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Book Review: The Future is Degrowth

By Timothée Parrique - Timothée Parrique, July 3, 2022

The best the degrowth literature has to offer served on a silver platter. That’s how I would describe The Future is Degrowth: A Guide to a World beyond Capitalism(June 2022) by Matthias Schmelzer, Andrea Vetter, and Aaron Vansintjan.[1] Reading it, I felt like Neo in The Matrix learning everything there is to know about Kung Fu all at once – “I know degrowth.” 

This kind of synthesis was long overdue. The degrowth literature has grown rather large and I cannot think of a single text that maps it all. Research on degrowth used to be my favourite guide to degrowth but there is only so much you can do in a 20-page article (plus, the literature has more than doubled since it was published in 2018). Degrowth: A vocabulary for a new era (2014) is a good pot luck of perspectives but lacks coherence and depth due to its multi-author, short-entry format. I tried my best in The political economy of degrowth (2019) but the end result is rather cumbersome. 

In The Future is Degrowth, the authors have achieved a colossal Spring cleaning of the field. Sufficiency, dépense, commoning, pluriverse, unequal exchange, conviviality, self-determination, and many more (I have counted more than sixty concepts throughout the book). With such an exhaustive span, this book is to degrowth what the IPCC is to climate science: the best available literature review on the topic. 

But warning: this book is not for the academically faint hearted. If you’re looking for a wide-audience introduction to degrowth, this is not one of them, and I would rather recommend The Case for Degrowth[G. Kallis, S. Paulson, G. D’Alisa, F. Demaria], a shorter, less demanding way of covering the basics. If you’ve never heard of the topic at all, Less is more[Jason Hickel], Post Growth: Life after capitalism[Tim Jackson], and Degrowth [Giorgos Kallis] are also good places to start. 

The Future is Degrowth is rather long (more than 100,000 words) but neatly organised. The literature is chiselled into six tidy lists: 3 dimensions and 7 critiques of growth, 5 currents and 3 principles of degrowth, 6 clusters of proposals, and 3 strategies for change. The book itself is divided in seven chapters. After a long introduction (12% of the total book length), the first two chapters deal with understanding economic growth and its critics (that’s about half of the book). The remaining chapters follow Erik Olin Wright’s famous triad: Chapter 4 is about the desirability of degrowth (11%), Chapter 5 about its viability (13%), and Chapter 6 about its achievability (11%). This leaves us with a short concluding chapter (5%) titled “The future of degrowth.” 

With such a monumental piece of work, I could not resolve myself to write a short review, which would feel like summarising all seasons of Game of Thrones in a single tweet. This book deserves a proper dissection, and so I will here process chapter by chapter, taking all the space needed to summarise its content and, in the end, analyse its (many) strengths and (very few) weaknesses.

Introducing...The Socialist Green New Deal

By Mark Douglas - London Green Left Blog, November 2, 2021

Web Editor's Note: There are several "socialist" versions of the Green New Deal that predate the following version (and sometimes when someone refers to their own version as "socialist" they're really implying that the others don't conform to their own party line, but no such sectarian undertone is evident here, except in the sense of inter-party debates within the UK, so we have included it as part of the discussion.

The Green New Deal remains the most potent political concept in recent years: it has undergone several phases and adoption by many political parties and movements. It has strong support across progressive trends in western Europe but has not been properly implemented anywhere.

Social Democratic parties think it is some solution to their lack of real policy to deal with poverty and the climate challenge. Left parties know that it presents a challenge to capitalism, if properly implemented, because greedy corporations cannot adapt and de-carbonise to reduce climate destabilisation.

In Green Left we say that a Socialist version of the Green New Deal needs to be fought for as part of the transition to a new political economy.

“That’s So F**king Imperialistic”: Responding to a Supporter of Cuba’s Government

By Daniel Fischer - New Politics, November 1, 2021

Following Cuba’s July 11th protests, University of Houston professor Bob Buzzanco posted on social media a strongly worded attack on New Politics, to which Lois Weiner and I responded with September’s “NP on Cuba: Consistent Opposition to US Imperialism and Support of Democratic Rights.” Buzanco’s subsequent critique titled “Doing Miami’s Dirty Work (Wittingly or Not): Responding to ‘New Politics’” asked the following questions of us anti-authoritarian and Third Camp leftists: “What will Left criticism of Cuba accomplish? How will it benefit the people in the streets of Cuba protesting? Where’s your solidarity?” These are fair questions, and they should be mainly asked to Cubans on the island. As a non-Cuban who hasn’t experienced Cuba’s everyday realities, I will respond with humility and with attention to local voices.

