Friday, 6 December 2019

Leaving the Greens – A Pact Too Far

Written by Allan Todd

“Labour really need to get their act together and I would like to see them announce at the general election that they will go into coalition with the Greens and Caroline Lucas will be their environment secretary.”

George Monbiot, Viva! Life, Issue 72, Winter 2019, p.9

Sadly, life - especially political life - sometimes springs surprises on us all: some of which are good, but also some which are totally unforeseen and very bad.

Last Friday, I regretfully felt it necessary to resign from the Green Party - and from my role as Membership Secretary of Allerdale and Copeland Green Party, my local Green party. As a consequence of that decision, I have also decided that I should stand down as a Green Party councillor in Keswick. I am under no illusion that those who voted for me in June did so because of who I am - the votes I received were simply because I was representing the Green Party. As I am no longer a member of the Green Party, I feel that - morally - I have no option now but to stand down from Keswick Town Council.

I was proud to join the Green Party in 2012, proud to stand as their candidate in Copeland for the 2015 General Election, proud to stand for various local elections as a Green Party candidate - and proud to be elected this June to Keswick Town Council as its only Green Party councillor.

In addition, I have been very proud, as a Green Party member, to have organised the anti-fracking ‘Green Monday’ protests at Preston New Road over the past 2 and a half years.

And, finally, I was proud to be a member of Green Left, the small but influential ecosocialist group within the Green Party.

Down the Yellow-Tory Brick Road?

Though very disappointed by the decision of my local Green party to stand in both the marginal seats of Copeland and Workington, I could have lived with that - and was prepared to do so. 

Sadly, my pride in being associated with the Green Party began to erode on Thursday 7 November, when the ‘Unite to Remain’ pact with the neoliberal Lib Dems was first announced.

This is a party which has yet to apologise for its part in causing over 120,000 austerity-related deaths since 2010 - Professor King of Cambridge University, one of the authors of the 2017 Report in question, described those deaths as “economic murder”.

Of course, I’m fully aware that it’s always possible to argue that different analyses are more correct than others - & I really hope my fears are unfounded. But, given that John Curtice (one of the UK’s top election experts) thinks the pact will yield the Greens not a single extra seat, it seems immoral to gamble - on the lives of the most deprived - that he’s wrong; or that Greens standing in the 80+ key marginals that Labour need to win/hold to prevent Johnson returning as PM on 13 December, won’t make any difference to the national outcome. It’s ok to gamble with our own lives - but gambling with the lives of others seems to me to be incredibly wrong.

In particular, the push for Bristol West, Stroud & Warrington South as target seats threatens to see Labour MPs replaced by Tories. The latest YouGov poll for Stroud sees Molly Scott Cato increasing the Green vote in this extremely marginal seat - but the Tories taking it from the sitting Labour MP.

The more I’ve examined this pact, the more it appears to be a short-sighted, opportunistic and unprincipled pact: 10 of the 60 ‘target’ seats actually target pro-Remain Labour MPs!

In fact, on 19 November, The Guardian ran an OpEd from Tom Meadowcroft, who had been the Green Party parliamentary candidate for the Bristol seat of Filton and Bradley Stoke, in which he explained why he had withdrawn from the election: 

Describing the pact as “rank opportunism”, he stated his main reason for resigning was because:

“The obvious problem, to me, was that the [Unite to Remain] alliance could end up hurting the Remain cause as much as helping it. Polling expert John Curtice predicted immediately after details were released that there were ‘probably five or six seats’ that might be turned over by the pact - but rather counterproductively, it targets 10 pro-Remain Labour MPs…. As a prospective Green Party MP, I would have taken crucial votes from Labour - but its Brexit policy is [now] the closest to ours."

But when the leader of the LibDems - in the ‘other’ Leaders’ Debate on ITV - announced her willingness to unleash the horrors of nuclear warfare on civilians - something so much in conflict with Green Party policy and values - I really expected our leaders to say that was a step too far and that they were therefore withdrawing from the pact. It has been their deafening silence on this that finally drove me to resign. 

On my Todd? 

To be honest, I was expecting a lot of very angry reactions to my decision to resign - instead, the opposite has been true: only one negative/hostile one (so far!) & LOADS of sympathetic responses (it would be big-headed to say how many - but it’s taking me ages to reply!). Quite a few have told me that they also have resigned from the Green Party over the LibDem pact issue. Which seems to confirm that the pact is a BIG mistake.

The saddest thing for me is that, as regards both policies & core values, the Green Party is by far and away the only party I want to belong to - I most categorically WON’T be joining Labour. 

I’ve supported Proportional Representation (PR) for almost 50 years, and fully get that the whole ‘No PR' thing makes a mockery of real democracy - Labour really need to commit to that, AND to forming a pact with the Greens. In virtually every other European country, this happens - & results in a significantly increased vote for radical policies. 

But Labour’s policy weaknesses are no excuse for holding hands with an unrepentant neoliberal party.

