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A Critique of Degrowth: An ecosocialist perspective in the context of a global Green New Deal

By David Schwartzman - Climate and Capitalism, January 5, 2022

Ecosocialist responses to “degrowth” analysis and proposals have ranged from full support to total rejection. The author of the following critical commentary is an emeritus professor of biology at Howard University, and co-author of The Earth is Not for Sale (World Scientific, 2019). We encourage respectful responses in the comments, and hope to publish other views in future.

The positive contributions of the degrowth proponents should be recognized, in particular, their rethinking of economic growth under capitalism, critiquing its measure, the GNP/GDP, as well as pointing to capitalism’s unsustainable use of natural resources, in particular fossil fuels in its production of commodities for profit generation regardless of their impact on the health of people and the environment. Further, they wisely critique eco-modernists who claim that simply substituting the right technology into the present political economy of capitalism will be sufficient to meet human and nature’s needs.

But the degrowth solutions offered are highly flawed and their brand is not likely to be welcomed by the global working class, even as it attracts sections of the professional class.[1] Degrowth proponents commonly fail to unpack the qualitative aspects of economic growth, lumping all in one basket; i.e., sustainable/addressing essential needs of humans and nature versus unsustainable, leaving the majority of humanity in poverty or worse. Degrowthers point to the relatively privileged status of workers in the global North compared to those in the global South as a big part of the problem, instead of recognizing that the transnational working class will not only benefit from growth of sectors that meet its needs in both the global North and South but must be the leading force to defeat fossil capital.[1, 2, 3]

A common claim in the degrowth discourse is that “perpetual growth on a finite planet leads inexorably to environmental calamity.”[4] This assertion fails to deconstruct the qualitative aspects of growth, what is growing, what should degrow, under what energy regime? While of course there are obvious limits to the growth of the global physical infrastructure, why can’t knowledge and culture continue to grow for a long time into the future in a globally sustainable and just physical and political economy?

Blah, Blah, Blah, Yay: Another Epic Fail for the COP, but Seeds of Growth for our Movements

By John Foran - Sierra Club, December 1, 2021

As COP 26 began, Greta Thunberg summed up the whole thing quite succinctly using just one word, three times:  Blah blah blah.

And as it ended two weeks later, she tweeted:

The #COP26 is over. Here’s a brief summary: Blah, blah, blah. But the real work continues outside these halls. And we will never give up, ever [emphasis added].

And indeed, COP 26 was an epic fail, even by the dismal standards of the 25 COPs that preceded it, but at the same time, the global climate justice movement made some much needed forward progress.

COP26 Report Back: Climate Justice Activists Speak Out

Perspectives on a Global Green New Deal

By Harpreet Kaur Paul, et. al - Global Green New Deal, November 2021

Promises of a ‘Green New Deal’ have captured the imagination of climate activists, scholars and policymakers across Europe and North America. Unless grounded in principles of global justice, the promise of green jobs and infrastructure in the Global North could simply mean a continuation of colonial patterns of inequality and exploitation around the world. What would it mean for the Green New Deal to be globally fair? Published by the London Office of the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung and The Leap, Perspectives on a Global Green New Deal tackles this question head on.

Harpreet Kaur Paul and Dalia Gebrial bring together climate justice insights experts from around the world, to explore the key themes that will define the future of any equitable and just global green new deal.

Read the text (link).

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.

It’s time to act now! Just Transition must become a reality today! IndustriALL Global Union and industriAll European Trade Union on COP26

By staff - IndustriaALL, October 2021

On the occasion of the 26th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) taking place on 1-12 November 2021 in Glasgow, IndustriALL Global Union and industriAll European Trade Union - which collectively represent over 50 million workers in industry, energy and mining sectors globally - call on governments to finally act and make Just Transition a reality for everyone and for all generations!

