Drawing up a balance sheet of Brian Baker's article on climate change I think that he has only one important point: we cannot at present be totally sure that there is climate change before us due to CO2 emissions. This is generally the case for all concrete science, and especially for one as complex as climatology. As Engels wrote in Ludwig Feuerbach: "For dialectical philosophy, nothing is final, absolute, sacred."
But Baker turns it completely around and wants to prove the non-existence of climate change from the philosophy of dialectics:
"For a Marxist to state that the evidence for Anthropomorphic Global Warming compared with natural variability can be demonstrated from the evidence, shows that he has no knowledge of dialectics or historical materialism."
I personally don't know enough about climatology to say anything about Baker's "scientific" results, but to make the discussion about philosophy instead of about the interpretation of the facts is completely wrong and seems to be just a smart way of not answering the counter-arguments, which Baker just regards as "unscientific". Dialectics can neither prove nor disprove climate change. Let us again see what Engels wrote in Ludwig Feuerbach:
"Today, when one needs to comprehend the results of natural scientific investigation only dialectically, that is, in the sense of their own interconnection, in order to arrive at a ‘system of nature' sufficient for our time; when the dialectical character of this interconnection is forcing itself against their will even into the metaphysically-trained minds of the natural scientists, today natural philosophy is finally disposed of. Every attempt at resurrecting it would be not only superfluous but a step backwards."
I think that there are a lot of political mistakes in Baker's article. The term "ecochondria" and the comparison with religion have many flaws. I can accept the idea and term, when it is directed at what I personally call "eco-fundamentalists", those that in short say that the green revolution comes before the red revolution - i.e. all who see climate change as independent of capitalist society.
But to stretch this analogy to include not just all mainstream climatologists, but also all former writers of climate articles on In Defence of Marxism is too far-fetched. Especially when in the last part we read that all who support the mainstream scientific idea of climate change also have no faith in the working class, believes in the UN, think the alternative to present day capitalism is a hunter-gatherer society, etc.
Baker spends a lot of time arguing that the theory of climate change is used by the capitalists in the suppression of the working class. Of course the capitalists use everything possible in the suppression of the working class, but that does not mean that climate change does not exist.
Unemployment is also used as an argument for worse conditions and lower wages for workers. Our answer is not: there is no unemployment. Our answer is: why should the workers pay for the faults of the capitalist system?
When religion was used by the ruling class in the feudal period (and in other periods too) it worked well, because the inner logic of religion was to stay in your place, that the lord was god sent, that there was an afterlife, etc. - it made the system as a whole more stable. Is the inner logic of climate change really that the working class should stand aside and just accept cuts? The capitalists try to make it so, but instead the answer could easily be that climate change is caused by an unplanned economy, that we need a democratic plan, that we need a socialist revolution - all in all the exact opposite of making the system as a whole more stable. Maybe this argument did enter Baker's mind when in the last part he writes that only "sections of the capitalist class (...) have jumped onto the ecochondria bandwagon." (My emphasis.)
All in all I think Baker's attitude to the progress and use of science in capitalist society is very (and too) optimistic (notice the small word capitalist). First with GMOs where there is no doubt in Baker's mind:
"The fact that science has proved that GMO produce is safe, and the fact that vast quantities of the produce are grown around the world, without any adverse side effects is irrelevant to these people."
Nothing about the uncertainty in the results due to the enormous capitalist interests.
And then on the working of the entire climate system: "This new understanding backs up what to the ordinary working person finds intuitively obvious that the world self-regulates." (I don't find this "intuitively obvious".)
The basis of this attitude seems to be Baker's belief that man does not change the environment:
"The sunspot cycles indicate that something momentous is happening, far greater than the puny influence of man whose input onto the plane of these galactic events is in the reaction of a small trace gas at the margins" (My italics.)
This is very foreign to Marxism. Marx wrote on a more specific subject in Capital:
"In modern agriculture, as in the urban industries, the increased productiveness and quantity of the labour set in motion are bought at the cost of laying waste and consuming by disease labour-power itself. Moreover, all progress in capitalistic agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the labourer, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time, is a progress towards ruining the lasting sources of that fertility. The more a country starts its development on the foundation of modern industry, like the United States, for example, the more rapid is this process of destruction. Capitalist production, therefore, develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth - the soil and the labourer." (Vol. 1, chapter 15, section 10)
I think that we as Marxists have to look at the capitalists much more critically than Baker does when he writes:
"The capitalist class increased the exploitation year by year through increases in productivity, which is another way of saying that we do tomorrow what we did today using less resources, but always labour."
Does raising profitability really mean using fewer natural resources? Of course capitalists always try to lower their costs. And if this can be done by using cheaper inputs they do so. But does it cost the capitalist anything to emit CO2 gases (apart from small taxes)? No. Why then should the capitalist bother about how much CO2 he emits? Even bourgeois economists, who call this an externality, know that this is the way the capitalist system works.
Even if we are not sure whether CO2 emissions are a bad thing do we really want to take the risk of just continuing as if nothing is wrong? Will we really jeopardize to future of our planet?
In my mind the answer is obviously no. As Marxists our task is to defend the interests of the working class - with or without uncertainty. We must raise the important point, that as long as we have capitalist society which runs according to the profit motive, money-making, not genuine science in various fields is possible. This should be one of our main slogans. As Karl Marx says: "The ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class." And it should always be used in connection with the concrete slogans on how to solve the climate change issue. In this way we are able to connect with both people who "believe" in climate change and those who do not.
12th May, Copenhagen