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Welcome to The Anthropocene, are Environmentalists Equipped to Respond?

By Roger Annis - CounterPunch, September 14, 2016

Capitalism has run so amok, producing so much waste and life-destroying pollution, that scientists now say that Earth has entered an entirely new epoch: The Anthropocene

On September 5 in Cape Town, South Africa, members of the ‘Working Group on the Anthropocene’ presented findings of their research to the annual International Geological Congress. A research paper by the group of 35 scientists, commissioned by the Congress, was published in January of this year, concluding that a new, “functionally and stratigraphically distinct” unit of geologic time has begun.

Scientists term the new epoch ‘The Anthropocene’, meaning that human activity has become the dominant influence on climate and the environment. Earth’s biosphere has been so thoroughly altered by human activity that changes are now permanently inscribed in the rock and fossil record, just as earlier events such as asteroid impacts and the evolution of multi-celled life forms left their records.

The Anthropocene succeeds The Holocene, an epoch of approximately 12,000 years which was marked by relative climate stability. During the Holocene, average global temperatures varied by no more than one degree Celsius. Here are two articles reporting on what the scientists have reported:

* The Anthropocene epoch: Scientists declare dawn of human-influenced age, by Damian Carrington, The Guardian, August 29, 2016

“… The current epoch, the Holocene, is the 12,000 years of stable climate since the last ice age during which all human civilisation developed. But the striking acceleration since the mid-20th century of carbon dioxide emissions and sea level rise, the global mass extinction of species, and the transformation of land by deforestation and development mark the end of that slice of geological time, the experts argue. The Earth is so profoundly changed that the Holocene must give way to the Anthropocene.”

* Expert panel: The Anthropocene epoch has definitely begun, by Ian Angus, in Climate and Capitalism, Aug 29, 2016

“… changes to the Earth System that characterize the potential Anthropocene Epoch include marked acceleration to rates of erosion and sedimentation, large-scale chemical perturbations to the cycles of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and other elements, the inception of significant change to global climate and sea level, and biotic changes such as unprecedented levels of species invasions across the Earth. Many of these changes are geologically long-lasting, and some are effectively irreversible.”

A 12-minute interview with author Ian Angus on the findings and recommendations of the Working Group on the Anthropocene was broadcast on The Real News Network on September 4; watch or read it here.

Notre-Dame-des-Landes (France): Defend the ZAD: a call for international solidarity

By Defend the ZAD - Anarkismo, September 2, 2016

October 8th-9th, 2016

For over 50 years, farmers and locals have resisted the building of a new airport for the French city of Nantes (which by the way already has one). Now in these rich fields, forests and wetlands, which multinational Vinci want to cover in concrete, an experiment in reinventing everyday life in struggle is blossoming. Radicals from around the world, local farmers and villagers, citizen groups, trade unionists and naturalists, refugees and runaways, squatters and climate justice activists and many others, are organising to protect the 4000 acres of land against the airport and its world. Government officials have coined this place “a territory lost to the republic”. Its occupants have named it: la ZAD (Zone À Défendre), zone to defend.

In the winter of 2012, thousands of riot police attempted to evict the zone, but they faced a determined and diverse resistance. This culminated in a 40,000 people strong demonstration to rebuild some of what had been destroyed by the French State. Less than a week later, the police was forced to stop what they called “Operation Cesar”. For the last three years, the zad has been an extraordinary laboratory of new ways of living, rooted in collaborations between all those who make up the diversity of this movement. There is even a set of 6 points (see below) to radically rethink how to organise and work the land without an airport, based on the creation of commons, the notion of usage rather than property and the demand that those who fought for the land are those who decide its use.

Now, the entire zone is due for evictions to start the construction of this absurd airport. Prime minister Valls has promised a “Rendez-Vous” this October to evict everyone who is living, working, building and farming on the zone.

On October 8th, tens of thousands of people will gather on the zad to demonstrate that the determination of the movement is as strong as ever. Honouring farmers struggles from the past, we will come with wooden walking batons and leave them on the zone, as a sign of the commitment to come back and pick them up again if necessary. We will also raise a barn, built by dozens of carpenters during the summer, which will be used as a base, should evictions happen.

We are calling on all international groups and movements to either come to the zone on October 8th or show their solidarity with the zad through actions directed at the French government or multinational Vinci in their own towns and cities on that day.

