Saturday, 15 January 2022

Ecosocialist Alliance Set to Continue – Invitation to Open Meeting

The Ecosocialist Alliance on the COP26 London Demonstration

The Ecosocialist Alliance, organised in the UK for COP26 by Green Left, Left Unity and Anti-Capitalist Resistance, has decided to continue as a campaigning group. This is an invitation to an open Zoom meeting on 26 January for all who take an ecosocialist view. Messages are being sent to those groups and individuals who supported the Ecosocialist Alliance COP26 statement.

Our collaboration for COP26 was more successful than we could have hoped for, with 27 groups and over 60 individuals worldwide, supporting our statement. How can we build on this for the future? How can we operate on a local, national and international basis? As expected, COP26 itself delivered little, despite the urgency of the climate crisis.

The meeting will explore ideas for growing the alliance and think about how we can work together in preparation for COP27, and perhaps other campaigns. We also need to decide what kind of structure the alliance will have, and some ideas that we have for that, but in the main we want to listen to others and an open discussion session will be the centrepiece of the gathering.

Our original idea, which remains unchanged, was to join together, to amplify our collective voice, to demand real ecosocialist solutions to the climate crisis and the gross inequality caused by the dominant world economic system, capitalism. Only by moving away from this destructive system, of endless growth and accumulation, can a rational, fair and ecological solution be achieved. Capitalists and compliant governments cannot do this, only the people of the world can.

We do not doubt the enormity of this challenge, but equally, we can’t afford to do nothing given the seriousness of the situation. Come and join with us. Ecosocialism not Extinction!

The meeting is on 26 January 2022, 7pm to 8.30pm (GMT). To get details of how to access the meeting please email eco-socialist-action@protonmail.com

Tuesday, 11 January 2022

2022: What the New Year could bring for rapid transition around the world

Written by Freddie Daley and first published at Rapid Transition Alliance

As the New Year springs into action, with it comes a renewed sense of focus. Stepping into 2022, the world is entering the second year of a crucial decade for transformative climate action. There are now only eight years remaining to halve global emissions for a chance to stop global temperatures breaching 1.5°C. In terms of preventing the most catastrophic impacts of climate breakdown, rapid transition is now the only option.

With this in mind, the Rapid Transition Alliance team highlight here some key areas for the year ahead, where momentum is building and change is happening. These combine glimmers of evidence-based hope, with suggestions about ways in which they can be scaled-up and accelerated to meet the challenge we face, and draw on our growing resource-base of Stories of Change

1. Renewables just keeping getting cheaper, while their polluting counterparts are becoming less competitive

Last year was another record-breaking year for renewable sources of energy – even in the face of a global pandemic. As 2022 gets rolling, it’s set to be yet another bumper year for wind and solar. The often conservative International Energy Agency predicts that 2022 will see 280 GW of renewable capacity added to global energy markets, marking another record breaking year. According to this forecast, 55% of all the renewable capacity added in the year ahead will come from solar. There’s reason to believe that the actual deployment of renewable energy sources in 2022 will exceed predictions as forecasts have consistently underestimated their take-up.  

This is happening for a number of reasons. Firstly, renewable energy costs are plummeting making them the most economical choice of meeting energy demand. Since 2009, the price of electricity from solar has declined by 89% with a new solar plant now three times cheaper than a new coal plant. The price of batteries too has declined by 97% since 1991 and this trend shows no sign of slowing. 

Secondly, fossil fuels are not getting any cheaper to find and extract. A robust study from the Institute for New Economic Thinking found that the forecast costs of oil, coal and gas do not decline up to 2050, while the cost of renewables is set to plummet further. The report concludes that “exponentially decreasing costs and rapid exponentially increasing deployment is different to anything observed in any other energy technologies in the past, and positions renewables to challenge the dominance of fossil fuels within a decade”. 

But there are still important caveats to be made. The most important is that an overwhelming amount of fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground never to be burnt – and that’s where efforts in 2022 need to be focused. Momentum is building behind businesses to pull out of large fossil fuel projects due to brave and persistent climate campaigning, such as Shell’s recent withdrawal from the massive Cambo oilfield. More is required though such as furthering the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty as an international framework for phasing out fossil fuels and funding a just transition in poorer countries.

2. Car-free cities are going worldwide 

Last year saw a raft of car-free initiatives and pledges around the world. This year is set to see these projects and initiatives move into 5th gear as towns, cities and even individuals realise the benefits of going car-free

But going car-free isn’t just about ridding our cities of polluting cars, it’s also about scaling up the alternatives. Over the past few years, towns and cities around the world have been providing free public transport to help clear the air and curtail tailpipe emissions. Citizens and businesses are also backing cargo bikes to replace inner city logistics, with the likes of Royal Mail and the National Trust getting on their bikes. 

For those road miles that can’t be substituted by walking or cycling, electric vehicles are eating up an increasing amount of the market share with 2022 set to be a bumper year. Europe’s EV hotbed, Norway, recorded that nearly two-thirds of Norway’s new car sales last year were electric. A combination of taxes and subsidies, as well as accessible and abundant charging infrastructure, has made choosing an EV the most economical choice in Norway

3. Widespread dietary change is on the table

A new year always kicks off with Veganuary, where curious individuals make a plant-based pledge for the first month of the year. But the growing popularity of veganism extends far beyond the opening month of the year, with a recent survey finding that one-third of Americans are planning to eat more plant-based food this year. The same survey found that 30% of Americans said their perceptions of a plant-based diet had changed for the better in just the last two years.

