The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows, “Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Market rationalities and corporate environmental management strategies are the vanguard of emergent transformational methodologies causing disastrous climate change and unchecked environmental degradation. The concepts seem at odds with each other since the corporation and market caprices are often the culprits instigating environmental crisis. But that aside, global climate change carries the potential to challenge or destroy the three pillars of sustainable development — environmental protection, economic development, and social development. The environment forms the foundation of our lived experiences and climate change threatens our foundation in new ways necessitating new approaches. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the central point of discussion in climate change discourses. This molecule, its properties and affects unknown until the 19th century, forms the basis of climate change policy throughout the world. Whether our concern lies with power plants, car emissions, or the disappearance of islands and cultures, CO2 reaches and affects each of us in disparate ways. The question that guides this article is whether the capitalist system is capable of confronting climate change in the most beneficial way to all life forms. In answering this question, I argue that capitalist production and social relations cause and propel climate change and will continue to do so. Our activities and imbalances within our nature/society relationship reflect itself in the climate crisis. This distorted relationship is based in a historical trajectory of social relations that led us to this position. The advent of environmentally conscious market and corporate management strategies will not mitigate climate change. To relieve the variety of ailments afflicting humanity, including climate change, requires a basic reworking of our society wholly separate and distinct from capital. Thus, any policies dependent on capital, whether they are focused on corporations or market systems, will fail because the basis for such policies requires the logic of exploitation and limitless growth – two requirements at odds with mitigating and adapting to disastrous climate change.
The importance of my research and article lies in its interrogation of the dominant global policies concerning the environment. The widely acceptable answers to climate change are based in capitalism. For example, corporations must make a stronger commitment to decreasing CO2 emissions, new and stronger global carbon markets, technological innovation undergirded by capital competitiveness, aid tied to economic benchmarks, cost-benefit analysis, and new ways of commodifying nature. The foundational logic of capitalism disallows the possibility of tweaking the system to fix the dilemma. If capital were ever to heal the environment and create world equality, it would have done so by now. We are acculturated to think and act within a capitalist system as it continually reproduces its ideologies throughout society. No one is free to choose the physical, social, and spiritual conditions in which we are born. We are products of society — the mass of historical ideas congealed into ideology, practices, and policies. The academy, government, and policy communities produce knowledge in accordance with the universal conditions of capital. These actors knowingly and unknowingly produce ideologies catering to the favored groups and the continuation of market rationalities and limitless growth. David Harvey notes, ”[o]nly if we let ourselves be imprisoned within the system of knowledge handed down to us will we fail to innovate” (Harvey, 1974, 271). To change courses requires new forms of social and environmental relations.
Understanding the logic of capital and the science of climate change is essential to understand that we need alternatives to capitalism not solutions based in capitalism. As Paolucci notes, ”[t]he mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social, political and spiritual processes of life” (Paolucci, 2011, 69). Global capital accumulation and the social relations demand control, subordination, and appropriation thereby degrading environmental and human existence. Showing how capital social relations affect nature/society along with the inadequacies of how capital manages the environment through corporate and economic policies illuminates the precariousness of the path we walk on and realizing the necessity of a different path. This is the essence of my article. I begin my argument with an explanation of the research design and methodologies that guided and provided my work with the theoretical positionalities and structures used in the substantive sections. Following this section is an examination of climate change science and the disastrous affects sea level rise. Of the many affects of climate change, sea level rise provides a grounded geophysical phenomenon whereby social and physical scientists can project its affects on populations, climates, and economy with precision. After an analysis of one of the many disastrous affects of climate change I examine how economic and corporate theory intends to confront the crisis. This section provides an overview of the more transformative and cutting-edge techniques utilized by the finance industry, economists, and corporations. The aim of this section is to show how capital based solutions will never work for the significant majority of people affected. To strengthen this argument, I will undertake an examination of Marxist theory concerning nature/society relations in a capitalist system. This section is essential to understand the logic of capital and trace the causes of our current societal and natural order. To conclude the article, I analyze ideologies of capital and resistance seeking to uncover the fundamental processes enabling the continuation of capital. Taken altogether this article provides a stern warning to those whose work and hopes lie in the capitalist system. Climate change solutions based in capital processes, no matter how framed, will only benefit the slimmest majorities of people. We can no longer give our power, respect and, hope to the very organizations that benefit from nature/society exploitation in a capitalist system. This article is a call to arms to its readers to embrace alternative ways of social relations founded on equality and respect for each other and the environment. Only in this way will most people have any opportunity to realize their human potential in a warming world.
Research Design and Methodologies
The fundamental purpose of this article is to lay the foundation for transformative theorization regarding capitalism and climate change. This notion of transformation inspires my search to understand what has gotten us to this point, but also, how we can orient ourselves to the common good so that our future path is one of compassion — not selfishness. In Competing Paradigms in Qualitative Research Professors, Guba and Lincoln provide a critical theoretical research framework to guide scholarship —
The aim of inquiry is the critique and the transformation of the social, political, cultural, economic, ethnic and gender structures that constrain and exploit humankind, by engagement in confrontation, even conflict. The criterion for progress is that over time, restitution and emancipation should occur and persists. Advocacy and activism are key concepts. The inquirer is cast in the role of instigator and facilitator, implying that the inquirer understands a priori what transformations are needed (1994, 116).
