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System Change not Climate Change (SCnCC)

“Total, BP or Shell will not voluntarily give up their profits. We have to become stronger than them...”

By Andreas Malm - International Viewpoint, September 12, 2022

Andreas Malm is a Swedish ecosocialist activist and author of several books on fossil capital, global warming and the need to change the course of events initiated by the burning of fossil fuels over the last two centuries of capitalist development. The Jeunes Anticapitalistes (the youth branch of the Gauche Anticapitaliste, the Belgian section of the Fourth International) met him at the 37th Revolutionary Youth Camp organized in solidarity with the Fourth International in France this summer, where he was invited as a speaker.

As left-wing activists in the climate movement, we sometimes feel stuck by what can be seen as a lack of strategic perspectives within the movement. How can we radicalize the climate movement and why does the movement need a strategic debate in your opinion?

I share the feeling, but of course it depends on the local circumstances – this Belgian “Code Red” action, this sort of Ende Gelände or any similar kind of thing, sounds promising to me, but you obviously know much more about it than I do. In any case, the efforts to radicalize the climate movement and let it grow can look different in different circumstances.

One way is to try to organize this kind of big mass actions of the Ende Gelände type, and I think that’s perhaps the most useful thing we can do. But of course, there are also sometimes opportunities for working within movements like Fridays for Future or Extinction Rebellion for that matter and try to pull them in a progressive direction as well as to make them avoid making tactical mistakes and having an apolitical discourse. In some places, I think that this strategy can be successful. Of course, one can also consider forming new more radical climate groups that might initially be pretty small, but that can be more radical in terms of tactics and analysis, and sort of pull others along, or have a “radical flank” effect. So, I don’t have one model for how to do this – it really depends on the state of the movement in the community where you live and obviously the movement has ups and downs (it went quite a lot down recently after the outbreak of the pandemic, but hopefully we’ll see it move back up).

Finally, it’s obviously extremely important to have our own political organizations that kind of act as vessels for continuity and for accumulating experiences, sharing them and exchanging ideas. Our own organizations can also be used as platforms for taking initiatives within movements or together with movements.

Working Class Ecosocialism; stopping climate change and building another world

By Jonathan Neale - Fight the Fire, September 2022

This article is about stopping climate change and about fighting for a world based on love and sharing. My argument is that both these projects have to go together. But for either project to work, both climate activists and socialists have to change, fundamentally and fast. And there has to be a deeper change, a change in all humanity.

We may well fail. But with these ideas we have a chance.

Let me explain. I start with climate, and I start with failure.

For thirty years everyone who cares to know has known about the threat of climate change. Over those thirty years more and more world leaders have said louder and louder that the crisis will be upon us, that something must be done, that they promise to do something. And the more the leaders of the world tell us that they will do something, the worse things get.

It is not just that the temperatures continue to rise. It is not just that the temperatures rise faster and faster. The amount of carbon dioxide – CO2 – in the air grows every year, and each year it grows faster and faster. It is not just that the leaders of the world have failed to stop climate change. It is that they have collectively presided over making things worse.

At the United Nations climate talks in Scotland last year Greta Thunberg sent out two tweets. To the leaders of the world, she said: “Blah, blah, blah. Fuck You.”

To us, she said: “Uproot the system.”

That’s the politics of ecosocialism in eight words.

Green New Deal agendas in tension: what decarbonisation, for what societal future?

By Les Levidow - London Green Left Blog, May 21, 2022

Green New Deal (GND) agendas have gained significant support as means to reconcile environmental sustainability and a net-zero economy with socio-economic equity. Their transformative vision has attracted proposals such as more public goods, workers’ cooperatives and caring activities. Such proposals stimulate people’s imaginations around pilot schemes prefiguring alternatives to a profit-driven, inequitable high-carbon economy.

Green Parties have elaborated a Green New Deal as an ideal wish-list of such measures, variously called truly green, greener or green-socialist. Green Parties initially have done so with little regard to significant allies, which hopefully would be attracted. 

By contrast, multi-stakeholder alliances became a difficult matter in 2019, when GND agendas were promoted within major political parties such as the US Democratic Party and UK Labour Party. They have undergone internal conflicts over decarbonisation pathways, partly expressing conflicts within the labour movement.

