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social ecology

Public Finance for the Future We Want (Lavinia Steinfort and Satoko Kishimoto)

By Lavinia Steinfort and Satoko Kishimoto (editors) - Transnational Institute, June 2019

Do you wish to see regenerative, equitable and democratic economies, built with collective power? We believe it is not only necessary but also very possible.Today’s economic system, fueled by an extractivist logic and prone to crises, has reignited and enflamed old monsters of racism, misogyny and other forms of fear and hate. Economic alternatives are needed now more than ever.

This book is about financial alternatives, drawn from real-world examples. It highlights the kinds of models that could become the new normal, building the basis for a democratically organized and life-sustaining future.Before the 2008 global financial crisis, the mantra was ‘there is no alter-native’ to the extractive economic model that has fostered excessive inequality and ecological destruction. Post-crisis, big banks were rescued and the blame misdirected to public spending.

This justified evermore harsh austerity measures, reinforcing the story that the public sector must rely on private finance to solve these ‘collaterals’.More than 10 years later, we know that private finance has not only failed to address these problems, it has intensified them. Civil society needs to unite behind systemic solutions before another financial bubble bursts.

Read the report (PDF).

Social Ecology

By Emily McGuire - Institute for Social Ecology, 2019

In The Ecology of Freedom, Bookchin’s magnum opus, he writes, “our environmental dislocations are deeply rooted in an irrational, anti-ecological society…” he continues, “these problems originate in a hierarchical, class, and today, competitive capitalist system that nourishes a view of the natural world as a mere agglomeration of “resources” for human production and consumption.” Social ecologists seek a deeper analysis that unmasks the roots of environmental degradation, which has its origin in human hierarchies.

Read the report (PDF).

We Need to Live Differently

By Simon Pirani - ROARMag, February 28, 2019

The bad news about climate change keeps coming: record heat levels in Australia in January, and in the UK in February; increasingly uncontrollable wild fires; shocking leaps in Arctic temperatures. The worst news of all is that the gulf between what scientists say needs to be done and what the international climate talks deliver keeps growing.

At the negotiations in December at Katowice, Poland — which, grotesquely, were sponsored by Europe’s biggest producer of coking coal, among others — the main outcome was agreement on proposals to monitor governments’ actions, albeit in a watered-down version. Delegates did not discuss, let alone improve on, voluntary targets for cutting emissions, agreed on in Paris in 2015; scientists reckon that these put the world economy on course for a potentially disastrous increase in global average temperature to three degrees above pre-industrial levels. The gathering even declined to welcome the latest diplomatically honed report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, on the insistence of the US, Saudi Arabia and other oil producing nations.

Katowice was the latest round of talks that began at Rio de Janeiro in 1992, where it was acknowledged that fossil fuel use is the main driver of global warming and needs to be reduced. Since then it has risen, globally, by more than 60 percent. Governments have signed agreements with one hand and poured tens of billions of dollars per year in subsidies into fossil fuel production and consumption with the other.

The first step to dealing with climate change is to reject the illusion that governments are dealing with the problem. Society as a whole must act.

How to put flesh on the bones of that generalization is not so simple. Should we protest? Try to force governments to invest in renewable energy projects? Take direct action against new power plants? Focus on community energy? All of the above?

Energy Democracy: Taking Back Power

By Johanna Bozuwa - Next System Project, February 27, 2019

Executive summary

Electric utility (re)municipalization is gaining popularity as a strategy to shift away from a reliance on fossil fuel extraction in the context of combating climate change. Across the world—from Berlin to Boulder—communities have initiated campaigns to take back their power from investor-owned (private) utilities and create publicly owned and operated utilities. Moreover, such efforts are increasingly taking on the perspective and language of energy democracy.

Energy democracy seeks not only to solve climate change, but to also address entrenched systemic inequalities. It is a vision to restructure the energy future based on inclusive engagement, where genuine participation in democratic processes provides community control and renewable energy generates local, equitably distributed wealth (Angel, 2016; Giancatarino, 2013a; Yenneti & Day, 2015). By transitioning from a privately- to a publicly owned utility, proponents of energy democracy hope to democratize the decision-making process, eliminate the overriding goal of profit maximization, and quickly transition away from fossil fuels.