The notion of understanding ”a priori what transformations are needed” is presumptive and perhaps misguided. A researcher should be open to revelations and unexpected ways of knowing and understanding. Yet, I approached this article with the fundamental belief that capital, and its embedded social relations, is the significant contributor to climate change and inequality. We can separate the physical and social delineating climate change in purely physical processes, but human caused emissions is the out of balance activity in the carbon cycle. In this sense, climate change is a physical manifestation of the social. However, my perception of this relationship is more than drawing an arrow from X to Y. Instead, the causation is steeped in embedded relations that ”are intrinsically connected to other phenomena by virtue of the internal relations they have with them” (Gomez & Jones, 2010, 14). This is the story, the representation of society that I would like ”to tell about” (Ragin & Amoroso, 2010). While doing this I encompass a discourse that seeks to provide ”a performative epistemology rather than a realist or reflective one; an ethical rather than a structural understanding of social determination; an experimental rather than critical orientation to research” (Gibson-Graham, 2008, 17). Gibson-Graham asks us to attempt a different form of research and writing that is experimental, fluid, and prefigurative. To ask for questions and provide answers in ways existing outside or perpendicular to the common discourse. In short, the research should guide us to transform the discourse, the world, and ourselves.
This article is largely theoretical and relies heavily upon ways of thinking and existing that challenges and interrogates capital. My use of critical Marxist geographical and sociological theory shapes my view on the configuration of capital and the environment and their interconnectedness in space and place. The theoretical framework provided by geographers and sociologists guided this research forcing me to conceptualize society in new ways (Cooper, 2008, 5). Only by researching and mobilizing theoretical frameworks that came before could I develop an awareness of and arguments linking climate change and capital. Most essential to my research design is learning how to process and present ”new concepts and categories to deal with the system under investigation and, through the operationalization of these new concepts and categories, change the system from within” (Harvey, 1974, 270). Through Critiquing and deconstructing capital and corporations ”the constructed (contingent, tentative, and uncertain) character of these pillars of domination…can be exposed” (Gomez & Jones, 2010, 19). And only by deconstructing capital’s response to climate change can I find an answer to my research question —is capital a capable system to deal with climate change? While my contra-capitalist theoretical framework is not new, the formations and understandings that emerge through prolonged research and writing is indeed new to me, and thus could not be limited by Guba and Lincoln’s a priori understanding of what transformations are needed. It is the questions that inspire, enliven, and guide us — not the pre-formulated answers.
My research and theoretical focus on climate change — clearly physical phenomena — and capitalism —a purely social phenomenon — examines the boundaries between the physical and social to uncover the relationships and hidden causations between the two. Bruno Latour criticizes how social scientists explain natural phenomena by presenting the phenomena as a ”repository of something else…its true substance” and we ”replace some object pertaining to nature by another one pertaining to society” (2000, 109). My hope in this article is not to replace the objective construction of climate change with capital, but to link capital’s processes with the intense emission of greenhouse gases. Placing climate change upon the mirror of society thereby revealing its connective tendrils to each other. In this way, I will do as Latour demands and ”represent those things in all of their consequences and uncertainties” (2000, 119).
Placing meta-issues such as climate change or greenhouse gases in front of a mirror to reflect all its consequences and uncertainties require an ontological understanding of what Marx called ”inner connexions” (hereafter innerconnections) and vantage point. Paul Paolucci, a sociologist specializing in Marx’s methodological principles, delineates Marx’s methodological use of “present as vantage point” as follows —
The present as vantage point helps Marx locate and prioritize what presuppositions and preconditions indicate the interaction, both historical and structural, between systemic parts and how their interactions transform such parts and, because of their internal ties, collective transformations of parts produce entirely new systems (Paolucci, 2011, 60).
By examining capital and climate change through the vantage point of the present I can analyze the historical and social forms made manifest in the contemporary. In other words, I can trace the historical and structural connections between the two phenomena by utilizing the present as the vantage point. For example, the innerconnections of global capital and greenhouse gases emissions over the past century culminating in disastrous climate change. Paolucci notes that the notion of innerconnection incorporates interrelationships, but the idea is something qualitatively different that ”assumes social practices, structures, and their historical development—rather than separate things’—entail each other in an ontological sense. That is, things do not exist prior to their innerconnections with each other and the wholes that contain them” (Paolucci, 2011, 56). Marx’s theory of innerconnections and vantage point forms the foundation to my research design and theoretical approach for it provides an avenue for analyzing meta-issues like capital and climate change by researching and uncovering their innerconnections.
Marx’s methodological use of vantage point and innerconnection provides a frame through which theoretical and scientific work can happen. Paolucci marks the importance of innerconnection in establishing ”whether we should think of the world as a collection of parts that, when added up, produce a whole that is larger than the sum of those parts, or, should we first think of the world as a whole that contains mutually defining innerconnections that we must abstract out as the whole’s constitutive parts” (Paolucci, 2011, 56). The discrepancy seems slight, but their theoretical usage is entirely different. Paolucci goes on, ”Marx mentally abstracts units of analysis out from wholes by breaking down wholes into constituent parts” (Paolucci, 2011, 58). Thus, we can take large phenomena and deconstruct portions and examine them as parts or as totalities themselves. This process of abstraction is essential to tackling large issues such as the subjects of this article. Climate change as a totality has many different affects. By abstracting sea level rise from climate change, I will provide an example of a physical phenomenon and its social implications. This abstraction process allows us to view the whole and its constituent parts. Or in this case, view a few of the constituents — in my view the most important totalities of the whole — corporate management, sea level rise, and the logic of capital in nature/society innerconnections. These abstracted parts are wholes in and of themselves; thus, while climate change and capital are the over-arching issues, each abstraction I make can be its own whole and abstracted again. Therefore, my analysis will seem almost an overview, because to accord each abstraction the attention many other scholars have given it would be impossible in this article.
