Sunday, 17 February 2019

An Outline of ‘Democratic Eco-Socialism as a Real Utopia’


Written by Hans Baer and first published at Climate and Capitalism

Introduction. In a previous article, I described Hans Baer’s essay “Toward Democratic Eco-Socialism as the next World System” as “an important contribution that merits study and discussion among all ecosocialists.”

Now Hans has written a book that both elaborates on the ideas he expressed in that essay, and outlines the views of a range of socialists on the struggle against capitalism and for an ecological civilization.

Democratic Eco-Socialism as a Real Utopia: Transitioning to an Alternative World System is published by Berghahn Books. The outline below was prepared for Climate & Capitalism by the author. Like his earlier essay, this book is an important contribution to the ongoing process of ecosocialist development and clarification. I hope it will stimulate wide discussion about what the aims of ecosocialism are and how they can be achieved. —Ian Angus

OUTLINE OF ‘DEMOCRATIC ECO-SOCIALISM AS A REAL UTOPIA’

by Hans Baer

This book is guided by the recognition that social systems, whether they exist at the local, regional, or global level, do not last forever. Capitalism as a globalizing political economic system that has produced numerous impressive technological innovations, some beneficial and others destructive, is a system with many contradictions.

More so than in earlier stages of capitalism, transnational corporations and allied organizations, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization, and the European Union, make or break governments and politicians around the world.

Capitalism has been around for above five hundred years but manifests so many contradictions that it must be replaced by an alternative world system — one committed to social parity and justice, democratic processes, environmental sustainability, a safe climate, and preservation of biodiversity.

As delineated in this book, democratic eco-socialism, in the terminology of the late sociologist Erik Olin Wright, constitutes a real utopia, a vision that is theoretically achievable but requiring much reconceptualization and social experimentation.

Chapter 1 focuses on what might be its principal contradictions in terms of social justice and environmental sustainability, namely:

profit making, economic growth, and the treadmill of production and consumption;

social inequality within and between nation-states;

population growth as a by-product of poverty;

depletion of natural resources and environmental degradation;
climate change; and

resource wars.

Given that climate change scenarios prompt us to imagine dystopian visions of the future, this chapter explores several mainstream and radical worst-case scenarios that humanity must avoid in order to preserve itself as a species along with other species.

Chapter 2 examines the discrepancies between the ideals and realities of socialism as they played out during the twentieth century, particularly in five contrasting countries, namely, Russia and the Soviet Union, China, the German Democratic Republic, North Korea, and Cuba. This chapter examines various interpretations that seek to determine the nature of post-revolutionary societies, asking whether they were instances of

“actually existing socialism” or some form of state socialism;

aborted transitions between capitalism and socialism;
state capitalism; or

new class societies.

This chapter also examines positive and negative features of post-revolutionary societies, particularly in terms of the economy and workplace, social stratification, and environmental problems. Their mixed record along with the fact that even a reformed and supposedly more environmentally friendly capitalism may spell the end of much of humanity strongly suggests that the concept of socialism must be rejuvenated to ensure social parity, democratic processes, and environmental sustainability for humanity.

The growing realization of the gravity of the global ecological crisis and anthropogenic climate change has prompted the development of numerous mainstream and countercultural visions of the future which are explored in Chapter 3. Ultimately a shortcoming of these future scenarios is that most are premised primarily on ecological modernization, which advocates a shift to renewable energy sources and energy efficiency but does not adequately address issues of social parity.

A shortcoming of the Green New Deal and postgrowth models is that they assume that some version of capitalism can function as a steady-state or zero-growth economy, when history tells us that capitalism in inherently committed to continual economic expansion as part and parcel of its pursuit of profits.

Chapter 4 argues that socialism remains a vision, one which requires that various individuals and groups grapple with alternative visions of socialism. As humanity enters an era of catastrophic climate change accompanied by tumultuous environmental and social consequences, it will have to consider alternatives that will circumvent the dystopian scenarios depicted earlier.

After briefly reviewing several Marxian-inspired future scenarios, this chapter seek to reconceptualize socialism by examining the notions of democratic socialism, eco-socialism, and democratic eco-socialism and critically examines efforts to create socialism for the twenty-first century in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Cuba. It also examines the pros and cons of Samir Amin’s notion of delinking as a strategy for escaping the clutches of global capitalism.

Chapter 5 acknowledges that anti-systemic movements are sure to be a permanent features of the world’s political landscape so long as capitalism remains a hegemonic political-economic system. It examines the role of specific anti-systemic movements, namely, the labour, ethnic and indigenous rights, women’s, anti-corporate globalization, peace, and environmental and climate movements, in creating a socio-ecological revolution.

They are a crucial component of moving humanity to an alternative world system, but the process is a tedious and convoluted one with no guarantees, especially given the disparate nature of these movements.

While not seeking to create a blue print per se for creating an alternative world system that will be manifested in different ways in the many countries around the world, Chapter 6 proposes several system-challenging reforms that potentially could facilitate a transition from the existing capitalist world system to a democratic eco-socialist world system. These include:

the creation of new left parties designed to capture the state;

emissions taxes at the sites of production;

public and social ownership of the means of production;

increasing social equality and achieving a sustainable population size;
workers’ democracy;

meaningful work and shortening the work week;

challenging or rethinking the growth paradigm;

energy efficiency, renewable energy sources, appropriate technology, and green jobs;

sustainable public transportation and travel;

sustainable food production and forestry;

resisting the culture of consumption and adopting sustainable and meaningful consumption patterns;

sustainable trade; and

sustainable settlement patterns and local communities.

Chapter 7, the conclusion, argues that as humanity proceeds into the 21st century, its survival as a species appears to be more and more precarious, particularly given the impact of climate change in a multiplicity of ways looms on the horizon. More so than has ever been the case, it is essential for critical scholars and activists to envision future scenarios and strategies for achieving an alternative world system.

Perhaps more important is developing strategies to shift from the existing system of globalized capitalism to an alternative that transcends its numerous contradictions and limitations.

While presently and for the foreseeable future, the notion that democratic eco-socialism may be eventually implemented in any society, developed or developing, or in several linked societies may appear absurd, history tells us that social changes can occur very quickly once certain social structural and environmental conditions have reached a tipping point, a term that has become popular in climate science.

Friday, 15 February 2019

From Marx to Ecosocialism


Written by Michael Löwy and first published at New Politics

A review of Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism. Capitalism, Nature, and the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy by Kohei Saito and Red-Green Revolution: The Politics and Technology of Ecosocialism by Victor Wallis.

There is a growing body of ecomarxist and ecosocialist literature in the English-speaking world, which signals the beginning of a significant turn in radical thinking. Some Marxist journals, such as Capitalism, Nature and Socialism, Monthly Review and Socialism and Democracy have been playing an important role in this process, which is becoming increasingly influential. The two books discussed here—very different in style content and purpose—are part of this “Red and Green” upsurge.

