I agonized on what to title this short piece, designed to highlight the grave problems facing humanity. Is it too late to reverse the direction of global warming and the inevitable catastrophic effects of climate change, and all the other existential threats to the biosphere? In my opinion, the clock is near midnight, and a blunt assessment and recognition of what the people of the world are now facing, is way overdue. Are we productivist or anti-productivist?
Before I begin my assessment, I think a little personal background will help with my standing on the threats to the biosphere. My awareness actually began when I was in high school in the late 1950’s, but an accounting of my early consciousness will have to wait for my memoirs. The most relevant period began in 2004, when a few of us in a collective called Studies for Global Justice decided to develop a class that we titled “Converging Storms: The Crisis of Energy, Capitalism and the Environment” – Lisa Lubow, Meliza Figuaroa, Kitty Kroger, Adelle Wallace and I took five months in 2005 to develop the seven-week class. My brother Ron Warren helped out on an irregular basis. We met once a week, read dozens of books and hundreds of articles to deepen our own understanding and to develop an extensive reader for the class. At the outset, we decided to base/frame the entire class on physics/science before introducing our Marxist, socialist ideologies.
We gave the first class in the Spring of 2006. The students included members of a number of far-left groups, many independent socialists and a handful of environmental activists, most not necessarily anti-capitalist.
The impact of the class on the roughly 85 participants was varied, but profoundly challenged most of their world views. A few pulled back from ecological activism altogether, though they later returned, but many did not challenge the validity of the information yet urged us to essentially water-down our content and conclusions because it was too frightening and would lead to a feeling of hopelessness. My answer was, and has always been, that if the information is accurate, frightening or not, it is irresponsible not to present it.
We gave the class again in 2008, 2009 and 2010, then again in 2014, 2015 and 2017. In the years between 2006 and 2012, we acquired respect from LA’s environmental movement, but a majority of the organized far left were, in my view, deep in denial. I personally, in a number of public meetings, was called a “kook catastrophist,” a “Neo-Malthusian,” an “apolitical tree hugger,” and many other negative epithets – I haven’t heard any of that in-your-face name calling in the last six or seven years.
So what has changed? Reality. If you have been paying attention and are not mired in rigid ideology, then continued denial is no longer an option. I’m not going to present a bunch of graphs and charts to back up my arguments, but simply lay out what most scientists now think. I’m grounding this conclusion from the Converging Storms reader.
The first session focused on energy – what it is and why it is so important. In this short piece, I’ll keep it simple. Energy is the capacity to do work. Nothing moves without energy. The laws of thermodynamics help spell out the limitations of our access to energy. The First Law states in essence that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only changed in form. If this was all there was to it, no problem, but it’s the Second Law that throws a monkey wrench into the machinery. The Second Law of Thermodynamics, often called Entropy, declares that, in any isolated system, everything moves in one direction, hot to cold, order to disorder, unless new energy from the outside is introduced into the system. Fortunately, we have the Sun or we would have frozen solid millions of years ago.