Saturday, 23 October 2021

Ecosocialist Alliance Releases COP26 Statement


The Ecosocialist Alliance, organised by Green Left, Left Unity and Anti-Capitalist Resistance in the UK, have released a statement ahead of next month’s COP26 conference, in Glasgow, Scotland, from 31 October to 11 November. 

The statement is supported by ecosocialists from many different groups and individuals, in the UK and worldwide and is reproduced below. We have asked those with websites to publish the statement on 24 October.

COP26 is highly unlikely to produce anything significant, from international governments who have failed to do so at the 25 previous conferences, especially the richer nations of world. Our call on them to take meaningful action, will probably fall on deaf ears. But we have released the statement nonetheless, to expose this charade to the people globally.

Something similar to our proposals will need to be implemented, if we are to have any chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change in the years ahead, with all of the misery that will entail. This is our last chance to take action.

The Ecosocialist Alliance will be present on the COP26 Coalition demonstrations, in Glasgow and London, on 6 November, with the banner pictured above. Come and join with us. See here for details.

There is a contact email address for the Ecosocialist Alliance at the end of this post. 

Ecosocialism not extinction!

COP 26 unfolds against a backdrop of growing climate chaos and ecological degradation, after an unprecedented summer of heatwaves, wildfires, and flooding events. Climate change is upon us, and we face multiple interlinked and inseparable crises of climate, environment, extinction, economy and zoonotic diseases.

As ecosocialists we say another world is possible, but a massive social and political transformation is needed, requiring the mobilisation of the mass of working people across the globe. Only the end of capitalism’s relentless pursuit of private profit, endless waste, and rapacious drive for growth, can provide the solution not only to climate change, environmental degradation, and mass extinction, but to global poverty, hunger, and hyper exploitation.

The big issues of climate change will be debated in Glasgow but whatever is agreed, capitalism can at best mitigate climate change, not stop it. Genuine climate solutions cannot be based on the very market system that created the problem. Only the organised working class, and the rural oppressed and First Nations of the global south - women and men - have the power to end capitalism, because their labour produces all wealth and they have no great fortune to lose if the system changes, no vested interests in inequality, exploitation, and private profit.

Action now to halt climate change! We demand:

• All fossil fuels must stay in the ground – no new gas, coal, or oil!

• A rapid move to renewable energy for transport, infrastructure, industry, agriculture, and homes

• A massive global programme of public works investing in green jobs, and replacing employment in unsustainable industries.

• A globally funded just transition for the global south to develop the necessary sustainable technologies and infrastructure.

• A major cut in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 70% by 2030, from a 1990 baseline. This must be comprehensive - including all military, aviation, and shipping emissions – and include mechanisms for transparent accounting, measurement, and popular oversight.

• The end of emissions trading schemes.

• An immediate end to the encroachment on and destruction of the territories of indigenous peoples through extractivism, deforestation and appropriation of land.

Sustainability and global justice

The long-term global crisis and the immediate effects of catastrophic events impact more severely on women, children, elders, LGBTQ+ and disabled people and the people of First Nations. An eco-socialist strategy puts social justice and liberation struggles of the oppressed at its core.

Migration is, and will increasingly be, driven by climate change and conflicts and resource wars resulting from it. Accommodating and supporting free movement of people must be a core policy and necessary part of planning for the future.

We call for:

• Immediate cancellation of the international debt of the global south.

• A rapid shift from massive ‘factory’ farms and large-scale monoculture agribusiness towards eco-friendly farming methods and investment in green agricultural technology to reduce synthetic fertiliser and pesticide use in agriculture and replace these with organic methods and support for small farmers.

• A major reduction in meat and dairy production and consumption through education and provision and promotion of high quality, affordable plant-based alternatives.

• The promotion of agricultural systems based on the right to food and food sovereignty, human rights, and with local control over natural resources, seeds, land, water, forests, knowledge, and technology to end food and nutrition insecurity in the global south.

• The end of deforestation in the tropical and boreal forests by reduction of demand for imported food, timber, and biofuels.

• An end to ecologically and socially destructive extractivism, especially in the territories of indigenous peoples and First Nations .

• Respect for the economic, cultural, political and land rights of indigenous peoples and First Nations.

• A massive increase in protected areas for biodiversity conservation.

• End fuel poverty through retrofitting energy existing homes and buildings with energy efficient sustainable technologies.

We demand a just transition:

• Re-skilling of workers in environmentally damaging industries with well paid alternative jobs in the new economy.

• Full and democratic involvement of workers to harness the energy and creativity of the working people to design and implement new sustainable technologies and decommission old unsustainable ones.

• Resources for popular education and involvement in implementing and enhancing a just transition, with environmental education embedded at all levels within the curriculum.

• Urgent development of sustainable, affordable, and high-quality public transport with a comprehensive integrated plan which meets peoples needs and reduces the requirement for private car use.

• A planned eco-socialist economy which eliminates waste, duplication and environmentally harmful practices, reduction in the working week and a corresponding increase in leisure time.

• Work practices reorganised with the emphasis on fair flexibility and working closer to home, utilising a free and fast broadband infrastructure.

As eco-socialists we put forward a vision of a just and sustainable world and fight with every ounce of our energy for every change, however small, which makes such a world possible. We will organise and assist wherever possible worker’s and community organisations internationally, raising demands on governments and challenging corporations.

