Sunday 23 December 2018

2018 – The Year in Blog Posts

Below are the most popular posts on this blog, as judged by unique page views, by month, for 2018. The blog is closing now until the New Year.

Happy holiday to all our readers.


It is not just a lefty like me pondering this matter, the Tories are openly posing this question themselves. Rumours are circulating that membership has fallen to as low as 70,000, and this is causing some soul searching in the party.


I am from a Labour party supporting background, raised in local authority housing, schooled and paid for and maintained in higher education by the same municipality, a Labour run council. My dad was a shop steward in the engineering union too, so it’s no surprise then that I have never even considered supporting the Tory party.


Being gay in Pakistan is a much bigger deal than in Britain, and this news could well endanger Sanni’s family. Why Parkinson decided to make public the fact he and Sanni had had an eighteen month relationship, is not entirely clear, but it certainly looks like an attempt to smear Sanni’s revelations in some way as unreliable.


The local authority elections on 3 May, are the last full scale elections in England before our departure from the European Union in March 2019. Yes, it looks like we will get a transitional deal which will last for almost two further years, when to all intents and purposes nothing will change, but we will no longer be a member of the EU. So, this is the last chance to send a message to the Labour and Tory parties, whose leaderships are in favour leaving.


After writing about the Royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle recently, I got to thinking about the overall cost of the Monarchy to UK taxpayers. Estimates put the cost of the wedding itself at around £32 million, but this is just an added extra. The more you look into the matter, the more you wonder why we put up with this historical privilege?


“It’s not the despair, I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.” So says John Cleese in the film Clockwise. This quote rather sums up the attitude of England football fans as each World Cup and European Championship comes around. The 2018 World Cup in Russia began yesterday, and England fans and pundits are in familiar territory.


With stories circulating about the British government stockpiling food, as part of a plan to cover the eventuality of a no deal Brexit, there is talk that the UK should become more self-sufficient in food once we leave the European Union (EU). Of course all this would take time, certainly longer than by our exit from the EU, which will happen in eight months’ time. But as a longer term objective, this would surely be a sensible thing to do. It would avoid tailbacks at ports and environmentally concerned people should welcome it, too. But is it feasable?


It is more than two years now since the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU), where of course we voted to leave. It has been a feature, during the referendum campaign itself and in the period since, that those who advocated Brexit haven’t come up with any sort of plan for life outside of the union. What kind of relationship with the EU do they want, if any at all?


In fighting antisemitism for a long time, the threat has been adequately understood as ‘hostility towards Jews as Jews’.  But this simple definition does not suffice for a different political agenda, namely: conflating antisemitism with criticism of Israel in order to attack the Palestine solidarity movement and intimidate its supporters.   This article will explain the attack, its background in a racist agenda and the necessary anti-racist response. For numerous sources, see hyperlinks in this piece.


In her closing address, Theresa May, the prime minister, told the Conservative Party Conference removing the cap on local authority borrowing against Housing Revenue Accounts (HRA) would help the Government achieve its ambition of building 300,000 homes a year by the middle of the next decade.


Following my involvement, on Saturday 17 November, in Extinction Rebellion’s very successful Rebellion Day 1 in London, friends have said I should feel proud of what I did.  ‘Yes’, I was one of over 6000 climate protectors who, peacefully, blocked 5 of London’s central bridges for most of that day - my allocated one was Lambeth Bridge:


Capitalist climate governance has always relied on pseudo-reforms that leave the richest free to accumulate capital, while dumping taxes on working people to nudge them in the ’right direction’. But as the protests of the gilets jaunes show, many working people no longer accept the moralising terms of capitalist approaches to climate change. In this article, Andreas Malm argues that if we really want to save this Planet, we must pursue a different kind of climate politics, one that could learn a great deal from the methods and tactics of the gilets jaunes. 

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Everything is political. Can we please stop f**king pretending that it isn’t!

Written by Jim Scott

Absolutely every single aspect of our lives’ is political; from the big issues like Climate Breakdown, Hospitals and Food-banks to the precious metals in our smart phones, the chemicals in our toothpaste and the socks on our feet. The second we wake up each day to the moment we go to sleep, everything is political, even while or where we sleep!

We often hear people make comments like; “Oh, I’m not political” or; “I can’t stand politics & politicians”. While it is perfectly understandable that many people feel contempt or apathy towards an arguably corrupt and detached political class, are we not negating our own responsibilities to creating the kind of world we want to see by taking this disconnected & non-committal approach?

David Attenborough gave a very powerful speech to the COP24 conference recently, highlighting climate breakdown and the mass extinctions that we face on global scale if the ‘decision makers’ do not act immediately to reverse global emissions. For once, the BBC ran this topic as a headline story and ran it for an entire day. Yet, with their backdrop of the Polish coal mining industry, the media coverage was ‘in hock’ to say the least to the fossil fuel industry by the very way in which they framed the story.

I don’t doubt Attenborough’s commitment to this issue for one minute but he is not coming at this from a ‘political’ or ‘politically aware’ standpoint, if he was then he would have known exactly how to respond when the BBC tried to torpedo his arguments by asking him what his solutions were for the Polish Coal miners & their families and the effect that losing the Polish coal industry would have on their livelihoods. His answer was along the lines of; “things change”, “workers will have to adapt”, yet if he was politically aware he would have known all the arguments straight ‘off the bat’ and could have reeled off all the positive alternatives to coal.

He could have talked about Green jobs, disruptive technologies, disinvestment, and the HUGE opportunities the Green economy will offer Coal miners, in terms of high skilled, well paid & secure jobs. Everything is political, impending Climate breakdown is the most pressing political issue of our time, it is simply ludicrous to not recognise that and not to campaign directly on those terms.

A similar example can be seen with the many Tory MP’s now ‘gas-lighting’ at Foodbanks all over Britain, posing for publicity photos at the very foodbanks their own policies have created the need for, this isn’t new either. I wrote this letter back in 2014 to our local papers when our Tory MP, Stephen Crabb shamelessly posed for photos at our local foodbank just three days before he voted in Westminster; ‘Against the publication of an investigation into food bank use & UK hunger, and against the motion which called on the government to implement measures to reduce dependency on food banks.’

Crabb has also consistently voted for cuts to welfare spending, benefits and to reduce support for disabled people despite knowing exactly the effects these cuts are having. Allowing these carpet-bagging Tory MP’s to steal publicity at the very foodbanks they have created isn’t just ‘a little bit unseemly’ it’s outright immoral, it’s completely disgusting on every level! 

Yet Foodbank charities allow this Tory gas-lighting because they have to stay ‘politically neutral’ and need the publicity themselves, the whole thing is like some kind of monstrous, dystopian farce! It would actually be funny if it wasn’t so obscene! The publicity and votes that these MP’s gain from being seen as ‘caring individuals’ or as philanthropists is nothing but ‘political’ to them!

Stephen Crabb even attended our local foodbank’s AGM this year! Yet a local Labour member who collects for the foodbank and who’d brought toys for the Christmas toy appeal in a bag with the Labour logo on it was told to; “put it in another bag” for fear of it looking like ‘political’ opportunism. No doubt Crabb got some nice photos for his Facebook page and the local papers though!

Our local Hospital, Withybush Hospital in Pembrokeshire, is under threat of closure, the official campaign team says that our campaign has to remain completely ‘non-political’, yet surely it couldn’t get any more political! After 40 years of neoliberalism, what the campaign is failing to recognise is that it’s right a wing ideology itself that we are fighting here. Yes, the hospital was already under threat while under Labour control from both Westminster and the Welsh Assembly governments’, but eight years of politically motivated Tory austerity now signals the death knell for our hospital.

The founding principles of the NHS have been laid waste to by 40 years of successive right wing governments’, it’s the political ideology that we need to be fighting here. So this means fighting the neoliberal consensus, whether we hear it from the Clinical Directors, the Health Board, the (slowly moving back to the left) Welsh Labour Government, the Tories or their cohorts inside the British media establishment. Our hospital will close due to the cumulative, political shift to the right which we have witnessed over the last 40 years by our Governments, our media and our national consciousness.

It really couldn’t be any more political. The fight to save our hospital will never be won until the campaign itself, both identifies and targets the neoliberal ideologies that are driving the closures in the first place.

So it’s all very well for people to say; “I’m not political”, or them saying; “I’m an anarchist, f**k politics etc..”. I also personally hold strong anarchist principles too and would embrace the chance to be off in the hills right now growing food instead of fighting politically driven injustices. Indeed, it’s often quoted that; “growing your own food is one of the greatest forms of resistance”. I agree with that sentiment wholeheartedly, however, that in itself is a massively political choice to make and we all need to start making these choices at every level of our lives but we need to recognise what these choices mean & why we’re making them.

If we are apathetic and take no part in the political agendas which influence every aspect of our surroundings, then we ignore the for instance, that the metals and minerals found in our Smart phones have largely been torn from the ground in north Africa. Where corporations with scant regard for environmental protections or their employee’s safety, exploit the workers who they force into terrible working conditions and where they fund and arm militias armies to murder & put-down any uprisings that emerge from the indigenous people.

