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Capitalism, Ecology, and the Green New Deal

By Harrison Carpenter-Neuhaus - Voices for New Democracy, December 9, 2021

The world’s climate is changing, and it’s surprising — and disappointing — how little our responses have changed since we first recognized the problem decades ago. Since the 1970s, the world has been well aware of climate impacts of burning fossil fuels and many have recognized how our political economy lies at the heart of the problem. Marxist thinkers in particular, like Paul Mattick, were quick to describe the irreconcilable contradiction between our extractive and growth-oriented economic systems and the carrying capacity of our natural ecosystems. But despite these prescient warnings, the world today is still clinging to the same economic systems and largely failing to resolve these tensions. In the face of the accelerating crisis, it’s worth reflecting on the clear trajectory that thinkers like Mattick identified, and what it means for our options in the present moment. 

In 1976, Mattick published his analysis of the problem in “Capitalism and Ecology,” just four years after scientist John Sawyer published the study Man-made Carbon Dioxide and the “Greenhouse” Effect in 1972. Sawyer’s study summarized the scientific consensus at the time around the Earth’s pressing climate concerns: the anthropogenic attribution of the carbon dioxide greenhouse gas, their widespread distribution and their exponential rise throughout the modern era. By the mid-70s, even the Club of Rome recognized the impending ecological crisis in The Limits to Growth. In short, everyone was beginning to recognize the issue: too many of us are using too many resources, too quickly, in too many places. 

As Mattick writes, Marx recognized that “the exhaustion of the earth’s wealth and relative overpopulation were the direct result of production for profit” (a point that has been explored in great detail by a new generation of eco-Marxists like John Bellamy Foster). And science bears this out. Our world has only become more productive, populated, and globalized since the Industrial Revolution, and this has correlated closely with rising levels of energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions every year. As our economic activity increases, we cannot avoid using more raw materials to keep the system moving and maintain profit margins.

Ultimately, it is capitalist social relations that drive this ecological crisis. “Social phenomena are ecological phenomena,” Mattick writes. To keep profit rates high (the motor driving the entire system), companies simply have no choice but to keep expanding and growing, and that always requires the use of raw materials — and as global capitalism expands (and demand grows as populations increase and more workers are brought out of the subsistence economy into the wage labor system), that rate of raw material consumption can only increase.

COP26 Report Back: Climate Justice Activists Speak Out

A Farewell to Copitalism

By Brendan Montague - The Ecologist, November 12, 2021

The future was supposed to be copitalism: a new global economic paradigm where national governments work together through the United Nations (UN) Conference of the Parties (COP) process to limit emissions and prevent runaway climate breakdown - while leaving capitalism otherwise intact.

The climate conferences have taken place annually for a quarter of a century. The aim is to negotiate global emissions targets that will be translated into national policies. The high-water mark was the Paris Agreement of COP21 when the worlds’ leaders agreed to limit global heating to 1.5C. 

The mechanism agreed was "nationally determined contributions" (NDCs). This means national governments are responsible for submitting commitments to cut emissions to the UN. The COP process is also supposed to include a “ratchet mechanism” where those government commitments are made increasingly ambitious. 

“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.

How to Tear Down an Oil Refinery in the Middle of Philadelphia

By Josh Saul - Bloomberg, September 30, 2021

After part of the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery exploded into flames one night in 2019, its owners filed for bankruptcy and put the 1,300-acre site up for sale. Hilco Global, a company with a track record of transforming fossil-fuel infrastructure like coal-fired power plants, bought the South Philadelphia facility out of bankruptcy with a grand new vision that includes logistics facilities and research labs.

But first the company has a daunting task: safely dismantling over 100 buildings, 3,000 tanks and 950 miles of dirty pipeline.

The Problem

Oil refining has taken place on the banks of the Schuylkill River since just after the Civil War. By the time the explosion scattered debris across the site and even over the river, the PES Oil Refinery was turning 330,000 barrels of crude day into gasoline, diesel and other petroleum products such as heating oil and jet fuel.

Right now, some parts of the PES Oil Refinery have the feel of a ghost town. Weeds sprout head-high among the pipelines, Canada geese strut down empty roads and small herds of deer bound past a silent railyard. But other parts are bustling with workers and big, yellow excavators as Hilco enters the second year of taking apart equipment and preparing the site for construction. The first tenants are supposed to move into the site in 2023.

How capitalism Drives the Climate Crisis

Hurricane Capitalism

By Eric Fretz - Marx 21, September 3, 2021

Again and Again under capitalism, we have seen poorer people disproportionately hit by the deadly effects of events like cyclones and earthquakes, as natural disasters highlight existing unnatural inequalities. It is now obvious that not just the effects, but the causes of extreme weather are stemming from capitalism.

The recent IPCC report proved that higher air and sea temperatures caused by global warming have already led to more hurricanes, and will continue to do so. “In the past seventy years,” Bill McKibben noted, “the United States has averaged three land-falling storms a year; Ida is the seventeenth in the past two years.” 