Kohei Saito is a young Japanese Marxist scholar and his book is a very valuable contribution to the reassessment of the Marxian heritage, from an ecosocialist perspective. It justifiedly polemicises with those authors (mainly but not exclusively German) that denounce Marx as “Promethean,” productivist, and partisan of the industrial domination of nature. But Saito also criticises, in the introduction, what he defines as “first stage ecosocialists,” who believe that Marx’s 19th Century discussions on ecology are of little importance today: this would include, among others, Alain Lipiez, Daniel Tanuro, Joel Kovel and…myself. 


This seems to me a bit of an artificial construction… Lipietz calls to “abandon the Marxist paradigm,” the three others consider themselves to be Marxists, and whatever their criticism of (some of) Marx views on nature, do not consider his views as “of little importance.” Since this issue is mentioned, but not really discussed in the book, let us move on….

One of the great qualities of this work is that it does not treat Marx’s work as a systematic body of writing, defined, from the beginning to the end, by a strong ecological commitment (according to some), or a strong unecological tendency (according to others). As Saito very persuasively argues, there are elements of continuity in Marx’s reflection on nature, but also some very significant changes, and re-orientations.

Among the continuities, one of the most important is the issue of the capitalist “separation” of humans from earth, i.e., from nature. Marx believed that in pre-capitalist societies there existed a form of unity between the producers and the land, and he saw as one of the key tasks of socialism to re-establish the original unity between humans and nature, destroyed by capitalism, but on a higher level (negation of the negation). 

This explains Marx’s interest in pre-capitalist communities, both in his ecological discussion (for instance of Carl Fraas) or in his anthropological research (Franz Maurer): both authors were perceived as “unconscious socialists.” And, of course, in his last important document, the letter to Vera Zassoulitsch (1881), Marx claims that thanks to the suppression of capitalism, modern societies could return to a higher form of an “archaic” type of collective ownership and production. This is a very interesting insight of Saito, and very relevant today, when indigenous communities in the Americas, from Canada to Patagonia, are in the front line of the resistance to capitalist destruction of the environment.

However, the main contribution of Saito is to show the movement, the evolution of Marx reflections on nature, in a process of learning, rethinking and reshaping his thoughts. Before Capital (1867) one can find in Marx writings a rather uncritical assessment of capitalist “progress”- an attitude often described by the vague mythological term of “Prometheanism.” 

This is obvious in the Communist Manifesto, which celebrates capitalist “subjection of nature’s forces to man”and the “clearing of whole continents for cultivation”; but it also applies to the London Notebooks (1851), the Economic Manuscripts of 1861-63, and other writings from those years. Curiously, Saito seems to exclude the Grundrisse (1857-58) from his criticism, which is not justified, considering how much Marx admires, in this manuscript, “the great civilizing mission of capitalism,” in relation to nature and to the pre-capitalist communities, prisioners of their localism and their “idolatry of nature”!

The change comes in 1865-66, when Marx discovers, by reading the writings of the agricultural chemist Justus Von Liebig, the problems of soil exhaustion, and the metabolic rift between human societies and the natural environment. This will lead, in Capital vol. 1 (1867)—but also in the two other, unfinished volumes—to a much more critical assessment of the destructive nature of capitalist “progress,” particularly in agriculture. 

After 1868, by reading another German scientist, Carl Fraas, Marx will discover also other important ecological issues, such as deforestation and local climate change. According to Saito, if Marx had been able to complete volumes 2 and 3 of Capital, he would have more strongly emphasised the ecological crisis, which also means, at least implicitly, than in their present unfinished state, there is no strong enough emphasis on those issues.

This leads me to my main disagreement with Saito: in several passages of the book he asserts that for Marx “the environmental unsustainability of capitalism is the contradiction of the system” (p.142, emphasis by Saito); or that in his late years he came to see the metabolic rifts as “the most serious problem of capitalism”; or that the conflict with natural limits is, for Marx, “the main contradiction of the capitalist mode of production.”

I wonder where Saito found, in Marx’s writings, published books, manuscripts or notebooks, any such statements…they are not to be found, and for a good reason: the unsustainability of the capitalist system was not a decisive issue in the 19th Century, as it has become today: or better, since 1945, when the planet entered a new geological era, the Anthropocene. 

Moreover, I believe that the metabolic rift, or the conflict with natural limits is not “a problem of capitalism” or a “contradiction of the system”: it is much more than that! It is a contradiction between the system and “the eternal natural conditions” (Marx), and therefore with the natural conditions of human life on the planet. In fact, as Paul Burkett (quoted by Saito) argues, capital can continue to accumulate under any natural conditions, however degraded, so long as there is not a complete extinction of human life: human civilisation can disappear before capital accumulation becomes impossible.

Saito concludes his book with a sober assessment which seems to me a very apt summary of the issue: Capital remains an unfinished project. Marx did not answer all questions nor predict today’s world. But his critique of capitalism provides an extremely helpful theoretical foundation for the understanding of the current ecological crisis.

Victor Wallis agrees with the ecosocialists such as John Bellamy Foster and Paul Burkett who emphasize the ecological dimension of Marx. But he also acknowledges that there are illusions in the “technological neutrality” of the capitalist productive forces in some of his writings.

In any case, the object of his outstanding book is not Marx as such, but the Marxist perspective of a Red-Green Revolution. Being a collection of essays, the chapters do not follow a precise order, but one can easily detect the main lines of the argument.

The starting point is the understanding that capitalism, driven by the need to “grow” and expand at any cost, is inherently destructive of the environment. Moreover, through ecological devastation and climate change—the result of fossil-fuel emissions of CO2 gases—the capitalist system undermines the conditions of life itself on the planet. “Green capitalism” is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms: it offers only false solutions, based on corporate interests and a blind faith in the “market,” such as “biofuels,” the trade in “emission rights,” etc. A typical exemple of “green capitalism”: the monitoring of global environmental measures has been entrusted, by the ruling class, to the World Bank, which invested 15 times more on fossil-fuel projects than on renewables.…

Radical measures are the only realistic alternative: a revolution is needed to overcome the environmental threat to our collective survival. The aim is an ecosocialist society, without class domination and with life in balance with the rest of nature. Of course there are risks involved in any revolutionary enterprise, but the risk of keeping things as they are is much greater…Long term species survival is contingent upon a nearly 90 percent reduction in the burning of fossil fuels. This requires to a sharp break with capitalist priorities: accumulation, profit-making, commodification, “growth.” 

A key component of the ecosocialist project is conscious democratic planning, reorganizing production and consumption around the real popular needs, and putting and end to the waste inherent to capitalism with its artificial “needs” induced by the advertising industry, and its formidable military expenditures. Democratic planning is the opposite of the Soviet model of top-down directives: the identification of planning with Stalin is a dangerous relic of Cold War demagogy, which could obstruct ecological conversion.

