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‘Will The Flower Slip Through The Asphalt’ Grapples With Climate Change And Capitalism [BOOK REVIEW]

A compelling collection of essays.

17/05/2017 9:07 AM IST | Updated 17/05/2017 9:07 AM IST
Roomana Hukil

Will the Flower Slip Through the Asphalt: Writers Respond to Capitalist Climate Change

Edited by: Vijay Prashad

Leftword. 115 pp.

In a fascinating collection of nine succinct essays, Will the Flower Slip Through the Asphalt: Writers Respond to Capitalist Climate Change is a short book on what has lately become a critical issue for climate change: capitalism. Most of the existing work on the subject caters to reformulating capitalist processes for climate stabilisation (read: market liberal/institutionalist theories, namely, environmental Kuznets curve). In addition, efforts to slow climate change through "flexibility mechanisms" (i.e. Joint Implementation, Clean Development Mechanisms and emissions trading) are, merely, regarded as contributing to the "green rhetoric". The question thus arises – is business and sustainability compatible? If not, what is the ecological path to development?

[T]he premise of this book is laid on directly challenging architecture of capitalism and focusing on new ways to govern life and natural processes including the ecosystem.

At first glance, Will the Flower Slip Through the Asphalt is an alluring collection of some of best minds in climate politics. It is only a serendipitous delight to find Amitav Ghosh, Naomi Klein and Ghassan Hage in a breezy, intersubjective, heuristic study on global environmental politics. But the real icing on the cake is the step back it's taken from contemporary discussions surrounding climate capitalism that, favourably, institute "command and control" policies suggesting working within the capitalist state whilst inducing structural adjustments and austerity measures in the form of carbon offsets, quasi-carbon taxes, carbon disclosures, hot air, socially responsible investments (SRI), weather derivatives, catastrophe bonds, etc[1]. However, the premise of this book is laid on directly challenging the architecture of capitalism and focusing on new ways to govern life and natural processes including the ecosystem. Prashad discusses how global societies now desire more than just the idea of sustainable development urging for new ways to live and organise social and natural wealth (22). Klein reiterates that there needs to be a "demand for radical change else people will be searching for a home that no longer exists" (34).

Thus, much of the discourse in the book centres around Edward Said's work on Orientalism where Klein, Hage and Foster make an appeal for change by diagnosing the challenges within climate capitalism such as environmental racism, ecological inequalities between the global North-South and exploitation of future generations. Klein urges for the development of "intellectual theories" that justify the creation of "sacrificial zones" constituted to revoke the protection rights of peripheral populations in order to meet the "needs" of others. Furthermore, Hage, impressively, analyses the concept of "othering" and situates it within the relations of power and instrumentality. Hage argues that the process of othering should not, merely, be regarded as a scholastic exercise, as it needs to be perceived and understood through (what Nietzsche also refers to as) a "sense of power". Efforts should be to not only recognise othering but to delineate what kind of othering it is and how it is practiced (61).

Much of the attention is centred on the global North-South politics but sacrificial zones/people also exacerbate climate change in their own zest for development.

The book also discussed various application essays on India (Singh) and Malaysia (Alatas) that fell short on drawing a cohesive link between capitalist expansion and climate change. For instance, the limited relevance of the demonetisation debate or the 2012 Delhi gang rape. Similarly, how hair conditioners or taking off hijabs would reduce carbon emissions in Malaysia? While these essays still provide some relevant insights in terms of the lived experiences of the global South and must be encouraged within academic spaces, in a short 115-page book, it would have rather been more interesting to read individual country narratives about how the demands of globalised capitalism has not only induced environmental degradation but also subjugated millions of people to intense and acute forms of racism, exploitation and violence.

Thus, what is missing in the book is an essay on climate capitalism between the global South-South. Much of the attention is centred on the global North-South politics but sacrificial zones/people also exacerbate climate change in their own zest for development. This is not to dissuade the attention from global capitalist processes that have trapped and absorbed most developing states in the system, but focusing on the global South and encouraging cooperation between them can ensure "green development", in the true sense of the term. For instance, China's rapid transition to renewable energy, willingness to shift from the manufacturing sector to service-based industries, and readiness to launch the much-hyped national carbon trading market by the end of this year represents a sharp deceleration from China's historical rapid growth rate. In this vein, developing states such as India, Brazil, and South Africa can take precedent from China in formulating developmental goals vis-à-vis their environmental needs.

[We] need to ask ourselves... not whether the flower will slip through the asphalt but rather how must the asphalt be eroded for our orchards to be preserved.

Finally, Ghosh and Abulhawa leave you with the most sanguine, rational proposition for climate stabilisation. Abulhawa suggests that there exists a deep structural problem, which can only be mediated through ecological consciousness, restorative justice and radical demand for change. "Our task is to use all means available to us, at all levels of activism, hacktivism, sabotage, and violence if necessary" (110). Ghosh further demonstrates how there exists not one historical moment where we lived in an unglobalised world. How global connections have instituted violence, deepened inequalities and led to large-scale destruction over long periods of time. However, this does not necessarily mean "interconnectedness" needs to continually be equated with tolerance or resistance with that of prejudice. But rather one must question the very foundations of cosmopolitanism, protectionism and parochialism that no longer exhibit virtuous qualities (115).

As a whole, the book is a must-read for climate enthusiasts, but be warned—it will most definitely leave you longing for more. The anticipation is that the authors of the book will return with a longer publication and delve into some of the critical questions that remain unanswered. At this stage, the question we, thus, need to ask ourselves is not whether the flower will slip through the asphalt but rather how must the asphalt be eroded for our orchards to be preserved.

Newell, Peter, and Matthew Paterson. "Climate capitalism: global warming and the transformation of the global economy." Cambridge University Press, 2010.

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