Saturday, 18 June 2022

TUC Cost of Living Demo - Photos and Report


Thousands of people turned out for the Trade Union Congress (TUC) demonstration today in central London. The protesters assembled at Portland Place and marched to Parliament Square, where many trade union leaders spoke to the rally. I estimate about 25,000 to 30,000 attended.


 


All of the unions were well represented, with each union forming colourful blocs of inflatables, flags and banners.  Music featured too, with sound systems, brass bands and drummers.



Union leaders gave speeches in Parliament Square to a crowd of thousands, calling for higher wages, increased taxes for the rich, better working conditions and in support of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union strikes next week.

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC was met with applause and cheers as she gave a speech criticising the Transport Secretary and the Prime Minister. 

She said: “I have seen the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has threatened rail workers that they will strike themselves out of a job. 

“Well you are wrong Mr Shapps: if you keep stirring, come the next election, you will be out of a job.” 

Ms O’Grady added: “Let me say this to Boris Johnson, don’t you dare shift the blame for inflation onto working people. Ms O’Grady added: 

“Don’t you dare, not after a decade of austerity, privatisation and pay cuts. Don’t you dare tell working families we have to put up with more pain.

“What about bankers’ bonuses? What about the boardroom raking it in? What about corporate profits? 

“It is time to raise taxes on wealth not workers.”

Unfortunately, we didn’t have the numbers to leaflet and carry the Ecosocialist Alliance banner on the march. The text of the leaflet is here. But here is a photo of our Ecosocialist Alliance comrades, Anti-Capitalist Resistance’s banner.   


Friday, 10 June 2022

TUC Cost of Living Demo - Nationalise to De-Carbonise Energy & Transport

 

This is the text of Ecosocialist Alliance leaflet which will be circulated on the TUC demo on Saturday18 June, 11am start, Portland Place, London, W1. Come along and support us if you can, look out for the banner pictured above. Ecosocialism not Extinction!

The media is full of headlines about crises: cost of living, energy prices, health and social care, pandemics - and, less frequently, climate collapse. Mainstream politicians see these as separate crises, while ecosocialists recognise these are interrelated crises of the capitalist system itself.

Insulate Britain activists have been jailed for trying to get the Westminster government to begin a massive programme to insulate homes and Just Stop Oil activists also face jail for their protests outside the Kingsbury oil depot.

Simple measures like insulation and renewable energy would take millions of people out of fuel poverty and would greatly reduce the numbers dying each year because they cannot afford to heat their homes. Britain has the worst record in Europe for this: in 2020, fuel poverty charities estimated such deaths as around 10,000 a year.

Government funded insulation programmes, combined with putting taxpayers' money into renewable energy, would greatly reduce our carbon emissions as well as create thousands of good green jobs.. In addition, our reliance on the profiteering and polluting fossilfuel giants – posting record profits, while continuing to drive the climate and ecological crises – would be massively reduced.

The Tories' record is appalling with millions of working families living below the poverty line. The hike in energy prices will see well over 25% of UK households – 15m people – in fuel poverty. Johnson and Sunak’s subsidies and rebates barely touch the sides.

The British government gives the fossil fuel industry £10 billion a year in tax breaks and subsidies.

The Tories finally bowed to pressure for a windfall tax on dirty fuel producers but we would go much further. All subsidies to oil and gas companies must end now and be switched to renewables. We must take energy companies and road and rail infrastructure into public ownership and rapidly de-carbonise the whole economy. We stand for a rapid ecosocialist transition led by, and in the interests of, working people.

Ecosocialist Alliance is a network of organisations and individuals. We campaign for ecosocialist and ecofeminist solutions to the multiple crises of the system. We are internationalist: the climate crisis will not be solved by any one country, but by collective global action.

We stand firmly with the global south in seeking ecological and social justice.

We reject green capitalist “solutions”, which are unworkable under a capitalist system of infinite growth and accumulation. The planet will only be saved by disposing of this system and replacing it with ecosocialism.

This leaflet is sponsored by:

Left Unity:

leftunity.org

Green Left:

greenleftblog.blogspot.com

Anti-Capitalist Resistance:

anticapitalistresistance.org

Red-Green Labour:

redgreenlabour.org

Breakthrough Party:

breakthroughparty.org.uk

RS21: rs21.org.uk

EcosocialistAllianceUK

Facebook: ecosocalgroup

Contact Ecosocialist Alliance: eco-socialist-action@protonmail.com

Saturday, 21 May 2022

Green New Deal agendas in tension: what decarbonisation, for what societal future?

