Saturday 27 April 2019

Climate emergency manifesto: We only have one planet. Let's save it. Now!

Written by European United Left/Nordic Green Left and first published at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal

The latest IPCC Special Report (October 2018) is our last alarm bell for stopping mass human and environmental destruction caused by human-induced climate change. Its findings were alarming-rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes before the year 2030 are what is required if we are to have any chance of staying well below 1.5° global warming. 

The failure of governments to adequately deal with this man-made crisis is already impacting millions of lives, and the most vulnerable worldwide are always hit the hardest. Short-sighted market logic has delayed an adequate response for way too long. 

We need unprecedented political will to achieve an ecologically just Europe, where we accept our full climate responsibility and where our climate is not sacrificed for the profit of the few.

Climate action is our number one priority in European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL). We do not see it as a stand-alone struggle; it includes struggles for decent jobs, high living standards and gender and racial equality. 

We oppose polices that subordinate essential natural resources of life and common goods, like water, energy, air, a clean environment and health, to the forces of profit-seeking. We fight against capitalism, neoliberal policies and corporate capture.

The panic button needs to be hit to declare climate emergency. We need serious action now; there is no more time to waste.

A legal basis for climate justice

The principles of climate justice are central to how we approach climate action, ensuring that the transition is fair and leaves no one behind. The struggle for climate action is deeply intertwined with all human rights struggles as well as the ecological crisis. 

Climate justice needs to have a legal basis and be a fundamental value in the legal systems of the EU and Member States. Only then can climate litigation succeed in ensuring our targets meet the science and are not just political compromises. Only then can all policy work towards strong and ambitious climate goals, through the prism of climate justice.

We urgently need to:

insert climate justice into the legal bases of the EU and Member States and ensure climate policies follow the principles of climate justice

ensure just transition is at the heart of climate action, alleviate energy poverty, guarantee the right to equal access to energy and stop policies that burden vulnerable and marginalised people

ensure a long-term vision and road map to achieve all Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and use the SDGs as essential benchmarks for all legislative actions in every policy field, acknowledging that climate goals are related to all other SDGs

Give people, especially the youth, a voice in our climate policies and prioritise inclusive climate education

gender proof our climate mitigation and adaptation policies and create gender-sensitive and inclusive climate policies

revise the EU 2050 long-term carbon-neutral strategy to focus on climate justice, 100% renewables and early action to reach carbon neutrality by 2040 at the latest

An end to fossil fuels

A rapid and clear expiry date for fossil fuels is urgently needed to keep global warming well below 1.5°C. We believe in a right to energy, and this becomes a right to renewable energy when considering the human right to live in a safe and habitable environment. Instead of continuing to allow the fossil industry to set the agenda, we need command and control policies at EU and Member State levels. 

Our only chance lies in a sustainable, decentralised and accessible energy supply, which provides jobs and guarantees our energy sovereignty. We cannot afford to be shy in investing in this renewable future.

We urgently need to:

immediately revise our 2030 targets to commit to a reduction target of at least 65% of greenhouse gases, and revise all other climate and energy targets to what is scientifically necessary to curb global warming well below 1.5°C

commit to a fossil fuel phase out date, which includes gas, by 2030 and a rapid phase out nuclear energy and first generation biofuels, including palm oil and soy, as well as excluding the fossil fuel industry completely from all decision-making processes

move away from false ‘solutions’, gas and nuclear reliance and start realising the potential of natural carbon sinks; reject geoengineering and techno-fixes, such as carbon-capture and storage, which facilitate dirty industries

increase investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy savings in all sectors

enshrine the right to renewable energy, so that energy that does not harm our planet is accessible and affordable to all

Resist the constant growth model

Global capitalism dictates constant growth, and all growth is reliant on natural resources, which are, of course, limited. Ending the constant growth model is a big task, and so immediately, measures must be taken to counteract the constant growth model. This means regulating to ensure sustainable production and sustainable systems all around us and fight for new economic and social policies. 

Allowing GDP to be the sacred indicator of social progress is ignorant of the ecocide this unregulated growth creates. All sectors, as obliged by the Paris Agreement, must decarbonise. To do this, we need new production models that fully incorporate the polluter pays and circular economy principles and resist the harmful unsustainable forces of global capitalism.

We urgently need to:

implement a European green rule: privilege the environment and climate over the free market, end the quest for profit and rethink the functioning of our society according to ecosystem’s limits

rapidly shift to sustainable agriculture and fisheries, including shorter supply chains, full environmental compliance and food sovereignty. This means a swift move away from the current agro-industrial intensification model, including patenting elements of life, towards ecological, sustainable farming and fishing practices and local, sustainable food systems that promote genetic diversity

completely transform the direction on the EU’s trade, commercial and investment policies, ensuring only they are environmentally and socially sustainable. This means no trade without ratification and implementation of the Paris Agreement, including climate and environment clauses in trade deals, and proper regulation of the climate impact of imports and exports

ensure that the true meaning of circular economy principles are fully implemented in all legislation and processes; promote local consumption and production based on these principles of reuse, recycle and repair to stop planned obsolescence business strategies and adapt consumption to the limits of the Planet

properly fund social services, increase smart and green spatial and urban planning and ensure accessibility, social justice and equity in the allocation of public services; radically rethink transport, focusing on zero-emission public transport which should be free for all and promote active mobility

protect and invest in our biodiversity and carbon sinks, by prioritising sufficient funding for the conservation and restoration of woodlands, peatlands and other habitats, particularly protecting native species; adopt control and surveillance measures on a European scale for the pests and pathogens that are decimating European forests and create specific support measures to prevent and fight forest fires

Direct the transition

Market ‘solutions’, such as carbon markets, have been successfully pushed for by industry to become the prevalent logic in the EU. Market approaches are inherently incapable of effectively reducing emissions and have led us to the standstill where we are now. They create hands-off, ‘cost-effective’, fake responses to climate change, completely shirking governments of the responsibility to direct the rapid transition to a sustainable society. 

