The Deep Politics of Rational Action

By Frank Rotering | May 31, 2017

In my previous post I used the ideas of deep politics to determine that the capitalist ruling class is primarily responsible for the lack of rational action on the ecological crisis.  Such action would include immediate solar radiation management (SRM), rapid reductions in greenhouse gas concentrations, and the transition from economic expansion to contraction.  In this post I again use these ideas, but this time to locate an alternative social group that might take the necessary steps.

Such a group must meet two requirements: it must have the capacity to replace the ruling class and then implement the indicated measures, and it must have the will to proceed in this fashion.  Because time is extremely limited, the capacity must currently exist.  It would take far too long for a group to develop the required organization and political strength from scratch.  The will to act is a different matter.  Even if this is currently absent, it could suddenly appear due to a profound shift in perceptions and attitudes.  Given the speed of environmental decline and its momentous implications, such a shift could easily happen in the near future.  In brief, the target group must have both the present capacity and the potential will to respond rationally to ecological decline.

As noted in my last post, a capitalist society has three core components: a ruling class that dominates society, a state that coordinates and controls society in the interests of this class, and a populace that is subject to this domination, coordination, and control.  I will examine these three components for qualified candidates.

The ruling class has already been eliminated based on its demonstrated failure to mount an effective response.  A prominent example is the Paris Agreement on climate change (2015).  This widely praised accord addresses only one aspect of ecological overshoot, ignores SRM, pushes the schedule for CO2 removals well past the point of no return, avoids a binding enforcement mechanism, and promotes ecocidal economic growth.  It is the latest in a long list of propaganda exercises designed to prolong the world's environmental complacency.  Any group that proposes such a weak and deceptive measure at this critical juncture must be disqualified.

The populace can also be eliminated because it lacks political power and thus control over the state - the social instrument that alone can take the necessary steps.  The only way for a popular group to gain power would be through revolution.  However, both the objective and subjective conditions for revolutionary change are missing in the rich countries.  On the objective side, extreme deprivation and oppression are largely absent, and the ruling class is neither weak nor divided. On the subjective side, the required theory, strategy, and leadership have not been developed.  The populace thus lacks present capacity, which means that its potential will is irrelevant.  Popular groups can and should pressure the powerful to act, but they cannot act autonomously to salvage the biosphere.

The sole remaining possibility is the state itself.  This crucial entity plays two broad roles: it coordinates social functioning, and it maintains social order and national security.  The coordination role is performed by various bureaucracies that are ill-equipped to challenge capitalist power.  The order and security role, on the other hand, is performed by groups that possess the tools for political coercion.  By far the most significant of these is the military.  The question thus becomes: does the military have both the present capacity and the potential will to subdue the ruling class and take the necessary steps?  In considering this question I will focus on the U.S. military, which exerts the greatest global influence.

There is little doubt that the U.S. military has the present capacity to intervene as indicated.  Its 2.8 million members are tightly organized, well-trained, and subject to a strict chain of command.  Its weaponry and infrastructure are highly sophisticated.  The military's presence within the U.S. is pervasive, with installations in numerous states and pro-military messages everywhere.  It runs several intelligence agencies, including the NSA.  New technologies, many of which are not commercially available, issue continuously from DARPA, the military's advanced research agency.  If tomorrow the military leadership decided to assume power in the U.S. and send planes to spread sulfate aerosol over the Arctic, it could likely achieve these goals within months.

The military's potential will to act in this manner is a much trickier issue.  On the surface this seems completely implausible.  The U.S. military is currently engaged in brutal wars and secret operations that make it a highly destructive force in global affairs.  It has long behaved in this manner, thereby shaping much of the world according to U.S. ruling-class interests.  However, as with society itself, we must look beneath the surface to see what changes may be stirring at this unique point in history.  There are two topics to consider: the military's perspective on the ecological crisis and the strength of its allegiance to the capitalist class.

The U.S. military's ecological views are comprehensively laid out in a set of documents published in 2015 by the Department of Defense (DoD).  These reveal that the department's environmental awareness first arose in the 1990s, but that its further development was stymied by the Bush administration and the events of 9/11.  These impediments were finally overcome in 2007, when the DoD fully accepted the gravity of the climate crisis.  One document states that, "Climate change is real, serious, and inescapable, and its looming effects ... may prove to be destabilizing on a massive scale."  It goes further by warning that climate change tipping points have, "... a real potential to wipe out a majority of the population and species on the planet."  The existential nature of the threat is underscored by another document, which states that, "The life-sustaining capacity of our planet may be in jeopardy."

Unfortunately there are several negatives as well.  Although some documents recognize that the IPCC's climate change models ignore critical feedbacks and thus produce highly conservative results, others have complete faith in the organization's work.  The emissions fallacy, which downplays greenhouse gas concentrations, is accepted throughout.   The Arctic meltdown is accurately portrayed, but there is no acknowledgment that this extreme emergency requires an immediate response.  As part of this mindset, geoengineering is seen exclusively as a potential threat by rogue actors; the fact that it is humankind's sole chance of survival is ignored.

In brief, the U.S. military understands that the crisis is serious and calls for decisive action, but it succumbs to the standard errors on emissions reductions, geoengineering, and to some degree the IPCC's scientific reliability.

The strength of the military's allegiance to the capitalist class derives from two factors: how the military perceives its relationship to society, and how deeply the capitalist worldview has permeated its leadership.  The good news here is that the U.S. military sees itself as representing the American nation - that is, the collective interests of the American people.  Given that the crisis is on track to devastate this population, the military should logically intercede.  The bad news is that its leadership identifies strongly with the capitalist system and class.  This is evident from its concern that an inadequate response to the crisis will stifle economic growth and undermine, "... the Western model of economic development and democracy".

Nevertheless, there are encouraging signs that the U.S. military is willing to assert its independence from the current rulers.  The climate denial of political leaders is repeatedly criticized, with one document stating that, "Politics or ideology must not get in the way of sound planning."  Environmental cooperation with China, as well as with "allies, NGOs, and those of common purpose," is seen as imperative.  Concern is expressed not just for the homeland, but also for humankind and nature.  It is also possible that the publication of these documents - in inexpensive, electronic form - is a shot across the bow, warning the rulers that their persistent inaction is stretching the limits of military tolerance.  If this is true, the breaking point could soon be reached, with dramatic action to follow.

To summarize, the U.S. military clearly has the present capacity to assume power and take the indicated steps.  Its potential will is less certain, but it seems likely that the escalating crisis will progressively strengthen the military's resolve to defy its current political masters.


At the end of my last post I said that something extraordinary must soon happen to break the deadly impasse of an entrenched ruling class that responds irrationally to impending ecological collapse.  Based on the above line of reasoning, I conclude that this event is military intervention.  The immediate aim would be to seize political power and initiate SRM to refreeze the Arctic.  The next environmental project would be the aggressive removal and emissions reductions of GHGs to restore safe concentrations.  At some point in this process the military should transfer power back to a civilian ruling group in order to transform an expansionary capitalist economy into a sustainable post-capitalist economy.

What I therefore envisage is a transfer of class power, mediated by military force, that directs humankind onto a sustainable path.  If there were any other way to achieve this end I would gladly embrace it.  But, unless I have missed something fundamental, no such alternative exists.  The civilian world has failed.  If humankind is to survive, the military world must now act.

In future posts I will explore this strategy, the roots of capitalist inaction, and the reasons for the populace's astonishing passivity in the face of mortal danger.


Updates and edits: Dec. 18/18; Aug. 25/19

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