Hot capital

Published May 24, 2024
The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

PAKISTAN is burning up. And so is much of its neighbourhood. The Indo-Gangetic plain, spanning the breadth of the subcontinent, is currently the hottest place on the planet. Extremely high temperatures are not unusual in these parts for this time of year, but the swing from the exceptionally wet and cool weather of a few weeks ago is hard to ignore. One can only hope that the next extreme is not a monsoon like 2022.

Then again, hope should not be the only fall-back plan. It is not as if global warming is an unknown phenomenon, or that most people are unfamiliar with the lexicon of climate change. There are many, in fact, who whip out terms such as ‘mitigation’, ‘adaptation’ and ‘resilient development’ at will. And ‘experts’ are said to be working in tandem with donors, governments and businesses to usher us towards a ‘just transition’ away from fossil fuels.

Pakistan’s quota of experts has increased markedly since the 2022 floods. They gather increasingly regularly at conferences on climate change, both at home and abroad. Consultants are hired and reports written. But virtually nothing changes.

The global political economy continues to be structured around what Swedish scholar-activist Andreas Malm calls ‘fossil capital’. For 200 years, coal and then oil have functioned as the ultimate global commodities, and the struggle to control them still shapes world politics. The continuing centrality of fossil capital makes a mockery of the notion that the rich and powerful are interested in reducing carbon emissions sufficiently to prevent the planet from becoming uninhabitable for humans.

The ongoing evolution of fossil capital is absent from the debate.

The Indo-Gangetic plain is one of the regions which will experience widespread desertification if the current rate of heating continues. Yet Western governments and corporations who milked the benefits of colonial-era expropriation, continue to disproportionately emit carbon to the detriment of South Asia’s working masses. The Gulf states and rapidly growing East Asian economies like China, too, are producing and guzzling oil. They may not be as big contributors to the rule of fossil capital as Western imperialist powers but any meaningful analysis of our present and future must include the growing role of the powers of the ‘East’.

The history and ongoing evolution of fossil capital is absent from the mainstream debate on climate change, let alone the policy prescriptions about so-called resilient development. Yes, Pakistani ‘experts’ do bring up the question of climate financing and the historic responsibility of Western emitters, but there is much silence on domestic economic policy, and particularly the nexus of state and class power that presides over ecologically destructive ‘development’ with no end in sight.

Take the minor but illustrative murmurs about government plans to tax solar power. The private market for solar panels has exploded lately; even katchi abadi residents and small farmers unable to access the formal power grid have bought relatively cheap panels and batteries to meet some electricity needs. The rumoured tax on solar power consumers provoked an uproar and was subsequently played down by the authorities. But to the extent that there was any truth to the rumours, they reflected the rigged game which is state — and IMF-dictated — policy; on the one hand is the unaddressed and decades-old IPP scandal, and on the other, the fleecing of working class and white-collar salaried populations through indirect taxes to meet revenue obligations.

More generally, Pakistan’s political economy is centred around real estate, oil and coal-fired power, big infrastructure (especially roads and bridges), and logistics. Demand is consumption-dr­iven, differentiat­­ed across class bra­ckets (expensive im­ported goods and entertainment for the rich; cheap consumer durab­les for the mass). Trade dominates manufacturing, mostly in the black.

The establishment is top dog, all other state and private profiteers competing for its largesse. There is no respite for vulnerable ecosystems, no matter which combination of landlords, real estate moguls, traders and manufacturers sit in government with Big Brother hovering over them. The core areas continue to be ‘developed’ intensively, which makes them progressively hotter, while the peripheries are expropriated and turned into ‘tourist havens’, making them hotter too.

Pakistani capitalism is a never-ending disaster story with even the rich diaspora providing a stream of hot capital for real estate, absent the slightest concern for future generations of working people. But then, fossil capital has never been characterised by foresight or humanity. Profit and power rule while most of the world’s people and ecosystems burn. We will need more than lip service for the tide to turn.

The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2024

Opinion

Editorial

Another lynching
Updated 22 Jun, 2024

Another lynching

The chilling alternative to not doing anything — which appears to be the state’s preferred option — is the advent of mob rule.
Tax & representation
22 Jun, 2024

Tax & representation

THE taxation measures outlined in the budget for the incoming fiscal year have triggered a lot of concern among ...
Life of the party?
22 Jun, 2024

Life of the party?

THE launch of Awaam Pakistan, a party led by former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and former finance minister...
KP’s ‘power struggle’
Updated 21 Jun, 2024

KP’s ‘power struggle’

Instead of emboldening protesters, CM Gandapur should encourage his provincial subjects to clear their due bills and ensure theft is minimised.
Journalist’s murder
21 Jun, 2024

Journalist’s murder

ANOTHER name has been added to the list of journalists murdered in Pakistan. On Tuesday, Khalil Jibran’s vehicle...
A leaner government?
21 Jun, 2024

A leaner government?

FINANCE Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb has reiterated his government’s ‘commitment’ to shutting down ministries...