In fact, with less than a week to go to the election - and with opinion polls predicting a Tory victory - it is not too late for the Green and Labour Parties to come to their senses and act like they really mean their respective straplines: 

For The Common Good - For The Many, Not The Few  

What Labour needs to do now - before it is too late - is to ask the Greens to join them in a truly radical pact. This would include getting their candidate in Caroline Lucas’s Brighton seat to stop campaigning and instead to ask all Labour voters there to vote Green. They should also do the same in the Isle of Wight. Ideally, they should also commit - at long last - to the much-needed democratic reform of PR.  

In return, the Greens should end their toxic pact with the neoliberal LibDems and, instead, join with Labour in a radical anti-Tory pact. In addition, they should get all their candidates in the 80+ crucial marginals - that Labour need to win/hold in order to stop Johnson returning as Prime Minister - to cease campaigning and, instead, call on all Green voters in those seats to vote Labour.

Caroline Lucas (Green Party) & Clive Lewis (Labour Party)

The 99% need - and deserve - to have both parties behaving in such a principled political way in such a crucial general election as this one. Sadly, I’m not holding my breath - both seem determined to continue behaving like squabbling children in the playground. 

Both parties need to realise that politics isn’t some comfortable Sixth Form Debating society for the relatively well-off, who won’t pay a price if their various ‘guesstimates’ prove to be mistaken - instead, it’s an arena in which the wrong decisions can, quite literally, spell death-by-austerity for yet more members of the precariat. 

What now? 

What I have been doing in my marginal seat of Copeland (Tory MP) - and in our adjoining marginal seat of Workington (where pro-Remain Labour MP Sue Hayman is under serious pressure from the ex-UKIP Tory candidate) - is campaigning for both the Labour candidates.  

Although I’m voting for Labour in Copeland, I will be arranging for a much more effective Green vote (and one which doesn’t risk helping the Tories MP gain another seat!) in the Isle of Wight, via Swap My Vote: 

I urge all Green voters in key Labour marginals to vote Labour and then, via Swap My Vote, get a Labour supporter in the Isle of Wight to cast an effective vote for the Green Party candidate there, who stands a real chance of defeating the sitting Tory MP. 

At the end of the day, I don’t want to wake up on 13 December & find Johnson has just managed to get one more MP than the Labour Party. 

I remain an ecosocialist, & will still be voting Green in local and European elections (if we ever have another one!) - and am more than willing to help my former local party members & supporters with such election campaigns (assuming they’d want my help). 

In the interim, I’ve signed up to DiEM25: its political position - in what they correctly call “This once-in-a-lifetime election” - is to campaign for Labour; or, in those seats where the Greens, SNP or Plaid Cymru have a greater chance of defeating the Tories, to campaign for them. SIGNIFICANTLY, they are NOT doing so for the neoliberal Lib Dems - which is yet another indication that we/the Greens have made a HUGE strategic & political mistake by signing up to this ‘Unite to Remain’ pact with the Lib Dems. 

Pessimism - a sin? 

I first became involved in politics in 1963, when I was 14, thanks to Shelley’s Collected Prose & Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring - and my first political ‘act’ was to join CND (though living in the rural depths of South Norfolk at the time, my parents wouldn’t let me join the CND marches!). And ever since first coming across his Prison Notebooks in 1977, I’ve always tried to follow Antonio Gramsci’s maxim: “Pessimism of the intellect, but optimism of the will!”  

But I have never been so pessimistic/depressed about how things, across the board (but especially the Climate and Ecological Crisis), are going. 

Quite frankly, I have to say I’m dreading the results of this election - both locally & nationally. To be blunt, I think we’ll be f**ked for decades to come. 

Allan Todd is anti-fracking and Extinction Rebellion activist and an ecosocialist campaigner

Monday, 2 December 2019

Climate refugees could reach 300 million, a population without rights

Written by Daniela Passeri and first published at il manifesto

Between 200 million and 300 million people could be forced to migrate due to the effects of climate change by the end of the century, as long as we’re not able to keep the temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius as set out by the Paris Agreement.

That forecast appears on the last page of the 2019 Report on the Green Economy, presented on Wednesday in Rimini, Italy on the occasion of the Ecomondo fair. Although it is difficult to make accurate and precise predictions, these numbers provide us with an order of magnitude to judge the gravity of the phenomenon.

Furthermore, the World Bank, in a report published last year entitled “Preparing for Internal Climate Migration,” estimated that 143 million people could be forced to move within their countries to escape the longterm impacts of climate change. The phenomenon will mainly affect the poorest countries, but even Italy will not be immune.

The report presented on Wednesday includes a forecast of what could happen in our country in the absence of mitigation and adaptation measures. By 2050, the number of people exposed to the risk of flooding due to rising sea levels could range from 72,000 to 90,000 (compared to 12,000 today), while by the end of the century the number could rise to between 198,000-265,000.

Globally, the largest migration movements are set to take place in around 50 countries, whose total population is expected to double by 2050. These are countries that have fewer resources to manage the risks, and whose survival depends precisely on those ecosystem services (forests, coasts, lakes and rivers) that are most under threat.

Over the past two decades, most of the migrations due to climate change have occurred in non-OECD countries — that is, those in the developing world — and 97% of the people displaced due to sudden extreme climate events between 2008 and 2013 were in countries with medium-low incomes.