The airport will never be built. Life on the zad will keep on flourishing!

A New Economic System for a World in Rapid Disintegration

By C.J. Polychroniou and Lily Sage - Truthout, September 8, 2016

We live in ominously dangerous times. The world capitalist system -- having fueled colonialism, imperialism and the constant intensification of labor power exploitation for roughly 500 years -- now threatens the planet with an ecological collapse of unprecedented proportions. Unsustainable resource exploitation, water pollution (the transformation of lakes, rivers and oceans into garbage dumps) and massive economic inequality are at the root of the possibly irreversible collapse of industrial civilization. Meanwhile, however, too many of us remain caught up in abstract and ahistorical predictions of collapse that fail to offer an alternative realistic vision of a future socio-economic order.

Simultaneously, the phenomenon of global warming, driven mainly by the dynamics and contradictions of a fossil-based economy, has prepared the soil for the eruption of new sources of conflict with the manifestation of historically unique destabilizing social forces. Climate change directly threatens billions of people and most other beings -- besides the occasional cockroach, diadem or tardigrade -- with outright extinction brought on by droughts, floods and other "natural" disasters.

Nonetheless, the catastrophic scenario sketched out behind the operations of global capitalism does not merely represent the other side of a wild socio-economic system bent on constant and abstract growth in pursuit of ever greater rates of profit. The so-called Golden Age of capitalism ended decades ago and the system has now run into a brick wall, as it appears to have reached a point where it is no longer capable of sustaining a constant momentum of growth to keep the economy reproducing itself at a pace that generates higher standards of living for the next generation.

Indeed, the productivity rates in the advanced industrialized regions of the world (such as the US, Europe and Japan) since the eruption of the financial crisis of 2007-08 are far slower than those of previous decades, thereby confirming the claims of various experts who argue that we have reached the end of the age of growth.

Moreover, in spite of all the talk about the marvelous and awe-inspiring accomplishments of the high-tech revolution, these innovations pale in comparison to the innovations of the Industrial Revolution. The new technologies reach billions of people, generating mythical fortunes for founders and investors, but increasingly employ only a handful of privileged workers. In the meantime, the problems of massive unemployment, increased inequality, growing economic insecurity, and dangerous levels of public and corporate debt are mounting.

In this context, the present crisis facing the world economy as a whole "consists precisely in the fact," as Antonio Gramsci put it in his Prison Notebooks, "that the old is dying and the new cannot be born," and all of the above represent the "morbid symptoms" of this antinomy that the great Italian revolutionary underscored as being part of this interregnum.

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.

The centrality of externalities to economic understanding

By Brian Davey - Credo, July 31, 2016

What economists call “externalities” are not unusual or a special case, they are ubiquitous. They are rooted in private property and the relationships of market society. The way in which non market societies protect bio-diversity through totem arrangements is described.

Private property means that a single owner has the right to do with a resource as s/he sees fit. However, what they decide about these “resources” affect communities of people and communities of species (eco- systems). Very often, the effects are not positive. John Ruskin, a 19th century art critic who also wrote on economics, coined the term “illth” to describe the destructive effects imposed on society and the environment by the economy of his day.

Economists have had to adjust their theories and have come up with the concept of “externalities”, that is, the benefits or costs of an allocation decision that arise for non-owners. In a later chapter I critically examine the idea that these externalities can be managed by those people affected by them coming to a deal with those causing them. This would involve finding “the right price” for the externality and then doing a trade. The purpose of this chapter is to look at the institutional and property relationship contexts in which these “externalities” arise, and thus, to show how and why, in some kinds of society, there are no “externalities”.

The word “externality”, conveys the impression that this is a footnote to economic theory, a sort of additional point. Actually, externalities are ubiquitous. There cannot be any kind of resource allocation decision involving matter or energy without externalities. “The economy” is embodied and embedded in physical and energetic processes in the physical world.

It involves “stuff” processed by energy conversions. This stuff, the matter, can neither be created nor destroyed, though it can change its form. Likewise, energy changes its form when used. It follows from this that what are used as “economic resources” must have come from somewhere originally where these resources had an original function and/or were part of some other system or structure. These resources must also go somewhere after they are embodied in products and/or where they are wholly or partly turned into wastes. Extracting resources from places has consequences and dumping wastes and pollution has consequences. Over several centuries, this extraction and dumping has usually been out of, and back, into the commons.

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.