This shift in perceptions is understandable given the proliferation of plant-based alternatives, improvements in their quality and reductions in their cost, making them far-more accessible to all. From milk alternatives to fake meats, these products are getting tastier and more popular faster than anyone expected. In the UK alone, meat consumption has fallen by 17% in the last decade and is expected to fall by 30% this decade, without the help of any policy or financial incentives. 

And it isn’t just what we are eating that is changing – how it’s grown is too. The shocks induced by COVID-19 have questioned the viability of lengthy, complex and vulnerable supply chains. One recent study based on a pilot project in Brighton found that urban community growers within the city were able to harvest 1kg of fruit and vegetables in a single season, putting their yields on par with a conventional farm. 

4. Climate action remains at the top of the political agenda 

This year is set to see even more disruptive and inspiring climate action as the topic remains firmly at the top of the public’s concern in nations around the world, despite the ongoing pandemic. An international survey of over a million people, across 50 countries, found that two-thirds of people believe climate change is a “global emergency”. In the US, concern over climate change remains at an all time high, with over half of US citizens believing they are being harmed “right now” by climate impacts. 

We are seeing similar trends in Britain, Sweden and China too where nearly half of people polled are “extremely” or “very worried” about climate change and nearly 60% want to see urgent action to address it. In Brazil, concerns over climate change are even higher at 75%

In some parts of the world, these growing concerns are translating into political change. For instance, Chile’s recent election saw environmental socialist Gabriel Boric win power. His environmental policy programme and constitutional overhaul could set the tone for 2022, with plans to create a nationalised lithium mining industry, classify water as a public good and enshrine the rights of nature into law. There’s also rumours of a ‘double zero’ public transport policy – zero emissions and zero cost – which could provide a blueprint for other countries. 

5. Climate activists given legal teeth

Last year was another bumper year for climate litigation and 2022 is set to bring even more wins in the courtroom. Climate activists are finally being given the legal teeth they need to hold governments and powerful polluters to account, with the likes of Shell and the German government losing in the court and forced to up their climate ambitions.

Since 2015, the number of climate-related cases going through the courts has doubledAs the Rapid Transition Alliance has argued before, the increasing number and frequency of climate litigation cases is creating a snowball effect. Mounting legal precedents, a proliferation of collaboration across borders and generations, as well as creeping corporate concern over reputational damage are all contributing to a favourable environment for climate activists to court change.

6. Developing a just transition blueprint – the Green New Deal in action

The idea that no-one should be left behind by the transition to a zero carbon economy has taken root and 2022 is when we are set to see a variety of ‘just transition’ initiatives put into practice. Most exciting of which is the Just Energy Transition Partnership, signed at COP26, launched by France, the US, UK and EU to help stimulate a just transition in South Africa with $8.5 billion in annual funding.

South Africa provides the perfect testbed for a just transition as coal makes up 90% of electricity generation and formally employs roughly 1% of the population. One percent of employment may seem small, but when unemployment is hovering at around 30%, alternative employment is hard to come by. The potential jobs boost from a just transition is also significant. 

On the European continent, EU member states have given their final stamp of approval on a €17.5 billion Just Transition Fund. The fund will be used to finance job seeking assistance, up-skilling and reskilling, as well as the democratic inclusion of workers and jobseekers as the continent’s economy shifts towards zero emissions. The fund will also support micro-enterprises, business incubators, universities and public research institutions, as well as investments in new energy technologies, energy efficiency, and sustainable local mobility to stimulate a broad societal transition.

This year is also set to see even more nations include just transition initiatives into their Nationally Determined Contributions to help square equity and urgency in the fight against climate breakdown

7. Flying is now very ‘pre-pandemic’

The global pandemic saw planes grounded on runways around the world as restrictions were put in place and people and businesses realised that working from home had a raft of benefits. Even as the pandemic eases, our skies aren’t set to see the number of planes in 2019 until 2024. Flying is more likely to become the exception, rather than the rule.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the realm of business travel. One survey of 45 large businesses in the US, Asia and Europe found that up to 84% of firms plan to spend less on travel after the pandemic subsides, whenever that may be. Some of the largest companies in the world – Google, Amazon and HSBC – each reported cost savings from reduced business travel in the region of $1 billionAs around 90% of corporate travel emissions come from air travel, cutting back on air travel can deliver emissions cuts while improving firms’ bottom line.

Within particular countries, there are also signs that climate concerns are shaping public sentiment towards flying. A recent survey conducted in the UK found 89% of respondents supported the idea of raising the costs of air travel, particularly on frequent fliers. For individuals that are keen on staying grounded in 2022, it is worth signing up to the Flight Free 2022 pledge

8. Moving on from reckless consumerism

2022 is set to see greater shifts away from overconsumption as the backlash against fast fashion, low quality disposable electronics and obsolescence disguised as friendly gadgets grows. For many companies, the writing’s on the wall.

Lockdowns and pandemic restrictions gave some people an abundance of time to turn their hands to DIY and home maintenance. From this we have seen repair initiatives blossom, with every town and village launching mask-making factories or repair cafes. Not only did this save people money and reduce waste, there’s ample scientific and neurological research too that shows using our hands practically, be it for mending something old or creating something new, can promote better mental health.

And this growing consumer backlash is beginning to shift government policy too around the right to repair. Last year the EU brought in rules obliging manufacturers or importers to make a range of essential parts such as motors, pumps, shock absorbers and springs available to professional repairers for up to ten years after the last unit of any specific model was sold in the EU. We expect more countries to follow suit in 2022.

9. A new green internationalism will take hold

Progessive, elected parliamentarians from around the world are beginning to work together to get radical and transformative climate legislation passed as part of the Global Alliance for a Green New Deal.  Currently made up of 27 elected officials, this alliance is set to balloon in 2022 as people all around the world demand urgent action to address the climate emergency.

