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green capitalism

DIRTY CLEAN ENERGY: Is Morocco’s renewable energy from Western Sahara really ‘Green’?

By Fabian Wagner - Green European Journal, November 28, 2016

Young Green Fabian Wagner attended the COP 22 negotiations in Marrakesh and found that despite the host’s eagerness to project itself as a constructive force in the fight against climate change, its policies in other areas raise serious concerns – not least the levels of repression around the question of Western Sahara.

Morocco certainly did not hold back in terms of advertising its efforts to become a country powered by renewable energy during the COP22. Only the most oblivious of visitors could have missed the banners at the airport, posters in the city, ads on horse carriages, and stickers on cars. Wind power, solar power — Morocco is transitioning towards clean energy at a very quick pace.

Africa’s forgotten conflict

Sounds great? Here’s the downside: Africa has a largely forgotten and ignored conflict right on the doorsteps of Europe. After colonial Spain retreated from Western Sahara in the ‘70s, Morocco quickly imposed itself following a bit of a struggle with Mauritania which ended in its favour, and subsequently annexed the entire territory as its “Southern Provinces”. The UN installed a peacekeeping mission there (without a mandate to observe human rights in the region) and spent the next almost half a century repeatedly, and without success, calling for a referendum on the independence of resource rich territory, and its identity as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. It was interesting to see how much effort Morocco invested into presenting this as the “African COP”, despite Morocco being the only country in Africa that is not a member of the African Union (AU) — Morocco left after the AU acknowledged the independence of Western Sahara. In the run-up to the COP in Marrakech the topic naturally attracted slightly more attention than usually, but very little criticism was raised openly for obvious reasons. Morocco’s reaction to any kind of criticism of its Western Sahara politics is brusque. When the UN Secretary General called the situation out for what it is — an illegal occupation — Morocco expelled the entire peacekeeping mission. A subsequent apology from the Secretary General was still not enough to re-admit the entire mission. Moreover, our own Green activists from several of the Federation of Young European Greens’ (FYEG) member organisations have been evicted from or denied entry to both Western Sahara and Morocco, when trying to report from the ground. Plain-clothes and uniformed police are everywhere, as FYEG’s activists witnessed first-hand, when trying to work on unrelated, but still undesirable for the Moroccan government, media projects. Under these circumstances FYEG, the Western Sahara Support Committees from around the world, the Sahrawis themselves, and other civil society organisations and movements like the teachers group we met in Marrakech found it very difficult to raise concerns about the topic of Western Sahara while being present for COP22 in Morocco.

The Carbon Tax Is Doomed

By Matt Huber - Jacobin, October 9, 2016

Climate change is often chalked up to “market failure.” We’re told that, despite prevailing assumptions that prices accurately transmit “signals” about the costs of goods and services, emitters like power plants, refineries, automobiles, and households simply do not pay the full ecological costs of their emissions. Hence, the market has failed.

To fix the problem, the argument goes, we must internalize the costs of emissions into the price mechanism so that emitters pay the full costs of their actions. If we could craft a policy that accurately monetized the ecological costs of emissions — a carbon tax, or fee and dividend scheme — fossil fuels would become costlier and renewables would be more competitive and cost effective. The failure could be corrected, and the market would succeed in guiding us to a clean energy future.

Accounting for ecological costs has become the primary way of crafting environmental policy for public officials and legal experts. But the rhetoric of cost internalization is a political dead end for a left climate politics.

Focusing on getting the price right, and thereby assuming the market can be corrected, allows right-wing and fossil-fuel interests to effectively argue that any and all climate policy will be a cost to working people. Recently, the CEO of Chevron put it bluntly “I’ve never had a customer come to me and ask to pay a higher price for oil, gas, or other products.” Indeed, while many on the climate left attribute slow movement on climate to a problem of education and denial of climate science, popular opposition to climate policy is more often framed in economic terms, focusing on costs to the economy and to everyday people’s lives.

In an ideological landscape dominated by an obsession with accounting for and trimming costs, environmental policy proposals often advocate raising costs—costs that are likely to end up being passed down to working people. Opponents of climate justice easily argue that any tax or cost will end up percolating throughout the economy and hitting ordinary people: wealth doesn’t trickle down, but costs do.

A left climate politics must move beyond a language of cost-internalization, and emphasize the real material benefits for a society beyond fossil fuel: not only in terms of a cleaner environment, but also cheaper energy and green jobs. This requires a language of public goods and collective action, not a language of markets and costs. If the Left must speak of costs at all, it needs to be framed in class terms — costs that the wealthy and corporations must pay to fund a better energy economy.