If we comb through the national reports that the participant states are providing to the secretariat of the Paris Agreement, we find that 44 out of 162 countries (mainly from Africa, Asia Pacific and Oceania) make specific reference to the phenomenon of migration due to the climate, whether internal or not.

The scientists of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) also warn about this. In the report presented last summer dedicated to the soil and the risks of the degradation of ecosystems, it is emphasized that these phenomena will only amplify environmental migration, particularly in places where extreme climate events will jeopardize food safety and the very possibility of living in environments upset by rising temperatures or the desertification of soils.

Despite the great number of studies on this subject, the environmental causes of migration are not currently recognized by international law: environmental refugees have no recognized status and are therefore not entitled to any kind of protection. There is no convention on environmental refugees (and who knows how long it would take to establish one), nor can the victims of climate change be included in the category of ‘refugees’ as defined by the 1951 Geneva Convention.

Only the UN’s Global Compact for Migration, established in 2018—and which Italy’s Conte government has refused to sign—introduced among its objectives that of “develop[ing] adaptation and resilience strategies to sudden-onset and slow-onset natural disasters,” which may include drought, the consequences of deforestation, fires, famine and pollution. Even this is little more than a statement of intent.

According to Filippo Miraglia, the head of migration issues for ARCI, the issue has had the attention of the United Nations for years, but no solution has been found so far. “I think the UN Assembly could step in by adding to the attributions of the UN High Commission for Refugees that of intervening on behalf of climate migrants,“ Miraglia tells us.

“Of course, we must first define what a climate emergency is and conduct in-depth studies on what areas of the world and what local groups are more susceptible to the risks arising from climate change. The same scientists who are studying the climate are well aware of the most vulnerable areas. With the help of mapping and projections, the UNHCR would have all the means and experience needed to be able to intervene, especially in developing countries.”

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Of Course US Corporations Want Access to the UK’s NHS – We haven’t got much else to Offer Them

After the, ahem, unusual intervention by a faith leader into the UK General Election, with claims by the UK’s chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, of antisemitism in the Labour party, today the campaign returned to more substantial matters. To be clear, this is an internal party matter, not handled well admittedly, but not exclusive to the Labour party either.  

A leaked document about the ongoing trade talks between the UK and US, appears to prove that the US wants the NHS to be part of any future trade deal between the two nations. The British based radical NGO, Global Justice Now, obtained the redacted version of the document through a Freedom of Information request, brandished by the Labour party leader, Jeremy Corbyn at last week’s televised leadership debate, has been revealed in full, all 451 pages of it.

Global Justice Now have released a statement after seeing the full version, in part reproduced below:

No wonder the government didn’t want us to see these papers: they clearly show the British negotiators being bullied by Trump’s administration, and Boris Johnson dancing to the tune of US big business. Boris Johnson’s position on Brexit is clearly dictated by what’s best for US corporations, even when he knows this will be worse for the British economy and British welfare.   

  • The US pushing lower food standards on Britain post Brexit, including allowing imports of chlorine-washed chickens (2nd working group, p42), less nutritional labelling on foods (2nd working group, p42), and less protection for regional food like stilton cheese (1st working group, p41). The US offered to help the UK government ‘sell’ chlorine chicken to a sceptical British public and stated that parliamentary scrutiny of food standards is ‘unhelpful’ (2nd working group, pp42-43).
  • The US banning any mention of climate change in a US-UK trade deal (2nd working group, p17).
  • US officials threatening UK civil servants that they would undermine US trade talks if they supported certain EU positions in international forums (5th working group, p35).
  • The US suggesting a ‘corporate court system’ in a US-UK deal, which would allow big business to sue the British government, in secret and without appeal, for anything they regard as ‘unfair’ (4th working group, pp92-98, 5th working group, p35). Recent similar cases have included suing governments for trying to phase out use of coal.
  • US officials pushing a far reaching proposals on the digital economy, giving Big Tech companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon sweeping freedoms to move and use our online data (2nd working group, pp30-31, 4th working group, p22), which would make taxation and regulation of these companies more difficult and prohibit Labour proposals for a public broadband service (4th working group, pp99-100).
  • Threats to public services like the NHS, via sweeping services liberalisation (3rd working group, pp41-42). The British government would need to exclude everything not subject to liberalisation in order to protect public services, while bringing formerly public services like the mail, or rail companies back into public ownership would be much harder.
  • US officials making a further threat to NHS in terms of medicine pricing policy, with special concern about Brits paying more for cancer medicines which the US feels Britain doesn’t pay enough for (4th working group, pp121-132). Trade negotiators have received special lobbying from pharmaceutical corporations as part of the trade talks (5th working group, pp43-44).
  • US officials demanding US experts and multinational corporations are able to participate in standard-setting in Britain post Brexit (4th working group, p58-59).
  • A promise by both sides to keep talks secret from the public (2nd working group, p5 & 8).
None of this should come as a surprise to anyone who has thought about what a future trade deal with the US would likely entail. US health and pharmaceutical corporations have been itching to expand into the NHS for years. All of the other areas the US is interested in mentioned above, are also unsurprising. Why would the US, or anybody else for that matter, give the UK a better deal than it presently has inside the EU?