 

Written by Les Levidow

Green New Deal (GND) agendas have gained significant support as means to reconcile environmental sustainability and a net-zero economy with socio-economic equity. Their transformative vision has attracted proposals such as more public goods, workers’ cooperatives and caring activities.   Such proposals stimulate people’s imaginations around pilot schemes prefiguring alternatives to a profit-driven, inequitable high-carbon economy.

Green Parties have elaborated a Green New Deal as an ideal wish-list of such measures, variously called truly green, greener or green-socialist.  Green Parties initially have done so with little regard to significant allies, which hopefully would be attracted. 

By contrast, multi-stakeholder alliances became a difficult matter in 2019, when GND agendas were promoted within major political parties such as the US Democratic Party and UK Labour Party. They have undergone internal conflicts over decarbonisation pathways, partly expressing conflicts within the labour movement.

Fossil fuel industries have sought system continuity through decarbonisation technofixes, with political support from their sector’s trade unions, thus associating workers’ secure livelihoods with fossil energy.  This agenda complements capitalist frameworks of Green Keynesianism and Green Growth, seeking to reconcile perpetual economic growth with environmental sustainability.  This false promise helps to soften or defer societal conflicts over an economically disruptive transition. 

By contrast,  some public-sector trade unions and environmentalist allies have sought a socio-economic transformation.  This would go beyond the fossil fuel industry and GDP-driven growth, towards an economy of sufficiency.  Such alliances have been coordinated internationally by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy.

Those divergent agendas have conflicted over decarbonisation technofixes. Their false promises have provided an investment imperative for dubious low-carbon remedies, or an alibi to await their feasibility before abandoning fossil fuels, or both at once.  This dominant agenda imagines the nation as a unitary economic space needing technoscientific advance for a global competitive advantage.

Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS), Credit: Cathy Wilcox,
https://twitter.com/cathywilcox1/status/1263601201179836416

Disputes over such technofixes express rival societal visions of a low-carbon future. This conflictual process has shaped what counts as Green and Deal, with somewhat different outcomes for a GND in the US and UK.  In its 2019 election manifesto, the UK Labour Party’s GND accommodated the technofix agenda of the natural gas industry.

Similar tensions will arise around any decarbonisation process, regardless of whether it is called a Just Transition or Green New Deal.  To go beyond false promises will depend on political struggles to disrupt the hegemonic cross-class alliance, to create different alliances and to gain state support for their agendas. 

Labour movement groups have been leading GND local alliances along those lines, sometimes for decarbonisation retrofits of houses (as in Leeds and Glasgow).  Such alliances test strategies to confront dominant neoliberal agendas, while also developing eco-localisation alternatives.  These seek means to localise production-consumption circuits, increase public goods, enhance socio-economic equity, and minimise resource burdens.

What  practical implications for Green Parties?  To be politically effective, their GND agendas need an early engagement with activists seeking to undermine false techno-solutions for high-carbon sectors.  At the same time, this effort needs to develop and test alternatives bases for livelihoods.

Read the full article: “Green New Deals: what shapes Green and Deal?,  Capitalism NatureSocialism (CNS), https://doi.org/10.1080/10455752.2022.2062675  

Les Levidow is a Senior Research Fellow at the Open University.  He is a supporter of the Green Left.  Contentious fixes and practical alternatives will be analysed in his forthcoming book, Beyond Climate Fixes: From Public Controversy to System Change.

Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Decriminalized Marijuana Reinvents Racism and Poisoning

 

Written by Don Fitz and Susan Armstrong and first published at Green Social Thought

An Attack on Black and Brown Cultures 

Spanish-speaking people, who have lived in the US since it stole half of Mexico’s land, have a tradition of smoking marijuana.  Amid a growing fear of Mexican immigrants in the early twentieth century, hysterical claims about the drug became widespread, such as allegations that it caused a “lust for blood.”   The term cannabis was largely replaced by the Anglicized marijuana, perhaps to suggest the foreignness of the drug.  Around this time many states began passing laws to ban pot.

In “Why Is Marijuana Illegal in the US?” Amy Tikkanen wrote that in the 1930s, Harry J. Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, turned the battle against marijuana into an all-out war.  He could have been motivated less by safety concerns—the vast majority of scientists he surveyed claimed that the drug was not dangerous—and more by a desire to promote his newly created department.  Anslinger sought a federal ban on the drug, and initiated a high-profile campaign that relied heavily on racism. Anslinger claimed that the majority of pot smokers were minorities, including African Americans, and that marijuana had a negative effect on these “degenerate races,” such as inducing violence or causing insanity.