The Dark Side of Local

By Margaret Gray - Jacobin, August 21, 2016

We live in the shadows,” explained Javier, a Hudson Valley farmworker, while describing his life to me. “We are treated like unknown people . . . We are not paid well and cannot ask for more.” A worker on another farm said, “They treat us like nothing; they only want the work . . . Whether we like it or not, we have to like it.”

Some of today’s liveliest political conversations concern agricultural production and distribution. But these discussions are also among the most confused.

Exploitative conditions on factory farms have rightly drawn the attention of academics, activists, and journalists. Indeed, the vast majority of research on farmworkers focuses on the largest farming sites. Consumers are offered countless reasons to avoid produce from them — but few alternatives other than to “buy local.”

Much contemporary food writing argues that when we buy locally grown food directly from farms, we not only secure fresher, more seasonal produce, but we also create an intimate, trusting relationship with the farmer. This supposed bond reinforces the common understanding that the local food production process is more wholesome than the industrial agricultural system.

Food writers and scholars have highlighted the many positive aspects of local food systems: economic and social justice, the sense of community facilitated by face-to-face interactions with food producers, and the civic engagement and democracy promoted by alternative agri-systems.

For example, as Barbara Kingsolver argues in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, “‘locally grown’ is a denomination whose meaning in incorruptible.” Later in the book she addresses the poor pay and conditions of workers on factory farms, citing their average annual income of $7,500. Clearly, she intends readers to feel grateful that local farms offer a more just and well-paid alternative.

Or take another prominent example: in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a landmark in the new food literature, Michael Pollan describes two types of farming — industrial and pastoral — and offers no in-between.

In promoting local diets as healthy and righteous alternatives to the capitalist-industrial monoculture food system, such writers have sold us an idea premised on a false dichotomy.

On one hand, they demonize factory farms for poisoning the land and local waterways, for confining and mistreating animals, and for exploiting their workers in the name of earning profits. On the other hand, they promote local agriculture as the antidote to the factory farms’ corporate ills.

By shopping at the farmers market or joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, consumers support smaller (though not necessarily small) farmers, keep food dollars local, encourage limited pesticide use, and ensure animals are treated humanely.

Corporations Call for “Net Zero” Emissions: Do They Know How to Get There?

By Sean Sweeney - New Labor Forum, August 12, 2016

In the months leading to the December 2015 Paris Climate Conference, representatives of global institutional investors and multinational corporations made headlines after they demanded that world leaders adopt radical emissions reduction targets, among them “net zero” emissions by 2050. Examples include the Global Investor Statement on Climate Change, which was signed by 409 investors representing more than $24 trillion in assets, and the Prince of Wales’ Corporate Leaders Group (which includes the likes of Shell Global and Heathrow Airport Holdings Limited). Following the Statement’s adoption in Paris, a cluster of corporate heads led by Virgin Group’s Richard Branson (calling itself the “B Team”) demanded that all governments turn the Paris net zero emissions target into national-level laws.

What are we to make of this? The practical implications of the net zero target adopted in Paris—if it is seriously pursued—are nothing short of revolutionary, opening up a “system crunch” scenario when the forces of growth, profit, and accumulation that presently propel capitalism collide with the political imperatives required to reach virtually total “decarbonization” in little more than a generation.

Paradoxically, the corporate push to adopt net zero by 2050—a target that is unprecedented in terms of its ambition—merely draws attention to the fact that the corporate elite has no clear or convincing idea about how it might be achieved. The capitalist spirit is progressively willing, but the flesh grows all the time steadily weaker.

Thus, the Paris Agreement can be a clarifying moment for labor, the climate movement, and the broader left in that, more than ever before, it exposes the gulf between what needs to be done from a scientific standpoint and what the global corporate and political elite are actually able to deliver.

The 21st Century Doesn't Need a New Deal: It Needs a New Economic Model

By C.J. Polychroniou - Truthout, August 6, 2016 © Truthout 2016; reused by permission.

In today's global economy, neoliberalism reigns supreme, organized labor is in deep retreat and public debt has shot through the roof. In the face of these crises, is a global 21st century remaking of the 1930s-era New Deal what people on the left should be fighting for?

Contemporary progressive parties, such as Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, have rallied around the idea of a "new New Deal," while the European Citizen's Initiative for a "New Deal 4 Europe" appears to have the backing of both Labor and Green party leaders in several European countries. In the US, Bernie Sanders has also been a strong advocate of this idea as the way out of our troubles.

