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System Change not Climate Change

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.

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).

A Resistance Movement for the Planet

John Bellamy Foster interviewed by Juan Cruz Ferre - The Bullet, July10, 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.

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.

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.

Youth and Workers Zombie March Against Coal in Oakland

By staff - Climate Workers, October 30, 2017

HUNDREDS OF YOUTH, WORKERS TO MARCH ON DEVELOPER PHIL TAGAMI’S HOUSE, DEMAND HE DROP LAWSUIT TO BUILD COAL TERMINAL IN OAKLAND; Covered in “Coal Dust,” Unions, Youth Will Hold Halloween Carnival Outside Tagami’s House

CONTACT: Brooke Anderson - 510-846-0766, brooke@climateworkers.org

What: A day before Halloween, high school students and union members from across Oakland will lead a “Zombie March on Coal” to the home of Oakland developer Phil Tagami to protest his attempt to overturn Oakland’s 2016 ban on the storage, handling, and transport of coal through the city. Youth plan to hold a Halloween street carnival outside Tagami’s house to educate about coal’s role in driving both climate and public health crises and to celebrate the resilience and determination of young Oaklanders.

When:  4:30 PM. Monday, October 30, 2017.

Where: Corner of Mandana Blvd. and Carlston Ave. in Oakland, CA.
March will leave at 5PM for Phil Tagami’s house (1012 Ashmount Ave, Oakland).

Visuals: Banners, youth in Halloween costumes, union members and marchers covered in “coal dust,” musicians & band, Halloween street carnival including: coffins and tombstones, face painting, reading circles, games and activities.

Oakland City Council banned coal in June of 2016.Tagami is now suing the city over this decision. At a moment when Oakland has been experiencing extremely poor air quality due to the North Bay fires, those who live and work in the city are saying no to Tagami’s plans to further pollute the air and poison Oaklanders lungs. Young people are refusing to accept dirty air in their city. Tagami promised the terminal would create jobs, but by suing the city over coal, he’s now holding up these jobs from coming to Oakland. The marchers will demand that Tagami drop his lawsuit and make the right choice: a thriving, healthy Oakland.

People will gather a few blocks away from Tagami’s house and march, setting up a youth-led Halloween street carnival. This march and carnival is organized by Climate Workers, and co-sponsored by 20+ youth, labor, and environmental justice organizations in Oakland.

For more information: No Coal in Oakland

Climate Crisis and Managed Deindustrialization: Debating Alternatives to Ecological Collapse

By Richard Smith - Common Dreams, November 21, 2017

On Monday November 13th, climate scientists from the Tyndal center for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia presented their carbon emissions research to the UN climate negotiators at Bonn Germany. The data were shocking: After three years in which human-caused emissions appeared to be leveling off, global CO2 emissions are now rising again to record levels in 2017. Global emissions are on course rise this year by 2%. China’s emissions are projected to rise by 3.5%. These may sound like small numbers but to climate scientists these are huge because if we’re to keep global temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees Centigrade, those emissions need to be falling sharply, not just leveling off, let alone rising. Colorado State University climate scientist Scott Denning said “We’ve got to cut emissions by half in the next decade, and by half again in the next two decades, as well. The fact that it’s going up is like a red flag flashing light on the dashboard.”

"The problem is, we live in an economy built on perpetual growth but we on a finite planet with limited resources and sinks."

The same day, the journal BioScience published a letter by more than 15,000 scientists from around the world that looks back at the human response to climate change and other environmental challenges in the 25 years since another large group of scientists published the 1992 “World Scientists Warning to Humanity.”  

This time the scientists wrote in part: "Since 1992, with the exception of stabilizing the stratospheric ozone layer, humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse." If we don’t take immediate steps, “soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. " The goal of the letter, said William Ripple, distinguished professor in the college of Forestry at Oregon State University, and lead author of the new warning, is to "ignite a wide-spread public debate about the global environment and climate."

Ripple is right. We need a conversation, a global public debate about the global environment and how to save the planet, and we need to begin it right now.

