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ecomodernism

Building eco-socialism: A review of Max Ajl’s A People’s Green New Deal

By David Camfield - Tempest, July 22, 2021

There’s nothing more important today than the politics of climate change. How societies respond to global heating will increasingly shape all political life.

A People’s Green New Deal by Max Ajl, an associated researcher with the Tunisian Observatory for Food Sovereignty and the Environment and a postdoctoral fellow with the Rural Sociology Group at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, gives us some insightful analysis of different political approaches to global heating (a term I prefer since it packs more punch than global warming) and many good ideas about how society should be changed to respond to capitalism’s ecological crisis. However, the book is much less helpful for thinking about the political strategy we need to make these changes.

Although some hard right-wing politicians are still intoxicated by the climate change denial nonsense that organizations funded by fossil capital have been spewing for years, smarter ruling-class strategists are planning for what Ajl calls “Green Social Control.” This “aims to preserve the essence of capitalism while shifting to a greener model in order to sidestep the worse consequences of the climate crisis.”

The European Commission’s announced measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union are an example of this approach. It’s what Joe Biden had in mind when he appointed John Kerry as a Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. It’s also the vision of the Climate Finance Leadership Initiative, a group of finance capitalists headed by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. It’s a vision that Ajl skewers.

Why Elon Musk Won't Save Us

Green Left Show #14: Why nuclear is NOT a climate solution

10 reasons why climate activists should not support nuclear

By Simon Butler - Climate and Capitalism, June 23, 2021

In a recent Guardian article, Jacobin magazine’s founding editor Bhaskar Sunkara declared that “If we want to fight the climate crisis, we must embrace nuclear power.” He praised nuclear as a clean and reliable and suggested that opponents of nuclear power are either gripped by “paranoia … rooted in cold war associations” or are relying on “outdated information.”

I disagree entirely. Here are 10 reasons why nuclear power is still no solution for climate change.

1. Nuclear is dangerous. Building many new nuclear power plants around the globe means a higher risk of unpredictable Fukushima-type accidents. We know more extreme weather events are locked in due to climate change, adding to the danger as time passes.

What if a nuclear power plant had been in the path of Australia’s huge bushfires in 2020? What nuclear power plant could withstand super typhoons like the one that flattened Tacloban City in the Philippines in 2013? What if a nuclear plant was submerged by unexpectedly massive floods, like those in Mozambique for the past three years in a row?

Planning for a hotter future means switching to safer, resilient technologies. Building more nuclear power plants in this context is reckless.

2. Nuclear wastes water. Nuclear power is an incredibly water-guzzling energy source compared with renewables like solar and wind. We know climate change-induced droughts and floods will make existing freshwater shortages a lot worse. So it’s a bad idea to waste so much water on more nuclear.

Uranium mining can also make nearby groundwater unusable forever. Half of the world’s uranium mines use a process called in-situ leaching. This involves fracking ore deposits then pumping down a cocktail of acids mixed with groundwater to dissolve the uranium for easier extraction. This contaminates aquifers with radioactive elements. There are no examples of successful groundwater restoration.

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.

We Need to Talk About Technology

By Simon Pirani  - The Ecologist, October 5, 2018

Housing for working people is becoming as central an issue for labour and social movements in the twenty first century as it was in the nineteenth and twentieth. And not just decent housing, but housing that is comfortable, aesthetically pleasing – and, crucially, low energy, zero energy or even energy positive. 

Here is a wonderful opportunity for our movement to get a grip on technology. We can and should find ways to bring the experience of architects and energy conservation engineers into discussions about housing among community activists and building workers.

A good example of how not to do this is the call for mass installation of air conditioners, made by Leigh Phillips in his article, In Defense of Air Conditioning published by Jacobin

Improved design

The problem that Phillips purports to address – the cruel effect of heat on millions of urban residents, during summers such as 2018’s – is real enough.

The need to provide ourselves with homes that shelter us from extreme heat as well as colder weather – something ruling classes down the ages have never done for working people – is indisputable. 

But Phillips’s techno-fix – mass AC installation, supported by a grand expansion of nuclear and hydro power – is not the answer. He sounds like someone proposing the state-funded distribution of armour-plated BMWs to parents demanding safe cycle routes to school for their children.

Better temperature control can and should be achieved not in the first place by AC, but mainly by better building design, better insulation and better urban planning, in the context of better ways of living generally.

This ABC of AC is widely understood by three groups of people, ignored in Phillips’s article, who spend time thinking about our homes: community groups organising on housing issues; building workers and architects; and energy conservation researchers. 

