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System Change not Climate Change (SCnCC)

One, Two, … Many Green New Deals: An Ecosocialist Roundtable

By Carol Dansereau, John Foran, Ted Franklin, Brad Hornick, Sandra Lindberg, Jennifer Scarlott - Resilience, February 26, 2019

Introduction by John Foran

There was a saying in the Green Party – perhaps I made it up: “Two Greens, three opinions.” Ecosocialists, perhaps, tend to be slightly more in agreement with a few basic principles, or “Points of Unity.”  Yet there are a number of ecosocialist responses to the Green New Deal, converging for the most part around the recognition that though it is not the Green New Deal most of us would prefer, it is the opportunity to move the paralysis of the climate change movement very far in the right – left – direction that our times so desperately need.

This is an essay in six voices, from long-time activists who participate in the North American ecosocialist network System Change Not Climate Change.  Each challenged to make their point in 500 words or less, we intend this as a constructive contribution to the wonderful storm of discussion that the Green New Deal has opened up, and we welcome your comments on the essay below, as well as in the discussion space of SCNCC!

Why we need a European Green New Deal

By Srećko Horvat - ROARMag, February 14, 2019

The damage caused by air pollution is now being compared to the effects of tobacco use. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution poses the greatest environmental threat to global health in 2019, killing seven million people prematurely every year, which is around the number of deaths caused by cigarettes.

No wonder a common joke about air pollution in contemporary India says that “living in Delhi is just like smoking 50 cigarettes in a day.”

Or that a joke in China even suggests ways of dealing with the air pollution in the best Graucho Marx manner: “Individual therapy: put a mask on. Family therapy: buy health insurance. If you have money and the time: go on holiday. If you’ve no class: emigrate. National therapy: wait for the wind.”

Unfortunately, as usually with dark humor, the joke is reality. When in January 2017 China announced the first ever nationwide red level fog alarm, haze-avoidance soon became a trend and hundreds of thousands of Chinese would start traveling abroad during winter months — when pollution is critical — specifically to escape air pollution. At the same time, those who do not have the means to escape have to stay with masks and literally wait for… air.

When we hear or read about air pollution, we immediately think of India or China. Yet the death rate from air pollution in Hungary happens to be the second highest in the world, coming just behind China. As many as 10,000 people die prematurely in the country each year because of diseases linked to air pollution.

In 2018, the European Environment Agency (EEA) published a report showing that air pollution causes almost 500,000 premature deaths in Europe every year. The report warned that the toll on health was worse in Eastern European countries than China and India.

Ecosocialism: A Brief Description

By Mike Shaughnessy - London Green Left, February 7, 2019

This is a write up of a talk I gave to my local Green Party meeting in Haringey, north London, a little while back, on ecosocialism. 

Ecosocialism is a green political philosophy - it is an ecocentric and democratic socialism, not to be confused with social democracy, at least in the longer run.

It is not like twentieth century socialisms, it is more like nineteenth century socialisms and owes a fair amount to anarchist theory. Twentieth century socialisms had, if anything, an even more dismal record than capitalism on ecology.

Ecosocialism is anti-capitalist, and sees the capitalist system as the effective cause of the ecological crisis.

Capitalism commodifies everything and puts a price on it, which is exchange value, and uses the earth as a resource for production and sink for the dumping of toxic waste from the production process, usually free of cost. Climate change is the most spectacular aspect of the ecological crisis, but not the only one. Capitalism releases toxic pollution, into the air, land and sea.

Capitalism is unable to solve the ecological crisis it has set going, because the logic of the system is to ‘grow or die’. Growth that is exponential and the earth is now close to its limit of being able to buffer the damage caused by this required infinite growth, on a finite planet.

I’m going to say something about the historical lineage of the philosophy, threads of which can be traced back for as long as human beings have formed communities, where some elements of ecosocialism can be found in the way people have lived in balance with nature. And today, many indigenous peoples around the world still practice some of these forms of social and economic management.

