A radical critique of science: writing the next chapter

April 13, 2015

Social and labour movements need a coherent critique of science and technology, it was argued at a meeting in London on Saturday.

On a practical level, battles against damaging technologies have often been waged separately from each other, and cover1could do more to reinforce each other, it was pointed out.

This includes technologies deployed by corporate power in an anti-natural, anti-human way (e.g . “extreme energy” or genetic engineering of people or crops), technologies of social control (e.g. anti-crowd hardware or electronic surveillance), and technologies that harmed workers’ health and/or reinforced their exploitation (e.g. hazardous chemicals or building practices).

The use, misuse and abuse of science in developing these technologies is crucial. And the meeting highlighted the history of the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science (BSSRS), that in the 1970s and 80s successfully mobilised scientists to work with labour and protest movements. It considered the lessons of this experience for activists today.

The gathering (title: Radical Science and Alternative Technology) was organised by the Breaking the Frame group, and featured talks by veteran BSSRS activists and by present-day campaigners. Here are my impressions of an Read the rest of this entry »

The Anthropocene? It’s just inhuman

April 1, 2015

Human activity has changed the earth so drastically that we are in a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, says a bunch of scientists. No, it’s “capital, not humanity as such” that’s responsible, writes socialist activist and environmental researcher Andreas Malm in Jacobin magazine.

Malm argues that it’s “the reliance by capitalists on the extraction and use of fossil energy” that is “driving us toward disaster” – and that this is downplayed by the Anthropocene concept.

Malm hits at three targets. First, he defends social movements that take up climate issues from attack by Mark Lynas, whose book The God Species popularised the Anthropocene idea. Second, he takes on scientists who suggest

The use of ammonia-based fertilisers has caused the biggest upset to the nitrogen cycle in 2.5 billion years. Photo from the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand

The use of ammonia-based fertilisers has caused the biggest upset to the nitrogen cycle in 2.5 billion years. Photo from the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand

that human damage to the environment is a function of human productive activity in general. And third, he argues against climate science, politics and discourse that are framed as “species-thinking, humanity-bashing, undifferentiated collective self-flagellation” – “ideological pirouettes that only serve to conceal the driver”.

In my view, Lynas richly deserves the polemical kicking he gets from Malm. Lynas’s rant against the left-wing journalist Naomi Klein, who argues that averting climate change is inextricably linked with the fight for social justice, is both unfounded and idiotic. Unfounded, because Lynas denounces Klein’s realistic-but-optimistic book This Changes Everything for reflecting a “miserabilist and dystopian worldview”, which it Read the rest of this entry »