The deal the EU has with the US, allows it access, on a limited basis in many areas, to 500 million consumers, but the UK can only muster 65 million consumers, so we will need to offer something that the EU will not. That means lower standards in employment, environmental and consumer protection standards. They will have us over a barrel, where we will have to agree to anything. It is not rocket science.

The only surprise to me, is that Genetically Modified food produce doesn’t appear to have been brought into the talks, yet at least.

This why the US is hostile to the UK having any kind of close relationship in future with the EU, because that would suggest at least some alignment with EU standards, and so bar what is being suggested in the US/UK trade talks. It is also why the Tory UK government doesn’t really want a close trade deal with the EU, as that would effectively make a trade deal with the US impossible.

The Tories want to undercut the EU on standards, and so make the UK more attractive to trading partners other countries. Japan has already said it will not duplicate the deal it has with EU, because the UK can’t offer as much as the EU, they want concessions from the UK.

Of course the UK could refuse to enter into the arrangements that US and others will want,  but then it is likely we won’t get any trade deals, and will be permanently on WTO trade rules, with sky high tariffs and which no other nation on earth relies on. The UK will have no choice but to agree to these things in reality, whatever denials are issued by the Tories.

At least this all now out in the open and I hope the British people will think long and hard about electing a government in just over two week's time, and reject the future that the Tories will give us.   

Friday, 22 November 2019

Green Strategy: To beat climate change, humanity needs socialism

Written by W.T. Whitney and first published at People’s World

Humans may not survive. Reports from the UN’s Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change provoke images of land masses drowning, fleeing populations, starvation, terrible droughts, terrible storms, migrating diseases, new deserts, and intolerable heat. It’s an “ecological Armageddon,” says one expert. We hear about “the sixth extinction,” the geologic epoch that is our own. It’s called the “Anthropocene.” The name suggests human activity and human responsibility.

It’s bad enough to imagine blame and scenarios of dread, as if from science fiction, but add in the presently feeble response to dire threats and we’re in a funk. If tools were available, we’d get a lift. Marc Brodine’s book Green Strategy, reviewed here, is about tools.

It’s about capitalism too. For Brodine, that’s “the root cause of most of the environmental problems we face, and is also the biggest obstacle in finding real solutions.” Those problems stem from “wide-ranging imbalances between the ways that humanity impacts nature and the limits of the resources that nature is able to provide.” 

For Brodine, environmental abuse manifests as climate change and also vanishing fresh water, toxins and pollutants on land and in the sea, ocean acidification, deforestation, topsoil losses, decreasing soil fertility, disappearing species, and the spread of infectious diseases.

Brodine apparently regards scientist and environmental activist Barry Commoner as a mentor. In 1997, Commoner attributed the environmental crisis to “our systems of production—in industry, agriculture, energy, and transportation.” That year, he predicted “global human catastrophes: higher temperatures [and] the seas rising to flood many of the world’s cities.”

Ever-expanding production is the hallmark of capitalism, and the role of capitalism in causing environmental devastation is under the microscope. “[T]his new ecological stage was connected to the rise, earlier in the century, of monopoly capitalism,” Monthly Review editor John Bellamy Foster claimed in 1994. Judgment as to who is responsible for global warming turns to the association of production, fossil fuel, and emissions as the “smoking gun.”

Knowledge of cause might have brought about strategizing. That hasn’t happened. Naomi Klein in her 2016 book This Changes Everything blamed capitalism for disturbing the climate, but limited her remedial proposals to civil disobedience and lifestyle alterations.

Now the Green New Deal surfaces in response to the environmental challenge. Separate proposals sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others, and by Sen. Bernie Sanders, contain what Foster calls “revolutionary reforms.” In his opinion and that of Naomi Klein, whose views have evolved, these reforms could lead to transformational changes. 

What’s needed, says Foster, is “a mass mobilization of the entire society.”
Neither Green New Deal proponents nor commentators have explained how that might happen. How to launch education, organization, and unified action is left for another day. The Labor Network for SustainabilityThe Atlantic magazine, the People’s Policy Project, and Resilience instead focus on feasibilities or on the availability of resources. The Nation magazine calls for mobilization, but offers little more.

Marc Brodine’s Green Strategy fills the void. The book is about developing political will, specifically about creating a movement “capable of building the political power to implement fundamental change.” Brodine envisions a giant coalition in which political struggle for nature would merge with other struggles.

Or more precisely: “A massive movement is needed, worldwide in scope, to fight defensive battles against environmental degradation and exploitative development. Then the movement can proceed to fight for long-term fundamental transformation of our economies.” 

The object is “broad-based unity to reach and organize millions of people.”
His book discusses context, science, philosophical underpinnings, environmental organizations, past political movements, mass protests, and socialism. Facts, observations, verdicts, and proposals fill a book larger by far in content than in physical size.

Brodine calls for defenders of the environment to organize politically and make linkages in many directions to build “political force.” He envisions alliances with “struggles for peace, justice, equality, health care, immigrant rights.” People will be “gaining strength from each other” from a “network of mutuality,” an expression of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Coalition-building will be reciprocal: “All progressive struggles have an environmental component, and successful alliances have been built…uniting environmental concerns with economic ones.” Environmental struggles will join with peace and justice movements throughout the world.

