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Degrowth: Socialism without Growth

By Timothée Parrique and Giorgos Kallis - Brave New Europe, February 10, 2021

Notable (eco)socialists have recently criticized the idea of degrowth 1. Here we want to argue that such criticism is misplaced. Growth is a problem over and above capitalism. A sustainable eco-socialism should reject any association with the ideology and terminology of growth. 21st century socialists should start thinking how we can plan for societies that prosper without growth. Like it not, growth is bound to come to an end, the question is how; and whether this will happen soon or too late to avert planetary disasters.

Going Slowly to 100% Renewables … by 2025?

By Dan Fischer - Peace News, April 5, 2020

It has been 55 years since the social ecologist Murray Bookchin argued that “wind, water, and solar power” (hereafter, WWS) could “amply meet the needs of a decentralized society” and eventually replace all fossil, nuclear, and bioenergy sources. The alternative, he warned, would be a future of “radioactive wastes,” “lethal air pollution,” “rising atmospheric temperatures,” “more destructive storm patterns,” and “rising sea levels.” Having declined to tear down its smokestacks, society has entered Bookchin’s dreaded scenario and, according to today’s scientists, accelerates toward “hothouse Earth,” “doomsday,” and even an “annihilation of all life.”

The urgency for reaching 100% WWS can’t be overstated. Leading climate scientists report that “tipping points could be exceeded even between 1 and 2°C of warming,” and today’s level is already at 1.2° and rapidly climbing. Moreover, society has pushed Earth past four other “planetary boundaries.” While all energy sources have an impact, small-scale WWS sources are by far the cleanest option available, and they also doesn’t involve nuclear power’s existential weapons proliferation risks.

It’s no wonder, therefore, that many Green New Deal supporters call for 100% WWS by 2030 or sooner. Activists in the United States and the United Kingdom are calling for zero emissions nationally by 2025, a stringent deadline that requires a very rapid phase-out of fossil and bioenergies and that necessarily excludes the lengthy construction of new nuclear power facilities and large-scale hydroelectric dams. The journalist Hazel Healy has even written about achieving zero emissions worldwide by 2025. To be sure, these targets are mind-bogglingly ambitious compared to, say, Joe Biden’s mid-century target. But if anything, 2025 is already pushing our luck from a climate and ecological perspective.

Wondering about the potential for rapidly reaching 100% renewable energy, I reached out to two of the most optimistic and two of the most pessimistic scholars on the technologies. Based on these conversations, I offer the following suggestion. Achieving 100% WWS within five to ten years, if it can be done at all, would likely require slowing down the industrialized world. It would mean abandoning what Michelle Boulous Walker calls today’s “culture of haste” and “relentless demand to decide, respond and act.” Instead of a frantic construction of hydrogen-powered airplanes and concrete-intensive high-speed rail, it would mean making most production local and most travel leisurely-paced. It would mean switching from full-time jobs to part-time crafts and hobbies, from patenting technology to sharing it, and from GDP to something like the Indigenous Environmental Network’s proposed “Index for Living Well.” While it’s common to read of “roadmaps” to WWS, we would probably get to the destination sooner with maps of biking trails and bus routes.

Making decentralised electricity work for all of us

By Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, September 30, 2019.

Decentralised electricity is on its way in, like it or not. Networks managed by “smart” technology, supplied by renewable sources and other small-scale power stations, can only expand.

Systems centred on ever-larger coal-, gas- or nuclear-fired power stations, completely dominant fifty years ago, will decline in many countries from now on – although they will not go quietly.

Social and labour movements had better take notice. If we don’t make this technological change work for people, energy corporations will make it work for profit.

And those corporations are paying close attention. “The centralised model of power production is dying”, Mark Boillot, a senior vice president of Électricité de France, one of Europe’s largest electricity

companies, said recently. It will be “replaced by local solar and wind, supplemented by batteries and intelligent management of supply and demand”.

