Wednesday, 20 March 2019

New Zealand Mosque Massacre Suspect Says he is an Eco-fascist


Brenton Tarrant, one of four people arrested for the shooting to death of fifty people at two Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, last week, claims in a 74 page manifesto, to be, amongst other things, an Eco-fascist. The document entitled the “Great Replacement” has been posted at various locations on the web, but all appear to have been deleted now. I haven’t read the full document myself, but it appears that many people have.

A report on the Medium website has published some extracts from Tarrant’s manifesto, and I’m mainly quoting here from this report. Tarrant apparently declares:

“I am an Ethno-nationalist Eco-fascist,” in his manifesto. “Ethnic autonomy for all peoples with a focus on the preservation of nature, and the natural order.”

He goes on to say:

“Immigration and climate change are the same issue, the environment is being destroyed by over- population” and “we Europeans are one of the groups that are not over populating the world. […] Kill the invaders, kill the overpopulation, and by doing so, save the environment.”

Although Tarrant is an Australian national he sees himself as European, from “English, Scottish and Irish” stock, and advocates a hierarchical economic and political system in which an ethnically cleansed Europe will be free from the influences of cheap labour, foreign trade, and environmental destruction.

Tarrant claims to be ‘anti-capitalist’ in his manifesto and he appears to believe in a globalist conspiracy theory in which “Marxists” exact corporate control over the markets, media, academia, and NGOs. This seems to be more akin to a classical antisemitism conspiracy type of belief, with ‘Marxists’ filling the role of ‘Jewish bankers.’

Nazi Germany employed some anti-capitalist rhetoric in its ideology, but after his rise to power, Hitler took a pragmatic position on economics, accepting private property and allowing capitalist private enterprises to exist so long as they adhered to the goals of the Nazi state. Business groups made significant financial contributions to the Nazi Party both before and after the Nazi seizure of power, in the hope that a Nazi dictatorship would eliminate the organized labour movement and the left-wing parties.

Of course Hitler was anti-Marxist, usually of the ‘Jewish bankers’ variety, stating this in his book Mein Kampf and also his hatred of democracy “because it inevitably leads to Marxism.” Left wing activists were persecuted and often murdered in Nazi Germany, alongside Jews and gay people.

Hitler also admired the British Empire and its colonial system as living proof of Germanic superiority over 'inferior' races and saw the United Kingdom as Germany's natural ally. He wrote in Mein Kampf: "For a long time to come there will be only two Powers in Europe with which it may be possible for Germany to conclude an alliance. These Powers are Great Britain and Italy."

Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience, written by Janet Biehl and Peter Staudenmaier contains two essays entitled "Fascist Ideology: The Green Wing of the Nazi Party and its Historical Antecedents" and "Ecology and the Modernization of Fascism in the German Ultra-Right." They linked German Nazism with “traditional agrarian romanticism and hostility to urban civilization”, and that ecological ideas were an “essential element of racial rejuvenation.”

The Nazi slogan “blood and soil” was coined by their foremost ecological thinker, Richard Walter Darré, who meant it to capture a mystical link between race and a particular territory.

This conflation of race and land, quite absurdly in the case of Africa, was present in the South African political and para-military organisation the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, whose leader was Eugène Terre'Blanche, in the era around the end of apartheid in the early 1990s. Terre Blanche means literally in French ‘white land or white earth.’

In more recent times, the British National Party (BNP), under then leader Nick Griffin, before the party imploded, made the argument that climate change offered a great opportunity for the advancement of fascism, with Britain likely not being in the first wave ecological destruction, and an island, with refugees from the worst hit regions wanting to get into the country. The tensions that would arise from this within the British people could be exploited for their political ends, Griffin thought.

The notion of ‘indigenous people’ is captured in this strain of nationalist fascism, a way of life challenged by the arrival of outsiders, who will change the prevailing culture. An insistence on all people in England to speak English, at all times, at least in public, is a common feature of Brexit. I once saw some graffiti in a pub toilet in east London that said: ‘the indigenous people are being discriminated against.’

The United Kingdom Independence Party, largely inherited those voters when the BNP fell apart. They seem to be courting them even more now under their new leader Gerard Batten, who has hired Tommy Robinson (real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon), the fascist former English Defence League (EDL) leader, who made anti-muslim sentiment a central part of the EDL’s ideology.  

Whilst the vast majority of the people in the green movement are of the political left, aspects of the movement also bear some ideological blame for a form of eco-fascism. What is known as ‘deep ecology’ sees environmental degradation as a problem caused by ‘too many people’, advocate massive reductions in the human population, usually black and brown people, and strict anti-immigration policies.

Conveniently, they ignore that rich industrial nations, cause much more environmental destruction than the population of Africa and other poor parts of the world. This is a form of eco-fascism, however much deep ecologists try to deny the fact.

All of which means that those of us on the green left, should be aware of this alternative ecological philosophy, and redouble our efforts to challenge their narrative with a just and inclusive green politics.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

We need to live differently


Written by Simon Pirani and first published at ROAR Magazine

The bad news about climate change keeps coming: record heat levels in Australia in January, and in the UK in February; increasingly uncontrollable wild fires; shocking leaps in Arctic temperatures. The worst news of all is that the gulf between what scientists say needs to be done and what the international climate talks deliver keeps growing.

At the negotiations in December at Katowice, Poland — which, grotesquely, were sponsored by Europe’s biggest producer of coking coal, among others — the main outcome was agreement on proposals to monitor governments’ actions, albeit in a watered-down version. Delegates did not discuss, let alone improve on, voluntary targets for cutting emissions, agreed on in Paris in 2015; scientists reckon that these put the world economy on course for a potentially disastrous increase in global average temperature to three degrees above pre-industrial levels. The gathering even declined to welcome the latest diplomatically honed report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, on the insistence of the US, Saudi Arabia and other oil producing nations.