Groups

Green Left (UK)

Left Unity (UK)

Anti-Capitalist Resistance (UK)

Global Ecosocialist Network (International)

ecosocialist.scot (Scotland, UK)

RISE (Ireland)

Red Green Labour (UK)

Green Eco-Socialist Network (USA)

People Before Profit (Ireland)

System Change Not Climate Change (USA/Canada)

An Rabharta Glas (in English, Green Left) (Ireland)

Climate and Capitalism (International)

Socialist Project (Canada)

Parti de Gauche Marseille Nord (France)

Ecosocialist Independent Group (UK) Lancaster City Council

Socialist Action (Canada)

Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (kctu) (South Korea)

Anti-Fracking Nanas (UK)

Pittsburgh Green Left (USA)

Ecosocialist Alliance (UK)

Breakthrough Party (UK)

One Vote for the Planet (UK)

Individuals

Beatrix Campbell (UK) (OBE, writer and broadcaster)

George Monbiot (UK) (journalist, author & environmental activist)

Victor Wallis (USA) (ecosocialist author and professor of political science at the Berklee College of Music in Boston)

Professor Krista Cowman (UK), (Historian)

Peter Sainsbury (Australia) (Professor, School of Medicine, Sydney, University of Notre Dame)

Professor Julia Steinberger (Social Ecology/Ecological Economics) (Switzerland)

Romayne Phoenix (UK)

Jhon Giyai (West Papua)

David Schwartzman (USA) (Climate/energy scientist Member of the Global Greens COP26 Working Group-International Committee Green Party of the United States)

Dee Searle (UK)

Steve Masters (UK) (Environmental activist; Green Party District Councillor, W Berkshire)

Jim Petersen (USA)

Osver Polo Carraco (Peru)

Sally Lansbury (UK) Labour Party Cllr. Allerdale Borough Council

Rafael Arturo Guariguata (Germany)

Tina Rothery (UK)

Christopher Lozinski (USA)

Pat McCarthy (UK)

Clive Healiss (UK)

Felicity Dowling (UK)

Charles Gate (UK)

Emma Lorraine Coulling (UK)

Ken Barker (UK)

Stephen Hall (UK) (President, Greater Manchester Association of Trades Union Councils)

Lucy Early (UK)

Andrew Francis Robinson (UK)

Kevin Frea (UK) (Deputy Leader, Lancaster City Council)

Richard Finnigan (UK)

John Burr (UK)

Andrea Carey-Fuller (UK)

Paul Hutchens (UK)

Gordon Peters (UK)

Jonathan N Fuller (UK)

Nicole Haydock (UK)

Deborah Fink (UK)

Mary Stuart (UK)

Cathy Slaughter (UK)

Anna Moon (UK)

Oliver Charleston (UK)

William A Richardson (UK)

Tamsin Evans (UK)

Gordon Housley (UK)

Rick Evans (UK)

Geoff Bowman (UK)

Graham Wardrope (UK)

Laurent Garsaud (France)

To support the statement and to keep informed about the Ecosocialist Alliance and our particular actions email eco-socialist-action@protonmail.com

Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Citizens’ Assemblies Won’t Save the Planet


Written by Callum McGeown and first published at Green European Journal

Citizens’ assemblies are receiving increased recognition as a way to ensure greater public participation in shaping government responses to the planetary crisis. The interest reflects a growing perception that the governments of representative democracies are either unwilling to or incapable of implementing the radical measures necessary to decarbonise their economies. Indeed, findings steadily report emissions trajectories in line with the worst-case scenarios set out by the 2015 Paris Agreement. After a year of record-breaking wildfires, droughts, and flooding, the evidence is tangible.

The calls for citizens’ assemblies have come from climate activists and politicians alike. However, as transformative as they may be for decision-making, they are an insufficient fix for the democratic deficits that frustrate confronting the interconnected crises of climate breakdown, ecosystem collapse, and social inequality. To stand a chance of achieving a timely and just post-carbon transition, demands for democratisation must focus on the state and the economy.

What are citizens’ assemblies?

A citizens’ assembly is a group of people brought together to learn about, deliberate, and make recommendations on specific issues or proposals. The assemblies are independent and established through a process of sortition whereby individuals are randomly selected to form mini-publics roughly reflective of the wider population according to various criteria (such as age, race, gender, region, and income).

Their conspicuous presence in the imaginary of contemporary climate politics is largely attributable to the activist group Extinction Rebellion (XR), which identifies going “beyond politics” through the creation of a citizens’ assembly on climate and ecological justice as one of its core demands. The rationale is not without merit, as placing ordinary citizens within decision-making structures can help mitigate against the influence of powerful lobbies, money, short-termism, and professional political ambition on the climate- inert “politics as usual”.

Much emphasis is placed on an initial learning phase made up of expert testimonials and presentations, Q&As, and supplementary resources. XR and the wider climate movement have homed in on this with good reason, given the potential to ensure that the incontrovertible science and gravity of climate breakdown can be communicated to an audience without the distortion of mis- and disinformation.

This learning phase aims to facilitate respectful and factually informed deliberation that incorporates members’ various interests and perspectives. The assembly’s final task is to agree on and present its recommendations for review, uptake, or dismissal.

Lessons from Ireland

The Irish case is often cited as an example of how citizens’ assemblies can navigate contentious issues and clear pathways for transformation. Convened in 2016, Ireland’s 99-member citizens’ assembly was tasked with making recommendations on complex constitutional and political problems in five areas: abortion, ageing population, fixed- term parliaments, referendums, and climate change.

The assembly was organised in large part in response to increasing domestic and international pressure related to Ireland’s constitutional amendment on abortion. By granting equal rights to life to the mother and the unborn, Ireland’s Eighth Amendment had banned termination under almost all circumstances for over 30 years. Caught between demands for women’s rights and the “pro-life” social conservativism of a historically dominant Catholic Church, electoral politics had proved incapable of resolving the matter.

Climate change represented another – albeit very different – problem that Irish politicians had long preferred not to address. In failing to come close to emissions reduction targets, Ireland had been labelled one of the EU’s worst performers on climate. The nature of Ireland’s post-economic-crisis recovery made matters worse: from 2011, Ireland’s agricultural and transport sectors were targeted as drivers of economic growth, and emissions grew in parallel.1 

Issues of political legitimacy were, and continue to be, exacerbated by Ireland’s economic dependency on carbon-intensive agriculture, as well as the enduring cultural significance of farming in the country.

The decision to institutionalise participation in the Citizens’ Assembly followed the perceived success of the 2012 Constitutional Convention. Indirectly the product of the independent “We the Citizens” initiative, the convention brought elected representatives and citizens together for 18 months to consider changes to Ireland’s constitution. It is best known for its recommendation on marriage equality, which resulted in a historic popular vote in May 2015 to legalise same-sex marriage.

The 2016 assembly was also to have important consequences for social justice: after its members recommended repealing the Eighth Amendment, a landmark national referendum endorsed the decision which marked a triumph for women’s rights and a significant moment of detachment – both real and symbolic – of Irish society from entrenched religious moralism.

