Why climate needs us to think beyond the climate
Let’s say you were a progressive in the late 18th and early 19th century. You were - rightly - appalled at the slave trade and enraged that governments weren’t doing enough to stop the crime against humanity. You saw a glimmer of hope in how the transatlantic trade was coming to a halt, but worried that it was being replaced by internal slave markets.
One day, you go to a public gathering where a visiting speaker is talking about the evils of plantation capitalism and how the makers of cotton and sugar keep us hooked on their commodities (wouldn’t have happened, but humor me) and prevented governments from shifting away to better sources.
You notice a man way over there gesticulating wildly with his hands. He is visibly agitated and getting more so by the minute. Sensing a lull in the main speech, the man shouts from the back of the hall: the solution to this problem is simple - just replace cotton with petroleum fibers (which hadn’t been invented, but keep humoring me) and mechanize sugar production. Make the alternatives cheaper and more attractive and the market will take care of the rest.
And as a pragmatic progressive, you’re left with two choices:
Support a strong anti-cotton/sugar movement OR
Support market based alternatives to cotton and sugar
Now tell me: with hindsight, do either of these two positions appear as the right response to slavery?
And if they don’t, why do you think the current debate over fossil fuels and their renewable counterparts is the right characterization of our planetary crisis? Until we see the planet as the planet, and all its inhabitants as carrying moral worth, we are making that very mistake.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t aim to replace carbon based fuels with renewables, but to have that and many other decisions flow out of a grasp of the whole.
It may be possible for the current system to see the planet as a planet (some version of the choices presented in Climate Leviathan) or we may have to imagine entirely new forms of governance, but in both cases we start with the core problem: governing the Earth. Which takes a lot more than reducing atmospheric carbon.