“Copenhagen, which had been co-branded for the talks on billboards with Coke and Siemens as Hopenhagen, was looking more like Nopenhagen." writes Amy Goodman commenting the failure of the climate summit in Danemark. Ten years after the Seattle riots, while the world political system seems unable to take any action for the government of the global environment, and the movement is searching a way out from the disaster that decades of neoliberal policy have prepared, the prospect of a double disruption – environmental and social - of the very foundations of modern civilization is more and more likely. Nevertheless the leading class is reaffirming the strategy which generated the present situation, based on dogmas of competition, profit and growth.
“There is a crisis of belief in the future, leaving us with the prospect of an endless, deteriorating present that hangs around by sheer inertia. In spite of all this turmoil – this time of ‘crisis’ when it seems like everything could, and should, have changed – it paradoxically feels as though history has stopped. There is an unwillingness, or inability, to face up to the scale of the crisis. Individuals, companies and governments have hunkered down, hoping to ride out the storm until the old world re-emerges in a couple of years. Attempts to wish the ‘green shoots’ of recovery into existence mistake an epochal crisis for a cyclical one; they are little more than wide-eyed boosterism. Yes, astronomical sums of money have prevented the complete collapse of the financial system, but the bailouts have been used to prevent change, not initiate it. We are trapped in a state of limbo.” (Turbulence, 5 Life in Limbo).
“In its heyday, neoliberal ideology was effective in banishing all other thought because it posed as non-ideological, as merely the ‘reasonable’ application of the ‘science’ of utility. Today, however, it is possible to see (and say) that the presuppositions of these reasonable decisions were, of course, ideological. The market does not tend toward equilibrium, the maximisation of self-interest can override instincts of self-preservation and lead to sub-optimal outcomes, and in times of crisis any trickle down is reverted into the upstream splurge of bailouts. The premises of those supposedly non-ideological arguments – such as the transformation of ‘the market’ into a natural given governed by scientific laws available to ortho-dox (‘correct opinion’) but not to hetero-dox (‘other opinion’) economists – have now been debunked. Hardcore neoliberal ideology will cease to shape the space of politics by defining its terms, what is good and bad (investment rather than public spending, efficient private versus inefficient public, markets not planning), and pulling the centre of gravity of the debate towards itself. Neoliberal orthodoxy no longer forms the middle ground of politics in regard to which all other opinions have to position themselves.” (In the limbo, Turbulence 5)
The ideological bases of Neoliberalism have been shaken by the financial crisis and by the ecological awareness fostered by climate change. Nevertheless the dogmas of economic fanaticism are imposing their rule.
Newsweek has titled the late December issue: Is that all? Meaning that the promises of a deep change after the financial collapse have been disregarded.
The old industrial bourgeoisie was able to reconcile the interests of the enterprise and the civil progress of society. The old bourgeoisie was a territorialized class, whose wealth was depending on physical goods, and common infrastructures. The deterritorialized financial class has no interest in future social survival. The job market globalization has destroyed the negotiating force of the workers, and the global salary is steadily falling everywhere. The social civilization founded on the force the workers has been eroded by the Neoliberal deregulation, and is now showing signs of collapse.
In this context COP15 took place in December 2009. The central subject of the summit, has not been really the environment. It has been the debt that the Western imperialism has contracted with the planet and the humankind: the debt of colonization, of genocide, and of systematic exploitation and environmental ravage. For the western population today the most urgent thing is to save the livability of the environment, and to avoid the collapse of the physical conditions that made civilization possible. For the poor of the global South (and also for the poor of the Northern metropolis) the prospect is different, as they did not take the same advantage of the modern civilization.
After the financial collapse the western nations are no more able to impose their agenda to the new industrialized countries and to the dispossessed of the planet. So the poor countries are asking for reparations. The West feels the urgency of the climatic change and is finally aware of the dangerous effects of pollution in general. But the West has created the problem, and has founded its wealth on the devastation of the common environment. The dispossessed do not fear the climatic hell like the western people do, because the dispossessed are already living in hell. So what is coming out from the Copenhagen summit is a frightening scenario: the global South is using the climatic change as a weapon against the global North. If you don’t want to drown you have to pay the debt accumulated during five centuries. Will the West be able to take the challenge, or the confrontation will lead to further disruption of the geopolitical balance, and new wars?
Evo Morales has said:
“To pay their debt, the industrialized countries should reduce their emissions and absorb their greenhouse gases in a way that there exists a fair distribution of atmospheric space between all of the countries, taking into consideration their population, because the countries that are on the path of development need atmospheric space for their development. The third component of climate debt is the paying of reparations, reparations for damages that have been created by the irrationally industrialized countries. For humanity together, it's shameful that the Western countries have only offered $10 billion for climate change. I was looking at some figures. The United States—how much does the United States spend to export terrorism to Afghanistan, to export terrorism to Iraq, and to export military bases to South America? They don't only spend millions, but billions and trillions.”
The concept of Debt implies a bet on the future: debt is the handover of a part of our future in exchange for something that we are consuming now. The concept of Guilt also implies the idea that we are taking something now that we’ll have to atone for in the future (may be in the after death world. Not surprisingly in Aramaic (the Jesus’s language) debt and guilt are the same word. In the cultural sphere of judeo-christianism the guilt is founding human relations and of historical time. Atonement is the future expecting the sinner. If you are able to atone for your guilt in this life, you’ll be among the elected by God, if you persevere in your guilty behavior you’ll pay with the eternal punishment.
In the judeo-christian world debt and guilt are similar, so one can expect that if you take something today you will give it back tomorrow, if you don’t want to die in mortal sin. Once the principle of restitution is agreed in the economic sphere, the credit becomes possible as system of borrowing on the future. The dynamic of capitalist accumulation is based on this perpetual process of investment of borrowed future, and the very idea of future becomes a common cultural dimension when capitalism grants the relationship between present borrowing and future repayment. But if the promise of restitution fails, if those who take part in the game of debt and restitution lose the faith in the future, then what? If those who borrow know that the world is going to end soon, or simply don’t care about the other’s future, what happens?
In his book "La transparence du Mal", in 1999 Baudrillard spoke of orbitalization of the debt. At a certain point of the capitalist history, Baudrillard writes, debt has started to grow vertiginously, so to became purely virtual, and to abandon the sphere of terrestrial relationships, like a satellite that orbits the Earth.
Circulating from a bank to the next, from a country to the next, debt has taken off, and has started to go around like atomic debris and many more things. Baudrillard argues that if those billions and trillions would fall back on Earth, this should be a true catastrophe.
What has happened since September 2008 is exactly what Baudrillard was ruling out, as an impossible event. Trillions floating in orbit have fallen down on Earth, and virtual finance has provoked a collapse of the economy, and it seems also going to provoke a collapse of the world environment. Baudrillard himself, in the last years of his life, had began to think about the possibility of a return from the virtual to the material sphere. The debt has made possible a constant increase in consumption by the bulimic population of the rich world. But the physical planet is now besieged by heath, and waste and drought.
If the debt is now irrecoverable, if the West is unable to repay it, I think that an age of violence and misery is going to follow.
The only way to pay debt is to change the very idea of future as growth.