Furthermore, he noted, “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”  Anslinger oversaw the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. Although that particular law was declared unconstitutional in 1969, it was augmented by the Controlled Substances Act the following year. That legislation classified marijuana—as well as heroin and LSD, among others—as a Schedule I drug.  Racism was also evident in the enforcement of the law.  African Americans in the early 21st century were nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested on marijuana-related charges—despite both groups having similar usage rates.

In her 2016 film, 13th Amendment, producer, Ava Duvernay documented drug laws and policies which increased incarceration rates of Black and brown people over the last six decades. 

Year

US Prison Population

1970

300,000

1980

513,900

1985

759,100

1990

1,179,200

2000

2,015,300

2020

2,300,000

President Nixon’s “War on Crime” of the 1970s targeted protests by the anti-war movement as well as liberation movements by gays, women, and Blacks.  “Crime” became a code word for race.  Nixon’s Adviser, John Ehrlichman, admitted that the “War on Drugs” was all about throwing Black people into jail to disrupt those communities.  These efforts were to gain southern voters.

In the 1980’s, President Reagan’s “War on Drugs” portrayed drugs as an “inner city problem,” allowed for mandatory sentencing for crack cocaine, and tripled the federal spending on law enforcement.  The War on Drugs became a war against Black and Latino communities, with huge chunks of Black and brown men disappearing into prison for a “really long” time.  The exploding mass incarceration rates felt genocidal.  This was again pandering to racist voters.

In his effort to appear “tough on crime” during the 1990’s, President Bill Clinton pushed the $30 billion Federal Crime Bill which expanded prison sentences, incentivized law enforcement to do things we now consider abusive, and militarized local police forces.  Increased incarceration rates due to the Clinton administration included introduction of the terms “super predators,” Mandatory Minimum Sentences, “Truth in Sentencing” (which eliminated parole), and “three strikes and you’re out” laws whereby those convicted of three felonies were mandated to prison for life.  Such a criminal justice system needs constant feeding of young men and women of color. 

Racism during Marijuana Criminalization  

Poverty plays a central role in mass incarceration – people put in prison and jail are disproportionately poor.  The criminal justice system punishes poverty, beginning with the high price of money bail. The median felony bail bond amount ($10,000) is the equivalent of eight months’ income for the typical  defendant.  Those with low incomes are more likely to face the harms of pretrial detention.  Poverty is not only a predictor of incarceration – it is also frequently the outcome, as a criminal record and time spent in prison destroys wealth, creates debt, and decimates job opportunities.

It’s no surprise that people of color — who face much greater rates of poverty — are dramatically overrepresented in the nation’s prisons and jails. These racial disparities are particularly stark for Black Americans, who make up 38% of the incarcerated population despite representing only 12% of US residents.

Police, prosecutors, and judges continue to punish people harshly for nothing more than drug possession. Drug offenses still account for the incarceration of almost 400,000 people, and drug convictions remain a defining feature of the federal prison system. Police still make over one million drug possession arrests each year, many of which lead to prison sentences. Drug arrests continue to give residents of over-policed communities criminal records, hurting their employment prospects and increasing the likelihood of longer sentences for any future offenses.  The enormous churn in and out of  correctional facilities is 600,000 persons per year.  There are another 822,000 people on parole and a staggering 2.9 million people on probation – 79 million people have a criminal record; and 113 million adults have immediate family members who have been to prison.

One in five incarcerated people is locked up for a drug offense. Four out of five people in prison or jail are locked up for something other than a drug offense — either a more serious offense or a less serious one.  The terms “violent” and “nonviolent” crime are so widely misused that they are generally unhelpful in a policy context.  People typically use “violent” and “nonviolent” as substitutes for serious versus nonserious criminal acts. That alone is a fallacy, but worse, these terms are also used as coded (often racialized) language to label individuals as inherently dangerous versus non-dangerous. 

Decriminalization Reinvents Marijuana Racism 

The decriminalization which is sweeping across the US carries with it the obvious facts that (a) pot is not and never has been a dangerous drug, and (b) criminalizing drugs has never brought anything positive. This suggests that those who have been victimized were done so wrongfully and therefore should be compensated for the wrongs done to them.  However, victims have been predominantly people of color and American racism reappears during the decriminalization phase in the form of trivializing harms done and offering restitution that barely scratch the surface of what is needed.