Katowice was the latest round of talks that began at Rio de Janeiro in 1992, where it was acknowledged that fossil fuel use is the main driver of global warming and needs to be reduced. Since then it has risen, globally, by more than 60 percent. Governments have signed agreements with one hand and poured tens of billions of dollars per year in subsidies into fossil fuel production and consumption with the other.

The first step to dealing with climate change is to reject the illusion that governments are dealing with the problem. Society as a whole must act.

How to put flesh on the bones of that generalization is not so simple. Should we protest? Try to force governments to invest in renewable energy projects? Take direct action against new power plants? Focus on community energy? All of the above?

HOW FOSSIL FUEL USE REACHED UNSUSTAINABLE LEVELS

In working out what to do about climate change, history is an invaluable tool. An understanding of the processes that made fossil fuels central to human economic activity will help us make the transition away from those fuels.

The concentrated physical force, motive power and heat that can be derived from burning coal was central to the industrial revolution of the late 18th century, and so to the consolidation of capitalism in the Global North. Harnessing energy from coal, and disciplining labor, went hand in hand. The technologies of the so-called second industrial revolution of the late 19th century — steam turbines, electricity networks and the internal combustion engine — multiplied coal use exponentially and produced demand for oil.

But it took a further sea change in the world economy, in the mid 20th century, to escalate the global warming danger to its present level. The increase in global fossil fuel use accelerated in the post-war boom, paused briefly after the oil price shocks of the 1970s and has hurtled upwards ever since. Earth systems scientists who study the impact of economic activity on the natural world — of which global warming is a key aspect — name the period since the mid- 20th century “the great acceleration.”

Who or what, exactly, consumed all these fossil fuels? Mostly, fuels are used by and through large technological systems, such as car-based transport systems, electricity networks, urban building systems and industrial, agricultural and military systems.

Analyzing these technological systems — and the way they are embedded in social and economic systems — is the key to understanding the relentless rise in fossil fuel use, I argued in my book Burning Up: A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption.

Take cars, for example. For sure, technological change helped catapult them to prominence: the internal combustion engine was a cardinal innovation. But it took social and economic change to make cars the predominant mode of urban transport.

In the US in the 1920s, the car manufacturers pioneered automated assembly lines and turned the car from a luxury into a mass consumer product. They dreamed up planned obsolescence and other marketing techniques, and they used political muscle to sideline — and sometimes sabotage — competing forms of transport such as trolley buses and railways.

In the post-war boom, US car use ascended to a still-higher level, thanks to massive state investment in highways. Suburbia proliferated: working people moved into single-family detached homes in unprecedented numbers, with US house-building rising from several hundred thousand a year in the 1930s to more than one million a year during and after the war. Home ownership via a life-time of mortgage debt was part of the deal; front and back gardens, and cars, were another. Other — but not all — rich countries embraced this urban development pattern.

By the 1980s, some cities outside the rich world began to get car-jammed. In the US, the manufacturers mounted largely effective resistance to sporadic state attempts to regulate fuel efficiency. Gas-guzzling SUVs arrived: rather than encourage drivers to use smaller, lighter models, the car makers popularized family vehicles that were classed as trucks and therefore allowed by law to do fewer miles per gallon. US sales of these peaked in 2000 at 17 million per year.

So those now working to create carbon-free cities are up against not just a clever piece of technology (the internal combustion engine), but the economic and social structures that have created urban transport systems based on cars, i.e. fuel-intensive mobile metal armchairs.

Car-based transport systems are wildly energy-inefficient ways to get people from place to place. For example, Atlanta, US, a spread-out city dominated by suburban housing and car transport, has 11 times the greenhouse gas emissions per head of Barcelona, Spain, which has a similar number of people, with similar income levels, but is more compact, with better public transport and a relatively car-free center.

In the same way, fuel-intensive industrial agriculture is an outrageously energy-inefficient way to feed people and most cities’ constructed environments are energy-inefficient ways to house people. Other areas of economic activity — such as military production and the advertising industry — are destructive for broader reasons, and fuel-inefficient too. Just as in the case of urban transport, these systems were shaped by relationships of power and wealth and persist as such.

Superb research by the Climate Accountability Institute has shown that nearly two thirds of carbon dioxide emitted since the 1750s can be traced to the outputs of the 90 largest fossil fuel and cement producers, most of which still operate today. The Institute’s most recent list includes, in the top ten, Saudi Aramco, Gazprom of Russia, the National Iranian Oil Company, ExxonMobil from the US, Pemex of Mexico, Royal Dutch Shell and China National Petroleum Corporation.

A list of the companies that control fossil fuel consumption — electricity producers, metals and engineering consortia, car makers, construction companies, petrochemicals and agriculture giants — is much longer and more complex, because fossil fuel consumption is so integral to all types of economic activity. But the power relations are the same.

IT IS NOT JUST ABOUT INDIVIDUAL CONSUMPTION

Because most fossil fuels are consumed by and through these large technological, social and economic systems, appeals to reduce individual consumption can only have a limited effect.

Take the car drivers in Atlanta. They live in the world’s richest country and drive some of the world’s most energy-inefficient cars. But they are trapped in an urban transport system that makes it almost impossible — especially for those with children — to perform basic functions, like the school run or buying groceries, without a car. Moreover, fuels are consumed not only on their individual journeys, but in car manufacturing, the construction of roads and parking spaces and so on.

