We need to get ready for the end of our civilization

Mikuláš Černík

Interview with Rupert Read, british academic and Green party politician. He is Chair of the Green house think-tank and Reader in  philosophy of science, language and environmental theories at University of East Anglia.

Aren´t you afraid that as a philosopher you might have been trapped in the ivory tower? How do you as a scholar prevent the danger of talking to academic audience only?

Well, firstly I would say is that talking is itself significant. Talking is not not doing anything...It is not the same as doing nothing. Providing that you are talking the right thing, talking to the right audiences, with the right level of seriousness; and providing people, including yourself, draw real consequences from the things that you say. So it is a difference between idle talk in pub or inside one’s head on the one hand and talking to maybe a group of activists or having a debate or trying to influence people which might make a difference to (say) how they vote in elections. So I think there is an important role in speaking, writing and talking in itself.

I am often speaking outside academic contexts to activists and to the general public and so on. Furthermore, I am myself involved in politics, have been very active in the Green party, and I have been active in non-violent direct action; plus I run a think thank which tries to engage more actively and directly with policy than most academics do. And finally also I myself have a substantial allotment where I grow quite a lot of food for myself and try to kind of keep some kind of roots in a real life. And not just spend all my time inside rooms!

The so called Momentum of Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn gained a lot of attention. Do you see any hope for the future when young people are getting interested in politics than it used to be in the past?

Yes. I think there is hope purely in the fact that young people are getting more interested. And in the way we can get these surges and growths very quickly now. The way we saw with Corbyn. The way we have seen in the US with Bernie Sanders. And there are other examples including here in Europe. This is hopeful, because it means that there is a greater possibility of rapid change than used to be the case. And rapid change is what we need.

On the question of whether what specifically Jeremy Corbyn has to offer is good enough I am quite sceptical. Corbyn has some very good points. He is a good person. Before he became famous I used to go on demonstrations with him for many good causes including against nuclear weapons or against attacking Iraq. And some of his policies are very good. For example he has some good green policies. He himself personally is against nuclear power, which is interesting and encouraging.

But there is a fundamental problem. The fundamental problem is that Corbyn is still part of the old left which is basically determined to grow the economy endlessly, to grow industry endlessly, to put an endless new infrastructure in place, and an endless new housing infrastructure. And what is not really taken seriously at all is the ecological crises. If there are good policies towards the environment in Corbyn, those policies will be unfortunately outweighed by the massive push in Corbyns program towards endless faster economic growth.

The Labour party or Green party are not the only the only streams in politics promising rapid change. The other stream is the one which caused Brexit and the one which we are now experiencing in the Central Eastern Europe with the rise of authoritarian politics. For example Slavoj Žižek expressed understanding for Brexit voters. Do you think it is necessary to denounce Brexit and other currents of so called conservative counterrevolution?

Many people who were voting for Britain to leave the EU were voting against the corporate neoliberal globalisation policies, which have dominated the world in last generations. They do not really understand that their vote would be an ineffective way of expressing their opposition. But they were expressing their opposition in many cases and we should give them credit for that.

It seems to me that in principle it would be possible to have a green Brexit. I have written a report about it that suggests that you could have more effort at a localised future in Britain. Less dependent on trade with the EU and with anyone else in the world. Unfortunately it is very unlikely to happen because politics in our societies is still so dominated by ideologies of growthism, productivism, consumerism, globalism and so forth.

We need to be the ones who are standing up for protection of the environment, protection of labor and labor standards, greater localisation reining in the power of international elites including financial elites. And only if we do that we will be in the position to start to win back some of the kind of voters who voted for Brexit or for Trump or for authoritarians here in Central Eastern Europe.

Professor Librová, one of the important voices of environmental movement here in Czech republic says, that what we can do now as activists is more like a palliative care work for the dying patient - the Earth — which is going to collapse anyway. Do you find it important to do the care work and what can be the example of such a work?

What I think we need to put more effort is to try to prepare for the civilisation(s) which could come after this one. I believe this is a really important thing that we ought to start to prepare for now, and that this is something positive we can do.

We can try to preserve knowledges and skills that will be useful in the future when this civilisation start to collapse. Skills of community building, skills of permaculture, preserving seeds, preserving knowledge of crafts, learning how to live off the land ourselves, some of us returning to the land to grow things — whether in the cities or in the rural areas.

We cannot assume it is all or nothing... We cannot assume that either we create a kind of paradise of this civilisation or else humans will completely cease to exist. What will probably happen is between the two. And this means there is a great space and great need to think about what will succeed this civilisation and how we can start prepare for that.

We are now experiencing the boom of solar technologies and on of its main figures is Elon Musk. Do you see him or his company as part of the desirable change or the one not convivial at all.

I think this is a serious mistake to regard him as a hero. He is first of all a business man who is seeking to make huge amounts of money and we should think of that. But more importantly some of the ways he is making money are potentially very dangerous. The fetish for electric cars for example is quite questionable.

Looking out of the window here this morning (in Budapest), there are all these cars and they are nearly all running on combustion engine technology. But if we simply replace this technology with the electric and solar technology, we still have all these cars clogging up the streets and knocking people down and killing them and so forth.

There are even more disturbing aspects of what Musk is doing as well. For example his plans for space tourism.

If we had enough solar power to blast ourselves to space it would be a much better way of using that solar power to heat our homes and to cook our food and so on. All energy has to come from somewhere. Any energy you do not use for one good purpose and you use instead for a bad purpose is an energy in effect being wasted and has a real opportunity cost.

I think you have answered all my questions. If you have any concluding remarks to be said aloud it is now space to do so.

One of the reasons I am enjoying my time here in Czech Republic is that you have a flourishing sector of people involved in degrowth, in climate camp, in creating alternative media, in creating cooperative convivial spaces. I think it is exciting and I am really enjoying experiencing it. These kind of the things are the future and I hope that readers of this article will involve themselves in those things; and if they cannot get involved in them they will give their money, so others can get involved in them....