The advent of global climate chaos produces a historical moment in which, with the proper prodding, Americans can see their modernist project--especially the relationship between politics, environment, and economy--in a new light. Because it is the first widely recognized global environmental crisis, and because its primary chemical driver, carbon-dioxide, is deeply rooted in the very DNA of the industrial political economy, climate destabilization prepares the way for crucial conversations that previously have been difficult or impossible to initiate. Climate chaos presents an historic, and unprecedented, opportunity to restructure the American mind and American life.
We must nudge the climate change dialogue beyond technocratic issues of CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards, mass transit, and carbon sequestration. When the concentration of atmospheric carbon-dioxide reaches 390 ppm, then 395 ppm, it will have something to do with architectural design, World Bank policies, and the way tomatoes are grown. When the next Katrina slams into the American shore, it'll have something to do with labor history, the trajectory of industrial production, and the insidious fiction of corporate personhood. When the remainder of the Larsen Ice Shelf collapses, it will have something to do with economic globalization, health care system dynamics, and real estate developers' influence at city hall. When the Gulf Stream begins to falter, it will have something to do with planned obsolescence, conspicuous consumption, and gender relations.
Because it points to a fundamental and systemic failure in an entire system of governance and political relations--and rot at the core of an entire system of assumptions about "the good life" and "the American way"--the moment demands a redrawing of modern economic, technological, social, and political history, a thorough reevaluation of who we are, what it means for a society to succeed, and what it...