Climate Change: The Elephant in the Room

The elephant in the room is trampling all over us. Yet we’re still living, thinking and talking as though it were not there.

Climate change is so inescapable, so entangled within the definition of our politico-economic system, that to explore it, to educate about it, is to create a wide-spread existential crisis wherein the persistence of the very thing by which millions of us in some way identify and define ourselves – our culture – is perceived as both necessary for very short-term pleasure but morally abominable for the sake of those millions who have, are or will suffer and die as a consequence of it.

As such, discussions surrounding the climate breakdown are not being appropriately entertained by those in power (nor the media). They know that such discussions, if made publicly, would expose our economic system for what it really is (i.e., the root cause of the climate issue), and would certainly cause public outcry – they know that very well. However, maintained as a mere side issue, the realities of climate change will unlikely be exposed and the necessary changes never made. Those in power will retain their grip.

In reality, however, they are not psychopaths. They are not intentionally drowning, burning and starving people (though that is what they/we are all doing). They’re simply petrified to face up to the moral imperative. They’re fully aware of their irrationalities; they can feel the increasing pull of their inner cognitive dissonances. But to talk about climate change would require them to iron out their irrationalities, bring their subconscious biases to the fore, force them to realise their complicity in Othering, which would ultimately oblige them to change who they are. Regrettably, to many, that notion is more terrifying than the seemingly distant idea that our culture, in keeping with its very definition, is currently committing mass genocide (1, 2, 3, 4).

You see, it is not simply the case that people must accept climate change as a reality. We must also explore its causes and implications and talk about them and shout about them, and be outwardly furious with the forces that continue in trying to avert our eyes from them – even if this means that in so doing we ourselves suffer a little. For the sake of humanity, and for those you profess to love, be willing to challenge yourself. Be willing to talk about climate change. Further still, encourage it.

But the media is talking about climate change, is it not?  Yes, albeit sporadically and obtusely. The typical style of the ostensibly rare pieces of coverage concerning the relationship between climate change and, for example, Hurricane Irma or Harvey obstruct the wider conversation. That conversation would lead us to recognise that our deep-seated consumerism, our self-professed right to newer, better, more, is the cause of it all. (I suspect it’d also lead us to recognise that the depraved neo-liberal system in which we live is based on a theory of democratic “consent without consent”).

Many of the reports caveat that freak weather events are not caused by climate change (1, 2). This is extremely damaging for two reasons: Firstly, the inclusion of such caveats (regardless of whether such a report exaggerates that the increasing ferocity, frequency and consequent suffering to ‘natural disasters’ is directly linked to human-induced climate change) foolishly reassures already steadfast climate change sceptics. Secondly, and most importantly, this caveating deflects blame away from those who created the problem, i.e., us! – the post-industrial capitalist world. It serves to destroy our sense of agency, enabling us to reject responsibility. It solidifies climate change as a side issue, as something not deserving of inquiry or exposition, and ultimately promotes the damning political praxis of business as usual.

As long as the media persists in caveating, as long as we fail in holding those in power to account, and as long as we entertain the deluded idea that we and the culture by which we define ourselves is not the problem, the greater the catastrophes will become. It is our duty to start talking openly and candidly about the elephant in the room.


A.C. Stark

Recommended Reading
Introductory: 10 Billion;  2071: The World We’ll Leave Our Grandchildren
Advanced: Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations;  Fossil Capital
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Populism: Activism’s Evil Twin

A word has been washing around in the media, spilling from the plump and pouted lips of politicians and journalists everywhere, with a meaning that is surreptitiously adapted at every convenient opportunity. It’s as though they’re all in on the act, utilising the word to make specious claims about things which in reality they have no factually-based ideas. The only certainty about this term is that it serves a receptacle function, enabling any debate within which it plays a significant role to be argued from divergent purposes, ever evading truth and certainty. Is it a Trojan Horse, a decoy, a false premise, or just utterly confused empty talk? What are people really talking about when they speak of ‘populism’? 

One answer is that populism denotes a society with a heightened degree of political engagement. In which case, the term ‘populism’ has recently been used as a veil to mask what is otherwise known as democracy, disguising it as an undesirable, even radical ideology deserving of great criticism. When sold under the guise of an “-ism”, the term becomes categorised alongside real ideologies, truly deserving of our concern (be it socialism, capitalism, fascism – now rebranded, the ‘alt-right’ – etcetera). And when the term is propagated by the media, given precedence in discourse above some truly heinous, yet increasingly popular alternative political and economic systems, more important issues relating to the corruptive intention of this term’s use become buried and forgotten under pages and pages of hypocrisy: Long live democracy, down with populism! This is the layman’s view, and has been interpreted by many as David Cameron’s view also.

Perhaps, however, populism isn’t about the political actions or championing of the common folk and their expressions against whichever branch of the politico-economic elite that they deem either (at best) detached from the needs of society or (at worst) entirely uncivilised. Maybe it has nothing to do with political empowerment or mobilisation whatsoever. Maybe it’s simply a descriptive term, used as shorthand to express a state of democracy, whereby the people take democratic action as a consequence of the system force-feeding them ‘untruths’ within a ‘post-factual’ era – still implying that it is the people and not the system that is untrustworthy, denigrating the value of democracy without appearing to do so. Indeed, a world in which the people’s opinions can do easily be called into question would be utterly enticing, would it not? Opportunities to defend the infallible necessity of radical paternalism would regularly present themselves, clearing the road to a seemingly democratic plutocracy! Bliss. Oh what a beautiful world… I kid, of course, but that’s how Donald Trump’s cabinet seem to be benefiting from populism (12).

But then, maybe it is not the political system that is populistic. Maybe it is the politicians themselves who are the populists – popularising themselves and their prejudices via vicious demagoguery and nationalistic fear mongering. If this is the case, then it appears as though populism isn’t being used as a veil but instead creates the veil through which the electorate are presented a skewed and biased version of democracy. (This leads one to consider whether contemporary populism is a symptom of neoliberalism – read here).

In one sense, these two ideas – that populism describes a state of true democracy and that it is the leaders, the protagonists and not the people who are the populists – both hold true. Just as an activist movement can be described as democratic action, so too can a populist movement. Similarly, activist and populist movements and groups share the characteristic of being led by those who we might also refer to as activists or populists. This might suggest that activism and populism are one and the same; activists are populists and populists are activists.

However, what differentiates these two schools (as far as I see it), if they are truly differentiable at all, is that activism is led by the virtuous and populism is lead by the incongruous. What this means is that, quite unfortunately, well-intentioned, politically-engaged people, who might otherwise be seen as activists, unknowingly become populists when their chieftains decide to take the low road, promoting their positions through deceitful means, justifying them using pseudo-academic literature. (Which is suggested by the rhetoric and subsequent rise of history’s most prominent populist leaders as being so tightly associated with and attributed to post-fact politics. As two examples of this rising trend, Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump come to mind here. Hence, whilst Bernie Sanders may be described, perhaps even criticised as a champion of activism, Trump is populism’s equivalent, as was Hitler during his rise). In short, populism is activism’s evil twin.

So, whilst activism is the attempt by the people to perpetuate democracy through social empowerment, populism is the attempt to perpetuate politico-economic empowerment through pseudo-democracy. Populism is democracy gone wrong. And whether or not you find this conception compelling, one thing is for sure: ‘populism’ is rarely ever what is seems.

 

A.C. Stark