Prospects for 2013: Chris Bertram

By Ed

09 January 2013

The slouch towards dystopia will continue in 2013, predicts Chris Bertram, as neither the economic crisis nor the developing climate catastrophe will be addressed. Part of our series of short contributions from figures on the left looking to the year ahead.


2013 will be shaped by the economic and fiscal crisis in both the Europe and the United States and the developing ecological catastrophe. Mainstream politicians will pay mere lip service to addressing the latter whilst offering variants on the neoliberal project for the former. The dominance of the neoliberal project makes it almost impossible to address problems like climate change, since it depends on promising a world with greater and increasingly individualized consumption. Faced with a choice between shifting to a different model or developing damaging technologies like fracking that can keep business-as-usual running for a bit longer (and promise growth and jobs in the interim), political leaders will opt for the second. This involves a squeeze on consumption for some in the developed world, but politicians will assert that if people just work harder and longer and endure austerity, renewed long-term growth and prosperity will come.

As in a house being eaten away by termites, life can carry on "normally" until the moment when the floorboards give way. Though 2012 saw some serious climate events—droughts in the U.S. and torrential rain in parts of Western Europe—we can never know whether 2013 will see some decisive eruption of the natural order into the social cocoon. At present, the higher food prices predicted for 2013 don't seem to have materialized, though they remain at historically high levels. But making ends meet is going to continue to be difficult for millions for whom food is the biggest part of the household budget, especially since the price of basic foodstuffs (unlike services or manufactured goods) varies little between poor and rich countries.

Expect, then, increased but often chaotic responses by stressed populations to the combined economic and ecological crisis, responses met by yet more dogmatic assertions of the neoliberal model by political leaders. Expect also violence, where required, to contain the immediate discontent and an emphasis on "security" and borders: blame the foreigners, blame the immigrants, but don't question the model. Expect right-wing nationalists to profit from ill-directed discontent. Do not expect anyone in the political mainstream -- least of all Eds Miliband and Balls -- to do other than pretend that things could be made better if only they were setting the budget. And sadly, don't expect there to be a ready mass audience for an egalitarian, green and internationalist alternative. At least not yet.

Chris Bertram is Professor of Social and Political Philosophy at the University of Bristol. He blogs at Crooked Timber and is the author of Rousseau and the Social Contact.

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3 Comments on "Prospects for 2013: Chris Bertram"

By Neil, on 10 January 2013 - 10:16 |

Is it realistic to expect there to be ‘a mass audience for an egalitarian, green and internationalist alternative’ when there is almost no public discussion on the left (at least in the UK) about strategy or, with limited and disconnected exceptions, any visible political action and certainly nothing strategically terrain shaping? It’s virtually impossible even to have a constructive debate, as i’ve pointed out, never mind anything more.

To my mind we give every impression of being politically paralysed, self-engrossed, and seemingly waiting for catastrophe to strike to release us from the spell. If that’s the case then I question what the point is of even bothering to write or talk about the present? We may just as well go and do other things and wait for disaster to strike. 

By Neil, on 12 January 2013 - 01:00 |

It’s interesting to read Morris Berman on Counterpunch looking at the future in a longer and more critical perspective; for example his conclusion:

“We will not escape the ravages of climate change; we shall not avoid the economic and ecological disasters that are integral to global capitalism; not be able to avert an oil crisis, an energy crisis, or a food and water crisis that will become extreme when the world population finally arrives at 10 or 11 billion, by mid-century.  These things are not going to be resolved by reason, by the neocortex, no matter how many articles are published on these subjects in learned journals or popular magazines.  And they certainly can’t be resolved by the limbic brain, whose function is indulgence, not restraint.  Hence, it is a fair guess that we shall start doing things differently only when there is no other choice; and even then, we shall undoubtedly cast our efforts in the form of a shiny new and improved hula hoop, the belief system that will finally be the true one, after all of those false starts; the one we should have been following all along.  What to call it?  Catastrophism, perhaps.  You can consider this the founding document.” (The Hula Hoop Theory of History)

In the meantime I suppose academics and journalists have to make a living ....

By Eric Smiff, on 16 January 2013 - 14:15 |

Roger  Pielke has appeared on BBC Newsnight. He is the expert on this subject.

Extreme Misrepresentation: USGCRP and the Case of Floods

Given the strength of the science on this subject, the USGCRP must have gone to some effort to mischaracterize it by 180 degrees. In areas where I have expertise, the flood example presented here is not unique in the report (e.g., Hurricane Sandy is mentioned 31 times).
Do note that just because the report is erroroneous in areas where I have expertise does not mean that it is incorrect in other conclusions. However, given the problematic and well-documented treatment of extremes in earlier IPCC and US government reports, I’d think that the science community would have its act together by now and stop playing such games.

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