However, a closer look at the history of the 1930s-era New Deal reveals that a new New Deal would do little to solve the underlying problems of capitalism and could even delay efforts to combat climate change through its emphasis on boosting growth via a new era of state capitalism.

Although New Deal-style programs have the potential to alleviate poverty in the short term, they are deeply limited by the core constraint that the raison d'être of active state intervention in a capitalist regime is none other than to save capitalism. Moreover, any program in the mold of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal would also be limited by its failure to give workers a greater say in decision-making.

Inside The Green Economy: Promises And Pitfalls In 9 Theses

By Lili Fuhr, and Barbara Unmüßig - The Leap, July 1, 2016

In their new book Inside the Green Economy–Promises and PitfallsThomas Fatheuer, Lili Fuhr, and Barbara Unmüßig of the Heinrich Böll Foundation set out to explore the underlying assumptions, hypotheses, and propositions of the green economy and to spell out their consequences in the real world. The authors call for radical realism and the courage to recognize the complexity of the global crises. They assert that the great task will be to continue the project of modernity, embracing the latest knowledge about planetary boundaries as well as the old vision of broad democratic participation and an end to poverty and injustice.

1. The green economy is an optimistic vision of fossil-fuel phase-out in an economy assumed to become greener via technology and efficiency

In the mainstream imagination, the green economy wants to break away from our fossil-fueled business-as-usual. It’s a nice, optimistic message: the economy can continue to grow, and growth can be green. The green economy even hopes to become a driver of more growth. Yet reconciling climate change mitigation and resource conservation with economic growth in a finite and unjust world remains an illusion. With its positive associations, the term “green economy” suggests that the world as we know it can continue much as before thanks to a green growth paradigm of greater efficiency and lower resource consumption.

However, anyone making such a promise must deliberately downplay complexity and have powerful faith in hoped-for miracles of the market economy and technological innovation, while at the same time ignoring social inequality and not wanting to tackle existing economic and political power structures. The green economy is thus a matter of faith and selective blind spots.

It can only be a realistic option for the future if it recognizes planetary boundaries, overcomes social and political injustice and ensures the radical reduction and fair distribution of emissions and resource consumption.

2. Fixing the failure of the market by enlarging it: instead of rethinking business, the green economy wants to redefine nature

The green economy redefines the idea of the primacy of economics as the conclusive answer to current crises. It responds to the multiple crises with more economics. Economics has become the currency of politics, say its advocates. Consequently, they intend to correct the failure of the market economy by enlarging the market. The green economy thus wants the market to encompass things that have previously been beyond its scope by redefining the relationship between nature and economy.

The result is a new version of the concept of nature as natural capital and the economic services of ecosystems – and not a transformation of our way of doing business. Instead of rethinking business, the green economy wants to redefine nature by measuring and recording it, assigning it a value and putting it on the balance sheet – based on a global, abstract currency of carbon metrics.

This hides the many structural causes of the environmental and climate crisis from view and no longer fully takes them into account in the search for real solutions and viable pathways. The consequences of such an approach are also reflected in new market mechanisms for trading biodiversity credits. In many cases, they do not prevent the destruction of nature but merely organize it along market lines.

The green economy reduces the needed fundamental transformation to a question of economics and gives the impression that it can be implemented without major upheaval and conflict.

Getting Serious About Keeping Fossil Fuels in the Ground Means Getting Serious About a Just Transition

By Patrick Young - Counterpunch, April 21, 2016

As the climate crisis continues to deepen and as it becomes less and less plausible that current efforts to curb global warming will even come close to preventing our earth from crossing the 2 degree Celsius ‘red line,’ the climate movement has shifted towards a bolder vision for climate action. Virtually every pole of the climate movement has evolved towards a set of bolder, more urgent demands and the mantra ‘keep it in the ground’ has begun to dominate the discussion about fossil fuel extraction and use.

While this bold position certainly reflects the urgency of the threat of climate change, the immediacy of the demand presents a new set of challenges for the climate movement.  What happens to the millions of working families who are currently depending on incomes from jobs in and related to the fossil fuel industry? And what happens to communities whose economies rely on income from the fossil fuel industry and the low income workers as revenue dries up and energy costs rise?

According recent data from the BLS, 761,000 workers are employed in the extraction and mining sector and 116,700 workers are employed in the refining and processing sector in the United States alone. Each one of those direct fossil fuel industry jobs supports as many as 7 related jobs—from delivery drivers, equipment manufacturers, to the clerks at the mini-mart across the street from the power plant that workers stop into on their way to work.  In total, it is fair to say that more than 6 million workers rely on the fossil fuel industry for their livelihoods in the US alone.

