Thursday 28 February 2019

As Governments Fail to Act on Climate Change – The People Step Up to the Plate

I must admit that the last couple of years, I’ve gone from despair to depression (not clinical) with the complete lack of urgency from governments around the world, in taking serious action to combat climate change. As the evidence mounts that we have only a few short years to take action, which would give human beings a fighting chance of avoiding cataclysmic change to our planet, nothing much is done.

The failure of more than twenty years of international governmental conferences, to do more than promise to makes cuts in CO2 emissions, and with an over reliance on techno-fixes, most of which do not exist on any large scale, has led me to think that we really are going to hell in a hand-cart. 

But, amidst all of the gloom, some bright shining lights have suddenly given me hope. This has not come from governments though, it is a rising from below, from the people, that offers reasons to believe that things may change for the better.

The Extinction Rebellion, which began in the UK last year, but is now spreading to many countries around the world, is an attempt to pressure the authorities into actually taking the situation seriously, by taking direct action, like blocking roads and other similar protests, for which these people are prepared to be arrested for. Their aim is to:

Support and encourage a citizens uprising in the UK (of about 2 million people) involving low level and higher risk acts of civil disobedience by some (with others willing to support those that take actions). When ready, create a participatory, democratic process that discusses and improves a draft manifesto for change and a new constitution. This will involve creating a genuine democracy, alongside an economy to maximise well-being and minimise harm.

Then there is Earth Strike who are calling for a rolling series of events throughout 2019, culminating in a worldwide strike on 27 September. They describe what they are about thus:

We are a grassroots movement demanding immediate climate action from governments and corporations worldwide...Our protests, scheduled throughout 2019, will raise awareness for a GLOBAL GENERAL STRIKE beginning September 27.

Earth Strike has chapters in 22 countries, from Australia to the United States, with new countries coming on board all of the time. They say:

Until the world’s governments and businesses are held accountable to the people, we are refusing to participate in the system that fills their pockets. There will be no banking, no offices full of employees, no schools full of children, until our demands are met.

Most recently, school students have organised strikes from their studies, who of course have more to lose, again to demand action from the politicians on climate change. This was all started by a Swedish sixteen year old, Greta Thunberg, who held a one person demonstration outside of her parliament in Stockholm. 

Now, up to 70,000 schoolchildren each week hold protests in 270 towns and cities worldwide. In London, they blocked the roads outside parliament chanting “Turn off your engines” at passing cars, and “We want the chance for change now” before mounted police moved them away.

All of this is what needs to happen, because, as we have seen, governments are being negligent in their responsibility to protect their people from what is looking like a disaster of huge proportions. Change needs to come from the grassroots to force this issue up the political and economic agenda. 

Politicians only change course from business as usual, when they are compelled into doing so by the people, and so I hope these movements grow into a powerful force for change,

Do what you can to support them.

Sunday 24 February 2019

Capitalism’s Ownership of Global Warming

Written by Robert Hunziker and first published at Green Social Thought

Capitalism not only owns global warming, there’s a big red mitigation arrow pointed at the heart of today’s rampant capitalism, which is eerily similar to the loosie goosie version of the Roaring Twenties, but with a high tech twist.

After all, somebody’s got to pony-up for climate change/global warming mitigation. Who better than deep pocket capitalists?

For historical perspective: Today’s brand of capitalism runs circles around the Eisenhower 1950s with its 90% top marginal tax rate amidst harmony and good feelings all across the land, an age of innocence aka Leave It To Beaver.

In sharp contrast to the fifties era of good feelings with its emergence of spanking new suburbia, today’s landscape resembles the film Blade Runner (1982) high-tech, rich, and gleaming in some places but elsewhere (often times right next door) shabby and weakening as America’s middle class fizzles away attached to a ball & chain of indebted servitude.

With increasing frequency as climate mitigation is investigated certain statistics stand out like a throbbing sore thumb: “The top three greenhouse gas emitters— China, the EU and the US—contribute more than half of total global emissions, while the bottom 100 countries only account for 3.5%. Collectively, the top 10 emitters account for nearly three-quarters (75%) of global emissions. The world can’t possibly successfully tackle the climate change challenge without significant action from these top-emitting countries.” (Source: World Resources Institute)

Interestingly enough, the socio-politico-economic genesis of global warming as of nowadays is known as Late Capitalism, as defined by Ernest Mandel (Late Capitalism, Verso Classics, 1999) or in the parlance: “Increasing commodification and industrialization of more, and more, sectors of human life” as the social fabric splits apart, delineating “haves” versus “have-nots.”