Prior to addressing the shortcomings for wrongful damages for marijuana laws, the US should publicly apologize for the wrongheaded and thoroughly racist “War on Drugs” and pledge to compensate those who have suffered from it in ways that are comparable to cannabis-related issues below.

Victims should be compensated for time spent in jail.  Prisoners might receive compensation for labor performed in prison; but it can be as low as $0.86 to $3.45 per day for most common prison jobs.  At least five states pay nothing at all.  Private companies using prison labor are not the source of most prison jobs. Only about 5,000 people in prison — fewer than 1% — are employed by private companies through the federal PIECP (Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program), which requires them to pay at least minimum wage before deductions. (A larger portion work for state-owned “correctional industries,” which pay much less.  But this still only represents about 6% of people incarcerated in state prisons.)

There cannot be a serious discussion of compensating victims if many continue to rot in jail.  They must be release immediately, regardless of what state they are in.  Many of those released have not had records of their arrests, convictions and sentencing cleared (“expunged”).  According to Equity and Transformation Chicago, there is a 5-8 year wait for expunging records.  Records must be expunged as rapidly as would be done if it really affected people’s lives (because it does).

A core component of repairing harm done to those imprisoned would be prioritizing them (according to amount of jail time served) to receive licenses for growing, processing, transporting and dispensing marijuana.  Various states have taken baby steps in the right direction.  For example, Chicago’s Olive Harvey College is offering training in cannabis studies to those with past marijuana arrests.  Participants receive “free tuition, a $1,000 monthly stipend, academic support and help with child care, transportation and case management.”  As of March, 2022 there were 47 studying for jobs as growers, lab directors and lab or quality control technicians.  

Another effort pointing forward is New York’s program to grant licenses for marijuana storefronts for individual or family members who have been imprisoned for a marijuana-related offense.  An executive for the program expects 100-200 licenses to go to such victims.

Let’s put these model programs in perspective.  Nice as they are, 47 students receiving study grants in Chicago and 100-200 retail licenses in New York do not even make a dent in the over 867,000 who have been arrested.

While current programs are infinitesimally small, barriers to legal victims are enormous.  Missouri grants licenses only to those “having legal marijuana experience” (such as handling legal medical cannabis) to apply for licensing for growing, dispensing, and processing.  Illinois denies licenses and loans to felons, even though 1 in 3 Chicago adults have a criminal record.  Illinois also prevents those with cannabis-related convictions from entering the cannabis industry by its high application fees.

Financial barriers for marijuana victims to receive licenses seem insurmountable.  People and communities negatively impacted by the War on Drugs have high incarceration rates and low average salaries due to limited job opportunities by ex-felons. Therefore, they lack the financial resources for high non-refundable application fees ($10,000 to $50,000) awarded in lotteries to match the state-designated number of growers, dispensaries, processors, and transporters.  In Illinois, access to credit and small business loans are difficult for persons with criminal records to obtain.  Each dispensing organization applicant must have at least $400,000 in liquid assets.  That is why people of color cannot participate as owners of legalized marijuana businesses in Illinois. 

Industrial Agriculture Poisons Marijuana Cultivation. 

Unfortunately, even if all these barriers were to be overcome, there would be serious health issues throughout the marijuana industry, whether legal or illegal.  If people of color receive priority in all phases of the industry, then a new form of environmental racism will emerge.  People in that industry will become part of the environmental destruction to their communities while they experience damage to their own health from pesticide poisoning.

An excellent review of concerns with cultivation of cannabis by a team working with Zhonghua Zheng finds it heavily associated with environmental and health concerns whether it is grown outdoors or indoors.  Needing considerable water, cannabis requires twice as much water as wheat, soybeans and maize.  Diverting water to irrigate cannabis crops often results in dewatered streams affecting other vegetation.  Water quality is also worsened (especially by illegal growers) by use of herbicides, insecticides, rodenticides, fungucides and nematodes.

Human health problems which can be linked to chronic pesticide exposure include memory and respiratory issues as well as birth defects.  Other health effects are weakened muscle functioning, cancer and liver damage.  The organization Beyond Pesticides documents serious threats due to two factors: (a) “Pesticide residues in cannabis that has been dried and is inhaled have a direct pathway into the bloodstream;” and, (2) up to “69.5% of pesticide residues can remain in smoked marijuana.”

