The latest data makes it clear that, even after the vaccine has spread, we cannot afford to relax. The pandemic is not over (the number of infections is rising and perhaps new ones await us lockdown ) and other catastrophes are on the horizon. In late June in the northwestern United States and southwestern Canada, a heat bubble – a meteorological phenomenon in which high pressure traps and compresses hot air, causing temperatures to rise – caused the thermometer to rise to nearly fifty degrees. centigrade, making Vancouver warmer than the Middle East.
This phenomenon is the culmination of a much broader process: Northern Scandinavia and Siberia have regularly passed the big thirty in recent years. The World Meteorological Organization is trying to verify a new record of maximum temperatures north of the Arctic Circle, after the weather station in Verchojansk, Siberia, recorded 38 degrees on June 20. In the Russian city of Oymyakon, considered the coldest inhabited place on Earth, it was the hottest June ever (31.6 degrees). Put simply, climate change is frying the northern hemisphere.
The heat bubble is a local phenomenon, but it is the result of a global climate trend that depends on human intervention on natural cycles. While it is true that the climate is overheating, this process culminates in extreme local manifestations, which sooner or later will form a chain of global critical moments. To put it bluntly: we will have to get used to living with various simultaneous crises. If we look at the data clearly, there is a conclusion that we can draw: every living being has death as its latest output (for this reason Derek Humphry entitled his book on assisted suicide Euthanasia: emergency exit , Eleuthera 1993). Ecological crises open the realistic prospect of a last exit (collective suicide) for humanity. But is there a last exit from our path towards perdition? Or is it already too late and there is nothing left to do but find a painless suicide?
We should learn to accept our environment in all its complex mixture
What should we do? First of all, reject the cliché that we are a part of nature and not its center. According to this idea, to combat climate crises we should change our way of life: limit individualism, develop new solidarity and accept our modest role on this planet. As Judith Butler wrote, “A habitable world for humans depends on an Earth that flourishes and does not have humans at its center.”
But isn’t it true that global warming requires collective interventions that will have consequences on the delicate balance between forms of life? When we say that the temperature rise must be kept below two degrees, we speak as if we are the supervisors of life on Earth, not one species among others. The regeneration of the planet depends on this titanic task. If we also have to worry about the life of water and air, it means that we are what Marx defines as “universal beings”, that is, capable of going out of ourselves and perceiving ourselves as a secondary moment of the totality of nature.
Seeking refuge in the modesty of our mortality is an illusory exit and will lead us to catastrophe. As universal beings, we should learn to accept our environment in all its complex mixture, which includes what we perceive as pollution, as well as what we cannot directly perceive because it is too big or too small, what the British philosopher Timothy Morton calls the “hyperobjects”. For Morton, being ecologists does not mean “spending time in an unspoiled nature reserve, but appreciating the grass that makes its way through the cracks in the asphalt, and then appreciating the asphalt. It is part of the world and it is also part of us. Reality is populated with strange strangers, things that are knowable but mysterious ”.
“This strange oddity,” Morton writes, “is an irreducible element of any rock, tree, terrarium, plastic Statue of Liberty or black hole that a person might stumble upon. Admitting it, we move away from the idea of trying to manage objects and we move towards that of learning to respect them in their ineffability ”. Morton includes in the category of nature all that is frightening, ugly, artificial. An example of this mixture of things is the fate of the Manhattan rats during the pandemic. Manhattan is a living system of humans, cockroaches and millions of rats. During the lockdown, the restaurants were closed and the rats who lived on garbage were deprived of their source of livelihood. This resulted in a mass famine and it turned out that many rats ate their pups. The closure of the restaurants turned out to be a catastrophe for mice.
A similar incident had already occurred in the past. In 1958, at the beginning of the great leap forward, the Chinese government declared birds “the public animals of capitalism” and launched a broad campaign to exterminate sparrows suspected of eating grain. Sparrow nests and eggs were destroyed, and chicks were killed. These attacks decimated the sparrows population, pushing them almost to extinction. However, in April 1960 the Chinese leaders were forced to realize that the sparrows also ate large quantities of insects in the fields and after the campaign to eliminate them the rice crops, instead of increasing, decreased: the extermination of the sparrows upset the biological balance, and insects destroyed the plantations. With no sparrows eating them, the number of locusts exploded, devastating the countryside and amplifying the ecological problems already caused by the great leap forward, including widespread deforestation and the misuse of poisons and pesticides. The ecological imbalance is believed to have exacerbated the great Chinese famine, during which an estimated 15 to 55 million people died of starvation.
The response to the heat bubble in the US and Canada should not only involve affected areas, but target global causes
So we have to accept that we are one of many species on the planet, but at the same time we have to act as supervisors of life on Earth. Since we haven’t been able to take any other exits (global temperatures are rising, oceans are increasingly polluted and so on), it seems increasingly likely that the last exit before the final one (the collective suicide of humanity) will be some version of war communism. I am not talking about a rehabilitation or continuation of the “really existing socialism” of the twentieth century nor about the global adoption of the Chinese model, but about measures imposed by the situation in which we live.
When we come to terms with a threat to our existence, we enter a state of emergency such as in wartime, which can last for years. To ensure the minimum conditions of our survival it is inevitable to mobilize all our resources, if we want to deal with things like the displacement of tens, perhaps hundreds of millions of people due to global warming. The response to the heat bubble in the US and Canada should not just involve affected areas, but target global causes. And, as the catastrophe underway in southern Iraq clarifies – where temperatures exceeded 50 degrees in July and at the same time the electricity grid collapsed, stopping refrigerators, air conditioners and lighting – a state apparatus capable of guaranteeing a minimum of well-being people in difficult conditions will need to avoid society’s outbursts of anger.
All of these things can be – and will be – achieved only through international cooperation, social control, regulation of agriculture and industry, the transformation of our basic eating habits – less beef consumption -, global health coverage. and so on. It is clear that representative democracy alone will not be sufficient to carry out this task. A much stronger executive power, capable of maintaining long-term commitments, must be accompanied by the self-organization of the people and a strong international body capable of prevailing over the will of the nation states.
I am not talking about a new world government: such an entity would generate immense corruption. And I am not talking about the abolition of markets: market competition should play a role, even if it is regulated and controlled. So why use the term “communism”? Because what we are going to do contains four aspects of a radical regime. In the first place there is a voluntaristic dimension: the necessary changes are not rooted in any historical necessity, but will be obtained against the spontaneous trend of history. As Walter Benjamin said, we have to pull the emergency brake on the train of history. Then there is the egalitarianism: global solidarity, health coverage and a decent life for all. Then there are elements of what can only appear to the most passionate liberals as a “terror”, the taste of which we have become familiar with with the pandemic: limitation of many personal freedoms and new models of control. Finally, there is trust in people: everything would be lost without the participation of ordinary people.
It is not a dystopian vision, but the result of a simple evaluation of the condition in which we find ourselves. If we do not take this path, what we already observe in Russia and the United States will happen: the ruling elite is preparing for its survival in gigantic underground bunkers in which thousands of people can continue to live for months, with the excuse that the government activity must continue even in these conditions. Our elites are already organizing themselves for this scenario. And that means they know full well that the alarm bell is ringing.
By Slavoj Žižek, International, Translation by Federico Ferrone