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TOO LATE?
A HORROR STORY
Gene Warren Jr.

I agonized on what to title this short piece, designed to highlight the grave problems facing
humanity. Is it too late to reverse the direction of global warming and the inevitable
catastrophic effects of climate change, and all the other existential threats to the biosphere? In
my opinion, the clock is near midnight, and a blunt assessment and recognition of what the
people of the world are now facing, is way overdue. Are we productivist or anti-productivist?
Before I do that, I think a little personal background will help with my standing on the threats
to the biosphere. My awareness actually began when I was in high school in the late 1950’s.
But an accounting of my early consciousness will have to wait for my memoirs. The most
relevant period began in 2004, when a few of us in a collective called Studies for Global Justice
decided to develop a class that we titled Converging Storms, The Crisis of: Energy, Capitalism,
and the Environment. Myself, Lisa Lubow, Meliza Figuaroa, Kitty Kroger, and Adelle Wallace,
took five months in 2005, to develop the seven-week class. My brother Ron Warren helped out
on an irregular basis. We met once a week, read dozens of books and hundreds of articles to
deepen our own understanding, and also to develop an extensive reader for the class. At the
outset we decided to base/frame, the entire class on physics/science, before introducing our
Marxist, socialist’s ideologies.
We gave the first class in the spring of 2006. The students included members of a number of
far left groups, many independent socialists and about half were environmental activists, most,
not necessarily anti-capitalist.
The impact of the class on the roughly 85 participants was varied, but profoundly challenged
most of their world views. A few pulled back from ecological activism altogether (returned
later). But, many did not challenge the validity of the information, but, urged us to essentially
water down our content and conclusions, because it was too frightening, and would lead to a
feeling of hopelessness. My answer has always been, if the information is accurate, frightening
or not, it is irresponsible not to present it.
We gave the class again in 2008, 2009, 2010. Then again in 2014, 2015 and 2017. In the
years between 2006 and 2012, we developed respect in LA’s environmental movement. But a
majority of the organized far left, were, in my view, deep in denial. I personally, in a number of
public meetings, was called a kook catastrophist, a Neo-Malthusian, an apolitical tree hugger,
and many other negative epithets. I haven’t heard any of that in your face name calling in the
last six or seven years.
So what has changed? Reality. If you have been paying attention and are not mired in rigid
ideology, then continued denial is no longer an option. I’m not going to present a bunch of
graphs and charts to back up my argument, but lay out what most scientists now think. I’m
grounding this conclusion from the Converging Storms reader.
The first session focused on energy, what is it, and why is it so important? In this short piece
I’ll keep it simple. Energy is the capacity to do work. Nothing moves without energy. The laws
of thermodynamics help spell out the limitations of our access to energy. The First Law states
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in essence, that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only changed in form. If this was all
there was to it, no problem, but, it’s the Second Law, that throws a monkey wrench into the
machinery. The Second Law of Thermodynamics, often called Entropy, declares that, in any
isolated system, everything moves in one direction, hot to cold, order to disorder, unless new
energy from the outside is introduced into the system. Fortunately, we have the Sun, or we
would have frozen solid millions of years ago.
So? So what, you say? So, nothing moves without energy. The overwhelming source of that
energy for the last 150 years has been fossil fuels. Primarily, oil. I’ll wrap it up with a short
quote from Stan Goff: The Energy Crisis Is Here, 2004.
“The simple fact is that the world system as it is now constituted, in every facet including
technological development and population, has been fueled predominantly by fossil
hydrocarbons, exclusively and irreplaceably in many sectors by oil. Any analysis that fails to
confront this fact squarely is neglecting physics, specifically the THE SECOND LAW OF
THERMODYNAMICS. The reason this physical – law related to energy – is so important is that it
is a law that cannot be broken. We cannot “make” energy, and when we use it up in work, it is
gone for all practical purposes.”
