Tuesday, April 28, 2020

This Is What You're Up Against. Why Neoliberalism Must Go.

It's useful, every now and then, to reflect on what we're up against. Today, that's the neoliberal order. To some, neoliberalism has become just another dirty word. Neoliberalism = bad. Puppy dogs = good, I suppose. Failing to recognize just how embedded neoliberalism has become in so many aspects of our lives is dangerous. Think of neoliberalism as "our failing trajectory."

The value system of neoliberalism, which has since become entrenched in global mainstream discourse, holds that humans are individualistic, selfish, calculating materialists, and because of this, unrestrained free-market capitalism provides the best framework for every kind of human endeavor. Through their control of government, finance, business, and media, neoliberal adherents have succeeded in transforming the world into a globalized market-based system, loosening regulatory controls, weakening social safety nets, reducing taxes, and virtually demolishing the power of organized labor. 
The triumph of neoliberalism has led to the greatest inequality in history, where (based on the most recent statistics) the world’s twenty-six richest people own as much wealth as half the entire world’s population. It has allowed the largest transnational corporations to establish a stranglehold over other forms of organization, with the result that, of the world’s hundred largest economies, sixty-nine are corporations. The relentless pursuit of profit and economic growth above all else has propelled human civilization onto a terrifying trajectory. The uncontrolled climate crisis is the most obvious danger: The world’s current policies have us on track for more than 3° increase by the end of this century, and climate scientists publish dire warnings that amplifying feedbacks could make things far worse than even these projections, and thus place at risk the very continuation of our civilization. 
But even if the climate crisis were somehow brought under control, a continuation of untrammeled economic growth in future decades will bring us face-to-face with a slew of further existential threats. Currently, our civilization is running at 40% above its sustainable capacity. We’re rapidly depleting the earth’s forests, animals, insects, fish, freshwater, even the topsoil we require to grow our crops. We’ve already transgressed three of the nine planetary boundaries that define humanity’s safe operating space, and yet global GDP is expected to more than double by mid-century, with potentially irreversible and devastating consequences
In 2017 over fifteen thousand scientists from 184 countries issued an ominous warning to humanity that time is running out: “Soon it will be too late,” they wrote, “to shift course away from our failing trajectory.” They are echoed by the government-approved declaration of the UN-sponsored IPCC, that we need “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” to avoid disaster.
Can you read that and not get a faint whiff of serfdom? That's what neoliberalism has wrought and a lot of it has been engineered by well intentioned people, including our current prime minister. Justin Trudeau is a champion of perpetual exponential growth through free trade neoliberalism. Does it really matter if he's well intentioned or malevolent? A bit maybe but not much. No matter how well intentioned, neoliberalism offers no future for humanity.

You might have heard that documentary film maker and social activist, Michael Moore, has caused an uproar in environmentalist ranks with his new film, "Planet of the humans." You can watch it free on YouTube at that link.  Moore thinks his argument is urgent enough that his documentary should be given away.

Moore has been widely criticized for undermining the campaign against fossil fuels and the drive to transition to alternative, clean energy.  Critics say he's using discredited arguments hatched by the fossil fuel industry to attack guys like Bill McKibbon, Al Gore, even Michael Mann.  My sense of Moore's attack is that he sees the fight against climate breakdown as a distraction that keeps us from seeing the truly dire threats - overpopulation and rapacious, excess consumption.  But, at the end of the day, this has become a circular firing squad.

Those who have followed this blog these past fourteen years probably know my position - they're both right. Climate breakdown, overpopulation and the exhaustion of the biosphere through over-consumption are all existential threats. When you face existential threats you must resolve all of them or you will solve none of them. And, yes, humanity is now confronted with multiple, existential threats.

One of my favourite climate scientists is Colombian-born, Canadian and American-educated, Camilo Mora who heads a climate research lab at the University of Hawaii.

I was delighted when, in July, 2014, in an interview with YaleEnvironment360, Mora broke the taboo against venturing outside the bounds of climate science.

I grew up in a country where there has been a long history of violence. We have been in war for 50 years, and one thing people don’t realize is what it means to be in a place where anyone can get shot at any moment, where people are starved to death, where there is not enough food to feed people. In the first world, people don’t know how rich they are, and they don’t realize what is happening in the rest of the world. And for me that’s a driving force. It’s scary to think about climate change because when we start damaging physical systems and the carrying capacity of physical systems to produce food, people will react to this in a terrible way. I’m telling you, I have seen it in my own country. It’s very negative the way in which people react to hunger. And that’s one of the things that’s most frightening to me with this large-scale analysis — the fact that I know we’re on our way to some very disturbing scenarios if we go down this pathway of damaging physical systems in the ways that we are today.
On speaking out about overpopulation.
Well, it’s paramount because people need food. And the planet is limited in the amount of resources that it can produce. We already have calculated that the planet has on the order of 11 billion hectares that can be harvested in a sustainable manner. Of course we can increase the number by increasing technology, but that’s been happening for the last three decades. The worldwide population is 7 billion people, and we know that to sustain a human being you need on the order of two hectares per person. That means that the world human population every year consumes on the order of 14 billion hectares. The planet only has eleven to give to us. Every year, we consume in excess of three billion hectares. What I’m suggesting is to inform people about the environmental and social costs of having a child.

