From the "insect apocalypse" to the "biological annihilation" of 60 percent of all wild animals in the past 50 years, life slips through every planetary boundary that could prevent it from experiencing a "Great Death" a one more time.
But the atrocity unfolding in the Amazon, and throughout the Earth, has no geological analog: to call it the "sixth extinction event" is to make what is active and organized eradication look like some kind of passive accident. This is not a volcanic eruption, or something from asteroids or a slow build-up of oxygen in the atmosphere due to photosynthesis by cyanobacteria.
We are in the midst of the First Extermination Event, the process by which capital has brought Earth to the brink of the Necrocene, the era of the new necrotic death.
For some 500 years, the logic of eco-genocidal accumulation capitalism has presided over both the physical eradication of human and non-human life and the cultural eradication of the languages, traditions and collective knowledge that constitute the diversity of life. It necrotizes the planetary biosphere, leaving only decomposition. It burns the library of virtually unrecoverable life and simultaneously eradicates its future masterpieces. It inflicts not only physical destruction, but psychological pain and trauma when people witness their lands submerged in the sea, immolated by fire, and drowned in mud. The first extermination event has now produced a nightmare world that even temperature maps scream in agony.
The specter of the First Extermination could haunt us all, but it does so with stark disparities, mapping the geography of capital's historical inequities.
Small island states formulate plans to relocate their populations already existentially threatened by rising sea levels. Extreme weather events like Hurricanes Katrina and Maria disproportionately affect low-income and communities of color, producing much higher causality rates compared to other disasters of their magnitude and whose effects are often doubly disastrous, as nearly half of these communities live near toxic "slaughter zones". Droughts and famines, as in Syria and Yemen, exacerbate conflicts and force mass migrations of people, the vast majority women and children, while eco-fascists mobilize the affective politics of the complaint to convert the "climate emergency" of capitalism to their advantage, slogans about "trees before refugees" while calling for mass murder.
However, the most popular discussion of the sixth extinction still indulges in catastrophic pronouncements on "humanity", which often fail to mention the word "capitalism", much less explain its importance in the historical production of mass extinction. .
The work of environmental historian Jason W. Moore has shown that capitalism is not simply an economic system, but a global ecology that seeks to exploit "cheap natures," a process that must perpetually reassemble life to penetrate more and more frontiers of profit. potentials. Capital must reproduce its means of production through its perpetual destruction.
Scholars have well explored the fundamental importance of the search for cheap nature and unpaid labor for historical capitalist development. It was not the industrial revolution and its production of the "doubly free" wage laborer, but racialized enslavement, mass witch hunts, and the destruction of indigenous peoples and ecologies that produced the conditions for capital to prosper.
Up to the present, capital accumulation has occurred through violent dispossession or direct murder of peoples, followed by the necrotic extraction of resources that destroy their local ecology for the sake of accumulation. The cumulative results of this process, replicated around the world, have come to affect the transformations of life in deep time on a planetary scale through their own elimination.
The most popular discussion of the sixth extinction still indulges in catastrophic pronouncements about "humanity" at large, often without even mentioning the word "capitalism."
This is how capital capitalizes on its own catastrophes, sustaining the production of "life" under its auspices every day and accelerating the death of life throughout the Earth. This is not "creative destruction"; it is simply self-annihilation.
It is for this reason that world attention has turned to the Amazon this year. Perhaps the fires consume the last vestiges of the fantasy of an ossified international liberal order capable of stopping this planetary crisis.
A macabre faction of petty autocrats takes the stage for the final act, examples of kakistocratic decadence and the apotheosis of a toxic sludge of decaying neoliberalism, climate catastrophe, white supremacy and conspiratorial gibberish. President Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro are caricatures of the first extermination event. The tragedy of history now matches its farce: the tabloid smile, the new face of the banality of evil. But really, they are two sides of the same coin.
“Green” capital is simply the ghostly and fetishistic objectivity of the absolute necrosis of capital. It is not a contradictory attempt to “sustainably” square the endless accumulation circle, or “save capitalism from itself”; rather, it is another form of accumulation that sees the destruction that capital makes as an opportunity for more profit. The brand itself as a solution to this destruction, further encourages its continuation by existing only as another option for accumulation when other avenues are closed. It would cease to exist without the necrotic entropy to which it owes its reason for being.
As its monstrous appetite begins to consume people who previously profited from its machinations, capital must try to confuse, become incoherent, conspire, target ethnocultural "regeneration" through violence, and catabolically eat its body part. per piece to survive.
Like a hostage taker with a bomb strapped to his chest, capital demands our acquiescence or it will press the self-destruct button on Spaceship Earth. But their threats are hollow: capital is not greater than life; it will never subsume it entirely under its will. You may dream of Mars and Nanobots for new frontiers of commodification, but all you have left to find are bunkers.
Focusing on a dystopian future allows the privileged to ignore the dystopian horror that already exists for many people on this planet.
The serious threat of the first extermination opens a horizon of possibilities to finally destroy what has precipitated it: the government of capital. The First Extermination Event is not the story of some "unstoppable common ruin of the contending classes," nor is there any inevitability in its end result.
The indulgence of a fashionable stance of 'apocalyptic elegance', the lament of learning 'how to die in the Anthropocene', or other navel-gazing maudlin elegies for 'civilization' (which means 'western civilization' because of course it's collapse is the only thing that matters) - all this kind of literature on our ecological crisis is the greatest victory for the ideology of necrotic capital today.
Focusing on a dystopian future allows the privileged to ignore the dystopian horror that already exists for many people on this planet. As the philosopher and environmental activist Kyle Powys Whyte writes, many indigenous peoples have long lived in a dystopian “Anthropocene”: it is here, now, yesterday. They have also long fought an existential war against him.
The great historical struggle against the First Extermination of capital has been, and continues to be, the struggle for land and the rights of common goods. Indigenous nations represent less than 5 percent of the world's population while protecting 80 percent of its biodiversity. Indigenous Land and Water Protectors, whose campaigns are often led by women, face a much higher rate of murder and state violence compared to non-indigenous activists in the Global North. From the victory of the Lenca people in stopping the Agua Zarca dam on the Gualcarque River, to Lumad's struggle in the Philippines against the expulsion of their ancestral homes for mining, indigenous peoples are on the front lines of the war against capital. necrotic.
It is their struggles that created the theory and practice of fighting the First Extermination Event. Any "Extinction Rebellion" must follow suit.
By Justin McBrien, Article in English in Truthout