The importance of such an alliance cannot be understated. As net-zero pledges become almost ubiquitous, the greatest danger facing our planet is no longer those that deny the science of human-induced climate change, but those that acknowledge it but delay meaningful action. This type of delay, according to Alex Steffen, is predatory: it preys on our collective future by profiting from the current status quo. 2022 must be the year that a Green New Deal goes global to hold purportedly progressive governments’ feet to the fire – that’s real leadership. 

10. New awareness that system change and behaviour change work together

For far too long we have been sold a false dichotomy on climate change of individual behaviour change versus system change. On one side were those  economists claiming that we can just ‘nudge’ enough individuals to curtail emissions, while on the other were those saying it was system change or bust.

But the urgency of the climate crisis, and the scale of change required to avert its worst impacts, mean that we now need both: the privilege of choosing between the two has long since passed – especially in wealthy nations. Fortunately, in reality they work together as individuals and systems are inherently linked: individuals are part of systems, but they also shape them too. As behaviours change it becomes politically easier to deliver system change, which in turn makes shifting behaviour easier too. The recent climate-satire film Don’t Look Up reminds us that “individual action is sometimes seen as separate from systems change, or simply not important. But we need both, and they are deeply connected”. This year will bring more research and awareness-raising around this empowering discovery.

Freddie Daley is currently working as a researcher at the University of Sussex exploring sustainable behaviour change, supply-side policies and the political economy of the climate crisis. He is also an activist with Green New Deal UK and has published opinion pieces on UK climate policy in OpenDemocracy and Tribune, amongst others.

Saturday, 8 January 2022

Beyond the Capitalist Paradigm of Destruction: Generative Chaos

Written by Leonardo Boff and first published at Internationalist 360

I believe that this leap, with our participation, especially the victims of the exploitation of capitalism, can occur and would be within the possibilities of the history of the universe and the Earth: from the current destructive chaos, we can move on to generative chaos of a new way of being and inhabiting planet Earth.

The Iron Cage of Capital

The unexpected may occur, within the quantum perspective assumed by the new cosmology: the current suffering due to the systemic crisis will not be in vain; it is accumulating benign energies that will make a leap to another, higher-order.

We are still in 2021, a year that did not end because Covid-19 canceled the counting of time by continuing its lethal work. 2022 could not, for now, be inaugurated. The fact is that the virus has brought all powers, especially the militaristic ones, to their knees, as their arsenal of death has become totally ineffective.

However, the genius of capitalism, regarding the pandemic, has caused the transnationalized capitalist class to restructure itself through the Great Reset, expanding the new digital economy through the integration of the giants: Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Google, Zoom, and others with the military-industrial-security complex.

Such an event represents the formation of immense power, the like of which has never been seen before. Let us note that this is an economic power of a capitalist nature and that it, therefore, realizes its essential purpose, that of maximizing profits in an unlimited way, exploiting, without consideration, human beings and nature. Accumulation is not a means to a good life but an end in itself, that is to say, accumulation for accumulation’s sake, which is irrational.

The consequence of this radicalization of capitalism confirms what a sociologist from the University of California at Santa Barbara, William I. Robinson, in a recent article, has well observed (ALAI 20/12/2021): “In the aftermath of the pandemic, there will be more inequality, conflict, militarism, and authoritarianism as social upheaval and civil strife escalate. The ruling groups will turn to expanding the global police state to contain mass discontent from below”. In effect, artificial intelligence with its billions upon billions of algorithms will be used to control each person and the entire society.

Where will this brutal power take humanity?

Knowing the inexorable logic of the capitalist system, Max Weber, one of those who best analyzed it critically, shortly before his death, asserted: “What awaits us is not the blooming of autumn, but a polar, icy, dark and arduous night (Le Savant et le Politique, Paris 1990, p. 194). He coined a strong expression that strikes at the heart of capitalism: it is an “iron cage” (Stahlartes Gehäuse) that cannot be broken and, therefore, can lead us to a great catastrophe (cf. the pertinent analysis of M. Löwy, La jaula de hierro: Max Weber y el marxismo weberiana, México 2017). This opinion is shared by great names such as Thomas Mann, Oswald Spengler, Ferdinand Tönnies, Eric Hobsbawm, among others.

Various world-society models are being discussed for the post-pandemic. The most important ones, besides the Great Reset of the billionaires, are: green capitalism, ecosocialism, the Andean buen vivir and convivir, biocivilization, of various groups and Pope Francis, among others.  It is not up to me here to detail such projects, which I have done in the book Covid-19: A Mãe Terra contra-ataca a Humanidade (Vozes 2020).

I would only say: either we change the paradigm of production, consumption, coexistence, and especially the relationship with nature, with respect and care, feeling part of it and not over it as owners and lords, or else Max Weber’s prognosis will come true: we may from 2030 to at most 2050, experience an ecological-social Armageddon extremely harmful to life and to the Earth. In this sense, my feeling of the world tells me that the one who will destroy the order of capital, with its economy, politics, and culture, would not be any mill or school of critical thinking. It would be the Earth itself, a limited planet that can no longer support a project of unlimited growth.

The visible climate change, an object of discussion and decision making (practically none) of the last UN COPs, the increasing depletion of natural goods and services, fundamental for life (The Earth Overshoot), and the threat of breaking the main nine boundaries of development that cannot be broken at the price of the collapse of civilization, are some indicators of an imminent tragedy.

A significant number of climate experts say that we are too late. With the already accumulated greenhouse gases, we will not be able to contain the catastrophe, only, with science and technology, to lessen its disastrous effects. But the great irreversible crisis will come. That is why they have become skeptics and even techno-fatalists.