Anthropocene vs Capitalocene: a Reflection on the Question, “What Have I Done?”

By Chris Burnett - Counterpunch, May 13, 2016

The International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) has yet to recognize, for scientific reasons, our current geological epoch as the Anthropocene, or “Age of Humans”. The term was coined by Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer in 2000 due to the fact that humans are changing the face of the planet, and are clearly responsible for the current 6th mass extinction event and climate disruption. Eco-radicals – black-red-green – might prefer the term Capitalocene, or the “Age of Capital”.

The former implies that humanity is an undifferentiated whole while the latter suggests that capital, and its system of class and power relations, are the real problem, the real driving force that has altered the planet so extensively. I prefer the latter, of course, for political reasons.

There is no substitute for understanding the historical forces of capitalism that has brought us to the edge. The logic of capitalism is grow or die, and we are all being dragged towards the die part. We need targets of accountability, and we need remedies for the dispossessed. There is a biological debt that must be paid by the most rapacious among us.

But yet, I am still sympathetic to the Anthropocene label because it makes me feel personally responsible. The collective “we”. There is something unsettling about it, and we all need to be immediately unsettled. It puts the burden of action on all of us, and counterintuitively, might pull us out of our comfortable anthropocentric worldview. Eco-radicals rightly put the blame at the doorstep of capitalism and the state, but we should all feel personally responsible, in our collective guts.

There are approximately 150-200 species going extinct everyday. The background rate of the normal extinction process is roughly one to five species a year. We are at 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate today due to human activities. As far as the last members of a doomed species might be concerned, humans are responsible, not just the capitalist class. To them, it is the Anthropocene. Might your perspective on this issue be determined by which side of the axe you are on?

If I were to anthropomorphize those lost species, they might provide us an analogy to chew on. They might say, “imagine the surviving members of countless families murdered from bombs dropped by Bush, or assassinated with drones sent by Obama. Do you think they would care about the internal political dynamics of the US after such a tragedy?”

From the survivors perspective, it is the US government, the US Empire system, that killed their relatives. Our friends pondering this analogy for us might just make the same argument in regards to the human race: “yes, okay, we understand there are class distinctions. But, from our perspective, you are the problem. You are that system.”

I am reminded of Noam Chomsky’s use of the word “we” when discussing the crimes of empire. I recall feeling defensive when he implied we all had responsibility, because, well, I opposed imperialism! But I think he was right. In his 1967 essay, The Responsibility of Intellectuals, he writes, reflecting on Dwight Macdonald’s question as to what extent the people are responsible for their own government’s crimes,

“We can hardly avoid asking ourselves to what extent the American people bear responsibility for the savage American assault on a largely helpless rural population in Vietnam… As for those of us who stood by in silence and apathy as this catastrophe slowly took shape over the past dozen years – on what page of history do we find our proper place? Only the most insensible can escape these questions.”

Continuing at the end of the essay,

“Let me finally return to Dwight Macdonald and the responsibility of intellectuals. Macdonald quotes an interview with a death-camp paymaster who burst into tears when told that the Russians would hang him. “Why should they? What have I done?” he asked. Macdonald concludes: “Only those who are willing to resist authority themselves when it conflicts too intolerably with their personal moral code, only they have the right to condemn the death-camp paymaster.” The question, “What have I done?” is one that we may well ask ourselves, as we read each day of fresh atrocities in Vietnam – as we create, or mouth, or tolerate the deceptions that will be used to justify the next defense of freedom.”

That is the question we are all faced with today, “What have I done?”, as we observe fresh atrocities committed against the biosphere and all life on this planet. Only those that resist authority and capitalism have the right to condemn our modern death-camp paymasters.

Toward Democratic Eco-socialism as the Next World System

By Hans Baer - The Next System Project, April 28, 2016

This essay is guided by two imperatives: (1) how do we live in harmony with each other on a fragile planet of limited resources, which have become unevenly distributed; and (2) how do we live in harmony with nature, particularly as humanity lurches forward into an era of potentially catastrophic, anthropogenic climate change that to a large degree is a by-product of the capitalist world system. Social systems, whether they exist at the local, regional, or global levels, do not last forever. Capitalism, as a globalizing political economic system committed to profit making and continual economic growth, has created a treadmill of production and consumption that is heavily dependent upon fossil fuels and has resulted in greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change.