Karl Marx is somewhat of a controversial figure for ecosocialists, with some believing that he was essentially a ‘productivist.’ For myself, I believe that Marx’s work was of its time, and incomplete, but he certainly had a green side to him. Take this quote for example from the third volume of Capital:

Why Ecosocialism: For a Red-Green Future

By Michael Löwy - Great Transition Initiative, December 22, 2018

The capitalist system, driven at its core by the maximization of profit, regardless of social and ecological costs, is incompatible with a just and sustainable future. Ecosocialism offers a radical alternative that puts social and ecological well-being first. Attuned to the links between the exploitation of labor and the exploitation of the environment, ecosocialism stands against both reformist “market ecology” and “productivist socialism.” By embracing a new model of robustly democratic planning, society can take control of the means of production and its own destiny. Shorter work hours and a focus on authentic needs over consumerism can facilitate the elevation of “being” over “having,” and the achievement of a deeper sense of freedom for all. To realize this vision, however, environmentalists and socialists will need to recognize their common struggle and how that connects with the broader “movement of movements” seeking a Great Transition.

Introduction

Contemporary capitalist civilization is in crisis. The unlimited accumulation of capital, commodification of everything, ruthless exploitation of labor and nature, and attendant brutal competition undermine the bases of a sustainable future, thereby putting the very survival of the human species at risk. The deep, systemic threat we face demands a deep, systemic change: a Great Transition.

In synthesizing the basic tenets of ecology and the Marxist critique of political economy, ecosocialism offers a radical alternative to an unsustainable status quo. Rejecting a capitalist definition of “progress” based on market growth and quantitative expansion (which, as Marx shows, is a destructive progress), it advocates policies founded on non-monetary criteria, such as social needs, individual well-being, and ecological equilibrium. Ecosocialism puts forth a critique of both mainstream “market ecology,” which does not challenge the capitalist system, and “productivist socialism,” which ignores natural limits.

As people increasingly realize how the economic and ecological crises intertwine, ecosocialism has been gaining adherents. Ecosocialism, as a movement, is relatively new, but some of its basic arguments date back to the writings of Marx and Engels. Now, intellectuals and activists are recovering this legacy and seeking a radical restructuring of the economy according to the principles of democratic ecological planning, putting human and planetary needs first and foremost.

The “actually existing socialisms” of the twentieth century, with their often environmentally oblivious bureaucracies, do not offer an attractive model for today’s ecosocialists. Rather, we must chart a new path forward, one that links with the myriad movements around the globe that share the conviction that a better world is not only possible, but also necessary.

Winning the Green New Deal We Need

By Zachary Alexis - Socialist Worker, December 12, 2018

A NEW proposal for a Green New Deal is breathing life into the climate justice movement.

Incoming Democratic Rep. and Democratic Socialist of America member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is pushing for a large-scale, government-led transformation of U.S. energy systems away from fossil fuels by 2030, with a plan intended to benefit the working class and communities of color in the U.S.

In tandem, activists for climate justice have kick-started a new wave of protest. Hundreds of activists from the Sunrise Movement are taking action this week in Washington, D.C., to support Ocasio Cortez’s proposal.

These protests are aimed squarely at the top leadership of the Democratic Party, which so far has rebuffed efforts to get the party to refuse donations from the fossil fuel industry and sign on to the Green New Deal plan.

Sunrise activists made a media splash last month when 200 of them occupied future House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s congressional offices — an action whose profile was boosted when both Ocasio-Cortez and fellow incoming democratic socialist Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who has a record of fighting for climate justice against the Koch Brothers in Detroit — showed up to support it.

This week’s Sunrise actions are the latest in a surge of protest in the U.S. and elsewhere as activists push forward with a new sense of urgency driven by a landslide of sobering news about climate change.

This year has seen a series of alarming and deadly disasters fueled by climate change, including the summer’s deadly heat wave and wildfires in Europe, a brutal season of typhoons in the Pacific, Atlantic Hurricanes Florence and Michael and the recent wildfires in California.

Several mainstream institutions have issued recent dire warnings on climate, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) SR15 report, Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment and the Global Carbon Project’s release of new data showing that global emissions increased again in 2018 — led by emissions growth in China, India and the U.S.

In Britain, activists have kicked off a new campaign called Extinction Rebellion, which, like Sunrise, relies on high-visibility sit-ins and civil disobedience. Meanwhile, thousands of protesters in Poland took to the streets as global elites gathered for the COP24 climate meetings — the latest UN-led effort to unite world governments to address the climate crisis.