In his survey of U.S. movements for civil rights and labor rights, for ending apartheid and the Vietnam War, Brodine finds precedents for achieving unity and avoiding hazards. He discusses problems posed by far-left politicking, mixing moral imperatives and practicalities, and confusing tactics with strategy. He would pursue reforms and revolutionary goals simultaneously and work with “cross-class elements.”

The labor movement is a crucial player, both because of labor’s organizational expertise and because the enemies of labor are the enemies of other progressive causes. And, “Only workers have the power to shut down the economy [and to] wrest control of production decisions away from the capitalist class.”

Indeed, “Working class power is the only force capable of saving humanity from capitalism and creating a sustainable economy and sustainable environment.” The author identifies the working class as the “vast majority of humanity that works for a living.” He calls for collective solutions for environmental problems, social control of resources, and “fundamental changes to our economic system.” In essence, “socialism is a necessary precondition for the survival of the human race, for the kind of fundamental solutions humanity needs.” The socialism Brodine wants is “based on a scientific understanding” of human-caused risk to nature.

Socialist assumptions in Green Strategies are frequent but unobtrusive. The chapter on “environmental socialism” is a high point. While perhaps not the author’s prime goal, the book provides the reader with useful information on the workings and aspirations of the socialist movement, which includes the author’s own Communist Party USA. Socialists reading the book might be reminded as to who they are. For the others, says Brodine, fighting for the environment may be “a new path to socialist consciousness, a new way to understand the need for fundamental economic change.”

Marxist theory explains how change occurs. Brodine cites interconnections, “feedback” loops, and contradictions affecting natural and social phenomena. They lead to tensions and thus to change, which is constant. Small quantitative changes accumulate and then manifest as one big change, a qualitative one. That’s the so-called “tipping point.”

Looking at societal problems, he describes new realities and struggles impinging upon the political status quo. In theory, new political solutions follow, one after the other. Those political processes dealing with environmental challenges are under stress. They misfire and go on a new tack. Eventually they solidify into a collective human effort aimed at rescue. That’s another tipping point.

Brodine is well-equipped to author a book outlining society’s response to environmental disaster. He has long headed the Communist Party’s environmental work and the book demonstrates his familiarity with research findings and dialogue in the natural sciences. Socialism, he writes, “harnesses the latest in science, technology, and social organization.”

Virginia Brodine, the author’s mother, must have had a lot to do with why this book exists. A colleague of Barry Commoner, she was a prominent anti-nuclear and environmental activist and an author (Air Pollution and Radioactive Contamination, 1972). Her writings are collected in the book Red Roots, Green Shoots (International Publishers, 2007).

Brodine’s writing style is clear and cogent. The book is well organized. Readers may object to repetition of insights and conclusions. But for this reviewer, reiteration was useful in reinforcing the author’s main points. Any future edition of the book—potentially a prize as the crisis advances—would benefit by the addition of an index.

From this vantage point, Green Strategy is a valuable and much appreciated book. It’s a primer on forming a mass movement serving the people. Grounded on science and on political and social realities, it’s well suited to have an impact on what counts, which is conscious-raising in favor of collective solutions. Above all, the book is about the survival of living things and the integrity of nature and so has ethical thrust.

Marc R. Brodine - International Publishers, New York, 2018

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

For an Eco-Socialist Vision: An Interview with Qingzhi Huan

First published at Global Dialogue

Qingzhi Huan is professor of comparative politics at Peking University in China. In 2002-3 he was a Harvard-Yenching Visiting Scholar at Harvard University, USA and in 2005-6 Humboldt Research Fellow at the University of Mannheim in Germany. His research focusses on environmental politics, European politics as well as left politics. He authored and edited a number of books on these issues including A Comparative Study on European Green Parties in 2000 and Eco-socialism as Politics. Rebuilding the Basis of Our Modern Civilisation in 2010.

He is interviewed by Christine Schickert, the administrative director of the Research Group on Post-Growth Societies at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Germany and assistant editor of Global Dialogue.

CS: Climate change has become one of the most talked about political issues in recent years, at least in the countries of the Global North. Could you describe the role this discussion plays in Chinese politics and society today?

QH: Dealing with global climate change as one of the major issues of international environmental politics has traveled quite a long way since the signing of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change(UNFCCC) at the Rio summit in 1992. Generally speaking, like most of the other developing countries, China’s position on combating climate change is clear and coherent – it is called the “Principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibility” (CBDR).

First of all, climate change is a common challenge or crisis for the whole of human society rather than just for advanced or developing countries; secondly, the so-called advanced countries or regions, especially the EU and the US, should take on their main historical responsibilities by offering or transferring necessary resources and technologies to the developing countries; thirdly, developing countries, including China, should make increasing contributions to global climate change control and adaptation in accordance with their growing capacities.

Based on this policy position, China’s participation in international climate change politics over the past years can be divided into three stages: pre-1992, 1992-2012, 2012-now. Up until 2012, the dominant understanding was that it was the advanced countries like the EU countries and the US which were to take immediate actions.

Since 2012, the Chinese government gradually updated or shifted its position towards international cooperation on climate change, especially under the framework of the UNFCCC. The best example here is the new role of China in reaching and implementing the Paris Agreement.

