Sep
13

Eco-anarchism and climate change

The perception of eco-anarchism in mainstream environmental circles is essentially as a group of people with different calculus or a different timeline; eco-anarchists are simply the more forceful branch of the Sierra Club. This perception is fundamentally untrue. Anarchism is not a program; it is an ethic. Earth First! and other eco-anarchist groups operate off of an insurrectionist framework. Insurrectionism, as contrasted with other radical left strategies, does not wait for a “break” within to organize resistance to capitalism. There is no vanguard, and no organizing for an eventual social revolution. Instead, insurrectionists are, like the no-futurists of queer theory, concerned with the here and now and the transformation of social relations within the present hour.

Fundamental differences in understanding what “environmentalism” means are crafted by this difference in ethic. Whereas environmental NGOs and liberal environmental movements focus almost myopically on climate change, eco-anarchists often work to protect patches of forest, specific water sources, and other local structures.

Furthermore, the focus on climate change is not without ideological purposes. As Natterjack Press, a UK non-profit anarchist press notes, climate change as the overriding issue requires a certain non-ecological understanding of the world:

If we understand ecology in the way that both academic scientists and traditional societies do, as a set of complex relationships between the components that make up ecological systems then the theory of climate change quickly strays from being an ecological concept… Some concept of ecology remains when trying to model the effects of a changing climate on particular ecosystems, but very soon the globalised nature of the concept requires that everything is made quantifiable: kwH, tons of CO2 emitted, price per ton, mean global temperature rise, $$$. Suddenly we have moved from a concern for the unpredictable changes that may occur in ecological systems and their impacts on our societies towards an ethereal and highly alienated apocalyptic paranoia. We are reduced to simply counting the calories. (18)

Climate change as the issue above all issues also restricts agency to a frightening degree (one that is not surprising that those currently with power would like to encourage). Natterjack asks us to “think for a moment about how and by whom the necessary drastic changes could be brought about to do away with the global oil economy”, musing that “the easiest to imagine would be some sort of highly authoritarian state or institution, as the more control an organization has over the population, the quicker it can implement changes”. Thus we focus on climate change as a far-off doomsday scenario instead of ecocide as something actively occurring, both as part of global climate change and simply as the machine of industrial capitalism continues to churn. Natterjack notes that “these threats are far more tangible and immediate than climate change […] Nothing is ever straightforward, but these real, concrete situations that directly affect our lives are much easier to get our heads around and effectively resist” (19).

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