a whole—to destroy itself environmentally, in addition to practically enslaving its working class, so as to promote ‘development.’ This dynamic, naturally, has surely been advanced historically by Northern industrial societies before China—as is certainly reflected in the work’s sections on New Orleans, devastated in 2005 by extreme weather, and on islands threatened by rising sea-levels in Germany’s north—but the juxtaposition of the example of northern China with the threats that warmer oceans pose to the coral that currently protects the Maldives Islands, or the disrupted climatic patterns that promote greater rates of dengue on these same islands, may be taken as commentary on the pronounced lack of solidarity among Southern societies on climate change, a dynamic already experienced at last year’s talks in Copenhagen.

Though Climate Refugees is not a work dedicated to examining possible solutions to the myriad catastrophic problems provoked by climate change, its authors at times briefly mention reasonable responses to the prospect of such. For one, a researcher with the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies is cited as advancing a rather sensible proposal for climate-refugee policy—that each of the world’s countries “transport and accommodate a quota of climate refugees” that is “proportional to its past and present greenhouse emissions.” Garnier himself explicitly calls for the reform of the 1951 Refugee Convention to include those displaced by climate change and hopes that one day the concept of “environmental persecution” will be codified as a norm governing international relations. Garnier also mentions that Tuvalu had once planned to take the oil companies and the U.S. government to international tribunals for their disproportionate contributions to climate change, though he neither endorses nor condemns such proposals.

In essence, Climate Refugees constitutes a stark warning regarding the “endangered paradise[s]” it explores—all of them metaphors for the totality of the Earth, itself a potential paradise imperiled by climate catastrophe. In its focus on Southern peoples and marginalized Northerners, the work also certainly functions as a reminder of the unmitigated brutality and total injustice currently being enacted by the contributions of industrial-capitalist societies to anthropogenic climate change. Of course, many of the world’s regions not examined in Climate Refugees could today be examined similarly, hopefully in fruitful fashion: the Sahel, Pakistan, Bolivia and Peru, Mozambique, Russia, and the India-Bangladesh border come to the mind of this author.

The book’s value is perhaps best encapsulated in its closing image, that of Rames Rai, a Nepalese yak-herding boy, who is shown to be running in the mountains with a large grin emblazoned on his face: it is precisely toward securing the happiness of the world’s children, and its peoples as a whole, that radical action must soon be taken to avert the various negations climate change promises to introduce into history.

Contra Bill McKibben’s reformism

September 11, 2010

Bloody Sunday, St. Petersburg, 1905

NB: Also published on Countercurrents

As has been reviewed on these pages recently—as can be seen through basic knowledge of some of the various disasters that have befallen many of the world’s peoples in recent memory—anthropogenic climate change is becoming something of a catastrophe. To term the catastrophe currently being enacted a “disaster,” as did Mexico KlimaForum 10 in July,1 would be a gross understatement. To paraphrase Elizabeth Kolbert,2 ‘advanced’ industrial societies are essentially destroying themselves by means of dangerous anthropogenic interference with the Earth’s climate systems—though it must be added, rather significantly, that such societies are also destroying humanity in general, as well as life itself. Basing his recommendations on various reports published by climatologists, Mark Lynas concludes that global greenhouse-gas emissions must peak by the year 2015 if there is to be a chance for a stabilization in the increase of average global temperatures at 2C beyond those that prevailed before the onset of industrial capitalism in 1750.3 Progress toward this goal was violently negated by the U.S. Senate’s tabling in July of consideration of legislation aimed at reducing U.S. society’s contributions to global warming; in light of such, little can be expected to be achieved at the 2010 Cancún and 2011 South Africa Conference of Parties (COP) climate-negotiations. Humanity, in sum, is losing; it is being sacrificed in a rather final manner to capitalism and the state: if the climatological reports Lynas cites are to be believed, an average-global temperature increase of 2C, for example—a warming-target far lower than that which can be expected to follow from the alarmingly inadequate response taken to date by global society vis-a-vis the specter of climate catastrophe—would see dramatically more acidified oceans, the complete disappearance of the Andean glaciers, and widespread starvation in much of the world—that is to say, starvation far more widespread than today, when over a billion people starve.