To ignore politics, is to ignore the chemicals that ‘are’ or ‘are not’ allowed in our toothpaste and in our food, it is to ignore the child worker who worked in the factory that made our socks and clothes. We will face catastrophic climate breakdown if we fail to halt the fossil fuel industry in its tracks, and to stop the one hundred companies who are responsible for 71% of global emissions in the next 5-12 years.

These are giant, powerful, dirty, irresponsible & exploitative companies and the only way we can stop them is via political means. Governments around the world including our own are locked in to a toxic three-way embrace with the corporations and liberal capitalism itself, they prop each other up and sustain each other’s agendas’.

The arms industry and constant exploitative wars, are all facilitated by this toxic interdependency. If we fail to recognise it for what it is how can we ever stop it? There is not one item in our homes’ that doesn’t carry a political footprint or hold political meaning, not one aspect of our lives’ that is not tainted one way or the other by the political agendas’ of others or by past political choices. The sugar and fat levels in our food, the amount of money in our pay packet, the number of hours we work each week –all political.

The better we begin to understand how all the pieces of this vast political jigsaw fit together the better equipped we are as a global race to begin to create our own pieces of the jigsaw in order to build the type of world that we all want to see, namely; a world that won’t be destroyed by the inherent & hardwired greed of capitalism but we need to analyse everything in the world around us and every aspect of our lives in order to do that.

Jim Scott is a rural activist, Eco-Socialist campaigner and writer, a member of Pembrokeshire Green Party and a Green Left supporter

Sunday 16 December 2018

Earth Strike Press Release

In response to the growing concern of climate issues, several mass protests are scheduled to take place on January 15, 2019. The protesters hope to raise awareness to the ongoing climate crisis and pressure leaders to act on those issues. The demonstrations are organized by a grassroots movement known as Earth Strike.

Earth Strike is an international movement that is dedicated to climate justice by enacting widespread, global change through industry-disrupting actions and other public demonstrations. The movement plans to have the January protests act as the kick-off for the campaign.

Following the initial protests, the Earth Strike movement to continue strategically planning mass demonstrations on days chosen for the most impact and economics disruptions, synchronised across the globe. Frequent wildcat strikes, organized industrial actions, protests, direct actions and climate related mutual aid efforts can all be expected during the Earth Strike campaign. Exact locations of the demonstrations have yet to be determined.

The Earth Strike movement plans to lead up to a general strike that is set to take place worldwide in September 2019. The Earth Strike movement’s demands aim to ensure that the world’s top polluters are held responsible for climate issues and that world leaders will work together to combat climate change in a productive and timely manner.

The recent UN report on climate change left the world rattled by its grim outlook and this new movement is evidence of that growing upset. The Earth Strike movement itself began as a simple call to action on the online forum Reddit. 

That simple call to action quickly spread throughout social media. Within mere hours, hundreds of people began working together to organize an international campaign. Within the next few days, those numbers grew into the thousands and still continue to climb. Currently, the movement has National Organisers overseeing National Campaigns in over 15 countries, a number which also continues to grow.

More information about Earth Strike can be found at or, by following @StrikeEarth on Twitter.   

Friday 14 December 2018

Environmental populisms could contribute to upholding Climate Justice

Written by Kai Bosworth and first published at Entitle Blog

Rather than (only) critiquing and dismissing existing uses of ‘the people’ as insufficient, political ecology could contribute to a new international populism capable of upholding climate justice.

Undoubtedly, something akin to ‘authoritarian populism’ is once again on the rise. This concept grew to prominence through the analysis of Stuart Hall and colleagues in the late 1970s and early 1980s as a diagnosis of the rise of Thatcherism and its hold on popular politics. 

The term was frequently and heavily debated in the New Left Review throughout the decade, in part because it seemed to so accurately predict the rise of neoliberal style of economic governance. By ‘authoritarian populism’, Hall and his colleagues meant to point out something of a tension: that a form of ostensibly “democratic” politics could, in the very name of ‘the people’, result in the beckoning in of a strong and interventionist capitalist state.

Defining populism

In reflecting on the origins of the concept, Hall described authoritarian populism as a ‘deliberately contradictory term’. It demonstrated for him the eternal tension between coercion and consent in struggles for political hegemony.

But by 2018, the concept seems to have lost any such sense of internal dissonance. Populism is understood to be nearly synonymous with the political right, nativism, strongman politics, faux representation, Brexit, Donald Trump, xenophobia, and – consequently – anti-environmental politics.

Think, for example, of Trump’s use of the coal miner as a stand-in for the ‘everyday 

American’, despite the fact that the ‘everyday American’ is far more likely to work at even a single fast food chain like Arby’s than in a coal mine. Such analogies effectively tap into the desires of how (some) Americans imagine themselves and their country, using the language of ‘the people’ to secure consent for transparently authoritarian policies.

Today, populism is leveraged by both liberals and much of the left as a self-evidently pejorative term to diagnose such a situation. For technocratic liberals, this is understandable: because populism shirks institutionalized expertise, democratic process, and the norms of elite decorum, it is loathsome at face value.

For the left, this is more curious. Populism increasingly seems to be taken at face value as leading to an authoritarian mode of doing politics. Not only does such a position ignore the historical usage of the term to describe largely leftist movements, but it plays into the liberal diagnosis of all mass politics (left or right) as undemocratic and regressive in nature.

I am not particularly interested in reversing the moralizing of populism as a political strategy, as someone like Chantal Mouffe seems to suggest in her short book For a Left Populism. Instead, I want to write against the easy use of populism as a sledgehammer or wrecking ball. Like Hall, I want to argue ‘against the satisfactions which sometimes flow from applying simplifying analytic schemes to complex events’.

Genres of environmental populism

I agree that populism is a crucial performative style of politics at our current moment. This is why I wish to expand and complicate its definition, by suggesting that it exists in several genres. By genre, I mean something akin to Lauren Berlant’s definition as a ‘loose affectively-invested zone of expectations about the narrative shape a situation will take’. 

Thus political subjects emerge within ‘the feel’ of populist politics, which can lead nondeterministically to several different forms of doing politics. The feeling of resentment against establishment politicians, for example, need not be captured by the political right.

This leads me to suggest, first, while there are indeed authoritarian populisms, authoritarianism is neither the wellspring nor destination of all populisms. And, second, while there are anti-environmental populisms, at the same time, populist discourses and movements are increasingly emerging in articulation with various kinds of environmental and climate politics. They have different conceptualizations of ‘the people’ and ‘the enemy’, the state and sovereignty, and nature or the environment.

In two recent articles, I have tried to demonstrate the contradictions and potentialities that emerge when populism forms not as an anti-environmental movement, but from within environmentalism. In North America, at least, the People’s Climate Movement has become the coalescing framework for describing climate justice. I argue that this new formation, in part, is due to a style of left populism that rose to prominence in struggles against oil pipelines in the central United States.

There, a kind of progressive coalition politics – readily calling itself ‘populist’ – emerged through the formation of ‘unlikely alliances’ among white landowners, environmentalists, liberals, farmers, ranchers, and Native Nations, and was a primary reason that the Keystone XL pipeline in particular was delayed for the past decade. There is no point in moralizing the populist strategy undertaken by this movement: it both allowed for new alliances and new experimental modes of politics to emerge, while frequently resting on settler-colonial images of both history and the future.

The experience of studying the populist portion of the movement against the pipelines has led me to begin to broaden the scope of our understanding of environmental populism well beyond “the authoritarian.” In an article I am currently writing, I suggest that we might see at least five overlapping genres of populism: grassroots, left/socialist, reactionary or nationalist, anarchist, and Maoist. That’s right: even anarchist populism! The point, quite like Hall’s ‘authoritarian populism’, is to use a ‘deliberately contradictory term’ to expose the real potentialities emergent in contemporary climate politics.

The politics of the people

But beyond conceptual and theoretical assessments, is there any upshot for radical political ecologists to use the language of the people? What could be gained from the language of the people for political ecology as a mode of thought and intervention in the world?

While not always presented in terms of populist politics, accounts of everyday, democratic resistance of ‘the people’ are littered throughout the political ecology literature. Often times, it is this version of commoners, peasants, and underdogs who we attempt to side with. This orientation has been so common to the point that it garnered the infamously disparaging and dismissive ire of Vayda and Walters, who argued that political ecology has ‘a populist political agenda’.

And why shouldn’t it? Here we might have to think of a more specific orientation toward “the people,” one which begins to specify the content of that term. As Georg Lukács put it in his study of Lenin and the Russian revolution, ‘The vague and abstract concept of “the people” had to be rejected, but only so that a revolutionary, discriminating, concept of “the people” – the revolutionary alliance of the oppressed – could develop from a concrete understanding of the conditions of the proletarian revolution’.

Rather than (only) critiquing and dismissing existing uses of ‘the people’ as insufficient, retreating to our all-too-comfortable positions in esoteric groups with more comfortable names like the peasantry and proletariat, perhaps political ecologists could engage in such struggles over naming and representation at massified scales of the people. One would hope that such a practice could help create precisely the pathway Lukács describes, for developing a new international populism and a people as a subject capable of upholding climate justice against the reactionary, nationalist, fascist and – indeed – authoritarian populisms on the rise today.

