The #Accelerate Manifesto and Climate Change 2

Dieser Post ist auf Englisch, weil die Debatte um den Akzelerationismus derzeit vor allem auf Englisch stattfindet.

One of the Manifesto’s authors responded to my post. I’ll repost his response here, and add my thoughts below.

Hey Frederik, thanks for your comments on the manifesto. I think there’s a couple issues to separate out – one is the imminent threat of climate change, and the other is the long-term panoramic view of what ‘humanity’ is. (I use scare quotes there because, like what Reza Negarestani argues, I think what the human is, is always a going-beyond of itself.)

You’re right to highlight that we didn’t use the term ‘sustainable’ in reference to climate change, and in part this is because of the way in which this term has been so watered-down as to mean very little. But there is something to the term, and any answer to the climate problem (which I’m pessimistic about a solution to), will necessarily involve some modicum of sustainability. This does mean a change in the nature of our economies and in everyday habits, and is immensely difficult. All of that is necessary to respond to the imminent threat of climate change though.

But then there’s the wide-view on what humanity is, and the manifesto at least implicitly is trying to recuperate an alternative modernity. Which means an alternative notion of progress, self-criticism, self-determination, and control over natural forces (including those within our bodies). And it’s from this vision that ideas about Prometheanism emerge, and ideas about cosmist utopias. We are free – and we are human – only insofar as we are aiming to construct rational orders and expand our powers of self-determination. And these necessarily have an expansive force to them – meaning we can’t be content with localism, or even with a steady-state economy. To be human in this sense means we can’t give up on Enlightenment principles or modernist notions of progress.

Now there’s a tension there between immediate needs and long-term tendencies, but I don’t think it’s impossible to weave between them. It just takes finesse (which also makes me pessimistic about any happy resolution to climate change). But I wrote a piece recently which gives a partial (and only partial) view on how these things can be weaved together:

Hope that clarifies it somewhat!

Hey Nick, thanks for your response. „Finesse“ is a really good term for what is needed, and your review on geoengineering clarified a lot for me. It also provided a very relevant example for the passage on abductive experimentation in the manifesto. I do think, however, that your juxtaposition of the imminent and the long term requires some complication. While the need to act on climate change is imminent, the consequences of climate change will be with us for centuries, if not millennia. And if we do fail to mount an adequate response, as is becoming ever more likely, the ensuing catastrophes will shake up our intellectual and political landscape and more importantly our self-image as a species in ways that are hard to predict. If the worst case scenarios come true and we hit 6  C° of warming at the end of the century, we don’t know what parts of the human enterprise will survive at all. So the long term view of what humanity is and what it can accomplish depends a lot on how we deal with the imminent crisis.

And that will require sustainability, and more than just a modicum. I frankly don’t know what a „modicum“ of sustainability means in this context. Either an economic system operates within the boundaries of the biosphere’s ability to replenish or recover, or it doesn’t. Granted, there may be ways to push these boundaries, but our destructive efforts so far have actually tightened them, and the future effects of climate change will tighten them even further. So before we dream of expanding them beyond what we have seen, we will first have to restore them to the state that we were used to. The enhancement of our powers of self-determination may have less to do with our expansion to fanciful frontiers, but rather with the overcoming of the constraints and catastrophes encroaching on us. A society tasked with fending off a global food crisis while relocating the cities of New York and Hong Kong may have little energy left for a space program.

Yes, creating a sustainable economy is incredibly difficult and incredibly tedious. In the prevalent societal frame of mind it seems almost impossible. Which is why we may well need an „alternative notion of progress, self-criticism, self-determination, and control over natural forces“ to achieve it. Part of any meaningful self-determination is the exercise of restraint in the right places. To finally build a global society that is not threatened by imminent collapse is a Promethean effort in and of itself.

There are ways in which the search for a cosmist utopia and the efforts towards a sustainable economy can be mutually beneficial. The required interweaving is not between short-term needs and long term tendencies, but between expansion and restraint, utopianism and pragmatism in general. And that indeed requires finesse.

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