Are we resigned pessimists or, in Nietzsche’s sense, supporters of “heroic resignation”? I think, as a pre-Socratic said: we should expect the unexpected because if we don’t expect it when it comes, we will not perceive it. The unexpected may occur, within the quantum perspective assumed by the new cosmology: the current suffering due to the systemic crisis will not be in vain; it is accumulating benign energies that, upon reaching a certain level of complexity and accumulation, will make a leap to another, higher-order with a new horizon of hope for life and for the living planet, Gaia, Mother Earth. Paulo Freire coined the expression to hope: not to keep hoping that one day the situation will improve, but to create the conditions for hope not to be empty, but to make it effective through our efforts.

I believe that this leap, with our participation, especially the victims of the exploitation of capitalism, can occur and would be within the possibilities of the history of the universe and the Earth: from the current destructive chaos, we can move on to generative chaos of a new way of being and inhabiting planet Earth.

This is what I believe and hope for, reinforced by the word of Revelation that states: “God created all things out of love because He is the passionate lover of life” (Wisdom 11,26). We will still live under the benevolent light of the sun.

Wednesday, 5 January 2022

After Glasgow COP26: Build the Global Movement

 

Written by Alan Thornett 

What happened in Glasgow – and where do we go from here? 

Many on the radical left have concluded that Glasgow was an unmitigated disaster. That COP is dead. That the 1.5°C maximum temperature target is dead. That any gains made in Glasgow are greenwash. That it is time to stop focussing on the COP process and chart our own independent course. It is even argued that putting demands on the COP process (or indeed other capitalist institutions) is wrong in principle because it makes us complicit with their crimes and failures. 

I don’t agree with any of this. It’s certainly true that Glasgow failed to stop catastrophic climate change – and by a huge margin. It is also true the pace of the crisis is still increasing with fires, floods, droughts and hurricanes becoming ever more destructive, and that the Nationally Determined Contributions (NCDs), pledged in Glasgow, would produce a temperature rise of not 1.5°C but of 2.4°C – which would trigger feedback processes that would take the climate crisis out of control. 

To withdraw from the COP process, however, would be a big mistake. Although we all have a responsibility for our own ecological impact, only governments have the ability to make the major structural changes necessary to get rid of fossil energy in the timescale available. Nor can we build the mass movement necessary to force them to do so if we ignore the main global forum in which they can be engaged – and which is the main driver of global public consciousness on the issue. 

A process of struggle 

We are in a process of struggle and not a single event – important as such events are. Glasgow was never going to end capitalism, or indeed stop global warming at a stroke. The question was always how much progress could be made and how it could be used to build the movement to the next stage. 

Clive Lewis, Labour MP, climate campaigner and former member of Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, speaking on the London Economic’s podcast Unbreak the Planet also argues that there were positives in Glasgow but that it could be a turning point in the struggle. The Glasgow COP, he said, was “dire” and a “failure” when looked at “through a conventional lens”. But he added, “in terms of the climate movement, of understanding where the Global South are in this fight, the need for solidarity between different groups – not just those fighting climate issues – I think it was potentially a turning point. 

In 2009 the Copenhagen COP was deeply split over the fundamental issue of whether global warming is anthropogenic – which allowed the climate deniers to split the conference and set the movement back for nearly five years, only emerging again in the run-up to COP21 in Paris in 2015. 

By Paris the climate deniers had been marginalised, and the anthropogenic nature of the crisis established. The battle was now between the UN organisers who proposed a temperature limit of ‘well below’ 2°C, and the High Ambition Coalition – the countries about to disappear under the sea – who demand a limit of 1.5°C as the only figure that would give them any kind of future. “1.5 to stay alive” as they termed it. It ended in a fudge. The main target would be ‘well below 2°C’ with 1.5°C added on as an ‘aspiration’. 

Two years later, with global warming accelerating, the IPCC adopted the 1.5°C limit in the form of its Special Report on Global Warming. It also warned that we now had only 12 years to do something about it, since 1.5°C could be reached as soon as 2030. 

Glasgow 

By Glasgow this year the 1.5°C limit was already official UN policy, with the discussion focused around on how to achieve it in term of enhanced National Determined Contributions (NCDs). Like Paris, it was a battle between the countries most determined to cling on to fossil fuel and those how faced with the greatest impact from it. Many delegates arrived determined to defend the 1.5°C against those that would be out to destroy it. 

Other significant gains were also made. The role of the major emitters of CO2 – coal, oil and gas, that are killing the planet at an ever-increasing rate – was confronted for the first time. In Paris these fuels had not even been mentioned by name. In Glasgow they were presented as the main cause of global warming and an existential threat to the future the planet. 

Coal – which is responsible for 40 per cent of global CO2 emissions – was singled out with a proposal that its use in power generation should be phased-out, along with subsidies to it, by 2050. This was bitterly opposed (unsurprisingly) by the big coal and oil producers and users, who saw their future at stake, in a heated debate that forced the conference to overrun into the weekend. This proposal, however, was dramatically watered down by a last-minute intervention by China and India that changed ‘phase-out’ to ‘phase-down’. The decision, which came as a body blow at the end of the proceedings, (bizarrely) left UK Tory minister Alok Sharma, who was in the chair, fighting-back tears. 

This decision, however, even in its weaker form, should not be underestimated. To declare these fuels, that have totally dominated global energy generation for 100 years, as the primary threat to the future of the planet is a pivotal moment – despite the time scale and the ambiguity involved. The writing is on the wall for these fuels. It makes investment in them increasingly precarious, and action against them by climate campaigners more likely. 