An Ecosocialist Path to Limiting Global Temperature Rise to 1.5°C

By Richard Smith - System Change not Climate Change, November 26, 2018

I. The IPCC Report “Global Warming of 1.5°C” and the imperative to immediately suppress fossil fuel production

The much-awaited report from the U.N.’s top climate science panel describes the enormous gap between where we are and where we need to be to prevent dangerous levels of global warming. The 2015 Paris climate accord committed industrial nations to reduce their emissions sufficiently to keep global temperatures within a 2°C rise over pre-industrial levels. In the final accord, highly vulnerable island nations and faith communities represented at the UN pressed the authors to include the 1.5°C limit as an aspirational target in the final draft of the accord with 2°C as the backup target.

Soaring GHG emissions over the past five years, rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations, ice-cap retreats, intensified storms, summer forest fires reaching even above the Arctic circle, and die-offs of the world’s coral reefs have all raised concerns about what even a little bit more warming would bring. Parts of the planet including the Arctic and many inland areas, have already warmed beyond 1.5°C. California is on fire most of the year. The worst hurricanes are twice as severe (more precipitation, slower passage, greater wind speeds) as they used to be. This is just a short start. Climate breakdown occurring much more quickly than expected is one reason why climate scientists now think that the goal just five years ago of limiting warming to 2°C  “increasingly seems disastrous in this context.”[2] The Paris pledges were never sufficient even to keep warming below 3°C let alone 2°C. Few of the signatories have even managed to meet the low bars they set for themselves and he world’s largest countries including China, the U.S., and Canada have us on track to a 4-5°C warming. As CO2 concentrations continue growing, preventing runaway warming is going to require ever deeper, truly draconian cuts in emissions, which will mean greater economic disruption. IPCC estimates already show us needing to achieve a near vertical drop in emissions in the early 2020s. Every day we delay getting off of fossil fuels increases the probability that we won’t be able to save ourselves.

The 2018 IPCC special report painted a stark portrait of how quickly the planet is heating up and called on governments to take immediate steps to suppress emissions:

If emissions continue at current rate, atmosphere will warm by as much as 2.7° Fahrenheit, or 1.5° Celsius, above preindustrial levels by between 2030 and 2052. Further, warming is more extreme further inland of large water bodies. [To keep temperatures from rising beyond 1.5° degrees] anthropogenic CO2 emissions [must] decline by about 45% worldwide from 2010 levels by 2030 . . . [This] would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems. . . . These systems transitions are unprecedented in terms of scale . . . and imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors, a wide portfolio of mitigation options and a significant upswing in those options.[3]

Preventing ecological collapse requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that “has no documented historic precedent.”[4] What would this take? Myles Allen, Oxford University climate scientist and an author of the report said, “It’s telling us we need to reverse emissions trends and turn the world economy on a dime.” To prevent 2.7 degrees of warming greenhouse emission must be reduced by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, and by 100 percent by 2050. Use of coal as an electricity source would have to drop from 40 percent today to 1-7 percent by 2050.[5] Drew Shindell of Duke University, another author of the report said: “It would be an enormous challenge to keep warming below a threshold” of 1.5 degrees . . . What might that look like? In part, it would include things such as no more gas-powered vehicles, a phaseout of coal-fired power plants and airplanes running on biofuels,” he said. “It’s a drastic change,” he said. “These are huge, huge shifts . . . This would really be an unprecedented rate and magnitude of change.”[6] In response to the report, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres warned world leaders to “Do what the science demands before it’s too late.[7]

Working Together for a Just Transition

By David Powell, Alfie Stirling and Sara Mahmoud - New Economics Foundation, November 2018

This short pamphlet has been produced to launch the New Economics Foundation’s new programme of work on the 'just transition'. Our interest is in the practicality of change: the policies, processes, narrative and investment needed to accelerate the UK’s progress on 'just transition', here and now. Over the coming months and years we will be working at local and national levels to explore what is needed to build common cause and provide the right mixture of incentives and critical challenge to all parties to help unlock a new momentum for a 'just transition' for the UK.