For many years, the International Trade Union Movement has been vocal about the need to ensure a Just Transition that is on par with increased climate ambition. We cannot ignore the urgent need to step up our global efforts to reach climate neutrality as soon as possible. Climate change is affecting everyone, brought to our attention by recent extreme weather events around the globe, but it cannot be that the workforce and the poor will be the first to pay the price. The measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change will not affect everyone equally. Workers around the globe are at the centre of the transition and will be the actors to implement climate ambition through their daily work.

We campaigned for the inclusion of the Just Transition concept in the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 and for the development of ILO Guidelines on how to implement it on the ground. The ILO Guidelines stress the need for tripartite dialogue, including governments, employers and trade unions, in each of the nine policy areas defined in the just transition framework1. In 2018, during COP24, 56 parties adopted the Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration, stressing “that Just Transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs are crucial to ensure an effective and inclusive transition to low greenhouse gas emissions and climate resilient development.” The Silesia Declaration invited all relevant stakeholders to implement it. Despite significant progress, in many places Just Transition is too often only nice words on paper.

Declarations and statements of good intentions must now be followed by concrete action. Especially during the COVID-crisis and in the aftermath, jobs were lost, social dialogue was not respected, and workers were driven into precarious conditions. Therefore, IndustriALL Global Union and industriAll European Trade Union call on governments that it is high time to move on from the narrative on paper to implementing a Just Transition through measures and resources on the ground. To achieve this, Just Transition plans must be systematically included as part of the UNFCCC reporting process, in every country.

Read the text (PDF).

Biden’s Climate Pledge Is a Promise He Cannot Keep

By Howie Hawkins - Solidarity, May 4, 2021

IWW EUC web editor's disclaimer: the IWW does not advoate electralism or endorse political parties, including the Green Party. This article is included to provide a critique of the reformism of the Democratic Party (a similar critique could be offered about the Greens and all other parties).

The climate emergency demands a radical and rapid decarbonization of the U.S. economy with numerical goals and timetables to transform all productive sectors, not only power production (27% of carbon emissions), but also transportation (28%), manufacturing (22%), buildings (12%), and agriculture (10%). It also requires that the U.S. pay its “climate debt” as the world’s largest historical carbon emitter and destroyer of carbon-storing forests, wetlands, and soils. Paying that climate debt would not only be reparations to the Global South for deforestation and fossil fuel emissions by the rich capitalist countries, but also an investment in the habitability of the planet for everyone. This emergency transformation can only be met by an ecosocialist approach emphasizing democratic public enterprise and planning.

Instead, Biden’s plan features corporate welfare: subsidies and tax incentives for clean energy that will take uncertain effect at a leisurely pace in the markets. It does nothing to stop more oil and gas fracking and pipelines for more gas-fired power plants, or to shut down coal-fired power plants. Without out directly saying so, it is a plan to burn fossil fuels for decades to come.

The scale of spending falls pathetically short of what is needed to decarbonize the economy. An effective plan would not only reach zero emissions on a fast timeline. It would also move quickly toward negative emissions. We have to draw carbon out of the atmosphere because we are already well past carbon levels that are triggering dangerous climate change.

Biden’s stated goal of a 50% cut in emissions does not actually cut current emissions in half. His proposed 50% cut is from a baseline of 2005 when emissions were at their peak, not what they are today. Emissions were 6 GtC (gigatons of carbon dioxide) in 2005. Due to a leveling of electric power demand, a trend away from coal to wind, solar, and gas for electric power, and more energy-efficient vehicles, U.S. emissions were down 13% from 2005 by 2019 to 5.1 GtC and, due to the covid contraction, down 21% in 2020 to 4.6 GtC, although emissions are now soaring back up as the economy re-opens. Biden’s goal of 50% below 2005 is 3 GtC per year in emissions instead of 2.5 GtC if 2019 were the baseline, or 2.3 GtC if 2020 were the baseline.