Kai Bosworth is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Environment and Society, Institute at Brown for Environment and Society. @kaibosworth

Sunday 9 December 2018

Emmanuel Macron & the Yellow Vests Protests: A Lesson in How Not to Mitigate Climate Change

Written by Andreas Malm and first published at Europe Solidaires Sans Frontieres

Capitalist climate governance has always relied on pseudo-reforms that leave the richest free to accumulate capital, while dumping taxes on working people to nudge them in the ’right direction’. But as the protests of the gilets jaunes show, many working people no longer accept the moralising terms of capitalist approaches to climate change. In this article, Andreas Malm argues that if we really want to save this Planet, we must pursue a different kind of climate politics, one that could learn a great deal from the methods and tactics of the gilets jaunes.

If anyone needed another lesson in how not to mitigate climate change, they can thank Emmanuel Macron. Scrap taxes on the richest, then slap higher taxes on fuels: one more way of shooting oneself in the foot while claiming to be walking into a greener future. Capitalist climate governance has, of course, excelled in this kind of half-illusory, half-destructive pseudo-reforms for the past two decades.

Somehow, it always makes sure any actual burdens end up on the shoulders of the poor: convert agricultural land to biofuels and drive up food prices; offset luxury emissions by growing forests in Uganda, or some other far-off place, where the farmers must first be evicted; tell ordinary consumers in Western countries that they bear the responsibility for the excess of CO2 and have to choose better (usually more expensive) alternatives; or, as the last magic bullet, plan for geoengineering schemes destined to lay millions of already vulnerable lives to waste while saving business-as-usual for some time more.

Now Macron is the last hero of capitalist climate governance. Self-styled guardian of the Paris agreement, he has cultivated an aura as the one remaining world leader who keeps his eye on the prize of lower emissions. But he is coming too late, for the kind of governance he so loves proved itself bankrupt long ago. It took the gilets jaunes to shake him out of the illusion (at least for now): one cannot combat climate change by leaving the richest even freer to accumulate capital and then dump a tax on working people to nudge them, of all classes, in the right direction. That has never worked. It never will.

Unfortunately, the illusion is still alive in the bourgeois mainstream of the environmental movement: green lobbyists assembled at COP24 greeted Macron’s decision to suspend the fuel tax with ‘dismay’. ‘If France is putting a brake on the carbon tax, it puts a brake on energy transition and sends a very bad signal’, said Pierre Cannet, head of climate and energy policy at WWF France (although it seems the organisation – mimicking Macron, as it were – later realised its mistake and sent out a press release taking a distance from the tax).

But as Maxime Combes of Attac France explains in a splendid piece [1], the tax would never have precipitated something like an ‘energy transition’. It would not have converted the French car fleet to cloudlessness. Its only real effect would have been felt in the wallets of the most cash-strapped consumers who cannot afford to ditch their old cars.

Nonetheless, cars must indeed urgently be taken off our roads – so how do we make sure that happens? Through, for a start, massive expansion of public transportation in urban as well as rural areas, mass diffusion of alternative modes of transportation (electrical bicycles, car pools with electrified vehicles), prohibition of fossil-fuelled private cars in cities, re-zoning of economic activities to put an end to sprawl, swift electrification of residual necessary automobility – in short: public investment and public planning on the scale and at the intensity commensurate to the climate emergency. It would help if the car industry, in France as elsewhere, were ordered to shift production to the stuff needed in this transition, much like American auto plants were converted to the churning out of tanks in World War II.

All of this would have to demand the sacrifice of neither the jobs nor the living standards of working people, but could improve both, while most certainly clipping the wings of the ultra-rich. Now Macron doesn’t exactly look like the leader who contemplates such a package when going to bed at night.

The president of the rich would rather compensate for their sins by having others carry the cross until they stumble. But the time has passed when measures of this sort could even be imagined to make a difference for the climate: the time is over when the capitalist class can be left in peace. Any progress towards the goal of averting utter climate breakdown now rather requires that its palaces be overrun and stormed.

And here is a second, more productive lesson of the past weeks: this is how we can fight. Any progress on the climate front will happen through struggle, as in blocking traffic, walking out of schools, seizing central streets, attacking the most environmentally damaging of all forms of consumption – the conspicuous luxury orgies of the rich – and why not: burning cars. Since neither Macron nor any other leader of a capitalist state is prepared to do what has to be done, those states will have to be forced to do it, by precisely the kind of bottom-up power the yellow vests have so effectively paraded.

And there are, of course, climate movements that act in this spirit, notably Ende Gelände, which in late October sent some 6,000 activists (including a good contingent of French) towards the railway tracks that carry lignite, or brown coal, the dirtiest of fossil fuels, from the mines to the power-plants in the heartland of German industry. Here, the chimneys produce both a perpetual cloud of CO2 and handsome profits to their private owners.

Not so much when the activists of Ende Gelände blocked the tracks and physically prevented the conveyance of the coal, to ratchet up the pressure on Angela Merkel – Macron’s predecessor as the guardian angel of capitalist climate governance – to close the mines once and for all. Self-organised, unlicensed by the police, dressed not in yellow but in white uniforms, Ende Gelände has not quite reached the mass depth or insurrectionary pitch of the gilets jaunes: all the more reason to learn.

Conversely, one of the slogans sprayed on the walls of central Paris last Saturday read ‘the climate crisis is a war against the poor.’ But one could wish for a more pervasive climate militancy among the yellow vests. This is precisely the kind of convergence des luttes that is needed, and that looks like it might be in the cards for the upcoming fourth act.

If the convergence materialises this Saturday or not, one lesson can already be inferred: if more people than the French had a culture of resistance and knew how to fight, we might have been somewhere else than on this terribly hot planet. 

Thursday 6 December 2018

An Ecosocialist Path to Limiting Global Temperature Rise to 1.5°C

Written by Richard Smith and first published at System Change Not Climate Change

I. The IPCC Report “Global Warming of 1.5°C” and the imperative to immediately suppress fossil fuel production

The much-awaited report from the U.N.’s top climate science panel describes the enormous gap between where we are and where we need to be to prevent dangerous levels of global warming. The 2015 Paris climate accord committed industrial nations to reduce their emissions sufficiently to keep global temperatures within a 2°C rise over pre-industrial levels. In the final accord, highly vulnerable island nations and faith communities represented at the UN pressed the authors to include the 1.5°C limit as an aspirational target in the final draft of the accord with 2°C as the backup target.

Soaring GHG emissions over the past five years, rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations, ice-cap retreats, intensified storms, summer forest fires reaching even above the Arctic circle, and die-offs of the world’s coral reefs have all raised concerns about what even a little bit more warming would bring. Parts of the planet including the Arctic and many inland areas, have already warmed beyond 1.5°C. California is on fire most of the year. The worst hurricanes are twice as severe (more precipitation, slower passage, greater wind speeds) as they used to be. This is just a short start. Climate breakdown occurring much more quickly than expected is one reason why climate scientists now think that the goal just five years ago of limiting warming to 2°C  “increasingly seems disastrous in this context.”[2]

The Paris pledges were never sufficient even to keep warming below 3°C let alone 2°C. Few of the signatories have even managed to meet the low bars they set for themselves and the world’s largest countries including China, the U.S., and Canada have us on track to a 4-5°C warming. As CO2 concentrations continue growing, preventing runaway warming is going to require ever deeper, truly draconian cuts in emissions, which will mean greater economic disruption. IPCC estimates already show us needing to achieve a near vertical drop in emissions in the early 2020s. Every day we delay getting off of fossil fuels increases the probability that we won’t be able to save ourselves.

The 2018 IPCC special report painted a stark portrait of how quickly the planet is heating up and called on governments to take immediate steps to suppress emissions:

If emissions continue at current rate, atmosphere will warm by as much as 2.7° Fahrenheit, or 1.5° Celsius, above preindustrial levels by between 2030 and 2052. Further, warming is more extreme further inland of large water bodies. [To keep temperatures from rising beyond 1.5° degrees] anthropogenic CO2 emissions [must] decline by about 45% worldwide from 2010 levels by 2030 . . . [This] would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems. . . . These systems transitions are unprecedented in terms of scale . . . and imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors, a wide portfolio of mitigation options and a significant upswing in those options.[3]

Preventing ecological collapse requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that “has no documented historic precedent.”[4] What would this take? Myles Allen, Oxford University climate scientist and an author of the report said, “It’s telling us we need to reverse emissions trends and turn the world economy on a dime.” To prevent 2.7 degrees of warming greenhouse emission must be reduced by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, and by 100 percent by 2050. Use of coal as an electricity source would have to drop from 40 percent today to 1-7 percent by 2050.[5]

Drew Shindell of Duke University, another author of the report said: “It would be an enormous challenge to keep warming below a threshold” of 1.5 degrees . . . What might that look like? In part, it would include things such as no more gas-powered vehicles, a phaseout of coal-fired power plants and airplanes running on biofuels,” he said. “It’s a drastic change,” he said. “These are huge, huge shifts . . . This would really be an unprecedented rate and magnitude of change.”[6] In response to the report, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres warned world leaders to “Do what the science demands before it’s too late.”[7]

II. Capitalist priority to growth and profits over people and planet

Given this unprecedented existential crisis one might expect governments would responsibly meet this climate emergency with emergency plans to prevent ecological collapse -- bold proposals for “deep emissions reductions in all sectors,” for “far-reaching transitions in energy, land, infrastructure, and manufacturing” and so on. After all, the 2018 IPCC 1.5 C report makes clear that on present trends we could be facing the collapse of agriculture in California, the Great Plains, India, China, and much of Africa along with mass famine, submerging cities, destruction of the world’s last forests and worse, possibly as soon as 2040, well within the lifetime of many leaders today and certainly their and our children.