Certainly, egregious consumption of fossil fuels and of consumer goods is a symptom of a sick society. Millions of people in the rich world work long hours and spend the money they earn on material goods in the belief that those goods can make them happy. But the ingrained alienation of which consumerism is part has to be challenged by striving for social change. Moral appeals are not enough.

The fate of the French government’s recent proposals to increase fuel taxes is a cautionary tale. The plans were presented as an environmental measure. But, despite claims by right-wing commentators to the contrary, people saw them for what they were — the latest of a long-standing series of measures to impose neoliberal austerity policies. That triggered the “yellow vests” revolt and the policy was reversed.

In the Global South, a focus on individual consumption makes even less sense. Most fossil fuel use is by industry, including energy-intensive processes (e.g. steel and cement manufacture) moved from the Global North in the 1980s and 1990s. It was China’s industrial boom, which centers on making goods to export to the Global North, that in the mid- 2000s caused the country to overtake the US as the world’s largest consumer of commercially-supplied fuels.

Research in India highlighted the minimal role of the poorest people’s individual consumption. Of India’s incremental greenhouse gas emissions in the three decades from 1981 to 2011, just 3-4 percent was due to an electrification drive that brought 650 million people, mostly in the countryside, on to the network for the first time. Most of the rest came from industry and smaller urban populations.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT ELECTRICITY

Electricity networks are at the center of the fossil-fuel-dominated energy system. In 1950, their share of global fossil fuel use was about one tenth; now, it is more than one third.

Electricity systems, like cars, were a great innovation of the late 19th century. Their first phase of development, culminating in the post-war boom, depended on big centralized power stations, usually coal fired.

The stations are inherently inefficient. Roughly speaking, for each unit of energy they produce in the form of electricity, two units are lost in the production process, mostly as waste heat — which produces the steam clouds we all see rising from power stations’ cooling towers. Global average thermal power station efficiency (i.e. the proportion of the fuel’s energy that comes out as electricity) has been rising since the early 20th century, from around 25–30 percent to 34 percent for coal and 40 percent for gas, now. But it will never get much higher for physical reasons.

In the 1970s, when the realization dawned on political elites that fossil fuels were neither infinite nor cheap, environmentalists pointed to the energy losses in conversion processes as the key potential source of savings. Burning coal to produce electricity, which is transmitted to electric heaters in people’s homes, was like “cutting butter with a chainsaw,” the sustainable energy advocate Amory Lovins argued in the US Congress.

He advocated “soft energy paths” that would combine a culture of energy efficiency and a transition to renewables: homes designed and built to need the minimum of heat; solar panels and windmills; attention to energy flows through systems.

More than 40 years ago, Lovins described these as the “roads not taken” by governments who defended incumbent corporate interests rather than use energy technologies wisely. Despite the discovery of global warming in the meantime, these roads are often still bypassed. So are the energy-saving potentials of more recent technologies, most significantly, networked computers and the internet.

These products of the “third industrial revolution” have made it possible to supersede the old fossil-fuel-heavy centralized networks with integrated, decentralized systems reliant on multiple producers of energy. Improvements in renewables technologies (solar pumps, wind turbines, heat pumps and so) have helped.

But in the three decades since the global warming effect was discovered, “smart grid” technology has scarcely been applied. For one thing, networks are operated by companies whose business model is to sell as much electricity as possible. Distributed generation systems — where the network collects electricity from many renewable sources and parcels it out efficiently — scare them. Community-based decentralized electricity ventures are forced to compete with the established corporations on unequal terms.

A briefing paper by engineering researchers at Imperial College, London, last year argued that, to move the UK’s electricity and heat systems away from fossil fuels, a “whole system approach” coordinated by “one single party” is required. The implication (which the researchers did not spell out) is that state agencies have to co-ordinate the transition. What other “single party” could? And such a strategy has been fiercely resisted by the UK’s “big six” energy companies and their friends in the Tory government. This is a good example of how corporate dominance and “competition” dogma are obstructing the technologies needed to tackle global warming.

WHAT NOW?

There are no easy answers to the historical crisis produced by three decades of government inaction in the international climate negotiations. I will suggest three steps.

The first step is to reject the discourse produced by these negotiations, that the governments have the situation under control. They do not.

The talks process has produced and reproduced its own discourse, cut off from the world where 16 of the 17 hottest years ever recorded were in the last twenty years — and where school pupils, from Australia to Sweden to Belgium, go on strike about it. It is welcome, in my view, that school pupils are not only urging governments to declare a “climate emergency” — which seems like the very least they could do — but are also seeking ways to take matters into their own hands, by demanding to learn climate science.

Social movements, working people’s organizations and communities concerned about climate change could all adopt similar approaches: not only of demanding governments act, but also of acquiring the knowledge to guide collective action of our own; not only of urging legislative “green new deals,” but of blocking corporate fossil-fuel-intensive projects and developing our own post-fossil-fuel technologies. There is already a rich history of both types of actions — from protests against fracking or the Dakota Access pipeline, to community energy projects and workplace-based “just transition” initiatives — to be built on.

A second step is to reject spurious techno-fixes, which obscure the reality: that to move away from fossil fuels we need social and economic change; we need to live differently.

The current focus on electric and driver-less cars, is a great example of this. Electric car technology will probably not cut carbon emissions much, and may not cut them at all, unless the electricity is generated entirely from renewables. And while countries such as Germany and Spain have taken the important first step of raising the proportion of renewable-generated electricity to a fifth or a quarter, the really hard part — creating mostly- or all-renewables systems — is still ahead.

A more attractive prospect is for cities to become places where people live with better, healthier transport systems not dependent on cars. Technologies such as trams and walkways and bicycle-friendly infrastructure can help. Electric cars’ main social function, by contrast, is to preserve car manufacturers’ profits. Why help them?