Ecosocialism requires also some key technological choices, for instance privileging renewable energies (wind, solar, etc.) against fossil-fuels. But there is no purely technical solution: energy use must be reduced, by sharply reducing wasteful consumption.

Victor Wallis insists, and this is one of the most valuable insights of his book, that ecosocialism, as a long-term objective, is not contradictory with short-range measures, urgent and immediate ecological steps: they can, in fact, reinforce and inspire each other. Similarly, to oppose local ecological communities to the global political struggle is pointless and counterproductive: both are necessary and provide mutual support.

Which are the forces that will lead this struggle for social and ecological change? In one of the essays, Wallis insist on the centrality of the working-class—in spite of the present anti-ecological position of most union leaders (in order to “protect jobs”). Is the working-class the “implicit embodiment of ecological sanity” (unlike its present leaders)? Is it the only force capable to bring together all constituencies opposed to capitalism? I’m not so sure, but I think Wallis is right to emphasise that class oppression concerns the vast majority of the population—and therefore a radical change cannot take place without its support.

But there are also other social forces engaged in the process of resistance to the capitalist onslaught on the environment: for instance, the indigenous communities. 

This is another very important contribution of this book: to show that indigenous communities—direct victims of the capitalist plunder, a global assault on their livelihoods—have become the vanguard of the ecosocialist movement. In their actions, such as the Standing Rock resistence to the XXL Pipeline, and in their reflections—such as their Declaration at the World Social Forum of Belem in 2009—“they express, more completely than any other group, the common survival interest of humanity.” Of course, the urban population of modern cities cannot live like the indigenous, but they have much to learn from them.

Ecological struggles offer a unifying theme around which various oppressed constituencies could come together. And there are signs of hope in the United States, in the vast upsurge of resistance against a particularly toxic racist, mysoginist and anti-ecological power elite, and in the growing interest, among young people and African Americans, in socialism. But a political revolutionary force, able to unify all constituencies and movements against the system is still lacking.

Michael Löwy of France is a prolific author of books on Marxist theory, including on ecosocialism. His most recent book available in English is Redemption and Utopia: Jewish Libertarian Thought in Central Europe.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

The UK is one of the most nature-depleted Countries in the World


A report from the centre-left think-tank Institute for Public Policy Research, reveals that the UK is one of the global front runners in nature depletion, but the problem is a world-wide one. The report finds that since 1950, the number of floods across the world has increased by 15 times, extreme temperature events by 20 times, and wildfires seven-fold.

Further world-wide findings show that:

Topsoil is being lost 10 to 40 times faster than it is being replenished by natural processes.

Since the mid-20th Century, 30% of the world's arable land has become unproductive due to erosion.

95% of the Earth's land areas could become degraded by 2050.

Global vertebrate populations have fallen by 60 per cent since the 1970s.

The report states that ‘negative human impacts on the environment go beyond climate change to encompass most other natural systems, driving a complex, dynamic process of environmental destabilisation that has reached critical levels. This destabilisation is occurring at speeds unprecedented in human history and, in some cases, over billions of years.’

The report concludes that we are suffering an age of environmental breakdown, with devastating consequences for humanity as well as nature more widely:

‘As complex natural systems become more destabilised, the consequences of this destabilisation – from extreme weather to soil infertility – will impact human systems from local to global levels, interacting with existing social and economic trends such as inequality, and compounding them. This process is already underway, damaging human health and driving forced migration and conflict around the world, and is set to accelerate as the breakdown increases.’

The consequences of environmental break-down, will as always, fall hardest on the poorest, who are most vulnerable to its effects and least responsible for the problem. It is estimated that the poorest half of the global population are responsible for around 10 per cent of yearly global greenhouse gas emissions, with half of emissions attributed to the richest 10 per cent of people. In the UK, per capita emissions of the wealthiest 10 per cent are up to five times higher than those of the bottom half.

In Britain itself (including overseas territories), the situation is amongst the worst in the world. The average population sizes of the most threatened species have decreased by two-thirds since 1970. Some 2.2 million tonnes of UK topsoil is eroded annually, and over 17% of arable land shows signs of erosion.

Nearly 85% of fertile peat topsoil in East Anglia, one of the most important areas for crop growing, has been lost since 1850, with the remainder at risk of being lost over next 30–60 years. In the case of biodiversity, one in seven species in the UK are at risk of extinction.

The UK analysis down-scales four planetary boundary indicators (climate change, biogeochemical flows, freshwater use, and land-use change) to per capita (per person) equivalents and compares these to national footprints. Two separate footprint indicators – ecological footprint and material footprint – are also included and compared to their suggested maximum sustainable levels. 

The result is seven biophysical indicators in comparison to their respective boundaries. The analysis shows that the UK exceeds five of its seven per capita sustainability boundaries, using in excess of seven or eight times its share in some cases.

All of which rather debunks the idea put about by some in the green movement that global population rises, especially in developing countries, is the cause of our planetary ills. Britain is a relatively small nation but causes a large amount of ecological destruction, much more than larger African nations, for example.

The UK led the world in industrial capitalism, and therefore putting fossil fuel emissions into the air and the discharging of other pollutants, into rivers and seas, that kick-started this devastation of our environment, before being copied by other western nations, first. We also exported this damage around world where the British Empire pillaged resources from the colonies.

Where is the urgency in the UK or any other of the first world countries to take steps to mitigate this state of affairs? Nowhere to be seen, is the only answer.      

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Climate and contradiction in Marx’s theory of history


Written by Matt Huber and first published at Marxist Sociology Blog

Climate change is often seen as a “new” kind of crisis of capitalism – one that throws into question the standard Marxist analysis as having a blind spot with respect to nature. This has led to a whole host of intellectual efforts to “green” Marxism, or to argue an ecological Marxism must go beyond class to incorporate the “new” social movement of environmentalism.

In one example, the late environmental sociologist, James O’Connor argued we should see ecological crisis as a “second” contradiction between capitalism and the ecological (and social/communal) conditions of production. In O’Connor’s view, capital tends to degrade ecosystems (and the climate) because they are external to value circulation and profit.

Jason Moore takes this further to argue that capital not only degrades nature, but ultimately relies on the its unpaid “work” for accumulation (think of the uncommodified work of soil microbes). John Bellamy Foster argues if we dig deep enough in Marx we find he was ecological all along through his ideas around the “metabolic rift.”

These theories are elegantly conceived, but a critical question has been left less explored: is Marx and Engels’s first contradiction unrelated to ecology and the climate crisis?  I say no. What I want to argue here is that climate change is just another expression of what Marx and Engels identified as the core contradiction of capitalism: namely a contradiction between the social basis of production with the private system of property and wealth appropriation. 

