Global Warming/Climate Change – Do we need an Ecological Leninism?
On the final day of 2019 — a year marked by record high temperatures, wildfires, and tropical storms — China reported to the World Health Organization that a new virus had broken out in the city of Wuhan. Initially dismissed by many Western observers as an unfortunate event in a far-off land, COVID-19 quickly grew into a full-blown pandemic, causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, rapidly intensifying class and racial inequalities, and ushering in the greatest worldwide recession since the Great Depression.
In the space of a few short weeks, received economic wisdom on the bounds of state intervention was turned upside down, as were the day-to-day lives of billions of workers worldwide. Factories and schools have been shuttered, borders closed, and whole populations confined to their homes under threat of hefty fines and imprisonment. Otherwise mundane technocratic leaders have recast themselves as wartime commanders doing battle with an invisible invader.
At the same time, the ongoing climate crisis has been largely erased from the mainstream narrative. Social media has been flooded with images of blue skies over normally smog-eclipsed cities, dolphins skipping through waterways, and wild animals foraging for food in deserted cities. Many environmentally minded observers have expressed hope for a green recovery from the crisis — but also remained largely silent regarding the structural constraints that bar its way.
The most important driving force behind the production of pandemics is clear in the scientific literature and it is deforestation — which is also the second biggest contributor to global climate change. The place in which you find the greatest biodiversity on Earth is in tropical forests, and this biodiversity includes pathogens. These pathogens, which circulate among nonhuman animals in wild habitats, do not generally pose a problem to humanity as long as humans stay away from them. However, the problem arises as the human economy makes deeper and deeper incursions into these habitats.
Global warming itself also accelerates this trend. As temperatures rise, certain animals are forced to migrate in search of climates that match those to which they are adapted.
There was a moment in March 2020 when many of us in the climate justice movement felt a degree of surprise to find that governments in Europe and elsewhere were prepared to basically shut down their entire economies in an effort to contain the pandemic. This is striking, given that the same states had never contemplated undertaking any kind of intervention in the economy for the sake of the climate crisis.
It is incredibly difficult to see how anything other than state power could accomplish the transition required to truly fight the ecological catastrophe that is climate change, given that it will be necessary to exert coercive authority against those who want to maintain the status quo.