Perhaps the most overlooked source of pesticide poisoning is due to the synthetic piperonyl butoxide (PBO), which is a synergist, used to boost the effectiveness of active ingredients in pesticides.  PBO can itself damage health due to neurotoxicity, cancer and liver problems.

Fertilizers and pesticides make their way into surface water, groundwater and soil, where they threaten the food supply.  The high demand for weed affects watersheds, having damaging effects at least for endangered salmonid fish species and amphibians including the southern torrent salamander and coastal tailed frog.

Outdoor cannabis farms disturb fine-sediment adjacent to streams, thereby threatening other rare and endangered species.  Its cultivation can contribute to deforestation and forest fragmentation.  Fertilizers used for cannabis hurt air quality due to the release of nitrogen.  Excess nitrogen increases soil acidification and well as water eutrophication.

Growing cannabis indoors raises its own issues, most notably health risks from exposure to mold and pesticides.  Mold in damp indoor environments is associated with wheeze, cough, respiratory infections, and asthma symptoms in sensitized persons. 

Perhaps the most surprising problems with indoor cultivation of cannabis is its effects on climate change via electricity.  This is due to its annual $6 billion energy costs in the US, making it responsible for at least 1% of total electricity.  Inevitably, decriminalization will lead to increased use of energy.

The major sources of energy usage are lighting and microclimate control.  High-intensity lighting alone accounts for 86% of electricity use for indoor cannabis.  Dehumidification systems are used to create air exchanges, temperature, ventilation and humidity control 24 hours per day.  Due to the complexity of indoor requirements, growing one kilogram of processed marijuana can result in 4600 kilograms of CO2 emissions!

Environmental and health problems with growing marijuana will intensify greatly if decriminalization allows control by corporate agriculture.  The so-called “Green Revolution” emphasizes use of enormous monocultures which maximize ecological destruction from extreme use of irrigation and fertilizers.

As of early 2022, at least 36 US states have adopted some form of decrimalization of marijuana, adding to the explosion of businesses in every phase of its production.  In 2018, Bloomberg reported “Corona beer brewer Constellation Brands Inc. announced it will spend $3.8 billion to increase its stake in Canopy Growth Corp., the Canadian marijuana producer with a value that exceeds C$13 billion ($10 billion).”

Coca-Cola has been eyeing the market for drinks containing CBD which eases pain without getting the user high.  Pepsi may have jumped the gun on Coke.  A New Jersey hemp and marijuana producer, Hillview, has an agreement with Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. of New York to makes CBD-infused seltzers which would sell for $40 per eight-pack.  The deal aims to cover Long Island, Westchester and all five New York boroughs.

With industrial giants like Coke and Pepsi jumping into the cannabis market, it is a sure bet that they will not be buying marijuana from thousands of mom-and-pop growers.  Look for big soft drink to seek contracts with big ag.

The commercial growth of crops based on monoculture (a single or very few crops grown) becomes a breeding ground for pests, creating an artificial need for control via chemical poisons.  A fundamental principle of organic agriculture is that growing 10, 15 more more plant species together reduces any need for chemicals.  In the corporate ag model, if the single species grown is invaded by pests, then the entire crop can be lost.  In the organic model the farmer anticipates that 1, 2 or 3 may be hurt by pests, but the majority will survive.

According to farmer Patrick Bennett, “for a fraction of the cost of a single bottle of synthetic liquid fertilizer, you can get the same, if not better yield, flavor, and cannabinoid content in your crop at home by simply using organic farming practices.”  Marijuana has been grown for centuries (or millennia) without pesticides. Current organic growers have found five plant-based insecticides that protect their crops well:

·        Neem oil is “extracted from the seeds and fruit of the tropical neem tree, [and] controls many insects, including mites, and prevents fungal infections, like powdery mildew.”

·       Azadirachtin controls “control over many insects, including mites, aphids, and thrips” but does not provide fungal protection.

·       Pyrethrums kills insects that attack cannabis plants, including thrips.  Pyrethrins, however, the synthetic version of pyrethrums, should not be used due to their environmental persistence. 

·       Bacillus Thurengensis (BT) is very effective in controlling larval insects and fungus gnats.

·       Beneficial Nematodes are microscopic organisms occurring naturally in soil, keeping it healthy while controlling soil-born pests such as fungus gnats. 