Despite these historic advances, both the 2012 convention and the 2016 assembly were constrained in other areas by the same political obstacles they were intended to circumvent. Although the assemblies made clear recommendations on other issues, the government did not act as quickly and decisively as it did on marriage equality and abortion.

Tasked with making proposals on how to make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change, the Citizens’ Assembly proved more ambitious than expected. Its 13 recommendations ranged from steps to support the transition to electric vehicles and prioritise cycling and public transport infrastructure, to emissions taxes on agriculture and an end to state subsidies for peat extraction.

Despite the high level of consensus, the government response was disappointing. A separate parliamentary committee was established to consider the report, with a lack of clarity on the overall uptake of the proposals. Ostensibly, this was due to the difficulty of translating the complex recommendations into the kinds of binary choices suited to referendums.

The climate bind

The level of climate action required to meet international emissions targets will necessarily disrupt the political and economic status quo. Any restrictions the government imposes on a climate assembly in terms of what is put on or kept off its agenda therefore matter a great deal. More than a question of feasibility, whether an assembly’s recommendations are upheld, modified, or altogether ignored comes down to power. It is telling, for instance, that the Irish citizens’ assembly was not mandated to give recommendations on political economy. This dynamic is somewhat at odds with achieving a just transition to a post-carbon economy: unseating the socially and ecologically exploitative capitalist model definitively means putting the status quo on the table.

The 2018 gilets jaunes protests in France demonstrate the risk of taking climate action without simultaneously addressing social justice. This experience offers an important lesson: any green political project with social justice at its core must take a holistic approach to ecological transition. The scale of change demands much more of political and social forces than might be achieved with policy reforms.

No matter how radical an assembly’s recommendations, if it does not or cannot address the institutions that endorse it (and of which it is an extension) then its efficacy is inevitably constrained. The citizens’ assembly finds itself in an irreconcilable bind when it comes to climate: while it depends on state buy-in to wield political influence, to achieve the necessary changes the same state must open itself up to scrutiny, challenge, and transformation.

The crux of the problem lies in the status of the citizens’ assembly as an advisory body. Lacking legislative capabilities, these assemblies are effectively toothless; their influence over decision-making is curtailed by the state, both in terms of its prescribed mandate and uptake of the recommendations. This is not to undervalue the functions these assemblies serve as forums for learning, deliberating, and, ultimately, deepening citizen engagement with the decisions that govern their lives.

These virtues are observable in the ambitious recommendations made by Ireland’s citizens’ assembly, which influenced the government’s 2019 Climate Action Plan. However, while the plan endorses – to varying degrees – some of the measures proposed by the assembly (such as accelerating the uptake of electric vehicles and expanding renewable energy micro- generation), it notably passes over the more redistributive recommendations (in particular, taxes on Ireland’s disproportionate agricultural emissions).2 

The outcome questions the capacity for citizens’ assemblies to effectively counter the entrenched structures of political economy that shape the climate question in Ireland as elsewhere.

That is not to say that citizens’ assemblies should simply be bestowed with national-level legislative responsibilities. It would prove difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile such responsibilities with the legitimacy of a small, randomly selected body of citizens. Neither is it to say that citizens’ assemblies should not be used, full stop. It does, however, problematise citizens’ assemblies as a mechanism to address the climate crisis.

Focusing on the state

The predicament of state power may be understood through two observations. First, the efficacy of citizens’ assemblies depends on the degree to which governments buy into them as a transformative process. This has significant implications throughout, from what is on the agenda to how the issues are framed to the uptake of recommendations.

And second, despite their perceived autonomy, citizens’ assemblies may be used strategically by those in positions of power to distance themselves from difficult decisions or to pacify discontent without committing to real change. Rather than offering a solution to the democratic deficit, citizens’ assemblies may thus offer an alibi to governments that wish to appear to democratise climate action but are in fact reluctant to take meaningful steps.

Nation-states hold the power to drive radical decarbonisation, but currently, this change is nowhere in sight. The state must itself first transform to facilitate greater public scrutiny of and control over the economy and its post-carbon transition. Any project of democratisation presupposes a certain decentralisation to subordinate political authority and shape the economy according to the needs of individuals and communities. This is more likely to come as a result of pressure from large-scale social mobilisation than advisory deliberative forums.

In this sense, rather than positioning themselves as “beyond politics”, eco-social movements would be better advised to focus on the necessarily messy occupation of enlarging politics. That means breaking down the institutional and ideological divides which keep capitalism beyond the reach of democratic control, and building support both within and outside of the state (though always with the goal of its ultimate transformation).

Rather than shying away from politics, what is needed is an effective, persuasive alternative to exploitative and growth-centred neoliberal politics.

While citizens’ assemblies represent a form of participatory capacity building which should not be underestimated, so long as they are not established to transform the logic of the state, their potential will remain limited. Ireland’s citizens’ assembly shows that an informed public would savour the opportunity to instigate real change. Despite their shortcomings as an instrument of democratic reform, they offer an instructive lesson for framing the political struggle of tackling the climate crisis.

The high levels of respectful deliberation and informed collective decision-making observed in citizens’ assemblies speak to the importance of (approximate) equality as a precondition for effective participation.3 Regardless of factors such as race, gender, or class, all members are equally valued and given an equal opportunity to listen, speak, and participate.

They have equal access to information, educational resources, and opportunities to interrogate experts. Every interest or opinion is considered. These are the necessary conditions for a fair and functioning participatory democracy, and they should inform the strategic objectives of any eco-social alternative.

The fight for a climate response must therefore prioritise the redistribution of income and wealth. Key utilities and public services as well as extractive, polluting, and carbon-intensive industries should be targeted for democratic control in order to secure equitable provision and accelerate transition.

This means demanding political decentralisation and economic re-localisation to empower communities to build their own versions of a just transition while diminishing their dependency on economic centres. Once this level of agency is achieved, local contexts represent the best opportunity for forums such as citizens’ assemblies, citizens’ juries, and participatory budgeting.

This could help counter the alienating elements of representative politics and address the democratic deficit by opening up political and economic institutions to effective participation.

