Theater of Cruelty

The climate crisis

The Progress of This Storm. Nature and Society in a Warming World
Forfatter: Andreas Malm
Forlag: (Verso Books, USA)
Andreas Malm is a fierce and clear-eyed critic of the environmental destruction of capitalism. Now he is raging against a "reactionary environmental movement" and wants to save the concept of nature to save nature.


Andreas Malm's previous book Fossil Capital – The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming (2015) won well-deserved reputation as a brilliant blend of source-based history research and political reasoning. Coal and oil are the key to understanding globalization and modern society: the geological energy stocks have opened to the boundless growth that has become the hallmark of capitalism and the ambition of empires. Now that the limit is still being reached, while stocks are running low, the West's aging empires are rallying with the rest of the world to burn the last 30 percent of the world's fossil resources. We know it will be fatal to use them, and are thus on their way into the storm with open eyes.

In his new book, Malm uses the storm as an extended metaphor: Concrete hurricanes and firestorms also raise fundamental questions. Is it nature that now threatens society, or is it ever society that threatens nature through secondary effects? Or is it capitalism that has become the new force that threatens both with overheating and chaos? The climate crisis has also created one conceptually chaos, says Malm, which in the worst case means that we no longer discern what's at stake.

Exasperating criticism

It begins with the heyday of postmodernism in the 90 century, when Bill McKibben turned environmentalism into a dangerous course with his postulates in The End of Nature. With a good sense of drama, he pointed out that the man-made climate affects all ecosystems on the planet. There is no longer any independent, untouched nature – and thus the concept of nature should also be a fairy tale. Here lies an obvious and dangerous fallacy, Malm points out: Influencing nature is not the same as making it disappear, much less creating or constructing it – no matter how we twist the concept of nature. As little as coal and oil are a product of our concepts, global warming is a "discourse" or a "narrative" that can be deconstructed.

We can't let the earth burn while we wait for any evidence.

Donna Haraway is accused of dissolving all distinctions, not just between nature og society, but between self and that one Secondly,, truth og løgn, basis og superstructure. When all contradictions dissolve into hybrids and merge into a formless entity, all meaning and basis for discernment and analysis also disappear, Malm argues, in an argument that may hold in principle but undeniably rests on a delusional reading.

Even harder it goes beyond Bruno Latour: His playful but often impenetrable theoretical interpretations in The Politics of Nature is described as an "orgy in the mud," which turns into a dirty wrestling match when Malm himself is pulled in and a bit reluctantly tries to put a whole piece of writing in the ground with a few quick grips. For Malm, it's not just about correcting what he sees as flawed thinking, but about uncovering an ideological distortion: "His [Latour's] life work can be read as one of the most subtle antimarxist constructions of the last half-century," Malm writes and suggests that he fears the revolutionary potential of the climate crisis. The criticism is just as bizarre as it is interesting.

Doctrines for the ecorevolution

Malm's Marxist and revolutionary approach to the climate crisis brings with it a false glance for internal enemies among those who believe to be part of the same front. The red-green thinker Jason E. Moore is criticized for being in his Capitalism in the Web of Life provides a Marxist variant of postmodern hybrid thinking – and sees capitalism's economic cycle and nature's household as two sides of the same issue. Moore's belief that capitalism will collapse by itself when it reaches nature's tolerance limits is empirically unsustainable, Malm argues: We cannot let the earth burn while we wait for any evidence.

He takes another settlement with Dipesh Chakrabarty, who, like Malm himself, is known for a post-colonialist perspective. When Chakrabarty says that we must put human conflicts aside to save nature, Malm sees it as a betrayal to those suffering from climate change injustice – a defensive depoliticization of the climate issue.

As young Marx settled with the utopian socialists who believed in brotherhood and human benevolence, Malm also insists that it is important to realize that planetary (high) bourgeoisie is the enemy – a real enemy that must be fought. If the richest eight people on earth were to disappear, polar bears and butterflies would benefit directly. This guillotine rhetoric seems more like a political daydream than a solution – but is obviously meant as a contrast to false optimism and convenient resignation.

Class hatred and the liberation of nature

Malm says without compromise that for those who are drowning, burning under the sun and being chased by climate change, the following is the rightful response to the richest: You did this to enrich yourself, and we pay with our lives. "A well-founded opinion and, moreover, a basis for ecological class hatred, perhaps the feeling most desperately needed in a heated world." Malm's provocative calls for militant pessimism and uncompromising negativity are a dangerous choice he must face. It is, however, a struggle he wages on behalf of the offended parties – this stormy confrontation is also a fight on behalf of a nature in revolt.

Although Malm knows full well that it is anthropomorphic to see storms and hurricanes as a revolutionary force, they testify to a nature that is neither our construction nor property. For Malm, the forces of nature become a political symbol of the counter-force created by oppression and subjugation – which he finds expressed in the Italian autonomy movement's concept of power – power – which also means potential.

The horrified amazement that the emerging economy is at a time when it is destroying the earth will only become visible if we do not see capitalism as something natural and inevitable: if we distinguish between the suffering nature and our own capitalist society. From the belief that the world not only should, but also could been much better, Malm retrieves his bitter power.

Anders Dunk
Anders Dunker
Philosopher. Regular literary critic in Ny Tid. Translator.

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