Techniques such as these have proven effective.  Mike Benziger told interviewer Nate Seltenrich that he grows fruits, vegetables and medicinal herbs along with cannabis.  He includes multiple plants that attract insects like ladybugs and lacewings that gobble up harmful mites and aphids.  Organic growers often rely on mulching and crop rotation.  Such methods are especially critical for protecting workers growing the plants, neighboring wildlife, farm owners, distributors and, of course, marijuana users.

As of 2015, Maine was prohibiting use of any pesticides. Yet, its is important to remember that legislation can be weakened or repealed by subsequent laws, making it critical to have enduring guidelines.  Such guidelines should include practices like those in Washington DC and Maine which require producers to demonstrate knowledge of organic growing methods. 

Moving Forward 

Since federal law classifies marijuana as a narcotic there are no federal guidelines for growing it.  This makes it tempting to demand that it be declassified and brought under the auspices of bodies like the Environmental Protection Agency.  This is a worthwhile goal, but the problem is that federal and state bodies are controlled by corporate powers seeking the weakest standards possible.  Goals such as the following should be stated to counter racism and have genuine environmental protection with real (not fake) organic standards:  

1. Restitution must begin with an apology which acknowledges that criminalization of marijuana included an attack on those cultures using it; was a part of a greater attack which used drugs as one of many weapons to destroy communities; and caused suffering for an enormous number of individuals.

2. All communities affected by criminalization of marijuana and the larger attack upon them should decide what financial and cultural restitution they should receive.

3. Individuals harmed by marijuana criminalization should receive financial compensation for any arrest, trial, incarceration and post-incarceration damages.  Funds for growing, preparing and dispensing legalized marijuana should be made in direct proportion to the harm that individuals have suffered – those who have been harmed the most should receive the greatest compensation.  In particular, the greater the harm an individual has suffered, the higher priority that individual should have for receiving a license related to dispensing marijuana.

4. Organic growing must be a core component of protecting the health of marijuana workers, producers and users.  All who grow marijuana must receive free education on how to do so without the use of chemical poisons (“pesticides”).  This must include how to intersperse marijuana with other crops so that pests are not as threatening as they are with monocultures.  All who grow, process and disperse marijuana must obtain certification that their product is free of chemical contaminants.  There should be no limitations on the number of marijuana plants an individual may grow, as long as those plants are grown with genuine organic principles. 

Prior to decriminalization, health and environmental damages of growing and using marijuana were more or less similar for all ethnic and cultural groups.  But that will not continue to be the case if restitution for damages from criminalization are put into place.  If those hurt most by harassment and incarceration for marijuana receive priority for licenses to produce and distribute cannabis, they will receive the most pesticide poisoning if organic methods are not required.  The only way to avoid continued harm to those previously victimized is to employ organic cultivation.

Abolition of exploitation of all agricultural workers requires similar restrictions on chemical use when growing all herbs, fruits and vegetables.  Organic growing of cannabis should become a model for transferring production via corporate megafarms using mono cropping, chemicals, and exploited labor to organic methods based on small farms, chemical-free growing for local communities and good treatment for workers encouraged to form strong unions for collective self-protection. 

[The Green Party of St. Louis adopted a marijuana perspective that synthesizes anti-racism with organic growing principles.  You can read it at: https://gateway-greens.org/content/decriminalization-marijuana-platform]

Don Fitz (fitzdon@aol.com) is on the Editorial Board of Green Social Thought, where a version of this article originally appeared.  He was the 2016 candidate of the Missouri Green Party for Governor. His articles on politics and the environment have appeared in Monthly Review, Z Magazine, and Green Social Thought, as well as several online publications. His book, Cuban Health Care: The Ongoing Revolution, has been available since June 2020.  

Susan Armstrong, PE, LEED-AP (susan@susansnaturalspringwaters.com) is a licensed Civil Engineer, whose specialty is Health Safety and Environmental Engineering (HSE).  Her life’s work is healthy sustainable systems in communities, workplaces, and environment – through science, engineering, policy, and activism.

Friday, 13 May 2022

Consumerism and Degrowth


Written by Paul-Martin Fearon-Hernandez and first published at In Our Nature

Our Actions Do Not Exist In a Vacuum

Between every blink of an eye, a hundred Amazon packages are shipped in a constant, ever growing barrage of internet consumerism. The past 20 years have been dominated by Amazon’s unwavering growth and revolution of the world’s shopping scene in never before seen ways. Their success thrives off capitalism's incessant gluttony for infinite growth, exploiting our biological hardwiring (by abusing our dopamine triggers to create a literal addiction to shopping) to draw dollar after dollar from our pockets.  Capitalism’s reliance on continuous growth (to power the cycle of surplus to reinvestment) creates a need for constantly increasing consumption, even when the basic needs of a society are already met.