As I will argue below, understanding this contradiction as “ecological” depends on an expansive understanding of what they mean by “social.” This argument means the political theories and strategies that flow from this contradiction still apply to the ecological crisis: namely the centrality of class struggle. This suggests we need not only “revise” Marxism to add ecological dimensions, but think ecologically about its core theoretical insights.

To understand Marx and Engels’s historical theories of contradiction, we must revisit the “fettering thesis” on the transition between specific modes of production. Their historical materialism was based on an idea that particular historical modes of production develop until their material basis is “fettered” (or limited) by their associated social or class relations. This is summarized in Marx’s “preface” to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy,

“At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or…with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution..”

This statement applies to all history.

But how did Marx see this in relation to capitalism? The “fettering” thesis reappears in Capital where Marx observes, “The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production which has flourished alongside and under it.” Yet, “monopoly of capital” is not specific enough to what Marx understood as the core contradiction of capitalism. I think Engels summarizes it best in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific as, “The contradiction between social production and capitalist appropriation…”

Marx and Engels saw the peasant and artisanal forms of production characteristic of pre-capitalist history as scattered into various forms of isolated private or small-scale communal labor. Capitalism develops more social forms of production  based on increasingly complex divisions of labor and knowledge systems, yet it maintains a private form of appropriation where money and profit (and wages for that matter) can only flow to privatized market subjects. As more communities are violently torn from their own means of production (namely the land), these deeply interconnected social labor systems increasingly provision all of society’s needs. 

Today, our “socialized” production system has even more deeply enveloped the planet – from global supply chains to automated financial flows of money and information. For Marx and Engels, capitalism socializes production to the point where it only makes sense to socialize its control and distribution. As Marx argues in Capital the socialization of production under capitalism only points to, “the further socialization of labour and the further transformation of the soil and other means of production into socially exploited and therefore communal means of production….” This is socialism (and ecologically minded thinkers will note he mentions the soil as ripe for communal control).

Let me go a bit deeper into what Marx meant by “social”? Put simply, he means “relations” between people – forms of interdependence. On the one hand, his analysis of the commodity reveals all those engaged in commodity exchange stand in relation to what he describes “the total labour of society” insofar as all commodities must be commensurable and exchangeable with all forms of labor required to produce them.

On the other hand, in his analysis of relative surplus value, Marx shows capital has an “immanent drive and a constant tendency” to improve labor productivity through investments in more socialized forms of production.

He first covers the complex – but mainly people-driven –forms of cooperation and divisions of labor in the system of “manufacture.” Yet, as Andreas Malm shows so well, his examination of large scale industry is about the replacement of living “muscular” power of human labor power with (eventually) fossil fuel powered machines (in the context of England this meant coal-based steam power).

This wasn’t social because of the cooperative arrangement of living workers in a factory, but because of the complex social systems of knowledge – engineering, thermodynamics, chemistry, etc – are integrated directly into production. As Marx puts it in his famous “fragment on machines” in the Grundrisse, this leads to a situation where, “The accumulation of knowledge and of skill, of the general productive forces of the social brain, is thus absorbed into capital, as opposed to labour, and hence appears as an attribute of capital…” Under capitalism, all socialized innovation and progress appears as the result of private captains of industry like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk.

Yet, this socialization of the production process also made it reliant upon machinery powered by fossil fuel – making it also a hugely ecologically consequential mode of production. Thus, machine-based production is not only “social” because of its appropriation of the “social brain” of science. – the deeply social forms of knowledge that underlie production. 

As we now know, machine-based production – from the early steam-powered factory to the modern data servers powered by coal-fired electricity  – has social effects from the pollution it generates (and of course its manifold effects on all life). A coal-based steel plant outside Pittsburgh, or in Hebei province in China, effects the air quality of local residents (those who breath in the dirty air are in social relation to the steel plant), but, more significantly, effects the climate through the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Whether it is local residents, or South Pacific islanders forced to evacuate their homes, fossil capital is precisely a “social” form of production because its production is will always be connected to the people bearing the costs of pollution. Fossil capital is perhaps the first planetary social form of production – where any local instance of “production” produces uneven planetary effects for all those living on it. It’s worth remembering that Marx’s discussion of production itself – what he calls the labor process – is always a metabolic relationship between labor and nature. If he were alive today, he might have easily decided described the increasing “social” form of production in Capital as “socioecological.”

I’ve spent all this time elaborating on why capitalism is an increasingly “social” system of production, but why is this a contradiction? Because this increasingly socialized form of production maintains private forms of appropriation. Is not climate change itself the very evidence of this increasing contradiction? We have private fossil fuel companies who are still legally able to dig up fossil fuel, sell it as a commodity, monopolize the profits – creating enclaves of wealth and luxury for its CEOs and other corporate leaders – while the social effects of fossil capitalism are increasingly making the planet uninhabitable.

In Marx’s time it was the private control of gigantic global capitalist empires alongside mass poverty and immiseration that made the expropriation of private capital seem like an obvious and logical next step. Today we have gigantic global capitalist empires, alongside mass poverty and a planetary collapse wherein a mere 100 companies are responsible for 71% of emissions since 1988. The crisis itself is leading climate scientists to quite plainly state nothing short of a “complete revolution in our energy system” will save us from planetary ruin. The contradictions are indeed heightened. Is not the recent UN report evidence that an “era of social revolution” is upon us?

This is not a mere theoretical exercise, but politically significant. Efforts to “green” Marxism have always been based on the premise that environmental politics is separate from class – a new social movement. The right reinforces this when they pit “environment” against “jobs” – and constantly tell us environmental politics aims to make our lives worse off (this is often echoed by certain strands of the eco-left which focuses so much “consuming less”). There might be different forms of ecological politics – a movement to protect a national park is not the same as a sit down strike. But, this does not change the fact that our ecological crisis is caused by the class system under capitalism – namely private ownership and control of production for profit.

More to the point, it doesn’t change the fact that the best historical experience we have on how to win against the class of owners is to develop a working class movement. The working class not only suffers most under capitalism – thus they have the “interest” in changing the system – but they also have power to change the system. This power is rooted not only in that the working classes represent the vast majority of society, but also they wield strategic power over production itself – withdrawing their labor can shut down the flow of profit to capitalists.

As opposed to the politics of “consuming less” or stopping this or that pipeline or industrial plant, a working class ecological politics – like that in formation around “The Green New Deal” – is about a new alternative vision of industrial policy and public works projects; a new vision of socialized control over production itself that delivers material benefits – jobs, public transport, cheaper electricity – to the struggling working class.

Neoliberalism has in many ways been a long 50 year period in which much of the left was convinced class and socialist politics is outmoded and a new left would be built through a kind of “movement of movements” of divergent social movements (see recent article by ecosocialist Michael Löwy which basically rehearses this talking point). Yet class struggle didn’t fade away. 