The Long Ecological Revolution

By John Bellamy Foster - Monthly Review, November 2017

Aside from the stipulation that nature follows certain laws, no idea was more central to the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, and to the subsequent development of what came to be known as modern science, than that of the conquest, mastery, and domination of nature. Up until the rise of the ecological movement in the late twentieth century, the conquest of nature was a universal trope, often equated with progress under capitalism (and sometimes socialism). To be sure, the notion, as utilized in science, was a complex one. As Francis Bacon, the idea’s leading early proponent, put it, “nature is only overcome by obeying her.” Only by following nature’s laws, therefore, was it possible to conquer her.1

After the great Romantic poets, the strongest opponents of the idea of the conquest of nature during the Industrial Revolution were Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, the founders of classical historical materialism. Commenting on Bacon’s maxim, Marx observed that in capitalism the discovery of nature’s “autonomous laws appears merely as a ruse so as to subjugate it under human needs,” particularly the needs of accumulation. Yet despite its clever “ruse,” capital can never fully transcend nature’s material limits, which continually reassert themselves, with the result that “production moves in contradictions which are constantly overcome but just as constantly posited.” Its treatment of natural limits as mere barriers to be overcome, not as actual boundaries, gives capital its enormously dynamic character. But that same refusal to recognize natural limits also means that capital tends to cross critical thresholds of environmental sustainability, causing needless and sometimes irrevocable destruction.2 Marx pointed in Capital to such “rifts” in the socio-ecological metabolism of humanity and nature engendered by capital accumulation, and to the need to restore that metabolism through a more sustainable relation to the earth, maintaining and even improving the planet for successive human generations as “boni patres familias” (good heads of the household).3

In his Dialectics of Nature, written in the 1870s, Engels turned the Baconian ruse on its head in order to emphasize ecological limits:

Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel out the first…. Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature—but that we, with flesh, blood, and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.4

Although key parts of Marx and Engels’s ecological critique remained long unknown, their analysis was to have a deep influence on later socialist theorists. Still, much of actually existing socialism, particularly in the Soviet Union from the late 1930s through the mid-1950s, succumbed to the same extreme modernizing vision of the conquest of nature that characterized capitalist societies. A decisive challenge to the notion of the domination of nature had to await the rise of the ecological movement in the latter half of the twentieth century, particularly following the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962. Here criticism of the ecological destruction brought on by modern science and technology and by unbridled industrialism—associated with a simplistic notion of human progress focusing on economic expansion alone—led to an alternative emphasis on sustainability, coevolution, and interconnection, of which ecology was emblematic. Science was said to have been misused, insofar as it had aided in the violation of nature’s own laws, ultimately threatening human survival itself. Through the development of the concept of the biosphere and the rise of the Earth System perspective (in which Soviet ecology played a crucial role), science increasingly came to be integrated with a more holistic, dialectical view, one that took on new radical dimensions that challenged the logic of the subordination of the earth and humanity to profit.5

Recent years have brought these issues renewed relevance, with the climate crisis and the introduction of the Anthropocene as a scientific classification of the changed human relation to the planet. The Anthropocene is commonly defined within science as a new geological epoch succeeding the Holocene epoch of the last 12,000 years; a changeover marked by an “anthropogenic rift” in the Earth System since the Second World War.6 After centuries of scientific understanding founded on the conquest of nature, we have now, indisputably, reached a qualitatively new and dangerous stage, marked by the advent of nuclear weapons and climate change, which the Marxist historian E. P. Thompson dubbed “Exterminism, the Last Stage of Imperialism.”7

From an ecological perspective, the Anthropocene—which stands not just for the climate crisis, but also rifts in planetary boundaries generally—marks the need for a more creative, constructive, and coevolutionary relation to the earth. In ecosocialist theory, this demands the reconstitution of society at large on a more egalitarian and sustainable basis. A long and continuing ecological revolution is needed—one that will necessarily occur in stages, over decades and centuries. But given the threat to the earth as a place of human habitation—marked by climate change, ocean acidification, species extinction, loss of freshwater, deforestation, toxic pollution, and more—this transformation requires immediate reversals in the regime of accumulation. This means opposing the logic of capital, whenever and wherever it seeks to promote the “creative destruction” of the planet. Such a reconstitution of society at large cannot be merely technological, but must transform the human metabolic relation with nature through production, and hence the whole realm of social metabolic reproduction.8

Time to Pull the Plugs

By Andreas Malm - ROARMag, December 2017

Our best hope now is an immediate return to the flow. CO2 emissions have to be brought close to zero: some sources of energy that do not produce any emissions bathe the Earth in an untapped glow. The sun strikes the planet with more energy in a single hour than humans consume in a year. Put differently, the rate at which the Earth intercepts sunlight is nearly 10,000 times greater than the entire energy flux humans currently muster — a purely theoretical potential, of course, but even if unsuitable locations are excluded, there remains a flow of solar energy a thousand times larger than the annual consumption of the stock of fossil fuels.

