Four “Paths” Forward to Address Global Climate Change

In a 2019 article for Dissent magazine, Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright analyze the “capitalist nation-state that structures our world” as the primary condition for accelerating planetary climate change, and they identify four “rough paths” forward, based on their book Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future. “If we seek to ensure justice, democracy, and equitability,” Mann and Wainwright write, we must consider scenarios they describe as Climate Leviathan, Climate Mao, Climate Behemoth, and Climate X.

Noting that it is difficult to put any environmental plan into action due to political and economic pressures, their four scenarios give different weight to capital and sovereignty.

Under Climate Leviathan an “emergent global order” commits to the consolidation of capitalism under a planetary sovereignty that overcomes the problem of collective action. Quoting Frederick Jameson (“it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism”) they describe this scenario as “the most plausible, if not the most preferable.”

Climate Mao is similarly planetary in scale, but “dedicated to an anti-capitalist order.” The Mao scenario is, they write, the formation most likely to confront Leviathan on a global scale. Mann and Wainwright predict that, in this scenario, regions of the world that are both immediately at risk of climate change–induced disturbance and have significant traditions of rural collectivism—including especially South and East Asia—are most likely to embrace the Climate Mao path.

Climate Behemoth is driven by nationalist politics that deny the threat of climate change. Mann and Wainwright describe this path as a kind of capitalist status quo characterized by “reactionary, usually racist, macho-nationalism,” and they identify it with the Republican party in the US and Conservative parties in the UK and Canada.

Climate X is the name Mann and Wainwright use for a collection of movements that pursue global climate justice through “non-capitalist political economies”  that reject “the political logic of sovereignty” and “construct solidarities at multiple scales.” These movements reject both the capitalist mode of political and economic organization and any “sovereign arrogation of power,” whether it is national or international in form. It is a placeholder for a hope that may be better than the three but maybe even harder to achieve.

Expressing skepticism that the capitalist state is “extremely unlikely to produce something like a Green New Deal,” Mann and Wainwright conclude that more radical solutions must be envisioned and enacted by “people in the places and communities” where they struggle “to make, and make sense of, their lives at this perilous conjuncture.”

Source: Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright, “Political Scenarios for Climate Disaster,” Dissent, Summer 2019, https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/political-scenarios-for-climate-disaster

Student Researcher: Jiawen Xie (City College of San Francisco)

Faculty Evaluator: Jennifer Levinson (City College of San Francisco)

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