Carbon credits are a right to pollute, and we utterly reject this concept. Dirty industries must be directly regulated and renewables massively endorsed. The polluter pays principle must apply, the costs cannot be externalised to society and the environment. 

This means that the companies that extract and sell fossil fuels must pay up, as well as the big polluting industries. Nature, biodiversity and a habitable planet are not commodities that require cost-benefit analyses, their value cannot be monetised, nor can it be ignored.

We urgently need to:

end the liberalisation agenda of the EU for energy, recognise it is as a common good and promote the socialisation of the energy sector; allow for massive state investment into public renewable energy

democratise and decentralise energy and ensure an expansion in community-level energy projects

reject all market-based climate policies because they are climate delaying tactics; stand for goal-based direct regulation on greenhouse gas emissions by directly setting and monitoring legally binding emissions reduction goals for each sector

stop reforming the broken market system and immediately abolish the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS)

introduce binding regulations on emissions for shipping and aviation - offsetting schemes such as CORSIA cannot be considered as climate action; directly regulate shipping and aviation in climate policies by mandating emissions reduction goals and emissions performance standards; ensure public investment into alternative sustainable fuels for both and ensure that these industries are properly taxed

encourage Member States to green their tax systems making sure that the big polluters pay their share, not the people. Regulate financial markets so that financial actors comply with strict sustainability and social criteria that works towards the necessary transitions

Investment not austerity

Climate action needs to be about public investment, not austerity. We reject the neoliberal notions of leaving climate action up to individuals; we place the responsibility firmly on governments and lawmakers, to lead with public investment and ensure that the private sector can only invest sustainably. Climate justice means the burdens and benefits of action must be distributed fairly. 

People cannot be left picking up the tab to the advantage of the Big Polluters. Ambitious climate action must mean a Just Transition, a framework of social interventions to make sure that no communities or regions are left behind in the transition to a clean planet. A massive mobilisation of funds is needed for the green transition, including its direct and indirect consequences.

We urgently need to:

establish a Just Transition Fund and ensure decent green jobs are created in vulnerable regions particularly; ensure that no community or region suffers disproportionately from the transition to a clean planet

revise how Europe spends its funds, take account of the Ecological deficit we create and ensure a massive public Green Investment Plan

end all direct and indirect subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, including quantitative easing at the European Central Bank

ensure public interest research and development on environmentally-friendly low-carbon technologies and introduce the adequate incentives

Ambitious global action

Climate action needs to take place at the global level too, with an ambitious and coordinated global response. Those who contribute the least to climate change, are the ones who suffer the most from its consequences. This is why it  is essential that the EU and Member States act on their historic responsibility in emitting greenhouse gases and take full account of their financial and technological resources.  

We must do more and reach low carbon neutrality by 2040 at the latest whilst helping adaptation efforts. Climate justice at the international level should be based on effective partnerships and international solidarity. The Commission and the Council negotiate about climate on behalf of all EU Member States, but Member States need to become more active and involved at the international level and loudly advocate the principles of climate justice.

We urgently need to:

take responsibility for our historical share in global warming; compensate for the climate debt we have built up and ensure the most vulnerable countries are sufficiently resourced to adapt to global warming and rising sea levels

limit our global ecological footprint to help protect our oceans and forests worldwide, and support measures to protect and recover these lungs of the earth

call for a legal, universal definition of climate refugees, ensure that there are safe and legal ways to the EU and that their right to asylum is respected in every Member State. Call for a legal and universal definition of internally displaced people due to climatic reasons, ensuring that our foreign policies are oriented towards protecting their rights.

secure equitable and sufficient flows of climate finance under the Paris agreement and ensure grants are the financial instrument favoured over loans. Ensure that the Green Fund is replenished to €100 billion

ensure that all development and trade policies include, and are streamlined with, climate goals, and ensure a readily available funding mechanism for Loss and Damage

advocate for an International Convention on Fossil Fuels to keep them in the ground
oblige the European Union and all its Member State to act with high ambition at international climate conferences, play a more active role in the yearly global summit, and act on the COP conclusions every year and; that Member State and EU use their climate diplomacy to spur other global actors to pursue adequate decarbonisation strategies

Together we fight for change

As one of the richest continents and main contributors to climate change, Europe has a duty to ensure rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. We are in dire need of just and sustainable structural reforms throughout society - bearing in mind the historical responsibility of the rich, big polluters. Making capitalism just a bit greener will not succeed in halting climate change, it will only delay climate action further. To date, dirty industries have been influencing our climate policies. 

Now we need our climate action to be accountable to the people, not the climate confusers. We need to place people and the sustainability of the environment above profit. If we do not implement radical system changes right now, the commercialisation of the earth will continue to put the interests of the multinational companies first. This puts our planet and ourselves at an unacceptable risk. 

We have a responsibility to avert the climate crisis with urgency and preserve the earth for future generations. The only effective response is to immediately address this crisis as a climate emergency. Together we can change the system to save the climate!

Wednesday 24 April 2019

Climate change must be a thing. It’s on prime time TV

Written by Gabriel Levy and first posted at People and Nature

Key effects of global warming were reported bluntly to millions of TV viewers in the documentary Climate Change: The Facts, on BBC One on Thursday 18 April.

“It may sound frightening”, the super-popular TV naturalist David Attenborough said, introducing the show, “but the scientific evidence is that if we have not taken dramatic action within the next decade, we could face irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies”.