Labour Party policy

In the UK, the Labour party conference last week called for a Green New Deal; rapid expansion of renewables generation, and taking the “big six” energy companies into public ownership, would be key elements.

This cuts across current Labour electricity policy, set out in the Bringing Energy Home document published earlier this year: to extend public ownership only to the transmission (high-voltage) and distribution (low-voltage) electricity networks, plus networks that supply gas to homes for cooking and heating. Generation of electricity (power stations, wind farms, and so on), and supply (the marketing of the electricity to users) will stay in private hands.

The conference’s stance, if translated into policy, would potentially be much better suited to making electricity decentralisation work for us all.

We Can Beat the Climate Destroyers

By Bruce Lesnick - Socialist Action, September 7, 2018

Humanity faces a multi-faceted crisis. Endless wars of imperial aggression, both overt and covert—from Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan to Yemen, Palestine, and Central and South America. These conflagrations compel those at the bottom of the economic pyramid to fight and die to protect the wealth and privileges of those at the top. These wars destroy human beings and our natural environment, but also opportunities and resources that could be allocated to human betterment.

Nuclear arsenals remain on hair-triggeralert, with fearsome destructive potential, one accident or a single myopic policy decision away from wiping out the entire human race. Economic inequality, having already reached obscene proportions, is showing no sign of slowing down or reversing course.

Racism, xenophobia, sexism, and other forms of hate-filled discrimination are used to distract and divide those victimized by the current state of affairs and to hinder a united fight by all of the oppressed against our common oppressors.

And then there’s the matter of climate Armageddon. The world is heating up as a result of economic and energy policy choices. These choices have maximized profits for the super-rich 1% while threatening the very biosphere we all depend on for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

We know that the burning of fossil fuels and the resulting additional carbon in our atmosphere are driving rapid planetary warming. We know this, not because a majority of climate scientists believe it to be true—that’s not how science works; after all, majorities of scientists have been wrong on occasion. We know this crisis is real because a substantial amount of data has been collected that corroborates the climate change hypothesis, and because key scientific predictions based on the theory of human-accelerated climate change have been born out by evidence and experience.

Full Report from an “International Meeting on the Energy Mix and the Commons” – Buenos Aires, Argentina (English)

By admin - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, September 27, 2017; English translation provided by Daniel Chavez of this original report.

The Energy Mix and the Commons

On 4-5 September 2017, an International Meeting on the Energy Mix and the Commons was held at the ATE National trade union’s main office, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The meeting was framed within a broader process of exchange of knowledge and experiences on climate and energy policies in Argentina, Latin America and the world. The Argentinian State Workers’ Association (Spanish acronym ATE; acronyms will be for Spanish names where applicable) and the Autonomous Argentinean Workers’ Congress (CTA-A) are engaged in international processes towards the construction of regional and global alternatives, in particular the Development Platform of the Americas (PLADA) and the Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) initiative. The PLADA platform was conceived within the framework of the Trade Unions Confederation of the Americas (TUCA; CSA in Spanish) as a strategic political proposal centred around four dimensions—political, economic, social and environmental—aiming to contribute to the design and implementation of a regional model for sustainable development. PLADA proposes a gradual reduction in the use of fossil fuels, the universalisation of access to energy services, and the rationalization of those sectors of the economy that pollute the most. TUED, a global network composed of workers’ confederations and trade unions, focuses on democratizing generation, distribution and consumption of energy around the world.

The meeting was organised by ATE and CTA-A, with the support of the Transnational Institute (TNI, a worldwide network of scholar-activists based in the Netherlands) and the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of State Workers (CLATE).

(TUED Bulletin #68) The Invisible Crisis of Wind and Solar Energy–and the Urgent Need for a Public Approach

By Sean Sweeney and John Treat - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, December 5, 2017

Why, in a world awash with “idle capital” and in desperate need for a just energy transition to renewables-based energy systems, are global investment levels in renewable energy so obviously out of sync with climate targets?

