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System Change not Climate Change (SCnCC)

A Resistance Movement for the Planet

John Bellamy Foster interviewed by Juan Cruz Ferre - The Bullet, July 10, 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.

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

By John Foran -, 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.

Toward an Ecological Revolution

By David Johnson - CounterPunch, May 5, 2017

Climate change, as it has emerged as a defining political issue of our time, has a peculiar exceptionalism attached to it. While we know it is in some sense a political problem, or at least demands a political solution, we nevertheless tend to think of it as a problem in nature – one that transcends social issues and threatens social life itself. Every year, waves of liberal students enter environmental science programs at universities across the West, determined to study the changes human beings are causing in the earth’s ecosystems. We know that human activity in general, and the burning of fossil fuels in particular, is the primary agent of climate change, with very serious implications for the natural environment upon which humans depend, and for human life itself

The need to drastically reduce carbon emissions, then, is as clear as it is urgent.  Technologically speaking, there is a path forward: innovations in energy production abound, including in renewable sources like sun and wind. It would seem we have a problem and a solution. Why then do we see little meaningful reform, when the stakes are so high and the answers so clear?

Here the conversation often crumbles into a series of dead-ends. A significant portion of the public has resorted to denying the scientific consensus on climate change, and there is no shortage of funding for such a campaign. Others who accept the science nevertheless become cynical from the scale of the problem; the obstacle, many conclude, is “human nature” itself. Still others, determined to fight, seek to appease large corporations with innovations that are both environmentally friendly and profitable – so-called Green capitalism. Can the profit motive save us?

A new book edited by Vijay Prashad bursts through this rigid state of affairs. Focused around Naomi Klein’s Edward Said lecture, delivered in London on 4 May 2016, Will the Flower Slip Through the Asphalt is a short collection of narrative essays and analysis that responds to the global climate crisis in a refreshingly expansive way.

An Eco-Revolutionary Tipping Point?

By Paul Burkett - Monthly Review, May 2017

In the summer of 2016, the acceleration of climate change was once again making headlines. In July, the World Meteorological Association announced that the first six months of 2016 had broken all previous global temperature records, with June being the fourteenth month in a row of record heat for both land and oceans and the 378th straight month of temperatures greater than the historical average. Heating has been especially rapid in Arctic regions, where thawing effects are releasing large amounts of methane and carbon dioxide. On July 21, 2016, temperatures at locations in Kuwait and Iraq reached 129oF, the hottest ever recorded in the Eastern Hemisphere. The disruptive effects of bi-polar warming were evident in the unprecedented crossing of the equator by the Northern Hemisphere jet stream, where it merged with the Southern Hemisphere jet stream, further threatening seasonal integrity with unforeseen impacts on weather extremes and the overall climate system.1 Meanwhile a report from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) described the December 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change as “outdated even before it takes effect,” with climatologists now expecting a global warming of at least 3.4oC (more than double the 1.5oC limit supposedly built into the agreement) even if the promised emissions goals of the nations involved are somehow achieved despite the lack of binding enforcement mechanisms. “The world will still be pumping out 54–56 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent a year by 2030 under current plans, well above the 42 gigatons needed to limit warming to 2 degrees,” according to the UNEP report.2

The historical irony in this situation is hard to miss. Just a couple decades ago, we were told that neoliberal capitalism marked the “end of history.” Now it appears that the system’s ideologues may have been right, but not in the way they envisioned. The system of fossil-fueled neoliberal capitalism is indeed moving toward an end of history, but only in the sense of the end of any historical advance of humanity as a productive, political, and cultural species due to the increasingly barbaric socio- economic and environmental conditions the system creates. There is now no alternative to the end of history as we know it. The sustainable development of human society co-evolving with nature including other species now depends on a definite historical break with capitalism (wage-labor, market competition, production for profit) as the dominant mode of production. That is the main lesson of three recent books: Ian Angus’s Facing the Anthropocene, Andreas Malm’s Fossil Capital, and Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. To solve the climate crisis—which is only part of the broader environmental crisis created by capitalism—competitive, profit-driven production under unequal class control must be replaced with a system in which working people and their communities collectively and democratically regulate production and other interactions with their material and social environment. Sustainable development of people cooperatively co-evolving in a healthy way with other species must replace the profit motive, exploitation, and competition as the motive force in production and in the entire system of material provisioning. To deny that the climate crisis is hardwired into capitalism, and that we need a new system to deal with it, is just as misleading and dangerous as to deny the existence of human-induced global warming. Both forms of climate denial must be overcome in theory and practice.

Climate Diplomacy and Climate Action: What’s Next?

By Brian Tokar - System Change not Climate Change, April 29, 2017

Just over a year ago, diplomats from around the world were celebrating the final ratification of the December 2016 Paris Agreement, proclaimed to be the first globally inclusive step toward a meaningful climate solution. The agreement was praised as one of President Obama’s signature accomplishments and as a triumph of his “soft power” approach to world affairs. But even then, long before Donald Trump and his coterie of plutocrats and neofascists rose to power pledging to withdraw from the agreement, there were far more questions than answers.