The press loved it. “A call to arms”, The Guardian said. Would it “wake up philanthropists, investors and governments to act?” Forbes asked.

I wondered: why now?

The BBC hasn’t exactly rushed to portray global warming accurately. In 2011, two decades after the international climate talks started at Rio, scientists were slamming the BBC for giving air time to climate science deniers. In 2014, a BBC memo told journalists to stop pretending “balance” was needed between climate science and its deniers – but the practice continued, leading to another edict in September last year. By that time, researchers had started refusing to come into BBC studios to debate deniers.

But high-profile BBC journalists still felt compelled to interview anti-science nutters who are paid by the fossil fuel industry to advise Donald Trump. In October last year, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report outlined measures to limit warming to 1.5 degrees above the pre-industrial level, Evan Davies of Newsnight gave Myron Ebell air-time to rubbish it.

By some standards, the BBC is doing well. After all, it took the Vatican 359 years to apologise for forcing Galileo Galilei to deny his finding that the earth goes around the sun. 

The BBC aired Climate Change: The Facts a mere 30 years after scientists nailed down the causal role of fossil fuel combustion and other economic activity in global warming. Well done.

So, why now? Two main reasons, to my mind.

► 1. The reality of global warming is becoming blindingly obvious. Twenty of the hottest years ever recorded were in the last 22 years. Effects such as floods and the wrecking of agriculture have been felt in the global south for many years. Now rich countries, too, are being hit. Climate Change: The Facts dealt with this well, showing the devastation caused by wildfires and rising sea levels in the USA.

► 2. A completely new protest movement – directed, essentially, against politicians’ failure to act on global warming – has emerged, with school students’ strikes and large-scale non-violent direct action by Extinction Rebellion (XR).

The school strikes have spread apparently completely outside of the influence of, let alone control by, existing political or environmentalist organisations. XR seems politically similar to earlier environmentalist groups – but, certainly here in the UK, no such group previously has brought so many people into potential confrontation with the law.

The political establishment’s instinct, I think, is to use a combination of dialogue, concessions, co-optation, and rhetoric to tame, constrain and control these movements. That’s not to say that repression will play no part: the police could abandon, at least partially, their softly-softly approach to XR. But social control under capitalism is as much about ideology and opinions as it is about violence and repression. (I am thinking about the UK, although some of these points apply more widely.)

Power, and the wealth it represents, can live with a “climate movement” that does not threaten its control of the economy and of society. Narratives that presume that existing political structures and parties could and should “solve” the global warming problem will be able to echo through the mainstream. Power has an interest in convincing people it is listening to them – and, since it knows people are not stupid, part of its technique is actually to do so.

The last 20 minutes of Climate Change: The Facts told the standard mainstream tale of how governments are dealing with global warming. It highlighted the 2015 Paris agreement – but not the fact that it simply continued a quarter of a century of negotiations, during which global fossil fuel use rose by half. It acknowledged that oil and coal companies resist change – but did not mention how governments support them with hundreds of billions of dollars of subsidies.

A real conversation about tackling global warming will start not with the international climate talks but with a recognition of their disastrous failure.

I am not a crazy conspiracy theorist who thinks David Attenborough is an instrument of some shadowy controllers. But clearly he is a suitable figurehead to bring “solutions” to global warming, that have been discussed for years among small groups of diplomats, politicians and NGOs at the climate talks, to a wider public. Because, as the Daily Telegraph put it, “we all trust Attenborough”.

The mainstream media discussion, of which Climate Change: The Facts is part, assumes that not only existing political structures, but also economic and social structures, can deal with the problem.

The possibility of bigger social transformations directed at overturning relationships of power and wealth – and the thought that these may be the most effective way, or even the only way, that the fossil fuel juggernaut can be stopped – is given little or no air-time. The idea that, in the rich world, people could live more happily outside the corporate-controlled fuel-guzzling technological systems in which they are currently trapped, is almost completely absent. So are suggestions that the global south is not doomed to follow this so-called “path of development”.

Admittedly George Monbiot’s call to “overthrow this system that is eating the planet” made it on to Frankie Boyle’s late-night comedy show. The media knows how to marginalise and patronise us, too.

I hope that the new climate movements will become open forums where ideas about radical social, political and technological change will be discussed. Let’s resist the pressure to corall the conversation within the mainstream’s ideological fences.

Take XR’s main political demand in the UK – that the country’s economy should be carbon neutral by 2025. Easy to say, hard to achieve.

One of the first questions XR will have to answer is the one posed in France: what about attacks on working people’s living standards packaged and presented as measures to deal with climate change? Such as the proposed diesel tax that triggered the “yellow vests” revolt in December last year.

Working-class people in France saw the tax as a neo-liberal austerity measure, dressed in “environmentalist” clothes, and revolted against it accordingly. “The elites talk about the end of the world, while we talk about the end of the month”, was (reportedly) a recurring theme.

A “climate movement” in the global north, divorced from the justified anger against neo-liberalism displayed by many “yellow vests”, is doomed to fail on a social level, and fatally flawed politically.

The whole point of neo-liberal “austerity” policies, practiced by president Emmanuel Macron in France today and by successive UK governments since the 1980s, is to protect and support the constantly-expanding capitalist economy, and the way it is structured to benefit the 1% – which, in turn, is the main cause of global warming.

The “yellow vests”, other anti-austerity movements, the school strikers and XR “rebels” are all up against the same machine. We all need common language and common politics (for practical suggestions, see the links at the end).

The issues we should focus on, I think, are “how can we unite these movements?” and “how can we develop real democracy, independent of the state, through which to work out measures adequate to prevent dangerous climate change?”. Rather than, “what advice can we give existing political structures – who have known for years how climate change could be avoided and have refused to act?”