According to a 2016 report released by the International Energy Agency, “Market-based, unsubsidised low-carbon investments have been negligable.” Without public money, the levels of modern renewable energy would be abysmally low. The tenth TUED Working Paper, Preparing a Public Pathway: Confronting the Investment Crisis in Renewable Energy describes how public money is papering over the fundamental failures of so-called “competitive” electricity markets. Public financing is increasingly being used to provide “certainties” for private companies and investors in the form of “power purchase agreements” or PPAs. PPAs make renewable energy expensive and vulnerable to the kind of political backlash we’ve seen across Europe and elsewhere. As a result, the entire energy sector becomes starved of investment and saturated in “political risk.”

“Preparing a Public Pathway” is available for download now (PDF)

From the Working Paper:

The dominant policy institutions have concluded that the market model that emerged from privatization and liberalization has proven to be an impediment to the kind of energy transition that is required. These same institutions instruct governments to increase their role as enablers of investment, by absorbing risk, providing support, and guaranteeing revenues and returns through P3s and PPAs.

The introduction of “capacity payments” speaks to the extent to which the “competitive market” is not only no longer competitive, it can no longer be usefully described as a market. Rather, we see governments, trying to ensure the energy-demand needs of the entire system are met, paying for unused electrical power—from both incumbent utilities and renewables companies—in order to ensure that all providers walk away with “returns on investment” that they (and the investors behind them) consider “satisfactory.”

One of the main goals of Preparing a Public Pathway is to provoke discussion among unions and their allies about the need to further cultivate a pro-public trade union counter-narrative that is clear, bold and persuasive, and—given the formidable nature of the challenge—offers some hope of decisively interceding in the global energy system’s worrying trajectories. Such a narrative must be able to assert, confidently and from an informed perspective, that only a planned, coordinated, publicly driven approach to investment has a credible chance of delivering the dramatically scaled up deployment of renewable power that we urgently need.

The Poverty of Luxury Communism

By QQ - LibCom.Org, April 5, 2018

A spectre is haunting Europe and the US, the spectre of... productivist national protectionism from the Left. QQ and Mike Harman respond to Novara Media and Jacobin Magazine.

"One form of wage labour may correct the abuses of another, but no form of wage labour can correct the abuse of wage labour itself." – Marx (Grundrisse)

Recent articles in Jacobin Magazine and Novara Media represent a growing trend of social democratic insistence that the state is the best chance for solving climate change and myriad other problems. This trend is taking several forms, a retreat from a consistent anti-borders position to one that sees no-borders as horizonal; a call for nationalisation of large-scale industries as a way to fix climate change and provide jobs; and for alternative ownership models like workers co-operatives to be supported by the state. In all cases premised on a strategy of state-capture via elections.

On the 26 February, Jeremy Corbyn told an audience in Coventry that Britain “cannot be held back inside or outside the EU from taking the steps we need to support cutting edge industries” nor can Britain be held back from “preventing employers being able to import cheap agency labour”. Although Corbyn caught heat from some of his more radical supporters, much of the criticism didn’t go beyond highlighting his poor judgement using ‘clumsy’ language. That the tone rather than the content of the speech was under scrutiny, provides an insight into the direction that the Labour party is heading in. It suggests we are not merely revisiting a party that feigns reluctance in appeasing racist sentiment, in an attempt to recover voters that abandoned them a long time ago. Rather, to “support cutting edge industries” it requires labour unified by a common bourgeois identity – Britishness, with a return to the nativist labourism that dogged the workers movement up until the '80s. Rhetoric may vary between explicit conservative bigotry, nativist labourism or metropolitan neoliberalism, but all of these exact violence via border controls, whether at the level of the EU or the UK. Capitalist production relies on the control of labour power.

This politics of a seemingly bygone age not only demonstrates the fundamental limit of parliamentary socialism but is woven into the intellectual fabric of the left as a whole. Illustrative of this is Aaron Bastani’s “Fully Automated Green Communism”. Although not unique in its Keynesian ambitions glamourized in communist pretence, it provides us with a useful case study of the thought processes and wholesale misunderstandings underpinning the ‘radical’ project presented by the Labour party.