Such changes to urban transport — superseding one technological system with another — means breaking the resistance of the centers of power and wealth (fossil fuel producers, car makers, road builders, and so on) who profit from them.

The same is true of other technological systems. To remake the relationship between town and countryside, to move urban built infrastructure away from the current energy-intensive model — which would end energy-intensive construction of wastefully heat-hungry housing — means breaking the resistance of property developers, building companies and their friends at all levels of government. To move towards fully-integrated, decentralized electricity networks means breaking the resistance of incumbent electricity companies.

Such shifts, combining technological, social and economic change, are the third step towards change.

These shifts, in turn, point towards deeper-going transformations of the social and economic systems the underpin the technological systems. We can envisage forms of social organization that replace corporate and state control of the economy, advance collective and community control, and, crucially, in which employed labor — a central plank of profit-centered capitalism — is superseded by more meaningful types of human activity.

Such a social transformation — a break with an economic system based on profit and a parallel break with politics based on the false premise that “economic growth” equates to human well-being — would provide the most solid basis for the sort of changes in technological systems that are needed to complete the move away from fossil fuels.

The fact that social and labor movements have aspired to such transformations for two centuries or more and have not yet achieved them suggests that there are no easy ways to do this. And I do not intend to offer trite formulae for success. But an understanding that technological change is interdependent with social and economic change, and that we should resist the temptation to think of it separately, is crucial.

Simon Pirani is author of Burning Up: A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption, and Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies. His previous writing as a historian includes The Russian Revolution in Retreat, 1920-24: Soviet workers and the new communist elite (Routledge, 2008) and Change in Putin’s Russia: Power, Money and People (Pluto, 2010).

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Schools, climate strikes and internationalism


Written by Jonathan Neale and first published at The Ecologist

I loved the school students’ climate strikes last month. The energy, the jokes on the placards, the smiles, the hopeful faces. The students in Brighton marching by the railway station, chanting ‘F*** Theresa May’. I had all those kindly, patronizing, adulty feelings. But something deeper too.

I have been a climate activist since 2004: endless protests and phone calls and emails and meetings in small rooms, week after week, year after year, all the time trying to give other people hope. When I spoke at meetings people would ask – But how can we do it? How can we force the powerful the act? In every country, on every continent, someone always asks that question. Because everyone wants to know the answer.

I would try to invent an answer, and then lie alone in the dark in the middle of the night and wrestle with despair. But now I have seen a power that can change the world.

First steps

If young people all over the world come out of school and stay out of school, the cities will stop. The workplaces will stop, because so many people need to go look after their children.

The young people would have immense moral force. They can occupy the parliaments. The police will not and cannot beat and gas and kill all the children. Nor will the soldiers. Nor would we let them. And if it is all over the world, it will be a power such as Earth has never seen.

The kids could make the rest of us brave and decent, and we could follow them out of work into the squares and the halls of power until we win.

We are not anywhere near that now. These are one-day strikes. Who knows how long the strikes will last? How far they will spread? What exactly do they want?

I fantasize we will go all the way this time. I know we won’t. Great historical movements do not work like that. But the process has begun.

International movement

What I can now imagine, many can now imagine. It will be possible for millions to begin working out how to use their power, with apocalypse in their future and a lifetime of making history ahead of them.

I have seen another thing. For forever I have had to listen to experts telling me we would never be able to convince people by scaring them shitless about climate change. They told me, and you, how people were too short sighted and greedy and stupid and unwashed to grasp what the enlightened understood.

Now I know that we climate activists have persuaded hundreds of millions. The first part of our work is done. The real work commences.

Another thing is so big people hardly comment on it. The internationalism. The strikes started with one young woman in Stockholm, spread to Australia, back to Belgium, on across parts of Europe, even came to Britain, are going to be global this Friday, and will not stop there.

As I watched the strike reports, Nancy Lindisfarne and I were finishing a book on class and male violence. The last chapters - a joy to write - were about the exploding resistance to rape and sexual harassment.

Tracing the history of the last few years, the same thing jumped out at us – internationalism. The movement leaps, from the riot against rape at India Gate in Delhi in 2012, to Rhodes University in South Africa, to Buenos Aries and across Latin America, to the women’s marches against Trump, to the MeToo movement in the US, to the Chinese MeToo and the Indian MeToo, to Stormy Daniels and Blasey Ford, just two women, to hundreds of thousands protesting for legal abortion in Argentina, to the conviction of Cardinal Pell in Australia, to three million women in Kerala joining hands to defend the dignity of their menstrual blood, to demonstrations of millions around the world on International Women’s Day last week.

Increasing visibility

These movements are only the beginning, and the earthquakes will threaten all established power.

You can see that same internationalism - the leapfrogging power of example and shared messages - moving as quickly in the climate strikes. It’s partly social media, and partly that our experience is growing more alike across the world. It’s partly migration and Skype.

There is one imbalance. Everyone sees what happens in the US, but people in the US have trouble seeing anything in the rest of the world. That sucks. Let’s change it.

The movement and the internationalism are a property of our age. It is the same this week in the great crowds and strikes against the tyrants in Sudan, Morocco and Algeria. That is how it was in the Arab Spring eight years ago too, which spread throughout the Arab world and south to the rest of Africa, to Greece and Spain and to Occupy in the US. That Spring, like MeToo, like the climate strikes, was a movement of the young.

The young are changing, which means the world will change.

Against the walls

Internationalism matters right now. The solution to climate change must be global, because the atmosphere we breathe is global.