The State Against Climate Change: Response to Christian Parenti

By BRRN Radical Ecology Committee - Black Rose Anarchist Federation, July 3, 2018

A response to Christian Parenti’s assertion that the state is the only way to meet the challenge of the climate crisis.

In the concluding chapter of Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence (2012), author Christian Parenti suggests that those seeking to mitigate and adapt to the disastrous effects of global warming can do so best by taking power of the State to implement the necessary changes to bring about a transition to a post-capitalist global society powered by renewable energies. In an address to the 2013 Left Forum, “What Climate Change Implies for the State,” in which he develops these ideas, Parenti asserts that the Left should adopt a strategy of recovering and reclaiming the territory of the State, “reshaping” it toward the end of an all-out short-term mobilization to resolve the impending threat of climate destruction. Though Parenti recognizes that the State’s primary role within the rise of capitalism to have been to facilitate the exploitation and destruction of nature, he somehow believes that this same mechanism could now serve the opposite end. He claims that climate change can be resolved simply through fiat by the Environmental Protection Agency: “we’re [just] waiting for numerous rules from the EPA.” He insists that the Left desperately needs to come up with “realistic solutions” to the gravity of the climate crisis, and that any strategy of merely “being outraged” or “invoking the righteousness of our cause” will utterly fail. [1]

What Is the State, and Is It Neutral? 

To begin to respond to Parenti, we first have to ask, what is the State? Peter Kropotkin distinguishes between the State as bureaucratic despotism imposed from above and collective self-governance from below, otherwise known as self-organization or self-management. [2] Examples of the latter can be seen in the soldiers’, peasants’, and workers’ councils of the Russian Revolution; indigenous Latin American assemblies; the Paris Commune of 1871; the Gwanju Commune of 1980; the cooperatives, communes, and free cities of medieval Europe and today’s Rojava Revolution; and the Local Coordinating Councils of the Syrian Revolution, among other examples. Therefore, when we mention “the State,” all that is meant on the philosophical level—leaving aside for a moment the very real physical presence of the State, as embodied in militarism, prisons, and the police—is just centralism, or the concentration of decision-making power, whether that be a monarch, emperor, One-Party State, or modern multi-party western democracies.

In terms of ecology, it is clear that the State is not a “neutral” arbiter but rather, as Parenti argues, the facilitator of ecocides global and local. The EPA’s laws and regulations are often not enforced, even when the ruling class believes they should at least be on the books, and are currently being decimated due to the Trump Regime’s affinity for fossil capital. If enforced, these standards are too-often observed along a racial-territorial basis, exacerbating environmental racism. Centralism in practice leads to bureaucratic lack of accountability and popular dis-empowerment, among other problems, as Kropotkin specified. So then the question becomes, do we need centralism for a successful transition to a post-capitalist, “ecological” future? The answer to this is of course not.

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.

Memo to Jacobin: Ecomodernism is not ecosocialism

By Ian Angus - Climate and Capitalism, September 25, 2017

This summer, the left-wing magazine Jacobin published a special issue on climate change. The lead article declares that “climate change … has to be at the center of how we mobilize and organize going forward. From now on, every issue is a climate issue.”

That’s excellent news: a magazine that calls itself “a leading voice of the American left, offering socialist perspectives on politics, economics, and culture,” ought to be a leader in the fight against capitalism’s deadly assault on the earth’s life-support systems.

Unfortunately, if the special issue is any indication, Jacobin is heading in the wrong direction. Although the term eco-socialism appears from time to time (always with a hyphen, which may indicate some uneasiness with the combination) there is nothing in this issue resembling an ecosocialist analysis or program. There’s not a word about stopping coal or tar sands mining, and no mention of shutting down the world’s biggest polluter, the US military. Instead we are offered paeans to technology in articles that advocate nuclear power, geoengineering, new power grids, electric cars and the like.

But despite their technophilia, the authors display little understanding of the technologies they support. Take, for example, the piece by Christian Parenti. He has written elsewhere that the U S government can resolve the climate crisis without system change by supporting clean technologies, so “realistic climate politics are reformist politics.” This article says much the same, that “state action and the public sector” can solve climate change by implementing carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). He tells us that removing CO2 from the atmosphere is “fairly simple,” because it has been done in submarines for years, and because Icelandic scientists recently developed a safe method of injecting CO2 into underground basalt, where it becomes a limestone-like solid within two years.

That sounds impressive, but is it credible?

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