The research design and approach looks to the emergence of climate change through a social science analysis by mobilizing historical, abstraction, and deconstruction of meta-issues attempting to reveal the ”true substance” of the phenomena and the logic behind the incorrect pathways of solving or mitigating climate change through capital based solutions. Cognizance of frameworks geared towards transformation and alternative ways of theorizing pushes this research to generate and support discourses of equality and environmental sustainability while refusing the hegemonic discourses and practices.
The research methods in the present article are confined to secondary sources. The reasons behind this are multiple —
(1) The generation of climate change projections are based in mathematical modeling and beyond my knowledge to reproduce; (2) government agencies, peer-reviewed journals, and Inter governmental organizations provide the most up to date and quantitatively correct information used by most scholars and policy makers; (3) sea level rise has only visibly affected several locations and research in those areas are financially prohibitive; (4) secondary sources provide significant information on the affects of sea level rise and is widely used; and, (7) analysis of capital through a Marxist lens and capitals’ affects on the environment must be mainly dealt with through a concerted interrogation of the literature, not through fieldwork.
The information needed for a successful article on the affects of climate change and the ideological and social foundations of the crisis are available in the vast network of information in Oxford libraries and online peer-reviewed sources. The weakness of this approach, as Gordon Clark makes note, is that ”[s]econdary data is a cultural artefact, produced for administrators with priorities and ways of seeing the world” (2005, 58). The secondary data I amassed on sea level rise are from a broad set of governmental and peer reviewed journals. The IPCC report, which will be released in late 2013, would be the perfect source of secondary data on climate change, but with its absence, I utilized a wider base of reports and studies ranging in type and year of publishing for this article. I use data from scholars writing specifically about human rights, migration, and other social consequences of sea level rise; I balance this approach by using sources from physical scientists, World Bank reports, and policy documents. By using different sources, I provide a nuanced and layered viewpoint to sea level rise and its affects and steer away from any single approach of viewing climate science and sea level rise.
The absence of fieldwork — of going somewhere ”out there” — reflects a conscious choice to focus on what effective resources I had access to. As Doreen Massey argues, fieldwork has expanded to include sites existing outside a geographic romanticized field located “out there.” She states, ”are not discourses and texts, books and tables and diagrams just as much of `the real world’, and are not other stages of your research (your literature search perhaps) also engagements with that world” (Massey, 2003, 81)? Ten years later, Massey’s statement is more logical and persuasive. The data revolution and unprecedented information access provide serious theoretical scholars with ever-expanding opportunities. Academic work should influence discourse, add to the literature, and discover new ways of being in the world. One’s work should not be judged on the money or social capital one can mobilize in presenting research. Moreover, one’s immediate geography should not limit an academic’s research. Thus, the lack of fieldwork in this article does not inhibit a thorough investigation of climate science, sea level rise, nature/society relationship, or capitalism.
The research design and methods of this article contain the hallmarks of a theoretical expedition. The theoretical framework emerges out of a critical, transformative, and prefigurative body of geographical and sociological discourses to interrogate and deconstruct the innerconnections between capital and climate change. The theoretical methodologies employed attempt to utilize techniques used by Marx in his own work. And while I do not mobilize the traditional tools of researchers such as ethnography, statistics, or fieldwork, the science of sea level rise is the most grounded climate change phenomenon. For the subject in question, the research design and methods ground themselves in long transdisciplinary traditions of theoretical scholarship.
Climate Change Science and Sea Level Rise
Climate science and our understanding of climate change are new phenomena, yet their importance on all levels of life is astounding. The discovery of the link between the atmosphere and temperature by Joseph Fourier, the discovery of the greenhouse affect by John Tyndall, and the discovery of anthropogenic CO2 release in the atmosphere by Svate August Arrhenius all occurred in the late 19th century. These basic discoveries help us to understand mankind’s influence on atmospheric operations. Arrhenius’ hypothesis has proven itself over the last century as studies have shown atmospheric CO2 levels have increased by 30% since 1850 (Young et al., 2013, 2083). This rise is mainly ”due to fossil fuel burning, cement production, and changes in land use” (Trudinger et al., 2005, 329). Indeed, our production patterns significantly alter our atmosphere. On May 20th 2013, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography both reported CO2 readings over 400ppm for the first time atop the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii. The last time in earth’s history such levels occurred was 3-5 million years ago during the Pliocene, millions of years before Homo erectus left Africa (Sun et al., 2013, 1450). The significance and causes of these atmospheric changes are hotly debated in the media and politics, but scientists remain adamant in their adherence in Tyndal’s original hypothesis – the earth is getting warmer.
