In a recent blog post on the Corespondent.com, Eric Holthaus’ observations were as astute as ever. I frequently hear advocates for social, economic, and climate justice argue for the inclusion of justice actions along with climate action. As an extension of fossil-fueled empire-building following colonial confiscations and brutality, the global political economy was founded in violence toward all peoples its elites seek to control. Justice is long overdue.
An important, though rarely mentioned point of fact, however, is that the primacy of justice is not only the correct moral path for society. Societal action in response to the climate emergency cannot succeed without a fundamental necessary component, social and economic justice.
Rebellion is Not Enough
I spent a dozen years researching the social, political, and economic factors in the climate emergency for my forthcoming book, At the Edge of Illusion: Facing the New Great Transformation. In that time, it became abundantly clear that whatever amount of social protest and pressure for governments to act in the human interest is applied, it will not be enough.
Only if humans take the strongest of measures to transform their societies to shape ecologically viable communities can the climate crisis be resolved. Humans must actively restore the ecosystems on which they depend locally and regionally for climate action to succeed. We must take it to the next level beyond the rebellion Roger Hallam argues for in Common Sense for the 21st Century. Deep societal transformation must accompany the Extinction Rebellion.
As Holthaus rightfully point out, viable climate action is not merely a technical matter, as the business-as-usual technophile eco-modernists would have it. The unavoidable necessity is to transform the global corporate extractive industrial-consumer economy into many local egalitarian ecological communities. That is the only way we can both reverse the path of Earth-System destruction while simultaneously restoring diverse ecosystems and the Earth System itself.
No Easy Way Out
That will necessarily entail massive societal disruption, something most folks are not willing to contemplate. The global class of super-rich elites is no longer sustainable, nor is the extreme inequality they cause. The alternative is evermore massive disruption of the very foundations of human survival.
The current burning of the American West, flooding of the Midwest, and inundation of the Gulf Coast are just harbingers of things to come. We will probably experience significant depopulation in the coming decades due to climate and ecological disruptions already in the “pipeline.” However, with comprehensive societal transformation, we may yet avoid the worst of it.
Holthaus’ excellent climate journalism seems to imply everything I have just said. If I am correct in that, Holthaus, as a widely read and respected climate journalist, has performed a great service. He has articulated the necessity for transforming “our relationship with one another and with nature.” That transformation must inherently dismantle the obscene inequalities forced upon the world by the global political-economic elites.
Only then can we form viable ecological communities with the high level of equality necessary to at least partially re-stabilize our Earth System. As so powerfully demonstrated in Wilkinson and Pickett’s The Spirit Level, greater equality makes societies stronger. Severely reducing inequality may make communities strong enough to overcome the monumental difficulties ahead.
In his new book, The Future Earth: A Radical Vision for What’s Possible in the Age of Warming, Holthaus writes, “We need more than just renewable energy. We need more than just tearing down the fossil fuel industry and capitalism. We need to develop a whole new type of human society.” That kind of realism is where our hope for human survival must reside.