By definition, that socio/economic paradigm brings in its wake division, and fierce alienation.

So, Late Capitalism, what does it look like? According to Oxfam International, a confederation of 20 independent charitable orgs founded in 1942, sixty-two (62) of the richest billionaires held as much wealth in 2016 as 50% of the entire world population. That number dropped to 8 billionaires in 2017 controlling as much wealth as the bottom half of the world. That remarkable ratio is: 8 : 3,600,000,000.

The 2018 numbers are not yet available, but there’s speculation that the number eight (8) will drop, in time, to two (2) people that control as much wealth as one-half (½) of the world. That’s the absolute epitome, the zenith, of Late Capitalism.

It’s little wonder that wealth disparity, flashed all over the place, has become a target in the context of the climate crisis. In that regard, not many people grasp the issue as well as Kevin Anderson of Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research/UK. Tyndall is one of the world’s most prestigious research institutions, and Anderson has a reputation for telling it like it is.

Recently, he spoke at the Oxford Climate Society.

Accordingly, as discussed by Kevin Anderson, knowing that climate change is a serious (existential) threat… what to do… just for starters: (1) The top 10% carbon polluters in the world must cut their CO2 footprint to the same footprint as members of the EU. (2) The remaining 90% of the world makes no reductions. (3) Ipso facto, global CO2 is cut by one-third.

That’s merely a starter, an appetizer for meeting the 2C temperature guardrail as agreed by the nations of the world at Paris 2015. Interestingly, the top 10% polluters are the heart and soul of effective mitigation, which is defined as an “equitable solution,” meaning those who emit the most carbon must carry the heaviest burden. Yet, an equitable solution has not happened, and there are no signals it will happen.

Getting to the heart of the matter, according to Anderson: “The taboo issue of the asymmetric distribution of wealth underpins the international community’s failure to seriously tackle climate change. Only when we acknowledge this can we move from incrementalism to system-change.”

Believe it or not (of course it is true and believable) 1,500 private jets flew attendees to Davos World Economic Forum to discuss, amongst other issues, climate change.
According to Kevin Anderson: “It’s about time we called these people out.”

For example, the Davos paradigm, meaning plutocrats taking control is legitimized (in Anderson’s words) by: “The climate Glitterati, such as, M. Bloomberg, L. DiCaprio, N. Stern, C. Figueres, A. Gore, M. Carney. All of these people have huge carbon footprints, and they fly around the world in private jets to inform us what to do about climate change. They are supported by a whole cadre of senior academics promoting offsetting, negative emissions, geo-engineering, CCS, green growth, etc. These are all ‘an evolution within the system.”

Also, annual COP (Conference of the Parties) has been hijacked by climate glitterati-related influencers (COPs are annual UN Climate Change Conferences held to assess progress).

Well, surprise-surprise, not surprised, Royal Dutch Shell had a hand in shaping the Paris Agreement of 2015, and it influenced certain provisions of the “Rulebook” adopted at COP24 in Katowice 2018. This meddling clearly violates the ethics that only member states of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change can determine “texts and rulebooks.” But, it happens with regularity.

At COP 24 in Katowice at a side event organized by the International Emissions Trading Association (a big time biz lobby) Shell’s chief climate adviser, David Hone, publicly announced that Shell should take some credit for inclusion of Article 6 in the Paris Agreement, which enables countries to trade emissions in carbon markets.

Not only, Mr. Hone also took a bow and credit for part of the text in the all-important “Rulebook” adopted at Katowice. By all accounts and according to various environmental groups, big corporations are “greenwashing.”

Fossil fuel companies were significant sponsors at COP24 in Katowice. Their logos were ubiquitous. And, at a mind-blowing out of this world event, the Polish Pavilion was stuffed full of actual lumps of black coal, as samplers.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda told COP24 delegates: “Using coal is not in contradiction with climate protection in Poland because we can lower the emissions and ensure economic growth at the same time.”  What!!! Who falls for this kind of claptrap?