First and foremost, this means building an intersectional movement committed to non-violent struggle against all forms of exploitation and inequality. It must be prepared to fight within and beyond the state.

In this age of protest and pandemic, as injustices are increasingly laid bare, the opportunity to make inter-movement alliances should not be missed. Integral to that process is learning the lessons of respectful deliberation as the basis for effective collective action that addresses the root causes of the planetary crisis.

Notes

1 Diarmuid Torney (2020). “Ireland’s Policy Response to Climate Change: An Historical Overview”, in David Robbins, Diarmuid Torney & Pat Brereton (eds). Ireland and the Climate Crisis. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

2 Clodagh Harris (2021). “Democratic innovations and policy analysis: climate policy and Ireland’s Citizens’ Assembly (2016-2018)”, in John Hogan and Mary Murphy (eds). Policy Analysis in Ireland. Bristol: Policy Press.

3 Matthew Flinders et al. (2016). Democracy Matters: Lessons from the 2015 Citizens’ Assemblies on English Devolution. The Democracy Matters Project. Available at <bit.ly/3eIR12z>.

Calum McGeown is a climate activist and PhD student of political theory at Queen’s University Belfast. His research interests include green political theory, post-growth political economy, state theory, climate breakdown, and the post-carbon transition.

Friday, 15 October 2021

Ecosocialist Alliance for COP26 - Demonstration Details


On 6 November 2021, as world leaders meet in Glasgow for the COP26 Global Climate Summit, towns and cities across the world will take to the streets demanding global climate justice. This is the COP26 Coalition’s designated Global Day of Action for Climate Justice'.

For the Glasgow march, you can view the route on Google Maps here.

Assemble: 11.30am Kelvingrove Park, Stewart Memorial Fountain

March: 12.45pm

Rally: 3 - 4pm, Glasgow Green

You can find an overview of all the blocs and lead contacts here.

List of blocs:

Indigenous;
Anti-Racist / Migrant Justice;
Youth;
Trade Unions;
Communities bloc;
Extinction Rebellion;
Faith and belief Bloc;
Independence;
Climate Justice
Health Bloc,
Farmers and Land Workers;
Biodiversity & Nature; Housing;
Cycling Bloc & Sustainable Transport

See here for site maps of Kelvingrove Park and Glasgow Green, and the full Action Plan here.

There will be an ecosocialist bloc, probably as part of the Climate Justice bloc, but look out for our banner pictured at the end of this post.

There is a second major demonstration taking place on the same day in London, 11:30 AM – 5 PM, assemble outside the Bank of England, in the City of London. Again look out for our banner pictured at the end of this post. There is a Facebook events page here.  

The decisions made at COP26 will shape how governments respond (or not) to the climate crisis. They will decide who is to be sacrificed, who will escape and who will make a profit. COP26 is happening at a crucial moment in history.

Across the world and across movements, we are seeing a new wave of resistance, global solidarity and grassroots organising. We have a unique opportunity to rewire our system as we recover from the pandemic. We can either intensify the crisis to the point of no return, or lay the foundations for a just world where everyone’s needs are met.

More details at Ecosocialist.Scot.

A public statement about COP26 will be released by the Ecosocialist Alliance on 24 October.

Come and join us at one of the events. Ecosocialism not Extinction!

To keep informed about the Ecosocialist Alliance and these particular actions email eco-socialist-action@protonmail.com 


Thursday, 7 October 2021

Imagining an ecosocialist future


Written by Gerard Madden and first published at Rupture

Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest climate fiction novel, The Ministry for the Future, opens with a punch to the reader’s stomach. It is 2025, and northern India is struck by a mass casualty heatwave extending from Gujarat to Bengal with ‘wet bulb’ temperatures in excess of 35C, which humans cannot survive for more than a few hours.

We see events through the panicked eyes of Frank May, a 22-year-old American aid worker in a town in Uttar Pradesh, who ineffectively tries to respond to the humanitarian catastrophe around him as corpses pile up in the streets. Appealing to his headquarters in Delhi for urgent help, Frank finds them completely overwhelmed. With help not arriving, he invites as many locals as he can to his air-conditioned clinic, but its generator is stolen at gunpoint by raiders, one of whom pointedly tells the American, ‘you did this’.

Frank urges those taking refuge to shelter in a nearby lake, but this proves futile as the lake itself is too hot to cool anyone, and he is the lone survivor when help eventually arrives. The heatwave kills twenty million people in just one week.

The most terrifying aspect of this opening scene is that everything Robinson describes is consistent with current scholarly predictions of what will unfold if carbon emissions continue on their present trajectory. A 2017 study warned that ‘extremes of wet-bulb temperature in South Asia are likely to approach and, in a few locations, exceed this critical threshold [of a wet-bulb temperature of 35°C] by the late 21st century under the business-as-usual scenario of future greenhouse gas emissions’.

The Ganges and Indus River basins are described as most at risk.[1] It is no surprise then that Robinson portrays India, rather than the West, as the global centre of resistance to climate catastrophe. As support for the BJP and Congress plummets, a new governing socialist coalition takes power; it geoengineers the cooling effect of a volcanic eruption by releasing sulphur dioxide into the skies, nationalises energy, decommissions coal plants and installs solar arrays across the entire sub-continent. 

Nor will mass casualty heatwaves be confined to south Asia, and the novel describes one extending from Arizona to the Florida panhandle killing between two to three hundred thousand people in a single day. The heatwave’s political impact is blunted by the fact most of the victims are poor people of colour.

Robinson’s novel here reflects the current climate racism in the United States and Canada (see Environmental racism & the climate crisis in this issue). The July heatwave in Western North America this year disproportionately killed working class people, people of colour and the elderly, paralleling Covid-19. In Oregon alone, two-thirds of heatwave fatalities were people of colour.[2]

Given science fiction has long produced radical visions of how society can be reshaped, it is appropriate that a science fiction novel should be among the most important recent books on the climate emergency. Much of Robinson’s work, such as 2312 and New York 2140, deals with the future impact of the climate crisis, and he is probably the current leading exponent of the ecosocialist strand of science fiction pioneered by authors such as Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler and Marge Piercy.

