The Coming Asperity
a definition and some speculation
What happens when new / bright green environmentalism isn’t enough?
If things continue under the ‘business as usual’ moniker of global capitalism, eventually (despite all the warnings) humanity will reach a climate cliff, and just as the financial sector drove right over it in 2008 I don’t hold out much hope that we won’t do the same with the climate. Just as the result of the 2008 crash brought austerity and immediate, drastic cuts to budget deficits: If we drive over the climate cliff will bring us immediate, drastic cuts to fossil fuel use — Asperity.
I’ve sketched out a working definition below:
1. A policy of cutting resource use and consumption via a reduction in carbon dioxide (or equivalent emissions) and resources that are available/provided to a population. Asperity policies are often used by governments to try to reduce the emissions of a defined population, system or activity.
2. Roughness or harshness, as of surface, sound, or climate: ‘the asperity of northern winters.’ (current dictionary term)
Put quite simply asperity means ‘deep cuts now’. When commentators call for a reduction in consumption and reduction of emissions, what they are essentially calling for is asperity. However there is always a part of me that just isn’t exactly sure they (and we) understand what that means.
The challenge facing the western world is to cut fossil fuel consumption by a factor of 4 to 10 and reduce the greenhouse effect, land take and consumption of other resources by a factor of 2 to 4 - 2001 Muilerman Report. European Commission “towards a sustainable use of natural resources”
Think about that for a moment; read it again if you have to. Think about your life and then try and factor in a factor of 4 — 10 reduction in fossil fuel use plus a reduction of other resources (eg water) by a factor of 4. I personally have always struggled to visualise and get my head around these numerical figures — at the low end this is comparable to the UK adopting a carbon burn equivalent to Uzbekistan and at the high end, a reduction of 90% consumption across the board. I can however conceptualise the idea that in comparison to my current privileged position as a westerner it will most definitely suck. How on earth is any developed population going to do that without the incredible hardship and misery of millions?
(Un)Luckily politically speaking, there is already a kind of precedent. Right now, the youth of the west are watching as elected and unelected baby boomers impose cuts and debt reduction policies on countries across the developed world; policies that are resulting in the deaths of the sick and the old, whilst their younger sisters and brothers are going hungry and passing out at school. Yet, for their entire lives a generation has watched geo-political elites talking about climate change and taking no action. Apparently protecting financial systems is more important than protecting the world.
The youth are getting older, and one day they will be in charge
The condition of austerity weighs disproportionately on the young. Their parents are screwing them. If the ends of the current push for deficit reduction justify the means and consequences, then the boomers of the west should be very worried about what might come next.
If anyone should be galvanized with guilt over this issue, it’s guys who have been driving big ugly cars and living in leaky mansions for sixty years. Well, your chickens have come home to roost now, Mr Muscle Car, Mr Little Deuce Coupe — Bruce Stirling — Viridian Note 00001
This previous 5 Viridian Years piece from Nicole Matos has done a far better job of analysing the generational divide and climate than I ever could. So instead I would like to speculate on what kind of societal leverage could politicians of the future use as fuel to rally popular support for asperity — as opposed to say, geoengineering — as a way to prevent global catastrophe? Asperity politics (in action) could take many forms and be called many things — deep green, green authoritarianism, perhaps even openly by detractors as eco-fascism (can one imagine a deep green sweeping in power on votes from climate refugee’s in the ravaged post united states of america?) It would be enacted by many groups concurrently: as a social trend, by governments, and even perhaps terrorists.
Asperity could be enacted on a society’s ageing population, marketed as generational punishment; for the years of dithering over climate action, for the forced debt and precarity the people now in power went through growing up. Yes, the old will die, but that’s ok. They were responsible for deaths of many over truly inconsequential things like debt. Hell, in the early decades of the 21st century 1 child died every 4 seconds from preventable poverty — with that kind of track record to compare against the old shouldn’t worry huh?
Any green authoritarian governments that make it into power would enact asperity with full force and imposition. If the 2010 UK coalition government thought it possible to fundamentally change the fabric of the UK’s society in 4 years, then a deep green one would attempt it in 4 months.
Some weak signals are already there: Monbiot famously said “no one ever rioted for austerity”. Perhaps we should now say — no one has yet rioted for asperity. It’s early days and people aren’t yet that desperate. But people are already willing to get beaten by the boys in blue, shut down power stations, and burn stuff to the ground to protect the climate, hell at the more extreme end there’s even a movie about eco terrorism coming out soon.
The asperity that the future youth of the world may enact would of course disproportionately affect the old, the boomers, Gen X and even Gen Y themselves. The speculative slide towards asperity-based totalitarianism / eco fascism is something I and (I’m sure) no one else wants. But perhaps we collectively can keep a keen eye out for the weak signals. Bruce Stirling’s Viridian movement can perhaps be seen as an early alternate vector of addressing the situation, there are of course other possible vectors towards a solutions: a rapprochement between the generations on the issue of not just resource use but economic privilege in general, a drastic reorganisation of the relationship of capital to labour and a reassessment of the way we calculate value to name but a few. But the planet is in a bad state and we as thinkers, designers, and conscious humans beings need to explore every possible way out that’s not turning everything off or eco mega engineering.
Because if nothing drastic is done and soon, it’s only going to get worse with no chance of it getting better.