If we are going to keep fossil fuels in the ground, what happens to those 6 million working families?

Recycling is a Feel Good Activity, But Not for Workers Hurt or Killed on the Job

By Brian Joseph - Fair Warning, April 12, 2016

Darkness had enveloped the Newell Recycling yard by the time Erik Hilario climbed into a front-end loader on a cold evening in January 2011. Just 19 years old, Hilario, an undocumented immigrant, had followed his father from Mexico to an industrial park in East Point, Ga., near Atlanta, where they worked as low-skilled laborers amid jagged piles of scrap metal bound for the smelter.

Hilario drove to a paved section of the nine-acre yard known as the defueling or car-processing area. Here, according to witnesses in a court case, gasoline was removed from junked cars through a crude process employing a 30-foot crane and a long spike welded atop a metal trough. A claw attached to the crane would pick up cars and smash them, gas-tank first, onto the spike, spilling gasoline into the trough. The crane then would swing the cars across the pavement and drop them onto a pile, dripping gas along the way. Hilario was using the loader – which Newell later would say he was not trained or authorized to operate – to scrape up bits of metal left behind.

Hilario was slowly pushing the scraps into a pile when an intense fire suddenly engulfed him. A spark had ignited gasoline on the ground. “Help me!” he screamed, co-workers later testified in the case.

A green industry

Recycling may be good for the environment, but working conditions in the industry can be woeful. Recycling encompasses a wide range of businesses, from tiny drop-off centers operating out of strip malls and parking lots, to sprawling scrapyards and cavernous sorting plants, where cardboard, plastic and metal destined for places like China and Turkey are separated. The recycling industry also includes collection services, composting plants and e-waste and oil recovery centers. Some of these jobs rank among the most dangerous in America. Others offer meager pay, and minimum wage violations are widespread. Experts say much of the work is carried out by immigrants or temporary workers who are unaware of their rights or are poorly trained.

“These are not good jobs,” said Jackie Cornejo, former director of Don’t Waste LA, a campaign to improve the working conditions and pay for workers in the Los Angeles municipal waste and recycling industries. “People only hear about the feel-good aspects of recycling and zero waste, and rarely do they hear about the other side,” she said.

Despite its virtuous image as one of the original green industries, recycling is dirty, labor-intensive work. It involves loud, heavy machinery, including semis, forklifts, conveyor belts, loaders, cranes, shredders and grinders, all of which pose a serious threat to life and limb, especially if they’re not properly serviced or lack basic safety features, which is often the case at recycling firms. Unlike manufacturing, recycling cannot be completely systematized because it depends on an ever-changing flow of recyclable materials that come in all manner of shapes and sizes. This can require recycling workers to personally handle most of the scrap passing through a facility, potentially exposing them to carcinogens, explosives or toxics, to say nothing of sharp objects.

Exposures are especially problematic at e-scrap and battery recycling facilities, where the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has found workers with elevated levels of lead in their blood or on their skin.

In one case in Ohio, the high lead levels in the blood of a young brother and sister were traced to the work performed by their father, a former e-scrap recycling worker who crushed cathode ray tubes. The father didn’t wear any protective gear at work and often came home with dust in his hair. High lead levels also were found in the children of workers at a battery recycling plant in Puerto Rico.

While major corporations like Waste Management are in the recycling business, many of the companies that do this work are small, which can mean they lack the knowledge and resources to establish effective safety procedures. Recycling workers, by virtue of their immigration status or status as temps, often hesitate to speak up when they see hazards on the job or are victimized by the outright illegal behavior of their supervisors.

One of the largest sectors in recycling, scrapyards, has long had high fatality and injury rates. In 2014, for example, that sector’s fatality rate was 20.8 deaths per every full-time 100,000 workers, more than nine times higher than manufacturing workers overall. That same year, garbage and recycling collectors had the fifth-highest fatality rate among the dozens of occupations analyzed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

No one tracks how many workers die across all recycling sectors. But at scrapyards and sorting plants, at least 313 recycling workers have been killed on the job from 2003 to 2014, according to figures compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A FairWarning analysis of Occupational Safety and Health Administration records found that inspections conducted from 2005 to 2014 resulted with scrapyards and sorting facilities receiving about 80 percent more citations than the average inspected worksite.

Industry leaders and safety consultants say it’s no secret that recycling firms have to do a better job of following basic safety procedures, like installing guarding on conveyor belts or properly shutting off machines before maintenance. The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, a trade association, recently announced that it is partnering with OSHA to try to reduce injury and fatality rates.