ExxonMobil pledged to cut its methane emissions and contribute funds for a carbon tax campaign in the U.S. Oh, please, stop it! Pseudo solutions like carbon markets and geo-engineering promises (that don’t work to scale) are pushed by corporate interests to legitimatize their current CO2 emissions. Oh please! It’s a ruse because if you lay claim to geo-engineering technology that fixes CO2 emissions, then you legitimize using as much fossil fuel as your little heart desires. But, the brutal truth is the technology is not perfected.  

Not by a long shot. Then what?

Climate change is ultimately a rationing issue. But, so far, forget it: “We’ve had 28 years of abject failure on climate change. It’s not that we haven’t brought emissions down. It’s just that we’ve watched them go up. In fact, since 2000, the rate at which they’ve gone up is even faster than the 1990s.” (Anderson)

According to Anderson, the current CO2 global budget is roughly 700Gt of CO2 maximum to adhere to the Paris Agreement of temps below 2C. Meanwhile, 43Gt of CO2 is emitted per year, which equates to 16 years of current emissions to stay under 2C. Thereafter, and in fact, before then, CO2 emissions must drop to zero. (For the record, this has never happened.)

At the end of the day, the only conceivable way forward to prevent the world from turning into an oven is “system change” via transformation to decarbonized energy supply technologies with deep penetration of efficient technologies and a profound shift in behavior and reframing the value propositions re success and progress, an economic model that fits the purpose of mitigation, like eco economics.

As for the current economic model of high-end neoliberal capitalism, it must be displaced in favor of eco economics. What are the odds? One hundred percent (100%) it will happen but way too late!

According to Kevin Anderson, “Everything is pointed in the wrong direction… We are guaranteed defeat unless we start to think radically differently.” He concludes: “We have an outside chance of still meeting 2C if society addresses the political, social, and economic implications, as well as the technical ones.”

But, what if it’s too late?

Postscript: “Winning slowly is basically the same thing as losing outright. In the face of both triumphant denialism and predatory delay, trying to achieve climate action by doing the same things, the same old ways means defeat. It guarantees defeat.” (Alex Steffen – American award-winning futurist, 2017)

Friday 22 February 2019

Our children on strike for the climate! What about us? What do we do?

Written by Daniel Tanuro and first published at International Viewpoint

All over the world, thousands of young people are starting to set off spontaneously for the climate. On 17 January, in Brussels, more than 12,000 people went on strike and demonstrated in response to the magnificent appeal made at COP24 by the 15-year-old Swedish high school student Greta Thunberg. They were more than 35.000 one week later and the movement continues.

"What’s the point of going to school if tomorrow our world is destroyed," these young people ask. It’s common sense itself! These young people are not exaggerating. The situation is indeed very serious. The average global temperature has only increased by one degree since 1800, and the result is already worrying: heat waves, cold waves, more severe droughts, melting glaciers and ice caps, more violent cyclones, huge forest fires...

At two degrees, the impacts will be catastrophic. From that point we risk experiencing a snowball effect of global warming. The Earth would become a "drying planet", the temperature could rise very quickly by 4°C. Entire regions would become uninhabitable, hundreds of millions of people would become climate refugees, biodiversity would collapse and sea levels would eventually rise by three to four metres. It would no longer be a disaster, but a cataclysm!

The unavoidable conclusion is that everything must be done to ensure that the 1.5°C threshold for global warming decided at COP21 in Paris is not exceeded. But governments are not doing this. On the basis of their "climate plans", specialist's project a warming of between 2.7 and 3.7°C... At the very least, because more and more leaders are tempted to deny reality, like Donald Trump and the Brazilian fascist Bolsonaro!

In Europe, the Belgian government is one of the most hypocritical: on 2 December 2018, it congratulated the 75,000 demonstrators marching over climate, the next day it refused to support two European climate directives! Shame on those Tartufes! But the people are fed up with false promises and recuperation: there were even more demonstrators in Brussels on January 27.

Capital destroys our lives and the planet

Scientists have been ringing the bell for over 25 years. Why do emissions continue to increase? Why do governments do (almost) nothing? Because they are at the service of capitalism, because capitalism’s sole purpose is profit, because profit requires growth and because this growth is historically based on fossil fuel energy (oil, coal and natural gas).

Renewables? They are produced for profit, not for ecology. If we produced less and shared more, they would be enough to satisfy the real needs of humanity. But multinationals refuse to give up their fossil energy stocks and equipment, banks refuse to give up their capital invested in these stocks and equipment and bosses in all sectors have only one idea in mind: to exploit ever more labour and nature in order to produce ever more and make more profit than their competitors...

