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Why 100% Renewable Energy Requires Libertarian Eco-Socialism

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

By Dan Fischer - Capitalism vs. the Climate, November 15, 2013 (used by permission)

It’s old news that humans can power society with 100% renewable energy. Back in 1964, the anarchist Murray Bookchin wrote a prescient essay on global warming and other ecological issues. “Solar devices, wind turbines, and hydroelectric resources taken singly do not provide a solution…Pieced together as a mosaic…they could amply meet the needs of a decentralized society,” he wrote (Ecology and Revolutionary Thought).

Grow or Die

This transition can only take place when we start confronting the system that caused climate change: capitalism. Capitalism is a system based on private property and wage labor, where a ruling class of people own and manage most of the economy. It is inherently anti-ecological.

Capitalism presents each business with a stark “grow or die” imperative. As a result, businesses have no choice but to keep producing more stuff and using more energy (see chart above). When a business buys a more expensive form of energy like wind, it will lose market share to its competitors who buy oil and natural gas. To appear sustainable, they sell false “solutions” like mega-hydro, fracking, nuclear power and cap-and-trade. These proposals are insulting to those who care about the planet.

When capitalists do implement renewable energy, the results are ecologically and socially disastrous. For example, Google/NRG/BrightSource’s large solar thermal project in California’s Mojave desert devastates the desert tortoise, a protected species, and desecrates Chemehuevi burial grounds. HydroQuebec’s mega-dams violate Innu territory and requires large areas of borreal forest to be cut down. Even if a fully renewable energy-powered capitalism were possible, it would be unsustainable.

Under socialism, by contrast, ordinary people control and manage the economy. There is no private property, only personal possessions. There is no grow-or-die imperative. There is a possibility for building an ecological society and also meets people’s needs and desires.

Authoritarian versus Libertarian

However, there are two different strands of socialism that we need to differentiate: an authoritarian strand that advocates the taking of state power and a libertarian strand that has a vision and strategy combating all coercive hierarchies.

Libertarian socialism recognizes that ecological crises ultimately have their roots in social hierarchies. When humans dominate other humans, they then also think it’s okay to also try to dominate nature! And when the people at the top of hierarchies make environmental decisions, the people at the bottom get stuck experiencing the worst impacts!

There are many ecological or green varieties of libertarian socialism. Some important thinkers include the social ecologist Murray Bookchin, the revolutionary ecologist Judi Bari, and the eco-marxist Joel Kovel. All would agree with Kovel that States inherently “implement the domination of nature” (Enemy of Nature).

State-managed economies, including the authoritarian socialism variety, have a terrible environmental track record. Consider the following examples:

      1. The Chernobyl disaster, history’s worst nuclear disaster, happened under the Soviet Union’s watch.
      2. To stop Greenpeace from interfering with destructive nuclear tests, France’s “Socialist” government sunk Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior in 1985, murdering the photographer Fernando Pereira.
      3. Leon Trotsky held an attitude of “worship toward technology” and “allowed himself to fantasize about a future of rearranged rivers and mountains” according to eco-marxist Joel Kovel in The Enemy of Nature.
      4. After Germany’s late-18th century invention of state-managed forestry, forests became so unhealthy that “[a] new term, Waldsterben (forest death), entered the German vocabulary.” (James Scott, Seeing Like a State).
      5. The International Energy Agency estimates that State subsidies to fossil fuels totaled $544 billion in 2012. World military spending reached $1.756 trillion the same year, and we all know that this spending is largely about protecting oil flows.

Community Control

While capitalist privatization is a clear dead end, statist nationalization won’t save us either. The alternative is municipalization, or community control of the economy. Communities will still confederate to share resources and coordinate regulations. The Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico, for example, confederate hundreds of thousands of people into five autonomous zones. These zones have banned pesticides, stood up to oil companies, and they practice decentralized, ecological agriculture.

Energy is an example of a sector best managed at the local level. Bill McKibben explains in Eaarth, “it makes more sense to think about energy locally and regionally. (The very physics of electricity, the juice lost in transmission, works against long-range strategies.)” Agriculture is another example. In Seeing Like a State, James Scott documents how state-planned farming in West Africa failed to match up to indigenous farming techniques which make use of local knowledge.

There are thousands of examples of direct democratic societies that we can study, from ancient Athens to 1936 Catalonia to the current-day Zapatistas and Occupy Wall Street, just to name a few. If we build a large-scale direct democratic society, it is hard to see who would allow an incinerator or a dirty power plant to be built in their neighborhood!

Climate change and other ecological crises threaten human existence. However, when communities municipalize their economy, democratize their politics, and confederate with other communities to share resources, then humans will have a decent chance at surviving…and living quite well too!

The Fine Print I:

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