Climate science is complicated and confusing even to the most well researched social scientist. Translation issues, lack of understanding, lack of expertise, and other factors contribute to our reliance on scientists and others who spread their knowledge to scholars, activists, media, and policy makers. Predictions on how the climate will react are not a foolproof. The following three arguments are the most disconcerting aspects of climate change science. First, the increase in CO2 and its effects on our current climate cannot be significantly linked to our future climate. We see changes in the weather, temperature, and atmospheric makeup, but can we causally connect increased CO2 in the atmosphere with catastrophic weather conditions occurring in New York or Tornado Valley, USA? With this lack of direct evidence we are dependent on ”model predictions, the credibility of which must be largely judged on the ability of the models to simulate the present observed climate and its variability on seasonal, inter-annual, decadal and longer time scales” (Pfafflin & Ziegler, 2006, 428). Second, scientists have recognized that ”climatic shifts are often non-linear on all scales and, hence, episodic and abrupt, with multiple equilibria” (Simmons, 2008, 240). For example, 12,800 to 11,500 years ago, we saw a rise of 8.3C in the average temperature within a period of 1-3 years — not centuries (Hughes, 2001, 254). Therefore, despite our knowledge of long-term historical climate changes, we cannot predict the future when factors of complexity, chaos, and imperfect understanding coalesce into possible future climate scenarios. Finally, with current CO2 levels that have not been experienced for 3-5 million years, the only climatic information we have considering our future is dependent on the climate millions of years before humanoids walked the earth. The possibility of chaotic climate change questions the efficacy of future predictability. Thus, Professor Neville Brown believes climate scientists predicting future scenario’s must recognize and acknowledge to the public that they are ”treating the historical past as a database from which to distill a set of precepts of putatively enduring worth” (2001, 6). We must acknowledge the future scenarios scientists append to global warming, but not ignore the inherent ideologies and weaknesses of the science.
Not being able to predict the future is not a surprise to anyone. The dilemma is when these predictions are treated as truth and create situations resulting in unfavorable consequences. The issue, as Latour sees it, is the ”power scientists hold over politicians or the domination politicians exercise over poor scientists” (2009, 4). In that, climate scientists can present findings that provide opportunities for ”business as usual” or distorted political policies. Additionally, politicians can direct science to fit their ideological or political strategies. Latour also criticizes the belief that science is an absolute domain holding the only truth available, which is only navigable by scientists who become heroes when they translate this understanding back into the social world (2009, 11). Only scientists reveal their understanding of climate change. This allows for significant gaps of truth and embedded interests, which those of us not learned in the ways of science have to take at face value. We should take climate predictions with a critical eye towards bias and focus on the ways and policies that improve our existence today.
In all forms of nonfiction writing, we are bombarded with words such as desertification, extreme weather events, disasters, starvation, natural resource wars, but one catastrophe particularly troubling. Over the past 6000-7000 years the sea level has been stable, but this trend is now over — sea level is undoubtedly rising in the post-industrial period (Richardson, 2009, 50). The primary cited factors of sea level rise (SLR) are: (i) oceanic thermal expansion; (ii) glacial melt from Greenland and Antarctica; and, (iii) change in terrestrial storage (Pokhrel et al., 2012, 1). Thermal expansion occurs when seawater warms causing expansion, thereby increasing the volume of the global ocean and producing a thermometric SLR (Solomon, 2007, 812). Change in terrestrial storage occurs through unsustainable and wasteful use of groundwater supply (Pokhrel et al., 2012, 1). Beginning in 1870, until recently, the thermal expansion of seawater has been the most important component of sea-level rise (Richardson et al., 2011, 51). However, recent datum shows deglaciation in Greenland and Antarctica as an augmenting factor of SLR (Cazenave & Llovel, 2010, 163). Since both contain enough water to raise the SLR by 70m, small melts could significantly alter the SLR estimates (Dasgupta, 2007, 3). Measurements of present-day sea level changes rely on two different techniques: tide gauges and satellite altimetry (Solomon, 2007, 408). Tide gauges were the most utilized technique by sea level scientists until the early 1990’s. Satellite altimetry far exceeds the accuracy of tide gauges and will be the primary data source for sea level science in the foreseeable future. The results from both tide gauges and satellite altimetry are striking —sea level has been rising at a rate around 3mm a year, since 1993, significantly higher than the previous half century (Solomon, 2007, 387). Using tidal gauges, one study concluded, with 90% certainty, that during the 20th century, sea level rose between 0.13 – 0.2m (Bittermann et al., 2013, 1). The estimates for sea level rise in the next 100 years vary widely. For example, Meehl has stated the SLR could be 0.18m, Vermeer and Rahmstorf 1.9m, Bamber estimated 3m (Richardson, 2009, 57). Another projection hypothesizes the sea level rise will be 0.5 – 1.5m (Cazenave & Llovel, 2010, 165). And yet another study found that 21st century SLR will only be 0.102m (Giesen & Oerlemans, 2013, 16). All estimates could be far from the mark if the West Atlantic Ice Sheet (WAIS) collapses and the Greenland ice sheet significantly melts. The issue with statistical models is the certainty of current links between temperature and SLR will continue to hold in the future, but all scientists agree that SLR will continue for centuries.
The WAIS and the Greenland ice sheet are the largest variables in sea level rise predictions. The WAIS, which currently rests on bedrock below sea level (as deep as 2km) holds 10% of the Antarctic ice volume and has become a major concern for SLR scientists (Rapley, 2006, 25). In 1978, a controversial paper speculated that climate change affects could release the WAIS into the ocean thereby causing a rapid rise in sea level (Mercer, 1978, 217). The significance of this collapse is undergirded by the WAIS not needing to melt to increase SLR —the SLR would be triggered solely through displacement. This collapse could raise the SLR by 7m (Cazenave & Llovel, 2010, 152). While recognizing the instability of WAIS and arguing that many studies overestimate the collapse affects, another study found that the rapid collapse would increase sea level by 3.2m (Bamber et al., 2009, 903). Additionally, the rapid collapse of the Greenland ice sheet collapse would raise the global average of sea level by approximately 3m (Lowe et al., 2006, 29). Without any ice sheet collapses, one study noted the SLR from Greenland ice sheet melt alone would be 0.56m in 2100 (Rignot et al., 2011, 4). Multiple scientific models hypothesize partial or complete deglaciation of the Greenland ice sheet occurring at a local Greenland temperature increase of 2.7 degrees Celsius (Lowe et al., 2006, 31). Altogether, a recent study found that we should expect the ice sheets to add a uniform 0.8 mm a year with a yearly rise due to WAIS at 0.3mm-0.4mm (Hay et al., 2013, 3698). The Ice sheets will have a significant affect on SLR for decades.