Utilities are traditionally profit-oriented corporations whose structures are based on a paradigm of extraction. Following the path of least resistance, they often burden communities who do not have the political or financial capital to object to the impacts of their fossil fuel infrastructure. Residents living within three miles of a coal plant, for instance, are more likely to earn a below-average annual income and be a person of color (Patterson et al., 2011); similar statistics have been recorded for natural gas infrastructure (Bienkowski, 2015).

These utilities are in a moment of existential crisis with the rise of renewables. From gas pipelines to coal power plants, their investments are turning into stranded assets, as political leaders and investors realize that eliminating fossil fuels from the energy mix is paramount to creating healthy communities and stemming climate change.

Unfortunately, often publicly owned utilities in the United States have similar energy generation profiles to their privately owned counterparts (American Public Power Association, 2015). This paper explores the extent to which publicly owned utilities are reticent to take on the new energy paradigm and evaluates their ability to provide energy democracy compared to investor-owned utilities.

It's EcoSocialism or Death

An interview with Kali Akuno - Black Agenda Report, February 20, 2019

Cooperation Jackson leader Kali Akuno on the Green New Deal, the need for mass civil disobedience, and the necessity of building an internationalist movement for eco-socialism.

We have to articulate a program that concretely addresses the class’s immediate and medium-term need for jobs and stable income around the expansion of existing “green” industries and the development of new ones.”

The Green New Deal (GND) is now part of the national conversation. But for decades, social movements have been doing the on-the-ground work to resist fossil capitalism and envision a different future. Such grassroots social mobilization — but at a massive scale — is vital to ensuring the GND catalyzes transformative social change.

Cooperation Jackson is at the forefront of eco-socialist organizing to create a new society and economy from the bottom up. Cooperation Jackson encompasses a network of worker cooperatives and supporting institutions fighting to build a solidarity economy in Mississippi and beyond. Jacobin’s Green New Deal editorial team spoke with Kali Akuno, the cofounder and executive director of Cooperation Jackson, and coeditor of Jackson Rising: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Black Self-Determination in Jackson, MS .

In this wide-ranging interview, we discussed the links between local eco-socialist action, national movement-building, and an internationalist orientation; tactics and strategies for interacting with electoral politics to radicalize the GND — and much more. Throughout, Akuno draws on a long history of environmental justice activism in the United States and around the world, providing key lessons about how to move forward — and quickly — to generate a militant, mass movement for a just planet.

Counter-power and self-defense in Latin America

By Raúl Zibechi - ROARMag, January 29, 2018

In much of Latin America, the state does not protect its citizens. This is particularly true for the popular sectors, indigenous peoples, people of color and mestizos, who are exposed to the onslaught of drugs trafficking, criminal gangs, the private security guards of multinational corporations and, paradoxically, from state security forces such as the police and the army.

There have been several massacres in Mexico, for instance, such as the killing of 43 students in Ayotzinapa in September 2014 — and they are no exception. There continues to be impunity for the 30,000 who have disappeared and 200,000 who have died since Mexico declared its “war on drugs” in 2007. Slight differences aside, the current situation in Mexico is replicated across the region. In Brazil, 60,000 people meet a violent death every year, 70 percent of them of African descent, mostly youths from poor areas.

Against this backdrop of violence that threatens the lives of the poorest, some of the most affected have created self-defence measures and counter-powers. Initially, these are defensive, but ultimately develop power structures in parallel to the state. Since they are anchored in community practices, these self-defense groups are key to forming a form of power that differs from the hegemonic powers centered around state institutions. This essay examines them in more detail in order to understand this new trend in Latin American social movements.

We Have To Make Sure the “Green New Deal” Doesn’t Become Green Capitalism

Kali Akuno interviewed by Sarah Lazare - In These Times, December 12, 2018

Incoming Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made waves in late November when she called for a Green New Deal (GND)—a plan to “transition” the U.S. economy to “become carbon neutral” over the course of 10 years. In a draft resolution, she proposes the formation of a Select Committee to develop a plan for massive public works programs, powered by a jobs guarantee and public banks, with the goal of “meeting 100 percent of national power demand through renewable sources.” According to Ocasio-Cortez, the plan aims to eliminate poverty, bring down greenhouse gas emissions, and “ensure a ‘just transition’ for all workers, low-income communities, communities of color, indigenous communities, rural and urban communities and the front-line communities.”