As Warren Buffet so famously put it, “There’s class warfare, all right… but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” Rather than revising and “greening Marxism,” building an ecological politics that can win might benefit as much from revisiting the classical principles of Marx and Engels’s historical materialism. Climate change is only the last instance of the overwhelming evidence that capital’s socialized form of production stands in contradiction to its privatized forms of appropriation. This contradiction points to one solution: expropriate the expropriators.

Matt Huber is Associate Professor of Geography at Syracuse University. He is working on a book on class politics and climate change for Verso Books.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Ecosocialism – A Brief Description


This is a write up of a talk I gave to my local Green Party meeting in Haringey, north London, a little while back, on ecosocialism. 
Ecosocialism is a green political philosophy - it is an ecocentric and democratic socialism, not to be confused with social democracy, at least in the longer run.
It is not like twentieth century socialisms, it is more like nineteenth century socialisms and owes a fair amount to anarchist theory. Twentieth century socialisms had, if anything, an even more dismal record than capitalism on ecology.
Ecosocialism is anti-capitalist, and sees the capitalist system as the effective cause of the ecological crisis.
Capitalism commodifies everything and puts a price on it, which is exchange value, and uses the earth as a resource for production and sink for the dumping of toxic waste from the production process, usually free of cost. Climate change is the most spectacular aspect of the ecological crisis, but not the only one. Capitalism releases toxic pollution, into the air, land and sea.
Capitalism is unable to solve the ecological crisis it has set going, because the logic of the system is to ‘grow or die’. Growth that is exponential and the earth is now close to its limit of being able to buffer the damage caused by this required infinite growth, on a finite planet.
I’m going to say something about the historical lineage of the philosophy, threads of which can be traced back for as long as human beings have formed communities, where some elements of ecosocialism can be found in the way people have lived in balance with nature. And today, many indigenous peoples around the world still practice some of these forms of social and economic management.
Karl Marx is somewhat of a controversial figure for ecosocialists, with some believing that he was essentially a ‘productivist.’ For myself, I believe that Marx’s work was of its time, and incomplete, but he certainly had a green side to him. Take this quote for example from the third volume of Capital:
From the standpoint of a higher economic form of society, private ownership of the globe by single individuals will appear quite as absurd as private ownership of one man by another. Even a whole society, a nation, or even all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the globe. They are only its possessors, its usufructuaries, and, like boni patres familias, they must hand it down to succeeding generations in an improved condition. (Marx 1894: 776). 
In South America ecosocialism has found its way into government. Venezuela, has a Department of Ecosocialism, although the ecosocialism pursued is not the purest in form. Bolivia runs forms of ecosocialism in government and has fought off many capitalist corporations plunder of the country’s natural resources, in mining and gas extraction on common land.
There is an English line too. The first stories to be told about Robin Hood, were of a man fighting against crown enclosures of common land. He has become famous for ‘robbing from the rich to give to the poor’, but in fact what he was doing, was fighting to stop the rich robbing from the poor.
Then there were the Diggers during the English civil war, who set up communes on common land and called for a ‘common treasury of the land.'
And William Morris, the nineteenth century socialist and craft movement champion. If you read his novel News from Nowhere, it describes an ecosocialist utopia.
In the modern age, ecosocialism emerged in the mid 1980s, in the west, in the United States, although you can argue quite convincingly that in the US it goes back to Murray Bookchin’s social ecology movement in the mid 1960s. And in the east, in India, where to a lesser extent ecosocialism emerged but more so in the philosophy of ecofeminism, which is a similar philosophy to ecosocialism. 
For example, ecosocialists agree with ecofeminists that the oppression of women in our society is part and parcel of the system's domination of nature, reproduction in particular. This is done by the capitalist system co-opting the prevailing patriarchal practices, to extract extra surplus value from the workers, in terms of unpaid domestic labour, without which the system could not function. 
And all for free to the system.
Examples of modern day ecosocialism, to an extent, can be found in the Kurdish area of northern Syria called Rojava and the Zapatistas in Chiapas the most southern state in Mexico.
So, what are the component parts of ecosocialism? There are many, but I’ve selected four of the main ones:
Metabolic Rift
Nature contains billions of ecosystems, all connected in a finely balanced way, to form what we might call the ‘ecosphere’. Capitalism disrupts and eventually completely ruptures this balance, setting off chain reactions which cannot be cured easily, if at all. Human beings are ecosystems too, and the way the system forces us to live, causes a rupture between us and nature and leads to illnesses like stress, depression and obesity.
And to those who say the ways of capitalism are ‘human nature’, then if this is true, why have we only been living this way for a few hundred years? The only thing natural about capitalism, is that it was invented by creatures of nature, us. And we can just as easily un-invent it – and we should.
Ecosocialist writer James Bellamy Foster has managed to link this to Karl Marx’s notion of an ‘irreparable rift’ between humans and nature, in volume three of Capital.
The Commons
Historically, in Britain and other western nations, people were forcibly removed from common land as it was enclosed, with violence employed, to drive the people off the land and into the capitalist factories in the towns and cities. And today the same thing is happening in developing countries. By taking away people's alternative way of providing for themselves, they are left with no choice but to move into cities and work often 16 hours a day for meagre pay in factories, where health and safety is non-existent, and female workers are routinely harassed and molested.
When I visited Senegal in west Africa a few years ago, one day I spoke with some fishermen who complained about the factory ships from the European Union, Russia and Japan that were hoovering up all of the fish, so much so, that the local fisherman couldn’t catch enough fish anymore to earn a decent living. Here was a system of managed commons which had fed local people for thousands of years and provided a livelihood for the fishermen, destroyed by the capitalist factory boats. Robbing from the poor - to give to the rich.
You have probably heard of the ‘global commons’ on the internet, peer to peer sharing and free software, which ecosocialists welcome, with the possibilities it provides for living outside of the capitalist system, to some extent anyway.
Ecocentric Production
This is a quote from my favourite ecosocialist writer Jovel Kovel describing our vision of ecosocialism: ‘a society in which production is carried out by freely associated labour, and by consciously ecocentric means and ends’.
I think this phrase covers the production process under ecosocialism neatly. The ‘freely associated labour’ bit refers to the absence of surplus value, profit for capital.
Production would be for ‘use-value’, not ‘exchange value'. It will require useful workers only, doctors, nurses, teachers etc. and there will be no need for work such as pushing numbers around on a computer in a bank in the City of London, which is useless to humanity - and indeed harmful.
What is produced will be of the highest quality, and beauty, and made to last and be repairable. My laptop packed up last week and I put it in for repair. But they couldn’t fix it because they couldn’t get the replacement part – this laptop is only a little over a year old, but it is obsolete. Throw it away, and get another was the advice. This is purposefully a planned obsolescence, to drive demand for new production within modern capitalism.
In Green Party circles you hear a lot about sustainability, or sustainable production, but we ecosocialists prefer the word sufficiency, or sufficient production. Only as much as is needed will be produced, and no more. It should go without saying that the production process will be in balance with nature too.
Radical Democracy
Democracy in an ecosocialist society will devolve all decisions down to the lowest possible level. A series of assemblies, local, town, regional and at least at first, national. The assemblies will be freely elected and each assembly will be subject to recall from the level below, and assembly members should serve only one term. Eventually, the central state will be dissolved.
All of this must seem like a million miles away – and it is. But now is not the same thing as the future. The ecological crisis will get worse, if we carry on like we are, and will present opportunities where radical solutions are sought. We must be ready to seize these opportunities.
And where does this all leave the Green Party? Well, interestingly The Guardian newspaper, during the UK 2015 general election campaign, twice, once by one of its columnists and once in an editorial, described the Green Party as ecosocialist.
I think what was meant by this, was concern for the environment and advocating things like nationalising the railways and energy companies – all of which is to the good, but it is not really ecosocialism.
The Green Party seems to have some hazy notions which are heading in the right direction, but for some reason, fails to follow through this thinking to its logical end – ecosocialism.
We in Green Left, try to push it along a bit, so that the Green Party fulfils its radical agenda, which logically means parting company with capitalism and championing ecosocialism.  