Our movement has tried for global agreement at the top, between the existing governments, tried long and hard, and failed utterly. That’s why we know that we need mass movements from the grassroots, pushing upwards. But those movements have to spread from country to country, each encouraging the others, because in the end we have to win this globally.

Internationalism matters too, because this is the age of The Walls. Trump’s wall, Netanyahu’s wall, the migrant-hating spreading across Europe, the drowning pool of the Med, the xenophobia in South Africa, hating Muslims in India, hating Roma in Hungary, and Brexit.

Internationalism matters in Britain this week because the politicians are leading us into a racist Brexit. Many on the left are tailgating the racist right. They say it would be wrong to have another referendum, because the majority would vote to remain. They say we have to leave because we can only change the world by ourselves, on our own, in our little island. That is a mistake about how we can change the world.

Internationalism matters now because in the lifetime of the today’s climate strikers, heat and its consequences will drive hundreds of millions from their homes. One solution will be the Walls around the World.

Changing the world

We will be climbing these walls, clambering out of the sea, our children in our arms, begging the men and women with the guns to let us through. Or we will be the ones standing on the Wall, gassing the refugees, shooting them, shoving them back into the sea or the desert or the barbed wire.

But the children of Earth are showing us another way. Internationalism makes it possible to learn to welcome the needy because they are our brothers and sisters, and because we can only change the world together.

This Author

Jonathan Neale is a writer and was secretary of the Campaign Against Climate Change for several years. He is the editor of One Million Climate Jobs, and blogs with Nancy Lindisfarne at Anne Bonny Pirate.


Watch some of the 5,000 youth that marched in London, England on Friday

Thursday, 14 March 2019

A Green Capitalist Solution to Climate Change – Pumping Sulphur Dioxide into the Atmosphere


I think that this techno-fix is typical of the remedies that the capitalist system dreams up to combat climate change, without actually doing anything to avoid reducing, or indeed to completely eliminate the spewing of huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. Incredibly, this idea to pump sulphur dioxide into the air, to form clouds to block out the sun’s rays, is being suggested as a way to go.

I should say at the outset, that I am not a climate scientist, or scientist of any description, so I am prepared to listen to those who are, but this looks to be a crazy plan to me. But, a report published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change, finds that cooling the Earth by this method would be enough to eliminate roughly half of global warming.

We have learnt that when big volcanoes erupt they release huge amounts of sulphur dioxide into the air, and the ensuing dark cloud that is produced obscures the sunlight, and so stops some of the sun’s heat warming the earth.

This would mean of course, many of us hardly ever seeing a blue sky, and the affect that that can have on human well-being, appears not to have been considered in the report, but is surely an important drawback with the tactic. In northern parts of Scandinavia, when it is dark for twenty four hours in deepest winter, the suicide rate increases.

Not all climate scientists back this idea as viable, with some stressing that keeping this amount of CO2 in the atmosphere will lead to some regions experiencing severe risks to their climates, increased rainfall, extreme temperatures and more destructive hurricanes and storms. So even if this did work in terms of cooling the earth, it will likely throw up other climatic problems and we can’t be sure exactly what these will be.

Some quick research reveals that sulphur dioxide is a toxic gas with a burnt match smell. It is released naturally by volcanic activity and is produced as a by-product of the burning of fossil fuels (mostly coal) contaminated with sulphur compounds and copper extraction. It is mainly produced by sulphuric acid manufacturing, but occurs in many industrial processes, and is contained in gasoline and diesel fuel for vehicles.

It is a major air pollutant and has significant impacts upon human health, and causes acid rain if large concentrations are present in the atmosphere. Sulphur dioxide is also one of the greenhouse gases which causes the planet to warm.

Inhaling sulphur dioxide is associated with increased respiratory symptoms and disease, difficulty in breathing, makes asthma suffers worse, premature births and premature death increase. When breathed in, it irritates the nose, throat, and airways to cause coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, or a tight feeling around the chest. In short, pumping extra sulphur dioxide into the air will lead to major public health issues, but a desperation to carry on with business as usual economic activity, means that it is still regarded as possible solution to global warming.  

Shocking though this undoubtably is, it should come as no great surprise. We know that conventual efforts at dealing with climate change, try desperately to avoid the real solution to the situation, which is to drastically reduce the amount of CO2 that we put into the atmosphere. An example of treating the symptoms rather than the root cause of the problem.

What seems ludicrous by any rational measure, like this idea, the prevailing wisdom of our rulers, is to seek something, anything, that leaves the business of making money for corporations untouched. Politicians also have a personal interest in perpetuating this state of affairs, as many are in the pay of these corporations in one way or another. To act in any meaningful way, is beyond the bounds of acceptable thinking, under the dominant logic of our economic and political system.

This is why I believe, that under this system, we will never adequately tackle the climate crisis. The system needs to be changed first, only then will it be possible to avoid climate catastrophe, and solve many other issues of human well-being too.

Sunday, 10 March 2019

For a Fighting Ecological Trade-Unionism

Written by Daniel Tanuro and first published at International Viewpoint

How can we reconcile social struggle and environmental struggle? This question poses problems for trade unionists. To avoid a climate catastrophe, it would be necessary to reduce economic activity, to suppress useless or harmful production, to give up a substantial part of the means of transport … But what would happen to employment then? How can we avoid a surge of unemployment, a new rise of poverty and precariousness? In today’s relationship of forces, in the face of financialized and globalized capitalism, these challenges seem impossible to meet.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has drawn a radical conclusion: under the guise of fine words in favour of the “just transition,” it has chosen to accompany the evolution toward an impossible green capitalism. The Vancouver “Resolution on combating climate change through sustainable development and just transition” (2010) is clear: this document advocates a transition that “without endangering industries’ competitiveness or putting excessive pressure on state budgets” (Article 5). 