This was demonstrated – dramatically – just two weeks later, with the decision of Shell to pull out of the controversial Cambo oilfield project off the Shetland Islands in Scotland. This was a direct result of the Glasgow decision, causing the whole project to be put on hold and it is unlikely to recover. It is a resounding victory for the climate movement and the Stop Cambo campaign that had demonstrated outside the COP venue throughout. Shell accepts that the COP decision was a factor in their decision, along with the technical complexities of the project given the 1,000 metres sea depth that is involved. 

Shell’s pull-out reflects the decision in the last couple of years (and now endorsed in Glasgow) to stop producing fossil fuel cars by 2035, in favour of electric power. This was also a major blow to the petrochemical industry, which currently supplies 337 million gallons of fuel a day to fossil driven cars. Once the decision was taken, the production of fossil fuel cars went into decline as the industry recognised commercial reality and embraced the conversion. Sometimes the logic of capitalism can work to a progressive advantage. 

In Australia – soon after the close of COP26 – two climate activists, under the banner of Blockade Australia, shut down the world’s largest coal port by climbing on top of machinery at the Port of Newcastle and pressing an emergency safety button, bringing the export of coal to a standstill. Others have halted coal trains or blocked key bottlenecks in the multibillion-dollar coal supply chain in the Hunter region. 

However, the timescale envisaged by the elites, of course, is seriously out of kilter with the reality of the crisis. This has to be constantly challenged by the movement itself in the course of the struggle, driven by the crisis itself as it intensifies. 

Other decisions 

Pledges were made to the amount of $356 million a year to the UN Adaptation Fund in order to help impoverished countries to adapt to global warming and fight climate change. This is both inadequate and precarious since a similar pledge was made in Paris but the amount paid well fell short of the amount pledged. 

There were also side deals between the member states. Over 100 countries joined a pledge to cut methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030. Methane is a powerful GHG that comes mostly from rubbish dumps, farm animals and leaky oil and gas wells. Whilst this was an important initiative it failed to tackle the key issue of the industrialised meat and dairy sectors in this, and key emitters, including China, Russia and India, failed to sign up. 

Another 100 governments signed a voluntary agreement that promised to end deforestation and protect indigenous rights. Crucial as the issue is it must be one of the most vacuous pledges made at the whole conference, since even Bolsonaro felt comfortable in signing it. There was no sign of any proposals to actually deliver on these promises which look very similar to a pledge made in 2014 which did absolutely nothing to slow deforestation. 

The most scandalous decision taken was the support given to carbon offsetting and to emissions trading – i.e. licences to pollute – and to carbon capture and storage, which does not exist as a useable technology due to the gigantic amount of carbon that would have to be stored. 

At the end of the COP a decision was taken to call on all countries to submit new and tougher NDCs by COP27, which will take place in Egypt next year, and on a yearly basis after that. This is a big improvement on the 5-year cycle agreed in Paris. 

The root of the problem in Glasgow was that although there was more pressure on this COP than ever before, the elites were not prepared to adopt the kind of war footing that is needed to implement even their own objectives. This point was made strongly (and bizarrely) at the opening of COP26 by the heir to the British throne. They may have to do this at some stage, but we need to ensure that it is not too late and it is within a socially just framework. 

Making the polluters pay 

A huge weakness of Glasgow, of course, which was never even on the agenda, was how the individual countries should go about meeting the pledges they have made. In other words what are their exit strategies from fossil energy and how are they going to carry it out in a socially acceptable way? Many, no doubt, are already planning the offsets they will use to get off the hook. This is a controversial subject on the radical left, and it needs to be central to the debate on the approach to COP27 in Cairo next year. 

The key to this, in my view, is to make fossil fuels far more expensive than renewable energy and by means that are socially just, that redistribute large amounts of wealth from the rich to the poor, that can bring about a big reduction in emissions in the time available, and (crucially) are capable of commanding popular support. This means heavily taxing the polluters to both cut emissions and to ensure that the polluters fund the transition to renewables.

One proposal on the table in this regard is James Hansen’s fee and dividend proposition. It provides the framework for very big emissions reductions, here and now whilst capitalism exists, and on the basis of a major transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor in order to drive it forward. It would have to go alongside a crash programme of renewable energy production to meet the demand that his incentives would create. It would also need a major programme of energy conservation, a big reduction in the use of the internal combustion engine, the abolition of factory farming and a big reduction in meat consumption.

Building the movement 

The most important gain to come out of Glasgow is the strengthening of the climate justice movement itself. For the first time the movement has come out of at a COP conference stronger than it went in. This was reflected in the young activists on the streets who maintained a constant pressure on the proceedings inside as did the many delegations from the global south and many indigenous communities – including from the rain forests of the Amazon. The main demonstration in Glasgow was 150,000 strong, the biggest climate demonstration ever held in the UK. 

It was also reflected in the exemplary work done by the COP26 Coalition over the past two years, and the events it organised around the COP, in particular the global day of action on November 6th and the three-day Peoples’ Summit for Climate Justice that ran from November 7th , and which was a global event. 

The impact of the Glasgow COP, in terms of global awareness, along with the increasing impact of the crisis itself, has been far greater than with any previous COP. This has opened up the possibility of a new stage in the development of the global movement itself. This is important since the future of the planet will ultimately be determined by the strength of the mass movement and not by the COP process. 

We need a movement, therefore, that embraces the widest possible spectrum of struggle from the indigenous peoples to the young school strikers who have been so inspirational over the past 2 years. From the activists of XR who played such an important role in radicalising the movement in the run-up to Glasgow to radicalising public consciousness. A movement that would be too big to be socialist in character but which has a strong current of socialists within it, with a clear strategic line. 

It must also embrace the more radical Green Parties. The big NGOs such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Avaaz and 38 Degrees who have a powerful mobilising capacity, have radicalised in recent years, and have come out of Glasgow with a more positive assessment than many on the socialist left. 