What’s more, the solution to our climate crisis is astonishingly simple and doesn’t require any new tech breakthroughs. The first step is to stop doing what we’re doing: immediately begin shutting down fossil fuel production, stop new drilling, stop producing and registering fossil fuel-powered vehicles, drastically curb air travel, ration fossil fuels, curtail manufacturing and construction. The second step is to force through an immediate transition to renewable energy across the economy (and do what we can to enable this transition around the world).

A. Where are the bold proposals?

Yet we hear no bold proposals to meet the challenge from any governments -- not from European socialist parties, not from Canadians or Australians (the leading exporters of the world’s dirtiest fuels), certainly not from the Chinese (the world’s largest polluters who, moreover, are now abandoning the limits on coal-burning they just imposed last year in order to restore growth in the face of the trade war),[8] let alone from the Trump administration. Trump’s response to his own government’s prediction of a 4°C warming by 2100 is “the planet’s fate is sealed” so we may as well abandon Obama’s federa fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks and “burn baby burn.”[9] To the extent we hear any proposals at all, it’s just renewed calls for more of the same carbon taxes, the same fantasy tech fixes like carbon capture and storage that have manifestly failed to staunch emissions to date.[10] Why is that?

The reason why no government dares take the obvious steps to save the humans is because no one has come up with a magic fix to suppress emissions without suppressing economic growth and profits. Given capitalism, economic growth and profit maximization must be systematically prioritized over all other considerations including emissions reduction or companies will fail, the economy will collapse, and mass unemployment will be the result: global warming may kill us in the long run but economic collapse will kill us in the short run. This is the ultimate contradiction of capitalism: We have to destroy our children’s tomorrows to hang onto our jobs today.

That’s why from the very first climate negotiations around the Kyoto Protocol in the 1990s, all efforts to contain emissions have been subordinated to maintaining economic growth. Year after year, decade after decade, for 21 straight years to COP21 at Paris in 2015, UNFCC annual summit negotiations invariably collapsed in failure and acrimony. Despite the pleas of climate scientists, desperate submerging Pacific islanders, Africans, Indians and others who contribute few emissions but suffer disproportionately from global warming-induced drought and crop failures, no industrial nation has been willing to accept binding emissions limits because they all understand that caps would suppress economic growth.

As George Bush Sr. infamously told the 1992 Climate summit, “The American way of life is not negotiable.” And if America will not accept binding emissions caps, why should China? Facing growing protests over their do-nothing annual summits, the only thing negotiators at Paris could agree on was to stop holding their embarrassing annual farces (henceforth they agreed to meet every five years instead) and contrive another “agreement” in which industrial countries pledged to reduce their emissions somewhat some day but are under no legal obligation to do so -- prompting James Hansen, the world’s foremost climate scientist, to complain that

It’s a fraud really, a fake. It’s just bullshit for them to say: “We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.” It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will continue to be burned.”[11]

B. Halting global warming requires degrowth, substantial de-industrialization

If there’s no magic tech fix then phasing out fossil fuel consumption has to mean shutting down or at minimum, drastically retrenching companies, beginning with the fossil fuel producers like Peabody Energy (coal), Exxon Mobil, Chevron, but continuing down the petrochemical food chain through the fossil fuel dependent industries. After all, it’s easy to blame the fossil fuel companies for global CO2 emissions.[12]

Environmental groups have focused too narrowly on fossil fuel producers, their pipelines and such, while ignoring the downstream industrial and personal consumers. Not to put too fine a point on it but the oil producers don’t burn the oil. We burn the oil producing, processing, transporting and refrigerating food, driving our cars, building our homes, heating and cooling our homes, manufacturing this and that, jetting off on vacations, and so on. Fossil fuels are pervasive. As this table shows, fossil fuel emissions are produced across the entire economy.

Total U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Economic Sector in 2016

Transportation                                               28.5%

Electricity                                                       28.4%

Industry                                                          22%

Commercial & Residential                             11%

Agriculture                                                       9%      

If governments in the industrialized economies had listened to climate scientists in the 1980s and taken steps then to radically suppress emissions, perhaps we wouldn’t be in the desperate fix we find ourselves in today. But they didn’t. They dithered, stalled, insisted on market “solutions” that were really designed to fail with the result now, after decades of “green captalism,” we find ourselves facing an existential crisis that admits of only one proximate solution: state intervention to slam the brakes on emissions by shutting down the emitters.

If we’re serious about suppressing fossil fuel emissions, then we have to drastically retrench and in some cases completely shut down thousands of downstream fossil fuel-dependent companies in transportation, petrochemicals and plastics, manufacturing, construction,[13] agribusiness, tourism and more in the U.S. alone. In cases like plastics, disposable products and others, we would have to virtually abolish entire industries because there’s just no other way to suppress their emissions and make them sustainable.

C. Why carbon taxes fail

Three years on from Paris nothing has changed: Soaring emissions, shocking increases in CO2 concentrations, arctic fires and floods notwithstanding, governments, economists, even climate scientists continue to proffer the same old market-based fake solutions: steeper carbon taxes, unproven, impossibly expensive “carbon removal” technologies, and fantastical geoengineering schemes.[14] Everything but the obvious: “deep emissions reductions in all sectors” at “unprecedented speed and scale.”

The UN IPCC scientists themselves called for steep increases in carbon taxes, pushing governments “to set a price high enough to spur truly deep as reductions in carbon emissions.”[15] This approach is hopelessly untenable. Why? Both cap and trade schemes and carbon taxes grew out of the Reagan-era Milton Friedmanite hostility to government “command and control” and the preference of Reagan, Clinton and subsequent governments for market approaches to all problems.

The idea was to incentivize businesses and consumers intead of imposing state-mandated quotas or rationing. The carbon tax idea was straightforward: tax fossil fuels and consumers and companies will seek non-fossil fuel alternatives. As taxed coal-fired power plants and fossil-fuel powered motor vehicles became more costly to operate relative to untaxed (and even subsidized) renewable energy and electric cars, over time coal and gas-fired power plants and petrol-powered motor vehicles would fade from the scene. The theory seemed compelling, even obvious, in the abstract.[16] In the real world, carbon taxes don’t work. The whole idea was doomed from the start.[17]

The problem is the economics: If the tax is too light, it fails to suppress fossil fuels enough to help the climate. But if it’s heavy enough to really suppress them, then companies and consumers balk and resist the tax -- because without any safety net for businesses and consumers, the entire burden falls on them, so they rationally resist to save profits and jobs. Thus to date, the only carbon taxes that have proven acceptable to governments and the voting public are those which are too light to do the job.

More than 40 governments including EU, California and British Columbia have imposed taxes on carbon but none has put more than a trivial dent in emissions.[18] A report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that the average carbon price across 42 major economies was around $8 per ton in 2018 (that’s equal to 7 cents on a gallon of gasoline) -- “far below the level that the IPCC scientists say is necessary to address climate change.”[19] No government will set a price high enough to spur truly deep reductions in carbon emissions because they all understand that this would force companies out of business, throw workers out of work, and possibly precipitate recession or worse. What government wants that?

The carbon tax “blueprint for destroying the world economy”

                                                                                                            -- Heritage Foundation

Given relentlessly growing emissions, and given the failure of modest carbon taxes to suppress fossil fuel production to date, the desperate IPCC climate scientists called on governments to impose truly draconian taxes -- on the order of $135 to $5,500 per ton, even $27,000 per ton -- whatever it takes to suppress fossil fuel consumption enough to keep global warming below 1.5° Celsius.[20]

The pro-market Heritage Foundation, not surprisingly, skewered this recommendation arguing that taxing industries by anything like these numbers “would bankrupt families and businesses and trigger a global economic disaster.” The IPCC plan, they said is “a blueprint for destroying the world economy.”[21] Given capitalism, they’re right, of course. In a world of abstract models, the carbon tax strategy works perfectly. But in the real world, with real investors and real employees -- and without a rationally planned, carefully managed wind-down and phase-out combined with guaranteed state support for the investors and guaranteed “just transitions” for the affected workers, the imposition of draconian carbon taxes would bankrupt some of the largest companies in the world, precipitate a stock market crash, throw millions out of work, and most likely “destroy the world economy.” Voters intuitively understand this.

