climate awareness

Image: Margerretta


Electricity in the switch and diesel in the pump do not fall from the sky; anyone who thinks you can guarantee them forever must be a pixie dust salesman

During the last few years, not a day has gone by that the media has not told us about the climate crisis. Unprecedented temperatures, state of emergency in northern Italy, uncontrollable fires, river drought and water stress, seriously affected agriculture, increased hunger in the world, etc. It is now normal to torment ourselves with the catalog of climate disasters; even climate skeptics are exposed to this normalized punishment.

Now, how long are we going to accept this form of terror, which presents the destruction of the foundations of life almost as a fait accompli? How long will it be “possible” to live without shuddering under the threat of a nuclear conflict?

At the same time, on the right or the left, everyone is bragging about an increase in “climate awareness” and willingly adding their voice to the chorus of lamentations and recommendations. The French bosses of energy supply companies are even divided: while some appeal to cut private consumption, others punish their profits; governments in the meantime are seeking some kind of balance.

At the same time, the Russian invasion of Ukraine raises the question of “energy independence”. Not a day goes by without this topic also appearing in the headlines. Targeted moralization of supplies, major changes in energy policy, and hypocritical incitements to sobriety are heralded. Ice cream advertisements must be accompanied, as is known, by a recommendation to consume “five fruits and vegetables a day”. Likewise, the time is not far off when every incentive to consumption will be accompanied by an incentive to sobriety in consumption.

Each demand for goods must, for example, fulfill the condition that, in the end, it represents “zero” in net emissions of greenhouse gases. Lo and behold, this seems to be a smart calculation that aims to “offset” emissions – but without eliminating them. This consecration of the contradictory injunction strongly demonstrates the treatment given to the real contradiction, a maximum effort not to get out of this impossible equation, but with the implicit aim of perpetuating it.

The “we must save Ukraine” plays, after all, the same role as the mantra “we must save the climate”. What is required, it seems, is to shout twice as loudly our unwavering collective determination to secure “democracy”, the “rule of law”, “international peace”, the “ecological transition” and so on. Perhaps it is by shouting from balconies that we will end up believing in a “happy ending”. Unfortunately, the world is sinking into an energy crisis which is just one of the – certainly important – manifestations of its structural crisis.

For the European Commission, however, this is all Vladimir Putin's fault.

For the CEO of the company Total, it is necessary to make individuals responsible for consumption. For citizens, the government does not guarantee stable prices and secure supplies. For ecologists, the fault lies with the lack of political will to implement the much-heralded “transition”.

Now, an analysis at another level must necessarily emphasize that the opposing points of view, held by competing private interests, lead each one to attribute the cause of this structural crisis to some chosen one, without ever naming the foundation of the crisis. The impasse generated by a fundamental contradiction that will not be resolved by stoning this or that leader or by refining the balance sheets is astonishing.

All these contradictory injunctions go hand in hand with the “contradiction in process” of capital, that is, with an “immanent contradiction” of capitalist production. Marx thus designates a contradiction in itself or an elementary self-contradiction, which not only leads to periodic crises, but which, from one crisis to another, advances unimpeded towards the aforementioned impasse, demarcating the absolute internal limit of the mode of production. capitalist.

Capital's fundamental contradiction demands the capture of labor power and at the same time excluding it from jobs on a global scale. It promises participation, but delivers superfluity. It promises social wealth and realizes waste worldwide. The various refinements in handling this contradiction, in itself insoluble, are just those mundane things best shared by commodity subjects.

In this context, the decision taken by the European Commission, voted in 2022 by the European Parliament, to include under certain conditions – which can be completely manipulated – natural gas and nuclear energy in the so-called “green taxonomy”, drops the mask of this gigantic farce climate change and the equally gigantic farce of anti-Russia outrage that kept Westerners in suspense for over four months.

It can also be seen that President Emmanuel Macron intends to nationalize the French electricity company (EDF) in order to finance the construction of new nuclear reactors (EPRs), knowing in advance that almost half of French nuclear power plants are closed due to inexplicable problems of corrosion. Knowing, moreover, that the increasingly frequent episodes of drought threaten the cooling processes of the reactors and that the problem of nuclear waste is by no means resolved. "It's madness," proclaims Greenpeace.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said in her speech that France would leave fossil fuels and, on the same day, French MEPs voted on the taxonomic project that includes natural gas and atomic explosions in green energies. The following day, the government proposed a parliamentary amendment in favor of LNG in a project aimed at strengthening the “purchasing power” of the French.

If we were naive, we could say that the government is swimming on the surface of contradictions; however, being lucid, we can think that he is mocking us. Is the government really kidding us? Or does he not do exactly what everyone expects, namely, an umpteenth attempt to solve one of the inescapable problems created by the fundamental contradiction? Who is the idiot in the story?

These farces clearly show that those who want to remain deaf and blind in the face of the internal self-contradiction of the capitalist mode of production, the absolute foundation of the structural crisis, will also have no idea how to handle its effects. Nowhere does this appear so clearly as in "politics as a form of social action", as any "permanent treatment of contradiction" is ignored. But in reality, this occurs in all social spheres. And it is accompanied both by the growing application of certain “fundamental ontological and anthropological assumptions (for example, man as an abstract subject of interest)” and by an “ideologization of the fetishist relationship in general as a common good”.