Monday, 4 February 2019

The Climate Crisis - End Times, Dead Ahead


Written by Richard Burke and first published at Green Social Thought

“It is time we consider the implications of it being too late to avert a global environmental catastrophe in the lifetimes of people alive today.” (Jem Bendell)
In other words, the world is coming to an end.
Of course it is… but when?

Professor Jem Bendell’s brilliant seminal work, “Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy” d/d July 27th 2018, claims the time is now, within a decade, not sometime in the distant future. Not only that, he suggests embracing this transcendental experience that’s colloquially known as “End Times.”

Along those lines, a powerful intimately conceived film by ScientistsWarningTV.org produced by Stuart Scott captures Bendell’s inner thoughts about “what’s important” in the face of near extinction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vwbanH9pgY&feature=youtu.be

Bendell’s 15-minute video monologue should be viewed in the context of the current status of the world’s climate crisis, which is a mindboggling steroid-enhanced-CO2-laced trip to nowhere but trouble, and it’s smack dab on target (actually ahead of target) for a grim, bleak world that alters all life and contorts the socio-economic compact, meaning sudden death for the “neoliberal brand” of capitalism, which will not survive once the world comes to accept and recognize its inherent villainy, notably its massive extensive disruption of the earth system of life, or Gaia.

Even worse yet, total annihilation of almost all life is a probability, a scenario that a small minority of scientists embrace. Those scientists believe that an extinction event is baked-in-the-cake, inevitable, inescapable within current lifetimes because of excessive human-caused greenhouse gases such as CO2, which, in turn, disrupts James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis, meaning the biosphere has a self-regulatory effect on Earth that sustains life. 

Destroy one ecosystem and all others will fail in time and most of Earth becomes uninhabitable.

Decidedly, as well as factually, the planet has a long history of uninhabitable epochs known as extinction events (five times in the past), although the past occurrences were much slower than today’s zip zap exponential speedway to obliteration that literally takes one’s breath away! Never before has impending cataclysm been on such a rapid ascent as the 21st century.

On the other hand, who really believes it (“extinction”) will happen? Answer: Almost nobody believes it. As for the world at large, the “big it” isn’t remotely possible. All of which makes Bendell’s essay and monologue so intriguing and compelling as an alternative viewpoint. He embraces the “what if the worst-case scenario” really (surprise, surprise) happens?

Meantime, as things stand today, the world has come to its senses about the relentless severe dangers inherent within excessive CO2 emitted by power plants, cars, trucks, and planes. After all, greenhouse gases cumulate in the stratosphere, similar to layers of heavy woolen blankets, which, in turn, traps global heat which otherwise would escape into outer space, but no, it’s trapped. 

Assuredly, excessive greenhouse gases with concomitant global warming compelled a gathering of nations at Paris 2015 in agreement to limit global warming to 1.5-2.0C?

But honestly, come on now! Are humans omnipotent enough to “control the climate” to +1.5-2.0C from baseline post-industrial without unintended blow-back and/or f/ups of major proportions? Is it really so simple? Answer: No.

Some knowledgeable sources claim it’ll be 10-20 years, or more, before technology is perfected and fully implemented to alter human-caused climate damage with any degree of proficiency, but that presumes an engineered concept sizeable enough in-scale to do the trick, which is the bane of on-going geoengineering efforts.

Although, eleventh-hour rescues seldom succeed within enough time.

Already, the Paris 2015 climate accord is poignant proof that the world recognizes the dangers of abrupt climate change and a lot of very smart people are scared as hell! Still, the problem remains: Nobody seems to know what to do other than theorize, experiment and talk, which is notoriously cheap.

As it happens, nothing of major consequence is being done to stop an extinction event. As of today, fossil fuels emitting CO2 remain at 80-85% of energy consumption (Source: U.S. EIA, Washington, D.C.) the same as 50 years ago. Nothing positive has happened for decades!

Come to think of it, is it really too late?

Yes, according to Bendell, it is too late. He carefully reviewed the scientific literature as well as accessing research institutions to get to the bottom of the current status of climate change. What he discovered is basic to his conviction that society is headed for a train wreck of enormous proportions.

Deep Adaptation offers examples of likely outcomes, to wit: “With the power down, soon you wouldn’t have water coming out of your tap. You will depend upon your neighbours for food and some warmth. You will become malnourished. You won’t know whether to stay or go. 

You will fear being violently killed before starving to death.”

Professor Bendell concludes: “Disruptive impacts from climate change are now inevitable. Geoengineering is likely to be ineffective or counter-productive. Therefore, the mainstream climate policy community now recognizes the need to work much more on adaptation to the effects of climate change… Societies will experience disruptions to their basic functioning within less than ten years due to climate stress. Such disruptions include increased levels of malnutrition, starvation, disease, civil conflict and war – and will not avoid affluent nations.”

It goes without saying Bendell’s contention may or may not play out accordingly. And in sharp contrast to his forlorn viewpoint, human ingenuity has been a powerful force over millennia and hopefully comes to the rescue. But then again, it’s human ingenuity that got into this mess in the first place.
Is it too late?

Ecosystems are already starting to crumble where no people live so nobody sees it. 

Meanwhile, a lot of very smart well-informed people are scared as hell, but hush-hushed. Indeed, a few scientists, but very few public voices, believe society is fast approaching “lights out.” It’s why Jem Bendell wrote Deep Adaptation.

Postscript:The Australian Bureau of Meteorology said mid -January 2019 marked the hottest days on record. Authorities are blaming the pounding heat wave for massive die-offs of bats on biblical scale and fish, as well as farms with “fruit still on the trees cooked from the inside out.” Ominous? Oh, Yes!