As a result, modern ad campaigns aim to convert wants into needs by directly associating fulfillment with material goods (like a man finding love after wearing a certain cologne or a loving family exchanging gifts as a sign of affection) and solidifying this culture of consumption. Nowadays, companies don’t just sell you a product. By marketing certain aesthetics in fashion, music, lifestyles, advertising sells you an identity. Instead of saying what you could have with this product, it’s what you can be with that product. It’s gotten to a point where just watching people buy stuff has become a market in itself. Shouldn’t that alone raise some alarms?

What most consumers fail to realize, however, is the environmental price tag of their consumption habits. While it’s true that the individual carbon footprint was created to distract the public from the fact that 70% of greenhouse emissions are caused by just 100 companies, this isn’t to say consumers can shrug off all responsibility. The money spent on a Shein haul (a popular website where consumers can buy a variety of items, primarily clothing, for dirt cheap) still directly supports their unethical business practices and the larger system of fast fashion.

Ultimately, these industries survive on the wallets of consumers who dump their dollars into their unsustainable consumption habits. It’s a tricky relationship. Take fast fashion, for example. Recent years have shown an absurd increase in textile consumption and more importantly, textile waste. The U.S.’s textile waste has quintupled since 1980 despite the population only having increased 40%. To make it worse, current data shows over 80% of American clothing consumption ends up in landfills, which produce methane, toxic runoffs, and take up land. 

Fast fashion is just one industry, too. In even worse business practices, like overfishing, 40% of sea creatures caught aren’t even loaded off the boat, they’re just thrown back into the ocean after they’ve already died. After discarding 38 million tonnes of dead sea creatures a year, the industry then goes on to dump record-breaking levels of plastic into the ocean. Reckless, wasteful practices like these are what lead to the collapses of entire ecosystems at rates never before seen. Waste statistics like these—40%, 60%, 80%—should be a clear sign that we are producing far more than we could possibly need, and the environment and global proletariat are paying the price

Capitalism Isn’t the Answer (again)

What’s capitalism’s proposed solution to these problems? More consumption (but this time it's “green”)! The rise of greenwashing, a new marketing trend where products are advertised as more sustainable than they actually are, is a perfect example of capitalism proposing itself as a solution to the problems it created. Preying on consumers’ environmental concerns, companies advertise their products as more environmentally friendly in order to increase sales, despite their new production practices having similar environmental impacts as before. They tell us they can do this whole capitalism thing sustainably, we just have to give them enough time that we don’t have.

Though they continue to promise green capitalism through endless, dangerous pledges of net-zero emissions by 20XX, the current state of things has shown that we don’t have time to pray for capitalism to solve the problem. Some propose divorcing carbon emissions from economic growth often known as “decoupling,” which focuses on breaking the link between economic growth and environmental degradation through recycling, pollution standards, and “green” investment. While these policies may be beneficial, any attempt at decoupling is just putting a bandage on a bullet hole. In fact, decoupling attempts often make things worse, such as in South Korea’s 2009 green growth initiative that tried to revitalize the economy while reducing carbon emissions.

While the plan did stimulate the economy, it also spiked emissions, completely defeating the initial purpose. Needless to say, we are beyond the days of experimenting new ways to make capitalism work for us. It’s time we take steps to move beyond the system that destroys the environment in search of another dollar.

Degrowth 

Those next steps are nothing other than the process of degrowth. The days are over of Amazon reaching record breaking profits by perpetuating mass, environmentally destructive consumerism while neglecting worker’s needs and wages. Degrowth may sound intimidating, especially since we are conditioned as a society to a capitalist idea of progress. Isn’t growth what we should strive for? No. It’s clear that the positive growth of the modern economy is directly related to growth of global carbon emissions and barely linked to the average citizen’s wellbeing (caveat: economic prosperity barely touches the working class, but recessions decimate them. Funny how that works, huh?).

In fact, the only years in the past two decades we have noticeably reduced global carbon emissions has been during economic recessions, such as the 2008 financial crisis. That should tell you something. If we want to seriously reduce our global emissions, we have to be willing to prioritize it over economic profits. The only way we can do that without collapsing our entire society is if we deconstruct the capitalist framework focused on eternal growth of private profits and allow for a system that prioritizes social and ecological sustainability: ecosocialism

First, however, let’s talk more about degrowth itself. Ultimately, degrowth serves as an antithesis to the capitalist system that pursues infinite growth in spite of its ecological and social consequences. It calls for a descaling of production and consumption, enabling societies to live within their ecological means as determined by strong efforts in research and organization as opposed to private interests. Rather than organize societies efforts towards material accumulation and deal with the repercussions later, degrowth focuses on addressing real needs like resource equity. 

