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post scarcity anarchism

Bringing Power to the People: The Unlikely Case for Utility Populism

By Kate Aronoff  - Dissent, Summer 2017

One glaring omission in the postmortem handwringing about the 2016 election is the fact that most poor people in America—of all races and genders—simply didn’t vote. They were prevented from doing so by a number of structural barriers—voting restrictions, second and third jobs, far-flung polling locations—as well as a lack of excitement about two parties they saw as having abandoned them.

Enter: twenty-first-century electric cooperatives, a perhaps unlikely player in the contest for power between progressives and conservatives in the heart of so-called Trump country in rural America.

If there’s one thing poor, rural communities tend to have in common, it’s where they get their power—not political power, but actual electricity. Over 900 rural electric cooperatives (RECs)—owned and operated by their members—stretch through forty-seven states, serving 42 million ratepayers and 11 percent of the country’s demand for electricity. They also serve 93 percent of the country’s “persistent poverty counties,” 85 percent of which lie in non-metropolitan areas. REC service areas encompass everything from isolated farm homes to mountain hollers to small cities, with the highest concentrations in the South, the Midwest, and the Great Plains. And they might just offer an opportunity to curb the right and the climate crisis alike.

Nominally democratic, RECs have the ability to transform a sizable chunk of America’s energy sector—one of the highest-polluting parts of our economy. Servicing ratepayers whose top agenda may not be climate change, the push to integrate renewables into RECs’ energy mix nonetheless grounds the transition away from carbon-intensive fuels in something more material: energy bills. Member-owner reformers dotting the map of red and rural America are already waging fights over their cooperatives on two fronts: for basic representation and for energy efficiency. Their work—combining a zeal for small-d democracy with one for bringing down emissions—could hold the key to making sure the transition away from fossil fuels includes some of the poorest places in the country on the ground floor. Crucially, it could also help extend our much heralded clean energy revolution beyond liberal enclaves like New York and California. If successful, reformed RECs could give progressives a much needed foothold in places the Democratic Party has long since abandoned. They might also help greens refocus fights onto pocketbook issues.

Understanding the RECs’ radical potential, however, means understanding their history. Rural electrification was intended to accomplish one goal: to serve people neglected by the private sector. At the start of the Great Depression, some 90 percent of rural homes lacked electricity. For private utilities (the only game in town at the time) extending power lines to customers spread out over tens or hundreds of miles simply wasn’t worth the cost—especially considering that the vast majority of those potential customers happened to be poor.

Our Best Shot at Meeting Paris Goals? Make Energy Public

By Sarah van Gelder - Yes! Magazine, July 9, 2017

Mayors across the country have vowed to deliver on the goals of the Paris climate accord in defiance of President Trump’s decision to back out. But how can they, realistically, when the national government is questioning climate science and promoting coal, fracking, and pipelines?

Simply put: Make energy public. Instead of privatizing city services, as some policymakers have long advocated, a new report shows that public ownership gives cities and towns the best shot at meeting renewable energy and efficiency targets.

Reclaiming Public Services: How Cities and Citizens are Turning Back Privatization,” a study by the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute, challenges the ideas that governments are ineffective service providers, that private companies are more efficient, and that austerity budgeting and reductions in public service are inevitable.

Cities and towns that want well-run water and sanitation services, low-cost access to the internet, and affordable housing should keep those operations public or run by local nonprofits, the report found. If these services are now private, the institute recommends “re-municipalization.”

The report is based on research involving 1,600 cities in 45 countries that have chosen public ownership over corporate ownership, especially of their energy and water systems. “These (re)municipalisations generally succeeded in bringing down costs and tariffs, improving conditions for workers and boosting service quality, while ensuring greater transparency and accountability,” the report concludes.

Both Hamburg, Germany, and Boulder, Colorado, for example, are making their electric power enterprises public in order to shift to green and renewable energy sources.

In France, 106 cities and towns have taken over their local water systems in the past 15 years, in spite of the fact that France is home to some of the world’s largest private water companies. During that time, the report found that no French cities went the other direction and privatized their water system.

The report focuses on water and energy services, but there are many other services that benefit from local public ownership—some unexpected. The French towns of Mouans-Sartoux and Ungersheim bought farmland and hired local farmers to supply organic produce for school lunches. In India, the Tamil Nadu government opened dozens of public low-cost restaurants run by impoverished women to feed the poor. Argentina privatized postal services in 1997, but just six years later, renationalized the service in response to the private company’s poor service and high prices.

