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Climate & Capitalism: Hung for a Sheep as for a Lamb


Global warming and capitalist history

I don’t know if you caught Chomsky’s most recent column, as reproduced in the pixels over at Alternet: “U.S. Plunges the Cradle of Civilization into Disaster, While Its Oil-Based Empire Destroys the Earth’s Climate.” There’s some good stuff there, but Chomsky finds it hard to remain focused when he’s pouring on the dire warnings. After some dire warnings about Mideast politics, he proceeds to discuss the most recent IPCC draft report. Here’s some good news: the IPCC is now on the side of the “keep the grease in the ground” movement, the movement I suggested back in 2009. As the Democracy Now piece tells us:

If global warming is to be adequately contained, the report says, at least three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground.

Chomsky indeed mentions this too. (Remember, folks — my heterodox thinking will become mainstream in a few years!) At any rate, one of the main points of this piece is that “humanity is responsible,” which oversimplifies the idea of “humanity.” Here’s how Chomsky phrases it:

The era of civilization coincides closely with the geological epoch of the Holocene, beginning over 11,000 years ago. The previous Pleistocene epoch lasted 2.5 million years. Scientists now suggest that a new epoch began about 250 years ago, the Anthropocene, the period when human activity has had a dramatic impact on the physical world.

But the human race is not 250 years old. The human race is 200,000 years old. As for the “era of civilization,” perhaps the era of settled agricultural society, from 11,000 BCE to the present, “coincides closely with” the geological era marked from the end of the last ice age, but it isn’t agriculture that’s bringing about the imminent climate disaster we will be experiencing soon. It’s when we start thinking of the “anthropocene” that we become confused about the causes of the current crisis.

So what is it that’s 250 years old? I know! It’s capitalism! Thus Jason W. Moore proposed an alternative to the “anthropocene” — the “capitalocene.” Here’s the gist of Moore’s argument:

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