But warming also leads to a “rapid intensification” of storms. Ida turned into a hurricane in just six hours.

When Ida hit the Louisiana coast Sunday as a Category 4 hurricane with winds up to 150 mph, it was the second most powerful storm to hit the state in its recorded history.

Devastation 

Over 1 million homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi are without power, including the entire city of New Orleans, parts of which may remain without electricity for weeks. 

Sewage pumping stations in New Orleans, which have no backup power, stopped working, leaving 441,000 people in 17 parishes with no clean drinking water, and no water to flush toilets. Another 329,000 people were under boil water advisories. However, it may be hard for many to boil water without electricity.

Added to this misery was a heat advisory which combined with humidity to reach real feel temperatures of over a hundred degrees

Tens of thousands of residents were left to themselves in figuring out how to evacuate, and even those with cars were at a standstill on choked highways. 

In a chilling reminder of the horrors of Katrina, the New Orleans Police Department announced that “anti-looting patrols” would be set up. The mayor then used the resulting arrests to justify a curfew and calling in the National Guard—not to rescue people or rebuild, but to patrol the streets. 

As in Katrina, it is poor and black people who are most at risk of losing their homes—and their lives.

Ida came one year after Hurricane Laura, which brought widespread destruction to the mostly Black industrial area around Mossville, causing chemical fires and turning Lake Charles into a toxic soup. The displacement and continued housing shortage caused by Laura worsened the spread of Covid in the area. 

The displacement caused by Ida in New Orleans could be even worse. Hospitals in Louisiana are already filled with over 2,400 patients with coronavirus. There were not enough empty beds in the state to evacuate patients from New Orleans hospitals. Staff in one hospital reported having to manually pump air into the lungs of intubated Covid patients as they moved them to a floor with a working generator.

Just Transition Partnership 2021 Manifesto: Action to Turn Just Transition Rhetoric into Reality

By Matthew Crighton - Just Transition Partnership, September 2021

The Just Transition Partnership was formed by Friends of the Earth Scotland and the Scottish Trade Union Congress in 2016. Membership includes Unite Scotland, UNISON Scotland, UCU Scotland, CWU Scotland, PCS Scotland, and WWF Scotland. We advocate for action to protect workers’ livelihoods, create new jobs, and deliver a fairer Scotland as part of the move to a low-carbon economy.

Ahead of the Holyrood 2021 elections, and in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we are calling for all parties to commit to policies which move beyond warm words and can deliver decent green jobs now while laying foundations for a sustainable, inclusive economy in the future.

No Hope for Earth without Indigenous Liberation: ‘The Red Deal: Indigenous Action to Save Our Earth’

By Simon Butler - Climate and Capitalism, August 24, 2021

As heat and severe weather records are broken again and again, it should be clear by now that there is no limit for capital. There will be no scientific warning or dire catastrophe that leads to a political breakthrough. No huge wildfire, terrible drought or great flood will make governments and corporations change course. To carry on as they are means extinction. And yet they still carry on: more fossil fuels and fewer trees, more pollution and fewer species.

Recognition that there is no way out of this crisis without far-reaching, social upheaval animates the proposals put forward in The Red Deal: Indigenous Action to Save Our Earth. The short book was authored by activists from The Red Nation, a coalition devoted to Indigenous liberation and made up of Native and non-native revolutionaries based mainly in North America.

The authors make clear that they believe the campaign to halt climate change and repair ecological destruction is bound up with the fate of the world’s Indigenous peoples. They say bluntly that “there is no hope for restoring the planet’s fragile and dying ecosystems without Indigenous liberation” and that “it’s decolonization or extinction.”

In the Coal Mines, Workers Are Dying to Make a Living: Mining companies increasingly rely on cheaper contractors who face longer hours and higher risk of accidents

By Kari Lydersen - In These Times, August 18, 2021

Trebr Lenich always called his mother before his drive home from overnight shifts at Mine No. 1, operated by Hamilton County Coal in Hamilton County, Ill. The call she answered the morning of Aug. 14, 2017, worried her. 

“He said, ​‘Mom, I am just so exhausted, so wore out,’ ” Teresa Lenich says. 

Her son routinely worked long hours on consecutive days. That day, he never made it home.

Coworkers following Trebr said his driving was erratic and suspected he was falling asleep, Teresa says. Heading back to the West Frankfort home he shared with his parents, girlfriend and baby daughter, Trebr drove into a ditch and hit an embankment. According to the sheriff’s report, his engine then caught fire. 

Like many young miners, Trebr was employed through a contracting company that provides temporary workers for mines with no promise that they’ll be hired on permanently.

This staffing structure — and the disappearance of labor unions from Illinois mines — has made work less safe and more grueling for miners, according to advocates and multiple studies. Without job security, temporary workers are reluctant to complain about potentially unsafe conditions (including long work hours) and to report accidents. And because temporary workers may have inadequate experience in a particular mine, they might not understand that mine’s specific risks.

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