We feel that we are dreaming: the demand for the respect of competitiveness is not even accompanied by a reservation concerning the fossil fuel sector, the main cause of climate change! However, without breaking the power of this sector of capital, it is strictly impossible to avoid the climate catastrophe.

A Just Transition?

The ITUC wants to believe that a “democratic governance” integrating the “just transition” would open up “new opportunities,” that it would create massively “green jobs,” good and “decent.” This is wishful thinking. Capital invested in the “energy transition” in no way derogates from the ruthless capitalist offensive against wages, working conditions and trade unions. Germany is at the forefront of both renewable energy and expanding an underclass of poor workers. In many countries, governments use ecology to dismantle union strongholds in traditional sectors.

Developing a genuine trade union alternative to the class collaboration policy of the ITUC leadership is of strategic importance. The working class occupies a decisive position in industry and services. Without its active participation, an anti-productivist transformation of the economy will remain impossible. But how to win workers to the struggle for the defence of the environment? That is the question. The answer is difficult. All the more difficult because the balance of power is deteriorating and the poison of division is spreading in the working class.

Self-Organization of the Working Class

What must be done? To begin with, the problem must be posed correctly on the theoretical level. For here we are touching on a fundamental question: capital is not a thing, but a social relation of exploitation that subjects workers more firmly than chains would. Like it or not, this system compels every worker to produce more than is necessary for the satisfaction of their needs, and to realize this production in the alienated form of the commodity. 

So, to collaborate in productivism, which ‘exhausts the only two sources of all wealth: Nature and the worker’ (Marx). Today this collaboration is becoming more and more unnatural, since it threatens the very survival of humanity. But in “normal” conditions, capitalist competition imposes it on everyone.

We must therefore get out of “normal” conditions, out of the competition of everyone against everyone. How? By collective organization, by the action of the exploited for their demands. “The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves” (IWA 1864). This famous phrase of is more than ever valid. Faced with the ecological crisis, the enormous problem of the submission/ integration of workers to the productivist race of capital can only be surpassed by self-organized struggle. 

Practical conclusion: any collective resistance against austerity, dismissals and closures must be supported, even critically (when it is not really democratic, or its starting point is antithetical to the defence of the environment). Because one thing is certain: workers who are defeated in the immediate economic fight against austerity will not progress to a higher political consciousness, integrating the ecological question.

Workers’ control and democratic self-organization can work miracles in terms of consciousness. Even at the level of an enterprise. A remarkable example was provided in 1975-1985 by the “surplus workers” of the glassworkers’ sector in Charleroi: following the fight against the closure of their company, they imposed their conversion in a public enterprise of insulation/renovation of housing (the enterprise was created but sabotaged later by politicians and employers).

Form an Ecosocialist Consciousness

Such examples, however, remain exceptional. In general, the formation of an ecosocialist consciousness requires an approach and experiences at a broader level than the enterprise. It is at the inter-sectoral level that trade-unionism can best pose structural demands consistent with an anti-capitalist approach to the transition. 

To take some examples: the extension of the public sector (free public transport, for example); the expropriation of the fossil fuel sector (a condition sine qua non for a rapid transition to renewables); the radical reduction of working time, without loss of salary (a condition sine qua non for reconciling decreasing output and employment).

But the programme and the struggle are not enough. An ecological and combative trade-unionism requires us to look beyond the inter-sectoral level. A strategy of convergence with other social movements – peasant, youth, feminist, ecological – must be conceived. 

This implies abandoning the misconception that work is the source of all wealth. In truth, the exploitation of wage labour presupposes the appropriation and exploitation of the natural resources which necessarily provide the material object of labour on the one hand, and on the other the patriarchal exploitation of care work, carried out mainly by women and “invisible” in the context of the family. The capital-labour contradiction is thus embedded in a broader antagonism between capital, on the one hand, and reproduction on the other.

If it places itself at the heart of this antagonism, trade-unionism can get out of being on the defensive, make alliances with other social movements, develop with them an attractive ecosocialist project. It is not a question of reviving the chimera of a progressive social transformation by the accumulation of micro-experiences that are supposed to make it possible to avoid a global trial of strength. On the contrary, it is a question of preparing this trial of strength at the territorial level, by systematically developing practices of control, solidarity, self-organization and self-management. 

These will encourage the exploited and oppressed to take things into their own hands, to become aware of their strength, thus promoting an overall ecosocialist and feminist awareness that will strengthen trade-unionism.

This strategic proposal will seem to some people to be far removed from the real relationship of forces. Let them not forget this: the relative calm that reigns on the surface of social relations is misleading. Capitalism is mutilating life and nature. Human nature in particular. The majority of the population are forced to exhaust themselves and to exhaust the environment in alienated work, more and more useless, ethically unbearable and which produces a miserable existence. The explosive material accumulated in this way can release its energy to the left or to the right.

And the climate strikes by young people over recent months in an increasing number of countries are only one positive example of this dynamic – which also is shown by movements like Black Lives Matter and the Women’s strikes planned again for March 8 this year. The political discussions, including on issues such as productivism and growth, taking place among young climate activists need to be spread in trade union circles – as well as the energy and militancy of their mobilization.

It is an understatement to say that trade-unionism has an interest in the liberation on the left of the social energy accumulated in the society by forty years of neoliberal policies. It is by linking the struggle for social justice and environmental justice in an anti-capitalist and anti-productivist perspective that it will have the greatest chance of succeeding. 