First, recall that the Paris Agreement was based entirely on countries voluntarily submitting plans outlining their proposed “contributions” to a climate solution.  This was the outcome of Obama and Hillary Clinton’s interventions at the ill-fated 2009 Copenhagen climate summit, where the US delegation made it clear that it would never agree to mandatory, legally binding limits on global warming pollution. While most global South representatives at successive UN summits sought to preserve that central aspect of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, rich countries united during the years between Copenhagen and Paris behind the notion that climate measures should be strictly voluntary.

Secondly, the Paris Agreement contained no means of enforcement whatsoever. While the text was abundant with words like “clarity,” “transparency,” “integrity,” “consistency,” and “ambition,” there’s literally nothing to assure that such aspirations can be realized. The only official body focused on implementation and compliance is mandated to be “transparent, non-adversarial and non-punitive.” Countries are urged to renew their proposals every few years, with a stated hope that the various “Nationally-Determined Contributions” to climate mitigation will become stronger over time. But if a President Trump or a potential President Le Pen chooses to do the opposite, there’s nothing but vague diplomatic peer pressure standing in the way.

Third, the various plans submitted prior to Paris fell far short of what is needed to prevent catastrophic destabilization of the earth’s climate systems. Various assessments of the plans that countries brought to Paris suggested an outcome approaching 3.5 degrees Celsius (6.3°F) of warming above pre-industrial levels by 2100, far short of the stated goal of a maximum of 2 degrees, much less the aspirational goal of only 1.5 degrees that was demanded by delegates from Africa, small island nations, and elsewhere. We know, however, that at the current level of just over 1 degree Celsius (1.8°F)  in average temperature rise, we are experiencing uniquely unstable weather, Arctic ice is disappearing, and catastrophic storms, wildfires, droughts and floods are disproportionately impacting the world’s most vulnerable peoples. Two degrees is very far from a “safe” level of average warming; it is far more likely to be the 50-50 point at which the climate may or may not rapidly shift into a thoroughly chaotic and unpredictable state.

The global climate movement responded to the Paris outcome with an impressive showing of skepticism and foresight. Thousands of people filled the streets of Paris itself, declaring that the UN conference had fallen far short of what is needed, and parallel demonstrations voiced similar messages around the world. Last spring, a series of worldwide “Break Free from Fossil Fuels” events temporarily shut down major sites of fossil fuel extraction and transport on every continent, including major actions against oil transport by rail in the northeastern and northwestern US, a massive convergence to shut down Germany’s most polluting coal mine, and a boat blockade of Australia’s biggest coal port. Last fall and winter, the encampment at Standing Rock in North Dakota brought together the most inspiring alliance of indigenous communities and allies we have yet seen, and encampments inspired by Standing Rock have since emerged at the sites of a handful of major pipeline projects across the US.  Midwestern activists are responding with renewed determination to challenge the Trump administration’s move to resurrect the dreaded Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport toxic, high-carbon tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Steps to Ecosocialism

By Ian Angus and John Bellamy Foster - Jacobin, April 26, 2017

We were pleased to learn that Daniel Tanuro was writing an article on carbon pricing schemes. His book Green Capitalism: Why it Can’t Work makes important contributions to ecosocialist thought, and he has an impressive record of personal involvement in many radical environmental campaigns in Europe. We looked forward to the clear explanation and strong critique of market-based approaches to climate change that we know he could write.

Unfortunately, “The Right’s Green Awakening” does not live up to the generally high standard set by his book. Instead of addressing the carbon-pricing plans that have surfaced in capitalist politics, Tanuro focuses his critique on proposals developed by leading climate scientist James Hansen and on the critical support that we gave his proposal in Monthly Review and Climate & Capitalism.

Tanuro equates our position — and Hansen’s rather different one — with a proposal advanced by some right-wing American politicians, arguing that we support “a populist variant . . . [of] neoliberal doctrine.” Naturally, we disagree.

We are not saying that our views are above criticism. Open debate is an essential part of building a global ecosocialist movement, and we welcome thoughtful responses to anything we have written. However, since Tanuro’s article seriously misrepresents both Hansen’s plan and our approach to it, we need to correct his misunderstandings before a proper discussion can begin.

The toll of pollution: How many lives vs. how much profit?

By Pete Dollack - Systemic Disorder, April 5, 2017

Frequently lost in the arguments over financial costs and benefits when it comes to pollution is the cost to human health. Not only illness and respiratory problems but premature death. To put it bluntly: How many human lives should we exchange for corporate profit?

Two new studies by the World Health Organization should force us to confront these issues head on. This is no small matter — the two WHO studies estimate that polluted environments cause 1.7 million children age five or younger to die per year.

Indoor and outdoor air pollution, second-hand smoke, unsafe water, lack of sanitation, and inadequate hygiene all contribute to these 1.7 million annual deaths, accounting for more than one-quarter of all deaths of children age five or younger globally. A summary notes:

“[W]hen infants and pre-schoolers are exposed to indoor and outdoor air pollution and second-hand smoke they have an increased risk of pneumonia in childhood, and a lifelong increased risk of chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma. Exposure to air pollution may also increase their lifelong risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer.”