Broadly speaking, Bastani’s piece is an appeal to grassroots green activists to ‘scale-up’ (an insistence made by other members of the Novara outfit and the Inventing the Future crew), in that the best way to avert climate change is to utilise the state. Whether he personally subscribes to the climate catastrophe speculated in the piece is uncertain, however he certainly believes that the public spirit around climate change could be an effective vehicle in exercising his demand-side economic theories. The post-war period of “a competing utopia [and] countervailing geopolitical forces” was a huge boon to the arms industry and consequently for the wider economy (i.e. the internet began its life as U.S. military tech), and it is thought that climate change can serve the same function as the Cold War. There are specific reasons why a likeness cannot be drawn between preparing for a world war and climate change (that we will address later), but more broadly Bastani makes the classic mistake of thinking that the purpose of an economy is to allocate resources to meet consumption needs, when in reality the purpose of the economy is to produce capital.

Part of the 1st Ecosocialist International

By various - Ecosocialist Horizons, November 2017

It has been one year since “The Calling of the Spirits” in Monte Carmelo, Lara, when, with spirited minds and seeds in our hearts, we initiated a convocation titled “The Cry of Mother Earth.” Those who responded to this cry are now here: around 100 people from 19 countries and five continents, 12 original peoples from Our America, and ecosocialist activists from 14 states of Venezuela. We are here in the Cumbe* of Veroes, cradled in the enchanted mountains of Yaracuy, where the guardian goddess of nature lives. From the 31st of October until today, the 3rd of November, 2017, we have done the work demanded of us: the articulation of a combined strategy and plan of action for the salvation of Mother Earth.

We have made the decision and the collective commitment to constitute the First Ecosocialist International: To reverse the destructive process of capitalism; to return to our origins and recuperate the ancestral spirituality of humanity; to live in peace, and end war.

We recognize that we are only a small part of a spiral of spirals, which has the profound intention to expand and include others until all of us are rewoven with Mother Earth; to restore harmony within us, between us, and among all the other sister beings of nature.

The First Ecosocialist International is not just another meeting, nor another conference of intellectuals to define ecosocialism. We believe that ecosocialism will define itself to the extent that it is reflected and conceptualized in praxis; based on what we do and what we are. Nor is the First Ecosocialist International a single organization or a rubber stamp in constant danger of becoming a bureaucracy. It is a common program of struggle, with moments of encounter and exchange, which anyone may join, by committing themselves to fulfilling one or more of the various actions agreed upon here in order to relieve our Mother Earth. No person or process can be owner or protagonist of that which is done and achieved collectively.

We invite all peoples, movements, organizations, collectives and beings in the world to join the First Ecosocialist International, and to undertake the collective construction of a program for the salvation of Mother Earth. By restoring a lost spirituality we may arrive at a new one; a new and sometimes ancient ecosocialist ethic, sacred and irreverent, fed by the sun of conscience. We are recreating our spirituality with a new imagination and a new heartbeat, which may carry us to unity and diversity. The understanding and practice of this new spirituality will have the power to repel empire and capitalism which are powered by greed, and it will be able to strengthen our peoples and cultures which are conditioned by necessities. Because right now we are not living – we are merely surviving. We confront a contradiction: restore life, or lead it to extinction. We must choose.

We don’t have any doubts. We are radicals; we shall return to our roots and our original ways; we shall see the past not only as a point of departure but also as a point of arrival.

A collective birth towards a loving upbringing; we are an immortal embryo… Let’s dream, and act, without sleeping!

Read the report (PDF).

