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System Change not Climate Change

Looking for answers to capitalism's disasters

Naomi Klein interviewed by Alan Maass - Socialist Worker, September 29, 2017

SO READING the newspaper for you these days must be like seeing the subjects of your books running through the headlines: disaster capitalism, the shock doctrine, climate change, corporate brands...

I WAS actually just looking at the crawl on CNN, and there was something about Trump's UN speech where he plugged one of his buildings. I think his first sentence when he spoke at the UN was about one of the Trump Towers.

UNBELIEVABLE. BUT let me ask you about that--can you talk about the connecting threads of what you've been writing about over these years?

I THINK that the strongest connecting thread is really the rise of corporate power and the increasing role of corporations in every aspect of life.

That's really the story of the rise of branded people that Trump embodies--these lifestyle brands and companies that are building identity around a corporation, as opposed to selling a product and marketing it.

Another one of the things I look at is clear from how Trump has already used shocks and crisis to further advance an extreme pro-corporate agenda that is about eliminating the last vestiges of the public sphere. We're seeing some examples of that now in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

And to even say "aftermath" raises another question, because there's a new storm bearing down on Puerto Rico. But already, you can see how Irma knocked out the electricity, and that then becomes the pretext for a further push for privatization.

Then there's the centrality of climate change denial within the Trump administration, which has been such a defining feature of what this administration has prioritized.

I don't think this has anything to do with denying the science of climate change. It has everything to do with them understanding that if humanity is, indeed, confronted with an existential threat--which is what climate change represents--then the entire corporate project they stand for falls to pieces, and we need a very different way to organize society and make public policy decisions.

Climate Change Brings Socialism and Science Together

By Eve Ottenberg - Truthout, September 26, 2017

Thanks to climate change, science and socialism have become entwined in ways previously unimaginable. Science brings the news that, unless we act swiftly to control climate change, we will inhabit a dying planet. Socialism traces the causes of this catastrophe to the destructive and chaotic growth model of capitalism and advocates for a different system. Meanwhile, sensing the source of danger to their profits, corporate and government reactionaries fuel disinformation campaigns to discredit science and confuse the public. This has been going on for years, with disastrous results.

Ian Angus' new book, A Redder Shade of Green, (red for socialist revolution, green for ecological revolution) is about the prospect of ecosocialism in the face of capitalist ecocide. Angus has written previously about the "Anthropocene," a name for our era that emphasizes the centrality of human-influenced climate change. He does not accuse humanity as a whole of environmental destruction, but only a small sliver of humanity -- the capitalist class, which has left a gigantic, planet-sized carbon footprint. Angus repeatedly stresses that billions of people have a negligible impact on climate change and that the overpopulation argument -- which blames humanity as a whole for climate change -- has been used to distract and undermine an effective, ecosocialist movement. The US military has a hugely destructive impact on the environment. So does ExxonMobil. The many citizens of Bangladesh, reeling from climate-change-exacerbated flooding, do not.

So, what about the many environmentalists who believe a primary cause of climate change is that there are too many people on earth? Angus tries to persuade them otherwise. He observes that in the 1960s and 1970s, overpopulation was used to explain environmental degradation as well as poverty in the global south, thus providing a solution to two problems at once in a way that does not question capitalism. It took the likes of Rachel Carson, Murray Bookchin and Barry Commoner to initiate an environmentalism rooted in radical social critique, he writes, adding, "Their analysis was rejected by the traditional conservationists, the wealthy organizations and individuals whose primary concern was protecting the wilderness areas for rich tourists and hunters." Indeed, it was the Sierra Club that financed Ehrlich's The Population Bomb, a book heavily promoted by "liberal Democrats who correctly saw it as an alternative to the radical views of Carson, Commoner and Bookchin." Angus adds that Ehrlich's book "became a huge best-seller, and it played a central role in derailing radical environmentalism." The population bombers faded away, but now they are back, shifting the environmental threat focus from corporations to people.

"The populationists' error," Angus writes, "is that they assume there is no alternative" to capitalism. They assume more people means more food means more modern agriculture, which is hugely ecologically destructive. But, Angus argues, there are other agricultural models; moreover, working with the food supply we already have, there are other ways to do things. "Existing food production is in fact more than enough to feed many more people." Without current waste, it could feed billions more.

Angus observes that "too many people" is in fact "code for too many poor people, too many foreigners, and too many people of color." According to Commoner: "pollution begins in corporate boardrooms, not family bedrooms."

Socialism has not always been ecologically conscious, and for much of the 20th century it wasn't, with disastrous results. "The socialism practiced by the countries of the Socialist Camp replicated the development model of capitalism," said Cuban official Oswaldo Martinez in 2009, who, Angus reports, considered this competition, a la USSR, China and East European socialist countries, a mistake. A Redder Shade of Green is a very serious attempt to bury that past once and for all, and to ground socialism in scientific environmentalism. This, fortunately, has been socialism's direction for several decades. Not so for capitalism. "Pouring crap into the environment is a fundamental feature of capitalism, and it isn't going to stop so long as capitalism survives," Angus writes.