The flow of wind alone can also power the world. It has nothing like the overwhelming capacity of direct solar radiation, but estimates of the technically available supply range from one to twenty-four times total current energy demand. Other renewable sources — geothermal, tidal, wave, water — can make significant contributions, but fall short of the promises of solar and wind. If running water constituted the main stream of the flow before the fossil economy, light and air may do so after it.

A Transition to the Flow

How fast could a transition to the flow — all those sources of energy originating in the sun and flowing through the biosphere — be implemented? In the most comprehensive study to date, American researchers Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark A. Delucchi suggest that all new energy could come from wind, solar, geothermal, tidal and hydroelectric installations by 2030. Reorienting manufacturing capabilities towards their needs, the world would not have to build one more coal-fired — or even nuclear — power plant, gasworks, internal combustion engine or petrol station. After another two decades, all old equipment based on the stock could be taken off-line, so that by 2050 the entire world economy — manufacturing, transportation, heating: everything — would run on renewable electricity, roughly 90 percent of which the sun and the wind would provide. The job could be done by technologies already developed.

In the real world, the flow does seem to be undergoing something of a boom, output of wind and solar growing exponentially year after year. Despite the financial crisis, global wind-power capacity increased by 32 percent in 2009; for photovoltaics — also known as solar panels — the figure reached 53 percent. In the eighteen months ending in April 2014, more solar power was adopted in the US than in the previous thirty years; in 2013, 100 percent of the fresh electricity in Massachusetts and Vermont came from the sun, while China installed more photovoltaics than any country had ever done before in a single year.

Yet the flow remained a drop in the fossil bucket, evidently doing nothing to dampen the emissions explosion. Between 1990 and 2008 — from the first to the fourth IPCC report — 57 times more fossil than renewable energy came online in the world economy; by 2008, wind represented a trifling 1.1 percent and photovoltaics a microscopic 0.06 percent of primary energy supply; excluding hydropower, renewable sources generated a mere 3 percent of the electricity. In 2013, more energy entered the world economy from coal than from any other fuel. How can this be? Why is humanity not running for life out of the fossil economy towards one based on the flow? What impediments block its way?

A prime suspect is price: fossil fuels simply remain cheaper. And indeed, one decade into the millennium, renewable sources still cost more on average than the conventional incumbents. But the gap narrowed fast. In many parts of the US, onshore wind was already neck and neck with fossil energy, the price of turbines having fallen by 5 percent per annum for thirty years. Photovoltaics crashed at double that speed. In 2014, after a fall of 60 percent in only three years, solar panels cost one-hundredth of what they did in 1975. In nineteen regional and national markets, they had attained “grid parity,” meaning that they matched or undercut conventional sources without the support of subsidies.

Had it not been for state subsidies to fossil energy — six times larger than those to renewables in 2013 and showing no signs of decreasing — sun and wind might have had significantly lower relative prices. Had the costs of climate change, air pollution, lethal accidents and other “externalities” been included in the market price of fossil fuels, they would not have stood a chance.

The ongoing collapse in the prices of the flow is, at bottom, a function of its profile: the fuel is already there, free for the taking, a “gift of nature” or Gratisnaturkraft, to speak with Marx. The only thing that has exchange value is the technology for capturing, converting and storing the energy of the fuel, and like all technologies, it is subject to economies of scale: mass production slashes the costs of panels and turbines. Every time the cumulative volume of photovoltaic installations has doubled, their market prices have declined by roughly 20 percent.

Moreover, there are numerous potentials for increasing performance and further cutting costs. In what is perhaps the only subfield of the climate debate bristling with optimism and near-utopian zeal, experts predict that both solar and wind will be generally cheaper than fossil fuels sometime before 2025. There is talk of approaching “peak fossil fuels,” beyond which coal, oil and gas will be left in the ground simply because they cost so much more than their clean alternatives.

Towards Workers' Climate Action

By Traven Leyshon - Solidarity, March 2016

Workers and Trade Unions for Climate Solidarity:
Tackling climate change in a neoliberal world
By Paul Hampton
Rutledge, 2015, 211 pages, $54.95 kindle.

For Workers’ Climate Action:
Climate Change and Working-Class Struggle
By Paul Hampton
http://tinyurl.com/hl86nm4, 54 pages, £4.

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