Robinson has acknowledged the influence of Le Guin, his former teacher whose central works such as The Dispossessed outlined alternatives to capitalism.[3] While Le Guin’s ‘ambiguous’ eco-utopia outlined in the novel takes place on the fictional anarchist world of Annares, Robinson frequently sets his books in the relatively prosaic setting of Earth in the near future and explores the worsening climate crisis directly.

The novel follows both Frank and Mary Murphy, the Irish head of the eponymous Ministry for the Future with whom Frank’s life intersects. The Zurich-based international agency is established in 2025 under the Paris Agreement to defend ‘all living creatures present and future who cannot speak for themselves’. Robinson formerly lived in Zurich, and the book is filled with affectionate depictions of the resting place of James Joyce and its people, alongside withering descriptions of Swiss history and politics. In one chapter,

Murphy curtly reminds Switzerland’s federal council of the country’s wrongdoings and obligation to atone for its shameful past – ‘the Nazi gold, the Jewish gold, the tax havens for oligarchs and kleptocrats, the secret bank accounts for criminals of all kinds’ – and the novel contrasts the devastation of the climate crisis caused in India with the initially slow response in the West.

Given the wholly inadequate response of governments here to the climate emergency over the last decade, it is slightly amusing to an Irish reader that Murphy, an Irishwoman and fictional former Minister for Foreign Affairs, leads the agency spearheading the international response to the climate crisis. Appointed primarily as a conduit between the Ministry and the international corridors of power, a fraught encounter between Mary and Frank makes her more open to radical solutions, and she remains silent when her right-hand man from India, Badim, reveals he runs a black ops wing of the Ministry engaging in violent sabotage without her knowledge.

Other characters, from the Ministry’s legal expert Tatiana to its non-binary IT expert Janus Athena, bring Mary ideas which begin to inform the global response. Robinson’s novel portrays women as leading the global response to the climate crisis, and references how real-life women such as the Indian ecofeminist Vandana Shiva are responding to climate catastrophe, reflecting the importance of women at the vanguard of ecological movements across the global south.[4]

Alongside these plot threads in Zurich, short chapters describing the unfolding horrors of the climate crisis, ranging from third-person descriptions to accounts by often unnamed first-person characters and even inanimate objects such as a photon, are interspersed throughout the novel. An unspecified city runs out of water after twelve years of continuous drought, and residents learn to use any water brought into the city for cooking and filter their urine into potable water.

The Los Angeles basin is flooded, forcing residents to travel around the city on boats and kayaks, and infrastructural damage means the entire city has to be replaced. Several chapters from Antarctica relate the devastating loss of ice cover on the continent and the trial-and-error efforts of scientists there to mitigate it and stabilise sea levels; they eventually succeed in doing so by pumping out groundwater under enormous glaciers.

Alongside this, the book details the growing resistance to the climate criminals responsible for the horrors emerging worldwide. Paraphrasing Trotsky’s thesis in The History of the Russian Revolution that the party is always trying to keep up with the masses, a French student recounts their experience taking part in a popular uprising in Paris which briefly establishes a commune in the city but is suppressed.

A series of spontaneous worldwide strikes bring major world cities to a standstill. In a grimly comic chapter, climate activists kidnap wealthy attendees at the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland and compel them to watch footage of the climate crimes they have perpetuated. The political, business and celebrity elites in attendance are unmoved, apart from petulant irritation at the inconvenience of it all. The chapter’s narrator, a Davos participant, tells the reader: ‘So, effect of this event on the real world: zero! So fuck you!’

Out of the mass deaths of the Indian heatwave emerges a network of climate militants, the Children of Kali, which blow up the infrastructure causing climate disaster and kill the individuals who own them. While they are initially scrupulous in taking care to avoid civilian casualties, groups using the name internationally become much less discerning as the climate crisis worsens during the 2030s.

On ‘Crash Day’, sixty global commercial flights are destroyed using thousands of drones which assemble into a missile seconds before impact. Container ships using diesel fuel are targeted and drones introduce mad cow disease to cattle populations on a mass scale. Even the US Navy is impotent in the face of the new drone weapons.

This will remind many readers of the ecosocialist author Andreas Malm’s How To Blow Up a Pipeline, which argues that sabotage of fossil fuel infrastructure is justified to keep global warming below disastrous levels, and Malm himself describes Robinson’s book as ‘the most important book on climate politics since Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything’.[5]

His argument is controversial among climate activists, critics asserting he does not consider the threat of the state’s oppressive apparatus and the role of violence in repelling people from mass movements.[6] In Robinson’s world at least, it proves effective - by going to extremes that Malm himself would not countenance.

Carbon emissions tumble as ‘Crash Day’ leads airships to replace airlines, while mass mad cow disease outbreaks lead consumption of beef and milk to plummet. The objections to Malm are applicable to Robinson here as well – would an event like ‘Crash Day’, with numerous civilian casualties, not instead repulse people internationally from the climate movement.

This violence – which, it is implied, is more than helped by Badim’s black ops unit – in Robinson’s narrative helps to accelerate the political changes the Ministry is pushing. Chief among these is Janus Athena’s concept of a ‘carbon coin’, a digital currency backed by hundred-year bonds underwritten by the world’s key central banks.

The ‘carbon coins’ are dispersed on proof that production is being shifted away from hydrocarbons, and are the focus of the second part of the book. Murphy’s attempts to convince central banks to support it are brusquely dismissed by their heads, who, Murphy morosely reflects, are the unelected and unaccountable leaders of the global economy.

Such is the resistance to the Ministry’s proposals on this and other matters that it is attacked with the same drone weapons used on Crash Day and key members of the Ministry are targeted for assassination. It ultimately sets up a social media site which acts as a credit union for climate coins, challenging the authority of banks internationally when it gains mass acceptance, which helps to finally compel central banks to accede to the Ministry’s scheme.

The book is dedicated to Robinson’s former PhD advisor, Fredric Jameson, and its plot is reminiscent of the saying attributed to Jameson that the end of the world is easier to envisage than the end of capitalism. In exploring resistance from the capitalist class to attempts at socialist change, Robinson specifically notes the example of Syriza, who were elected on a platform of repudiating the debt imposed on Greece, only to accede and implement the Troika’s austerity programme.