Privatization is tempting; it can provide local governments with short-term cash infusions. What politician doesn’t like to fill a budget hole without raising taxes? But the infusions don’t last. The private companies must pay large sums to their shareholders and executives, which they often do by cutting corners on upkeep, wages, and services, or jacking up customers’ rates. Instead of circulating locally, that money leaves a city’s economy.

According to the report, once a service is turned over to a private company, many cities found it was difficult to maintain accountability. They faced cost overruns, poor service, and violations of contracts. Many found they saved money and improved services when services went back into public hands.

Although family-owned or worker-owned businesses and consumer cooperatives are essential to local economies, some services—like water and sanitation—are best operated at a municipal or regional scale, and multiple providers may not make sense. In cases of these natural monopolies, local public ownership especially makes sense.

Like an ecosystem, a functioning local economy requires diversity. It needs many forms of ownership and types of entities. To thrive over years, each entity must both give and take; they must be in relationship with the people, institutions, and ecosystems that make up each community. When a local economy is dominated by enterprises that work to extract value for Wall Street banks or corporations controlled by absentee owners, communities are drained of their common wealth. It is that concern that drives much of the opposition to big international trade deals, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which critics say favor corporate rights over those of local government.

On the other hand, local entities, whether operated by worker-owners, families, nonprofit enterprises, or local governments, seek out multiple bottom lines—multiple benefits for employees, young people, vulnerable residents, and other local enterprises. They also take responsibility for their own human and natural communities. That is how We the People and the natural world can thrive for the long term.

A Brief History of Anti-Capitalism, Pulled from a Dumpster

By Alex V. Barnard - Discard Studies, June 6, 2016

“Seeing all the waste exposes very clearly the priorities in our society, that making a profit is more important than feeding people, than preserving the environment, than making use of resources, than honoring peoples’ time, labor, love, and effort. What we see with waste is that once something cannot make money, it is discarded and of no value.”

From Climate Crisis to Solar Communism

By David Schwartzman - Jacobin, December 1, 2015

IWW EUC Note: readers should be aware that the term "communism" here does not mean "bureaucratic state capitalism", and can be inclusive of ecosocialism, post-scarcity-anarchism, and/or green syndicalism (depending on one's implementation of the ideas discussed here):

The proposals elites are offering at COP21 wouldn’t halt climate change. What would a socialist solution look like?

Jacobin Editor's Note: Leaders from 147 countries have assembled in Paris for COP 21, the most important climate summit since the 2009 Copenhagen meeting. But climate justice activists worry the result will be the same: platitudes and handwringing, with no firm commitment from Global North countries to drastically curb carbon emissions.

What, then, would a just solution look like?

David Schwartzman, a biogeochemist and professor emeritus at Howard University, has been thinking and writing about climate and energy issues for many years. He recently spoke with Jacobin about the state of the climate crisis, the connection between global warming and the military-industrial complex, and why “the communist horizon in the twenty-first century, if there is to be one, will be solar communist.”

What is the current consensus on the climate crisis?

According to Climate Interactive — a major monitor of climate change — based on public commitments from the major carbon-emitting countries, projected warming by 2100 will be 3.5°C (6.3°F), or 1.5°C above the 2°C warming limit (above the pre-industrial global temperature) agreed upon at the 2010 Cancun Climate Change Conference. The United Nations now gives a somewhat lower projected warming of 2.7°C (4.9°F).

Moreover, some leading climate scientists now think that even the 2 degree limit is too high. For example, NASA climate scientist Jim Hansen describes the 2 degree limit as a “prescription for disaster” because of projected impacts such as sea level rise and acidification of the ocean. His assessment is reinforced by a newly published study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This evidence reinforces the long-term demand of many poor countries for a 1.5 degree limit.

What about fossil-fuel reduction? Is that making an impact?

Roughly 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from fossil-fuel use, with coal, natural gas (due to methane leakage into the atmosphere), and tar sands oil having the highest carbon footprint. Conventional liquid oil has the lowest carbon footprint, about three-fourths that of coal. (The other greenhouse gases derived from human activity include nitrous oxide, the breakdown product of nitrate fertilizer, with methane also coming from agriculture.)