How one is to approach the prospect of such horrors is certainly an open question. For his part, Bill McKibben, environmental writer and founder of 350.org, declares in his most recent public communiqué that he’s writing to “get [his readers] fired up,” announcing that he’s presently engaged in a “Solar Road Trip” (his means of transportation does not seem to be solar-powered) that aims to deliver to President Obama a solar panel installed in 1979 on the White House roof by the Carter administration, with the hope that doing so will “spur Obama to pick up where Carter left off.”4 It is unclear what McKibben means by this: it is to be hoped that he does not wish Obama to emulate Carter’s support for Shah Reza Pahlavi, opposition to the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, and the dispossession by Indonesia of East Timor or his rejection of calls for reparations to brutalized Vietnam. McKibben seems to hope that presenting the solar panel to Obama will remind him of the years before the accession of Ronald Reagan to the presidency, an era before the time in which “we” reportedly “stopped thinking carefully about the future.”5

This latest circus act on McKibben’s part is nothing short of moronic and infantile. The fact of the matter is not that the rationality of transitioning toward a post-carbon society run on renewable energy is merely a consideration that has slipped Obama’s mind but rather that Obama’s institutional position as defender of the “petroleum civilization”6 and the capitalist mode of production precludes him from considering rational plans to address looming climate catastrophe. This should be obvious, especially to someone who has spent as much time and effort reflecting on the climate predicament as McKibben seems to have; unfortunately, such considerations do not seem to be obvious, whether to McKibben or more generally. To be clear, then: Obama is not the agent to whom one should be addressing her or his concerns regarding climate change, let alone any other significant threat to human welfare. He is, as Max Ajl has rightly observed, a “world-killer”7: an uncaring, reactionary force—Benjamin’s Enemy.8 He is as disconnected from addressing pressing world-issues as Tsar Nicholas II was vis-a-vis the urban poor of St. Petersburg who in 1905 thought they would petition their grievances to the tsar and were subsequently massacred.

Of course, such criticisms of constituted power are not to be found in McKibben’s writings. Rather against all evidence—indeed, in light of considerable evidence to the contrary—McKibben asserts in his 2010 book Eaarth that “in Barack Obama we’ve finally got a president using centralized power to good ends,”9 and similarly claims “Obama [to be] doing lots of good practical things already” on climate change in a 7 September article on the “symbolic solar road trip” to Washington, D.C.10 Any attempt by McKibben to justify such positions would be absurd: they are clearly refuted by Obama’s horrific treatment of the Copenhagen climate negotiations last December.

Just as the hegemonic system McKibben mystifies—capitalism—must be dislodged and abolished, so must McKibben himself come to be displaced as leader/father of contemporary movements against climate catastrophe. His politics are legitimational and reformist; they are inappropriate for the scope of the present catastrophe. This should not, though, be taken to mean that the masses of individuals presently involved with McKibben’s 350.org—those, that is, rightfully concerned about anthropogenic climate change—are necessarily tied to the perspectives he advances. Indeed, it should be said that the human prospect could be served well by the development of rhizomatic movements comprised of ‘climate radicals’ that leave behind the politics endorsed by McKibben and all other reformist apologists.

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1Miguel Valencia, Political Platform for Klimaforum10 by Mexico’s Grassroots,” Culture Change, 9 August 2010

2Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change (New York: Bloomsbury, 2006), p. 189

3Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2008)

4“An Appeal from Bill McKibben,” Countercurrents, 8 September 2010

5Ibid

6Silvia Ribeiro, “Crisis climática y destrucción programada de bosques,” La Jornada, 17 July 2010

7“Obama: World-Killer,” Pulse, 18 December 2009

9(New York: Times Books), p. 128

BoCa En BoCa No. 7

September 11, 2010

BoCa En BoCa’s seventh issue (September 2010) has recently been released.  It is available for download here.

BoCa En BoCa 7, English version (pdf)

BoCa En BoCa 7, Spanish version (pdf)

In the words of the magazine’s editors, BoCa En BoCa is “an independent magazine” whose objectives are “to disseminate what happens in the organized indigenous communities of Chiapas through news summaries or excerpts from their  communiqués, to denounce the government’s strategy, and to promote solidarity among the communities. In the long term, the goal is to distribute the magazine within the indigenous communities in their own language[s].”

2010: barbaric catastrophe

September 5, 2010

Tents for those displaced by flooding in Sukkur, Pakistan (@ The Guardian)

“The concept of progress is to be grounded in the idea of catastrophe.  That things just go on is the catastrophe” (Walter Benjamin).

