In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), philosopher of science Thomas S. Kuhn contests the prevailing linear, additive, and cumulative conceit of scientific progress via the introduction of paradigms, “universally recognized scientific achievements that for a time provide model problems and solutions to a community of practitioners.” Designating the respective achievements of Copernicus, Newton, Lavoisier, and Einstein the quintessential examples, he continues:
“Men whose research is based on shared paradigms are committed to the same rules and standards for scientific practice. That commitment and the apparent consensus it produces are prerequisites for normal science, i.e., for the genesis and continuation of a particular research tradition.”
Kuhn was theorizing during an almost immeasurably less partisan epoch, and he was locating scientific research principally within epistemic as opposed to ideological community. But amid the almost irresistible homogenizing incentives of the politics of grant writing, of the near omnipotence of tenured department chairs, and of the perceived institutional advantages of adopting a mass line when interfacing with the general public, amongst others, conceptual interest in Kuhn’s “apparent consensus” ought to be revisited with regard to the salient but fraught research paradigm of global warming.
Valid research methods and empirical findings characterize the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) AR6 Synthesis Report (March 20th, 2023) with its primary call for “climate resilient development.” Even so, the enfolding narrative of impending climate collapse epistemically reformulates the Marxist notion of forthcoming capitalist collapse, a connection demonstrable through a brief critical comparison of the representative “Principles of Communism” (1847) of Friedrich Engels and This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (2014) of Naomi Klein. Amid respective cultures of transnational anti-capitalist resistance, both prominent Klein and Engels postulate a looming culpable ruin of industrial civilization salvageable exclusively through total and immediate systemic transformation on a materialist basis. As Engels explains:
“New social order will have to take the control of industry and of all branches of production out of the hands of mutually competing individuals, and instead institute a system in which all these branches of production are operated by society as a whole…and with the participation of all members of society.”
Likewise, Klein maintains,
“The climate moment offers an overarching narrative in which everything from the fight for good jobs to justice for migrants to reparations for historical wrongs like slavery and colonialism can all become part of the grand project of building a nontoxic, shockproof economy before it’s too late.”
While 19th and 20th century Marxists argued from the science of dialectical materialism that the breakdown of capitalism by its own internal contradictions was necessarily coming, global warmism postulates an approaching revolutionary “tipping point” of no return. Ironically though, the same concentration of international capital held responsible for global warmism also potentially offers salvation from the current otherwise terminal diagnosis. As Engels states:
“The very qualities of big industry which, in our present-day society, produce misery and crises are those which, in a different form of society, will abolish this misery and these catastrophic depressions.”
Klein reformulates as follows:
“The massive global investments required to respond to the climate threat—to adapt humanely and equitably to the heavy weather we have already locked in, and to avert the truly catastrophic warming we can still avoid—is a chance to change all that.”
Although Klein’s conception of climate justice comprehends a much wider assortment of prospective beneficiaries than merely the industrial proletariat, the designated testator of Marx and Engels is not overlooked. “Sky-high divorce rates due to prolonged separations and intense work stress, soaring levels of addiction, and a great many people wishing to be anywhere but where they are” (344) belongs to her plaintive account of the travails of nomadic fossil fuel workers in the tradition of Engels’ admirable Condition of the Working Class in England (1845).
Although ideas cannot easily be dated, the year 1992 was central to this reformulation of dialectical materialism as global warmism; every industrialized nation signed if not ratified the initial United Nations Convention on Climate Change, prior to the appearance of significant evidence for global warming or any apparent consensus as to its anthropic origin. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union the previous year dispersing any prospect of socialist transformation, and with thwarted international idealism impatiently seeking out new forms of expression, the evidence to some degree needed to be found and the consent to some degree needed to be manufactured. A “Climate International” of sorts therefore came to be organized along many of the same conceptual and organizational lines as the previous international socialists.
This critical context has unfolded however to qualify rather than to disqualify the useful findings of climate science. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, the industrial emission of which warms the atmosphere, a phenomenon which, according to the current volume and distribution of exhaust, could not misleadingly be described as global. But the totemic statistic of global mean temperature together with the glacial, coral, vegetative, and migratory phenomena, amongst others, of the climate system must according to any informed and impartial analysis result from a combination of independent variables. These could include variations in the intensity of solar radiation, orbital adjustments of the Earth, activity or inactivity of volcanoes, reflection or refraction of clouds, and fluctuations in the primordial processes of deep oceanic heating and cooling.
Regarding natural disasters and other severe weather incidents, a historiographical in addition to meteorological alteration is suggested, whereby freezes, fires, floods, and pestilences have perhaps newly acquired not so much heightened frequency or increased severity as ideological significance, continually given in evidence of impending environmental collapse. One might easily imagine the healthy skepticism that would have greeted an attempt by Trotsky to impute the Great Dust Bowl to the concentration of American capital, for example, or by Goebbels to pin the Stalingrad winter on the political theory of Bolshevism.