While Buzzanco claims that criticizing Havana aids Miami, a consistent defense of democratic rights actually makes our anti-imperialist movements more credible and strengthens our case for ending the unconscionable blockade. As critical leftists, we can provide a credible socialist alternative, both to the state-capitalist regime and to the neoliberal tendencies trying to co-opt the Cuban opposition. We can argue that respecting Cuba’s self-determination will not only improve the humanitarian situation but will also strengthen Cuba’s democratic dissidents by removing President Miguel Díaz-Canel’s ability to blame all his failures on Washington.

I actually agree with many of Buzzanco’s points, including his acknowledgement of Cuba’s accomplishments in ecology and health care. But I have my own questions for people like Buzzanco who stand fully behind the Cuban government. What is his message for Cubans who are becoming increasingly disillusioned with their leaders? What do you offer them beyond the bleak, Orwellian view that they should not protest until the U.S. blockade is lifted? Here is what he writes:

“[A]ny protest inside Cuba, no matter the intention, was going to have U.S. and Miami fingerprints on it and serve the interests of the Miami mafia and the American ‘National Security’ establishment […]

[A]ny disaffection in Cuba is generally engineered and absolutely and inevitably exploited by Calle 8 [8th Street in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood]”

I know that if I were Cuban, I would not take kindly to such condescending statements coming from a U.S. professor. I sent Buzzanco’s article to an Anarchist contact in Havana, and here was his response:

“That’s so fucking imperialistic in a pretty twisted way. We Cubans don’t owe shit to anyone. Not in Miami, not in Beijing, or in some office in Havana.”

Whatever a genuinely anti-imperialist approach toward Cuba might look like, it cannot be to rally behind a regime that denies Cubans some of their most basic rights. The most strategic way to build a socialist world, in fact the only way, is through critical though unwavering solidarity with the world’s oppressed. In consultation with Cuban leftists, we should explore what solidarity must mean when applied to a population that is suffering, firstly, from more than a century of U.S. imperialism, and secondly, from an authoritarian bureaucracy.

Building Bridges from Intersectional Ecosocialism to Radical Climate Justice and Systemic Transformation

By John Foran - Resilience, October 14, 2021

Ecosocialist strategic thinker Ian Angus has observed, with reason that “There is no copyright on the word ecosocialism, and those who call themselves ecosocialists don’t agree about everything.”

That’s true. One puzzle that many ecosocialists, especially here in the “global North,” seem to share is: Why are there so few ecosocialists?  For most of us – I count myself as part of the ecosocialist movement – it feels intuitively natural to hold a political orientation to the world based on the principles of the interconnectedness of an ecological approach and the universal solidarity, egalitarianism, and social justice orientation of a democratic socialism. Indeed, what other kind can there be after the authoritarian horrors of the 20th century?

Why, then, are we so few?

In my country, some may suppose that this can be explained away by the U.S. working class’s lack of consciousness of a world beyond capitalism, or by the pull that the values of feminism and racial justice exert on a younger generation preventing activists from recognizing the economic roots of the evils of the capitalist system that saturates our lives.

But aren’t these all caricatures? Are there not ecosocialists who have understood that race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexuality, and indeed all systems of division intersect with class? Are there not working people and unions who live every day with the economic and political abuses of capitalism?  And are there not young social-justice activists who are acutely aware of how capitalism works to cause untold suffering?

There are, fortunately, in all these cases, and their numbers are growing.

I began thinking about this essay early in 2020. Now, in the waning months of 2021, everywhere, people live in a world transformed by pandemic, rebellion, and the multiple pre- and post-pandemic crises that remain with us. In a way, this new world only underlines the importance of ecosocialism’s promise, as well as gives life and urgency to my thesis that 21st-century ecosocialism will either be intersectional or remain marginal to the needs of, and alternatives to, our collective moment.

Art Francisco, carpenters rank and file strike leader, speaks in Seattle

Nina Wurz, striking Seattle carpenter speaks at Kshama Sawsnt rally

Washington Carpenter Revolt Swells Picket Lines

By Luis Feliz Leon - Labor Notes, September 17, 2021

Two thousand Washington carpenters went on strike yesterday, out of 6,600 who currently work under the master agreement with the Association of General Contractors (AGC). Five jobs were picketed, including construction projects at Facebook’s Building X, the Microsoft’s Campus in Redmond, and Alphabet’s Google.