If you think I am exaggerating about the danger of climate protest being co-opted and controlled, think about the fight against racism.

In the early 1980s, as the post-war social consensus was breaking down and Margaret Thatcher became UK prime minister, that fight centred on the 1981 riots. Black Britons, and others in their communities, turned the “inner cities” upside down and demanded better.

In the 1990s, when Tony Blair’s “New Labour” took over from the Tories, anti-racist narratives were increasingly co-opted and controlled. The 1999 Macpherson report into the killing of Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager, was a turning point: it found that the notoriously botched murder investigation showed that the police force was “institutionally racist”.

The establishment’s embrace of anti-racism produced many positive outcomes. Victims less often faced the wall of hostility the Lawrence family had faced. In schools, on the streets and in football grounds, open expressions of racism were challenged. The popular press changed, veering between subtle and subliminal forms of racism to competing for hypocritical “moral” high ground in denouncing racist individuals. 

But the social and economic structures that multiply and encourage racism went untouched. The Blair government pressed ahead with sanctions against, and the 2003 invasion of, Iraq – resulting in the fundamentally racist mass murder of hundreds of thousands of civilians. Inherently racist immigration policies were tightened.

The end of this process is the current resurgence of racism. The structural underpinnings are UK support for new wars in the Middle East, in the first place the genocidal Saudi onslaught on Yemen, and the vicious “hostile environment” for migrants. The ideological outcomes are vicious Islamophobia throughout society and the recent upsurge of racist street actions.

Climate change, like racism, is a big, multi-faceted problem that defies simple “solutions”. Dealing with it means dealing with the social and economic system that has produced it. Don’t let the political elite and its media set the terms of our discussions about how to do so. 

Some People & Nature articles on measures needed to combat global warming:

■ And there’s plenty more via the site contents

Monday 22 April 2019

Extinction Rebellion – A Cause for Hope for the Planet and Maybe for Revolution

The worldwide protests organised by Extinction Rebellion, have put the issue of the ecological crisis into mainstream political discourse. Non-violent actions have been carried out in more than 30 countries and within them, many more towns and cities. But it has been in the UK, the birthplace of the movement, that has seen the most spectacular actions, particularly in London. Four central London locations were held, and blockaded, three of them illegally, for almost a week, with over a 1,000 arrests being made by police.

It has astonished me that protesters held on for so long in London, but I had obviously misjudged the numbers that Extinction Rebellion could mobilise, especially those willing to be arrested in the process. The Metropolitan Police, have, by and large, handled the demonstrations well, and proportionately, as far as I can tell. I’ve been out of London for a few days, and only managed to visit the Parliament Square camp, on the second day of that encampment, and all was very quiet whilst I was there.

The right-wing media has attempted to smear the protesters all week, but the best they came up with was to call them ‘middle-class.’ Since when did the Daily Mail see being middle-class as an insult? The accusation was that working-class people had more to worry about, low wages, insecure jobs and public services cut to the bone, which may well have some truth in it, but when was the last time the Daily Mail etc championed the causes of these people? Never, is the answer.

There are other movements that have sprung up recently to try to force action on the ecological crisis, such as the school students strike and Earth Strike, both also international in their scope. The catalyst for all of this activity seems to have been last year’s International Panel on Climate Change report, which warned that we only had twelve years to get our act together on carbon emissions or face runaway climate change. People have observed the almost complete lack of urgency on the part of governments’, and concluded that they must be dragged kicking and screaming into action.

Protests were confined to only the legal gathering at Marble Arch in London by Easter Monday, and Extinction Rebellion has said they will democratically decide what comes next. Judging by what we have seen in the last week, whatever is decided will be imaginative and well supported. Protests will continue throughout the summer, of that I think we can be certain.

What made this rebellion brilliant was that it demonstrated that if you have the numbers, especially the huge numbers willing to get arrested, the authorities cannot cope. With police numbers cut back over the last decade, they found it impossible to take back these occupied sites, and have storage space for those taken into custody. Many of those arrested returned to the protests when they were released after a few hours, some of whom were arrested again.

Extinction Rebellion appeared to have a misinformation plan in place too. There were rumours of the London underground network being targeted for disruption, diverting police resources, but in the end only a three person protest took place where protesters glued themselves to an overland train. Similarly, Extinction Rebellion announced an intention to close Heathrow Airport, resulting police being drafted in from Wales to defend the airport, only for about a dozen protesters to stand on a roundabout, causing no disruption at all.

This is how things are likely to carry on, with mass actions as well as smaller guerrilla actions taken by small groups, similar to the way the suffragettes operated in the early twentieth century. Also like the suffragettes, they have clear and simple demands, votes for women for the suffragettes, the calling of a climate emergency by Extinction Rebellion. But beneath the surface, as with the suffragettes, Extinction Rebellion has deeper, more radical aims.

I was interested to note the language used on Extinction Rebellion’s twitter releases, words like ‘held’ an area, and ‘retaken’ an area, as well as calling the protesters ‘rebels’. It was all good natured, but the language reveals something of thinking of the organisers, I think.

There will surely come a point, when most of those participating in this rebellion will realise that governments’ are not only unwilling to take remedial action, but are also unable to do so. The democratic system is so corrupt, with corporate interests the only ones that count for anything. As some placards on the protest stated, ‘system change not climate change’ a slogan used by ecosocialists for some time now, and I know of some ecosocialists who have been involved.

At this point, the rebels will either have to give up and go home, or go from rebels to revolutionaries. This does not mean resorting to violence, although at some point the authorities are likely to turn to violence. The power that we have just had a small glimpse of this past week, should be ramped up, but that will take more numbers. We saw how the police struggled with 1,000 people arrested, what would it be like with 10,000? With 100,000? If these kind of numbers can be mobilised, anything is possible.