The affects of SLR on society are worrying. One scientist suggests SLR will have ”potentially catastrophic impact on agriculture, inhabitable land area, distribution of fresh and salt water, weather patterns, epidemic diseases, extinction of plant and animal species, and perhaps even human survival” (Chatterjee, 2011, 446). Moreover, despite a stabilization of GHG emissions, anthropogenic warming and sea level rise will continue for centuries resulting from climate processes and feedback (Pachauri, 2008, 12). Thus, current and future adaptation projects will focus on areas particularly susceptible to SLR. And while adaptation will reduce certain geographic areas vulnerability, there will never be a complete adaptation strategy to negate SLR affects worldwide because of technical, geopolitical, and economic constraints. The application of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) concerning possible SLR scenarios provide a clear picture of what can occur on land. By incorporating census data and geographic data, scientists can hypothesize SLR affects on whom, how, and where. The most susceptible areas are Low level coastal zones, situated under 10m altitude an accounting for only 2% of dry land, which is home to 10.5% of the world’s population, with most in Asia and the world’s poorest countries (McGranahan et al., 2007, 33). Migration and adaptability are key issues for susceptible populations. As one author notes, ”many uncertainties surround the migration—environment nexus, due to an incomplete knowledge of how the climate system behaves, uncertainty about the future behaviour of society, and the chaotic and complex nature in which the physical system operates” (Kniveton, 2010, 79). And while ”[t]he exact number who will actually be displaced or forced to migrate will depend on the level of investment, planning and resources” (Stern, 2007, 112), predictions of how many varies from 25 million to 1 billion (Byravan & Rajan, 2010, 239; Richardson et al., 2011, 66). Clearly, with the knowledge of continued SLR and GIS application, policymakers must begin crafting protections for the millions soon to be affected.
Resulting from historical relationships and unequal development, developing countries while contributing less GHG emissions will experience greater loss due to the lack of economic structure and support to adapt to climate change. Developing countries are the most sensitive and affected by SLR because of their infrastructure and financial inadequacies to deal with such an issue. Within developing countries themselves are spatial inequities regarding SLR adaptation, migration, and health issues (Dodson, 2010, 223). Developed countries; however, will be more adept at adapting to SLR because of their financial means and opportunity to implement geoengineering solutions on a grand scale. However, everyone will be dealing with issues of fresh water resources because of the salination along the coast (Resources & Baba, 2011, v) along with deleterious affects upon agriculture and fisheries — two of the dominant occupations along the coast (Saroar & Routray, 2010, 664). The UN Development Programme stated, ”people living in the Ganges Delta and lower Manhattan share the flood risks associated with rising sea levels. They do not share the same vulnerabilities. The reason: the Ganges Delta is marked by high levels of poverty and low levels of infrastructural protection” (UNDP, 2007, 78). The estimated yearly damages because of SLR are anywhere between $220-400 billion (Gosling et al., 2011, 446). Clearly unequal development and global inequity will mark the impact level and the adaptation possibilities for each community.
SLR will affect the world for centuries in disastrous ways. The sea will rise slow or fast depending on the impact of the ice sheets. The knowledge of continued SLR for centuries coupled with the unequal affects between the global north and south makes climate change a substantial issue for all people. While scientific predictions are not without their critics, SLR is the one affect that can be precisely marked in both the physical, social, and economic realms. With this knowledge, how can we not consider looking at alternative ways to construct and organize our social relations based in compassion and justice?
Capital and Climate Change
Capitalist modes of production and social relations are the hegemonic modes of being. These modes of being direct our relationships with nature and with society. In this section of the article, I examine capital based climate change solutions supported by most of the world and implemented in either market based solutions or corporate management techniques. The critiques and overview in this section allows us to examine how capital attempts to confront climate change and how it fails.
Most Global and local climate change strategies focus on decreasing CO2 emissions. Among President Barack Obama’s climate change policy is the cap on corporate CO2 emissions. Market based mechanisms undergird every aspect of worldwide climate change policy whether it be technological innovation or carbon offset markets. Wendy Brown argues that this a gradual development of advanced capitalist societies and neoliberal governmentalities —
The political sphere, along with every other dimension of con-temporary existence, is submitted to an economic rationality; or, put the other way around, not only is the human being configured exhaustively as homo Å“conomicus, but all dimensions of human life are cast in terms of a market rationality. While this entails submitting every action and policy to considerations of profitability, equally important is the production of all human and institutional action as rational entrepreneurial action, conducted according to a calculus of utility, benefit, or satisfaction against a microeconomic grid of scarcity, supply and demand, and moral value-neutrality (2009, 40).
The advent of green capitalism and sustainable development points to a fundamental theory that our endless journey of modernization and development will continue if we take steps to account for our environment. Brett Clark mentions that theorists following this line of thought believe —
Nature presents obstacles that must be overcome, problems to be solved. And it is assumed that the solution to the nature problem’ will be produced by the ongoing development of the market and an advance of green ethics.’ Thus, any real attempt to fundamentally transform the social system to address the ecological crisis is not necessary (2006, 323).
