Much has been written about climate change or, to use a more truthful term, global warming. But not much has been written about Organising Responses to Climate Change, which is the title of Daniel Nyberg, Christopher Wright and Vanessa Bowden’s new book. The authors have divided it into ten chapters which are organised in five key parts. This very readable and illuminating work starts with The Politics of Climate Change, followed by The Politics of Climate Migration. Inevitably, global warming will lead to massive global migration far exceeding what we have seen up to date. Part III is about something many people think comes too late in time to prevent the earth from being destroyed, namely The Politics of Climate Adaptation.
As the UN’s Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said recently at what Greta Thunberg calls the blah-blah-blah festival—also known as COP27—that took place in the luxery resort of Sharm El-Sheikh in November 2022: ‘We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.’ Perhaps, with still increasing CO2 emisions in 2023, what we call adaptation is merely something that resembles the moving of deckchairs on the Titanic. Whether we adapt or not, what is in store for virtually all of us is climate suffering, as related in Part IV The Politics of Climate Suffering. A handful of super-rich, who have bought land (including bunkers) on the southern island of New Zealand [the earthquake islands], who may also dream of life in space or on Mars, believe they can avoid the suffering. Finally, there is Part V, The Politics of Climate Futures—if we will have a future.
Nyberg and his co-authors start their book with a truism: ‘The climate crisis is the product of a specific political economy: global capitalism […] capitalism relies on the fervent pursuit of continuous economic growth and fossil energy’ (4). Yet, the neoliberal myth of endless growth is still part of the capitalist ideological catechism, despite the fact that we know this is impossible. And we have known this ever since the Club of Rome’s seminal study. Besides, it is simply illogical to continue to propagate the hallucination that endless growth is possible on an non-endless Earth, as the recent study of the Club of Rome has shown—again.
Worse: ‘By 2021, it was clear that existing business practices would not be challenged […] by August 2021, of the $1,950 billion spent by OECD countries on recovery, only $336 billion was assessed as having a positive environmental impact’ (6). Apart from corporate greenwashing, this is why ideologies like business ethics and corporate social responsibility (CSR) exist. ‘Under the ideological cover of CSR, etc., the seven evil sisters—BP, Shell, Gulf Oil, Standard Oil of California, Standard Oil of New Jersey, Standard Oil of New York and Texas—became the most wealthy and powerful companies in the world. […] To those one might like to add: Saudi Aramco in Saudi Arabia, Gazprom and Rosneft in Russia, Kuwait Petroleum, National Iranian Oil Company, China National Petroleum Company, Pemex in Mexico, and Petrobras in Brazil.’ Even more devastating for the environment is the fact that ‘global fossil fuel subsidies alone are conservatively estimated at around US330 billion per annum […] the IMF suggests the true amount could be closer to US5 trillion’ (10). Much of this is smoke-screened through two ideologies—the free market and competition.
Of course, this has led—in terms of ideology—to what the authors call ‘the hegemony of corporate capitalism’ (21) and the global ‘fossil fuel hegemony’, drastically exemplified by a U.S. car bumper sticker that reads kick their ass and get our gas. This prevailing hegemony has ‘truly forged a collective will’ (23) to invade countries that have oil and, in other cases, to—conveniently—overlook human rights abuses in many oil-producing and oil-burning countries. Not only in oil-producing countries but elsewhere too, this ‘hegemony is the practice of politics for maintaining dominance’ (31).
Supported by ideologies like these—and a bit of global corporate greenwashing on the side—‘the global fossil fuel burn has continued to increase year by year’ (42). In the wake of much of this, corporations have set up a global ‘climate change denial industry’ (44) containing well-paid business school professors, corporate consultancies, conservative think tanks and, of course, the mainstream press.
Almost self-evidently, this is spiced up through oxymorons like ‘clean coal’ (47). It is not at all surprising to see that ‘billionaire businessman Sir Richard Branson claims that our only option to stop climate change is for industry to make money from it’ (51). In other words, the system that is getting us closer and closer to the sixth Mass Extinction (McCallum 2021) and to the end of life on earth is also the system that will get us out of the coming apocalypse. For neoliberal nonsense like this, you get to become a ‘Sir’.
Unlike Sir Branson, Greta Thunberg and the like are described by OPEC ‘as perhaps the greatest threat to our industry going forward’ (64). Meanwhile, this very same OPEC may well be one of the greatest threats to human existence. OPEC and its corporations have gotten us on a highway to climate hell with their foot still on the accelerator. True to the title of their book, the authors suggest support be given to three environmental organisations (67): Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion, and 350.org. The authors—perhaps correctly—argue that ‘the most spectacular environmental movements to emerge in recent years have been Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for Future’ (74).
