Emancipatory Catastrophism

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By Fred Pearce

"EVER wondered how climate change might save the world? Probably not. But the renowned German sociologist Ulrich Beck, who died last year, did. In The Metamorphosis of the World, Beck declares that global warming has the power to change us as well as the planet. And for the better.

The looming disaster is set to exemplify what he calls “emancipatory catastrophism”. It could be the key to unlocking a transformation in global politics that will be our salvation. Peering over the precipice could bring us to our senses. Or, to put it in the language of sociology, it will change our “normative horizons”.

We have no excuse. Thanks to the natural sciences, “never before in human history has political life been saturated by this much knowledge about a pending global emergency”. Being forewarned, however, does not seem to mean we are forearmed: “The literature on climate change has become a supermarket for apocalyptic scenarios,” as Beck puts it.

We may have the diagnosis, but we lack the prescription. We are transfixed, like rabbits in the headlights, knowing that we need to abandon carbon-based fuels, but without the politics to achieve it. And we face similar problems in other areas of global risk, too, he says – from escalating economic inequality to the epidemic of digital surveillance uncovered by Edward Snowden.

Faced with catastrophe, we can change. We have done it before, says Beck. The Holocaust triggered the collective horror from which modern ideas developed about human rights and the legal notion of crimes against humanity. Now we need new norms to outlaw crimes against the planet." (https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23030711-000-can-climate-change-save-the-world/)