We are told that growth is the condition for everything: our jobs, our wages, our social security, our public services, our standard of living. Thus, our lives apparently depend on our exploitation and that of nature. In reality, this productivist system destroys both our lives and nature.

Today, we are on the brink of the abyss

Today, we are on the brink of collapse. To have a 50/50 chance of not exceeding 1.5°C of global warming, global net CO2 emissions must decrease by 58% between 2020 and 2030. Then they must be reduced to zero in 2050, after which it will be necessary to ensure that the Earth absorbs more CO2 than it emits.

Otherwise, it will be necessary either to resign ourselves to a planet that has become an used one, or to use technologies to artificially remove carbon from the atmosphere ("negative emission technologies") or to return part of the solar radiation to space ("geoengineering"). Warning: there is no guarantee that these witchcraft apprentice technologies will work. It will have to be experienced directly on a life-size scale, on the Earth and the living things that inhabit it....

Faced with a deadly danger, the instinct for self-preservation is a thousand times legitimate. The high school students are therefore a thousand times right to go on strike. Let us not stand idly by. Let us support them in the face of attacks from the pro-Trump right and attempts at recovery, wherever they come from. And let us follow their example!

Social and ecological issues: a single struggle!

The main victims of global warming are those who are constantly attacked by governments and employers: workers, peasants, children, women, pensioners, the sick... and migrants!

The rich tell themselves that they will always get by, even if it means living on artificial islands reserved for billionaires. To save their privileges and destroy our social and democratic achievements, they are increasingly tempted by the extreme right-wing who are racist, sexist and climate deniers. It is therefore clear that social and ecological issues are two sides of the same great democratic struggle.

This fight has only just begun. The world of work must take place there. From yellow vests to youth, it is high time to bring together struggles and demands. Today, our children are on the streets and on strike to defend their right to exist and that of their children on this planet. What about us adults? What do we do? We must be behind them! It is our duty and responsibility.

Let us mobilize, by all means. Let’s go on strike, too. Not a strike in slippers: an active strike. To discuss thoroughly all the injustices, all the destruction and ways to put an end to the current mess, both socially and environmentally.

For an ecosocialist emergency plan

Is it still possible to avoid climate disaster? The effort required is enormous. It can only succeed by combining the social and the ecological, in democracy and justice. An ecosocialist transition is essential. This requires an emergency plan. Here is a ten-point draft:

1. Eliminate unnecessary and dangerous production (starting with weapons!) and unnecessary transport of goods, locate production to the maximum, fight against programmed obsolescence.

2. Create public companies to insulate and renovate all buildings (at no extra cost to the inhabitants).

3. Invest massively in public transport, discourage the use of private cars. Rationalising air travel.

4. Leave fossil fuels in the ground. Expropriate and socialize the energy and finance sectors to organize a rapid transition to an economy based 100% on renewables (without nuclear!).

5. Redistribute wealth, restore equality in terms of taxation and the progressiveness of taxation on globalised incomes. Refinance the public sector, education and the care sector.

6. Respect climate justice. Transfer to the South the technologies and financial resources necessary for sustainable development for all.

7. Breaking with agribusiness. Promote ecological agriculture that does what it takes to sequester as much carbon as possible in the soil.

8. Share the necessary work among all, without loss of pay. Reconvert workers in the sectors to be eliminated (with income maintenance and social achievements) into new activities.

9. Getting out of the market: free education, transport, health care. Free consumption of water and electricity corresponding to basic needs, rapidly progressive pricing above this level.

10. Develop a culture of "caring", transparency and accountability. Strengthen and socialize care activities for people and ecosystems. Grant the right to vote to all. Recognise the rights of citizens and popular control and initiative, including the revocability of elected representatives

Utopian? Between 1940 and 1944, the United States government implemented an emergency plan. Military production has increased from 4% to 40% of GDP and all kinds of restrictions were imposed. What was done to defeat Nazism and ensure the global supremacy of US multinationals can be done to save the climate with social justice. It is a matter of political will. It is up to us to impose it.