The lesson Robinson concludes from Syriza’s failure is that a Plan B is always necessary. However, his conclusions seem to overstate how an instrument of monetary policy could make a difference. Writing in the Financial Times about the book’s description of monetary policy, he argues that through carbon quantitative easing, ‘along with regulation and taxation channelling private capital into useful, survival-oriented projects, we might squeak through’ by ‘returning to some kind of Keynesian balance of public and private’.[7]

The argument here feels out of kilter with the rest of the book, which clearly outlines how capitalism is responsible for the climate crisis.

By the end of Robinson’s book, society as we know it has been utterly transformed. He takes inspiration from an array of present-day challenges to the status quo, from the Mondragon federation of worker cooperatives in the Basque Country to the agroecology revolution in Sikkim in northern India spearheaded by Vandana Shiva, which reduces the use of chemicals and increases soil’s capacity to sequester carbon.

The mass adoption of renewable energy finally causes the global CO2 ppm to fall, an income ratio of one to ten is implemented worldwide, and climate refugees are granted world citizenship in a move reminiscent of the League of Nations’ Nansen passports. A movement known as the Half Earthers return much of the earth, from Montana to Siberia, to wilderness and forest, and wild animals thrive. Discreetly encouraged by the Ministry, in a section of the book which feels unconvincing, a pseudo-religion springs up around ‘Mama Gaia’ underlining the new importance of nature to humans.

Nonetheless, despite all these dizzying successes, Robinson emphasises that the damage caused by man-made climate change will continue for centuries to come, and the radical transformation he envisages only comes after worldwide struggle. The climate catastrophes predicted by Robinson appear certain on our current trajectory, as the most recent IPCC report reminds us – the necessary solutions we need, many of which Robinson outlines, are far less so.

Notes

[1] Eun-Soom Im, Jeremy S. Pal and Elfatih A. B. Eltahir, ‘Deadly heat waves projected in the densely populated agricultural regions of South Asia’, Science Advances, vol. 3, no. 8, August 2017, p. 1.

[2] Rachel Ramirez, ‘Climate change is fuelling mass casualty heat waves. Here’s why we don’t view them as crises’, CNN, 13 July 2021, https://edition.cnn.com/2021/07/12/weather/climate-change-mass-casualty-psychology/index.html, accessed 14 August 2021.

[3] Kim Stanley Robinson, ‘Ursula K. Le Guin, 1929-2018’, Scientific American, 25 January 2018, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/ursula-k-le-guin-1929-2018/, accessed 13 August 2021.

[4] Jess Spear, ‘Women and nature: towards an ecosocialist feminism’, Rupture, no. 3, 10 March 2021, https://rupture.ie/articles/women-and-nature, accessed 30 August 2021.

[5] Andreas Malm, ‘When does the fightback begin?’, Verso, 23 April 2021, https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/5061-when-does-the-fightback-begin, accessed 13 August 2021.                                                                     

[6] Michael Coleman, ‘Should the climate movement always reject violence? A review of Andreas Malm’s How to Blow Up A Pipeline’, Rupture, no. 4, Summer 2021, https://rupture.ie/articles/should-the-climate-movement-always-reject-violence, accessed 15 August 2021.   

[7] Kim Stanley Robinson, ‘A climate plan for a world in flames’, Financial Times, 20 August 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/ff94df96-b702-4e01-addd-f4253d0eecf6?, accessed 30 August 2021.

Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Ecosocialist Alliance to Protest at COP26 – Ecosocialism not Extinction


The Ecosocialist Alliance, which is organised by Green Left, Left Unity and Anti-Capitalist Resistance, based in the UK, but is open to all who take an ecosocialist view, will be demonstrating for wide ranging systematic change at COP26. The COP26 climate conference begins on 1 November and runs to 11 November, in Glasgow, Scotland.

The climate crisis can no longer be paid lip service to, it has already begun. Recent extreme weather events, floods, droughts, wild fires, record high temperatures in the Artic Circle and hurricanes increasing in frequency and intensity, are the harbingers of worse to come.

At the previous 25 conferences, national government’s pledges have been completely inadequate for the task in hand, amounting to some window dressing and highly optimistic reliance on techno fixes. This 26th event is likely to be not much different from its predecessors, so this ambivalence to the plight of the planet, must be challenged by the people of the world. The capitalist system, which must by its very nature, grow or die, is unable to solve the climate crisis, which is why nothing substantial will emerge from COP26.

The Ecosocialist Alliance will have a presence on the People’s Assembly national demonstration at the ruling UK Conservative party conference on 3 October in Manchester. There will be a banner, pictured above, and comrades will distribute a newspaper which can be used on a placard.

The COP26 Coalition is holding a Global Day of Action for Climate Justice with worldwide and across the UK events on 6 November. Ecosocialist Alliance supporters will join many events in towns and cities across Britain. We will form an ecosocialist bloc at the Glasgow and London events, have our banner at each event and again distribute our newspaper.  

We will also publish a statement ahead of the conference detailing our demands. We released a similar statement ahead of this year’s G7 conference, which attracted a fair amount of support in the UK and internationally.

We may also arrange some virtual meetings around COP26.

This climate conference needs to set in train measures to mitigate the climate crisis, but it will not. There are too many powerful vested interests that want to, more or less, maintain the status quo, for much in the way of significant actions to be agreed in Glasgow.

Ecosocialism not Extinction.

To keep informed about the Ecosocialist Alliance and these particular actions email eco-socialist-action@protonmail.com



Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Alternative Energy - Against Overproduction

Written by Don Fitz

This is the final part of an exchange between Robert Pollin and Don Fitz carried in Green Social Thought (GST) and ZNet.  The first portion consisted of two articles by Pollin which originally appeared in Truthout on 7/3/21 and 6/10/21.  The second portion was a response by Fitz to Pollin’s articles.  The third portion was a rejoinder by Pollin to Fitz’s response.

Robert Pollin repeats a message often seen in writings defending alternative energy (AltE): while they briefly shake their heads at capitalist waste, they deny an overproduction problem.  In his response to my article on “Be Careful What Energy You Wish For,” his message comes through that there are no limits on what can be done to the Earth’s ecosystems that AltE can’t solve. 