Anything is possible when the multitude assembles

By Ben Trott - Red Pepper, October 25, 2017

From the Arab Spring and Occupy to the mass protests in Hong Kong in 2014, we have seen numerous recent movements and uprisings addressing people’s needs and desires, variously for democracy, for freedom, unshackling the people from the forces of reaction. And yet, they have failed to deliver on these radical desires; failed to create lasting change or a more democratic form of society. It is with this observation that Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri open their compelling and provocative new book, Assembly. It confronts a history of failure that has dogged leftwing movements, often framed as a problem of ‘effectiveness’, and particularly the much-debated ‘problem of leadership’. Hardt and Negri root their analysis in contemporary social reality, asking the question – given these historic disappointments, what should a new left do if it is not altogether to abandon faith in social movements?

Hardt and Negri’s best-known book, Empire, was published at the turn of the century, just after the alter-globalisation movement had taken to the streets of Seattle, disrupting the World Trade Organisation’s ministerial meeting. It argued that nation-states had become unable to guarantee and regulate capitalist production and accumulation, which were becoming truly global following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening of the Chinese economy. According to the authors, sovereignty itself was shifting to the global level of Empire itself: a network of supranational organisations (including the WTO), transnational corporations, state and non-state actors.

One of the book’s distinctive characteristics was its break with what Walter Benjamin, and more recently the political theorist Wendy Brown, have described as ‘left melancholia’. This is the tendency for some on the left to attach themselves to particular political ideas – and even to the failure of these ideas – rather than seizing the present possibilities for transformation. By offering a radical re-thinking of democracy, and indeed of communism, Empire served as an antidote to left melancholia at the supposed ‘end of history’ – the moment when all thought of political alternatives have been rendered useless or meaningless by the overwhelming power of the contention that ‘There Is No Alternative’ to capitalism.

It cast the emerging Empire as destructive, but resisted nostalgia for earlier forms of domination. Moreover, it argued that ‘the multitude’, or the labour that animated the ‘postmodern’ global economy, worked in increasingly creative and collaborative ways, and that the multitude itself could potentially become capable of creating a ‘counter-Empire’, inventing new democratic forms and ‘an alternative political organization of global flows and exchanges.’

Assembly follows their books Multitude (2004) and Commonwealth (2009) in developing some of Empire’s arguments and conceptual categories, although it dedicates comparatively little space to geopolitics and global order. It offers instead the authors’ most detailed discussion of the present prospects for transformation, and in light of the movements that have emerged since the global crisis of 2007/8. Its chapters are punctuated by ‘calls’ and ‘responses’ that present an approach to thinking how the multitude can assemble more effectively. And indeed, how it can ‘take power’, not by winning elections but through the invention of new institutional forms, and through cooperation in social production.

Raj Patel on How to Break Away from Capitalism

By Chris Winters - Yes! Magazine, October 23, 2017

Capitalism has been the world’s dominant economic system for more than 700 years. And as it brings the planet to new crises, author Raj Patel believes it’s important to imagine what might replace it.

But reform won’t happen unless we understand capitalism’s appeal and historical rise, says Patel, a food justice activist and professor at the University of Texas at Austin. It’s remarkably resilient and can be traced to a process he calls “cheapness.”

Together with Binghamton University professor Jason W. Moore, he has written The History of the World in Seven Cheap Things (University of California Press, 2017), which aims to put it all together for us. The seven “things” of the title aren’t physical objects as much as they are a hidden social, ecological and economic infrastructure: nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives. The point being that cheapness is a process of responding to economic crises by devaluing each of those forces so that capitalism can continue to concentrate wealth in the hands of the already-wealthy. In that sense, “cheap nature” refers to the way in which land and its resources are systematically given away to businesses for exploitation, “cheap work” refers to slavery and other anti-worker tactics that keep wages low, and so on.

Capitalism values cheapness above all else. And through this lens, Patel and Moore explore the evolution of capitalism from its roots in the late medieval period with the collapse of feudalism in Western Europe caused by climate change and the Black Death to—now.

Raj Patel spoke with YES! Magazine senior editor Chris Winters in Seattle. This interview has been edited and condensed.

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