The Economy of an Ecological Society Will Be at the Service of Humanity

By Mark Karlin - Truthout, August 20, 2017

Is a world possible based on equitable needs, empathy and sustainable economics? Two authors believe so -- and that it would require the end of capitalism: Fred Magdoff and Chris Williams, who co-wrote Creating an Ecological Society. In this Truthout interview, Magdoff -- a professor emeritus of plant and soil science at the University of Vermont -- shares his vision of how we could move toward such a world. 

Mark Karlin: In summary, what would an ecological society look like to you?

Fred Magdoff: We know an incredible amount about how to use ecologically sound ways to produce what we need for a good life. Although we will learn even more as time goes on, we already know such things as how to grow high yields of food and how to create healthy soils using ecologically sound practices (without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers) and how to produce cleaner energy using renewable sources and how to store energy from intermittent sources such as wind and solar. We know how to build appropriate and flexible-use structures (making for easy repurposing), how to better recycle human wastes uncontaminated with industrial pollutants back to farmland and to raise farm animals humanely, how to harvest ocean fish sustainably and how to use aquifers sustainably.

Under capitalism, people are at the service of the economy, as workers and consumers of goods and services. In contrast, the economy of an ecological society will be at the service of humanity and its needs, which of course includes a biodiverse and clean environment with fully functioning natural flows and cycles. Instead of [being based on] the profit motive, decisions made about production and consumption of material goods will place emphasis on having positive effects on humans and the health of the broader environment.

The details of an ecological society will have to be worked out by the people as they are engaged in the struggle and the transition to a new society. But my vision is one in which people live in harmony with each other and the rest of the natural world. It is one of substantive equality and profound democracy, in which the people together decide what is needed for a good life and then ensure that everyone has access to these needs -- quality housing, food, clothing, health care, public transportation, sanitation facilities, clean water, clean air and so on. And we can't leave out access to varied educational, cultural and recreational possibilities, which, combined with meeting material needs, allow all people to fulfill their human potential, wherever their interests lead them. Workers will control the farms, factories, distribution centers, hospitals, etc. and, together with the surrounding communities, will decide what to produce and how to produce it, utilizing ecologically sound methods of interacting with the rest of the natural world.

It will be critical to operate in ways that maintain an egalitarian and democratic society. Transparency and openness need to be maintained. There are a variety of methods to help make that happen, such as simple processes for recall of unsatisfactory persons in positions of authority and regular rotation of positions within economic units and within social structures, such as community, regional and multi-regional councils. Continuing efforts will take place in schools and society at large to encourage pro-social traits needed in a cooperative society -- cooperation, reciprocity, sharing, empathy, treating all people equally and fairly (no favoritism) -- and to work to minimize the expression of traits emphasized and rewarded by capitalism (especially, greed, selfishness and individualism) and to eliminate the deep scourges of racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination and oppression.

Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System

By Elaine Graham-Leigh - Counter Fire, August 24, 2017

In August 2016, the International Geological Congress voted formally to recognise that the world has entered a new geological era, the Anthropocene. The effect of human activity on the planet has now become as significant as that of the comet that wiped out the dinosaurs and ended the Cretaceous era. In recognising this, it is important not to fall into a view of human effects on the Earth that idealises a separation between human society and a reified ‘Nature’.

Human societies are part of, not separate from, the natural world, and have always affected it in different ways. Some of these, such as the creation of enriched terra praetasoil in the Amazon, have been largely beneficial; others, such as deforestation in Iron Age Britain, less so. Either way, their effects even before industrialisation have often been considerable. The importance of the Anthropocene is thus not that it shows a collective failure to tread sufficiently lightly upon the Earth, but rather that capitalism so extends the effects of human activity on the environment that previous quantitative shifts have become a qualitative change.

Angus shows how capitalism has created the ability to affect the world far more profoundly and far more destructively than any previous human system, and that this destructiveness is an integral, structural aspect. That climate change is capitalism’s fault is not universally acknowledged by environmentalists. Angus provides a useful reminder of the existence of groups like the Breakthrough Institute, who argue that market forces and private-sector dynamism are the answer to, rather than the cause of, the climate crisis.

He also deals concisely and devastatingly with the view that capitalism’s need not just for growth but for ever-increasing growth is just an ‘obsession’ or an ‘addiction.’ The ideology of growth, he explains, is there to justify the need for continued accumulation; it is not the cause of it. It is fair to say, however, that for eco-socialists, the conclusion that capitalism is the problem, and a systemic response the only answer, would be an unsurprising one. The importance of Angus’ argument is that it goes beyond the simple recognition of capitalism’s unique destructiveness to interrogate the precise factors which lie behind the shift into the Anthropocene.