That’s why they just voted down the carbon tax in Washington state. And if voters won’t pass Washington’s trivial $15 a ton tax (equal to 13 cents on a gallon of gasoline), why would scientists think they would pass a tax of $135 (or $1.20 on the gallon), let alone $5,500 a ton ($48.95 a gallon!)?[22] To ask the question is to answer it. Imposing the entire cost of driving out fossil fuels onto companies and consumers without providing them alternatives and a safety net is hardly a winnable plan. Just the opposite: it’s guaranteed to turn people against the whole project.[23] And yet if we don’t in effect drive the fossil fuel companies out of business, our goose is cooked. So what to do?

D. FDR’s “command-and-control” economy that worked

If governments really wanted to suppress emissions they could simply ration fossil fuels like FDR did during WWII when he rationed private consumption to divert maximum supplies to the war effort. They could inaugurate a crash program to phase out fossil fuels. They could simply order America’s private companies to shut down private vehicle production and change their production output from fossil fuel vehicles to, say, electric cars, public transit, wind turbines, solar power plants, just as FDR ordered GM, Ford and other companies to stop producing private cars and start producing tanks, bombers, fighter planes, artillery, machine guns, ammunition, just as he ordered Packard to build fighter aircraft and PT boat engines, just as he ordered Chrysler to build diffusers to process uranium for atomic bombs.

And so on. FDR’s virtual takeover of the commanding heights of American industry during WWII was tantamount to a temporary nationalization but his “command and control” was accepted by labor and capital and it succeeded – brilliantly -- providing the industrial base to win the war.[24]

We would no doubt require the declaration of an emergency comparable to WWII to win the approval of Congress and the American people. WWII certainly qualified as an emergency. Even so, fascism killed tens of millions but it did not threaten the extinction of life on earth. Global warming threatens extinction. Is saving the humans, not to mention the whales, less of an emergency than saving General Motors or Boeing or Apple?

If Roosevelt could turn the economy on a dime to meet the emergency of WWII, why can’t we do the same today? If we don’t organize an emergency industrial shutdown and retrenchment of unnecessary production, superfluous manufacturing, superfluous electricity usage, wasteful over-consumption, nature is going to do it for us in a most unpleasant manner.

Yet today we can’t get a fair public debate on the need for state intervention in the economy because since the age of Thatcher and Reagan, Milton Friedman’s maxim “capitalism good, government bad” has been the reigning ideology of Republicans and Democrats, Tories and Labour alike. Since the 1980s Friedmanite economists and their Koch-funded think tanks have produced a relentless stream of propaganda “proving” that “command and control” or almost any “government intervention” is “bad” and “can’t work.”[25] Reagan told us businesses don’t want to be ordered about and told what to do like FDR did. They want to be “incentivized.”

Since the 1980s Republicans and Democrats alike have steadily whittled away and gutted government regulation and control wherever possible,[26] clearing the way for Trump’s coup de grâce at the EPA this past year. In the process, their “market solutions,” like carbon taxes, have completely failed to staunch emissions.


We ecosocialists have a practical answer. We accept the science that to prevent runaway global warming “greenhouse emission must be reduced by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, and by 100 percent by 2050.” We agree with the IPCC that this will require “deep emissions reductions in all sectors.”

We agree that it will require “far-reaching transitions in energy, land, infrastructure, and manufacturing,” that it will require “systems transitions” (indeed, more than they imagine). And we understand that this must all be done at “unprecedented speed and scale.” “We understand that we desperately need to “do what the science demands before it’s too late.”

But we also understand that imposing drastic cuts in fossil fuel production has to translate into industrial shutdowns and retrenchments across the economy. There is just no way around this. We reject the carbon-tax-to-collapse scenario. Instead, we propose a strategy of rationally planned, democratically managed, wind-down and phase-out of fossil fuels and a coordinated transition to renewable energy that avoids economic collapse and guarantees reemployment for the affected workers. Our strategy is based on a three-point plan.

An Emergency Plan to meet the Climate Emergency:

1. Declare a State of Emergency to suppress fossil fuel use: Ban all new extraction, ration gasoline and diesel, ban production of new fossil-fuel vehicles. Nationalize the fossil fuel industry to phase it out. We do not call for expropriation. We propose a government buyout at fair value (fair to both owners and society). Nationalization will need to extend beyond fossil fuel producers to dozens or hundreds of industrial fossil-fuel dependent industries from pipelines, refineries, distribution networks to power generation, autos, aviation, petrochemicals, some manufacturing, tourism and others whose business is irreversibly based on fossil fuels and who without a governemnt buyout would be bankrupted.

2. Institute a new federal Public Works Administration-style jobs program (on the model of the Works Progress Administration, Civilian Conservation Core and other programs set up under FDR) to re-employ every worker in the fossil fuel-related industries at equivalent pay and benefits in other useful but low-emission work. Those workers in coal, oil, plastics, toxic chemicals and so on deserve jobs, just not the jobs they have now.

3. Launch an emergency state-directed crash program to phase-in renewable electric generation, replace fossil-fuel powered transportation with electric propulsion, discourage individually-owned vehicles where possible and encourage their replacement with public transit, shared vehicles, bicycles and other non-fossil fuel modes of transportation. Develop emergency plans to retrench industries including air travel, shipping, and other large CO2 emitters. And develop emergency plans to shift from fossil-fuel dependent factory farms to fully organic agriculture.

A. The argument for nationalization

If fossil fuel companies can’t reverse their suicidal growth-to-bust trajectory, then what alternative is there but to nationalize them, socialize them, put them under public ownership to phase them out?[27] We say to Democrats, Republicans, capitalists, and pro-fossil fuel trade unions too, “If you have a better strategy to save the planet, where is it?” As Juliana vs. United States (the Our Children’s Trust suit which is now working its way through the courts) contends, the federal government has a responsibility to preserve a habitable planet to maintain “life, liberty, property” for the next generations.

The plaintiffs argue that preserving a habitable planet requires that the government immediately begin enforcing strict limits on CO2 emissions, immediately develop plans to phase out of fossil fuel production, and ban all further extraction (Section 7 p. 80ff).

Since the companies can’t put themselves out of business, the only way to effect the phase-out of fossil fuels without precipitating economic collapse is for the government to nationalize the companies so we can dismantle them and redeploy their capital and labor with as little economic pain as possible. For too long, the environment has been systematically sacrificed on the altar of profits, jobs -- kicking the can down the road till we kick it and ourselves over the cliff. We can save the fossil fuel industrial complex for few more decades till we collapse, or we can reverse these priorities and save the planet. That’s the choice before humanity today.

Of course politicians will holler about the cost. The cost is significant but affordable, a bargain actually. The ten largest American oil and gas companies claim a combined value in 2018 of $968.1 billion (Exxon Mobil is valued at $344.5 billion, Chevron $239 billion, ConocoPhilips $79.3, and the others from $68 to $33 billion).[28] The two major coal companies have trivial net worth (Peabody at $3.6 billion, Arch at $1.5 billion). But the IEA says that in truth, the world’s fossil fuel industries are worth a fraction of their claimed value because most of their assets – the oil and gas and coal in the ground -- are fast becoming valueless “stranded assets” as electric utilities and vehicle manufacturers shift to renewable power and because of growing political pressure to “leave it in the ground.”[29]

Given their looming existential profits crisis, the companies might actually welcome a buyout. But if society is to pay a fair price for those companies, their nominal retail value would have to be discounted by the harm their production has already done to people and planet. On any fair assessment, that would leave these companies owing the government, not the other way around. Yet even at their current retail value, just under a trillion dollars, by the standards of wasted U.S. expenditures, this is affordable.

President Trump just gave away $2.3 trillion in tax cuts to the rich this year alone.[30] Just rescinding that inexcusable giveaway would cover the cost of nationalizing the entire fossil fuel producing industry and leave enough left over to buy up the bulk of America’s fossil fuel-burning industries as well including Boeing, the major airlines, the American auto industry, the worst polluting chemical industries, and leave billions to spare. Boeing’s net worth is $95 billion, the seven largest U.S. airlines have a combined market capitalization of $130 billion, the American auto industry, Ford, GM and Tesla (excluding Chrysler which was bought by Italy’s Fiat in 2011), has a combined value of $277 billion, the big dirty three of Dow-Dupont, Monsanto, and 3M combined are worth $225 billion.

The government could buy all these companies, even without discounts for their social and environmental crimes, for a paltry $727 billion. Add in the bulk of private and shareholder-owned gas and electric utility sector, 20 companies with a combined market value of $557 billion, and the government could buy up all of America’s fossil fuel producers and the bulk of its fossil fuel-burners for $2.26 trillion and still have some pocket money left after rescinding Trump’s tax giveaway to the rich.[31]

Further, we could rescind the dozens of other needless tax cuts and handouts to the rich since the days of Reagan. We could impose the fines on the banks that Obama and Trump failed to impose.[32] We could restore the progressive tax structure we use to have before Reagan. And we could use these funds to rebuild our infrastructure, fund the transition to renewables, upgrade and properly fund our destitute public schools,[33] fund a comprehensive health care system for all, properly fund our skinflint Social Security system, and build a decent society. Finally, we can’t build a decent society for anyone if we don’t gut the imperial war budget (nearly three-quarters of a trillion a year).

