MEER and Revolutionary Change

This presentation was delivered to the MEER group over Zoom on January 2, 2022. It was requested by Ye Tao, MEER's founder, based on my suggestion that the discussion of social change should be broadened to include revolutionary change.  (Note that the slides can be clicked for expanded versions.)

The Economics of Needs and Limits

  • I became concerned about the environment in the mid-1980s.
  • Because the crisis was in part an economic issue, I returned to university to learn standard economics.
  • After graduating I continued my studies and found that John Ruskin had useful ideas about the fundamental economic concept of value.
  • These ideas are the foundation for my proposed economic framework: the Economics of Needs and Limits, or ENL.
  • ENL permits analysts to establish rational economic objectives based on the goal of sustainable well-being.

Youth Ecological Revolution

  • After completing ENL I realized that a political analysis and strategy were required to implement the framework.
  • I therefore studied the deep politics of power and social control.  Particularly useful were George Orwell, Edward Bernays, and Niccolo Machiavelli.
  • I concluded that the only way to seriously address the ecological crisis was through revolutionary change.
  • Seeing that the young would be most profoundly affected by the crisis, I focused my revolutionary strategy on them and their older supporters.
  • See my book, Youth Ecological Revolution, for details.

The Ecological Crisis

  • The ecological crisis is overshoot: the violation of multiple global environmental limits starting around 1950.
  • Overshoot resulted from the over-expansion of the global capitalist economy.
  • The ecological crisis can be divided into the greenhouse gas (GHG) crisis and non-GHG harms.
  • The GHG crisis includes all environmentally destructive consequences of unsafe GHG concentrations.
  • Non-GHG harms include those listed in the slide.

The GHG Crisis

  • Unsafe GHG concentrations have several warming impacts and one chemical impact.
  • The warming impacts, which arise from all GHGs, are global warming, ocean warming and the resulting deoxygenation, and climate change.
  • The chemical effect, which is due to CO2 alone, is ocean acidification.
  • "Climate change" is a scientifically unsound term for the GHG crisis.  In my view MEER should not use "climate change" for this purpose.
  • "Global warming" and "climate change" are not synonymous.  The former refers to an increase in the Earth's surface temperature.  The latter refers to a prolonged change in the mean and variability of key weather components.  Their conflation is one of many deceptions of mainstream climate science.

The Ecological Damage Function

  • At least in the public domain, climate science has never specified the relationship between global warming  and ecological damage.
  • I call this relationship the ecological damage function: damage is a function of the speed, magnitude, and duration of the unsafe temperature.
  • This implies that stabilizing the global temperature anomaly at 1.5°C or 2.0°C is irrational: damage will continue to accumulate in Earth systems so long as the unsafe temperature persists.
  • A critical analytical conclusion is that ecological damage is in part represented by the area under the temperature-time curve.  The missing factor is speed.

Energy Balance and Geoengineering

  • Ye Tao's analysis has convinced me that industrial GHG removal (GGR) is impossible for energy reasons.  Using GGR to rebalance the Earth's energy is therefore infeasible.
  • In the first edition of "Youth Ecological Revolution" I also failed to distinguish adequately between fossil-fuel emissions, which contain both GHGs and aerosols, and GHG emissions themselves.  GHGs warm the globe whereas aerosols (except soot, AKA black carbon) have a cooling effect.
  • This distinction is of fundamental importance because reducing or halting FF emissions will likely result in a temperature INCREASE.  This is because aerosols have a short atmospheric lifetime (weeks) whereas CO2 and methane have much longer lifetimes (centuries for CO2 and about a decade for methane).  The cooling effect will therefore disappear rapidly whereas the warming effect will remain.

Reducing Global Warming through SRM

  • This is a draft diagram for the 2nd edition of "Youth Ecological Revolution".
  • The top part shows net unsafe FF emissions continuing because of the "termination shock" previously described.
  • The bottom part shows the resulting temperature increase that results from rising GHG concentrations.  Only solar radiation management (SRM) - particularly the mirror technologies developed by MEER - can reduce the temperature to a survivable level.
  • Based on the ecological damage function, the damage to be survived is depicted by the shaded area.

What runs our universe?

  • This slide was produced by MEER.  It lists the factors involved in the universe's unfolding.
  • The physical world is depicted in the first two columns.
  • The "Information" column lists the physical and human factors that determine how this unfolding takes place.
  • The slide implies that "policy" - government initiatives - is the key factor in implementing environmental policies.
  • Although this is valid under non-emergency conditions, it is radically insufficient given the existential ecological threat.

What runs our universe? (edited)

  • The two factors that must also be considered are capitalism and political power.
  • Capitalism is the world's dominant economic system.  As previously stated, its over-expansion led to overshoot and the ecological crisis.
  • Political power determines a society's economic system, economic logic, worldview, pattern of development, social relations, and much more.  Ignoring it is no longer a survivable option.