In recent weeks, unprecedented deluges have provoked mass-flooding that has proven catastrophic for the peoples of Pakistan and Niger. In the former country, as of 30 August, an unimaginably severe monsoon season has set in motion floods that have displaced some 20 million people, destroyed 1.2 million homes, killed 1,600 people, and injured over 2,300.1 A few days earlier, a reported published on the World Socialist Web Site claimed flooding in Pakistan to have submerged about 30 percent of the state’s cultivated farmland, wrecking some 17 million such acres.2 Among the millions displaced by inundation, an estimated 8 percent have access to clean water.3 An estimated 70,000 children in Pakistan are at threat of dying from severe acute malnutrition in the coming weeks.4 In Niger, torrential rains in August wiped out grand swathes of the domestic road system, causing the River Niger to reach its highest level for 80 years5—this comes months after the announcement that around 7 million people in Niger and 2 million in Chad were at risk of starvation as crops failed en masse following a second year of failed rains, as examined on these pages in late June. An estimated 400,000 children were pronounced in June as being at risk of death by starvation; it is unknown how many have in fact perished since then. As of late August, approximately $800 million had been raised internationally for flood relief in Pakistan6—this against the total of $43 billion Pakistan’s High Commissioner recently claimed could well be necessary for the reconstruction of Pakistan.7 The present author is unaware of any serious effort to raise funds for starving Nigeriens.

Financially speaking, the relief effort in Pakistan is being led by the U.S., which last week offered a pathetic $200 million for relief, up from a previous $150-million pledge: this amounts to 0.03 percent of the total budget requested by U.S. President Obama for ‘defense’ this year.8 The $200 million contrasts rather starkly with the more than $40 billion made available by the U.S. Congress this July to finance U.S. military operations in Afghanistan,9 or the countless billions currently being spent on the development of such weapons-systems as the X-37B or the Conventional Prompt Global Strike system.10 This $200 million has been supplemented by the even more absurd $5 million proferred by Pakistan’s south-eastern neighbor and sometimes-enemy, India. It is said that accepting even this paltry sum created controversy among the Pakistani ruling class.11 Clearly, Indian society—like U.S. society, or world society—could be aiding the peoples of Pakistan in dramatically more substantial ways; ideology—nationalism—blocks this possibility. History and physical realities, of course, also play their part: principally, the distressingly violent partition of the former British colony in South Asia into two states in 1947 as well as the various wars prosecuted by the rulers of the two countries born through this partition. It was widely feared that the most recent shooting-war engaged in by India and Pakistan (1999) would at some point involve the use of nuclear weapons. Horrifyingly enough, this possibility seems rather not to be an implausible eventuality within the near term.

Recent memory has also seen catastrophic fires grip much of central Russia; 15,000 people are said to have lost their lives because of them.12 The fires have conflagrated so much of the grain-crop produced in Russia—a third of cultivable land in the country has been reported as destroyed—that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would no longer be exporting grain until at least December13—assuming, rather in bourgeois-optimistic terms, that next year’s grain-crop will not be subject to similar or even more severe fires. In similar terms, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari reportedly claims it feasible that Pakistan can be rebuilt within three years’ time, though consideration of the present climatic situation in South Asia—dramatically receding glaciers in the Tibetan plateau14 and reduced levels of snow at high elevations15 coupled with changing precipitation patterns and more extreme weather-events—suggests highly-destructive flooding-events will be increasingly common events; their intensity, indeed, can be expected to increase violently as humanity descends falls into the climate inferno.

It should be mentioned furthermore that the cut-off in Russian grain exports has brought about rather serious human suffering in those societies that normally import Russian grain, as should be expected. A 19 August Guardian piece notes that the societies that have placed at “extreme risk” because of the effects of fires in Russia and flooding in Pakistan have been Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Eritrea, Sudan, and Ethiopia.16

In addition, an island made of ice nearly 100 miles square broke off Greenland’s Petermann Glacier a month ago. The calving of this island, 600 feet thick, constitutes the most-significant such event in Greenland since 1962, with the Petermann Glacier having produced ice islands ranging from 10 to 34 square miles in size—in 2008 and 2001, respectively—during the past decade.17 This development came just days before a panel of climatologists announced to the U.S. House of Representatives that a global average-temperature increase of 2°C would cause the entirety of the Greenland ice sheet to disappear, and hence for sea levels to rise at least 7 meters.18 A global-average temperature increase of 2°C, of course, represents the “safe limit” for which most hegemonic global institutions are presently committed to achieving—if, that is, they are aiming at all, as the criminal U.S. government decidedly is not, given the Senate’s tabling of climate legislation this July.19