e360: In a paper in Ecology and Society, you were quite critical of the conservation biology community and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for not talking about the issue of overpopulation. Why, in your estimation, don’t they talk about this issue? What is holding them back? 
Mora: It’s pure fear. It seems amazing, but friends of mine recommended to me not to publish that paper. They said, “This paper is going to be damaging to you. You don’t get it. You don’t need it.” What is remarkable, though, is that after the paper got published, I had multiple people calling me to endorse it. 
e360: Did they endorse it publicly? 
Mora: No, just to me. This is really the problem. But why we don’t take it on? I have no clue. Because the data are very clear. I guess the problem is that it can backfire. We have seen, historically, situations in which a scientist has taken on an issue and there are people who have been fired, or attacked by interest groups. So I guess the problem is fear of retaliation.
In his own way, Michael Moore seems to attack the climate science/advocacy types for taking all the oxygen out of the room, ignoring overpopulation and over-consumption/perpetual growth. That's a fair complaint. However, trading elbows isn't a solution.

Whether it's overpopulation, exponential growth or climate breakdown, there's only one question, only one answer. Is humanity willing to live within the finite limits of our environment, our one and only biosphere, Planet Earth? If it's not 'yes,' then our answer is 'no.' If we are willing to live within the limits of our biosphere we are willing to survive. If we're not, we've chosen something else. If the answer is "yes" then we can figure out with great precision and certainty the limits within which we must live. Once we know those limits it's a matter of who gets what and who gives up how much. The debate after that is about fairness and equality. Maybe we can do the right thing. Maybe it's not already too late.


Toby said...

To see the problem with population go to a site like this: https://ourworldindata.org/births-and-deaths or this: https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/
There lots of choices but they all give pretty much the same story.

In 2020 the world will add another 80,460,000 humans +/-. Corvid-19 won't even scratch that. Wars won't dent it. The population of the British Isles is about 72 million. The rate of growth is lessening but there will still be a gain at the end of the century unless something drastic happens. Corvid-19 is just one of many warning flags.

Adding an extra 80 million mouths every year is already having massive consequences, migrations, wars, diseases. Dystopia is on the march.

The Disaffected Lib said...

I think it's one of the failings of progressives that we tend to be too politically correct when it comes to overpopulation. It's taboo to discuss it because of the ethnic factor. White people are not to bring it up. Sort of how criticism of Israel is conflated into anti-Semitism.

These are unnecessary hurdles that will subvert our best efforts to find solutions. If you dodge two bullets but the third gets you smack between the eyes, the first two don't really achieve anything.

the salamander said...

.. eloquent post.. Must look up Dr Mora..!

This Canadian wants to see a huge awakening.. either shrink or stablize the Canadian Economy.. If Canadians must have children, perhaps we could ensure to gift them with an internal drive to feed the world, save or salvage our climate and waters.. or be curious, concerned, useful and enlightened.. unselfish.

Trailblazer said...

Maybe Covid19 II will do the trick?

The Chinese medical establishment have said it is possible that Covid could be an annual occurrence.
Perhaps it will mutate?
For sure with an unstable economy that knows no borders we will be little more reluctant to bring more offspring into this world.
After the current go around with Covis, I am guessing there will be high demand for abortions before the year is out!


Anonymous said...

Apropos of the current mess:


The lead article on April 25 is well worth reading. This man has been fighting the GMO takeover in India for years.


The Disaffected Lib said...

BM, I stopped reading the article you linked when I came to the part extolling anti-vaxxer, Robert Kennedy Jr. That's conspiracy talk and I'm just not interested.

The Disaffected Lib said...

TB, yes we may be in for a recurrence of severe contagions. For years we've been warned that's part of our new reality.

Neoliberalism, despite the remarkable growth it occasions in so many aspects, has left us socially weakened and vulnerable. The accumulation of wealth in the hands of a tiny few weakens us. The pursuit of maximized growth and ever greater profits has deprived societies of their resilience.

Kevin Phillips in his 2005 book, "American Theocracy," explores the transformation of great nations from agrarian to industrial and, finally, financial economies. Of the three, the industrial is the most robust, most resilient. By contrast, financialized economies are weak and grow increasingly brittle, increasingly slow to recover from setbacks such as recessions or epidemics. It doesn't take many disruptive events before they collapse. That may be want is unfolding before us right now.

How many more pandemics can we take? How many more massive bailouts can we fund? What happens when we lose confidence in our own currencies as they come to be seen as mere printing presses. We saw in Weimar, in Zimbabwe, in Venezuela, that money is only viable when people have confidence in it. Confidence is something easily defeated.

The Disaffected Lib said...