Fossil fuel industries have sought system continuity through decarbonisation technofixes, with political support from their sector’s trade unions, thus associating workers’ secure livelihoods with fossil energy. This agenda complements capitalist frameworks of Green Keynesianism and Green Growth, seeking to reconcile perpetual economic growth with environmental sustainability. This false promise helps to soften or defer societal conflicts over an economically disruptive transition.

By contrast, some public-sector trade unions and environmentalist allies have sought a socio-economic transformation. This would go beyond the fossil fuel industry and GDP-driven growth, towards an economy of sufficiency. Such alliances have been coordinated internationally by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy.

Those divergent agendas have conflicted over decarbonisation technofixes. Their false promises have provided an investment imperative for dubious low-carbon remedies, or an alibi to await their feasibility before abandoning fossil fuels, or both at once. This dominant agenda imagines the nation as a unitary economic space needing technoscientific advance for a global competitive advantage.

Against a Climate Popular Front

By Graeme Goossens - Candian Dimension, April 18, 2022

I can’t forget those crisp November mornings. I’d stand respectfully still, a Scout’s red sash across my shoulder. I remember the veteran steadying himself with his cane, standing as straight as he still could, crying silently as the “Last Post” rang out.

“How many of you would have fought?” Ms. Allen had asked our class.

Every tiny hand was raised.

The heroism of the Second World War was etched into my memory.

For the left, there are few national myths fit for duty, but author, activist and organizer Seth Klein has called up the the greatest conflict in history to serve as the key parable in the fight against global warming. Just as Canada mobilized for the war, it must now mobilize for climate change. Klein’s recent book, A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency, published by ECW Press in September 2020, makes a powerful case against defeatism and timidity.

Yet despite his impressive call to action (A Good War spent 12 weeks on the CBC Books non-fiction bestseller list), Klein misinterprets Canada’s wartime history and misunderstands the capitalist state. Ultimately, his cross-class strategy cannot deliver climate justice.

Klein’s vision of climate politics is unapologetically state-centric. The stunning wartime transformation of the Canadian economy, vigorously directed by the federal government, proves what is possible. Such a transformation can simultaneously create a more equal society, a development good in itself, while winning public support for a difficult program. And if this seems unimaginable in today’s political climate, Klein argues the war teaches us that public opinion can be shifted through bold leadership from actors primarily, but not exclusively, in the state.

A Good War is written for political impact and as such, Klein gets quickly to the point. The book is structured as a series of lessons we can learn from the wartime experience, introduced in boldface for those too busy to read to the end.

His central argument is a historical comparison: Canada’s success during the Second World War demonstrates what is possible and necessary in our fight against climate change today. So why has such a mobilization not yet been repeated in our contemporary struggle against runaway global warming? Here Klein casts a villain in his story. Though he considers picking the fossil fuel industry, he instead settles on what he terms the “new climate denialism” as the key impediment.

Previous denialism dismissed the science on climate change, but today, our primary enemy is a “way of thinking and practice” that accepts the science while obfuscating its implications. This must be overcome through bold leadership. For Klein, Canada demonstrated such leadership in its fight against fascism. Now, he argues, we must wield it again.

Bold leadership, in his view, must seek to rally the public onside. As in the Second World War, this will involve propaganda, but also efforts to combat the inequality which corrodes a sense of common cause. Wartime plans for post-war social democracy must be echoed by today’s Green New Deal. Klein believes economic barriers can be overcome through a massive expansion of state planning. The government should spend whatever it requires and tax as necessary, but also intervene directly through regulation and the creation of new Crown corporations. Concrete ideas such as a jobs guarantee, a federal high-speed rail network and an inheritance tax add texture, but Klein’s argument does not hang on policy specifics.

In part, his text reads as a direct plea to progressive lawmakers. “This book is an invitation to our political leaders,” he writes in the preface, “to reflect on the leaders who saw us through the Second World War and consider who they want to be, and how they wish to be remembered.” The work was researched through a series of interviews with Canadian politicians, activists and academics. He questions parliamentarians and ministers from various parties on the barriers they face, quotes their responses, and replies in good faith. Central to his rebuttal is a poll commissioned for the book demonstrating strong support for emissions mitigation. “The public,” he argues, “is ahead of our politics.” His role for social movements is ultimately to shift our politicians.