Greenpeace, for example, said the following in its assessment of Glasgow: “It’s important to be honest about this situation. But it’s also important to remember how much we still have to fight for. There’s no single moment when it’s ‘too late’ to act on climate change; no cut-off points where we can’t choose a better path. Every ray of hope, inch of progress, in Glasgow was won through relentless pressure from activists and campaigners, especially those on the front line of the crisis. It’s always been that way, and it always will.” 

Partial gains and victories 

There is an increasing trend on the radical left to deny the value of partial victories won by movement. This is even the case with the Cambo oilfield victory, where some on the left have argued that Glasgow had nothing to do with it or that it is an irrelevant drop in the ocean. This I suspect this is because it is seen as reformist or falls short of abolishing capitalism – which indeed it does. 

This is a problem. We can’t build a movement if we deny it its victories – partial or otherwise. Whilst partial victories, in themselves, are not going to halt climate change they are essential in terms of building a movement that can, because of their transitional content. We don’t dismiss partial gains this way in any other area of struggle – trade unions, anti-racism, or human rights for example. Nor are all reforms ‘reformist’. Partial victories rally the movement towards ever more substantial victories and towards an eventual anti-capitalist solution. 

Even Greta Thunburg – who has played as major role in promoting and radicalising the environmental struggle between Paris and Glasgow with her Fridays for the Future movement has lapsed into this. At the end of COP26 she tweeted: “Unless we achieve immediate, drastic, unprecedented, annual emission cuts at the source then that means we’re failing when it comes to this climate crisis. “Small steps in the right direction”, “making some progress” or “winning slowly” equals loosing.” 

We do have to achieve what Greta says, of course. But the idea that concessions won short of that goal are an impediment, rather than building blocks towards it, is wrong. There are times when “blah, blah, blah” is the right critique. There are also times to recognise when gains have been made and build on them. 

Strategic choices 

For the movement to withdraw from the COP at this stage would in my view, be a big and ultra-left mistake. 

Whilst COP conferences are only one aspect of the environmental struggle, they are important in that they give us an opportunity to confront the elites in front of a global audience and to build the movement in the process. In fact it would play into the hands of the elites. They would like nothing more than to be able to go to COP conferences with no one on the streets placing demands on them. It would also deny us the partial victories that it is possible to win at such events. 

Any advances made by the COP process have been as a result of pressure from the movement – particularly the mass struggles in the Global South. The climate justice movement is right to take these conferences seriously and to place demands on them in defence of the future of the planet. 

Equally, the notion, held by many on the radical left, that global warming can be stopped by global socialist revolution – and within the 10 years because that is the timescale we have – is fanciful in the extreme. It ignores the current adverse global balance of forces and level of consciousness and gambles the future of the planet on a scenario so remote that it can be discounted as a rational strategic approach at the beginning of the 2020s. 

If such a revolution happens, we can fully embrace it. Meanwhile, socialism can’t be built on a dead planet. This means forcing capitalism – kicking and screaming if necessary – to make the changes necessary to save the planet, including a full transition to renewable energy. There are no shortcuts. 

This approach also provides the best conditions to both reduce carbon emissions rapidly and to build a mass movement capable of challenging capitalism itself, when the opportunity arises. If we are unable to build a movement capable of forcing capitalism to make such structural changes, how are we going to build one capable of its expropriation by revolutionary means? 

Alan Thornett is an Ecosocialist campaigner and author of Facing the Apocalypse – ‘Arguments for Ecosocialism'.

Wednesday, 22 December 2021

2021 – The Year in Blog Posts

These are the most popular posts on this blog, as judged by unique page views, by month, for 2021. Another difficult year, for sure, but it did see the formation of the Ecosocialist Alliance. The blog is closing now until January.

Happy Holiday and New Year to all our readers.

January

UK Green Left Invitation to form a United Ecosocialist Front for COP26

Green Left, the ecosocialist grouping in the Green Party of England and Wales, has launched an initiative for a unified ecosocialist response to the COP26 United Nations climate change conference, in November, in Glasgow, later this year. All those parties, groupings and individuals who take an ecosocialist view, are welcome, and indeed encouraged to join together, and amplify our collective voice. More

February

The Ecosocialism / Degrowth Debate

A piece written by Timothée Parrique and Giorgos Kallis titled Degrowth: Socialism without Growth, which was re-posted on this blog a couple of weeks ago, has led to a debate within the ecosocialist community. The subject was discussed at the most recent Global Ecosocialist Network members meeting, prompting a number of different views from those present. This is my take on degrowth in an ecosocialist context. More

March

Women and Nature: Towards an Ecosocialist Feminism

It was hot outside that day. In the remote area of KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa a young man watched as five men approached him on the porch. “Could we have a drink?” one of them asked. As they finished the water they asked if they could go inside and thank the woman that lived there. The young man led them in the front door. Moments later shots rang out as the men gunned down the young man’s grandmother and environmental organiser, Fikile Ntshangase, and raced out. More

April

Eco-socialism & ‘green new deal’ pipe dreams

“Capitalism can no more be ‘persuaded’ to limit growth than a human being can be ‘persuaded’ to stop breathing. Attempts to ‘green’ capitalism, to make it ‘ecological’, are doomed by the very nature of the system as a system of endless growth.”—Remaking Society, Murray Bookchin, 1990, p 93-94 More

May

What Would a Deep Green New Deal Look Like?

