Capital-in-Crisis, Global Warming and the Gulf Stream : Implications for Maritime Climates

Capital-in-Crisis, Global Warming and the Gulf Stream : Implications for Maritime Climates

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The uncontrollable unfolding of the structural crisis of capital is having the most profound effects on Nature on a global scale. It’s effects on Nature can only worsen this crisis. The reciprocality of the relationship between capital-in-crisis and Nature contains within it the possibilities of the deepening of the ‘second order’ social aspects of this structural crisis.

The relationship between global warming, the melting of the icesheets and the operation of the Gulf Stream (the ‘Conveyor’) which regulates Britain’s maritime climate is a specific example of this reciprocality of capital’s crisis and the alteration of Nature’s cycles. The chief characteristic of a ‘maritime climate’ is the small differences between summer and winter temperatures reflecting a certain equability in the climatic conditions.

Geoscientists have investigated and analysed the historical deposition of the different layers in the ice-sheets of Greenland and the Arctic over many millenia. From inspecting this layered record in ice-cores, they have discovered a remarkably accurate correlation and consistent relationship between the degree of salinity in the water of the Atlantic Ocean throughout its history and the actual flow-speed or the suspension of this flow in the Gulf Stream itself.

They have found that as the salinity of the ocean drops (as more freshwater enters it), the Gulf Stream has a tendency to slow down or ‘switch off’ and fall into a state of suspension. It effectively decelerates or ceases to flow, to circulate as a ‘conveyor’ of warm air and water from the the equatorial regions to the North Atlantic, North-Western Europe and, of course, Britain’s shores.

The influence of the Gulf Stream is very important in the regulation of the maritime climate of North-Western Europe, and especially Britain which is in its direct path. This influence tends to warm up the climate in the winter months and cools it down in the summer months. By doing this, it maintains the maritime character of the climate.

The continued melting of the ice-sheets will lower the salinity of the North Atlantic waters and tend to increase the possibility of the Gulf Stream ‘slowing down’ or ‘switching off’. Geoscientists have discovered that it may not necessarily be a gradual process of switch off. It could be sudden, abrupt, catastrophic. Once the salinity drops beyond a certain point, it could trigger the immediate ‘turning off’ of the Gulf Stream. Like a bubble bursting, or a bridge suddenly collapsing or an earthquake, etc. Examples of the dialectical accumulation, concentration and self-augmentation of quantitative changes suddenly producing a massive, marked and distinct qualitative transformation in the object. (This is found in Hegel’s concept of ‘Measure’ in the Science of Logic).

This would have catastrophic consequences for the maritime climates subject to the Gulf Stream’s influence in western Europe. If it ‘switches off’, it will, from all the geoscientific records and studies, radically alter these maritime climates by ushering in long, freezing sub-zero winters and baking hot summers. It will polarise the temperatures between the seasons. In other words, ‘maritime’ will cease to be ‘maritime’ and the climate will be more like the Prairie climate of central Canada or parts of Siberia. Canadians will put me right on this, but my understanding is that the climate of the Canadian Prairie is freezing cold in winter, ice, massive snowdrifts, etc  and very hot in summer.

Of course, what is presented here is a summary and simplification. A more detailed geoscientific analysis can be found at the link given below.

With millions already on their knees in poverty and struggling to meet their energy bills, what sort of a social crisis would the onset of such a climate change precipitate in Britain and in other areas? Thousands of elderly (and not so elderly!) people die every winter in Britain from hypothermia because they cannot afford to heat their homes. They die not because of the absence of available energy but because they do not have the income to pay for enough of it which will enable them to survive the winter. The immoral position of the capitalist energy companies is pay up or freeze. You can only keep warm on condition that we can profit from it.

In altering the whole climate and destroying the biosphere, capital-in-crisis is driving humanity deeper into a black hole of history. Nature’s wondrous and beautiful creation, human life and the cultural conditions for a higher mode of socialist human life are being sucked into the vortex and abyss of its unfolding crisis. It is caught in a paradox which is intractable and inescapable within the conditions and parameters of the global capitalist order. On the one hand, the development of the dynamic of its structural crisis necessarily drives it towards the destruction of Nature’s creation, human beings and therefore of all those natural, social and cultural conditions which are required for the establishment and development of socialist society. But this self-same destruction also destroys the very material and social basis (especially labour-power) for the continuation of the capital order itself. This paradox is also within a higher paradox in that this destruction also, simultaneously, starts to posit a dynamic of social revolution. Within all this destruction, capital-in-crisis actually contains and starts to posit the conditions for its own transcendence by the global proletariat organised in its necessary forms of revolutionary agency. The proletariat is the only class, the only force, that can put an end to the epoch of global capital. This, of course, does not mean that the capital order will inevitably give way to socialism. Quite the contrary, we will have to fight to put an end to its existence once and for all. This is precisely why the question of revolutionary agency has historical precedence today over all other questions.

Shaun May

October 2013


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