The process of economic integration that Brown speaks of, and Clark’s insight affirms the hegemonic positionality of capital within climate change and environmental policies. These theories percolate in the scientific, corporate, and political elite, and then spread throughout institutions and society envisioning a democratization of these policies (Carter, 2001, 214).
The underlying thrust is that the economy and its attendant actors must become green. Essential to this task is business commitment to environmental protection through technological and management innovations that improve both economic development and environmental stewardship (Toke, 2011, 8). The economy has surmounted or circumnavigated crisis before. The economic forces of production and innovation should be the foundation to any policy to correct climate change and environmental degradation. Ideally, the economy will transcend the environment as accumulation and development dematerialize freeing the processes from nature’s restrictions. Neil Smith argues that the significance of green capitalism is that it ”has become nothing less than a major strategy for ecological commodification, marketization and financialization which radically intensifies and deepens the penetration of nature by capital” (2006, 17). Arturo Escobar echoes Smith’s view, ”by rationalizing the defense of nature in economic terms, advocates of sustainable development contribute to extending the economization of life and history” (1996, 53). Therefore, the greening of the economy calls for the nature’s integration into the capitalist system.
The basis of capital accumulation is private property rights. Environmental protection based in this system requires the commodification of nature. If an environmental input is correctly monetized, then it will be protected more adamantly than an environmental input that is not. If the environment were properly priced, there would be no exploitation. Paul Burkett posits, ”if all natural resources could somehow be marketised and monetised, the problem of unobservability and uncontrollability of the processes of the environment through the price system’ could be resolved” (2009, 42). A free flowing market system matching precisely the cost of natural resources to society would result. A problem of this approach is that, ”the cost’to society and the other creatures that inhabit the earth may be modest for the first several billion metric tons of carbon emitted by societies, but when a natural threshold is approached, the cost may escalate dramatically and in an effectively unpredictable manner” (Clark & York, 2006, 331-2). Marketizing the environment based on current and future projections of cost is inherently misleading, especially concerning climate change. We will never correctly calculate the economic worth of our ecosystem. The earth has existed for billions of years and our incomplete economic knowledge of the future can never fulfill lasting requirements of sustainability. The basis of capital’s response to climate change is that further accumulation creates new technologies and ways of being that no longer require environmental degradation or CO2 emissions. The foundation to this theory is the environmental kuznets curve that theorizes as a society develops its environmental efficiency increases and pollution decreases (Dasgupta et al., 2002, 147). One author argues that pollution is a waste product, implying that production is inefficient, and dealing with the externality will require resources focused on technological innovation in the production process (Porter & Van der Linde, 1995, 98). To spur such technological innovation requires strong pollution and CO2 emissions regulation, which requires technological innovation to meet the regulations (Nentjes et al., 2007). By restricting production externalities to a near draconian level, corporate responses to state regulation necessitates innovation to hold and increase their current production levels. Thus, by increasing efficiency, we will consume less and realize sustainability without sacrificing our way of life. However, this assumption is addressed by and proven incorrect by one of the world’s greatest economists, William Jevons. Jevons stated —
It is wholly a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuel is equivalent to a diminished consumption. The very contrary is the truth…As a rule, new modes of economy will lead to an increase of consumption (Jevons 1866 quoted in Polimeni, 2008)
In other words, “as technological improvements increase the efficiency with which a resource is used, total consumption of that resource may increase rather than decrease” (Polimeni, 2008, x). This contradiction is known as the Jevons Paradox. Put simply, the entire economic and corporate driven policy to improve efficiency as a pathway to sustainability is flawed and should not be considered without critical examination. The myopic focus on technological optimism allows short-term gains to obscure the societal and ideological foundations of the capitalist economy thereby exacerbating the environmental crisis it sets out to cure (Geertz, 1963, 147).
Corporate environmental management and the economizing of environmental issues, like most things, have supporters and detractors. Often along ontological and epistemological lines, critics of sustainable development and other capital based theories concerning profit and the environment focus on the inadequacies of the ideas themselves. As often the case, capital strategies attempt to give the impression that only minor market changes are needed to launch environmentally sustainable reforms while hiding the fact that the market itself may be incapable of the substantial reform required (Escobar, 1996, 52). To be sure, the business sector is essential to transitioning to a cleaner society. However, the world’s efforts to decrease CO2 emissions have failed dramatically.
Reflecting on the notions of neoliberal governmentalities and market systems that Wendy Brown spoke of earlier in the paper helps us view the nexus between environmental protection and corporate profitability. The State and the corporation support capital based policies and strategies that hold and expand upon the rationalities of the hegemonic economic discourse. Over the last decade we see a shift from the bottom line to a triple bottom line —people, planet, and profit. The awareness of the interconnection and the necessity of people and planet to create a profit influences corporate management to implement long-term strategies. One scholar notes, ”numerous studies have shown that the environmental initiatives of companies stem, for the most part, from regulatory, commercial, and institutional pressures that organizations ignore at the peril of undermining their legitimacy and even their survival” (Boiral, 2007, 129). In affect, various pressures shape the corporation into an environmental protector. Over the last several decades, scholars, executives, and policy makers argued for a more responsible ethos for corporate activity. Milton Friedman, whose Chicago school economics continues to play a dominant role in government, argues that corporations should have no social responsibility because the responsibility of the corporation is only to its shareholders (1970). But, being responsible is often good for business.