As a society, we prioritize turning resources into profits and waste. Degrowth aims to change that, focusing on the deprivatization of industry and reprioritizing necessary work over excessive work meant to derive a profit. It also aims to fix the fundamental issues with privatized resources, such as scarcity and upcharging. Oftentimes, communal resources are privatized and resold to the community with incredible upcharges. When these resources are essential to life, such as water or medicine, these upcharges can ruin—or even end—lives. However, this is amazing for business. Why? GDP is a measure of costs, not benefits. In our current economic structure, however, we can’t just not have growth.

Without growth, our economy would collapse, and the consequences of capitalist recessions always fall on the working class and the marginalized. Degrowth proposes a new economic structure. Rather than prioritize private profits, degrowth embraces local ownership of resources, often managed by a well researched agenda based on equitable distribution of resources. Not only that, but by prioritizing local needs over profits, only as much work as is needed to sustain society would be necessary, theoretically freeing much more time for the average worker.

Degrowth is not just a Western solution. Scholars are very aware of the global disparity in resources, and believe that by reducing consumption levels across Northern countries, we can improve material conditions in poorer countries. In fact, a new study models that by 2050, a global population of 10 billion could live comfortably at the consumption levels of the 1960s. That means citizens living in currently impoverished countries around the world who barely have enough to eat right now could live in the well-being of a post-WWII Europe.

However, the cost is there. Citizens of the Global North would have to accomodate to no more second homes, no more red meat 7 nights a week, and a generally resource-conscious lifestyle. However, the key is this would require the adamant rollout of new technologies in a planned, non-profit driven method. We cannot fall back into the trap of infinite growth, infinite consumption, and definite collapse. We need an economy where we no longer strive for material excess, but rather on the simple needs of ourselves and our neighbors. It would require a restructuring of the entire global system of resource allocation. If we can get used to living within our means, it can happen.

“The final energy requirements for providing decent living standards to the global population in 2050 could be over 60% lower than consumption today. In countries that are today’s highest per-capita consumers, cuts of ~95% appear possible while still providing decent living standards to all.” - Hopkins, Steinberger, Rao & Oswald 

Hope for the future

Ultimately, degrowth does not mean returning to the Middle Ages. It does, however, mean a drastic reduction in the Global North’s resource consumption and a restructuring of our entire economic system. It means a planned, equitable economic overhaul of the world’s wealthiest nations and a constant check on our resource consumption as a whole. Degrowth means prioritizing environmental and social well-being over profits by producing and consuming less — permanently. However, life within this system would still be comfortable. Wealthy countries could slash their energy consumption by over 90% and still provide a comfortable living to all their citizens.

In fact, it may be more fulfilling because work would revolve around social needs, not alienated profits. Rather than working to keep up with demand, we would only have to work to upkeep a low-consumption society. Even gruelling resource collection jobs, like coal-miners and field workers, would be drastically reduced due to lower demand, and those workers would be properly compensated for their labor rather than have it stripped of them and sent to the top.

Degrowth creates an economy based on mutual care, not material goods for fulfillment. However, it is crucial to remember degrowth cannot exist within capitalism. Without continuous growth, capitalism fails. If we tried, it would only resemble austerity measures (removing money from the economy, the consequences of which often fall on the working class). Now more than ever, we are faced with the dire evisceration of our planet's natural ecology as well as the boundless exploitation of our rights as workers.

Degrowth is only a pillar of ecosocialism, a greater system that aims to protect environmental and popular welfare beyond the capitalist agenda. In order to install this system, it must bubble up through democratic means, first by reclaiming control of the government and economy by the public. Now more than ever we are faced with the impending evisceration of our natural ecology as well as the boundless exploitation of our bodies and natural resources.

However, not all hope is lost. As a species, it is still well within our means to crawl out of this hole we’ve dug for ourselves and create a better world for those who come after us. Any moments of hesitation will be looked back upon with tremendous remorse as future generations ask why we didn’t do something while we had the chance. It’s for them that we organize, restructure, and free ourselves from the endless pursuit of profit.