Amid the global trends of de-dollarization and de-neo-liberalization, the climate crisis has been relegated to a secondary concern. Not that it ever was a primary concern, since capital must destroy more than it creates to produce commodities, but there is less media hype on the issue. To waste people and nature is necessary for higher profit rates, and the hype is no more than an advertisement to market the wasted social nature. Still, at this juncture, the changing dynamics of the global power landscape drive countries to seek military advantage and technological superiority to fare better in the geopolitical convulsions, and even the lip service paid to the environment takes a back seat.
In contrast to previous summers, this year has seen some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded. Wildfires, droughts, hazes, flash floods, and mudslides have increased in size, frequency, and intensity, while temperatures are predicted to rise. Crops and water basins are drying out, infectious diseases are spreading, and cancer rates are rising. Despite the token initiatives taken to address this crisis, the world increasingly faces the prospects of a climatic Armageddon. If more social nature must be metabolized to raise profit rates, history, under the command of the profiteers, will erode the basis for sane human existence. What is certain for all to see is that the current and future moneyed value of destroyed nature exceeds the value of the useful wealth already created.
By the many climate reports already published, global society steps closer and closer to the edge of the abyss. When capital’s science speaks of the natural disaster, it does so to financialize the debris capital has created and raise resource prices at present; since science commandeered by capital serves its functional purpose, and since wasted social nature increases capital gains, the climate crisis can no longer be shrugged off as pseudoscience.
Formulaically, to cut costs, capital must reduce much of nature and man to rubble. It requires a society sickened by war and pollution and deprived of autonomy to mark up prices in ways that maximize profits. Since it is man, and not nature, that negotiates prices, nature is destroyed to further reduce the negotiating power of society over its resources. The logic is that the subject in nature, man or society, must be weakened and, relatedly, a destroyed nature weakens the sovereignty of developing nations, which a fortiori means that the consequences of climate change on the environment are real. They are visible, continuous, and have an everlasting impact on the lives of people.
Attempts to formulate practical solutions are a chimera; so long as profit-maximizing capital manifest in its ideological forms reigns, a solution is not possible. Only labor, as a subject of history, may be able to conceptualize a plan of action that would bring about a remedial process of climatic ills. To be sure, the key takeaways from the last COP summit included the introduction of a fund for poorer countries, which would increase their financial dependency. More to the point, however, no blueprint has been laid out to reduce the ransacking of nature, natural resources, and society in the South, since these raise input/commodity costs in the North.
The notion of the reversibility of natural damage is a sham. The damage is permanent, and nothing could be reversed. Moreover, when profits are derived from the premature death of man and the concomitant erosion of nature, or when society perishes prematurely, less is spent on its reproduction, and more of the economic surplus goes to profits. Capital must lay the social foundation for its continuity, the immiseration of labor, and this is done over longer periods of time whose outcome is the recurrent positive quarterly profit rates of major corporations in the North. Hence, sickened social nature serves a profit-making function for capital.
However, rather than looking at the climate crisis as an inevitable outcome of the rationale of capital, mainstream reasoning, which is the ideological edifice of the capital class, places the cause of the crisis in personalized subjects or justifies the losses by the progress of Western civilizational discoveries. When the planet is about to cease supporting life, the latter argument is meaningless. Capitalism is regression rather than progression. It is no longer valid to say that it is worth it to eradicate natives as subjects of nature to push through with an agenda of progress.
So far, the planet has been laid to waste, and society pays for the waste in money and lost years of life. As the input and output of production, social nature was commodified and priced. Before the dying forests, there were societies obliterated for a price. It takes machine and labor to kill forests and people, and these are industries with moneyed output that went for a price. Scalping the native Indian for a dollar is a case in point. These waste industries are also pedestals for production in the North.
Since war and pollution sell, capital produces more waste than good things. Such waste accumulation involves a process of destruction of man and nature wherein the commodified waste registers for a price convenient to capital across the time spectrum. One can imagine how the difficulty of future production arising from wars and climate degradation raises future prices and, by implication, raises current prices.
In this, one ought to recall that it is wasted lives as the ubiquitous commodity, and not nature, which are the principal source of surplus value that become profits. Society immerses itself in the production and consumption of waste, otherwise a process of auto-consumption. To excessively deplete oneself for living wages is the source of the economic surplus. Laterally, the most basic commodity, such as food, is laden with pollutants and serves as a surrogate war machine that shortens life expectancy. The commodity consumes the consumer in an act of production. The product, in this case, is the premature death of the consumer.
The social acceptance of waste as a consumption item reinforces the waste reproductive cycle while eroding the independence from want that fosters social emancipation. What is of dis-use value to society has been construed as a necessary measure of survival on the basis of fabricated scarcity. Whether by choice or coercion, society overproduces and consumes what is fatal to its longevity.