The advent of consumer demand for green sustainable products provides another avenue of capital accumulation. This multi-billion dollar economy is the business response catering to environmentally concerned citizens (Toke, 2011, 1). In essence, by consuming green products we consume our way to sustainability. For instance, a corporation may develop or use eco-products, change waste practices, invest in green community projects, or stop certain damaging behaviors. In other words, ”[t]he customers’ knowledge of the minimal or positive environmental impacts of the company’s practices is often crucial to the brand” (Callicott & Frodeman, 2009, 268). This includes the reputational risks that some companies must consider. Nearly 50% to 70% of large public companies value is considered intangible and thus risk profit loss if their reputation is darkened by social or environmental issues (Richardson, 2009, 557). The greener the company the more competitive it is in the market. Competitiveness in corporate performance is a significant driver for social and environmental initiatives if it enhances the firm’s performance (Bansal & Roth, 2000, 724). In search of profits, the corporation will become environmental stewards and social champions if consumer demand flows in that direction.
Other corporate techniques to influence social and environmental responsibilities are becoming more acceptable. For example, a committed focus on long term investments, fiduciary duty, and universal ownership are new concepts and practices taking hold in corporate management and investment practices (Hawley & Williams, 2007). Moreover, the financial investment sectors, including Sovereign wealth funds, are attempting to improve corporate behavior through investment strategies rewarding social and environmental responsible corporations (Clark & Monk, 2009). These practices reinforce the wider corporate social responsibility paradigm, whose principles embrace ”acting as a good corporate citizen, attuned to the evolving social concerns of stakeholders, and mitigating existing or anticipated adverse effects from business activities” (Porter & Kramer, 2006, 7). A socially responsible corporation attempts to soften the production affects on both the community and environment in which it operates. This type of behavior is rewarded in the market. For example, one study reports that a focus on environmental management is linked to long-term financial performance based on stock market prices (Klassen & McLaughlin, 1996,1213). Being a socially or environmentally responsible corporation also saves possible costs down the road. For instance, ”poor external ratings of pollution performance had a significant negative impact on a firm’s stock price, suggesting that the market’s expectation of future profitability was altered” (Klassen & McLaughlin, 1996, 1201). Another study found that a corporation loses money through decreased efficiency and compliance costs if it does not quickly observe environmental regulation; thus, a company should comply as soon as possible by integrating environmental management with pollution control and production management processes (Singh, 2000). Environmental responsibility is a win-win situation — it makes business sense. Besides specific legislation regulating environmental standards, these theories and practices are self-imposed for business or social reasons. Thus, companies need only follow the low standards set by the host government and develop a higher standard if it makes business sense to do so.
Capitalist solutions to environmental issues require the integration of nature with market rationalities. Economic development, technological innovation, and promoting good business practices are the drivers of these policies. All revolve around profit and continued capital accumulation. Significant or draconian market reform that would dramatically change the capitalist system is not even considered. Instead, we see small tweaks and reforms that attempt to shift the faÁ§ade of capital into something ”compassionate” ”green” or ”sustainable.” However, when confronted with disastrous climate change, capital has no solutions. At best, CO2 emissions will be capped, but after decades of political apprehension, CO2 levels are higher than ever before. The reason behind the inability of capital to confront climate change is due to its innerconnections with nature/society — the subject of the following section.
Capitalism & Nature
Many scholars and scientists characterize the current stage of history as the defining moment of humanity. Climate change ties into species extinction, poverty, environmental degradation, unchecked consumption, and production. As Joel Kovel argues, ”[h]umanity is not just the perpetrator of the crisis; it is its victim as well. And among the signs of our victimization is the incapacity to contend with the crisis, or even to become conscious of it” (Kovel, 2007, 23). To be conscious of it, we have to know exactly how the crisis works and its relations to nature, which requires an examination of capital and the intricate workings of its logic. To do this, I first examine conceptions of nature and attempt to flesh out a nuanced and applicable understanding to our daily lives. I then explore Marx’s own writings and Marxist scholarship concerning nature and labor. Following this, I examine how capital relates to nature/society and how this innerconnection creates distorted realities made manifest in climate change and poverty. Finally, I conclude by arguing that capital will destroy the environment and us if left unchallenged.
Understanding our relationship with nature is important to understanding society and ourselves. Marx declares that ”[m]an lives on nature” —meaning —”nature is his body, with which he must remain in continuous interchange if he is not to die. That man’s physical and spiritual life is linked to nature means simply that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature” (1844b, 31). But, what is this nature that Marx speaks of? Is it the untouched nature deep in the Amazon? Perhaps it is the U.S. national parks or protected lands? Is it the local park that gives us respite in our urban areas, or perhaps our backyard garden where we toil and witness? Perhaps an economic rationality where nature is a piece of machinery waiting for us to unleash its utility? Generally, our conceptions of nature revolve around and are placed ”out there” as something to be saved, protected, or at least considered. With this conception of nature; however, we remain unaware of the sociohistorical conditions that have produced, construed and changed the very nature we see (Lehtinen, 2001, 31).