The GND is still in its nascent phase, and concrete details haven’t yet been hashed out, but the proposal has received backing from the youth climate organization, the Sunrise Movement, which staged direct actions and protests to build political support for the framework. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is throwing his political weight behind the plan and 35 House members have endorsed it. Ocasio-Cortez—who identifies as a democratic socialist—is poised to lead the progressive conversation about climate change at the federal level.

Yet, some climate justice organizations are responding with more cautious support. The Climate Justice Alliance (CJA), a network of front-line environmental justice organizations, including the Southwest Workers Union and Black Mesa Water Coalition, praised the GND as “a much-needed aggressive national pivot away from climate denialism to climate action.” But CJA said in a statement released earlier this week that “the proposal for the GND was made public at the grasstops [as opposed to grassroots] level. When we consulted with many of our own communities, they were neither aware of, nor had they been consulted about the launch of the GND.”

While the GND is in its developmental phase, the Climate Justice Alliance says it is critical for social movement groups to fight for the best possible version of the deal—and ensure that it does not include false solutions such as “carbon markets, offsets and emissions trading regimes or geoengineering technologies.” CJA says any jobs plan should restore and protect workers’ rights to organize and form unions, and it should be predicated on non-extractive policies that build “local community wealth that is democratically governed.” Any deal must ensure “free, prior and informed consent by Indigenous peoples,” CJA insists, and should be directed by those communities bearing the brunt of the “dig, burn, dump” economy.

In These Times spoke with Kali Akuno, director of the CJA-affiliated Cooperation Jackson, a Missisippi-based group that aims to build a “solidarity economy” that is “anchored by a network of cooperatives and worker-owned, democratically self-managed enterprises.” According to Akuno, movements must defend the best components of the GND, while challenging–and offering alternatives to–the capitalist logic embedded in some of its proposals. “While this is still in the drafting phase,” he argues, “let’s get it as near perfect as we possibly can.”

The commons, the state and the public: A Latin American perspective

An interview with Daniel Chavez - TNI, August 2018

What are the commons and what is their political, social and economic relevance?

In recent years, many researchers and social activists from very different countries, like myself, have rediscovered the notion of the commons as a key idea to deepen social and environmental justice and democratise both politics and the economy. This reappropriation has meant questioning the vanguardist and hierarchical visions, structures and practices that for too long have characterised much of the left. This concept has resurfaced in parallel with the growing distrust in the market and the state as the main suppliers or guarantors of access to essential goods and services. The combined pressures of climate change and the crisis of capitalism that exploded in 2008 (a permanent and global crisis, which is no longer a series of conjunctural or cyclical recessions) force us to reconsider old paradigms, tactics and strategies. This means discarding both the obsolete models of planning and centralised production at the core of the so-called ‘real socialism’ of the last century and the state capitalism that we see today in China and a few other supposedly socialist countries, as well as the equally old and failed structures of present-day deregulated capitalist economies.

At first, the concept of the commons was disseminated by progressive intellectuals inspired by the work of Elinor Ostrom, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, in 2009. Ostrom, an American political scientist, was a progressive academic, but could hardly be classified as a radical thinker or as a leftist activist. In the last decade, academics and activists from very diverse ideological families of the left have reviewed her contributions and have engaged in intense theoretical debates about the potential of the commons, based on the analysis of many inspiring prefigurative experiences currently underway.

Ostrom’s main contribution was to demonstrate that many self-organised local communities around the world successfully managed a variety of natural resources without relying on market mechanisms or state institutions. Currently, it is possible to identify various perspectives in the theoretical debates around the commons, but in general they all converge on the importance of a third space between the state and the market (which should not be confused with the Third Way outlined by Anthony Giddens and adopted by politicians as dissimilar as Tony Blair in Britain, Bill Clinton in the United States, or Fernando Henrique Cardoso in Brazil as a hypothetical social democratic alternative to socialism and neoliberalism).