Since the market is the gyroscope of social reproduction, the waste commodity rules over society and its resource allocation decisions. Social labor, or the physical and mental effort workers invest in the production of commodities, also creates pollutants or waste. These, in turn, become a machine for which capital has not paid and which shortens the lives of labor.
Society labors to self-destruct in shorter periods to lessen its living costs and raise profits over its lifecycle. In addition to the labor effort expropriated and embedded in the private means of production (dead labor in Marxian terminology), capital has a freebie offshoot in a sickened nature it has produced that cuts life expectancy short. In a state of socialist ideological defeatism, waste is construed as wealth, and production for profits becomes a process of auto-consumption.
In a polarized world, the North/South divide delineates the structures of capital from those of labor. The associated balance of power, including the ideological balance, also serves to determine the terms of exchange. That less is paid to the South for its resources may be attributed to the ideological potency of capital. For society to consume or be consumed by the waste-imbued commodity is not owed to capital’s theoretical rigor.
People have been beaten into submission, once and again, before they come to accept the industries of war and pollution as a necessary evil that they must pay for. Wars make up the medium through which dominant ideology, including the neoliberal order, is reconstituted as the weight of history. Violence foregrounds the submission of society. For capital to metabolize man and nature in social production at rates that take out of social nature more than it puts back into it, it must subdue global society, especially the South. Capital pays more to the Northern working class, not as counter value for its productivity, it does so because the Northern working class shares with capital its basis of social reproduction, which is to live off the dividends of the South.
Capital’s ideological reign relies on wars and a continuous re-adjustment of the balance of power against the South. The South must be beaten into subservience or acknowledge that it cannot break through the imposing power structure, or in other words, against the weight of history. Such wars are a magnified reflection of the fact that capital must cut its expenditure on Southern society, which happens when people die prematurely, in order to sell to the upper consuming tier of global society. Capital’s cost-cutting measures arising upon competition antecede its desire to raise incomes in order to sell to a larger upper tier. This formula, the antecedence of production over consumption, including the positive spinoffs from the production of waste upon profits, makes the destruction of social nature a sine qua non for social reproduction.
With social nature being the unity of man with nature, to which man is organic and subject, the destruction of nature becomes an end in itself. To consume nature on the cheap is to consume humans on the cheap. Long before the climate calamity, colonized peoples as subjects of nature, have been consumed or wasted for a price. Only under capitalism, the waste of human lives for a buck constitutes the basis of accumulation. The war industry, in particular, forms the initial building block to the process of production and consumption under capital. War is not ten or twenty percent of production, it is the predicate in the commodification of social processes. Capital totalizes and commodifies all that comes its way. It commodifies people, air and water. Even health and education, as ideologically steered spheres of production under capital, widen the chasm between North and South, and ensure that the gap between potential life expectancy and actually lived lives is larger. Correlatedly with the structural power divide between North and South, and while the North accumulates by the immiseration of the South, health and education contribute to the formation of Northern soldiers and civil society apparatuses which entrench the waste accumulation. With the North living off the South, the consumption process turns into a cannibalistic order in which the North, defined as the class whose potential unfolds on metabolizing more of social nature, grows by the eradication of the South.
The rule of the commodity dictates the de-reproduction of labor. As commodification proceeds, sentience vanishes, and so go with it the ethics that evolve on the basis of the existential condition. People turned into commodities do not feel to be empathetic with others. Commodification lays the groundwork for converting living labor literally into dead labor—man becomes thing.
While the capitalist adheres to the market diktat and acts like a thing bereft of feeling, which also means bereft of ethics, Northern laboring classes, whose parasitism centers on living off the proceeds of the wasted South, also become things. Their potential is not to shed capital, but to work with it to self-reproduce by cannibalizing the Southern classes. While class lines crisscross the national boundaries, the latter classes reproduce by gaining independence from capital. As the planet altogether sinks, the process of auto-consumption becomes a process of auto-exploitation, rooted in the self-consumption of a society absorbed or beaten into the acceptance of waste.
Over the life cycle of society, as opposed to the hours worked in factories, the premature death of society, the prematurely wasted man, becomes the source of value. In the time of social reproduction, in contrast to the time of social production measured in quarterly or yearly output, it is all of society as the set of social relations, which labors to produce, in contrast to the single worker spending eight hours on the job. It should be noted that the price and accounting systems are constructed by capital to efface social production (society produces) and replace it with an abstract and hypothetical-time producer. In social reproduction, the rate of surplus value that undergirds the profit rate may be measured by rate of premature death relative to the longevity experienced in the more advanced countries.