Is Capitalism in Crisis? Latest Trends of a System Run Amok

By C.J. Polychroniou - Truthout, August 4, 2017

Having survived the financial meltdown of 2008, corporate capitalism and the financial masters of the universe have made a triumphant return to their "business as usual" approach: They are now savoring a new era of wealth, even as the rest of the population continues to struggle with income stagnation, job insecurity and unemployment.

This travesty was made possible in large part by the massive US government bailout plan that essentially rescued major banks and financial institutions from bankruptcy with taxpayer money (the total commitment on the part of the government to the bank bailout plan was over $16 trillion). In the meantime, corporate capitalism has continued running recklessly to the precipice with regard to the environment, as profits take precedence not only over people but over the sustainability of the planet itself.

Capitalism has always been a highly irrational socioeconomic system, but the constant drive for accumulation has especially run amok in the age of high finance, privatization and globalization.

Today, the question that should haunt progressive-minded and radical scholars and activists alike is whether capitalism itself is in crisis, given that the latest trends in the system are working perfectly well for global corporations and the rich, producing new levels of wealth and increasing inequality. For insights into the above questions, I interviewed David M. Kotz, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and author of The Rise and Fall of Neoliberal Capitalism (Harvard University Press, 2015).

Ian Angus interview: How can we save the planet?

Ian Angus interview - Climate and Capitalism, July 18, 2017

On July 7-9, I was in London (UK) to speak at the Marxism Festival, an annual conference organized by the Socialist Workers Party. I have some political differences with the SWP, but I was impressed by the enthusiasm and commitment of the 2500 participants, and by the number of sessions that were devoted to environmental and scientific questions. 

I was the featured speaker at two sessions, one on Facing the Anthropocene, and one launching my new book, A Redder Shade of Green. Both sessions were recorded: I will post links when they are available. After my second talk, I was interviewed by Dave Sewell for the SWP’s weekly newspaper Socialist Worker.


HOW CAN WE SAVE THE PLANET AND STOP CATASTROPHIC CLIMATE CHANGE?

The environmental conditions that have sustained human civilisation throughout its history are collapsing, capitalism is to blame and only socialism has the solution. That’s the warning sounded by Ian Angus, author and editor of Climate and Capitalism website. He told Socialist Worker,

“The planet is going to change substantially. Big parts of it will be uninhabitable by the end of this century if we don’t do something now. It’s very likely that in this century ocean levels will rise by at least a meter or two, maybe more. That would mean the Thames is going to overflow and flood much of inner London. Many cities are right next to oceans. They will be flooded—not tomorrow but within our children’s lifetime or our grandchildren’s lifetime.

“In some parts of the world it’s going to be too hot to work. Many of these are places where a lot of our food comes from, so we’ll have to deal with problems with food production too.”

Ian has played an important role in popularising the concept of the “Anthropocene” on the left. Many geologists argue that the relatively stable environment conditions in place since the Ice Ages ended are giving way to something much more chaotic.

A Resistance Movement for the Planet

By Ethemcan Turhan and Cem İskender Aydın - Entitle Blog, July 7, 2017

Juan Cruz Ferre (JCF): There is overwhelming evidence that demonstrates how anthropogenic climate change is out of control and will lead to global environmental catastrophe – without a major overhaul of energy production. In the February 2017 issue of the Monthly Review, you point out that although we have been presented with precise and indisputable estimations, science and social science institutions have failed to come up with effective solutions. Why do you think this is the case?

John Bellamy Foster (JBF): We are in an emergency situation in the Anthropocene epoch in which the disruption of the Earth system, particularly the climate, is threatening the planet as a place of human habitation. However, our political-economic system, capitalism, is geared primarily to the accumulation of capital, which prevents us from addressing this enormous challenge and accelerates the destruction. Natural scientists have done an excellent and courageous job of sounding the alarm on the enormous dangers of the continuation of business as usual with respect to carbon emissions and other planetary boundaries. But mainstream social science as it exists today has almost completely internalized capitalist ideology; so much so that conventional social scientists are completely unable to address the problem on the scale and in the historical terms that are necessary. They are accustomed to the view that society long ago “conquered” nature and that social science concerns only people-people relations, never people-nature relations. This feeds a denialism where Earth system-scale problems are concerned. Those mainstream social scientists who do address environmental issues more often than not do so as if we are dealing with fairly normal conditions, and not a planetary emergency, not a no-analogue situation.

There can be no gradualist, ecomodernist answer to the dire ecological problems we face, because when looking at the human effect on the planet there is nothing gradual about it; it is a Great Acceleration and a rift in the Earth system. The problem is rising exponentially, while worsening even faster than that would suggest, because we are in the process of crossing all sorts critical thresholds and facing a bewildering number of tipping points.