To be honest, the major impetus for this adjustment of the Chinese policy position does not stem from the signing and implementation of the Paris Agreement but comes from implementing the national strategy of promoting the construction of an eco-civilization. Briefly speaking, marked by the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), the modernization of “national ecological environment governance system and governance capacity” has been recognized as one of the top political and policy goals for the CPC and the Chinese government, and joining international cooperation on climate change more actively is one ideal symbolic case to show their political willingness.

For instance, China is also paying more and more attention to the implementation of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) by organizing several important, related international activities in 2019-20.

CS: Environmental protection is not a new issue in China. In 1972, China, unlike other countries ruled by socialist parties, took part in the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, where a number of principles and recommendations concerning environmental protection were agreed upon. Could you sketch developments and changes in China’s environmental policies since then?

QH: It is true that China’s environmental protection as a public policy formally started in 1972, when the Chinese delegation attended the Stockholm Conference on Human Environment. As a result, in 1973, China held its first national conference on environmental protection and set up a national office in charge of this policy issue. Since then, China’s environmental policy has experienced at least four stages of development: 1973-89, 1989-92, 1992-2012, and 2012-now.

In the first stage, with the formation and implementation of the “reform and opening-up” policy in 1978 under the political leadership of Deng Xiaoping, environmental protection quickly became a prominent policy issue, and consequently, “environment protection as a basic state policy” was officially recognized in 1983 and has been one of the key policy guidelines for China’s environmental protection until today. During the second stage, under the political leadership of Jiang Zemin, sustainable development became the major expression of the CPC and Chinese government’s political ecology and environmental governance strategy.

From 2002 to 2012 – a transition stage in more than one way – under the political leadership of Hu Jintao, the concept of the “two-pattern society construction” (resource-saving and environmentally friendly society), put forward in 2005, was the CPC and Chinese government’s central term of that time. In 2007, the term “eco-civilization construction” was included in the working report of the 17th National Congress of the CPC.

Since 2012, the real change is not that “eco-civilization construction” has become the umbrella word of the CPC and Chinese government’s political ecology and environmental governance strategy, but rather that environmental protection and governance are recognized as an integral part of the pursued “socialist modernization with Chinese characteristics in a new era,” theoretically and practically.

CS: For quite some time now, your work has focused on the idea of eco-socialism. You argue that “greening” capitalism is not the answer to the current ecological crisis but neither is “greening” traditional socialism. Could you elaborate on this argument and explain what eco-socialism means?

QH: Briefly speaking, eco-socialism as a green political philosophy includes two major aspects. On the one hand, it argues that ecological and environmental challenges on the local, national, and global level, especially under the dominant institutional framework of contemporary capitalism, are not just partial or temporary problems or defects, but are inseparable from the framework itself: they follow the logic of capital proliferation and the protection of the interests of capital-owners.

In this sense, various measures under the capitalist regime, the so-called “green capitalism” or “eco-capitalism,” cannot solve environmental problems. Of course, as Ulrich Brand and Markus Wissen have expounded clearly in their book The Limits to Capitalist Nature this does not mean that capitalist measures against environmental damage, or even “green capitalism,” are totally impossible in reality (though always implemented in a selective way).

On the other hand, what is stressed in eco-socialism as a political philosophy is that it is a new type of socialism, or an updated version of socialism, and thus different from a simplified or falsified greening of traditional socialism. It is worth noting that the scientific socialism or communism that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels suggested nearly two centuries ago is an ideal which has so far not been realized, whether in the former Soviet Union or in today’s China. And this ideal cannot be established in any country or region of the world in the foreseeable future.

This implies that what we are imagining or striving for is an eco-socialist orientation of our contemporary world rather than a totally new socialist society. In other words, one of the main tasks for eco-socialists today is to make clear why various measures under the capitalist regime will eventually fail to solve the problems that they claim to solve, and why various initiatives of eco-socialism as real or radical alternatives can indeed bring about substantial change in all societies, so that “another world is really possible.”

CS: In many discourses that I have followed, eco-socialism is discussed as an alternative to green capitalism with its own vision of the future that not only offers solutions for the ecological crisis but also addresses issues of inequality; it aims at connecting environmental justice with social justice. But you argue that eco-socialist concepts at the moment don’t seem attractive to people. Why is that?

QH: Admittedly, the concept of eco-socialism is still not as popular as many people may expect or argue, not only in capitalist countries but also in socialist countries including China. In my opinion, there are various reasons for explaining this anomaly. Firstly, eco-socialism as a political ideology and public policy is still very much affected by the stained reputation of traditional socialism in the former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries, which were obviously unsuccessful in institutionalizing the socialist ideas and values and in dealing with environmental issues, as Saral Sarkar has convincingly analyzed in his book Eco-socialism or Eco-capitalism?

Moreover, the hegemony of neoliberalism throughout the world after the collapse of the socialist bloc in the early 1990s and its political and ideological propaganda have undoubtedly been a success, making the majority of people believe that there is indeed no alternative to capitalism. Most interestingly and/or regrettably, the economic and financial crisis of 2008 in Europe and the US also did not substantially improve the structural situation for radical or alternative politics, including eco-socialism. The rise and growing popularity of “green capitalism” or “eco-capitalism” in recent years can be considered as supporting evidence for this argument.