Nowadays, a quick search in Google about the commons results in millions of references. Most definitions tend to characterise commons as spaces for collective management of resources that are co-produced and managed by a community according to their own rules and norms. We (TNI) have recently published a report on the commons in partnership with the P2P Foundation, in which we refer to this concept as the combination of four basic elements: (1) material or immaterial resources managed collectively and democratically; (2) social processes that foster and deepen cooperative relationships; (3) a new logic of production and a new set of productive processes; and (4) a paradigm shift, which conceives the commons as an advance beyond the classical market/state or public/private binary oppositions.

Free Public Transport and the Right to the City

By Yavor Tarinski - Resilience, July 25, 2018

“Free public transportation implies many changes, a completely new way to look at the city, both in terms of how we move and how we tax, but also how we live, where we live, how we relate to each other as a society, and our broader relationship to the urban, regional and global eco-system.” Judith Dellheim & Jason Prince [1]

With cities becoming the main human inhabitant, and even slowly replacing the Nation-State as major economic and political factors, the importance of the question about the quality of urban life is increasing. How we move around in our urbanized reality is an integral part of that issue.

The movement within cities determines to a large degree their vibrancy and the way they will develop in the future. As author Jane Jacobs notes [2], a feature of a great city is the mobility of residents and fluidity of use across diverse areas of varying size and character. Furthermore, transportation has an important role to play in the age of rapidly unfolding urbanization and environmental crisis.

Unfortunately, the car has been made into the main tool for urban mobility – promoted by local and national authorities, big businesses, as well as mainstream city planners. This supposedly comfortable and quick means of transportation, however, hides many dangers for urban inhabitants, as well as for the environment.

The mass use of cars as one of the most atomized and privatized means of transportation today,  according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, is a major cause of global warming. This is evident from what they write in one of their reports: In total, the US transportation sector—which includes cars, trucks, planes, trains, ships, and freight—produces nearly thirty percent of all US global warming emissions, more than almost any other sector [3]. It is well known that, as much of the research on the subject suggests [4], car traffic causes significant health problems – from air pollution to obesity. It also pollutes the urban environment with noise, as well as being directly related to the reshaping of cities into urban sprawls distanced away from areas that provide basic needs and services.

Benefits of Free Public Transport

Public transport, on the other hand, is of much friendlier character to both communities and nature, but has been embedded into the economistic, privatized logic of capitalism. While it allows for large groups of citizens to move around the city in an economically efficient manner without creating traffic, urban noise, or air pollution, it is being highly neglected by municipalities. Instead, it is viewed as another business niche, through which surplus value can be extracted through the additional taxation of passengers and can be helpful to boost economic growth. In this narrow economistic way, a transportation means with the capacity to significantly improve urban space is being neglected or is being exploited exclusively for the generation of profit for the few.

However, there is a global movement that fights for making public transport free. Its target is the abolition of the socially exclusive fare systems that are currently in operation in most cities around the world. Instead, it suggests that the expenses required for functioning should be covered through the municipal budget, as it is mutually beneficial for both car drivers and bus riders.

Building post-capitalist futures

By various - Transnational Institute - June 2018

Over several sunny days in June 2018, a diverse group of 60 activists and researchers from 30 countries convened for a multi-day meeting to discuss the collective building of post-capitalist futures. The meeting provided the opportunity for a rich exchange of perspectives and experiences, as well as deep discussion and debate. The goal of the meeting was not to achieve consensus both an impossible and unnecessary endeavour but rather to stimulate mutual learning, challenge one another and advance analyses.

One session of the meeting – Transformative Cities – was held not as a closed discussion but as a public event attended by 300 people at which prominent activists and academics engaged with municipal leaders and politicians on the role cities can play in building post-capitalist futures.

In line with the meeting, this report does not intend to advance one line of analysis, but rather summarise some of the key ideas and issues discussed and debated (not necessarily in the order they were articulated). To summarise necessarily means to leave things out. It would be impossible to fully capture the incredible richness of the discussion that took place, but hopefully this report provides a valuable sketch.

Read the report (PDF).

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