All of these happenings, distressing and alarming as they are, follow from physical reality—specifically, from the unprecedented temperatures experienced on planet Earth that in turn stem from the workings of global capitalist society. The year 2010 has been declared as constituting the hottest year for Earth since global-temperature records have been kept (over a century).20 Whether these unprecedented temperatures find their basis in the currently-ongoing El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) climatic phenomenon or in anthropogenic climate change—or a combination of the two, as seems most likely—matters less when the catastrophes such chaos induces represent future-images of the world toward which climate catastrophe is driving humanity and life itself. More severe deluges, as seen presently in Pakistan, follow from increased average global temperatures, for warmer air holds greater amounts of water vapor than does cooler air.21 Naturally, dispossession is brutally advanced by life-negating climatic developments, as evidenced inter alia in Mike Davis’ Late Victorian Holocausts, in which is examined the world-historical famines experienced in South Asia, East Africa, and East Asia when ENSO conditions synergized with the onset in such regions of capitalist imperialism to produce conditions that killed some 60 million people.22 It is worth noting, furthermore, that the negating climatic effects presently seen are occurring in a world that has experienced just 0.8°C of increase in average global temperatures. Some 5°C of additional warming were found by the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) to be plausibly achievable by the end of the twenty-first century—though warming on such a scale is surely the IPCC’s worst-case scenario. According to studies released last November by scientists with the Global Carbon Report, humanity is at present on course for such catastrophic changes;23 an April 2009 report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found there to be a 90 percent chance that the average-global temperature increase to be expected this century be between 3.5° and 7.4° C.24

The need for the association of social forces termed by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri the multitude25—a “global self-conscious subject,” in Adorno’s words26—to intervene radically in the present catastrophe toward affording humanity and life itself a chance is perhaps greater now than at other point in human history.

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1 “Pakistan floods in numbers,” Al-Jazeera English, 30 August 2010

2Ali Ismail, “Pakistan floods unleash desperate economic crisis,” World Socialist Web Site, 26 August 2010

3Ibid

4Ali Ismail, “Pakistan floods exacerbate child hunger and malnutrition,” World Socialist Web Site, 2 September 2010

5Trevor Johnson, “Worst famine and flooding in Niger’s history,” World Socialist Web Site, 1 September 2010

6“Pledges to Pakistan top $800m,” Al-Jazeera English, 23 August 2010

7Ismail, op. cit. (26 August)

9Pat Martin, “Congress ratifies Obama escalation of Afghanistan war,” World Socialist Web Site, 28 July 2010

10Bill Van Auken, “Obama administration spending billions on new global strike weapons,” World Socialist Web Site, 24 April 2010

12Johann Hari, “How much proof do the global warming deniers need?” The Independent, 27 August 2010

14James Hansen, “Survival of Tibetan Glaciers,” NASA Goddard Institute, December 2009

15Julian Hunt, “Pakistan’s lesson on global warming,” Sydney Morning Herald, 27 August 2010

18Suzanne Goldenberg, “Greenland ice sheet faces ‘tipping point in 10 years,’” The Guardian, 10 August 2010

19Haroon Siddique, “US Senate drops bill to cap carbon emissions,” The Guardian, 23 July 2010

20Juliette Jowit, “Global warming pushes 2010 temperatures to record highs,” The Guardian, 28 July 2010

21Bill McKibben, “Why has extreme weather failed to heat up climate debate?” The Guardian, 18 August 2010

22 (London: Verso, 2002), p 7

23Steve Connor and Michael McCarthy, “World on course for catastrophic 6° rise, reveal scientists,” The Independent, 18 November 2009

24 David Chandler, “Climate change odds much worse than thought,” MIT News Office, 19 May 2009

25Empire (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2001) and Multitude (London: Penguin, 2005)

26“Progress,” In Benjamin: Philosophy, Aesthetics, History, ed. Gary Smith, trans. Eric Krakauer (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1989), p. 85

On Solar

September 4, 2010

Satellite image of flooding near Sukkur, Pakistan, taken 18 August 2010 (@ The Guardian)

In reflecting on the experience of reading Ian McEwan’s 2010 novel Solar, the present author must express disappointment as central. Such disappointment follows from the high hopes gleaned from the few information-sources on the work the present author had read before reading Solar itself. The Guardian‘s David Adam explains that Solar is “about a scientist working on a technology to address global warming,”1 while Stefan Rahmstorf of RealClimate compares the existential concerns of the work with those advanced in Death in Venice.2 McEwan is even said to have gone back to rewrite part of the conclusion to Solar following the failure of climate negotiations in Copenhagen last December, an event McEwan reportedly watched “very closely and with some despair.”3 The truth of Solar, sadly, is far less interesting or heroic than it conceivably could have been. McEwan’s work is very far from an examination of the life’s work of a committed, concerned climatologist like NASA’s James Hansen, let alone of the efforts of an actor analogous to Alfonso Cuarón’s Human Project to stave off catastrophe; it has little to do with Herbert Marcuse’s revolutionary “new science.”4 Rather, Solar concerns itself with slices of life from the existence of Michael Beard, a corpulent aging bourgeois physicist, from the years 2000 to 2009 CE.