Capitalism's Economic Logic

  • An economy's logic consists of its goal, production criteria (output mix), and the way it treats the environment and human beings.
  • Capitalism's economic logic is depicted in the diagram.  Critically, natural sinks (safe absorption capacity for GHGs, wastes, etc.) are deemed to be infinite.  This suffices to characterize capitalist logic as ecocidal.

ENL's Economic Logic

  • ENL's economic logic aims for sustainable well-being, treats natural sources and sinks as strictly limited, and sees the populace as both economic actors and human beings.
  • Treating the populace as human beings means that ENL explicitly recognizes the effects of economic activities on well-being.  For example, under ENL labor productivity is not maximized, but rather optimized to account for the health degradation associated with excessive automation, which reduced workers to cogs in a machine.

"Centuries-old wisdom" - Needs vs. Wants

  • Ye Tao sometimes refers to "centuries-old wisdom".  This wisdom includes the division of outputs into necessities and non-necessities: amenities and luxuries.
  • Standard economics, which reflects capitalism's economic logic, ignores this distinction.
  • ENL recognizes it by dividing consumption desires into needs, which maintain or increase health when satisfied, and wants, which don't have these effects.
  • Needs are limited by the body's limited capacity for health improvement.
  • Wants are limited only by appetites and imagination, and are thus environmentally dangerous.
  • ENL therefore divides wants into those that are socially authorized and unauthorized.
  • An ENL-based economy produces outputs to satisfy needs and authorized wants.
  • Dr. Tao has stated that planned obsolescence should be illegal.  I think a better approach is to structure economic theory so that this obscenity is economically irrational.

ENL's Economic Abstraction

  • This is the economic abstraction used to develop ENL's analytical tools.
  • It shows the three core components - humankind, the economy, and the environment - and the essential relationships between them.
  • Most terms have formal definitions in ENL (see book's glossary), and are typically related using graphs.

Political Power under Capitalism

  • The standard political story, which has been uncritically adopted by virtually all environmental thinkers, is that the populace controls society through its government.
  • The deep political truth is that society is controlled by the capitalist ruling class through its state.
  • The ruling class consists of a society's major capitalists organized as a political force to serve their shared interests.  It delegates its power to the state, which utilizes this authority to regulate social functioning.
  • The state is typically camouflaged as "government agencies", "the civil service", "the executive branch of government", etc.
  • Government represents the populace by pressuring the state to implement desired policies.  The state will respond based on the need to pacify and control the populace while serving ruling-class interests.
  • The military has two roles: to protect the populace from existential threats and to safeguard ruling-class power so long as the latter serves popular interests.
  • MEER could be receptive to this perspective given the quote from its website.

Evidence for Absence of Government Power

  • I call the belief in government power the "democratic illusion".
  • This illusion is likely the most significant obstacle to revolutionary change and the rational crisis response.
  • The list therefore cites evidence for the absence of government power.

Methods of Social Control

  • This diagram explains the "social control" arrow in slide #15 ("Political power under capitalism").
  • The capitalist state controls the populace primarily by satisfying their desires for sustenance and entertainment, by manipulating them through propaganda, deceptions, and fear, and by subjecting them to psychological and physical coercion if these methods fail.
  • The state uses extensive surveillance to forestall revolutionary threats and to improve its methods of social control.
  • Intellectuals, who as abstract thinkers pose a potential danger to the ruling class, are additionally controlled through stringent thought control.  This establishes a distinct boundary between permissible and impermissible thought.
  • Intellectuals have internalized this division through a technique that Orwell called "crimestop" (stopping "thoughtcrimes").  See the cited post.

Political Power after Revolutionary Change

  • This diagram is similar to slide #15 because the survival issue is not the structure of political power, but rather the social forces that currently occupy this structure.
  • Here a sustainable group has replaced the capitalist class as rulers, and both the state and military now support the new group.
  • Government functions much as before, but interference with democratic processes by the ruling group, the state, and their supporters is constitutionally forbidden.

Why No SRM under Capitalism?

  • Given Ye Tao's analysis, SRM is the primary measure for maintaining the global temperature at a survivable level.  Understanding why SRM is impossible under the current economic system is therefore critical.
  • The second point - no solution leads to defeatism - is a major factor in maintaining the omnicidal status quo.  I believe this has been widely overlooked.

Key Points

  • MEER should be aware of capitalism and political power
  • Capitalism's economic logic is ecocidal and treats people exclusively as workers and consumers
  • ENL's economic logic is sustainable and treats people as both economic actors and human beings
  • FALSE: Populace rules society through its government
  • TRUE: Capitalist class rules society through its state
  • Populace is controlled through satisfaction, manipulation, and coercion
  • Intellectuals are also controlled through thought control
  • Populace is monitored through surveillance
  • Serious SRM is extremely unlikely under capitalism

Main Message

  • MEER's existentially significant work can be implemented only under post-capitalist conditions, which implies revolutionary change.
  • MEER should conduct its research and publicize its findings accordingly.