A Good War stands at the cutting edge of progressive climate politics. Along with closely related proposals for a Green New Deal, the climate movement has finally identified a program both adequate for the scale of the challenge and capable of assembling a coalition to achieve it. The book should be lauded for making clear that only the state can coordinate transformation at the speed and scale required.

Yet while A Good War is correct that only the state can bring emissions to zero, Klein is wrong to assume that the state can show the markets who’s boss. And because he misunderstands the capitalist state, he proposes a cross-class coalition aiming to inspire “bold leadership” in our elites. Klein’s program is solid, but this strategy cannot win. Capitalists will fight a just transition tooth and nail, and we cannot overcome their resistance in alliance with them.

Can a Just Energy Transition Occur Under Capitalism?

Putin’s Carbon Bomb

By Ted Franklin - System Change not Climate Change, March 8, 2022

At a time when the entire world needs to focus on radical climate policy changes, he has thrust us into a war that might be as existentially dire as the climate crisis.

On day three of the Russian invasion of Ukraine a worldwide group of scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“IPCC”) gathered on Zoom to put the final stamp of approval on the UN body’s latest devastating report on the world’s feeble progress on climate.

A dark gloom hung over the proceedings as war threatened to derail global action on climate for years to come. Then Svitlana Krakovska, a Kyiv-based Ukrainian climatologist leading her country’s delegation to the virtual meeting, breached the IPCC’s longstanding commitment to apolitical discourse with a trenchant observation.

“Human-induced climate change and the war on Ukraine have the same roots — fossil fuels and our dependence on them,” she reportedly told her colleagues during a break from the air-raid sirens blaring intermittently in the Ukrainian capital. “The money that is funding this aggression comes from the same [place] as climate change does: fossil fuels. If we didn’t depend on fossil fuels, [Russia] would not have money to make this aggression.”

After Krakovska spoke, scientists and climate diplomats from the 195 IPCC nations listened in amazement as Oleg Anisimov, the head of the Russian delegation, apologized “on behalf of all Russians who were not able to prevent this conflict.”

Stop Buying Stuff (a case study on a successful reuse program)

Net Zero versus Real Zero and the Future of the Planet

By David Klein - System Change Not Climate Change, January 13, 2022

“Net Zero” is the wrong goal. Here’s why we need to change the conversation and push for “Real Zero” instead.

A clarion call for “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions has been embraced by nearly everyone — environmentalists, politicians, corporations, and nations. More than 130 countries, including the world’s biggest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, have established, or are developing, net-zero emissions targets. Adding to that, at least a fifth of the world’s largest corporations, representing some $14 trillion in sales, have announced net-zero emissions targets by midcentury. Even airline companies, collectively responsible for five percent of global warming, have publicized net-zero policies. These include United Airlines, American Airlines, Jet Blue, Delta, as well as other major U.S. and international airline companies.

At first glance, the idea seems eminently reasonable: Offset greenhouse gas emissions by removing equal quantities of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, to be permanently sequestered in soils, plants, oceans, and possibly artificial carbon capture and storage systems. In that way the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases is stabilized. But is net-zero really a sufficient response to the climate crisis?

A closer look at the dynamics of the climate system, including the way the carbon cycle works, reveals that “net zero” can be only a temporary, transitory step, if we are to restrain the worst consequences. Global emissions must be rapidly reduced to a level as close to zero ­— “near zero” as opposed to “net-zero” — as possible. Net-zero and near zero are not the same, even though some well-informed environmentalists conflate the two. 

Existing so-called net-zero policies are making things worse, not better. Despite a plethora of exposés (see for example here, here, and here), net-zero promises are still rife with fraud. Many net-zero pledges are just public relations ploys that enable corporations to continue emitting high volumes of greenhouse gases while “owning” undervalued carbon-absorbing forests or mangroves elsewhere in the world. And in some cases, those offsets burn down or are destroyed in other ways.

Green Unionism against Precarity

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, January 1, 2022

Editor's Note: all but one or two of the links in this article link to multiple articles, located on the IWW Environmental Union Caucus site, categorized by topic. Therefore, it is to the reader's interest to explore all of the articles brought forth by each link, at their convenience (and that body of information is ever evolving over time).