Interrogating the common notion that nature exists outside of society, thereby creating a dualism, allows us to encompass our understanding of our relationship to nature as symbiotic and constant. Noel Castree makes an important point when he states, ”[s]o long as we operate with this dualism we are forced to concede that (i) society and what we call nature are different and can be studied separately, and that (ii) the study of society—nature relations must resort to notions like construction’, interaction’ and interrelation’” (2005, 226). Humans build things upon nature, we connect to nature in our gardens or parks, or we are interrelated through our long existence and spiritual conceptions of Gaia. Castree questions our object/subject relationship to nature asking us to examine nature differently. Scott Hess provides us with an idea of how to do just that. He asks for us to examine what he calls, ”everyday nature” the attention to and ”a way of defining our identities and values through local relationship rather than through imaginative escape” (Hess, 2010, 91). Nature is not out there — it is here now. Hess sees this ”everyday nature” as grounded in production and consumption, for this, he argues, is how we are most physically grounded in every day relation with nature (2010, 91). Hess’conception of every day nature asks us not to romantacize other people’s relationship to nature (such as the displaced indigenous tribes in Brazil), but look to our own relationship to nature and alter our own nature, both within and without, in ways that will see it transform (2010, 105). Nigel Clark takes note that, ”[i]f the natural and the social have become so inextricably bound together that they now comprise a single hybrid environment’, then the transformation of society and the transformation of nature are effectively one and the same process” (2010, 9). If we accept both Marx and Hess’proposals, what or how we produce and consume reflects our physical and spiritual being. By removing the dualism between nature and society, we can begin to see how our everyday lives affect our environments near and far. With the advent of anthropogenic climate change, a global issue, we must understand our relationship to nature in a capitalist society and seek to transform it. Doing so would transform nature as well.
Labor and The Production of Nature
George Henderson describes the basic components of capitalist production in any society as resting on three conditions — ”viable, functioning natural/ecological systems, human mental and bodily being, and sociality itself” (2009, 276). The first can be viewed in the myriad complex systems of nature, while the second and third form the steering and driving factor of production. The capitalist society shapes and organizes our bodies and minds and in the process does the same with nature. Underlying the nexus of body/mind and society is labor. Marx describes labor in such a way as to reveal its essential character in nature —
Labour is, first of all, a process between man and nature, a process by which man, through his own actions, mediates, regulates and controls the metabolism between himself and nature. He confronts the materials of nature as a force of nature. He sets in motion the natural forces which belong to his own body, his arms, legs, head and hands, in order to appropriate the materials of nature in a form adapted to his own needs. Through this movement he acts upon external nature and changes it, and in this way he simultaneously changes his own nature. He develops the potentialities slumbering within nature, and subjects the play of its forces to his own sovereign power (1982 , 283).
Our bodies and nature are in a continual process of co-constituting one another. Through labor, we shape the world we inhabit. This is what Marx means by metabolism. John Bellamy Foster, in his book Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature, describes this metabolic exchange as how ”an organism (or a given cell) draws upon materials and energy from its environment and converts these by way of various metabolic reactions into the building blocks of growth” (2000, 160). It marks the point of fusion between the creative capacity of humans and the physical properties of nature. This metabolic relationship with nature is now widely used by system ecologists to refer to all levels of biological interaction (Foster, 2000, 160). Simply put, through our labor we perform a metabolic exchange between two spheres — nature and body/mind — much like a Venn diagram. Foster further notes, ”[a]n essential component of the concept of metabolism has always been the notion that it constitutes the basis on which the complex web of interactions necessary to life is sustained, and growth becomes possible” (2000, 161). The metabolic circulation combines the social and physical dynamics within the larger frame of the social relations of society and production (Swyngedouw, 2006, 24). This metabolic exchange does not mean we control or dominate nature or that humans are outside nature or a simply a necessary component of a larger natural process (Henderson, 2009, 279). The metabolic relation, for Marx, is the foundation and necessary condition of history, specifically a socio-environmental history through which both nature and humans are transformed (Heynan et al., 2006, 7). Labor is the engine of human development. As Marx puts it —”[n]ature builds no machines, no locomotives, railways, electric telegraphs, self-acting mules etc. These are products of human industry; natural material transformed into organs of the human will over nature, or of human participation in nature” (1973 , 706). In a very real and physical sense, we produce the world we live in.
Paying particular attention to labor allows us to analyze that which is at the center of human existence. Moreover, examining labor in Marxist theory forms the foundation of value, exchange, commodification, and capital. As Marx noted —
[t]he labour process…is human action with a view to the production of use-values, appropriation of natural substances to human requirements; it is the necessary condition for effecting exchange of matter between man and Nature; it is the everlasting Nature-imposed condition of human existence, and therefore is independent of every social phase of that existence, or rather, is common to every such phase (2000, 497).
The goal of labor is to create value and interact with the world. Indeed, Marx notes ”[h]uman labour-power in its fluid state, or human labour, creates value, but is not itself value. It becomes value in its coagulated state, in objective form” (1982, 142). Thus, it is not our labor itself that holds value, but the products of our labor, the item that is developed from the metabolism between nature and body/mind. In most cases, our labor should be directed to create something useful something of value. As Marx notes, ”[t]he usefulness of a thing makes it a use-value…It is conditioned by the physical properties of the commodity, and has no existence apart from the latter. It is therefore the physical body of the commodity itself…which is the use-value or useful thing” (1982, 126). We can imagine this taking the form of diamonds, gold, food, and furniture. The physical component of the thing, the physical property of the commodity is what is important. Marx continues and tell us, ”[u]se values are only realized in use or in consumption. They constitute the material content of wealth, whatever its social form may be” (1982, 126). Thus, a use-value forms the foundation of wealth in society.
The commodity embodies both labor and value. The key factor that makes a use-value a commodity is that ”he must not only p