There is also the Earth Strike planned for 27 September. If the workers, organised and unorganised can be brought on board for the revolution, we will see an unstoppable force, powerful enough to bring truly radical change. We could be on the verge of something almost unimaginable only a few months ago, real system change, or to put it another way, a revolution.

Wednesday 17 April 2019

A “Green New Deal”?: The Eco-syndicalist Alternative

Written by Tom Wetzel and first published at Ideas & Action

Capitalist dynamics are at the very heart of the current crisis that humanity faces over global warming.

When we talk of “global warming,” we’re talking about the rapid — and on-going — rise in the average world-wide surface and ocean temperature. Thus far a rise of 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1880. According to an ongoing temperature analysis conducted by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, two-thirds of this temperature increase has occurred since 1975. A one-degree rise in temperature might seem like no big deal. As the NASA scientists point out, however, “A one-degree global change is significant because it takes a vast amount of heat to warm all the oceans, atmosphere, and land by that much.”

We know that carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels is at the heart of the problem. For many centuries the proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere ranged between 200 and 300 parts per million. By the 1950s the growth of industrial capitalism since the 1800s had pushed this to the top of this range — 310 parts per million. Since then the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen very rapidly — to more than 410 parts per million by 2018. This is the result of the vast rise in the burning of fossil fuels in the era since World War 2 — coal, petroleum, natural gas.

The problem is rooted in the very structure of capitalism itself. Cost-shifting is an essential feature of the capitalist mode of production. An electric power company burns coal to generate electricity because the price per kilowatt hour from coal-fired electricity has long been cheaper than alternatives. But the emissions from burning coal travel downwind and cause damage to the respiratory systems of thousands of people — including preventable deaths to people with respiratory ailments. This is in addition to the powerful contribution to global warming from the carbon dioxide emissions. 

But the power firm doesn’t have to pay money for these human costs. If the firm had to pay fees that would be equivalent to the human cost in death, respiratory damage and contribution to global warming and its effects, burning coal would not be profitable for the power company.

Firms also externalize costs onto workers, such as the health effects of stress or chemical exposures. The “free market” pundit or hack economist might deny that companies externalize costs onto workers. They might say that wages and benefits paid to workers for each hour of work measure the cost of labor. But the human cost of work can be increased without an increase in the compensation paid to workers. If a company speeds up the pace of work, if people are working harder, if they are more tightly controlled by supervisors, paced by machines or software, this increases the cost in human terms.

Toxic chemicals used in manufacturing, in agriculture and other industries pose a threat to both the workers and to people who live in nearby areas. Usually working class people live in neighborhoods near polluting industries, and often these are communities of color. This is another form of capitalist cost-shifting.

State regulation of pesticides or air pollution often ends up acting as a “cover” for the profit-making firms. Despite the existence of pollutants generated by leaky oil refineries and pollutants emitted by other industries in industrial areas in California — such as the “cancer alley” of oil refineries in the Contra Costa County area or the similar refinery zone in Wilmington — the government agencies set up to deal with air pollution in the Bay Area and Los Angeles County protected polluters for years by focusing almost exclusively on pollution generated  by vehicle exhaust. In this way the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District have been an example of “regulatory capture” by corporate capital.

Power firms that generate vast amounts of carbon dioxide emissions — and firms that make profits from building fossil-fuel burning cars and trucks or from the sale of gasoline and diesel and jet fuel — have not had to pay any fees or penalties for the growing build-up of the carbon dioxide layer in the atmosphere. The global warming crisis thus has its explanation in cost shifting and the search for short-term profits and ever growing markets — features that are at the heart of the capitalist system.

If global capitalism continues with “business as usual”, the warming will have major impacts — killer heat waves, more ocean heat pumping energy into hurricanes and cyclones, rising ocean levels from melting of ice in the polar regions and melting of glaciers, destruction of corals in the oceans, and a greater danger to the survival of many species of living things.

Previous attempts to get global agreement to cut back burning of fossil fuels have been ineffective. The Paris accords merely proposed voluntary targets. NASA scientist James Hansen described it as a “fraud”: “There is no action, just promises.” According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the dire situation calls for “rapid and far-reaching transitions…unprecedented in terms of scale.” The IPCC warns that there needs to be a 45 percent world-wide reduction in the production of heat-trapping gases (mainly carbon dioxide) by 2030 if humanity is to avoid dangerous levels of global warming.

Clearly a global change is needed. But how to bring this about?

The concept of a Green New Deal has been proposed by Green Party activists, climate justice groups and various radicals for some time. The slogan is based on a comparison with the statist planning used by President Roosevelt to respond to the economic crisis of the 1930s as well as the vast and rapid transition of American industry to war production at the beginning of World War 2. The idea is that the crisis of global warming should be treated with equal urgency as the mass unemployment of 1933 or the fascist military threat of the early 1940s.

After the election to Congress of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — a member of Democratic Socialists of America — the Green New Deal resolution was introduced into the US Congress by Ocasio-Cortez  and Senator Ed Markey. This lays out a set of ambitious goals, such as 100 percent electric power generation in the USA from “clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.”

Other goals include “removing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing…as much as is technologically feasible” and “overhauling” the transport sector “to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions” from transport “through investment in zero-emission vehicles, accessible public  transportation and high speed rail.” Along with this resolution, a letter was sent to the US Congress from 626 environmental organizations backing the Green New Deal proposal. These environmental groups made it quite clear they oppose any market-based tinkering — reforms that we know won’t work — such as “cap and trade” (trading in pollution “rights”).

