The Conservation Revolution: radical ideas for saving nature beyond the Anthropocene
By Bram Büscher and Robert Fletcher

Verso, RRP £14.99. Bookbuster price £12.99 

Review by Tim Barton

We face a global crisis of threatened systems failure, of which greenhouse gas emissions are but one facet (pretty much the only one ‘addressed’ by ‘geo-engineering’ ‘solutions’). Discovering this has been painful, and for many players the psychological stage they are in is one of denial. Here is an extract from the denouement of episode 261 of Star Trek NG, broadcast 27 years ago:  

RABAL: Based on current [data], we’ve projected where subspace rifts will be most likely to be formed over the next forty years. This is the way things are now. This is how they’ll look in ten years. Twenty years. Thirty years. Forty years. (the monitor display moves up to almost total blue subspace rifts)

PICARD: We’ve received new directives […]. Until we can find a way to counteract the warp field effect, the Council feels our best course is to slow the damage as much as possible. […] effective immediately all Federation vessels will be limited to a speed of warp five, except in cases of extreme emergency. The Federation’s sharing all our data [and] can only hope [others] realise it’s in their own interests and take similar action.

CRUSHER: Putting limits on warp speed is only going to prevent other rifts from forming. What are we going to do about this one?

RABAL: The gravitational shifts have already begun to affect my planet’s orbit. Our climate is changing.

PICARD: You know, I spent the better part of my life exploring space. I’ve charted new worlds, I’ve met dozens of new species. And I believe that these were all valuable ends in themselves. Now it seems that all this while, I was helping to damage the thing that I hold most dear.

LAFORGE: […] We still have time to make it better.

As well as showing that we have for a long time had a glimmering awareness of the problems we are creating, the script for this episode also illustrates the on set of ‘post-enlightenment blues’, a misguided optimism that leads to ‘too little, too late’, and a failure to face the possibility that it is already ‘too late’ for many of our basic life-support ‘systems’. 

Man’s powers have increased through a Faustian bargain, the future of vast tracts of the biosphere consigned to oblivion for ‘growth now’. The short-termism is comfortable and convenient – for a while. Despite warnings, corporate profiteers and their political stooges have clearly chosen obfuscation, lies and greenwash. The latter, environmental issues getting a whitewash, is a dominant theme since especially the mid-80s Brundtland Report. This led to the Rio meetings, where global elites gathered ostensibly to discuss addressing mounting environmental issues. Naturally, if disappointingly, ‘address’ meant ‘find a way to brush under the carpet’ whilst convincing the public they were acting. When they did act, it was to control and make profit from ‘green’ ideas, most undertaken on a scale by definition unsustainable. This is symptomatic of the pursuit of ‘business as usual’.

Corporate profiteers and their political stooges have clearly chosen obfuscation, lies and greenwash

Thus, most narratives ‘addressing’ green issues, many proffered as ‘radical’ solutions, are essentially hog-tied to capitalist modes of economy. As such, value is assigned according to those actions that maximise immediate profit. In a finite and degraded biosphere, where much economic activity is defined by industrial mass production, there is no route ‘from here to there’ if ‘there’ is a sustainable green future. As time passes, the horizon beyond which no solution that encompasses social justice and synergistic runaway destructive ecological and meteorological processes speeds towards us, and in many areas has already passed us. In the 1980s ‘green capitalism’ was broached as a ‘fix’, but under capitalism growth of profits and dividends by definition comes first: if a ‘green’ project is ‘loss-making’, the ‘capitalist’ dumps it. Otherwise, it is not capitalist. QED, ‘green’ capitalism is a cul-de-sac that leads to complacency and disaster, once again. Greenwashed ‘business as usual’ trumps real solutions enacted in a time-scale and on a physical scale that can possibly avert collapse.

In their book, The Conservation Revolution, authors Bram Büscher and Robert Fletcher are, rightly, extremely critical of the ways in which ‘capitalist’ methods are incorporated into many of the supposedly radical solutions in the current debate around ‘degrowth’ , ‘rewilding’ and the ‘Anthropocene’. These terms all need unpacking in detail, as many in the green movement feel very positive about them. And, indeed, it is not that each does not have positive elements, and certainly many who have taken these ideas to heart have done so with good intent. A critique, then, is both controversial and in need of recognising a degree of complexity in the interpretation of the terms. All three will be further unpacked in future reviews, but The Conservation Revolution is a good start toward pricking the overly optimistic bubble many greens live in with regard to rewilding and degrowth. As to the concept of ‘the Anthropocene’, that has seen a large degree of ‘mission creep’ and now often manifests as meaning the opposite of the intent it first appeared to encompass. Now, the geo-engineers and corporate profiteers talk of man commanding nature, indeed, of the ‘end of nature’, embracing ‘the Anthropocene’ as a universal good.

The most worthwhile parts of the book, however, are those that posit a need to bring a strong critique of capitalism back into the debate, along with, too, an absolute offensive against ‘productivism’. The latter has informed much of the European left for the last century, through unionised industry to parliamentary (i.e. establishment) labour groupings, as well as being
a fundamental and necessary element of much of the capitalist machine. The recent increase in the importance of ‘financialisation’ as a prong on the capitalist fork may have seen a degree of ‘deindustrialisation’ in the West, as other less worker-dependent forms of profiteering have been promoted. Although not at the expense of global industry, of course, it has pushed ‘dirty industry’ to countries where labour is cheaper and pollution restrictions fewer. This is a form of imperialism and colonialism, where apart from very large players such as China, most countries producing goods for export to the capitalist heartlands are more or less under the thumb of rich capitalist nations (such as the USA) and to globally powerful companies (such as Nestlé and MacDonald’s in Brazil). The supposedly ‘democratic’ forms of politics in the US and Europe disguise the degree to which these nations are themselves in hock to a few very large corporations. 

Much of this renders a large percentage of the environmental movement impotent. Rather than find this depressing, though, writers such as Büscher and Fletcher seek to look for better paths to success by analysing these failings in detail. A true path is only visible to those who look the enemy right in the eye, not those who decide it’s too grim and so embrace false hopes or navel gaze as a means of self-protection. So, our way ahead will be to illuminate the darkness of the territory with as clear a gaze as possible…

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