He accuses me of intending to restrict “consumption” even though that word never appears in my article.  What appears repeatedly is the word “production.” Capitalism produces for profit, not consumption.  This seemingly small difference becomes central for environmental solutions.  A liberal might say “Produce cars, but make people feel guilty about driving them.”  A socialist would say “Create walkable communities as a precondition for limiting production of individually owned cars.”

As heat waves, out-of-control fires and hurricanes increasingly sweep the globe, fossil fuel (FF) apologists continue their “climate change denial.”  They are matched by the “energy denial” of AtlE enthusiasts who similarly deny that ALL industrially produced energy has seriously negative effects.

The first major problem with Pollin’s rebuttal is that, like Congressional Democrats, he fails to demand federal legislation capping production of oil, gas and coal and lowering the caps to zero by specific dates.  With no plan for eliminating FFs, we are left with a vague belief that increasing AltE will somehow cause a reduction in FFs rather than adding new sources of energy to the mix.  To further confuse the issue, he claims that AltE has no emissions, when in fact every type of AltE produces significant emissions during its life cycle.

Second, by failing to acknowledge that AltE is not “clean,” he trivializes the way it destroys communities and ancestral lands, poisons workers, and intensifies species extinction during operation and decommissioning.  One example is lithium for electric vehicles.  As Thea Riofrancos writes: “Chile’s Atacama Desert is on the water system… Mining for lithium here is like mining salty water and evaporating it. Already water-scarce, the region is becoming drier due to climate change and water use by extractive sectors…”

Lithium is then manufactured into batteries, exposing workers to NMP (reproductive toxin and embryotoxic), acetone (potential for neuroblastoma in children), and biphenyl (associated with Parkinson’s disease and dangers to the respiratory tract, liver and nervous system).  Multiply these effects of lithium by other damaging effects and then multiply them by the hundreds or thousands of substances that are mined for AltE and you get an idea of the KNOWN dangers.

A third way in which Pollin exemplifies AltE writing is by vastly underestimating land area it requires by claiming that rooftops and parking lots provide most of the solution.  Perhaps he did not read the quotation in my previous piece by climate scientists James Dyke, Robert Watson, and Wolfgang Knorr that harvesting wood for biomass energy “would demand between 0.4 and 1.2 billion hectares of land. That’s 25% to 80% of all the land currently under cultivation.” 

And perhaps he has not seen the estimate of Distinguished Professor Emeritus Vaclav Smil that “To replace current US energy consumption with renewables, you’d need to devote at least 25–50 percent of the US landmass to solar, wind, and biofuels.”  Additional points must be considered:

1. If Pollin truly believes that only a tiny land area is needed for AltE, then he should call for an end to lawsuits in the US and land grabs across the globe to build solar arrays and industrial wind turbines.

2. Since the US uses 25% of the world’s energy with only 6% of its population, an unbelievable amount of land and rivers would be required for the rest of the world to match US squandering of resources.

3. A 3% annual growth rate in GDP means a doubling of the economy in less than 25 years, a quadrupling of energy usage in less than 50 years, and an 8-fold increase in less than 75 years.

4. The Law of Diminishing Returns verifies that the best space for wind, solar, hydro and biomass are used first and remaining land/rivers are less productive, requiring more to be used over time.

This means that land usage must expand much more rapidly than GDP, exhausting the Earth’s resources and species.

A fourth error permeating AltE writing is faith in unproven technologies.  Pollin expects improvements in “industrial machinery, transportation equipment and computers” along with “advances in battery storage and electricity transmission systems.”  Such promises of accomplishments in an imagined future remind me that, during the ‘50s, the nuclear industry painted rosy pictures of “electricity too cheap to meter” which were just around the corner. 

Like other AltE supporters, Pollin insists that production must be increased massively to provide for the world’s poor.  It is helpful to examine Cuba during its “Special Period” after the USSR collapsed in 1991 and discontinued its $4-5 billion annual subsidy.  In my 2020 book, Cuban Health Care: The Ongoing Revolution, I emphasize that Cuba’s poverty is exacerbated by the embargo of 60 years from the richest country in the world, the US.  During the Special Period, Cuba’s economy shrunk by 45%, imports fell from $8.12 billion to $1.99 billion, and oil imports from Russia plunged from 13.3 to 1.8 million tons.

Despite these traumas, Cuba actually improved its health care system.  In 1990, infant mortality per 1000 live births were 10.5 in Cuba and 9.4 in the US.  By the end of the Special Period in 2000, Cuba was doing better with 6.3 deaths versus 7.1 in the US.  At the beginning of the Special Period Cubans expected to live 64.2 years and Americans to live 69.8 years.  By 2000, Cuba’s life expectancy of 76.9 years slightly edged out that of the US at 76.8 years. 

This is vitally important for a discussion of energy: Cuba spends roughly 10% per person per year on health care compared to the US.  How is this possible?  Even with an end to the embargo and ultra-economic growth, Cuba would not have been able to outpace per capita GDP of the US.

The fundamental precondition of those changes was creating a new consciousness that Cuba could accomplish much more with much less.  Without that new consciousness, its medical miracle could never have happened.

Tunnel-visioning on AltE blocks the consciousness necessary for developing ways to use vastly less energy, which is essential for protecting biodiversity and human health.  The gargantuan increase in production that a new AltE system would require is vital to capitalism, which cannot tolerate a long-term decrease in production.  Capitalism is doomed to perish unless it finds a way to grow without FFs.  Thus, late capitalism desperately needs an ideology to justify AltE growth, just as infant capitalism needed the ideology of racism to justify plunder of Africa, Asian and the Americas.

During World War I, many Social Democrats took sides with “their own” national capitalists, believing that they were less bad.  Today, their political great-grandchildren similarly help to preserve capitalism by siding with AltE “progressive capitalists.”  Environmental, labor and socialist movements should reject any ideology of plundering of the Earth to fund capitalism’s pathological urge to grow.  It is time to scream DEFUND CAPITALISM!

Don Fitz (fitzdon@aol.com) has taught Environmental Psychology at Washington University and Fontbonne University in St. Louis and is on the Editorial Board of Green Social Thought.  He was the 2016 candidate of the Missouri Green Party for Governor.  His book on Cuban Health Care: The Ongoing Revolution has been available since June 2020.