JCF: If conversion to renewable energy could halt or reverse the march of environmental crisis, why aren’t we moving in that direction at the right pace?

JBF: The short answer is “profits.” The long answer goes something like this: There are two major barriers: (1) vested interests that are tied into the fossil-fuel financial complex, and (2) the higher rate of profitability in the economy to be obtained from the fossil-fuel economy. It is not just a question of energy return on energy investment. The fossil-fuel infrastructure already exists, giving fossil fuels a decisive advantage in terms of profitability and capital accumulation over alternative energy. Any alternative energy system requires that a whole new energy infrastructure be built up practically from scratch before it can really compete. There are also far greater subsidies for fossil fuels. And fossil fuels represent, in capitalist accounting, a kind of “free gift” of nature to capital, more so than even solar power.

Patrick Bond: Climate justice movements need to hit Trump where it hurts most

By Ethemcan Turhan and Cem İskender Aydın - Entitle Blog, July 7, 2017

ecology.iww.org web editor's disclaimer: The IWW does not pursue the strategy of capturing state power, through elections, or other means, but instead advocates rendering state power irrelevant through the organizing by workers, by industry, at the point of production. Nevertheless, the following proposal does include other goals upon which many IWW members would agree and advocate:

Political economist and climate justice expert Patrick Bond comments on the prospects for a progressive anti-capitalist agenda in the face of increasing alt-right populism, xenophobia, climate denialism and economic-political exceptionalism. 

So we are back to square one: Trump’s withdrawal from Paris Agreement in early June 2017 has raised – quite understandably – many eyebrows around the world. This anticipated, but not entirely expected, move by the Trump administration calls us to question not only the viability of the Paris Agreement in the medium/long-term or the feasibility of commitments from non-state actors bridging the ambition gap, but also the tactics and strategies of global climate justice movements in the face of increasing alt-right populism, xenophobia, climate denialism and economic-political exceptionalism.

So where do we go next? Or better said, what are the prospects for a progressive anti-capitalist political agenda in a world where even the lowest common denominator like the Paris Agreement can’t hold? Can techno-fixes and allegedly apolitical sustainability governance approaches save capitalism from itself in its new authoritarian, post-truth disguise?

We caught up with Patrick Bond, who is in the advisory board of the ISSC-funded Acknowl-EJ project (Academic-activist co-produced knowledge for environmental justice) during a project meeting in Beirut, Lebanon.

Patrick Bond is professor of political economy at the Wits School of Governance, University of the Witwatersrand. He was formerly associated with the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where he directed the Centre for Civil Society from 2004 to 2016. He held visiting positions in various institutions including Johns Hopkins University and the University of California, Berkeley.

As a leading activist-academic figure, Bond is a familiar face in global climate justice circles. Some of his recent works include BRICS: An Anticapitalist Critique (edited with Ana Garcia, 2015, Haymarket Books), Elite Transition: From Apartheid to Neoliberalism in South Africa (Revised and Expanded Edition, 2014, Pluto Press), South Africa – The Present as History (with John Saul, 2014, Boydell & Brewer) and Politics of Climate Justice: Paralysis above, Movement below (2012, University of KwaZulu-Natal Press).

Five Days that Shook My World, Part One: The Making of a Critical Thinking Community

By John Foran - Resilience.org, July 5, 2017

I spent five days in June at a most unusual gathering.  Unusual, because unlike the many academic conferences, the workshops, the handful of “symposia” I’ve attended, this one seemed right on the mark, existentially and politically, for our moment.

Dubbed B.Y.O.B., for “Bring Your Own Brain,” and put on by a collective of students from Big Sky High School in Missoula, Montana who go by the hashtag #freeusfromclimatechaos (FUCC, in case you don’t get the biting but playful humor at the heart of their critique), this had been nine months in the making, assisted by their Spanish teacher, Jay Bostrom and a crew of adult allies from their school and mentors from the local activist community affinity group the ZooTown Zaps.

It was, in fact, a pretty credible incarnation of a North American, youth-led experiment with Zapatismo; recall that to the thousands of queries the Zapatistas have received from activists over the past twenty-three years about what they should be doing, the consistent answer has been:  “Go and do what we do, but in your own way, in your own place of origin, your own home, your own community.”

Some of these students – and their teachers – had already made a trip to Chiapas, to see the Zapatista revolution first hand.  A year ago, they had engaged in a Skyped event with indigenous activists from around the world.  Last summer, based on those conversations, they decided that this year they would go to the root of the problem, and they arrived at … climate chaos.  All of this would be unusual even for a college class in the United States.

An Eco-Revolutionary Tipping Point?

By Paul Burkett - Monthly Review, May 2017

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