That Era is Over! This is our Reality!
September 1, 2022
The following is an email interview conducted by Marxism and Collapse with eco-radical leader and organizer of the Deep Green Resistance (DGR) movement, Max Wilbert. It inquires into Wilbert’s response to the first part of the debate “Ecological Catastrophe, Collapse, Democracy and Socialism” between Noam Chomsky, Miguel Fuentes, and Guy McPherson. Wilbert's comment employs the concepts of so-called deep ecology (a theoretical trend to which he subscribes) and the political principles of the DGR.
Marxism and Collapse: In a recent discussion between ecosocialist stances and collapsist approaches represented by Michael Lowy (France), Miguel Fuentes (Chile), and Antonio Turiel (Spain), Lowy denied the possibility of a self-induced capitalist collapse and criticized the idea of the impossibility of stopping climate change before it reaches the catastrophic level of 1.5° C of global warming. Do you think that the current historical course is heading to a social global downfall comparable, for example, to previous processes of civilization collapse or maybe to something even worse than those seen in ancient Rome or other ancient civilizations? Is catastrophic climate change now unavoidable? Is a near process of human extinction as a result of the overlapping of climate, energy, economic, social, and political crises conceivable?
Max Wilbert: Throughout history, all civilizations undermine their own ecological foundations, face disease, war, political instability, the breakdown of basic supply chains, and eventually collapse. Modern technology and scientific knowledge do not make us immune from this pattern. On the contrary, as our global civilization has harnessed more energy, expanded, and grown a larger population than ever before in history, the fall is certain to be correspondingly worse. What goes up must come down. This is a law of nature. The only question is, when?
Professor Chomsky’s argument that the collapse of civilization can be averted at a relatively minor cost by diverting 2-3% of global GDP to transition to renewable energy and fund a “Global Green New Deal” does not contend with the physical constraints civilization faces today. The global energy system, which powers the entire economy, is the largest machine in existence and was built over more than a century during a period of abundant fossil fuels and easy-to-access minerals and raw materials. It was powered by the last remnants of ancient sunlight, fossil fuels condensed into an extremely dense form of energy that is fungible and easily transportable.
That era is over. Accessible reserves of minerals, oil, and gas are gone, and we have long since entered the era of extreme energy extraction (fracking, deepwater drilling, arctic drilling, tar sands, etc.). Simply replacing fossil fuels with solar and wind energy and phasing out all liquid and solid fuel (which still makes up roughly 80% of energy use) in favor of electrification of transportation, heating, etc. is not a simple task in an era of declining energy availability, increasing costs, extreme weather, political and financial instability, and resource scarcity. And these so-called “renewable” technologies still have major environmental impacts (for example, see solar impacts on desert tortoises, wind energy impacts on bat populations, and lithium mining impacts on sage-grouse), even if they do reduce carbon, which is not yet proven. (See here and here.)
In practice, renewable energy technologies seem largely to serve as a profitable investment for the wealthy, a way to funnel public money into private hands, and a distraction from the scale of the ecological problems we face (of which global warming is far from the worst) and the scale of solutions which are needed. This is, as Miguel Fuentes points out, a rather timid cosmetic restructuring of the dominant political and economic order.