Many have proposed “public-private partnerships” and public subsidies to private corporations. Robert Pollin, writing in New Left Review, talks about “preferential tax treatment for clean-energy investments” and “market arrangements through government procurement contracts.” All part of a so-called “green industrial policy.” A green capitalism, in other words.

But workers are often skeptical of these promises. Companies will simply lay people off, under-pay them, or engage in speed-up and dangerous work practices — if they can profit by doing so. For example, low pay, work intensification and injuries have been a problem at the Tesla electric car factory which has received 5 billion dollars in government subsidies. Tesla recently laid off 7 percent of its workforce (over three thousand workers) in pursuit of profitability.

An alternative approach that looks to statist central planning has been proposed by Richard Smith — an eco-socialist who is also a member of Democratic Socialists of America. Smith characterizes the proposal by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez this way:

Ocasio-Cortez…is a bold,  feminist, anti-racist and socialist-inspired successor to FDR…She’s taking the global warming discussion to a new level…She’s not calling for cap and trade or carbon taxes or divestment or other “market” solutions. She’s issuing a full-throated call for de-carbonization — in effect throwing the gauntlet down to capitalism and challenging the system…[1]

Smith believes the goals of the Green New Deal can’t be realized through things like “incentives” — and he’s right about that. He points out that the Green New Deal resolution “lacks specifics” about how the goals will be reached. To realize the goal of “de-carbonizing” the economy, he proposes a three-part program:

Declare a state of emergency to suppress fossil fuel use. Ban all new extraction. Nationalize the fossil fuel industry to phase it out.

Create a federal program in the style of the 1930s Works Progress Administration to shift the workforce of the shut-down industries to “useful but low emissions” areas of the economy “at equivalent pay and benefits.”

Launch a “state-directed” crash program to phase in renewable electric power production, electric transport vehicles and other methods of transport not based on burning fossil fuels. 

Develop programs to shift from petro-chemical intensive industrial agriculture to organic farming.

Even though “AOC explicitly makes a powerful case for state planning,” Smith says, a weakness of the Green New Deal resolution, from his perspective, is the failure to “call for a National Planning Board to reorganize, reprioritize and restructure the economy.” When he talks about nationalization, he notes “We do not call for expropriation.” He’s talking about buying out the shareholders at “fair market value.” This is essentially a proposal for a largely state-directed form of capitalist economy — a form of state capitalism.

Smith’s proposal is wildly unrealistic. Are we to believe that the corporate-media influenced American electoral scheme can be used to elect politicians — through the business-controlled Democratic Party — to enact a multi-trillion dollar program of seizures of the fossil fuel industry, auto manufacturers, and chemical firms and set up a planning board to direct the economy?

The American working class did make important gains in the Thirties — such as the Fair Labor Standards Act (minimum wage, unemployment insurance) and Aid to Families with Dependent Children. These concessions were only won due to an uprising of the American working class in a context of vast struggles around the world — a working class revolution in Spain, plant occupations in France, a communist insurgency in China, the Communists holding on in Russia. In that moment capitalism faced a threat to its very existence.

The USA saw a huge working class rebellion between 1933 and 1937 — millions of workers on strike, hundreds of thousands of workers creating new unions from scratch,  rising influence for revolutionary organizations, a thousand workplace seizures (sit-down strikes), challenges to Jim Crow in the south. And in 1936 this angry and militant mood also pushed very close to the formation of a national Farmer-Labor Party that would have been a major threat to the Democrats. Many formerly intransigent corporations were forced to negotiate agreements with unions. The Democrats chose to “move left” in that moment.

It’s also a mistake to romanticize the New Deal. People talk of the 1930s WPA as the model for “job guarantees” — that is, government as employer of last resort. But there was still 17 percent unemployment in USA as late as 1940. Workers in the WPA often had beefs such as low pay. Communists, socialists and syndicalists organized unions and strikes among WPA workers. The gains that working class people were able to win in the Thirties did not simply come about through electoral politics. 

Nor were the conservative, bureaucratic “international unions” of the American Federal of Labor the vehicle either. They were more of a road block — exactly why several hundred thousand workers had created new grassroots unions from scratch by late 1934.

Smith is not alone in pushing statist central planning as a solution. This concept is being talked up lately by various state socialists, including people associated with Jacobin magazine and DSA. These advocates often assume the state is simply a class-neutral institution that could be taken hold of by the working class and wielded for its purposes.

In reality the state is not class-neutral but has class oppression built into its very structure. For example, public sector workers are subordinate to managerialist bureaucracies just as workers are in the private corporations. The day-to-day workings of state institutions are controlled by the cadres of the bureaucratic control class — state managers, high end professionals employed as experts, prosecutors and judges, military and police brass. This is in addition to the “professionals of representation” — the politicians — who are typically drawn from either the business or bureaucratic control classes, that is, classes to which working class people are subordinate.

As a top-down approach to planning, statist central planning has no way to gain accurate information about either public preferences for public goods and services or individual consumer preferences. Statist central planning is also inherently authoritarian. This is because it is based on a denial of self-management to people who would be primarily affected by its decisions — consumers and residents of communities, on the one hand, and workers in the various industries who would continue to be subject to managerialist autocracy.

Self-management means that people who are affected by decisions have control over those decisions to the extent they are affected. There are many decisions in the running of workplaces where the group who are primarily affected are the workers whose activity makes up the production process. Taking self-management seriously would require a form of distributed control in planning, where groups who are primarily affected over certain decisions — such as residents of local communities or workers in industries— have an independent sphere of decision-making control. This is the basis of the syndicalist alternative of distributed planning, discussed below.

State socialists will sometimes make noises about “worker control” as an element of central planning, but real collective power of workers over the production process is inconsistent with the concept of central planning. If planning is to be the activity of an elite group at a center, they will want to have their own managers on site in workplaces to make sure their plans are carried out.  Any talk of “worker control” always loses out to this logic.