Secondly, as far as China is concerned, the competing political and policy interpretation of “eco-civilization construction” and “socialist eco-civilization construction” is a good example to illuminate that eco-socialism is far from being an established political ideology and political ecology. One deep divergence is whether or not a socialist orientation or direction is an institutional precondition for modernizing the environmental protection and governance system of today’s China.

From an eco-Marxist perspective, over-emphasizing the introduction of the so-called modern institutions or mechanisms for environmental protection and governance from the US and the EU would be at the risk of neglecting the socialist reshaping of the whole society which is essential for a future socialist eco-civilization.

CS: What is needed to make eco-socialism more attractive as a vision for a future society?

QH: Needless to say, this is an urgent and very challenging task for eco-socialists today. First of all, socialist/green-Left political parties and politics are still the major forces to make the eco-socialist vision for a future society more desirable and attractive among the public, and lots of work can be done by them. For instance, an encouraging message from the European Parliamentary elections of 2019 is that the European electorate, especially the young generation, are holding quite a supportive position towards combating climate change and other global environmental issues, but the Left as a whole did not benefit too much from it.

Secondly, international dialogue and collaboration among academics on all issues relating to eco-socialism should be further strengthened. Of course, it should be a more equal and open-minded, two-way process between the West and the developing countries. To be frank, China has been a “good” student of the West over the past decades in the sense of doing its best to imitate what the advanced nations have done or are doing to modernize the country. From now on though, China needs to be a more independent and reflective partner of the international academic community, focusing on how to really make the country better.

Thirdly, one of the key tasks to make eco-socialism more attractive, especially in China, is to make “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in a New Era” more attractive. From my point of view, a crucial way is to consciously introduce and implement the principle and policy of “socialist eco-civilization construction.”

CS: You distinguish between “growing economy” and “growth economy,” the latter being dependent on continued economic growth, something that seems detrimental to solving the ecological crisis. What does this distinction mean in regard to China?

QH: I used the term “growing economy” in 2008 to conceptualize the nature of economic development in China at that time, to show how I somewhat differ from Takis Fotopoulos, a London-based Greek thinker, who analyzed whether sustainable development is compatible with globalization by looking at developments in China.

My major argument is as follows: both in terms of the legitimacy, desirability, and sustainability of resource support and environmental capacity, the economic growth rate of China at the beginning of the 21st century was to a large extent necessary or defendable. Of course, the overall situation of China’s economic development has changed dramatically over the past decade and is currently facing an even more challenging situation today owing to the trade dispute/war with the US.

The real question in this regard is whether or not the Chinese economy is gradually moving towards a growth economy as Takis Fotopoulos has defined it. My reflection is that there is still no simple answer to this question. On the one hand, the annual economic growth rate of 6-7% since 2015 is almost half what it was ten years ago (11.4% in 2005), indicating that China is continuously optimizing its economy in line with the different stages of development, and, at least for the central and western regions of China, that an appropriate economic growth rate is still necessary or maintainable in the near future.

On the other hand, considering the economic aggregate of China today – according to the World Bank, it is 13.608 trillion US dollars in total and 15.86% of the whole world in 2018 – even an annual growth rate of around 5% may bring about wide and tremendous impacts on our ecological environment. This is the very reason why we argue that an eco-socialist perspective or “socialist eco-civilization construction” has the potential to make a contribution to better combine the necessity of meeting the basic needs of common people and protecting the ecological environment: more ecologism and more socialism.

CS: In European countries and in North America, the idea of a green capitalism is the mainstream answer to the current ecological challenges. What could they gain from alternative visions of the future like the one you put forward?

QH: Arguably, “green capitalism” or “eco-capitalism” is the most practical or even “rational” approach to deal with the current ecological challenges in European countries and in North America, because, thanks to the hierarchical international economic and political order and the increasingly wide acceptance of the “imperial mode of living” in developing countries, these “advanced” countries can manage to use the global resources and sinks to their own advantage. If such a structural configuration remains unchanged, one can imagine that there will be little possibility for the world to move towards an eco-socialist future.

However, it seems that this configuration has indeed become socially and ecologically problematic in recent years. On the one hand, following the economic rise of several major developing countries including China, it is becoming more and more difficult for the US and European countries to maintain the status quo of the international order, which will threaten not only their position of hegemony in the traditional sense but also their green model of “eco-capitalism.” In other words, there will be less and less space or possibilities in reality for these “advanced” countries to maintain the good quality of their local environment while continuing to enjoy a high level of material consumption.

To some extent, the increasing tensions today between China and the West led by the US can be interpreted in this way. On the other hand, more and more developing countries, especially the emerging economies like China, are taking the ecological environment problems seriously for different reasons. This implies that there will be more and stricter restrictions from developing countries on the acceptance of “dirty” capital and technology, let alone of waste and garbage, as the dispute over waste import between the Philippines and Canada has clearly shown.