McEwan’s anti-hero is at the opening of Solar relatively unconcerned with the undeniable threats posed by dangerous anthropogenic intereference with the Earth’s climate system. In the novel’s first section, set in 2000, Beard takes the social-democratic position that climate change represents something of a problem, but that it would likely be resolved through negotiations among the world’s states. Following this initial treatment, climate change then disappears as a focus of the text, to be eclipsed by rather unstimulating explorations of Beard’s private, provincial worries related to sex and family-relations. To find such a denouement negating rather than affirming should not, of course, be taken to mean that sexual and affective relations are unimportant—for the opposite rather seems to be the case—but rather to emphasize that a text entitled Solar which at points concerns itself with the presently unfolding climate catastrophe could likely have provided perspectives more provocative and important than mere mundane examinations of Beard’s rather boring, bourgeois life-style.

Indeed, it must be said that McEwan’s treatment of climate change in Solar, considered as a whole, could indeed be cause for concern. It is true that Beard at one point cites the findings of the entirely horrifying report published by the Global Humanitarian Forum in May 2009 which estimate some 300,000 people to lose their lives annually due to the climate change that has occurred to date,5 in addition to his mentioning that “Bangladesh is going down because the oceans are warming,” that the summer of 2007 saw the Arctic losing “forty percent” of its ice, that there exists a “meltdown under the Greenland ice sheet that no one really wants to talk about,” that “[t]here’s drought in the Amazon rain forest,” and that “the eastern Antarctic is going.” Such brutal truth-telling is decidedly the exception in Solar. Indeed, even given the older, more conscious Beard of 2005 and 2009, we still see him unjustifiably consuming steak, smoked salmon, and even “quails’ legs wrapped in bacon on a bed of creamed garlic,” in addition to employing air-travel liberally. What is more, the perspectives on responding to climate change advanced in the text are entirely commensurate with reformism—that is to say, illegitimate. In the second section of the text, set in 2005, Beard is shown as trying to convince wealthy capitalists to invest some of the $400 billion available in their portfolios into renewable-energy schemes; assuring them that the “sector” is teeming with “vitality,” “invention,” and “growth,” he promises them that “[c]olossal fortunes will be made” in the transition to a post-carbon global society. Significantly, though, that the investors are depicted as uninterested in considering financing that which one of them refers to as “unproven, noncontinuous forms of energy supply” may reflect misgivings on McEwan’s part regarding the rationality of leaving responsibility for the promotion of what Max Ajl terms an “Apollo project for green energy”6 to the capitalist market. Indeed, the response given to Beard by these potential investors should serve as a reminder of the obvious: that directing one’s concerns regarding looming climate catastrophe to the bourgeoisie and their defenders simply will not work. What may though work in its stead, as McEwan acknowledges in passing near the start of his novel, is the employment of reason.

That McEwan fails rather significantly in Solar to present the looming climate catastrophe as such does not mean that his work is bereft of all value, surely. Like many other commentators on the present predicament too tied to hegemonic power structures to call things by their name—James Hansen,7 for example, or Mark Lynas8—he certainly acknowledges the status quo to be problematic: through a research-assistant of Beard’s he presents the compelling metaphor of a man dying of thirst in a rainforest who ravages the forest’s trees for their sap, rendering the area into a wasteland when he could very readily, and far less destructively, simply collected rain-water for consumption. Early on in the text, McEwan recognizes that “[e]veryone, all of us” faces “oblivion” at the hands of climate change, and that “the general condition” is that humanity is “running out of time”; he has Beard reflect at one point on the injustice and irrationality of the market system in observing that “There was no premium for being virtuous, for not screwing up the climate system.” McEwan even inserts into Solar some rather legitimate observations on the 2000 U.S. presidential elections—observations that have of course lost none of their relevance, whether with regard to the U.S. or more generally—claiming it to constitute “a struggle within an elite” whose outcome, whether it be favorable to Al Gore or George W. Bush, would have office-holders “schooled in like-minded orthodoxies” and “bound by the same constraints.” McEwan complements such passing comments with more regular criticisms of Tony Blair’s New Labour regime in the U.K.