Statist central planning can’t overcome either the exploitative or cost-shifting logic of capitalism, which lies at the heart of the ecological crisis. Various populations are directly impacted by pollution in various forms — such as the impact of pesticide pollution on farm workers and rural communities or the impact on air and water in local communities. The only way to overcome the cost-shifting logic is for the affected populations — workers and communities — to gain direct power to prevent being polluted on. For global warming, this means the population in general needs a direct form of popular power that would enable the people to directly control the allowable emissions into the atmosphere.

As difficult as it may be, we need a transition to a self-managed, worker-controlled socialist political economy if we’re going to have a solution to the ecological crisis of the present era. But this transition can only really come out of the building up of a powerful, participatory movement of the oppressed majority in the course of struggles against the present regime.

The Syndicalist Alternative for an Eco-socialist Future

The problem is not that people struggle for immediate changes that are within our power to currently push for. Rather, the issue is how we pursue change. Changes can be fought for in different ways.

The basic problem with the electoral socialist (“democratic socialist”) strategy is its reliance on methods that ask working class people to look to “professionals of representation” to do things for us. This approach tends to build up — and crucially rely upon — bureaucratic layers that are apart from — and not effectively controllable by — rank-and-file working class people. These are approaches that build up layers of professional politicians in office, paid political party machines, lobbyists, or negotiations on our behalf by the paid apparatus of the unions — paid officials and staff, or the paid staff in the big non-profits.

Syndicalists refer to these as reformist methods (for lack of a better term). Not because we’re opposed to the fight for reforms. Any fight for a less-than-total change (such as more money for schools or more nurse staffing) is a “reform.” The methods favored by the electoral socialists are “reformist” because they undermine the building of a movement for more far-reaching change. The history of the past century shows that these bureaucratic layers end up as a barrier to building the struggle for a transition to a worker-controlled socialist mode of production.

We can say that an approach to action and organization for change is non-reformist to the extent that it builds rank-and-file controlled mass organizations, relies on and builds participation in militant collective actions such as strikes, and builds self-confidence, self-reliance, organizing skills, wider active participation, and wider solidarity between different groups among the oppressed and exploited majority.

Syndicalism is a strategy for change based on non-reformist forms of action and organization. Non-reformist forms of organization of struggle are based on control by the members through participatory democracy and elected delegates, such as elected shop delegates and elected negotiating committees in workplaces. And the use of similar grassroots democracy in other organizations that working class people can build such as tenant unions. Non-reformist forms of action are disruptive of “business as usual” and are built on collective participation, such as strikes, occupations, and militant marches.

A key way the electoral socialist and syndicalist approaches differ is their effect on the process that Marxists sometimes call class formation. This is the more or less protracted process through which the working class overcomes fatalism and internal divisions (as on lines of race or gender), acquires knowledge about the system, and builds the confidence, organizational capacity and the aspiration for social change. Through this process the working class “forms” itself into a force that can effectively challenge the dominating classes for control of society.

If people see effective collective action spreading in the society around them, this may change the way people see their situation. Once they perceive that this kind of collective power is available to them as a real solution for their own issues, this can change their perception of the kinds of change that is possible. The actual experience of collective power can suggest a much deeper possibility of change.

When rank-and-file working class people participate directly in building worker unions, participating in carrying out a strike with co-workers, or in building a tenant union and organizing direct struggle against rent hikes or poor building conditions, rank-and-file people are directly engaged — and this helps people to learn how to organize, builds more of a sense that “We can make change,” and people also learn directly about the system. 

More people are likely to come to the conclusion “We have the power to change the society” if they see actual power of people like themselves being used effectively in strikes, building takeovers, and other kinds of mass actions. In other words, a movement of direct participation and grassroots democracy builds in more people this sense of the possibility of change from below.

On the other hand, concentrating the decision-making power in the fight for social change into bureaucratic layers of professional politicians and an entrenched union bureaucracy tends to undermine this process because it doesn’t build confidence and organizing skills among working class people. It fails to build the sense that “We have the power in our hands to change things.” Thus a basic problem with electoral socialism (“democratic socialism”) is that it undermines the process of class formation.

The electoral venue is also not favorable terrain for the working class struggle for changes because the voting population tends to be skewed to the more affluent part of the population. A large part of the working class do not see why they should vote. They don’t see the politicians as looking out for their interests. The non-voting population tends to be poorer — more working class — than the voting population. This means the working class can’t bring the full force of its numbers to bear.

A strategy for change focused on elections and political parties tends to lead to a focus on electing leaders to gain power in the state, to make changes for us. This type of focus leads us away from a more independent form of working class politics that is rooted in forms of collective action that ordinary people can build directly and directly participate in — such as strikes, building direct solidarity between different working class groups in the population, mass protest campaigns around issues that we select, and the like.

To be clear, I’m not here arguing that people shouldn’t vote, or that it makes no difference to us who is elected. Often in fact it does, and independent worker and community organizations can also direct their pressure on what politicians do. But here I’m talking about our strategy for change. I’m arguing against a strategy for change that relies upon — focuses on — the role of elected officials, a political party, or the full-time paid union apparatus.

An electoralist strategy leads to the development of political machines in which mass organizations look to professional politicians and party operatives. This type of practice tends to create a bureaucratic layer of professional politicians, media, think-tanks and party operatives that develops its own interests.

When the strategy is focused on electing people to office in the state, college-educated professionals and people with “executive experience” will tend to be favored as candidates to “look good” in the media.  And this means people of the professional and administrative layers will tend to gain leadership positions in an electorally oriented party. This will tend to diminish the ability of rank and file working class people to control the party’s direction. 

