chapter  1
11 Pages

Introduction

The omens are not good for the future of human civilisation. We have reached a historical juncture whereby we must either dramatically change course or face widespread and irreversible human catastrophe: the collapse of our institutions and the death of millions and eventually billions of people. Civilisations have collapsed before. We now face the prospect of another imminent collapse, but this time, on an unprecedented scale of suffering. Dr Rajendra Pachauri, Scientist and Economist, then Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said in 2007 that ‘if there’s no action before 2012 [when the Kyoto Protocol ran out], that’s too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the de¿ning moment.’ I am writing this book in the belief that it is not too late, that we still have a small window of opportunity to change the current course of human history, and that we have a moral imperative, given the potential scale of suffering, to act. So, while there is no longer any doubt that human-induced global warming is occurring, what is not known is the timing and magnitude of effects and at what junctures irreversible tipping points will be passed, taking the planet on a warming trajectory which will be catastrophic for humans and most species. It is the greatest issue facing humanity. The key factors in the evidence of its existence are presented but this book is not about global warming per se. It is about the political economy of global warming. To be more accurate, I have argued in this book that it is necessary to see global warming as one of a suite of problems arising from the system of capitalist political economy – a system which is particular and also, now, globalised. The term ‘political economy’ requires immediate de¿nition. It has been chosen because it involves an insightful approach to understanding society – particularly in relation to power, class and ‘the social relations of production’ (see below) which are issues of particular concern in analysing the structural dynamics relevant to global warming. Weingast and Wittman (2006: 3) summarise the range of interpretations of political economy as follows:

For Adam Smith, political economy was the science of managing a nation’s resources so as to generate wealth. For Marx, it was how the ownership of the means of production inÀuenced historical processes. For much of

the twentieth century, the phrase political economy … had contradictory meanings. Sometimes it was viewed as an area of study (the interrelationship between economics and politics) while at other times, it was viewed as a methodological approach. Even the methodological approach was divided into two parts – the economic approach (often called public choice) emphasising individual rationality and the sociological approach where the level of analysis tended to be institutional.