Youth and student movements

The Albanian student struggle has reached historic dimensions

Student protests in Albania: “What we are witnessing is the direct effect of the neoliberal reform in education”

In the wake of the yellow jackets, a major youth movement could develop in France

China Intensifies Crackdown on Marxist Student Activists

Amid Growing Clampdown on Dissent and Free Speech, Hong Kong’s Youth Is Pushing Back


A Lesson in How Not to Mitigate Climate Change

COP24: During the disaster, the comedy continues

Our planet, our lives, and life itself, are worth more than their profits!

Tropical Forests Are Flipping From Storing Carbon to Releasing It

The rising tide: Kerala 2018 flood

Daniel Tanuro, a certified agriculturalist and eco-socialist environmentalist, writes for “La gauche”, (the monthly of the LCR-SAP, Belgian section of the Fourth International).

Daniel Tanuro is the author of The Impossibility of Green Capitallism, (Resistance Books, Merlin and IIRE) and Le moment Trump (Demopolis, 2018).

Wednesday 20 February 2019

More than half of European Corporations have No CO2 Reduction Plans

A report based on a survey of European corporations (including UK ones) by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), reveals that 53% do not have targets for reducing their CO2 emissions, even though 80% say that they are aware of the risk to their businesses from climate change that this poses. 

More than a quarter of the surveyed companies were UK based. Of those who do, only one in three have targets that extend beyond 2025. Short termism runs through all corporate strategies. This despite reported board-level oversight from 95% of companies, from those returning surveys. 

Even so, 58% of these companies reported a reduction in emissions in 2018, which was in the main achieved through conservation measures, like installing LED lighting, which uses less electricity and so saves money. 

But a third also reported that they had increased emissions from 2017 to 2018. CDP received 849 responses from European companies in 23 countries. These companies account for 2.3 billion tons of CO2 emissions. The businesses include 82 large private companies, with combined revenues in excess of €614 billion.

Increased operating costs associated with policy and legal changes was the most commonly reported risk, with almost half (46%) of companies highlighting this. 86% of surveyed companies were also positive about the potential business opportunities from providing the solutions to climate change. 

Almost half (46%) of respondents report opportunities to drive revenue through demand for lower emissions products and services, with a quarter (26%) seeing these opportunities either currently or in the short term future.

The survey also asked about other environmental issues such as deforestation and water security risks, which produced similar findings to that for climate change from respondents.

All a bit of a mixed bag of results, but there is no sense of urgency from businesses, considering the increasingly shortening of time left to avoid catastrophic climate damage which scientists are finding. 

It should come as no surprise that businesses are only acting in a positive manner when reducing their bottom line or seeing expanding into new markets to generate more profit, other than being required to comply with legal and regularly requirements as set by governments.

This is the logic of the capitalist system, and why governments’ have so much difficulty in getting corporations to reduce their emissions. If regulation is strong enough to get serious reductions, business will lobby, and they are a powerful lobby, to water down commitments. Unless there is money to be saved or made by the corporations, and so increasing profits for shareholders, they have no incentive to act in the interests of the environment.

This will not change, despite many corporations having public relations induced ‘corporate responsibility’ schemes, which again have the primary purpose of making more money. 

Corporations know that at least some of the public are concerned by climate issues, and may choose corporations over others, on the basis of this greenwash, so promote this to increase market share. A good example of this in BP (British Petroleum), some years back changing their corporate logo to a flower, pictured above. BP is one of the worst offenders when it comes to climate change.

Even in corporations with well-meaning CEOs and boards, it would not be rational for them to put environmental matters above business as usual, and they would likely lose their jobs if they did. It is not the purpose of corporations to do anything that does not prioritise increasing profits, and this is how they are judged by their shareholders.

All of which rather calls into question the role that CDP is actually playing here. Their website explains that their strategy is:

‘We want to see a thriving economy that works for people and planet in the long term. To do this we focus investors, companies and cities on taking urgent action to build a truly sustainable economy by measuring and understanding their environmental impact.’

But this is futile as a means of achieving positive changes in behaviour from businesses beyond saving money and perhaps seeing opportunities to make money in new markets, as we have noted. Under the capitalist system, an ‘economy that works for people and planet’ is completely incompatible with corporate behaviour on a fundamental level. Only a change in the economic system will lead to a different approach.

The main use for us of CDP’s work is to show us the scale of the problem, not to provide a remedy to the climate crisis, that these same companies have been instrumental in causing.   

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


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.