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Global warming is unstoppable while capitalism blocks prevention


Written by Ed Finn and first published at rabble.ca

The tenacious refusal of the world’s business and political leaders to heed the warnings of climate scientists about global warming raises the stark possibility that it may already be too late. The tipping point beyond which concerted preventive action becomes impracticable is just 12 years away, according to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

That’s all the time the IPCC scientists give us to keep the global temperature from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius. If it rises higher than that, they warn, the consequent intensity of extreme heat, pollution, droughts, floods, hurricanes, wildfires, rising sea levels, and consequent mounting hunger, poverty, and mass displacements will annihilate billions of people.

Realistically, what are the odds that the scientists’ latest warning about global warming will be heeded, any more than their many previous alarms have been in the past?

I’d put the odds against at 100-to-1, perhaps even 1,000-to-1.

Starting with the Club of Rome’s seminal study on The Limits of Growth in 1972, climatologists, ecologists and other scientists have been trying to stop the economic folly of pursuing infinite growth on a finite planet. They have repeatedly called for curbs on carbon dioxide emissions, air and ocean pollution, resource depletion, deforestation, armed conflict, poverty, inequality, and overpopulation -- each successive plea differing only in its mounting urgency as it fails to spur preventive corporate and political action.

This apparent indifference of CEOs to a looming climate catastrophe is often mistakenly attributed to their dismissal of global warning as a hoax. Some of them undoubtedly are deniers, but most, though they may be avaricious and heartless, are not stupid. They can’t dispute the overwhelming scientific evidence that global warming is real and that, left unchecked, it will make the planet unlivable for billions of people, possibly even wipe out human civilization.

The entrenchment of capitalism

Why, then, you may ask, do business executives stubbornly continue to maintain a ruinous economic system whose contamination of the environment is clearly the chief cause of global warming?

The obvious answer is that neoliberal capitalism is now so deeply entrenched in both law and practice that even the most intelligent and ethical corporate officials dare not try to reform it on their own. Their legal charters and business mandates oblige them to make the maximization of profits and shareholder dividends their overriding objective. That fixation trumps everything else (no pun intended), including the broad public interest, a clean environment, and even humankind’s survival. 

The enshrinement of profit maximization is built into Canada’s business legislation, as it is in the United States and elsewhere. Our courts uphold this principle. In a noteworthy case in 2004 (the People vs. Wise), Canada’s Supreme Court ruling was based on the Canadian Business Corporations Act. The relevant section of this Act states that corporate directors and officers “owe their fiduciary obligations to the corporation, and the corporation’s interests are not to be confused with the interests of creditors or any other stakeholders.”

And there you have it. Any CEO or board of directors rash enough to deviate from the pursuit of profits for any reason – for the benefit of employees, customers, society as a whole, or even the planet – would be severely chastised. Either they’d be sued by major shareholders under the Act, or the subsequent decline in profits would leave them vulnerable to a hostile takeover.

So the corporations, in effect, are compelled by the law, by the greed of their investors, and by the very nature of their unbridled capitalist economic system, to continue their destructive assault on the environment. Capitalism is inherently dependent on maintaining the lunacy of perpetual economic growth, and hence opposed to any limits being placed on its virulent pursuit of profits. Capitalism and a clean climate, in short, are clearly incompatible. 

As for the world’s governments, who hypothetically have the obligation and potential ability to restrain the corporate environment-wreckers, they have also been effectively hamstrung. The far superior financial and economic might amassed by the big business barons now empowers them, in effect, to dictate most governments’ policies and priorities.

Certainly, any political attempt to seriously hobble the dominant capitalist system is now unthinkable. Even the corporations’ power to retaliate by shifting factories, jobs and investments to more compliant low-wage, low-tax countries is in itself a strong deterrent to would-be political planet-savers.

Is resistance now futile?

With both corporations and complicit governments thus locked into a perpetuation of environmentally destructive capitalism, it is not surprising that some scientists and activists have become deeply discouraged, and a small but growing number forlornly conceding that further resistance is probably futile.

Among the stalwarts who adamantly remain convinced that the struggle is not yet lost is climatologist Bill McKibben. In a recent New Yorker essay, he admits that “we are on a path of self-destruction, but argues that “there is nothing inevitable about our fate. Solar panels and wind turbines are now among the least expensive ways to produce energy. Storage batteries are cheaper and more efficient than ever. We could move quickly if we chose to, but we’d need to opt for solidarity and co-ordination on a global scale.”

He admits, however, that “the chances of that look slim.” One wonders, as time passes through the relatively brief 12-year deadline set by the ICCP, how much longer McKibben’s optimism will last.      

One of the eminent experts on the environment who is not at all sanguine about humanity’s chance of survival is Elizabeth Colbert, a staff writer for the New Yorker and author of a recent best-selling book, The Sixth Extinction.

She lists the five major extinction events that have occurred since complex animals evolved on Earth more than 500 million years ago, first quoting from a plaque in the Hall of Biodiversity in the Museum of Natural History in New York:

“Global climate change and other causes, including collisions between Earth and extraterrestrial objects, were responsible for the previous five extinctions. But today we are in the midst of the Sixth Extinction, this time caused solely by humanity’s transformation of the ecological landscape.”

“In an extinction event of our own making,” Colbert muses, “what will happen to us?” Her blunt answer: “Most likely, we will cause our own extinction.”

She reminds us that, “Having freed ourselves from the constraints of evolution, humans still remain dependent on Earth’s biological and geochemical systems. By disrupting these systems -- cutting down tropical rainforests, altering the composition of the atmosphere, acidifying the oceans -- we are putting our own survival in danger.”

In her book, she describes how humans have already driven hundreds of species into extinction, and many more into near-extinction. On a planet where most forms of life are interdependent to some extent, this mass slaughter is disastrous.

She quotes Paul Ehrlich, an ecologist at Stanford University: "In pushing other species into extinction, humanity is busy sawing off the limb on which it perches."
Colbert concludes her book with this somber epilogue: “Right now we are deciding, without meaning to, which evolutionary pathways will remain open and which will forever be closed. 

No other creature has ever managed this, and it will unfortunately be our most enduring legacy. The Sixth Extinction will continue to determine the course of life long after everything people have written and painted and built have been ground into dust and giant rats have inherited the Earth.”

Prominent pessimists

An even more pessimistic writer on the environment is William T. Vollmann, whose latest book, Carbon Ideologies, was recently reviewed in Harper’s by Nathaniel Rich. He describes it as "one of the most honest -- and fatalistic -- books about global warming yet written."

Rich notes that nearly every book about climate change that has been written for a general audience contains within it a message of hope, and often a prod toward action. But Vollmann declares from the outset that he will not offer any solutions because he does not believe any are possible:

“Nothing can be done to save the world as we know it; therefore, nothing need be done.”

Rich says that anyone who begins reading Carbon Ideologies in a hopeless mood will finish it hopeless. “So will the hopeful reader. But there exist other kinds of readers. Those who do not read for advice or encouragement or comfort. Those who seek to understand human nature, and themselves. Because human nature is Vollmann’s true subject -- as it must be.