An edited version of this article appears in New Politics 72.

In a real sense, under capitalism, all workers are "precarious", meaning that they can be downsized, replaced, deskilled, outsourced, etc. It's simply a matter of degrees.

The ultimate peak in precarity is "gig work" (which has actually always existed; the names simply keep changing, but the concept is the same).

Unions represent a check against precarity, though this occurs on a graduated scale. The stronger the union, the less the workers' precarity.

Union strength manifests in various ways: it can result from a well organized, international, militant democratic union (ideal, but rare, with few real world examples, such as ILWU, and the IWW, of course), though more often than not it's a result of concentration of elite craft workers in skilled trades unions, which represents a strong guard against precarity, but only for workers in the union, in which case, solidarity is limited.

Other checks against precarity include high demand for skilled craft workers in rare supply, High demand for hard to replace workers (such as workers that required skilled credentials, such as teachers or transport workers), or tight labor markets (which exist in our semi-post COVID-19 world, due to a combination of factors spelled out in the Vox article).

This is nothing more than class struggle 101, as expertly phrased by Karl Marx, et. al.

There are new forms of precarity emerging due to climate catastrophe (brought on by capitalism). Workers find themselves facing new health and safety hazards and/or threats to their working environment.

COP26 to CON26: how we need to be at DEFCON level 1 to save our people and planet

By Dave Sherry - Scottish Left Review, January 2022

Climate Jobs: Building a workforce for the climate was written and published by the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group (CACCTU) to coincide with COP26. It is a response to the urgency of the climate crisis and lays out the type and scale of the transition needed to match it. It is essential reading for every trade unionist and climate activist.

It provides a detailed, in-depth update of the earlier work produced by CACCTU, One Million Climate Jobs (2014), showing that there are many more than a million, well paid, skilled jobs that could be created if we get serious and urgently tackle the climate emergency. Packed with ideas, examples, and accompanying technical resources, it outlines the type of workforce needed and argues that to deliver it we need to break from the failed reliance on the market and instead invest in a huge expansion of public sector jobs across all sectors – from transport, energy and food to homes, education and more.

The pamphlet argues this will require a National Climate Service, which can organise, plan and train workers as well as deliver the jobs so urgently needed, amounting to a radical transformation which will improve our lives, ensuring among other things we have warm, affordable homes, a fully integrated public transport system and most importantly a safe climate and ecology now and in the future.

World leaders, NGOs, pressure groups and corporates jetted into Glasgow for COP26. Like previous summits, it saw major corporations vie with each other in the dark arts of greenwashing, having paid millions to sponsor the event itself. COP1 met in Berlin in 1995. Since then, the process has seen a quarter-century of failure with the environmental crisis becoming rapidly and terrifyingly worse.

Failure has much to do with the fact that the COP process has never been short of corporate influence. Glasgow had 11 major sponsors, including the energy giants Hitachi, National Grid, Scottish Power and SSE. Other sponsors included Microsoft, Sky media and NatWest. Boris Johnson, Jeff Bezos, Joe Biden, Barack Obama and India’s Narendra Modi arrived in town with the world’s media touting Glasgow as the ‘last chance saloon’. But Glasgow proved to be CON26. In the run-up activists around the world were already claiming it would be the most elitist, least democratic COP ever, with the politicians of the rich countries dominating the agenda and excluding representatives of the people bearing the brunt of the crisis. And, so it proved.

Now that the circus has left town every day that passes rams home its failure and the growing existential threat we face. 2021 was a year of unprecedented climate crisis marked by terrifying floods, wildfires, hurricanes and droughts. Tipping points, like the collapse of the Gulf Stream and the Greenland ice sheet, are in danger of being crossed. Meanwhile, the Amazon rainforest now emits more carbon dioxide than it absorbs, making it a source of, rather than a sink for, greenhouse gas emissions.

The crisis is spiralling out of control because capitalism’s inherent inequalities of class, race and gender block any prospect of climate justice. Estimates of who’ll be displaced by climate change vary dramatically. The most cited figure is that by 2050 there will be 200m climate refugees fleeing harvest failures, droughts and floods. No wonder the UN Climate Report flashed up Code Red for humanity, warning that the worst scenarios can only be avoided by immediate government action.

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