Understanding the climate crisis
In the Anthropocene, the climate crisis is the outcome of social activity. These activities are products of the governing social class instantiated in the forms of dominant ideology. Ideology is the driver of class actions. Ideology blindfolds society as capital pursues profits at its expense. The case is such that the activities which have been done so far culminated in the preponderant waste. Yet, the waste is trumpeted as progress. Waste in its subdivisions of pollution, war, and climate crises, is progress to no one.
The mainstream view maintains that climate change is an externality, which can be corrected if each paid a price for the pollutants. Missing in this, the pollution itself is a cost-cutting measure to a whole class represented in political forms that boosts profits. Since the world is organized in terms of power structures that dictate the terms of exploitation to the weaker South, the class in power will re-organize time and again to pollute more. That people act through class forms of social organization, as opposed to atomistic individuals voting to change the course of history, is a forgotten point. Individuals vote under the spell of dominant reason, and when the reason of a Northern population stems from imperialist dividends based on the waste of the South, the result of the vote will bring to power the class that is committed to waste.
The so-called democratic societies of the North, in particular, its social democratic platforms, are in command of a history that annihilated nearly a billion people in colonial wars since the sixteenth century. Meanwhile, Western democracies are set to bring the planet to the point of unlivability. The obvious methodological fallacy that the perfect market, which surfaces as innately imperfect in logic and outcome, escapes the imagination of the North because it is vested in the waste. While the long-term trends indicate that the ‘healthier’ an economy gets, the sicker society gets, the salient reasoning remains irreconcilable with the facts because it is based on narrow class interests that rationalize waste by class-imposed normative values.
Under the mantra of class-obedient social science, as the world overproduces and suffers from crises of overproduction, harming social nature in order to efficiently produce becomes necessary to sustain an ‘overpopulated’ world. While scarcity and overpopulation are concepts that fly in the face of the facts, the ethic of the capital class boils down to thinning down the world population in order to reduce an otherwise unsuitable harm to more people. True, one must ensure the welfare of more people in any policy, but the mainstream falsifies initial reality/assumptions to achieve its profit goals.
The destruction of the climate has a great deal to do with capitalist overproduction. As waste lowers costs and also sells, the overproduction of wasted nature and man becomes the mainstay of capital. Overproduction implicates the South by the degree to which the North needs to maintain salient profit rates. Super-exploitation is not only about the 12-hour shifts in Third World sweatshops, it is more about shortening the life expectancy of Southern society. This latter process was witnessed in primitive accumulation as slavery and genocide, and it continues to date as structural genocide, or the invisible premature deaths and the deaths from wars and their reverberations.
The North boasts about its commitment to environmentalism, however, such is a scare tactic that raises prices in the present in relation to the difficulty of future production. Prices are malleable symbols. Most commodities, for instance, have a spot and a future price, while the picture of prices in social reproduction is way more fluid. Most waste sickens people and raises their medical bills, which means that society ends up footing the bill for the waste. The price of medication is not imputed in the polluted commodity, yet in reality, it is there. It is easy to see that capital makes a killing as people die earlier and pay to treat themselves while doing so. Capital gains by commodifying the waste, and, more so, it now funnels resources to green bonds against the future damage it creates.
To inject political instability in the South is a precondition that enables the mechanism of resource extraction. To this end, wars as a domain of militaristic accumulation serve to consolidate the power structure fueling waste accumulation. Wars are themselves production processes whose products are premature dead people. Each victim of war was mown down by a war machine operated by a worker-soldier working for a wage, while the victim also labors in self-defense, while his corpse counts as an output going for a given price.
The financialization of war implies that the earnings of war-finance are earmarked against the war dead. In addition to war, the international institutions that carry the banner of development infiltrate developing state infrastructure to weaken regulations and make resource depletion occur at a faster pace. For instance, the green revolution has forced many farmers into debt—including in India, where farmers’ suicides have soared. The green revolution has increased poor countries’ exposure to economic vulnerabilities by introducing new dependencies (i.e. technologies, fertilizers, seeds). These disruptions often lead to political turmoil, and in the displacement of many, governments find themselves incapable of solving emerging security issues. Moreover, climate change disrupts food production in the South, uproots labor from the land into redundancy, and creates new avenues for conflict. As it increases the risk of food insecurity, climate change is also enabling the North to weaponize food against the South.
A glimmer of hope?
As the rate of surplus value rises by the rate of premature death, the only way out is the abolition of the value relation. The only labor with the potential for revolution is the labor whose longevity rises by ridding itself of imperialism. The rise of China and the West’s impending defeat in Ukraine, through dialectical inversion, shifts the platforms for the development of revolutionary consciousness. To prioritize the struggle against imperialism at this point is to shed the weight of history, a weight stocked by centuries of defeat to the Western war machine.