The Green New Deal has attracted perhaps the greatest attention of any proposal for decades. It would guarantee Medicare-for-All, Housing-for-All, student loan forgiveness and propose the largest economic growth in human history to address unemployment and climate change. More

June

Ecosocialist Alliance Calls on G7 for a Just Transition

On this, World Environment Day (BST), an Ecosocialist Alliance has released a public statement (reproduced below), ahead of the G7 conference, calling on the leaders of those nations, for a Just Transition away from social inequality and the ecological crisis. The G7 conference is from 11 to 13 June, in Cornwall, England. Ecosocialist organisations and individuals from the UK and other countries have signed up to the statement. More

July

From the Depths of the Pandemic towards an Ecosocialist Utopia

In the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, we need bold and imaginative thinking — it is time to embrace the utopianism that is implicit to the Marxist tradition. More

August

Building Ecosocialism - A review of Max Ajl’s A People’s Green New Deal

There’s nothing more important today than the politics of climate change. How societies respond to global heating will increasingly shape all political life. More

September

The Climate Crisis and a Global Green New Deal

Let me first say that I don’t think that the debate on the climate emergency between advocates of degrowth versus the Green New Deal is becoming increasingly polarized, certainly not as a broad generalization. Rather, as an advocate of the Green New Deal and critic of degrowth, I would still say that there are large areas of agreement along with some significant differences. More

October

Ecosocialist Alliance Releases COP26 Statement

The Ecosocialist Alliance, organised by Green Left, Left Unity and Anti-Capitalist Resistance in the UK, have released a statement ahead of next month’s COP26 conference, in Glasgow, Scotland, from 31 October to 11 November. More

November

Introducing...The Socialist Green New Deal

The Green New Deal remains the most potent political concept in recent years: it has undergone several phases and adoption by many political parties and movements. It has strong support across progressive trends in western Europe but has not been properly implemented anywhere. More

December

Capitalism, Ecology, and the Green New Deal

The world’s climate is changing, and it’s surprising — and disappointing — how little our responses have changed since we first recognized the problem decades ago. Since the 1970s, the world has been well aware of climate impacts of burning fossil fuels and many have recognized how our political economy lies at the heart of the problem. Marxist thinkers in particular, like Paul Mattick, were quick to describe the irreconcilable contradiction between our extractive and growth-oriented economic systems and the carrying capacity of our natural ecosystems. More

Friday, 10 December 2021

Capitalism, Ecology, and the Green New Deal

Written by Harrison Carpenter-Neuhaus and first published at Voices for New Democracy

Why the Green New Deal is our best shot at tackling the climate crisis while advancing economic and social justice.

The world’s climate is changing, and it’s surprising — and disappointing — how little our responses have changed since we first recognized the problem decades ago. Since the 1970s, the world has been well aware of climate impacts of burning fossil fuels and many have recognized how our political economy lies at the heart of the problem. Marxist thinkers in particular, like Paul Mattick, were quick to describe the irreconcilable contradiction between our extractive and growth-oriented economic systems and the carrying capacity of our natural ecosystems.

But despite these prescient warnings, the world today is still clinging to the same economic systems and largely failing to resolve these tensions. In the face of the accelerating crisis, it’s worth reflecting on the clear trajectory that thinkers like Mattick identified, and what it means for our options in the present moment. 

In 1976, Mattick published his analysis of the problem in “Capitalism and Ecology,” just four years after scientist John Sawyer published the study Man-made Carbon Dioxide and the “Greenhouse” Effect in 1972. Sawyer’s study summarized the scientific consensus at the time around the Earth’s pressing climate concerns: the anthropogenic attribution of the carbon dioxide greenhouse gas, their widespread distribution and their exponential rise throughout the modern era.

By the mid-70s, even the Club of Rome recognized the impending ecological crisis in The Limits to Growth. In short, everyone was beginning to recognize the issue: too many of us are using too many resources, too quickly, in too many places. 

As Mattick writes, Marx recognized that “the exhaustion of the earth’s wealth and relative overpopulation were the direct result of production for profit” (a point that has been explored in great detail by a new generation of eco-Marxists like John Bellamy Foster). And science bears this out.

Our world has only become more productive, populated, and globalized since the Industrial Revolution, and this has correlated closely with rising levels of energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions every year. As our economic activity increases, we cannot avoid using more raw materials to keep the system moving and maintain profit margins.

Ultimately, it is capitalist social relations that drive this ecological crisis. “Social phenomena are ecological phenomena,” Mattick writes. To keep profit rates high (the motor driving the entire system), companies simply have no choice but to keep expanding and growing, and that always requires the use of raw materials — and as global capitalism expands (and demand grows as populations increase and more workers are brought out of the subsistence economy into the wage labor system), that rate of raw material consumption can only increase. 

But this does not mean that the solution is to roll back our productive forces and institute new limits on personal consumption. For millions of exploited workers, a vision of the future defined by less is a very hard sell. In fact, if we take this approach, we risk undermining our own efforts to build economic justice.

The Yellow Vests movement in France was sparked by a new tax on gasoline, as were protests in Ecuador against the elimination of a fossil fuel subsidy. The logic behind the proposals used an ecological rationale: wealthy people use far more oil, so limiting their excesses is sensible and, at first glance, progressive. The problem comes from the ways that such approaches are regressive at the margins.

While lower income people do use far less oil than the wealthy, they rely heavily on subsidies and cheap fuel simply to be able to go about their days. The problem is that these approaches impose ecological austerity whose burden is felt most strongly by the working class, and offer little benefit to them in return. 

Besides, the promise of communism was the progressive advance of productive forces to improve overall human well-being. Rather than advance a dialectic, rolling back production and consumption would only turn back the tide of history to earlier modes of production. Fundamentally, we cannot resolve this crisis simply by turning back the clock. 