Biden provided no explanation for how the U.S. will get to the precisely stated range of “50% to 52%.” 52% seems to be an arbitrary number pulled out of the air so he can say he is aiming for more than 50%. Greta Thunberg’s video prebuttal to the targets that were to be announced by Biden and the other 40 world leaders at his Earth Day Climate Summit saw right through the staged spectacle. “We can keep cheating in order to pretend that these targets are in line with what is needed, but while we can fool others, and even ourselves, we cannot fool nature and physics… Let’s call out their bullshit.”

Impact of European policies on the Global South and possible alternatives

By staff - Recommons Europe, January 2021

The year 2020 was marked by two events that revealed, once again, the limits of the capitalist system. First, the Co- ViD-19 pandemic caused by the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, responsible for the deaths of several hundred thousand people and counting, highlighted the vulnerability of human societies in the absence of adequately funded public health services. It also served to highlight which activities are essential to the existence of human societies. Second, the pandemic precipitated the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s. By revealing the fragility of societies where exchanges are extremely rapid and production chains are internationalized, the pandemic also revealed the most irrational aspects of the economic system that governs and structures social relations in almost all parts of the world. Thus, capitalism appears to be incapable not only of providing for basic human needs but also of reproducing its own functioning. All governments that initially try to protect both the law of profit and their citizens’ lives inevitably find themselves tempted to defend the former against the latter.

The neoliberal structural adjustment policies which have been pursued for decades have played an important role in increasing inequality and, ultimately, in the way the epidemic has spread. Contrary to widespread belief, the epidemic does indeed differentiate between origins and social classes, affecting in particular those at the bottom of the social ladder. It has also particularly affected countries that, on the pretext of maintaining strict fiscal discipline, have given up – or have been prevented from – building an efficient and accessible health care system.

Read the Report (PDF).

The justice and equity implications of the clean energy transition

By Sanya Carley and David Konisky - Nature Energy, August 2020

The transition to lower-carbon sources of energy will inevitably produce and, in many cases, perpetuate pre-existing sets of winners and losers. The winners are those that will benefit from cleaner sources of energy, reduced emissions from the removal of fossil fuels, and the employment and innovation opportunities that accompany this transition. The losers are those that will bear the burdens, or lack access to the opportunities. Here we review the current state of understanding—based on a rapidly growing body of academic and policy literature—about the potential adverse consequences of the energy transition for specific communities and socio-economic groups on the frontlines of the transition. We review evidence about just transition policies and programmes, primarily from cases in the Global North, and draw conclusions about what insights are still needed to understand the justice and equity dimensions of the transition, and to ensure that no one is left behind.

Read the text (PDF).

Weaponizing the Numbers: The Hidden Agenda behind the Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform

By Sean Sweeney - New Labor Forum, February 2020

Among progressives concerned about climate change, few issues provoke as much anger as the knowledge that governments continue to subsidize fossil fuels. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in 2017 these subsidies totaled $5.2 trillion annually.

Don’t governments realize that fossil fuels are cooking the planet? The scientific community says we are in a desperate race against time, but the coal, oil, and gas companies apparently still have their noses deeply in the public trough.

Most policy elites think fossil fuel subsidies should go. A decade ago, Group of Twenty (G20) leaders committed to “rationalize and phase out” government support for coal, oil, and gas, a decision supported by major institutions like the IMF and the World Trade Organization (WTO). At a summit in May 2019, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said “taxpayers’ money” was being used “to boost hurricanes, to spread droughts, to melt glaciers, to bleach corals. In one word—to destroy the world.”

…[T]here is good reason to be wary of the global elite’s call for subsidy reform

These are fighting words, but there is good reason to be wary of the global elite’s call for subsidy reform. This call is framed in ways that seek to legitimize and universalize neoliberal approaches to energy transition. Activists may think, “So what? If it gets rid of subsidies, what’s the problem?” But there is a real risk that the consolidation of neoliberal policy will produce outcomes that are considerably worse than the outcomes produced by fossil fuel subsidies.

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