Moreover, McEwan centrally affirms the scientific basis for anthropogenic climate change, depicting Beard as finding it to be “as incontestable as the basics of natural selection.” He has Beard and his research-assistant engage in thought-experiments involving aliens who, landing on planet Earth and noting it to be “bathed in radiant energy,” would be shocked to learn that humans “ever should have thought of poisoning lives by burning fossil fuels or creating plutonium.” In a move that may constitute what Theodor W. Adorno terms “a progress which leads out and away,”9 at least in embryonic terms, McEwan depicts Beard as claiming that “no one can own sunlight.” At the close of Solar, indeed, the actual possibility of an escape from catastrophe is proferred but then crushed: on the eve of a demonstration of the artificial-photosynthesis solar technology Beard has developed—an innovation that will finally allow for “endlessly self-renewing” clean energy that in turn will permit humanity to “draw back from the brink of disastrous self-destructive global warming”—his former employer files a lawsuit against him regarding a purported breach of intellectual-property rights, and a former lover of one of his ex-wives takes a jackhammer to the installation itself. This negation, then—one that quite literally smashes a potentially reasonable means by which to avert climate catastrophe—is surely one critical of constituted power, and in many ways it parallels the close to Checkpoint,10 when Jay is prevented by means of coercion from engaging in a plot to assassinate war criminal George W. Bush. Because the technological breakthrough made by Beard could theoretically be taken up by others, the defeat at Solar’s end hardly represents a total one, or one worthy of Schopenhauer’s lamentations.

Beyond such considerations, Solar features a good deal of amusing comic situations. For one, McEwan pokes fun at postmodern and constructivist social theories when he relates a scandal that erupts following Beard’s non-postmodern comments in response to a question posed to him regarding the under-representation of women in the field of physics; Beard soon finds himself accosted by crowds comprised of those partial to social constructivism that accuse him of advancing a “crude objectivism” with which he seeks to “maintain and advance the social dominance of the white male”—against all evidence—while others attach the epithets “genetic determinist,” “eugenicist,” and even “neo-Nazi” to the embattled Beard. Beard’s comical difficulties in this sense are in a way reminiscent of those which haunted Theodor W. Adorno near the end of his life (1969), at a time when German activist students denounced the leftist giant as a defender of the establishment in light of his desperate conclusions regarding the possibility of progress beyond prevailing conditions and his concomitant refusal to endorse the student movement. The historical example McEwan most likely had in mind for Beard, though, is Larry Summers, former president of Harvard University, who became embroiled in controversy following comments he made in 2005 on questions rather similar to those for which Beard comes under fire. It should of course be recognized that Adorno shares very little else with Summers, present economic adviser to the U.S. president and author of the infamous 1991 “toxic memo” written for internal use at the World Bank which makes capitalist arguments in favor of relocating highly-polluting industries to impoverished African societies; that Adorno shares even less with Beard need go unmentioned.

To close, then, it seems clear that McEwan considers climate change to be rather serious, as he should; we can see in the explicit reference to situationism he makes at one point in the novel an awareness on his part of radical socio-political alternatives to that which presently prevails. There remains considerable room for doubt, though, that a synthesis of these two considerations—looming climate catastrophe on the one hand, thoroughgoing reconstructive political projects on the other—finds coherent expression in Solar. Indeed, in light of the gravity of the present predicament, it rather seems to be the case that McEwan’s work has far less in common with modern radical politics than its unwanted offspring, postmodernism—the cultural logic of late capitalism, as Fredric Jameson has put it,11 or simple reformism, in Takis Fotopoulos’ estimation.12

——————————————————————————————————–

3David Adam, op. cit.

4One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964), p. 150-67; Counterrevolution and Revolt (Boston: Beacon Press, 1972), p. 67

7Cf. his Storms of My Granchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity and my 15 December 2009 review of it, published in Countercurrents

8Cf. his Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2008) and my review of it, published in Perspectives on Anarchist Theory

9Theodor W. Adorno, “Progress,” In Benjamin: Philosophy, Aesthetics, History, ed. Gary Smith, trans. Eric Krakauer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), p. 96

10By Nicholson Baker (New York: Vintage, 2004)

11Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1991)

12“The transition to an Inclusive Democracy,” The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy, vol. 6, no. 2/3 (Spring/Summer 2010)

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Solar review

In reflecting on the experience of reading Ian McEwan’s 2010 novel Solar, the present author must express disappointment as central. Such disappointment follows from the high hopes gleaned from the few information-sources on the work the present author had read before reading Solar itself. The Guardian‘s David Adam explains that Solar is “about a scientist working on a technology to address global warming,”1 while Stefan Rahmstorf of RealClimate compares the existential concerns of the work with those advanced in Death in Venice.2 McEwan is even said to have gone back to rewrite part of the conclusion to Solar following the failure of climate negotiations in Copenhagen last December, an event McEwan reportedly watched “very closely and with some despair.”3 The truth of Solar, sadly, is far less interesting or heroic than it conceivably could have been. McEwan’s work is very far from an examination of the life’s work of a committed, concerned scientist like NASA’s James Hansen, let alone of the efforts of an actor analogous to Alfonso Cuarón’s Human Project to stave off catastrophe; it has little to do with Herbert Marcuse’s revolutionary “new science.”4 Rather, Solar concerns itself with slices of life from the existence of Michael Beard, a corpulent aging bourgeois physicist, from the years 2000 to 2009 CE.