Monday, 13 September 2021

In Defence of the Green New Deal


 A response to Don Fitz’s article here.

Written by Robert Pollin

This is the third part of an exchange between Robert Pollin and Don Fitz carried in Green Social Thought (GST) and ZNet. The first portion consisted of two articles by Pollin which originally appeared in Truthout on 7/3/21 and 6/10/21. The second portion was a response by Don Fitz which appeared in GST and ZNet.  The final portion will be a closing statement by Fitz.

Robert Pollin is a Distinguished University Professor of Economics and Co-Director, Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Don Fitz’s response to my two interviews that Z generously republished makes two major assertions:  1) Reducing overall consumption and working fewer hours provides a viable path on its own to stabilizing the global climate; and 2) Renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, are not really “clean” even though they supply energy without generating CO2 emissions.  I will address these in turn.

As I state at the outset of my first posted interview, on “degrowth,” I strongly agree that “a significant share of what is produced and consumed in the current global capitalist economy is wasteful, especially much, if not most, of what high-income people throughout the world consume.”  Fitz is merely setting up a straw-person in suggesting that I think otherwise. 

More pertinently, Fitz seems to believe that that we can move the global economy onto a viable climate stabilization path if we all consume less, work fewer hours, and eat less meat, while also shortening global supply chains and making cities more walkable.  This appears to be the case, in his view, even if we do not transform our global energy system from one dominated by fossil fuels to one dominated by sources that are CO2-emissions free.   He offers no evidence to support his position.  In fact, there is no evidence that supports his position.  

To get into some specifics:  the world economy emitted about 34 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere as of the most recent 2018 data.  Most of these emissions result through burning oil, coal and natural gas to produce energy.   The IPCC has said that we need to cut these emissions from burning fossil fuels by about 50 percent as of 2030—only a little more than 8 years from now—and to be at net zero emissions by 2050. 

I myself have always strongly emphasized, including in both the interviews posted at Z, the centrality of investments to raise energy efficiency standards throughout the world.  That means, among other things, significantly upgrading the heating, lighting, cooling, and insulation equipment in buildings, greatly expanding public transportation systems, and producing much more efficient private vehicles. 

However, even if we make these critical investments to raise efficiency standards, at best we will be able to reduce global energy consumption in the range of 5 – 10 percent.   This assumes, as I said in the degrowth interview, that “people are still going to need to consume energy to light, heat and cool buildings, to power cars, buses, trains, and airplanes and to operate computers and industrial machinery, among other uses.” 

In particular, I strongly favor, as part of any minimally decent global egalitarian program, a significant increase in access to energy for lower-income people in all regions, to enable them to raise their living standards.  I do not think that Fitz’s claim that “humanity does not need more crap” applies to the roughly 70 percent of the world’s population—5.5 billion people—that lives on less than $10 a day.  It is critical to be able to provide, for example, warm, well-lit living spaces, high-quality public transportation, and access to the internet as efficiently as possible for this overwhelming majority of humanity. 

Fitz appears to believe, without providing evidence, that we can cut global energy consumption by far more than 5 – 10 percent without cutting the living standards of low-income people.  But let’s note that even if we were to cut global energy consumption by, for example, an implausible 50 percent by consuming “less crap” and working fewer hours, we would still be only half way to bringing CO2 emissions down to zero, as long as we maintain intact our current fossil fuel-dominant energy infrastructure. 

In short, there is simply no getting around the fact that we need to supplant our existing fossil-fuel dominant energy system that is the main cause of the global climate crisis with an alternative system that delivers abundant energy without generating CO2 emissions.  This is where renewable energy becomes critical.   Of course, there are significant challenges to address in building out a global renewable-dominant energy system.  But none of these challenges are insurmountable, as Fitz suggests.  

For example, Fitz cites the obvious matter of intermittency with solar and wind power—that the sun isn’t always shining and the wind isn’t always blowing at any given location.   But this problem can be solved through continuing to make advances in battery storage and electricity transmission systems.  It is also the case that other renewable sources—geothermal, hydro and low-emissions bioenergy—are not intermittent.  They can serve as supplemental energy sources in combined renewable energy systems.

Fitz also asserts that building the renewable energy infrastructure can only be accomplished by consuming more fossil fuel energy.  This is not true.  As the supply of renewable energy expands, the full range of industrial machinery, transportation equipment and computers can all be powered through renewable energy sources just as well as if not better than, through fossil fuel energy.

Fitz cites examples of renewable energy projects being built in ways that disrupt communities and natural habitats.  Such concerns are valid.  The land-use issues around building a renewable energy infrastructure need to be addressed with great care and democratic decision-making. 

But as a general proposition, it is useful to start from the calculations of the Harvard University physicist Mara Prentiss that with the U.S. as a high-efficiency economy, more than half of this necessary surface area could be provided through locating solar panels on rooftops and parking lots throughout the country.  Beyond this space provided by rooftops and parking lots, solar energy sources using existing technologies could supply 100 percent of U.S. energy demand while consuming somewhere between 0.1 and 0.2 percent of additional U.S. land area. 

If Fitz is convinced that renewable energy unavoidably produces “devastating consequences,” then it is incumbent on him to present his superior alternative.  Does he favor maintaining the existing fossil-fuel dominant syste

m?  Would he prefer a global transition to a nuclear-powered energy system?  Does he think that having everyone consume “less crap” will wipe out most of the world’s demand for energy from any and all sources?

As a final note, I think it would be constructive if Fitz could restrain his rhetoric, along with filling in the major gaps in his analysis that I have noted here.  For example, Fitz writes that I claim that the resolution of the climate crisis “may require strengthening capitalism.”  Here is what I actually said at the end of the degrowth interview:

“The Green New Deal… is, in my view, the only way through which climate stabilization can become fully consistent with expanding decent work opportunities, raising mass living standards, and fighting poverty in all regions of the world.”  In this spirit, it is encouraging that 20 labor unions in California—including the state’s oil refinery workers’ union—endorsed the Green New Deal program for the state that I co-authored and describe in the second posted interview.