Hammer, Sickle, And Geoengineering

(many thanks to FM for inspiring this)

Good old Karl Marx had a saying in lots of things, and of course it is possible to find some reference about climate change too. Interestingly, it’s not necessarily what one would expect.

This is an extract from a 1868 letter to Engels:

Very interesting is the book by Fraas (1847): Klima und Pflanzenwelt in der Zeit, eine Geschichte beider, namely as proving that climate and flora change in historical times. He is a Darwinist before Darwin, and admits even the species developing in historical times. But he is at the same time agronomist. He claims that with cultivation — depending on its degree — the ‘moisture’ so beloved by the peasants gets lost (hence also the plants migrate from south to north), and finally steppe formation occurs. The first effect of cultivation is useful, but finally devastating through deforestation, etc. This man is both a thoroughly learned philologist (he has written books in Greek) and a chemist, agronomist, etc. The conclusion is that cultivation — when it proceeds in natural growth and is not consciously controlled (as a bourgeois he naturally does not reach this point) — leaves deserts behind it, Persia, Mesopotamia, etc., Greece. So once again an unconscious socialist tendency!

What does it all mean? One could start by guessing that the reported “conclusion” (explicitly defined as beyond Fraas‘ own grasp) is that “cultivation“, like all human activities, must be “consciously controlled“. Otherwise, desertification (or any other form of disaster) will befall us. Cue State-controlled economy moving into Stalinism, or nowadays a multi-trillion-dollar global programme of action to change everybody’s way of living. All manifestations of the double hell on earth that science-led policy can be.

But let’s dig a bit deeper. The letter is mentioned in a review article of 2000, “Marx and the Metabolism between Humanity and Nature” by Peter Dickens, Journal of Critical Realism, Alethia 3.2 2000 pp 40-45:

[…] the key point here again is that Marx was trying to develop Darwin’s way of thinking. He was once more insisting that, as human beings work on nature to produce the things they need, they change themselves culturally as well as physically. […]

[…] Marx’s adoption of both Tremaux and Fraas in his attempt to upgrade Darwin can now be seen as problematic in a number of ways. More positively, however, it can be seen as a precursor to those current versions of Darwinism and evolutionary thought which emphasise not only the organism but its reciprocal interactions with its environment (Lewontin 1982, Dickens 2000). People finish up making themselves in making their environment. Similarly, the environment is indeed actively made and is not, as Malthus argued, an eternally fixed and morality-enhancing quantity. […]

In other words, a population changes its environment changes a population. This is obviously completely opposite to conservation-fixated contemporary environmentalism. Alas, that’s not what surfaced when Engels moved in on the topic:

[…] Main evidence that civilisation is an antagonistic process which in its hitherto existing form exhausts the land, turns forest into desert, makes the earth unfruitful for its original products and worsens the climate. Steppe lands and increased warmth and dryness of the climate are the consequences of culture. In Germany and Italy it is 5-6°C warmer than at the time of the forests […]

Where is this coming from then? Once again, the underlying mantra appears to be the belief that human reason would eventually come up with enough an understanding of the world as to be able to master it one way or another. Engels again:

at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature – but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly

Hammer, sickle, and geoengineering indeed.