"The story of climate change hangs on human nature, not geophysics. Vollmann seeks to understand ‘how we could not only sustain, but accelerate the rise of atmospheric carbon levels, all the while expressing confusion, powerlessness, and resentment.’ Why did we take such insane risks? Could we have behaved any other way? If not, what conclusions must we draw about our lives and our future?"

Rich sees Carbon Ideologies as being “in the vanguard of the coming second wave of climate literature -- books written not to diagnose or solve the problem, but to grapple with its moral consequences.”

One of the climate commentators already in this vanguard is author Jonathan Franzen, whose latest book from Farrar, Straus and Giroux is titled The End of the End of the Earth. He bluntly compares the state of our planet to “a patient with bad cancer” whose death is certain and whose main concern is maintaining as good a quality of life as possible before the end.

"Drastic planetary overheating is a done deal," Franzen declared in an article he wrote in 2015. "No head of state anywhere, even in places most threatened by flooding or drought, has committed to leaving carbon in the ground." The essay was angrily denounced at the time, especially by environmentalists and critics on the left.

In an interview with Postmedia, Franzen said that, if the essay had been published today, he wouldn’t expect it to have had such a furious reaction. “I think in the last three-and-a-half years that it has become much more apparent to many more people that we are not stopping climate change. We’re not even coming close to stopping it. In fact, we are continuing to accelerate it.”

He says that his foremost aim is to encourage people to live responsibly in the face of our all but certain extinction as a species. “Our world is poised to change vastly, and mostly for the worst. I don’t have any hope that we can stop this change from coming. My only hope is that we can accept the reality in time to prepare for it."

In much the same vein, Postmedia’s David Reevely, in a column last fall titled "Let’s prepare for climate change if we’re not going to fight it," urged that Canadian governments should at least make it a priority to help people adapt to a much warmer future.

Among his suggestions were: conserve city water and get used to brown parks and fields during the summer; renovate public buildings, especially schools and nursing homes, to cope with hotter weather; add air-conditioning, improve ventilation, and plant more shade trees; increase our capacity to fight forest fires; enhance medical research and training to cope with tropical diseases that don’t yet afflict us here; start building high flood walls around our coastal cities to protect them from rising sea levels; build more and wider roads to the Far North, so that, “when the Russians start eyeing our Arctic (as a safer residence), we can stop them with something other than pickup trucks."

"All of this, Reevely admits, “will make for a more expensive, more precarious, more cruel world. But, if we aren’t seriously trying to stop global warming, we should at least be getting ready for it."

Plutocrats plan for survival

Ironically, that is what many of the main propagators of global warming are doing. Corporate executives who are locked into the capitalist system’s suicidal pursuit of profits are secretly preparing to survive the catastrophic outcome.

This activity was revealed last year by the New Yorker’s Evan Osnos in an article aptly titled Survival of the Richest, and subtitled Why some of America’s wealthiest people are preparing for disaster.

Osnos tells us that “survivalism -- the practice of preparing for a crackup of civilization -- has spread among many of the CEOs, financiers, bankers and big investors: the same capitalist kingpins whose devastation of the planet is causing the catastrophe they now plan to outlive.”

He says it’s difficult to find out how many wealthy people have become survivalists, but notes that it has certainly taken root in Silicon Valley and New York among technology executives and hedge-fund managers.

Osnos was told by Steve Huffman, co-founder and CEO of Reddit, that he and at least half of the Silicon Valley billionaires have acquired some "apocalypse insurance" in the form of "a hideaway somewhere in the U.S. or abroad." One of them has bought five wooded acres on an island in the Pacific Northwest and stocked it with generators, solar panels and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Others have bought houses or cabins in New Zealand, which has become a favoured refuge from a global cataclysm.

Other wealthy would-be survivalists have built luxury complexes underground in abandoned nuclear missile silos. One of them, Larry Hall, paid $300,000 for a silo and another $20 million to create 12 private apartments that he has sold for $3 million each. They are stocked with enough food to sustain 75 people for five years, mainly by raising tilapia in fish tanks, and growing hydroponic vegetables under glow lamps.

"Opulent survival shelters like this, of course, are beyond the financial capacity of most victims of an apocalyptic event,” Osnos points out. “It is bitterly ironic that those most likely to live through such a calamity are the ones whose greed and power precipitated it."

Extinction may yet be averted

Despite these bleak and depressing forecasts, most people continue to reject rather than accept them. Perhaps they are right to remain optimistic about the future and continue to “eat, drink and be merry” as long as they can. But will the wisest and brightest of them belatedly be motivated by the increasing violence of Nature’s wrath to build the equivalent of Noah’s ark?

That will depend on whether and when enough people come to realize that the oncoming climate catastrophe is being caused primarily by the ravagement of Earth’s air, water and soil by the world’s big corporations. Specifically, by the dominant cancerous capitalist economic system that they have inflicted on the planet.

Regrettably, this pernicious corporate cancer will not be “cured” before the ICCP’s 12-year deadline elapses in 2020. But it’s not inconceivable that it will be detected and the first essential survival measures taken by that time.

It depends on how long it will take for the planetary vandalism  of unfettered capitalism to become so glaringly obvious that the exposure of its colossal carnage will spark a worldwide revolution and the overthrow of global plutocracy. Capitalism would then be replaced by some form of progressive democracy dedicated to saving as many people as possible from the devastation of an overheated planet.

The world's most brilliant thinkers and scientists would then be assigned the imperative mission of devising ways and means of preventing humankind’s extinction.

Even such a tardy endeavour would almost certainly succeed in saving millions of people -- many more than the wealthy few thousand hunkered in their underground bunkers. Certainly enough of them with the knowledge and dedication to undertake the monumental task of restoring some semblance of civilization for the survivors.

This optimistic prospect of humanity’s rescue from oblivion may seem as unlikely as the pessimistic outlook of the prominent skeptics quoted above. It will all depend on how much longer the corporate oligarchs and their political lackeys are permitted to keep poisoning and despoiling the planet. On how long, in effect, corrosive and unchecked capitalism is allowed to keep dragging us toward the abyss.

That nightmare looks like it will continue for at least another decade, until after the climatologists’ tipping-point deadline has passed. We can only hope, therefore, that humankind’s extinction will ultimately be forestalled by the too-long-delayed extinction of capitalism.

Ed Finn grew up in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, Canada, where he became worked as a printer’s apprentice, reporter, columnist, and editor of that city’s daily newspaper, the Western Star. His career as a journalist included 14 years as a labour relations columnist for the Toronto Star. He was part of the world of politics between 1959 and 1962, serving as the first provincial leader of the NDP in Newfoundland. He worked closely with Tommy Douglas for some years and helped defend and promote medicare legislation in Saskatchewan.