Not surprisingly ‘counter-terrorism police in the UK listed Extinction Rebellion as an extremist ideology’ (80), perhaps in preparation for what is going to come as the conflict between corporate profits and those fighting global warming—literally—heats up. Or, as is the case when the usual methods of surveillance capitalism (Zuboff 2018) begin to collapse, a well-armed police force is needed just as much as a handy ideology to keep people ignorant. Meanwhile, the rather harmless Greenpeace has been accused ‘of committing acts of terrorism that violate the U.S. Patriot Act’ (80).
Quite apart from defending the system that made rich people super rich, the state is there to protect them against us, as the authors say, ‘by targeting environmentalists as extremists and terrorists, corporations aim to deflect attention from the damage caused by their own activities’ (81). This has been a time-honoured and proven corporate PR strategy ever since Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring.
Yet another PR strategy is the hallucination that global warming can be managed through ‘climate adaptation’ (89). In contrast, many others have claimed it is already too late (Turner 2014; Monbiot 2022). One precursor supporting the too little too late argument has been ‘Australia’s Black Summer of 2019 and 2020 [killing] three billion animals’. It was merely an early sign for the looming ‘Pyrocene—the age of fire’. At the same time when earth is facing increases in bush and forest fires, ‘coastal areas [are] vulnerable to rising ocean waters [threatening] major coastal cities such as Miami, New York, Shanghai, Mumbai, and Jakarta’ (93) and many more. In the wake of this, many private properties in these cities might become uninsurable as ‘SwissRe and MunchRe’ (96) sensed long ago. Yet this remains mostly unknown to the general public, particularly Republican voters in Miami, for example.
Meanwhile, in Australia—the home of the authors—‘the Great Barrier Reef generated AU $6.5 billion in revenue per annum and provided up to 64,000 jobs in tourism, fishing, and associated activities’ (100). Despite the fact that the authors of the book see the value of nature only when it translates into dollar terms and jobs (Klikauer 2023), and refrain from seeing the intrinsic value of the environment, coral bleaching is killing the reef. Besides all this, one of the greatest lines in their book is the following: ‘the great irony, of course, is that, having watched the Arctic melt as global temperatures rose, Shell was first in line to drill in the newly melted waters for yet more oil, which would raise the temperature some more’ (103).
Virtually, all these adaptation processes—including Shell’s expansion in drilling and the raising of their ocean based drilling platforms—are also designed as a policy for ‘the stabilisation of hegemonic power relations’ (114). This is partly done by mainstream (read: corporate) media when creating the ‘ignorance of climate change’ (118). Worse, there are companies that offer ‘retreats [at] the cost of €520 and €820 [for your personal and] inner adaptation’ (122) to climate change. Viewing global warming as an issue of the individual has always been a preferred ideology of neoliberalism and its compliant henchmen. Meanwhile, ‘capitalism’s destruction of the natural world [can still be] hidden from public view’ (131) or can be framed as simply another natural disaster. As the world heats up, this ideological trick might become harder and harder to maintain.
Even more obscene is the fact that ‘climate suffering is […] presented as a space for business philanthropy and charity’ (145). And of course, all this can be cranked up by what the authors call ‘the hypocrisy of artists or celebrities endorsing climate action while jetting around the world or living lavish lifestyles’ (153). Important to all of this is to realise that this ‘hegemony has been highly successful in limiting any efforts even to reduce emissions, let alone to tax them’ (169).
Nyberg and his co-authors end their exquisite book with the words, ‘the world stays locked within an economic system that endangers the future of societies, ecosystems, and the vast diversity of life on this planet […] the prevailing hegemony is that corporate capitalism will somehow continue, [which is] magical thinking’ (194). People who sell us this sort of magical thinking are those people who have put us on a highway to climate hell with their foot still on the accelerator.
While Organising Responses to Climate Change is magnificant on telling the story of global warming, and how the global hegemony is used to camouflage what is being done and what is coming, the book is actually very short on what it had originally set out to achieve, namely Organising Responses to Climate Change. It doesn’t offer much on organising responses to global warming. In a few short pages, the authors only suggest people join three environmental organisations: Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion and 350.org. Despite this shortcoming, their book still issues a most persuasive call to fight the system that is bound to destroy the planet.
Thomas Klikauer (MAs, Boston and Bremen University and PhD Warwick University, UK) teaches MBAs and supervises PhDs at the Sydney Graduate School of Management, Western Sydney University, Australia. He has 700 publications and writes regularly for BraveNewEurope (Western Europe), the Barricades (Eastern Europe), Buzzflash (USA), Counterpunch (USA), Countercurrents (India), Tikkun (USA), and ZNet (USA). His next book is on Media Capitalism (Palgrave).
- 2023 The Language of Managerialism London: Palgrave-Springer.
- 2021 Turtle biodiversity losses suggest coming sixth mass extinction Biodiversity and Conservation 30(5): 1257-1275.
- 2022 An English Coast Reveals a Mass Extinction Guardian Weekly207(20):45-46.
- 2018 The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power New York: PublicAffairs.