[OPE] Alexander Cockburn on carbon catastrophism

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@tiscali.nl)
Date: Mon Feb 11 2008 - 14:15:16 EST

Well I wouldn't put it like Alex Cockburn, because I am not him, but I agree with the bit about catastrophism. My experience is that if you get obsessed with catastrophes, you will get them and more. There's been times I have been enormously worried about things and I got every bit that I worried about confirmed and realized. 

That is what this is about, really, what do we focus attention on, and why? Sometimes these days when I survey what preoccupies people I think either the world is going nuts or I am going nuts, or both, and basically I end up thinking that, whereas I like to have an open mind, I don't want to let my brains fall out, and I would rather not pay attention to certain things. 

I was introduced to environmental issues as a problem of society at about age 11, both at school and at home in the Netherlands. My father had got himself a white Austin, and the incinerator tower of the hospital down the road would rain down soot which ate itself into the paintwork of the car, which was clearly visible as it was a white car. That set me thinking, young as I was. Lateron I campaigned against nuclear power stations in New Zealand, the campaign was successful and I remember thinking, it's amazing, you can actually succeed in a political campaign. In 1978 I joined the first Green political party I know of in the world, it was the New Zealand Values Party. But around that time, the "zero-growth society" was practically reached in NZ, and the real concern people had was about jobs. The Party fell apart, and I went further to the Left, I discovered people like Andre Gorz, Harry Rothman and Barry Commoner etc. at varsity where you could plug into recent thinking. The party leader resigned, and became a banker. 

Looking back now, I would estimate that the total scale of ecological problems in the world has increased by a factor of at least 200% or 300%. That's deeply depressing if you probe into it, but it also made me think a lot more about why that is. After all, there were an enormous amount of people putting a lot of energy into increasing public awareness and devising alternative policies all the time. But nevertheless... Being rather clueless in those days, Marx gave me a lot of clues real quick, especially about "material interests" and the politics of social classes. Of course, Marx could hardly imagine the way the world is now, but his feel for the essential tendencies of world history was pretty damn good. 

But anyway the nightmarish thing is if you feel that you start reproducing the problems you diagnosed in the world, with a spirit of free inquiry, in your own personal life. In that case I reckon I've really lost the plot, like, I should be taking better care of my own setup. But beyond that it seems to me that I'm not the only one who experiences this problem, and intuitively I think this is precisely where I ought to seek the solution, thinking critically through it and verifying things for myself. As Marx recognised early on in his life, if you are capable of framing a problem, a solution is usually available, if you are attentive to the way the problems are actually framed (they could be framed in a distorted, convoluted or upside down way). But for the purpose of recognizing a solution, catastrophism is a distraction, and there I agree definitely with Cockburn. 


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