Sal, I too yearn for another Enlightenment but I have little confidence we'll see it while it might still help solve our problems.

As for Dr. Mora, his predicted "climate departure" should be on us in the next two to five years as countries in equatorial and tropical latitudes begin to lose their habitability. If he's right that's when we will see the real chaos of climate breakdown unfold.

the salamander said...

.. way back.. in the way before.. I was a staunch defender of DOCUMENTARY.. Film, Photography, Writing, Art.. A very fine friend was fond of saying 'documentary is dead !' An odd statement from a bold brash docu-artist who made the Video 'Not Dead Yet' ! His video was about the wxploding 'punk' scene in Canada. Well.. uh.. Edward Mowbray was & is not dead yet.. though many of our heroes are.. mainly from overdose. Thus Handsome Ned bit the dust.. 'popped his last balloon' as John Prine would say.

About this time, I used 'Roger And Me' as proof.. Docu could WoW the big screen.. Koyaanisqatsi - Life Out Of Balance was my hearts desire.. and my champion was W Eugene Smith.. as were his associates at Magnum.. for their photo journalistic excellence & courage. Well time has rolled by.. Michael Moore (clever fellow) never saw a filmic device or creative film 'licence' he didn't like.. and here we are today. Thus I will watch the film (thanks re the link !) .. and I'll just open up my brain.. see what he has to say... Show n Tell time ! Step up to bat Michael.. bottom of the 9th we are.. its Game 7..

To me.. Michael Moore is a minstrel.. let's see what he's got..

The Disaffected Lib said...

Sal - check it out. give me your take on it. I think he's sincere enough but he may be getting ahead of himself. Yes, his areas of concern are valid. Yes they've been eclipsed by global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. That said, is going after the climate science cadre going to help him in his perhaps Quixotic quest. Even MMs documentaries have lost a good deal of their former impact and Flint still doesn't have clean water or jobs.

Trailblazer said...

.. way back.. in the way before.. I was a staunch defender of DOCUMENTARY.. Film, Photography,

Michael Moore is not a serious documentary producer, he is the producer of sensationalism.
His best work was Canadian Bacon , https://www.youtube.com/v=4jf8Bt4gD9Y
with a close second being, Roger and Me.

After these he became a self centred prick of half truths culminating in Fahrenheit 911.

We must be ever cautious of our heroes lest we become worshippers of a progressive Trump!!!


The Disaffected Lib said...

It saddens me to have to agree with you, TB. He is not what we knew at the start. I think he tries too hard, perhaps insecure of his relevance. This time it seems he's picking fights that help no one. This umbrella triad that confronts us is one we'll have no hope of tackling if we fall into warring camps. These are all existential threats. He's right to draw attention to overpopulation and malignant growth but there's no need to attack climate science or the quest for alternative, low-carbon energy. For once I find myself agreeing with Naomi Klein. Strange days indeed.

the salamander said...

.. a link formTrailblazer & the Mound


Neither of you need no introduction to the late Bob White.. but did either of you see Final Offer ? Upon seeing this Docu by Sturla Gunnarsson.. I knew where my roots belonged.. and I was already immersed in NFB 'stuff'.. as a soundman, cameraman.. generalist..

But I could never shake Final Offer.. or The Man Who Planted Trees..
so here's a bit from Bob.. re Docu


I watched the film the other day.. mesmerized.. yet again
Where are our Bob White's ?

The current pretenders include Andrew Scheer, Warren Kinsella, Jason Kenney, Vassey Kapelos, John Ivison, Matt Wolf .. and let me introduce the Oklahoma Cupcake herself.. Mrs Michelle Rempel Garner.. the Nose Hill, Calgary MP simply MIA on her mystwearying (sic) mQwission to school one of her new American step daughters.. Bob would have chewed through her shallow blabber... tooty suite !

Anonymous said...


"My colleague, Penn State Anthropology professor Nina Jablonksi, who is interviewed in the film, suggests that "population growth" is the elephant in the room that few climate activists are willing to address. Then she adds that "we have to have our ability to consume reigned in, because we are not good at reigning them if there are seemingly unrestrained resources" or close to it. As long as humans believe that they have unconstrained resources, i.e. that their energy needs can be met in renewable and sustainable ways, they will refuse to limit their consumption demands."

zalm said...

In one sense, neo-liberalism is kind of taking care of itself. Here's a delightful article I read on Monday's meltdown in the oil market in which not only were proto-neo-liberals as well as the fully-fledged were shocked, but also had the penalty of their ignorance adminsitered to them by the brokerage house. HERe's the priceless piece:

The chaos played out elsewhere in Asia this week. In South Korea, a brokerage saw its trading system freeze when prices went negative, leaving customers helpless as they watched losses pile up.


The Disaffected Lib said...

Anon, overpopulation is just one existential threat. We have to address all of them. Dodging two bullets doesn't help if there's a third that gets you right between the eyes.

The Disaffected Lib said...

Zalm, thanks for the link. I can't say it evoked pangs of sympathy for these characters.