One more important comment on oil. Oil, and all fossil fuels are finite. We are now at
conventional oil’s plateau of extraction. The only reason we are not experiencing a sharp
decline yet is due to extreme measures, fracking, shale oil, tar sands, etc. The Energy Return on
Energy Invested (EROEI) is very low on these proxies. And, as conventional oil reserves and
extraction decline, so will the EROEI. We are using up hundreds of millions of years of stored
solar energy. We can’t get it back.
The hard to face, fact, for many, is that, the last, almost two hundred years of industrial
production and extraction, (primarily capitalist), has been possible because of fossil fuels,
particularly oil. Including, the exponential growth of the worlds human population.
Since this is a personal piece, I’ll make, what should be, a sobering comment on population.
When I was born in 1941, 4 ½ months before Pearl Harbor (I’m a pre-boomer), also, the same
day, July 22, that Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, the planet’s human population was about 2.1
billion. In 1841, a hundred years before, the population was about 1.4 billion. In one hundred
years it grew by less than one billion. Now, only 77 years later, the human population has
almost tripled to about 7.6 billion. And that massive growth, in the same period, has been
accompanied by, increasing toxification of land, sea and air and helped lead to massive species
declension and die offs. Many scientists now think we are in the world’s sixth mass extinction,
and have dubbed 1950 as the beginning of a new epoch, the Anthropocene. This is where a
number of international scientific organizations are currently at.
“As of August 2016, neither the International Commission on Stratigraphy nor
the International Union of Geological Sciences has yet officially approved the term as a
recognized subdivision of geological time,[3][6][7] although the Anthropocene Working Group
(AWG) of the Sub commission on Quaternary Stratigraphy (SQS)of the International
Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS), voted to proceed towards a formal golden spike
(GSSP) proposal to define the Anthropocene epoch in the Geologic Time Scale and presented
the recommendation to the International Geological Congress on 29 August 2016.[8]”
Okay, let’s move on to some more details about the sources and negative consequences of
climate change, other than the burning of fossil fuels. As the ice caps melt, particularly
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Greenland and Antarctica, fresh water enters the oceans. If all the glaciers on Greenland
melted the worlds seas would rise about 22 feet. If the same happened in Antarctica (where
around 70% of the world’s fresh water is stored) the sea levels could rise well over a hundred
feet. Here is an example of an article from our first reader. We still included it in the 2017
edition. Melting Planet: “Species are Dying Out Faster Than We Have Dared Recognize”. When
we first developed our reader, most scientists understood that the glaciers on Greenland were
sliding toward the sea at a frightening pace, about a meter a year. Now they are moving 3
meters a year.
As I was writing this about the glaciers in Greenland, I received an e-mail from my brother.
The headline read: “IN JUST 30 MINUTES, GREENLAND’S HELHEIM GLACIER LOST 10 BILLION
TONS OF ICE TO THE OCEAN.” Pakalolo Community, Tuesday, July 10th, 2018.
The crisis of ocean acidification, caused by the absorption of 30/40 % of the CO2 out of the
atmosphere, including rivers and lakes, has been compared to anthropogenic climate change
and called the “evil twin of global warming”. Coral reefs are already bleaching and dying off,
the world over, at an alarming rate, contributing to species extinctions.
We also covered how all of the above negatively impacted human health. No space here,
but it’s not a pretty picture.
The overall point I’m making/stressing, is that, in only a short 15 years, the mainstream
scientific consensus gave us around 100 years to deal with, and begin to mitigate, most of the
issues mentioned above. Only “scientific outliers” were projecting worst case scenarios in the
early 2000’s. Unfortunately, the mainstream consensus now agrees with the “outliers” on
just about everything.
By this point in the class, we had pointed out the looming, inevitable, catastrophic events,
facing not only the earth’s biosphere, but life on earth as we know it. Sadly, we may now have
already passed many tipping points, and when the music stops, guaranteed, there will not be
enough chairs.
We then introduced the capitalist system. I gave a presentation that included, why the
system had built in to it’s structure, an imperative to expand/grow. For those interested a
detailed explanation on why capitalism must expand, take a look at a talk I gave at a Socialist
Party meeting back in 2015. Go to You Tube, Socialist Party, LA Freedom School: Capitalism and
Austerity, Gene Warren Jr.