Daniel Tanuro is a certified agriculturalist and ecosocialist environmentalist, writes for La gauche, (the monthly of the LCR-SAP, Belgian section of the Fourth International). He is the author of Le moment Trump (Demopolis, 2018).

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

The English Diggers, the "Commons," and the Green New Deal


Written by Ed Simon and first published at History News Network

In April of 1649 a group of radicals, some veterans of the recent English civil wars, occupied a bit of common grass on a plot known as St. George’s Hill in Surrey and they began to grow vegetables. These radicals called themselves “True Levellers” to distinguish themselves from another, more moderate political faction, but everybody else called them “Diggers” in reference to both a scriptural passage as well as their literal activity on the hill. In a spirit of communal fellowship, they invited the people of Surrey, then suffering under exorbitant prices food prices, to “come in and help them, and promise them meat, drink, and clothes.”

Gerard Winstanley was the major theorist of the group, and in his manifesto The True Levellers Standard Advanced he advocated for a form of public ownership of land, seeing the idea of a commons not as radical, but rather as a restitution. In Winstanley’s understanding the commons were a feature of English rights, that had been violated in the development of privatization, whereby enclosures had begun to partition off formerly collective lands, which were now owned by individual aristocrats and noble families.

The result, since the end of the fifteenth-century, had been increasing inequity, with the landless poor often not having space on which to graze their animals. There was an explicitly ecological gloss to Digger politics, with Winstanley claiming that “true freedom lies where a man receives his nourishment and preservation, and that is in the use of the earth.” The dream of the commons as exemplified by the Diggers has something to say in our current moment, as we face not just rising prices on vegetables, but indeed the possibility of complete ecological collapse.

Critics of supply-side economics point to the Reagan and Thatcher revolutions of the 1980’s as being a moment whereby the traditional social contract, which held that a democratically organized state had a responsibility of care towards collective rights, had begun to fray. This analysis isn’t wrong, that the conservatives of that decade attacked the welfare state in favor of privatization, a shell-game redefinition of “freedom” whereby the undemocratic allocation of resources and power was shifted to the few, who’ve demonstrated a perilously uncaring stewardship towards the environment.

But I’d argue that there has long been a Manichean struggle between an understanding of democratic control of resources versus a certain aristocratic libertarianism. The “reforms” of the later go back far in our history, with thinkers like Winstanley understanding what’s lost when the commons are turned over to the control of fewer and more powerful people. Results of that ignoble experiment now threaten to end life on earth as we know it.  

If it seems as if there has been an increasing attack on the idea of the commons when faced against the neo-liberal forces of privatization, then perhaps we should draw some succor from the English historian Christopher Hill, who noted in his classic The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution that the “Diggers have something to say to twentieth-century socialists,” and perhaps twenty-first century socialists as well. 

In 2019, I would argue, the idea of the “commons” as a space of collective ownership, responsibility, engagement, and possibility must be a metaphor that the left draws from rhetorically, wrenching it free from the realms of theory and philosophy, and which we can use to more fully define a concept of freedom which is true for the largest possible number of humans.

A good idea never really dies. Even the right-leaning The Economist in an article entitled “The Rise of Millennial Socialism” admits that the newly resurgent left in both Great Britain and the United States’ Democratic Party has “formed an incisive critique of what has gone wrong in Western societies.” Partially this has been by recourse to traditional labor politics, but as The Economist notes it’s only on the left that there has been any credible attempt to solve the apocalyptic threat of climate change, the right either burying their heads in the sand or engaging in irrational and unempirical denialism. 

Part of the new socialist movement’s environmental approach is a return to how the Diggers understood stewardship of the land, so that in policy proposals like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Edward Markey’s Green New Deal we arguably have the emergence of a new ethic that could be called the “people’s right to the natural commons.” As Jedediah Britton-Purdy wrote in The New York Times, “In the 21st century, environmental policy is economic policy.”

Just as the Diggers hoped to redefine the commons back towards its traditional understanding, so too do todays eco-socialists see this as a fruitful moment in which to expand the definition of freedom as meaning “something more than the capitalist’s freedom to invest or the consumer’s freedom to buy,” as the authors of a recent Jacobin article on the Green New Deal write. Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, Daniel Aldana Cohen, and Theo Riofrancos write that for too long the “Right has claimed the language of freedom. But their vision of freedom as your right as an individual to do whatever you want – so long as you can pay for it – is a recipe for disaster in the twenty-first century, when it’s clearer than ever that all our fates are bound up together.”

In opposition, the authors argue that the Green New Deal presents the freedoms of a commonwealth, the “freedom to enjoy life, to be creative, to produce and delight in communal luxuries.” I’d add a freedom of access to our collectively owned environment, including its climate, its land, its oceans. As Woody Guthrie sang with patriotic fervor, “This land is your land, and this land is my land.”

Increasingly the mass of people has come to understand that the exorbitant wealth of the upper fraction of the 1% signal something more than mere luxury, but rather the transfer of undemocratically manifested political power and the ability to do with the earth and its climate whatever they want, even if the entire ecosystem lay in the balance. By contrast, eco-socialism requires a return to the Diggers’ promise, not the abolishment of private property, but an equitable say in how the resources which belong to the common treasury of all people of the earth should be allocated.

Why should executives at Exxon have any ability to decide that they’re alright with apocalypse just because it helps their shareholders? Remember that we’re all shareholders of the earth. Far more pragmatic to consider the potential of what philosophers Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri write about in Commonwealth, when they argue that an embrace of the commons is a rejection of “nihilism,” for in turning away from an apocalyptic capitalist economics we can rather imagine “opening up the multitude’s process of productivity and creativity that can revolutionize our world and institute a shared commonwealth.”