“I didn’t know what to expect. People can talk on Facebook, but you don’t know until it’s time for people to show up,” said Joe Rice, a general foreman at Local 30.

Local 816 carpenter Bryce Owings was required to report to work, but he took the day off to stand on the picket line. “I’m a card-carrying carpenter” before anything else, said his superintendent at the jobsite, when Owings asked for a personal day to stand on the picket line.

“This is the beautiful part—now the membership is taking their union leadership and guiding them in the right direction,” said Jimmy Castillo Matta, Jr., a delegate in Local 41, who spent his 25th birthday on the picket line.

The support has also come from other trades. “The fight they’re having, we’re all facing. The AGC isn’t stupid,” said H.M., a member of Operating Engineers Local 612 who asked to use only her initials.

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.

Economic Update: The Challenge of Progressive Unionism

What Might an Ecosocialist Society Look Like?

By David Klein - System Change not Climate Change, June 27, 2021

Why can’t the problems that ecosocialism would solve also be remedied within the current global capitalist system?

Before describing possible features of a future ecosocialism, it is worthwhile to consider why such a system is even needed. Why can’t the problems that ecosocialism would solve also be remedied within the current global capitalist system? Part I of this essay addresses that question by summarizing recent scientific reports on the state of the climate and extent of the ecological crisis; reviewing available methods and technologies that could be used to address the climate and ecological crises; and briefly describing capitalism’s structural inability to provide solutions at the scale of the crises. Part II then takes up the subject of the title, ecosocialism, along with strategies to move in that direction. 

Part I: Context and Background

The threat to life on Earth posed by the climate and ecological crises can hardly be overstated. A 2019 Nature article warned that up to a million species of plants and animals are on the verge of extinction, and a United Nations study the same year identified global warming as a major driver of wildlife decline. Much of the devastation to date was catalogued in the 2020 WWF Living Planet report, which recorded a 68 percent decline in the population of vertebrates around the world, in just the past five decades. More succinctly, scientists report that Earth is experiencing a sixth mass extinction. (The previous mass extinction, 66 million years ago, ended the dinosaurs).

The scale of the environmental crisis is unprecedented in human history. At stake are human civilization and billions of lives. An article last year in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences predicted that for every additional 1̊C rise beyond the 2019 global average, a billion people will be forced to abandon their locations or endure insufferable heat. The paper warns that under a scenario of increasing emissions, areas now home to a third of the world’s population could experience the same temperatures as the hottest parts of the Sahara within 50 years. 

Summing up the findings of some 150 scientific studies, a 2021 paper authored by 17 scientists warned that the “scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its life forms –- including humanity –- is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp even for well-informed experts.” Adding further urgency, 101 Nobel laureates released an open letter in April 2021 in which they wrote, “We are seized by the great moral issue of our time: the climate crisis and commensurate destruction of nature.” The laureates called for a worldwide fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty

Global heating is driven by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and yet emissions continue at high levels despite the chorus of promises by “climate leaders” in governments. In 2020 global emissions decreased by a meager 5.8 percent due to Covid-19 lockdowns, but they were already on the rebound by the end of the year. For the current year, 2021, the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts the second largest annual increase in history of greenhouse gas emissions, as global economies recover from the Covid-19 recession. In May 2021 a record-breaking monthly average concentration of 419 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 was measured in Mauna Loa, Hawaii, breaking the previous May 2020 record of 417 ppm. 

The drivers of ecocide, more generally, include not only climate change, but also habitat destruction, toxic dumping, plastic pollution in the oceans, radiation poisoning, and other customary byproducts of the global capitalist economy. All of this destruction continues unabated despite the flood of warnings from scientists, lobbying by environmental activists, and even warnings from institutions deeply rooted in the capitalist economy. 

Consider, for example, that in May 2021 the IEA released an unprecedented call to the world to rapidly reach zero emissions in its report, Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector. Widespread news coverage and expressions of optimism followed. Yet from February to the end of April 2021, the Biden administration approved nearly 1200 drilling permits on federal lands, along with more than 200 offshore permits, and defended in court the ConocoPhillips Willow project in Alaska, which is expected to emit 260 million metric tons of CO2 during the next 30 years, the equivalent of 66 coal-fired plants. And Biden is far from alone among world leaders in his support of fossil fuel expansions.

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