McEwan’s anti-hero is at the opening of Solar relatively unconcerned with the undeniable threats posed by dangerous anthropogenic intereference with the Earth’s climate system. In the novel’s first section, set in 2000, Beard takes the social-democratic position that climate change represents something of a problem, but that it would likely be resolved through negotiations among the world’s states. Following this initial treatment, climate change then disappears as a focus of the text, to be eclipsed by rather unstimulating explorations of Beard’s private, provincial worries related to sex and family-relations. To find such a denouement negating rather than affirming should not, of course, be taken to mean that sexual and affective relations are unimportant—for the opposite rather seems to be the case—but rather to emphasize that a text entitled Solar which at points concerns itself with the presently unfolding climate catastrophe could likely have provided perspectives more provocative and important than mere mundane examinations of Beard’s rather boring, bourgeois life-style.

Indeed, it must be said that McEwan’s treatment of climate change in Solar, considered as a whole, could indeed be cause for concern. It is true that Beard at one point cites the findings of the entirely horrifying report published by the Global Humanitarian Forum in May 2009 which estimate some 300,000 people to lose their lives annually due to the climate change that has occurred to date,5 in addition to his mentioning that “Bangladesh is going down because the oceans are warming,” that the summer of 2007 saw the Arctic losing “forty percent” of its ice, that there exists a “meltdown under the Greenland ice sheet that no one really wants to talk about,” that “[t]here’s drought in the Amazon rain forest,” and that “the eastern Antarctic is going.” Such brutal truth-telling is decidedly the exception in Solar. Indeed, even given the older, more conscious Beard of 2005 and 2009, we still see him unjustifiably consuming steak, smoked salmon, and even “quails’ legs wrapped inb acon a bed of creamed garlic,” in addition to employing air-travel liberally. What is more, the perspectives on responding to climate change advanced in the text are entirely commensurate with reformism—that is to say, illegitimate. In the second section of the text, set in 2005, Beard is shown as trying to convince wealthy capitalists to invest some of the $400 billion available in their portfolios into renewable-energy schemes; assuring them that the “sector” is teeming with “vitality,” “invention,” and “growth,” he promises them that “[c]olossal fortunes will be made” in the transition to a post-carbon global society. Significantly, though, that the investors are depicted as uninterested in considering financing that which one of them refers to as “unproven, noncontinuous forms of energy supply” may reflect misgivings on McEwan’s part regarding the rationality of leaving responsibility for the promotion of what Max Ajl terms an “Apollo project for green energy”6 to the capitalist market. Indeed, the response given to Beard by these potential investors should serve as a reminder of the obvious: that directing one’s concerns regarding looming climate catastrophe to the bourgeoisie and their defenders simply will not work. What may though work in its stead, as McEwan acknowledges in passing near the start of his novel, is the employment of reason.

That McEwan fails rather significantly in Solar to present the looming climate catastrophe as such does not mean that his work is bereft of all value, surely. Like many other commentators on the present predicament too tied to hegemonic power structures to call things by their name—James Hansen,7 for example, or Mark Lynas8—he certainly acknowledges the status quo to be problematic: through a research-assistant of Beard’s he presents the compelling metaphor of a man dying of thirst in a rainforest who ravages the forest’s trees for their sap, rendering the area into a wasteland when he could very readily, and far less destructively, simply collected rain-water for consumption. Early on in the text, McEwan recognizes that “[e]veryone, all of us” faces “oblivion” at the hands of climate change, and that “the general condition” is that humanity is “running out of time”; he has Beard reflect at one point on the injustice and irrationality of the market system in observing that “There was no premium for being virtuous, for not screwing up the climate system.” McEwan even inserts into Solar some rather legitimate observations on the 2000 U.S. presidential elections—observations that have of course lost none of their relevance, whether with regard to the U.S. or more generally—claiming it to constitute “a struggle within an elite” whose outcome, whether it be favorable to Al Gore or George W. Bush, would have office-holders “schooled in like-minded orthodoxies” and “bound by the same constraints.” McEwan complements such passing comments with more regular criticisms of Tony Blair’s New Labour regime in the U.K.