I make the argument that capitalism cannot stay healthy for long without expansion, without
growth. Most environmentalists, and in my opinion, most Marxists, believe that capitalism only
has a tendency to grow, that those at the top control and guide the system as if it were an
empty vessel, divorced from the real world. A downside of such a position is that most
environmentalists and sadly many Marxists wrongly conclude that the system can be regulated
into sustainability. Sustainable growth is an oxymoron.
I also think that the present crisis may be the new normal, that is, without permanent
yearly expansion of at least 3% the capitalist system will continue to stagnate or contract. At
present, ten years later, the majority of people have not yet recovered from the Great
Recession. As it all begins to unravel, if the workers and oppressed people of the world, from
the bottom up, do not overthrow it, and replace it with a democratic, egalitarian, collectivist
system, then the capitalists themselves, will replace it with some form of a totalitarian
command economy. It will not be capitalism but something far worse.
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Okay, so now I’ll get to the core of what I was asked to focus this piece on, and make it clear
why, at this juncture, I am still in a tiny minority. Many people in the radical left, Marxists,
democratic socialists, anarchists, now agree with, at some level, most of what I have alluded to
above. More and more folks are now identifying as ecosocialists. Here’s the rub, there are two
camps that are, in a practical sense, diametrically opposed.
The majority view thinks that the problem we face is essentially one of redistribution, that
once we overthrow the ruling classes, we can ramp up production and end scarcity, thus
bringing relative equality to the world. These folks are the productivist camp, that make up the
overwhelming majority of socialists/ecosocialist, in the world.
I represent the anti-productivist camp. Unfortunately, the stamp, anti-productivist doesn’t
sound positive, and it’s not in many ways. But, too bad something like sustainable production
wasn’t adopted, it wasn’t, so we’re stuck with it.
In my opinion, the best book on the subject is by Richard Smith, Green Capitalism, the God
That Failed. WEA and College Publications 2016. Richard is a long time friend (35 years or so),
and we both came to anti-productivist views independently. He was on the east coast most of
the time and I’ve always been on the west coast. I bring up his book because I think everyone
should read it. Also, because I’m now using Richard’s participation in a workshop on eco-
socialism, at the Left Forum in New York City, a couple of months ago to help emphasize my
argument.
The panel was titled: Radical Visions and Strategies for the Environmental Movement. The
sponsors were: New Politics Magazine, DSA Climate Change Working Group, System Change
Not Climate Change. Nancy Holmstrom, New Politics Magazine, moderated. The other
panelists, besides Richard, who represented, System Change Not Climate Change, were: Kate
Aronoff, In These Times, Ashley Dawson, College of Staten island, and Nancy Romer, Brooklyn
College.
I wasn’t there, but, I got a thorough report from Gabe, an SP comrade, who attended. He said
Richard’s talk on the seriousness of the threats, sounded very much like mine, during the
discussion period, someone said, I’m paraphrasing, “oh my God, you paint a bleak picture. What
is your program to mitigate the problems?” Richard responded, and I’m paraphrasing again,
“end all industrial extraction and production today”.
Of course, the statement was somewhat hyperbole, but only somewhat. It brings most radicals
up short, ‘get out of here, the capitalists will never go for that’. Exactly, it’s the point Richard
was making, and I say similar things. And I also add, if capitalism is not stopped, overthrown,
and replaced with a democratic system/ecosocialism, soon, then, the looming disasters will take
down the human experiment, and all higher life forms with it.
To make things worse, when we do overthrow capitalism, we cannot continue industrial
production and extraction like we do now. We have to dramatically pull back. More stuff for
those at the bottom, around the world, for sure, but the long term solution will have to be found
in massive cultural shifts to quality over quantity. Less stuff, more leisure time. I know this
sounds utopian, but the laws of physics will prevail, whether we like it or not. Let me quote
myself, and end with this comment, which those that know me, have heard before.
“Mother nature doesn’t care whether she is pillaged and raped authoritatively, or
democratically.”

Gene 7/19/18
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