If you can stomach it.
— Ginny, Awildian (@seasonalight) May 27, 2021
I am grateful to Kevin Anderson for posting this online talk by Simon Sharpe, and unsurprised the organisers and participants wanted to extend viewings beyond Exeter University (cyber) walls. This is how these ideas are “sold” ~ there’s a structure to the method ~ and I’m afraid we are being sold a terrible injustice.
Here is Simon Sharpe’s UCL credentials. It’s perfectly obvious just how influential he is upon the Conservative Government as hosts of COP26, and in academic and international circles. He even tells us directly of his influence in China and India, places of fast-growing economies where decisions made now are massively important to planetary outcomes. This is a man with, no doubt, a successful background in physics and finance, and a perfect mindset to illustrate just how tragic this type of narrow expertise can be at high levels of influence across the globe. He may not even realise it, but he’s NOT an ecological thinker and he’s NOT an Earth systems thinker. Politically, his ideas are fuel for the excessive greed that is neoliberal capitalism, even in a “zero-emissions” world.
Without ecological and Earth systems thought, despite however many times there is mention of anthropogenic “ecosystems”*, normative ethical actions stemming from such ideas and language will always come to fail the biosphere (Homo sapiens and teresapiens), and do little, if anything, to end THE SIXTH EXTINCTION EVENT. **
Bring yourself to listen to what Sharpe is saying. This is the heart of the next phase of neoliberal economics, on “Clean Growth” (an oxymoron), and it is utterly taken for granted. No alternatives are discussed nor proposed. And yet there are alternatives (Daly, Bookchin, DeMartino, Raworth, even my own Cherishism resists by applying the gift economy and locaceding land back to ecological community).
Sharpe represents, I’m afraid, a critical and growing turn against what Joanna Macy called so hopefully the “Great Turning”, and I reference her again below.
As far as consumers are concerned, expect a hacking into the worth of every one of us as fairly mindless units of consumption. In fairness, this is what “economists” often do. We are each granted a simple binary role in a bigger machine ~ a yay or nay agency, to buy or not to buy ~ and we are labelled “decision-makers.” As such, we are not vessels of worth outside of economies, harbourers of multiple values, including acting on inherent or intrinsic worth. Instead, we are simply cogs in a machine set up by a political and legislative framework that offers NO CHOICE but international competition, growth, & wealth accumulation (for the few), and within the frames of climate rationalism and neoliberal capitalist economies only. This itself is a form of control, a manipulation.
NO reference is made to equity nor ecology, nor invaluable and hard-earned ancient ways of knowing, valuing or doing. De-growth is termed “disequilibrium,” just to shake us all up (we all are led to believe that a harmonious life is all about equilibrium, are we not?). “Cost” analysis is the focus, not “profit” analysis because it is absolutely taken for granted in this economic system: that “profits” will attract new Green business to the so-called “clean energy” revolution in products offered for sale in expanding markets. Lucrative profit, and the unfair distribution of it, is far from what we know to be truly progressive, however; the cruelties of inequity and injustice, and the suffering these bring, far distanced from the conversation, as well as unchecked ecological and social resource exploitation, and wastes integral to capitalism (even with legislative caps).
I hear the word “systems analysis” over and over again as if it were a panacea for all problems to be solved, but absent from the whole equation is the fullest set of subsystems that constitutes Earth system, and it is this that sustains life. Capitalist economic systems are hugely bifurcating and injurious things, with a competitive ethic that is exclusive and where “value” is limited to money only (a fairly common yet totally unhinged mentality).
On the whole, “The Economy” is referenced as if it is God. We are given no further descriptive elements as to what kind of economy that could be, which values and structures such an economy can nurture, nor the character or organisation of the people that control it. It is taken for granted we are talking about the Capitalist economy, but we know the corporations and billionaires are up to their necks in it all, and this is just what is deemed legal. All crunch points are supported by eloquent quotations, of course, which helps as a communication accelerator by leaving the impression that we are in the company of great understanding. It’s just a pity the whole ethic communicated is so ecologically flawed, and quite frankly, bankrupt in the most basic of Earthly ways.
For this ethic to proliferate, Sharpe views investment in technology as the answer to adaptation and mitigation, not life-value change. Of course, he does! Capital markets rely on such products. Universities, skewed towards science and engineering, are now largely funded by big corporate and government R&D partnerships, with agreements to claw back via the cornering of markets. “Of course, Britain wants a piece of that [EV] action!” Do we? There’s no full ecological and social critique offered, no pros and cons aired. How many more roads and bridges need to be built to accommodate them, with ecologies fragmented and lost?
There’s a scattering of consequentialist ideas, sure, “prosperity” in a zero-emissions world, but still entirely detached from ecology and equity. These are very powerful intellectual manoeuvres founded on a myth! If we do not nurture ecological biodiversity and abundance and face the conflict, trauma and suffering caused by human inequity, this most abnormal normative ethic will take us straight to hell, and we’ll continue to bring all kinds of living beings down too.
The debate on whether “environmentalism” should hone in on economic price or profit misses an enormous point. The object of sale in the market or markets, even if it is a service (see Daly on the myths of decoupling), from conception through time and space, is simply a conversion of nature into a product. This ignores all relationships and impacts with Earth systems until it is, in theory, no longer an object. Sharpe, in rationalising cost/benefits and risk, can’t relate to the full deficit (social and ecological injury), because I genuinely believe he doesn’t understand it.
Instead, the emphasis is on RISK as some vague “business lens” to quantify what I try to describe more inclusively as closing the Transilience Gap. The gap, to him, is simply fewer emissions. How misguided could a person be? He mentions nothing ~ NOTHING ~ on global or local Contraction and Convergence theory (Meyer), because it does not suit the vested interests of Post-Colonial Western powers. And, as ever with these kinds of conversations, there is NO mention of the deep shifts in values and ethics necessary to live within the bounds of natural flows. We must resist this extreme eco-capitalism or “eco-modernism” now, “modern” rooted firmly in the “invisible hands” of the 18th Century!
Neoliberal economists, I’m sorry to say, don’t expect we cogs to think. Thinking is a radical act. As a symbioethicist, LIFE’s symbiotic mutualities, processes, relatedness, interconnectedness and relationships are the wellspring of wellbeing and can only exist by welldoing. Fluminism, I contend, is a resistance to these norms that threaten to continue to destroy LIFE as we know it. An important part of that Fluministic life is an egalitarian ecoliteracy education. If only these “influencers” would surrender their power and influence to the loving and Earth-saving act of the pedagogy, and more, the cultural agency of change, instilling values that Macy and her peers called The Great Turning (see her concisely edited lecture below).
We must all be able to choose our own stories, and not be manipulated by the stories of powerful people and their allies who simply regard us as cogs, pushing products and profitable markets as panaceas. This is a steal, and it’s going on right in front of our eyes. Neither do we need to accept influence from those who neither grasp the elegance and complexity of Earth systems nor wish to deviate from selfish Capitalist norms. See what might flourish from the alternatives instead. They could just lead to the most exciting, natural, and fair transitions imaginable.
* I just want to remind you that neither bringing teresapien living beings into the capitalist economy under the heading Natural Capitalism will do anything but create further harm.
** Human ecology CAN NEVER BE SEPARATED FROM ALL LIFE.