This is part of the process of the development of the party as a separate bureaucratic layer with its own interests. Because they are concerned with winning elections and keeping their hold on positions in the state, this can lead them to oppose disruptive direct action by workers such as strikes or workplace takeovers. There is a long history of electoral socialist leaders taking this kind of stance.

To the extent electoral socialist politics comes to dominate in the labor movement — as it did in Europe  after World War 2 — declining militancy and struggle also undermined the commitment to socialism. The electoral socialist parties in Europe competed in elections through the advocacy of various immediate reforms. This became the focus of the parties. Sometimes they won elections. 

At the head of a national government they found that they had to “manage” capitalism — keep the capitalist regime running. If they moved in too radical a direction they found they would lose middle class votes — or the investor elite might panic and start moving their capital to safe havens abroad. In some cases elements of the “deep state” — such as the military and police forces — moved to overthrow them. Most of these parties eventually changed their concept of what their purpose was. They gave up on the goal of replacing capitalism with socialism.


Eco-syndicalism is based on the recognition that workers — and direct worker and community alliances — can be a force against the environmentally destructive actions of capitalist firms. Toxic substances are transported by workers, ground-water-destroying solvents are used in electronics assembly and damage the health of workers, and pesticides poison farm workers. Industrial poisons affect workers on the job first and pollute nearby working class neighborhoods. Nurses have to deal with the effects of pollution on people’s bodies. Various explosive derailments have shown how oil trains can be a danger to both railroad workers and communities. The struggle of railroad workers for adequate staffing on trains is part of the struggle against this danger.

Workers are a potential force for resistance to decisions of employers that pollute or contribute to global warming. Workers can also be a force for support of alternatives on global warming, such as expanded public transit. An example of working class resistance to environmental pollution were the various “green bans” enacted by the Australian Building Laborer’s Federation back in the ‘70s — such as a ban on transport or handling of uranium.

A recognition of this relationship led to the development of an environmentalist tendency among syndicalists in the ‘80s and ‘90s — eco-syndicalism (also called “green syndicalism”). An example in the ‘80s was the organizing work of Judi Bari — a member of the IWW and Earth First!. Working in the forested region of northwest California, she attempted to develop an alliance of workers in the wood products industry (and their unions) with environmentalists who were trying to protect old growth forests against clear-cutting.

Worker and community organizations can be a direct force against fossil fuel capitalism in a variety of ways — such as the various actions against coal or oil terminals on the Pacific Coast, or labor and community support for struggles of indigenous people and other rural communities against polluting fossil fuel projects, such as happened with the Standing Rock blockade in the Dakotas. Unions can also be organized in workplaces of the “green” capitalist firms to fight against low pay and other conditions I described earlier.

The different strategies of syndicalists and electoral socialists tends to lead to different conceptions of what “socialism” and “democracy” mean. Because politicians tend to compete on the basis of what policies they will pursue through the state, this encourages a state socialist view that socialism is a set of reforms enacted top down through the managerialist bureaucracies of the state. Certainly state socialists are an influential element in Democratic Socialists of America.

I think a top down form of power, controlled by the bureaucratic control class in state management, is not going to work as a solution for the ecological challenges of the present. The history of the “communist camp” countries of the mid-20th century showed that they were also quite capable of pollution and ecological destruction rooted in cost-shifting behavior.

On the other hand, the syndicalist vision of self-managed socialism provides a plausible basis for a solution for the environmental crisis because a federative, distributed form of democratic planning places power in local communities and workers in industries, and thus they have power to prevent ecologically destructive decisions. 

For syndicalists, socialism is about human liberation — and a central part is the liberation of the working class from subordination and exploitation in a regime where there are dominating classes on top. Thus for syndicalism the transition to socialism means workers taking over and collectively managing all the industries — including the public services. This is socialism created from  below — created by the working class itself.

Syndicalist movements historically advocated a planned economy based on a distributed model of democratic planning, rooted in assemblies in neighborhoods and workplaces. With both residents of communities and worker production organizations each having the power to make decisions in developing plans for its own area, a distributed, federative system of grassroots planning uses delegate congresses or councils and systems of negotiation to “adjust” the proposals and aims of the various groups to each other. 

Examples of libertarian socialist distributed planning models include the negotiated coordination proposals of the World War 1 era guild socialists, the 1930s Spanish anarcho-syndicalist program of neighborhood assemblies (“free municipalities”) and worker congresses, and the more recent participatory planning model of Robin Hahnel and Michael Albert.

A 21st century form of self-managed socialism would be a horizontally federated system of production that can implement planning and coordination throughout industries and over a wide region. This would enable workers to:

Gain control over technological development,

Re-organize jobs and education to eliminate the bureaucratic concentration of power in the hands of managers and high-end professionals, develop worker skills, and work to integrate decision-making and conceptualization with the doing of the physical work,

Reduce the working week and share work responsibilities among all who can work, and

Create a new logic of development for technology that is friendly to workers and the environment.

A purely localistic focus and purely fragmented control of separate workplaces (such as worker cooperatives in a market economy) is not enough. Overall coordination is needed to move social production away from subordination to market pressures and the “grow or die” imperative of capitalism and build solidarity between regions. There also needs to be direct, communal accountability for what is produced and for effects on the community and environment.

The protection of the ecological commons requires a directly communal form of social governance and control over the aims of production. This means direct empowerment of the masses who would be directly polluted on or directly affected by environmental degradation. This is necessary to end the ecologically destructive cost-shifting behavior that is a structural feature of both capitalism and bureaucratic statism. Direct communal democracy and direct worker management of industry provide the two essential elements for a libertarian eco-socialist program.

1. “An Ecosocialist Path to Limiting Global Temperature Rise to 1.5°C”