According to the most recent study, by the end of 2019, the U.S. government will have spent a staggering $5.9 trillion on its illegal criminal wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria since September 11, 2001[34] -- wars that were never fought for democracy and certainly not in for defense since none of those countries attacked us but were, instead, imperial wars to protect “our” oil under “their” sand.[35]

Thus, we categorically reject, in advance, any argument that the government cannot afford to buy out the fossil fuel producers and dependent industries to save the humans. On the contrary, we maintain that even at a retail value of $2.25 trillion, this buyout of fossil fuel producers and burners is a bargain – barely more than a third of what the U.S. has squandered (so far) on its oil wars in the Middle East since 2011.[36] Plus, since the U.S. military is the largest institutional GHG emitter, cutting the military budget would also slash emissions from this sector.    

B. The argument for a new Public Works Administration-style jobs program

Under capitalism, closing and retrenching companies means throwing workers out on the street. We’re socialists. We don’t accept that. If capitalists won’t provide the jobs then it’s the government’s responsibility to do so. We, the voting public, assert our ownership of the government, not the corporations. Today we face an existential threat to our survival and the only way to prevent collapse is to slam the brakes on the industries that are destroying us. It’s not the workers’ fault if the industries they work in need to be closed or cut back to save our children and theirs.

They deserve jobs, different jobs, better jobs. If society is going to abolish their present jobs then it owes them new jobs with comparable pay and benefits. This is not only morally right but it’s also the only way we can win the support of those workers in the struggle for the common good.

There’s no end of low-carbon work that needs to be done: infrastructure repair and upgrades, a vast expansion of renewable energy, transitioning to fully organic farming, a massive expansion of public transit, commuter biking, development of share-vehicle commuting, environmental restoration, housing upgrading, heating and environmental retrofitting, upgrading and improving our schools, expanding medical care, expanding services and facilities for our retired workforce and more.

If capitalists can’t figure out how to make a profit doing it, then society through our government must employ them – just as FDR’s New Deal public works programs of the 1930s built tens of thousands of projects -- dams, electric utilities, airports, highway systems, bridges, tunnels, new railways, gorgeous train stations, glorious city halls and post offices, incredibly beautiful parks, beautiful public schools, modern hospitals, public universities and more.[37] FDR’s construction programs built the bulk of this country’s national infrastructure that we still rely on today.

If in the midst of depression, the government could afford to provide full-time government-funded jobs for tens of millions of workers from 1933 through the 1940s, becoming the nation’s largest employer by far, our immensely wealthier society and government can easily afford to re-employ the millions of workers from the fossil fuel-based industries to construct a permanently sustainable economy.

C. The imperative of economic planning and democratic management

After they wrecked the economy and plunged us into the Great Depression in 1929, America’s capitalists couldn’t pull themselves together to restore economic growth. In 1932 Franklin D. Roosevelt, campaigning on a state-interventionist, help-the-poor “NewDeal,” won a landslide victory over “do-nothing” Hubert Hoover who was deservedly blamed for letting the Depression get as bad as it did and reviled for his failure to intervene to rescue the economy and the citizenry.

President Roosevelt turned the government into the biggest economic engine and the biggest employer in U.S. history, creating a state-directed capitalism, organizing a powerful state planning apparatus, setting up federal employment programs, and superintending construction of a the country’s first basic social safety net  – transformations that that handed him three more landslide victories in 1936, 1940 and 1944. Roosevelt and Congress established the National Resources Planning Board (NRPB) in 1933 to organize public works programs to put people back to work, revive the economy, and modernize our infrastructure. This was the first and so far only national planning agency in U.S. history. It evolved from public works planning to broader social and economic planning and then to mobilize and direct resources for the war effort. Regional planning groups were created in New England and the Pacific Northwest.

Most states established planning agencies while planning boards emerged in many cities. Capitalist ideological hostility to economic planning per se – they couldn’t stand the threat of a good example -- eventually forced Congress to abolish the national board in 1943. But NPRB legacies included wartime and postwar planning, the first version of the G.I. Bill of Rights, the Second (Economic) Bill of Rights (a manifesto for postwar liberalism), an institutionalized policy planning process via the Council of Economic Advisors, and the annual federal budget process established by the Employment Act of 1946.[38]

The existential crisis we face is, to say the least, far more dire and urgent than the Great Depression. And here again, capitalism has no solution to the crisis it created because the capitalist solution to everything is the same growth that got us into this crisis in the first place. That’s why we argue that the only way to brake the drive to collapse is to socialize the commanding heights of the economy. We don’t need to nationalize the entire economy. Small producers, worker co-ops, family farmers, mom & pop shops, restaurants and so on, aren’t killing the planet.

Large corporations are killing the planet. They can’t help themselves. To preserve a habitable world we need to take them under public ownership so we can rationalize, reprioritize and restructure production to create a permanently sustainable, if somewhat less industrialized, economy.

D. System change not climate change

It is perhaps conceivable, taking FDR’s war-emergency industrial reordering as a precedent, that the three-point plan just described for fossil fuels buyout-nationalization, state-directed emergency transition to renewables, and creation of a large federal jobs program, could be enacted within the framework of capitalism, though the result would be a largely state-owned economy.

Roosevelt created his state-directed capitalism with only modest, if increasing, ruling class resistance because, first, he revived a broken capitalism from the depths of the worst depression in history and saved it from communism, secondly, he never needed to actually nationalize the industries he effectively took over because he was paying their owners hansomely to expand and grow their companies, if by producing different products, and thirdly, this was all just a temporary encumbrance, limited to the duration of World War II.

We face the opposite problem: We face a booming capitalist economy at the top of its form with a powerful entrenched ruling class in full command of their economy and their state. What’s more, we need to nationalize industries not to grow them but to phase many of them out, or at minimum to transform GM from an automaker into, say, a wind-turbine maker or a train manufacturer, and permanently. Given the “unprecedented scale” of the the problems we face, given the “far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure . . . and industrial systems” we need to make, and given the speed with which we need to make these changes, it’s difficult to imagine how this could be done within the framework of any capitalism.

Private ownership of the means of production, profit maximization, and market competition have been the leading drivers of global ecological collpase and pose the main barrier to the rational rerorganization, restructuring and reprioritization of the economy we need to make to save the humans. The depth and urgency of our climate crisis cries out for something like an immediate transition to ecosocialism. We don’t have many decades left before its too late to bother trying.

The IPCC climate scientists tell us we have just a dozen years or so to rein in our growth-to-bust economic system and come up with an effective pollution-suppression plan and mechanisms to staunch CO2 emissions. Ocean scientists tell us we need a Five-Year Plan to save the oceans.[39] We need global plans to save the oceans, save the forests, save species from going extinct.[40]

This requires generalized large-scale economic planning. The problems we face with respect to the environment and the climate, can’t be solved by private corporations competing in an anarchic market.[41] Saving the world requires the sort of large-scale economic planning that only governments can do. We need to replace market anarchy with rational planning and management of a mostly, though not necessarily entirely, publicly-owned economy.[42]

E. Planning for the common good requires democracy.

Rational planning requires democracy. Polls show that 69% of Americans (85% of those ages 18-29), 71% of Chinese, 87% of Europeans, nine-in-ten Ugandans, Tanzanians, South Koreans, Chileans, and Brazilians want binding limits imposed on CO2 emissions.[43] Corporations don’t want binding limits. Well, why don’t we get to vote on such questions? We don’t need to be experts. Corporate boards aren’t composed of experts. They’re composed of major investors and politically influential VIPs who solicit experts to advise them, then vote to decide what they want to produce and sell, and hire engineers to figure out how to get it done.

Why can’t society do the same – but in the interest of the common good? We need to establish democratic institutions to plan and manage our social economy -- planning boards at local, regional, national and international levels. We have plenty of examples from the Paris Commune to Polish Solidarity in 1980. We have the example of FDR’s National Resources Planning Board -- established by an elected president and congress. And as Greg Palast and co-authors describe in their book on regulation of public utilities, we have a working prototype right now:

Unique in the world . . . every aspect of US regulation is wide open to the public. There are no secret meetings, no secret documents. individuals, industrial customers, government agencies, consumer groups, trade unions, the utility itself, even its competitors. Any and all citizens and groups are invited to take part: Everyone affected by the outcome has a right to make their case openly…In public forums, open to all citizens, the principles of social dialogue and transparency come to life. It is an extraordinary exercise in democracy–and it works.[44]   
We see no reason why this cannot be scaled up to the whole economy. If the major U.S. political parties offer no solution to the climate crisis, if they abdicate their responsibility to preserve a habitable planet for our children, then its up to the American left to provide vision and leadership in this struggle -- and right now that looks to be the DSA, the Democratic Socialists of America (of which I am a proud member). As Maria Swart wrote to members on October 23rd:

Limiting global warming below 2 degrees is going to take a monumental mobilization of people from all walks of life, demanding that our lives matter more than corporate interests. Neither Republicans or Democrats have risen to the task of leading this effort. In the absence of their political leadership, we must rise to the occasion.