OSHA has limited resources, especially given the sheer number of worksites it oversees. The AFL-CIO calculates that with current staffing levels federal OSHA can only inspect worksites once, on average, every 140 years.

“Systematically, across the country, (OSHA officials) haven’t given the industry the attention it’s due,” said Eric Frumin, the health and safety coordinator for Change to Win, a partnership of four national unions. Although OSHA says that five of its 10 regions have special enforcement programs covering sectors of the recycling industry, safety advocates say it isn’t enough. They are lobbying the agency to create a national program aimed at sorting plants, where recyclables like metal, paper and plastic are separated. “It’s a low end of the economy,” Frumin said. “We’ve shipped all the factory jobs to China, so what is the modern-day equivalent of dirty, dangerous factory jobs? Warehouses and recycling plants.”

Letter from the Zapotec Indigenous community

By Nashieeli Valencia Nuñez - People and Planet, April 18, 2016

The NUS represents 7 million students and passes policy at their annual conference. In collaboration with the Zapotec Indigenous community, UK students from the University West of Scotland and beyond are proposing an amendment to the Divest-Invest motion (502b) to support a just transition to renewable energy that does not reproduce the colonial models of extraction employed by the fossil fuel industry. Please act on their call for our solidarity.

To the National Union of Students
To all students in the UK

Dear friends,

I’m writing to you from my hometown, the Zapotec Indigenous community of Ixtepec, in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico.

Our community is currently setting up a community-controlled wind farm in collaboration with Yansa, a non-profit that has been supporting our struggle. The wind project will be a tool for community development.

The Ouarzazate Solar Plant in Morocco: Triumphal 'Green' Capitalism and the Privatization of Nature

By Hamza Hamouchene - Jadaliyya, March 23, 2016

Ouarzazate is a beautiful town in south-central Morocco, well worth visiting. It is an important holiday destination and has been nicknamed the "door of the desert." It is also known as a famed location for international filmmaking, where films such as Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Mummy (1999), Gladiator (2000), and Kingdom of Heaven (2005) were shot, as was part of the television series Game of Thrones. That is not all what Ouarzazate has to offer as its name has recently been associated with a solar mega-project that is supposedly going to end Morocco's dependency on energy imports, provide electricity to more than a million Moroccans, and put the country on a “green path.”

If we were to believe the makhzen's (a term that refers to the king and the ruling elite around him) narrative, recycled without nuance or critical reflection by most media outlets in the region and in the West, the project is very good news and a big step toward reducing carbon emissions and tackling climate change. However, there is space for scepticism. One recent example of such deceptive talking points was the official celebratory announcements of a "historic" agreement at the COP21 in Paris.

My recent visit to Ouarzazate has prompted me to deconstruct the dominant narrative around this project. In particular, to scratch beneath the surface of the language of "cleanliness," "shininess," and "carbon emission cuts" in order to observe and scrutinize the materiality of solar energy. This analysis examines the project through the lens of the creation of a new commodity chain, revealing its effects as no different from the destructive mining activities taking place in southern Morocco. As Timothy Mitchell argues, analyzing this materiality of such a project can help us trace the kinds of economic and political arrangements that particular forms of energy engender or hinder (Timothy Mitchell 2011).

Last year, I wrote a critique and an assessment of the Desertec solar project, advancing arguments for why it failed and why it was misguided from the start. A similar approach is necessary to understand the political and socio-environmental implications of what is currently being dubbed the largest solar plant in the world. Actually, most of the arguments made in the Desertec piece still stand. The purpose here is not to be gratuitously harsh or cynical, but to raise a few important questions and points in order to contribute an alternative perspective to the hype surrounding existing media coverage.

What seems to unite all the reports and articles written about the solar plant is a deeply erroneous assumption that any move toward renewable energy is to be welcomed. And that any shift from fossil fuels, regardless of how it is carried out, will help us to avert climate chaos. One needs to say it clearly from the start: the climate crisis we are currently facing is not attributable to fossil fuels per se, but rather to their unsustainable and destructive use in order to fuel the capitalist machine. In other words, capitalism is the culprit, and if we are serious in our endeavors to tackle the climate crisis (only one facet of the multi-dimensional crisis of capitalism), we cannot elude questions of radically changing our ways of producing and distributing things, our consumption patterns and fundamental issues of equity and justice. It follows from this that a mere shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy, while remaining in the capitalist framework of commodifying and privatizing nature for the profits of the few, will not solve the problem. In fact, if we continue down this path we will only end up exacerbating, or creating another set of problems, around issues of ownership of land and natural resources.

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