In both senses mentioned above, in my opinion, the principles and ways of thinking of eco-socialism can contribute in making European and North American countries eventually realize the limits and defects of “green capitalism” or “eco-capitalism.” Solving local or short-term problems while others pay the costs needs to end, and a process of radical social-ecological transformation needs to be initiated as soon as possible. A more just world and more equal society are the precondition for a cleaner environment.

Qingzhi Huan can be contacted here <>

Saturday, 16 November 2019

This General Election is Unpredictable in Fragmented Britain

Leaving aside how badly wrong most of the opinion polls were at 2017 General Election, so far all the pollsters give the Tories a decent lead over Labour, although the lead has narrowed over the last week or so. The picture is being further complicated by regional variations and even variations within regions.

Take a look at these local council by-election results from this week, as supplied by Britain Elects. Yes, council by-elections have a low turn out of voters, usually around 30%, and yes local issues can and do play a part in swaying the voters. But they are real votes, not (weighted) surveys of what people tell pollsters they intend to do.

St Mary's (Powys) result:

LAB: 37.4% (+16.3)
CON: 26.5% (-14.9)
PC: 14.1% (+14.1)
LDEM: 11.1% (-16.3)
IND: 11.0% (+11.0)

Labour GAIN from Conservative.

No GRN (-10.2) as prev.

Goodrington with Roselands (Torbay) result:

CON: 49.3% (+17.6)
LDEM: 35.5% (-)
BREX: 9.3% (+9.3)
LAB: 4.0% (-3.2)
GRN: 1.9% (-8.9)

Conservative GAIN from Liberal Democrat.

No UKIP (-14.7) as prev.

Culverden (Tunbridge Wells) result:

LDEM: 46.7% (+33.5)
CON: 24.9% (-19.1)
WEP: 10.2% (+10.2)
TWA: 9.5% (+9.5)
LAB: 5.2% (-14.3)
GRN: 3.5% (-7.5)

Liberal Democrat GAIN from Conservative.

No UKIP (-12.2) as prev (2016).

Shap (Eden) result:

LDEM: 48.5% (+17.3)
CON: 33.8% (-17.4)
PCF: 17.7% (+0.1)

Liberal Democrat GAIN from Conservative.

PCF: Putting Cumbria First.

Dunfermline East (Fife) first preferences:

SNP: 33.2% (+9.1)
CON: 24.8% (-6.5)
LDEM: 22.8% (+13.8)
LAB: 13.5% (-6.3)
GRN: 5.1% (+0.9)
LBT: 0.6% (+0.6)

SNP GAIN from Conservative.

Rosyth (Fife) first preferences:

SNP: 42.8% (+16.5)
CON: 24.4% (-2.3)
LAB: 15.2% (-4.3)
LDEM: 7.9% (-0.9)
IND: 5.0% (+2.9)
GRN: 4.2% (+0.7)
LBT: 0.5% (+0.5)


No other Ind(s) (-13.1) as prev.

Rhos (Neath Port Talbot) result:

PC: 53.9% (+23.1)
CON: 24.3% (+0.8)
LAB: 21.8% (-23.9)

Plaid Cymru GAIN from Labour.

As you can see, the results cover England, Scotland and Wales, and vary considerably in different parts of the country. There looks to be something for all the parties to cheer in these results. The St Mary's result appears indicate the Labour party benefiting from there being no Green candidate standing.

The Scottish results confirm what the polls have been saying about the Scottish National Party's prospects in Scotland, they look good. In England and Wales though, no clear winner is indicated by these results. Although it looks as though things are going fairly well for the Liberal Democrats.

The local elections just before the 2017 General Election were disastrous for Labour, gaining only 27% of the popular vote, and losing 382 council seats. They were good for the Tories who got 38% of the vote and gained 563 council seats. Only a month later at the General Election the Tories scored 42.4% of the vote, whilst Labour got 40%, and the Tories duly lost their majority in Parliament.

Labour is probably in a better position now that it was at this stage of the 2017 campaign, but they do look to have ground to make up, to be in with a chance forming a government, although it will probably need to be some kind coalition, with Labour the largest party.

The mood may be different from 2017, after all of the paralysis in Parliament of the last two years, with voters getting increasingly frustrated with the inability of MPs to agree something, anything, to move us on from the Brexit debate, and this is something that the Tories are trying to cynically exploit.

But judging by the times that the Tory leader Boris Johnson meets actual voters on his walk-abouts though, not all voters are absolving him from blame for this, and voters want to talk about other issues, the NHS, cuts to council services and environmental concerns, especially in recently flood hit areas. I also think it is fair to say that the Tory campaign has been pretty shambolic, and no better than the car crash campaign they had in 2017.

It is hard to see how the recent floods will play well for the Tories, and it could be even worse with the looming winter crisis in the NHS, so there is all still to all play for the opposition parties over the next four weeks. Over 850,000 people under the age of 34 have registered to vote since the election was called, who tend to favour Labour over the Tories and also tend to be mainly anti-Brexit.

The coming election could well shape the country for a generation, and I think it is the most important General Election since 1979. I’m sure many people have not engaged with the campaign so far, but traditionally tend to in the last two weeks. This time though it will be almost Christmas by then, and it is to be hoped that voters are not distracted by that. There are so many unknowns in this election which makes it so difficult to call.