While capitalism has produced numerous impressive technological innovations, some beneficial and others destructive, which are very unevenly distributed, it is a system fraught with numerous contradictions, including: growing social disparities within most nation-states, authoritarian and militarist practices, depletion of natural resources, environmental degradation, including global warming and associated climatic changes, species extinction, and population growth as a by-product of poverty. Even more so than in earlier stages of capitalism, transnational corporations and their associated bodies, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization, make or break governments and politicians around the world, although the extent to which this is true varies from country to country. Although capitalism has been around for about 500 years, it manifests so many contradictions that it has become increasingly clear that it must be replaced by a “next system” or an alternative world system—one oriented toward social parity and justice, democratic processes, and environmental sustainability, which includes a safe climate.

Read the report (PDF).

Eco-Socialism and Decentralism

By Wayne Price - Infoshop.org, January 11, 2016

Theorists of the climate-justice movement have been raising decentralist ideas as part of their programs for an ecologically-balanced society. This ecological program means more local democracy, workers’ management of industry, consumer coops, and federations of radically-democratic institutions. Such ideas revive the decentralist ideas of anarchism.

From conservatives and liberals to Marxists, there is faith in big machines, big industries, big corporations, big cities, big countries, big buildings, and big government—a belief in the necessity of centralized, bureaucratic, top-down, socially-alienated, institutions. This is not to say that most people like giant cities, big business, or big government; but they do not see any alternative.

Instead, anarchists have advocated localism, face-to-face direct democracy, self-governing agricultural-industrial communes, workers’ self-management of industry, consumer cooperatives, appropriate technology, and federations and networks of such radically-democratic institutions. Many people reject anarchism because they believe such decentralism to be unrealistic.

However, in our time there is a new development: writers and theorists of the ecology/environmental/climate-justice movement have been raising decentralist concepts as part of their programs. They include moderate liberals, radical ecologists, and even Marxists. Mostly they have no idea that they are redeveloping anarchism. I will examine this phenomenon.

Towards a New Anti-Capitalist Politics

By Jerome Roos - ROARMag, December 15, 2015

Humanity finds itself at an inflexion point. On the one hand, global capitalism is producing and aggravating a series of existential crises that may well undermine the very preconditions for a dignified human life—or any form of human life—on this planet. On the other, the only political force that could possibly do something to counter this inexorable drive towards catastrophe—the international left—has long since been run into the ground by a four-decade neoliberal offensive, leaving its social base fragmented and atomized, its organizational structures in tatters.

In the wake of this world-historic defeat, we are confronted on a daily basis with the devastating consequences of our contemporary powerlessness. Far from retreating in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008-‘09, neoliberalism has intensified its war on democracy and doubled down on the structural violence of austerity and dispossession. Meanwhile, we look on helplessly as wealth and power continue to be concentrated in ever fewer hands, while common goods and public services are mercilessly sacrificed at the altar of the marketplace.

We stand defenseless as high finance and big business mount an all-out offensive against the last-remaining vestiges of the welfare state, while mass surveillance and state control are expanded across the board. We are powerless as barriers to capital are knocked down in secretive trade deals while national borders are militarized and new walls erected everywhere to keep out the unwanted other. We feel paralyzed as families are evicted from their homes, protesters brutalized by police, and the bodies of refugees continue to wash up on our shores.

Amidst the growing uncertainty of a hyper-competitive 24/7 information economy, in which indebtedness, unemployment and precarity are rapidly becoming the generalized conditions of life for the majority, we are overcome by exhaustion, depression and anxiety. At the same time, a sense of existential gloom is settling in as global temperatures and sea levels continue their seemingly unstoppable rise, while planetary life-support systems are being destroyed at a truly terrifying pace.

From Hollywood blockbusters to best-selling books, late-capitalist culture knows all too well how to wax poetics about the collapse of civilization—yet its critics seem to have lost all capacity to imagine even the most moderate reforms to prevent this dystopian fiction from becoming reality.

We may continue to speak of a crisis of capital, but what really confronts us is a crisis of the left.

For all its tragedies and failures, at least the old left was once driven by hopes and visions of a better future. Today, all such aspirations seem to have been abandoned. As Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi has astutely put it, the future has been cancelled—and the left, unmoored from its post-capitalist imaginary, has been cast hopelessly adrift in the process. In this conjuncture, we may continue to speak of a crisis of capital, but what really confronts us is a crisis of the left.

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