It has been produced in association with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung’s London Office, part of the international network of FES. The London office was established in 1988 to promote better understanding of British- German relations. FES's work in the United Kingdom focuses in particular on the exchange of ideas and discussion on the following topics: common challenges facing Germany, the United Kingdom and the European Union; economic and social policy; experiences gained from differing regional and local policies and practices; and a continuing dialogue between politicians as well as between the trade unions in both countries.

Read the report (PDF).

IPCC Report: First Thoughts on Next Steps

By Sydney Azari - Medium, October 14, 2018

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released an ominous report this week driving home an urgent and serious reality:without immediate action to transform society, climate catastrophe will not only be our children’s future, but our own.

The key takeaway from the IPCC report is this: if we do not radically transform every aspect of society starting NOW, we are facing ecological collapse and mass death in the short term. The report does not deeply analyse the geopolitical implications of such widespread environmental upheaval. Since human societies are inseparable from the environment, we know that the precarity resulting from collapsed ecological systems could lead to catastrophic and violent political outcomes as well.

The report has generated a shock through the consciousness of many people- mostly for what is unsaid. The foundation upon which we have built our lives is quickly crumbling. The American Dream, the white picket fence, and retirement will never be ours. It will never be our children’s. It will never be our children’s children’s. We are entering a time of uncertainty and pain that the hustle-and-bustle of everyday life hasn’t left much room to consider. This is a critical turning point, a challenge we must meet head on if we are to survive.

We cannot pretend that climate change does not mean that EVERYTHING we are accustomed to must change in response. Change is inevitable. Pain is inevitable. Uncertainty is inevitable. The outcome is unknown. The only variable that can be manipulated to change outright planetary collapse is our own agency in the situation.

Whether the shock of the report leads us to retreat inward or rise to the challenge will be determined by our capacity to locate meaning in the future and perceive a way toward it. Determining a direction forward is the difference between shock exhausting us or serving as fuel for the long journey ahead.

I hope these tactics can offer a light to draw us from the darkness.

We Need to Talk About Technology

By Simon Pirani  - The Ecologist, October 5, 2018

Housing for working people is becoming as central an issue for labour and social movements in the twenty first century as it was in the nineteenth and twentieth. And not just decent housing, but housing that is comfortable, aesthetically pleasing – and, crucially, low energy, zero energy or even energy positive. 

Here is a wonderful opportunity for our movement to get a grip on technology. We can and should find ways to bring the experience of architects and energy conservation engineers into discussions about housing among community activists and building workers.

A good example of how not to do this is the call for mass installation of air conditioners, made by Leigh Phillips in his article, In Defense of Air Conditioning published by Jacobin

Improved design

The problem that Phillips purports to address – the cruel effect of heat on millions of urban residents, during summers such as 2018’s – is real enough.

The need to provide ourselves with homes that shelter us from extreme heat as well as colder weather – something ruling classes down the ages have never done for working people – is indisputable. 

But Phillips’s techno-fix – mass AC installation, supported by a grand expansion of nuclear and hydro power – is not the answer. He sounds like someone proposing the state-funded distribution of armour-plated BMWs to parents demanding safe cycle routes to school for their children.

Better temperature control can and should be achieved not in the first place by AC, but mainly by better building design, better insulation and better urban planning, in the context of better ways of living generally.

This ABC of AC is widely understood by three groups of people, ignored in Phillips’s article, who spend time thinking about our homes: community groups organising on housing issues; building workers and architects; and energy conservation researchers. 

Radical Realism for Climate Justice

By Lili Fuhr and Linda Schneider - P2P Foundation, October 4, 2018

Limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial is feasible, and it is our best hope of achieving environmental and social justice, of containing the impacts of a global crisis that was born out of historical injustice and highly unequal responsibility.

To do so will require a radical shift away from resource-intensive and wasteful production and consumption patterns and a deep transformation towards ecological sustainability and social justice. Demanding this transformation is not ‘naïve’ or ‘politically unfeasible’, it is radically realistic.

This publication is a civil society response to the challenge of limiting global warming to 1.5°C while also paving the way for climate justice. It brings together the knowledge and experience of a range of international groups, networks and organisations the Heinrich Böll Foundation has worked with over the past years, who in their political work, research and practice have developed the radical, social and environmental justice-based agendas political change we need across various sectors.

Download a complete PDF of this collection of documents.

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