A Few Thoughts On The #Accelerate Manifesto And Climate Change

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Dieser Post ist auf Englisch, weil die Debatte um den Akzelerationismus derzeit vor allem auf Englisch stattfindet.

Last week Sam and I attended the Accelerationism-Symposium in Berlin. I’ve been fairly enthusiastic about the Accelerate Manifesto ever since Sam showed it to me in summer and we translated it into German. The discussion at the symposium was very academic, and while I’m decidedly not an academic and a few of the questions bordered on self-parody („What about the work of Adorno and Heidegger? Do you just discard it?“), I found most of it very interesting and surprisingly in-depth. I do believe however, that if the Manifesto is to gain influence in wider political circles, it would benefit from a type of discussion that is not only academic and abstract. It would benefit from having its assumptions applied to the specific political challenges alluded to in its own introduction. Since the Manifesto has its origins in the context of Speculative Realism, I would label such a discussion realistic speculation.

The Manifesto recognizes climate change as the most pressing problem of our time right in its second paragraph, but it doesn’t specifically speak of climate change ever again. On the symposium the author’s thoughts on how to address the specific challenges posed by climate change remained disappointingly shallow. One of the conference’s organizers told me later over a beer that he thought the Manifesto didn’t speak about climate change at all, but rather used it as a hook. So the first statement needs to be one of priorities: Climate change is not an „opportunity“, it’s not a „lever“ and it’s not a „hook“ to be used for achieving greater societal good. The breadth of the challenges it poses (from the adaptation to the catastrophes we won’t be able to prevent – think food distribution, giant see-walls etc., to the rapid decarbonisation of the entire world economy any „manageable“ stabilization of the climate requires), the destruction it threatens and the distressingly small probability of us mounting an adequate response essentially prohibit such a framing. Climate change is in itself a deeply social issue. It already hits many poor and underprivileged people all over the world with brute force, while most of the west and other middle and upper classes remain sheltered by the very carbon-generated wealth that continues to fuel the crisis. So the question is not how climate change can best be used for a promethean revival of Marxism, but if such a revival can provide a theoretical framework that makes an adequate response to climate change more likely.

I think the Manifesto shows a lot of promise in this regard. Its focus on repurposing existing technologies is very relevant to the speedy decarbonisation that we need. We better hope their wager, that today’s technology holds a lot of transformative potential that we just haven’t recognized yet, holds true. The example most cited by climate-change-activists on this is the complete turnaround of the U.S.- economy in the second world war, when they started building tanks and planes from scratch in a matter of months. It would be exciting to see some research on the potential such drastic repurposing would yield today.

Many of the mainstream environmental organizations are stuck between two conflicting positions: advocating for the technological vanguard of renewable energy on the one hand, and engaging in the regressive localist fantasies the Manifesto rightly decries on the other. The Manifesto offers a position that is emphatically pro-technology, without giving in to the false belief that technology will by itself solve the problem, hinting at a climate movement that can disassociate itself from the often limiting context of contemporary environmentalism and take off the blinders in regards to nuclear power and geoengineering.

But we will need more than a climate movement to solve climate change. David Roberts of grist.com may have put it best when he said that „a ‚climate movement‘ can never succeed; for sufficient progress, sustainability must be woven throughout the socioeconomic fabric.“ The attempted reimaginations of labor and democracy in the Manifesto could be used to serve such an end. Parliamentary democracy may be, to borrow Churchill’s famous quote, „the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time“, but there may be an even less bad form of government out there, that we just haven’t tried yet. Especially since the current system seems particularly inept at confronting the problem, as that would require the middle-classes of the north to vote against their own immediate economic interests.

The term „sustainability“ itself is, however, completely absent from the Manifesto. A rather glaring omission, given the centrality of the concept. The term has come under fire from many „avantgarde“ leftists, who feel it is regressive, takes the focus away from social improvement and serves to cement the current injustices for eternity. Such a critique is oblivious to the fact that unless we succeed in putting the human enterprise on sustainable footing, every social achievement will be for naught. There will be no societies left to improve. The misuse and co-opting of „sustainability“ by politicians and big business shouldn’t drive us away from the concept as such. The notion of sustainability of course also runs counter to some of the Manifesto’s wilder techno-futuristic aspirations. It would have been a lot more interesting to engage in this contradiction and to propose a way in which a society rightly preoccupied with sustainability can retain and foster such aspirations than to treat the whole thing as a non-issue.

Anyone who knows something about climate change knows that time is running out, and fast. Nobody can say for sure if we even still have a chance of stopping climate breakdown. One of the very few credible „positive“ outlooks I’ve read is the one proposed by Paul Gilding in his book „The Great Disruption“. Gilding thinks the reality of climate change will hit public consciousness rather abruptly at the end of this decade, and then the transformation will occur much faster than anyone predicted. What may trigger such a collective awakening? One of the fastest escalating consequences of climate change has been arctic sea ice loss. Recent studies suggest we may see an ice-free summer at the north pole as early as 2016. Unlike droughts, storms and other weather phenomena that have always existed in the public eye, and thusly can be explained away, the disappearance of arctic ice has been so closely associated with climate change in the media, that one can hope for a reverberating effect of that image. The „future shock“ many people will experience at that moment, will not be one of exhilaration with technology, but one of disappointment. In the back of their minds, many people continue to believe that technology alone will solve the problem, but at that moment they will see that this is not the case. It will be the acceleratonist’s duty to point out, that this is not the fault of technology as such, but of the misuse of technology by a system that incentivized greed and myopia. But that will be an awfully nuanced point to make in a no doubt frenzied and panicked public debate, and it remains to be seen how well it fares against the millennia-old narrative of human hubris.

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2 Antworten zu A Few Thoughts On The #Accelerate Manifesto And Climate Change

  1. Nick Srnicek schreibt:

    Hey Frederik, thanks for your comments on the manifesto. I think there’s a couple issues to separate out – one is the imminent threat of climate change, and the other is the long-term panoramic view of what ‚humanity‘ is. (I use scare quotes there because, like what Reza Negarestani argues, I think what the human is, is always a going-beyond of itself.)

    You’re right to highlight that we didn’t use the term ’sustainable‘ in reference to climate change, and in part this is because of the way in which this term has been so watered-down as to mean very little. But there is something to the term, and any answer to the climate problem (which I’m pessimistic about a solution to), will necessarily involve some modicum of sustainability. This does mean a change in the nature of our economies and in everyday habits, and is immensely difficult. All of that is necessary to respond to the imminent threat of climate change though.

    But then there’s the wide-view on what humanity is, and the manifesto at least implicitly is trying to recuperate an alternative modernity. Which means an alternative notion of progress, self-criticism, self-determination, and control over natural forces (including those within our bodies). And it’s from this vision that ideas about Prometheanism emerge, and ideas about cosmist utopias. We are free – and we are human – only insofar as we are aiming to construct rational orders and expand our powers of self-determination. And these necessarily have an expansive force to them – meaning we can’t be content with localism, or even with a steady-state economy. To be human in this sense means we can’t give up on Enlightenment principles or modernist notions of progress.

    Now there’s a tension there between immediate needs and long-term tendencies, but I don’t think it’s impossible to weave between them. It just takes finesse (which also makes me pessimistic about any happy resolution to climate change). But I wrote a piece recently which gives a partial (and only partial) view on how these things can be weaved together: http://review31.co.uk/article/view/196/prometheanism-and-the-precautionary-principle

    Hope that clarifies it somewhat!

  2. Pingback: The #Accelerate Manifesto and Climate Change 2 | Istina

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