China is the world’s leading carbon emitter, almost double that of the second-place United States.

The big three — China, the US, and the European Union —produce 55 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. China has committed to leveling off its emissions by 2030 (using carbon emission trading), while the US promises to reduce its greenhouse emissions 26–28 percent by 2025 relative to 2005 emissions.

As Naomi Klein has recently argued — citing the assessment of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research — the US goal falls far short of what is required for even the 2-degree goal, which would require reductions of at least 8 to 10 percent per year.

Projected warming, in combination with lackluster efforts to cut emissions, has created an imminent crisis. This is the reality check for serious activists. Any remaining possibility of keeping warming below 2°C will require rapid and radical cuts in global carbon emissions — starting with the fossil fuels with the highest carbon footprint — and the simultaneous creation of a viable global wind and solar power infrastructure.

Back to the future for work

By Andrew Curry - The Next Wave, August 20, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Most discussion of the future of work assumes that the work, or the lack of it, is our coming problem. But what if we’ve got the question the wrong way around? What if we’re slowly, or not so slowly, giving up on the idea of work? After all, we all know that most work is dull. And even the interesting stuff is exploitative, somewhere along the line.

The thought struck me while reading Dan Hancox’ book The Village Against The World, about the anarcho-syndicalist village of Marinaleda, in Andalusia. After 20 years of intense political struggle, the village won some land for itself, and later added some food processing plants. Unemployment there is five or six per cent, a fraction of the level in other parts of Andalusia. But the young people, generally, are less willing to work in either. Work in the fields is hard; work in the processing plants is boring. And this is, pretty much, a universal truth.

In The Village Against The World, a young woman called Christina who lives part-time in the village and part time in the larger town of Estapa explains it to Hancox this way:

“A thousand euros a month is fine – 1,200 euros a month is pretty good.” We were talking about the mileuristas, her generation, so called because they had learned to get by on a one thousand euros a month. Christina was living with her mother in Marinaleda while also renting a room in a flat in Estapa, where she works as a teacher some of the week.

A thousand euros a month is about £750 or $1,400; not a lot, in other words. Spain, of course, has an acute version of this problem. But even if it an outlier, it is not unusual. The labour contract with capitalism is breaking down.

The Battle to Control the 3D Printing Revolution: DIY or CIA?

By Eric Draitser - Truthout, March 23, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Scientific and technological innovations have the power to fundamentally transform human civilization as new possibilities previously deemed impossible are made realities. However, it is not the technologies themselves that dictate the nature of the political, economic or social evolution. Rather, it is control over, and access to, technology that has the truly profound impact. While advanced medicines, new methods of energy production and biotechnology breakthroughs are in themselves important, when monopolized by a select few, the implications for the majority of people can be dire.

So it is with the emerging revolution in 3D printing, a technology that manufactures (or "prints"), layer by layer, physical objects from computer models using a variety of materials. While 3D printing has existed in concept since the early 1980s, only in recent years has the technology been brought to the desktop level, allowing individuals and small groups of hobbyists to print a wide variety of objects, from plastic coasters to medical equipment. Having started in the traditional industrial and fabrication setting, it was the application of 3D printing by independent, technologically inclined "hackers" (individuals who manipulate and/or customize computer and electronic equipment to fit their needs) that helped mainstream this technology.

Today, there is a consensus among those in the know - from the most ruthless capitalist profit-seekers to anarcho-communist hackers - that the 3D printing revolution is coming, and the world will not be the same once it arrives. So the struggle is not whether there will be 3D printers, but rather how that technology will be used, how it will be dispersed in society, who will have access to it, and who will control and/or steer its development.

The central question will not be whether a working-class person can 3D print some household object in his garage; this is a foregone conclusion. Instead, it will be whether or not the ability to 3D print the elemental parts of modern and future society (computer processors, nanobots, telecommunications equipment etc.) will be open to all, or controlled by the few.

EcoUnionist News #24

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, January 17, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Carbon Bubble:

Green Jobs and Just Transition:

Other News of Interest:

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Post Scarcity Anarchism

This book is a collection of essays by Murray Bookchin, first published in 1971 by Ramparts Press. Bookchin outlines the possible form anarchism might take under conditions of post-scarcity. It is one of Bookchin's major works, and its radical thesis provoked controversy for being utopian in its faith in the liberatory potential of technology.

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