Congressional Representative-elect (D. New York) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (aka AOC), the self-confident 28 year-old DSAer who won office on the Democratic ticket, has risen to the occasion, drafting a proposed Plan for a Green New Deal that she hopes will be taken up by the new Congress in January 2018. The Plan (and the draft legislation) she writes, shall require the achievement within 10 years from start of excution the following:[45]

100% of national power generation from renewable sources,
building a national, energy-efficient, “smart” grid,

upgrading every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art energy efficiency, comfort and safety;

decarbonizing the manufacturing, agricultural and other industries;

decarbonizing, repairing and improving transportation and other infrastructure;
funding massive investment in the drawdown and capture of greenhouse gases;

making “green” technology, industry, expertise, products and services a major export of the United States, with the aim of becoming the undisputed international leader in helping other countries transition to a completely carbon neutral economies and bringing about a global Green New Deal

AOC’s Green New Deal does not stop with decarbonization. She writes that “The Plan . . . shall recognize that a national, industrial, economic mobilization of this scope and scale is a historic opportunity to virtually eliminate poverty in the United States and to make prosperity, wealth and economic security available to everyone participating in the transformation. In furtherance of the foregoing, the Plan (and draft legislation) shall:

provide all members of our society, across all regions and all communities, the opportunity, training and education to be a full and equal participant in the transition, including through a job guarantee program to assure a living wage job to every person who wants one

take into account and be responsive to the historical and present-day experiences of low-income communities, communities of color, indigenous communities, rural and urban communities and the front-line communities most affected by climate change, pollution and other environmental harm;

mitigate deeply entrenched racial, regional and gender-based inequalities in income and wealth (including, without limitation, ensuring that federal and other investment will be equitably distributed to historically impoverished, low income, deindustrialized or other marginalized communities

include additional measures such as basic income programs, universal health care programs and any others as the select committee may deem appropriate to promote economic security, labor market flexibility and entrepreneurism; and

deeply involve national and local labor unions to take a leadership role in the process of job training and worker deployment.”

What's said and not said

To be sure, the process of “decarbonization” outlined above is abstract, lacks specifics, and is far from fully worked out. Most obviously, it’s hard to imagine how the government could decarbonize fossil-fuel producers and industrial consumers without taking them into public hands. What's not said is that decarbonization has to translate into shutdowns and retrenchments of actual companies. How does one decarbonize ExxonMobil or Boeing or Delta Airlines or Duke Energy? These companies live and breathe fossil fuels. But there’s no mention of shutdowns and retrenchments.

There's no mention of buyouts or nationalization. There’s no explicit call for a National Planning Board to reorganize, reprioritize and restructure the economy. Further, there's no acknowledgement that an infinitely growing economy is no longer possible on a finite planet. There’s no acknowledgement of the imperative need for economic de-growth, substantial de-industrialization and not just in fossil fuel-based industries.

"Decarbonization": a self-radicalizing transitional demand

And yet, the audacity and breadth of the technical and socio-economic transformations here envisioned call to mind nothing so much as the economic and social revolution that FDR’s New Deal brought about (albeit within the framework of capitalism), and goes beyond him in some respects. Occasio-Cortez may be just 28 but she is a bold, feminist, anti-racist, and socialist-inspired successor to FDR.

With this Green New Deal she's taking the global warming discussion to a new level, changing the conversation and challenging the political economy. She's not calling for cap and trade or carbon taxes or divestment or any other market "solutions." She's issuing a full-throated call for "decarbonization," in effect throwing the guantlet down to capitalism and challenging the system because, as we know, there is no way to decarbonize an economy based on endless growth, endless resource consumption, and thus inevitably, endless pollution and CO2 emissions. Thus the push for decarbonization must  inevitably raise the question of nationalization because, how else can government enforce the retrenchments and shutdowns needed to save the planet without precipitating economic collapse?

The nationalization of the coal and oil producers, the obvious first targets, would in turn raise the question of what to do about all the industries that are based on fossil fuels -- autos, aviation, petrochemicals, plastics, construction, manufacturing, shipping, tourism, and so on. And consideration of how to decarbonize those industries would in turn raise larger questions about who should decide what gets produced, or not -- private companies or society as a whole, through democratic processes. Thus the push for decarbonization is simultaneously a push for democratization.

AOCs’ Plan is first of all, a definitive break with the Reagan-Thatcher-Friedman “capitalism good, government bad” doctrine which holds that the best role for governmenti is to “get out of the way and just incentivize the private sector.” Instead, the Plan calls for robust expansive government to drive the needed changes, for two reasons: (1) scale and (2) time: First, “The level of investment required will be massive. Even if all the billionaires and companies came together and were willing to pour all the resources at their disposal into this investment, the aggregate value of the investments they could make would not be sufficient.”

Besides, “private companies are wary of making massive investments in unproven research and technologies; the government, however, has the time horizon to be able to patiently make investments in new tech and R&D, without necessarily having a commercial outcome or application in mind at the time of the investment.” Second: “The speed of investment required will be massive. Even if all the billionaires and companies could make the investments required, they would not be able to pull together a coordinated response in the narrow window of time require to jump-start major new projects and major new sectors.”   

AOC explicitly rejects the Reganite assertion of the superiority of the private sector and the efficacy of incentives: “We’ve also seen that merely incentivising the private sector doesn’t work – e.g. the tax incentives and subsidies given to wind and solar projects have been a valuble spur to growth in the US renewables industry but, even with such investment-promotion subsidies, the present level of such projects is simply inadequate to transition to a fully carbon neutral economy as quickly as needed. . . we’re not saying there isn’t a role for private sector investments; we’re just saying that the level of investment required will need every actor to pitch in and that the government is best placed to be the prime mover.”

Secondly, AOC explicity makes a powerful case for state planning: She calls for a new Select Committee “with a 360° view” to serve the specific function of “examin[ing] emerging issues that do not fit clearly within existing standing committee jurisdictions or cut across jurisdictional boundaries.” The Select Committee requires “a mandate to develop a plan for the transformation of our economy to become carbon neutral.”

Having its own Select Committee “ensures constant focus on climate change as the standing committee deals with that and many other issues of the day -- such as wild fires in California, infrastructure, clean water issues, etc. First, they would put together the overall plan for a Green New Deal - they would have a year to get the plan together, with the plan to be completed by January 1, 2020. The plan itself could be in the form of a report or several reports. Second, they would also put together the draft legislation that actually implements the plan.”

This is not yet FDR’s Planning Board. It has no power to nationalize industries, nor is it clear that it would even have the power to order companies like GM to stop producing, say, SUVs, and start producing wind turbines or high-speed trains à la FDR. But as our climate emergency steadily worsens, it will become increasingly apparent that such government planning and direction is essential, and that nationalization via buyouts is the only way to enforce decarbonization while also forestalling capitalist opposition as best we can.

Of course all this sounds wildly utopian in our present political context and this Plan is certain to go nowhere under Trump and a Republican Senate. But a vigorous campaign for this Plan will show why capitalism cannot solve the worst crisis it has ever created and encourage demands for government intervention, government planning to suppress emissions.

 After all, polls have long shown that citizens want and expect the government to lead the fight against climate change by limiting CO2 emissions, in effect to “do what the science demands before it’s too late.” Let’s hope that with a developing vision and a monumental mobilization around this Green New Deal and around fossil fuel nationalization, we can derail the capitalist drive to ecological collapse and build an ecosocialist civilization to save the human race.

[1] Author's Note: Thanks to David Klein, Nancy Holmstrom, Bill Tabb, William Neil, Marie Venner, Zack Eldrege, and Ted Franklin for their helpful suggestions and criticism. I remain solely responsible for the remaining errors and inadequacies of this paper.

[2] Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis, “Climate scientists are struggling to find the right words for very bad news,” Washington Post, October 3, 2018.

[3] IPCC, “Global Warming of 1.5°”(October 7, 2018).

[4] Ibid. Also Coral Davenport, “”Major report describes a strong risk of crisis as early as 2040,” New York Times, October 7, 2018.

[5] Davenport, “Major report” op cit.                                                                                            

[6] Mooney and Dennis, “Climate scientists struggling,” op cit.

[7] Somini Sengupta, “Projection on climate is ominous. Now what?” New York Times, October 10, 2018.

[8] Jane Cai, “Northern China’s clear air get lost in the smog of the trade war,” South China Morning Post, November 15, 2018.

[9]Juliet Eioperin et al., “Trump administration sees a 7-degree rise in global temperatures by 2100,” Washington Post, September 28, 2018.

[10] Eg. Jim Snyder and Mark Drajem, “FutureGen’s demise means carbon capture for coal faces woes,” Bloomberg, Februay 5, 2015.

[11] Oliver Milman, “James Hansen, father of climate change awareness, calls Paris talks ‘a fraud”, Guardian, December 12, 2015. And not just Hansen. The “Paris pledge” drew blistering condemnation from scientists around the world. See Tom Bawden, “COP21: Paris deal far too weak to prevent devastating climate change, academics warn,” Independent, January 8, 2016.

