Charles Mudede


Trust an object-oriented philosopher to take notice of the fact that the average US household has 300,000 things in it, where as households "in some parts of Africa... contain between 30-50 objects." The philosopher is Graham Harman. He is one of the leading figures in the speculative realism movement. This school, however, usually considers the metaphysical aspects of objects, and not so much their social relations in an economic system. So, a doll can be present as an object in a world of perceived objects (the flame of a match, a rock on a table, a city framed in a window); but it can also be considered as a commodity in an over-developed market economy: "US children make up 3.7 percent of children on the planet but have 47 percent of all toys and children's books."

Many of those toys were made in other countries, shipped around the world, and were hardly used before ending up in storage. All of that activity did not only cost lots of money but consumed large amounts of energy. These toys are not alone; but are in a system of production, consumption and waste that has defined the American way of life since the end of the Second World War.

Now my point: What I learned from my debate with the local weatherperson Cliff Mass is that his climate skepticism has its roots in a resistance to the fact that climate change will radically transform the way Americans consume objects and energy, and deal with waste. This is what he and his kind find so terrifying: the scale of this transformation. It will mean working less, buying much less, eating a lot less meat, and sharing more and more objects.

These changes will probably not spell the end of capitalism; but they will certainly spell the end of billionaires (and even multi-millionaires) because a post-growth economy will not sustain that kind of wealth and income inequality. Indeed, a standard capitalist economy (one that is not hyper-financialized) produces few to no billionaires, as it only grows at 1 percent. An economy that grows at anything above 2 percent is abnormal.

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Mass essentially wants to keep things the way they are—the old American way of consumption, which, in fact, is not that old (it has been around for less than 70 years), and hopes that technology saves the day. In his imagination, American prosperity can continue the way it is because technology will eventually clean up the mess. This is not science. This is science fiction—and very bad science fiction. The scale of the response to climate change will have to match the scale of the destruction that 65 years of excessive economic growth in countries that escaped (at first by post-war reconstruction and then by financialization) the normal laws of economics (we describe them negatively as "the middle income trap") has wrought. If Mass is not saying that to his audience, he is a danger to them and their society, which needed to be prepared for the coming major social and cultural transition yesterday.

In the words of Rainer Maria Rilke: "You must change your life."

Note: Cliff Mass claims he is not a climate skeptic.