If it seems as if the Leveller’s nascent eco-socialist revolution failed, that’s not because there isn’t a golden thread connecting them to their own past and our current moment. Such beliefs about the commons were held by those participants of the aforementioned Peasant’s Rebellion in the fourteenth-century, and similar ideas about a collective right to some part of the environment can be seen everywhere from the commons at the center of many colonial New England towns to the environmental progressivism of President Theodor Roosevelt and the establishment of national parks. 

A collective right to a natural common, whereby we once again reaffirm the interdependent and communal ownership of the earth sounds as a radical idea, but a shift towards understanding our environmental crisis in this manner might be the spiritual change required to fully grapple with climate change.


At St. George’s Hill, Winstanley didn’t understand the occupation as being anarchic, but rather conservative in the truest sense of that abused word, as the root for the word “conservation” and as a return to a “merry old England.” As historian Peter Linebaugh explains, the commons have “always been local. It depends on custom, memory, and oral transmission for the maintenance of its norms rather than law, police, and media.” For the Diggers, it was nascent capitalism which was truly radical, and they who rather advocated a return to how they defined the natural state of things.

Half a century before the occupation at St. George’s Hill, and the anonymous author of a broadsheet ballad of 1607 wrote that “The law locks up the man or woman/Who steals the goose from off the common/But lets the greater villain loose/Who steals the common from the goose.” The Diggers’ rhetoric has even earlier precursors, their politics recalling a rhyming couplet of the Lollard priest John Ball who helped lead the Peasant’s Rebellion of 1381, and who used to sing a song asking where aristocrats could possibly have been in a state of nature, for “When Adam delved and Eve span, /Who was then the gentleman?”

In The Century of Revolution: 1603-1714, Hill writes that “Freedom is not abstract. It is the right of certain men to do certain things.” We think of “freedom” as an innate quality – and it is – but we have those with a very limited definition of the word run rough-shod over our environment, where the freedom which has been defined is the right of a very small number of men to make momentous and detrimental changes to the world itself. A world which should be our shared commonwealth.

Of course, proposals like the Green New Deal are upsetting to elites who have long profited by their small definition of freedom as being merely their freedom to exploit the earth. Surrey nobles were also less than pleased by the presence of hundreds of radicals encamped on St. George’s Hill, and by August of 1649 the Diggers lost a court case advocating for their squatter’s rights, so they voluntarily abandoned the plot before the threat of violence would have forced them to do so. Linebaugh writes that the “commons is invisible until it is lost.” Today St. George’s Hill is the site of an exclusive gated community and a tennis club. Maybe it’s time to tear down some of those enclosures again?

Ed Simon is the associate editor of The Marginalia Review of Books, a channel of The Los Angeles Review of Books. He holds a PhD in English from Lehigh University, and is a regular contributor at several different sites. He can be followed at his website, or on Twitter @WithEdSimon. 

Thursday, 28 February 2019

As Governments Fail to Act on Climate Change – The People Step Up to the Plate


I must admit that the last couple of years, I’ve gone from despair to depression (not clinical) with the complete lack of urgency from governments around the world, in taking serious action to combat climate change. As the evidence mounts that we have only a few short years to take action, which would give human beings a fighting chance of avoiding cataclysmic change to our planet, nothing much is done.

The failure of more than twenty years of international governmental conferences, to do more than promise to makes cuts in CO2 emissions, and with an over reliance on techno-fixes, most of which do not exist on any large scale, has led me to think that we really are going to hell in a hand-cart. 

But, amidst all of the gloom, some bright shining lights have suddenly given me hope. This has not come from governments though, it is a rising from below, from the people, that offers reasons to believe that things may change for the better.

The Extinction Rebellion, which began in the UK last year, but is now spreading to many countries around the world, is an attempt to pressure the authorities into actually taking the situation seriously, by taking direct action, like blocking roads and other similar protests, for which these people are prepared to be arrested for. Their aim is to:

Support and encourage a citizens uprising in the UK (of about 2 million people) involving low level and higher risk acts of civil disobedience by some (with others willing to support those that take actions). When ready, create a participatory, democratic process that discusses and improves a draft manifesto for change and a new constitution. This will involve creating a genuine democracy, alongside an economy to maximise well-being and minimise harm.

Then there is Earth Strike who are calling for a rolling series of events throughout 2019, culminating in a worldwide strike on 27 September. They describe what they are about thus:

We are a grassroots movement demanding immediate climate action from governments and corporations worldwide...Our protests, scheduled throughout 2019, will raise awareness for a GLOBAL GENERAL STRIKE beginning September 27.

Earth Strike has chapters in 22 countries, from Australia to the United States, with new countries coming on board all of the time. They say:

Until the world’s governments and businesses are held accountable to the people, we are refusing to participate in the system that fills their pockets. There will be no banking, no offices full of employees, no schools full of children, until our demands are met.

Most recently, school students have organised strikes from their studies, who of course have more to lose, again to demand action from the politicians on climate change. This was all started by a Swedish sixteen year old, Greta Thunberg, who held a one person demonstration outside of her parliament in Stockholm. 

Now, up to 70,000 schoolchildren each week hold protests in 270 towns and cities worldwide. In London, they blocked the roads outside parliament chanting “Turn off your engines” at passing cars, and “We want the chance for change now” before mounted police moved them away.

All of this is what needs to happen, because, as we have seen, governments are being negligent in their responsibility to protect their people from what is looking like a disaster of huge proportions. Change needs to come from the grassroots to force this issue up the political and economic agenda. 

Politicians only change course from business as usual, when they are compelled into doing so by the people, and so I hope these movements grow into a powerful force for change,

Do what you can to support them.