Farces, therefore, always have a core that is far from being laughable, since that is how they accompany “reproduction under capitalism”. This requires “always also dealing with the contradiction, as well as updating the interpretation of the real in process. For it too, as a changing interpretation, acts in the permanent transformation of the world. This means that the categorical forms of capitalism and the relationship of dissociation linked to them are presupposed in an ontological way. Now, the transformation of the world occurs as a real interpretation, developing historically “on” and “in” the account of these forms. What results is just going around in circles around that account.

There seems to be no limit here, even to committing a “green” obscenity. If natural gas and nuclear energy can be “clean”, what about methane, for example? After remembering that methane has, in the short term, a climate warming effect at least twenty times greater than carbon dioxide, even if its combustion releases about half the CO2 of oil, the filmmakers of the film “Methane: dream or nightmare?" conclude without blinking: “Japanese authorities say that some years and several technological advances will still be necessary to implement the industrial exploitation of methane hydrates”, something that requires a risky exploration of the seabed.

In any case, say such makers that a big step has just been taken to make methane one of the transitional energies for a future without hydrocarbons; a future that earthlings and the planet's climate so badly need. Betting on the exploitation of a hydrocarbon to build a future without hydrocarbons does not seem so much, in the current situation, a logical or credibility problem; after all, it's like saying without blushing that eating ice cream leads to weight loss as long as you eat an apple afterwards...

Shouldn't we then ask ourselves what, on the subject's side, corresponds to this “contradiction in process”, objective as such? It is precisely here that the question of the affirmative treatment of contradiction arises. Seen from this angle, the report of the form in question is characterized, according to Freud, as a “tear in the ego”. The account of the form already contains a tear born from the attempt to defend itself from an “imposition of the outside world”. And it boils down to “two opposing attitudes, independent of each other”, which “persist throughout life without influencing each other”. In different words, “simultaneously, two contradictory assumptions” remain: one of them denies and the other recognizes the fact of a given perception, but both persist as “reactions to the conflict”, forming a “nucleus” of a “division of the self” .

It is precisely this core that paves the way for an affirmative treatment of contradiction. This seems obvious, for example, when Jens Kersten, professor of public law and administrative sciences at the University of Munich, calls, in his “call for a fundamental ecological law”, to “look and see reality” and, at the same time, to “develop a new sense of reality”. Also in this case, dealing with the contradiction consists, in the last analysis, in postponing ad infinitum the “fundamental change in living habits”, which is “undoubtedly necessary”, as property and the market certainly must not be touched.

It will be enough to give it a new coat of varnish “environmentally mandatory” or “environmentally compatible” (according to Kersten)! A future “peace pact with nature”, as this author wants, ends up making his own affirmative warning superfluous: “either the economy grows ecologically or there will be no more economy and no growth, but only desolation and misery”. It couldn't be clearer: in the sense of dealing with the contradiction, it is a question, once again, of expelling the devil of devastation and misery like Beelzebub from the economy and growth. It remains for us, then, to congratulate ourselves for the latter being green and ecological – and this, of course, guaranteed by the Constitution!

The attempt to defend oneself against an imposition from the outside world is also done here, according to Freud, “by denying perceptions”, which are confronted with a “demand of reality”. Such denials are not only “very frequent”, but always end up being “half measures, imperfect attempts to distance ourselves from reality”. The decisive aspect here is the unheimlich (creepy) side of the thing: “the refusal is thus complemented by an acknowledgment! Thus, two opposite and independent attitudes are always re-established, which in fact gives rise to [facts] to a split of the self”. This “in fact” [facts] is sustained both by the contradiction in process and, at the same time, by an “ontological vision” that maintains it.

Therefore, anyone with a modicum of presence of mind should shout “hoax!”; it must take to the streets, not to cry out for the salvation of the climate, but to demand the end of being a hostage in such “double bind” speeches. Behold, they are incessant appeals to commit to the impossible. Now, this attitude would naturally have consequences for current “ways of life”. Electricity in the switch and diesel in the pump do not fall from the sky; anyone who thinks you can guarantee them forever must be a pixie dust salesman.

If it is shameful on the part of the holders and defenders of capital to blame the consumer's particular "choices", conversely, it is, conversely, equally impossible to exempt the individual from the responsibility of clinging only to his purchasing power and the false guarantees of a way out of life. crisis that will never happen under existing conditions.

Not surprisingly, the contradiction is not truly mediated, but only "handled". Such a treatment, in fact, touches neither the contradiction nor their common ontological view. Since the latter is founded on a cleavage that keeps its own contradiction above an abyss, the necessary “ontological rupture” has, as Robert Kurz says, “no basis”.

*Sandrine Aumercier is a psychoanalyst, member of the Psychoanalytische-Bibliothek in Berlin and co-founder of the magazine Junktim. Author, among other books, of Are you responsible?

*Frank Grohmann is a psychoanalyst in Berlin.

Translation: Eleutério FS Prado.

Originally posted on the website Grundrisse – Psychanalyse et capitalisme.


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