Moreover, McEwan centrally affirms the scientific basis for anthropogenic climate change, depicting Beard as finding it to be “as incontestable as the basics of natural selection.” He has Beard and his research-assistant engage in thought-experiments involving aliens who, landing on planet Earth and noting it to be “bathed in radiant energy,” would be shocked to learn that humans “ever should have thought of poisoning [them]selves by burning fossil fuels or creating plutonium.” In a move that may constitute what Theodor W. Adorno terms “a progress which leads out and away,”9 at least in embryonic terms, McEwan depicts Beard as claiming that “[n]o one can own sunlight.” At the close of Solar, indeed, the actual possibility of an escape from catastrophe is proferred but then crushed: on the eve of a demonstration of the artificial-photosynthesis solar technology Beard has developed—an innovation that will finally allow for “endlessly self-renewing” clean energy that in turn will permit humanity to “draw back from the brink of disastrous self-destructive global warming”—his former employer files a lawsuit against him regarding a purported breach of intellectual-property rights, and a former lover of one of his ex-wives takes a jackhammer to the installation itself. This negation, then—one that quite literally smashes a potentially reasonable means by which to avert climate catastrophe—is surely one critical of constituted power, and in many ways it parallels the close to Checkpoint,10 when Jay is prevented by means of coercion from engaging in a plot to assassinate war criminal George W. Bush. Because the technological breakthrough made by Beard could theoretically be taken up by others, the defeat at Solar‘s end hardly represents a total one, or one worthy of Schopenhauer’s lamentations.

Beyond such considerations, Solar features a good deal of amusing comic situations. For one, McEwan pokes fun at postmodern and constructivist social theories when he relates a scandal that erupts following Beard’s non-postmodern comments in response to a question posed to him regarding the under-representation of women in the field of physics; Beard soon finds himself accosted by crowds comprised of those partial to social constructivism that accuse him of advancing a “crude objectivism” with which he seeks to “maintain and advance the social dominance of the white male”—against all evidence—while others attach the epithets “genetic determinist,” “eugenicist,” and even “neo-Nazi” to the embattled Beard. Beard’s comical difficulties in this sense are in a way reminiscent of those which haunted Theodor W. Adorno near the end of his life (1969), at a time when German activist students denounced the leftist giant as a defender of the establishment in light of his desperate conclusions regarding the possibility of progress beyond prevailing conditions and his concomitant refusal to endorse the student movement. The historical example McEwan most likely had in mind for Beard, though, is Larry Summers, former president of Harvard University, who became embroiled in controversy following comments he made in 2005 on questions rather similar to those for which Beard comes under fire. It should of course be recognized that Adorno shares very little else with Summers, present economic adviser to the U.S. president and author of the infamous 1991 “toxic memo” written for internal use at the World Bank which makes capitalist arguments in favor of relocating highly-polluting industries to impoverished African societies; that Adorno shares even less with Beard need go unmentioned.

To close, then, it seems clear that McEwan considers climate change to be rather serious, as he should; we can see in the explicit reference to situationism he makes at one point in the novel an awareness on his part of radical socio-political alternatives to that which presently prevails. There remains considerable room for doubt, though, that a synthesis of these two considerations—looming climate catastrophe on the one hand, thoroughgoing reconstructive political projects on the other—finds coherent expression in Solar. Indeed, in light of the graveness of the present predicament, it rather seems to be the case that McEwan’s work has far less in common with modern radical politics than its unwanted offspring, postmodernism—the cultural logic of late capitalism, as Fredric Jameson has put it,11 or simple reformism, in Takis Fotopoulos’ estimation.12

3David Adam, op. cit.

4One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964), p. 150-67; Counterrevolution and Revolt (Boston: Beacon Press, 1972), p. 67

7Cf. his Storms of My Granchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity and Javier Sethness’s 15 December 2009 review of it, published in Countercurrents

8Cf. his Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2008) and Javier Sethness’s review of it, published in Perspectives on Anarchist Theory

9Theodor W. Adorno, “Progress,” In Benjamin: Philosophy, Aesthetics, History, ed. Gary Smith, trans. Eric Krakauer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), p. 96

10By Nicholson Baker (New York: Vintage, 2004)

11Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of LateCapitalism (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1991)

12“The transition to an Inclusive Democracy,” The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy, vol. 6, no. 2/3 (Spring/Summer 2010)


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