[12] As does, for example, Tess Riley, “Just 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions, study says,” Guardian, July 10, 2017.

[13] The construction industry is the largest single consumer of (petrochemical-derived) plastics and plastic packaging, accounting for about a third of all plastics production. Though not always visible in buildings, they’re used in a wide and growing range of applications including weather insulation, piping, window frames, protection and finishes. The majority of construction waste is also plastic. Roma Saini, “Plastic waste! Why all the fuss?,” Willmot Dixon Interiors, February 14, 2018. 

[14] Brad Plumer, “Scientists push for a crash program to scrub carbon from the air,” New York Times, October 24, 2018. Cf. Howard J. Herzog, “Why we can’t reverse climate change with ‘negative emissions’ technologies,” The Conversation, October 9, 2018.

[15] Brad Plumer, “U.N. climate report urges putting a price on carbon,” New York Times, October 9, 2018.

[16] It might seem surprising that leading oil companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP officially support carbon taxes. They do so because they understand that at some point governments are going to impose some kind of tax on carbon emissions and they want the best deal they can get if they have to be taxed at all. They’ve deeply resisted “cap and trade” schemes, effectively dooming them everywhere, because cap and trade would impose a limit to growth. They see carbon taxes aas the lesser evil. So long as carbon taxes are modest, they pose no existential threat to their business because they impose no cap on production, no limit to growth. They’re just another cost of doing business, like other taxes, and one that can be passed on to the consumer. Meanwhile, growth can continue. BP’s 2018 Energy Outlook projects that global energy demand will grow by a third between now and 2040. BP and the other oil giants aim to cash in on that growth. That’s why the day after the IPCC report was released, ExxonMobil contributed a million dollars to jumpstart a carbon tax program. They’re not fools. They’re not looking to put themselves out of business. They’re looking to maximize returns, to grow their business while posing as good corporate citizens, paying their taxes (if they have to), contributing to the “solution.” Yet while rhetorically  supporting carbon taxes, they simultaneously spend millions to defeat carbon taxes whenever they come up for a vote, as they did with success in Washington this last election. See: Ben Gamen, “Big oil companies want a price on carbon. Here’s why,” The Atlantic, June 1, 2015: . Richard Smith, Green Capitalism: The God That Failed (London: WEA Press, 2016), pp. 59-64. Ed Crooks, “ExxonMobil gives $1m to campaign for a carbon tax,” Financial Times, October 9, 2018.

[17] See my discussion of this in Green Capitalism, pp. 61-64.

[18] Eg. Food and Water Watch, The British Columbia Carbon Tax: a Failed Experiment in Market-Based Solutions to Climate Change, October 24, 2016: . Also: Lenore Taylor, “The carbon tax is dead and there is nothing credible to take its place,” Guardian, July 16, 2014 (on the failed Australian tax).

[19] Plumer, “Putting a price on carbon,” op cit.

[20] Plumer, “Putting a price on carbon,” op cit.

[21] Heritage Foundation, “IPCC climate report merely a blueprint for destroying the world economy,” October 17, 2018: .

[22] Thanks to Professor David Klein for the ton-gallon conversions.

[23] Climate scientist James Hansen has proposed a variation on this theme, his “carbon tax and dividend” plan. Under this plan, consumers would pay a $1 tax per gallon on gasoline but they would receive a “dividend” check for the amount they were taxed back from the government at the end of the year. Painless! Great! The folly of this scheme is that if there’s no pain there’s no gain. The average American driver consumed 656 gallons of gasoline in 2016. If he or she were to get a refund of the $656 carbon tax, what’s to prevent them from spending that refund on, say, a new flat-screen TV (the production of which produces lots of CO2 emissions), or a Jet–Blue round trip flight to Cancun, $268 from NYC (far more emissions than their car produces in a year) either of which they could easily afford with that tax refund? No pain -- but no gain either.

[24] Arthur Herman, Freedom’s Forge (New York: Random House, 2012); A.J. Baime, The Arsenal of Democracy (Boston: Mariner, 2015).

[25] For a critique of this capitalist nonsense see Richard Smith, “Six theses on saving the planet,” Next System Project, 2017:, PDF pp. 20ff.

[26] For example, President Obama’s much-ballyhooed program to “double vehicle fuel efficiency by 2025” was a con job, custom designed to service Detroit’s desire to build humongous cars by including a gaping loophole based on “vehicle footprints” which let the Big Three and others build ginormous gas-hog trucks and SUVs – Sierras and Ticonderogas and Denalis and Armadas and Suburbans that get worse gas mileage that Cadillac land yachts of the 1950s – but still meet their “fleet mileage” targets (As I noted elsewhere, “Your typical 1955 Cadillac coupe DeVille got 12.9 mpg in city driving whereas your typical 2013 Cadillac Escalade gets 10 mpg in the city. . . and this is after six decades of Detroit’s fuel economy “’improvements’”: Green Capitalism: the God That Failed, p.131). Thus Obama let the industry push gas-hogs at the expense of gas-sippers while his “drill baby drill” program to frack the whole country conveniently supplied so much cheap gas that Americans all but abandoned small cars in favor of giant overaccessorized gas-hogs which have become the biggest sellers. In result, U.S. vehicle fleet mileage actually declined under Obama. Brilliant. Worse, it “incentivized” Detroit to abandon producing actual cars altogether. By spring 2018, Detroit auto companies announced they would stop producing economical small cars to focus on producing their profitable luxury hogs. So much for “win-win” market solutions. Roger Ferris, “The steadily disappearing American car,” CNBC News, April 6, 2018.

[27] We’re hardly original here. Others have also argued for nationalization to phase-out fossil fuels. See Carla Skandier, “Nationalize the fossil fuel industry,” In These Times, November 17, 2017; and “Quantitative easing for the planet,” The Next System Project, August 30, 2018; and Peter Gowan, “A plan to nationalize fossil fuel companies,” Jacobin, March 2018. This plan differs in several respects from those: First, Skandier and Gowan focus exclusively on the fossil fuel producing industries: coal, oil and gas. We contend that any nationalization of producers would inevitably also require nationalization of most of the industrial consumers in transportation, petrochemicals, some manufacturing (autos, Boeing etc.), services (airlines, likely some tourism, ) distributors, and so on. Secondly, whereas Gowan looks to hiring freezes, voluntary redundancies, and welfare state and union-run retraining schemes “to smooth out the transition as much as possible,” we call for nothing less than iron-clad government-funded job guarantees at comparable pay and benefits. Given the need for immediate and rapid shutdowns and retrenchments, nothing less than this has a chance of winning worker support in those industries. Thirdly, this plan insists on a parallel and coordinated emergency phase-in of renewables to replace the industries we need to phase out. Fourthly, this plan calls for transitioning to broad democratic planning.

[28] Statista

[29] Julian Ambrose, “IEA warns $1.3 trillion of oil and gas could be left stranded,” Telegraph, March 20, 2017.

[30] David Rogers, “POLITICO analysis:  At $2.3 trillion cost, Trump tax cuts leave big gap,” POLITICO, February 28, 2018.

[31] Sources: company financial statements. Utilities: Statista

[32] Ben Protess et al., “Trump administration spares corporate wrongdoers billions in penalties,” New York Times, November 3, 2018.

[33] Firoozeh Dumas, “Why I dread returning to an American public school,” New York Times, November 10, 2018.

[34] Neta C.Crawford, “US Budgetary Costs of the Post-9/11Wars through 2019: $5.9 Trillion Spent and Obligated,” Watson Institute: Boston University, November 4, 2018: September2018:  .

[35] Though in truth, any savings here should be paid out in reparations for the hundreds of thousands of people the U.S. military murdered and the countries we’ve wrecked.

[36] Gordon Lubold, “U.S. spent $5.6 trillion on wars in the Middle East and Asia,” Wall Street Journal,  November 2017

[37] Nick Taylor, American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work (New York: Bantam, 2008). Joseph Maresca, WPA Buildings: Architecture and Art of the New Deal (Atglen, PA: Schiffler Publishing Ltd., 2016).

[38] Marion Clawson, New Deal Planning: The National Resources Planning Board (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981). Jess Gilbert, Planning Democracy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015).

[39] Jenna Iacurci, “Report Calls for Five-year Plan to Save World’s Over-fished Oceans,” Nature World News , June 24, 2014:

[40] Damian Carrington, “Humanity has wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970, report finds,” Guardian, October 29, 2018.

[41] Richard Smith, “How did the common good become a bad idea? The eco-suicidal economics of Adam Smith,” in idem, Green Capitalism op. cit.

[42] Smith, “Six theses,” op cit.

[43] Yale University, “Americans support limits on CO2,” May 28, 2014: . Bruce Stokes et al./Pew Global, “Public support for action on climate change,” Pew Research Center, November 2015.

[44]Greg Palast, Jerold Oppenheim, and Theo MacGregor, Democracy and Regulation: How the Public can Govern Essential Services (London: Pluto Press, 2003), pp. 1-4.