We must remember that humanity does not live separately from the natural world (even though we tend to conceive of ourselves this way); we rely on it to reproduce our societies every day. So the way forward must be with a recognition that the two are inextricably linked. It is our social reality that drives our ecological condition, and trying to treat the ecological condition without addressing the roots of our social relations will only lead to these kinds of regressive solutions. 

As Mattick summarizes, “[T]he problem is not so much the miserliness of nature as a social class system of institutions and power relationships that stands in the way of increasing production and productivity.” Rather, “it is landed property, the tenant-farming system, usurious loan capital, the plantation economy, and the parasitical state bureaucracy that hinder any progressive development by maintaining the existing social structure.”

Likewise, “the increasing discrepancy between industrial and agricultural production has less to do with population growth and decreasing fertility of the soil than with the one-sided over-emphasis on industrial expansion, or capital’s expansion, demanded by capitalist competition” at the expense of agricultural output (let alone any embrace of polyculture or regenerative agriculture). 

The task, then, is to overcome the key issue we identified before: the link between economic activity and environmental impact. But to do so, Mattick writes, we must treat social liberation as the prerequisite to ecological transformation:

“What is necessary, today and tomorrow, is to end the human misery due to the capitalist relations of production, as the starting-point for a rationally planned mode of society in accordance with natural conditions—one based not on further privations but on a higher standard of living for everyone, on which the diminution of population growth depends, and which would make possible the further development of society’s productive forces.”

In other words, development itself is not the problem, but rather the way that it has taken place under conditions of competitive struggle, where environmental costs are externalized without frameworks for accountability. And critically, this competitive struggle is not dictated by our actual access to raw materials, but rather by a capitalist mode of production that perpetuates artificial scarcity to maintain competitive growth rates.

With that in mind, the way forward is to continue developing productive forces progressively (and in ways that actually offer quality of life improvements for workers), but to do so under a new framework that is rationally planned, actually serves human need, and meaningfully takes ecological limits into account. 

Fortunately, one policy proposal has begun to synthesize these insights and, despite some gray areas, has managed to get buy-in across the political spectrum: the Green New Deal (GND). The GND represents a revolutionary shift in how we conceive of environmental policy by tying it inextricably to labor and industrial policy. This comes with both the benefits and risks of being a placeholder for a holistic social transition (onto which many different actors can project distinct visions). But it still shifts consciousness of the issue, and must be developed, not abandoned. 

The GND recognizes that, given the existential threat climate change poses to human society, the federal government (in coordination down to the local level) must lead a deliberate and expansive national mobilization to restructure our physical realities, as well as social and economic systems, and build a new, sustainable way of life in the country.

It overcomes the binary between environmentalism and class struggle by placing workers and marginalized communities at the center of this transition, promising that high-paying union jobs will enact the program and build our carbon-neutral systems, with an emphasis on serving frontline communities and undoing the damage that the capitalist mode of production has already inflicted on working people through environmental racism and pollution.

Furthermore, the GND is distinct in its national approach to the issue, which actually recognizes the sheer scale of what will need to be done to meet our climate goals. 

Ultimately, we must also challenge the idea that all forms of growth are equal. Much (if not most) of our productive activity is wasteful, and we should cut back on resource-intensive activities (which largely don’t benefit the public, anyway) and instead organize our economies around lower-impact, more human-centered labor like care work. Mattick writes that much of our wasteful economic activity “could be transformed into productive labor—’productive’ not in the sense of profitable but in the sense of creative of use-value [emphasis mine] —while shortening labor time.”

We would still have to work and promote development in our communities to deliver improved quality of life and overall social prosperity, but we can approach it in a rational way that operates within ecological boundaries. This also implies new social, political, and economic relations that can build a more egalitarian society. 

This represents a more radical vision of what the Green New Deal can offer by reconceptualizing the goals of our economic and social systems. To truly operate within planetary limits, it’s not possible for individual consumption to remain at current levels. But at the same time, we must be able to offer a better future for the masses if we have any political hope of advancing a sustainable system.

The notion of public luxury could be the key to resolving this tension. In some ways, it’s common sense: collective problems require collective solutions, and collective cooperation makes for a smaller impact for each individual (hence the old saying “many hands make for light work”). Our social relations fundamentally define how we use energy and resources, so to be as sustainable as possible it only makes sense that we must embrace collective and cooperative frameworks to maximize efficiencies.

And if we do so appropriately, we can truly speak of luxuries for the public: well-connected rapid transit systems, higher-quality housing, more green spaces and public parks, more resources devoted to healthcare and other care work, more free time, shorter hours, well-funded public amenities, etc.  

Systems driven by social competition produce destructive cycles for the individuals within them, and will reproduce similar forms of destruction on an ecological level. It is only through cooperation, coordination, and a commitment to collective well-being that we can deliver a sustainable and flourishing future.

Whatever it’s called, such a system would represent a historic and revolutionary departure from the capitalist mode of production, and would likely have to approximate a form of communism. If that is the case, then true communism may be our only hope for a sustainable future on Earth. 

Still, we can’t be utopian in our outlook; there are limits to what can be done, both politically and ecologically. Any transition from our system will require massive amounts of lithium and likely more resource-intensive development to build the infrastructure for a sustainable society; this is sure to unleash new struggles over control of resources and raw materials and could meet justifiable resistance from frontline communities.

And there are sure to be significant challenges in shifting our mode of production: as we restructure our way of life, new fractures are certain to emerge and new struggles will have to arise over the form that this takes. It will be a difficult line to walk, but the left must develop a vision that advances economic and political justice as a prerequisite to ecological transformation, and sustainably develops clean productive forces that don’t rely on moonshot technologies like carbon removal.

Now more than ever, we must challenge the underlying logic and the basis on which our system operates, and we must remain committed to this radical vision for a different society.