One of the two reports, Don’t pollute my future! The impact of the environment on children’s health, notes that most of humanity lives in environmentally stressed areas:

“92% of the global population, including billions of children, live in areas with ambient air pollution levels that exceed WHO limits. Over three billion people are exposed to household air pollution from the use of solid fuels. Air pollution causes approximately 600,000 deaths in children under five years annually and increases the risk for respiratory infections, asthma, adverse neonatal conditions and congenital anomalies. Air pollution accounts for over 50% of the overall disease burden of pneumonia which is among the leading causes of global child mortality. Growing evidence suggests that air pollution adversely affects cognitive development in children and early exposures might induce development of chronic disease in adulthood.” [page 3]

These types of calculations on health and mortality are absent from debates on environmental regulations. And not only is the human toll missing from cost/benefit analyses, but this pollution is actually subsidized.

Momentum Builds for May Day Strikes

By Jonathan Rosenblum - Labor Notes, March 23, 2017

Shop steward Tomas Mejia sensed something was different when 600 janitors streamed into the Los Angeles union hall February 16—far more than for a regular membership meeting. Chanting “Huelga! Huelga!” (“Strike! Strike!”), they voted unanimously to strike on May Day.

This won’t be a strike against their employers. The janitors of SEIU United Service Workers West felt driven, Mejia says, “to strike with the community” against the raids, threats, and immigrant-bashing hate speech that the Trump administration has unleashed.

“The president is attacking our community,” said Mejia, a member of his union’s executive board. “Immigrants have helped form this country, we’ve contributed to its beauty, but the president is attacking us as criminal.”

Following the Los Angeles vote, union janitors elsewhere in California have also voted to “strike with the community” on May 1. As the meetings gathered steam, Mejia reports, workers in schools, grocery stores, restaurants, and farms started talking about joining the walkout too.

And the strike is going on the road: SEIU-USWW is partnering with the human rights group Global Exchange, worker centers, the Southern Border Communities Coalition, and faith groups to organize a “Caravan against Fear” that will tour California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas in April, staging rallies, cultural events, direct action trainings, and community strike votes leading up to May Day.

Climate change is more than a tech problem, so we need more than a tech solution

By Martin J Boucher and Philip Loring - Ensia, March 20, 2017

At the COP 21 climate change convention in Paris at the end of 2015, leaders from 194 nations agreed to pursue actions that will cut greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming within 1.5 °C (2.7 °F) above pre-industrial conditions. Meeting this goal will avoid continued and increasing harm to people and ecosystems around the world caused by a changing climate, and it is also a great opportunity to turn the world into a place that embodies our collective and pluralistic values for the future. Nevertheless, there remains a notable gap between current trajectories of global GHG emissions and the reductions necessary to see COP 21’s goals realized.

Numerous technological and economic strategies for bridging that gap are currently being discussed, including transitions to renewable energy and/or nuclear power, carbon capture and storage, and cap and trade. However, many overlook the fundamental social issues that drive climate change: overconsumption, poverty, industrial agriculture and population growth. As such, even if these strategies succeed in mitigating CO2 emissions — renewable energies, for instance, seem to have achieved irreversible momentum — they leave unaddressed a second gap, a sustainability gap, in that they allow issues of ecological overshoot and social injustice to persist. We argue that there is an opportunity to reverse climate change by attending to these sustainability issues, but it requires that we reject the convenience of technological optimism and put aside our fears of the world’s “big” social problems.

In 2004, Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow wrote in Science that it is possible to address climate change by breaking the larger problem of CO2 emissions down into a series of more manageable “wedges.” They offer 15 different solutions based on existing technology, including nuclear energy, coal carbon capture and storage, energy efficiency, and increased adoption of conservation tillage, for mitigating climate change one wedge at a time. Their pragmatic approach to the problem has been popularly received, as evidenced by the thousands of citations that the paper has received. However, their approach can also be critiqued for glossing over the immense costs involved and for its piecemeal and top-down nature. In other words, they assume that this complex global environmental problem can be fixed with a handful of standardized solutions.

Climate change is just one of many related sustainability problems that the world faces. In addition to rising atmospheric CO2, we are approaching or have already exceeded multiple other planetary boundaries — such as fresh water, nitrogen, phosphorus and biodiversity loss — that CO2-mitigating technologies cannot solve. Solving climate change on its own would require immense investments but leave too many other problems unaddressed. That is not to say that these technological innovations are irrelevant; Pacala and Socolow’s desire to break down the challenge into manageable pieces is both valid and appreciable. What’s missing from their assessment is the fact that the world is a complex system, and systemic problems require systemic solutions.

Apollo-Earth: A Wake Up Call In Our Race against Time

By Rupert Read and Deepak Rughani - The Ecologist, March 9, 2017

Why a project to find common meaning in our common struggle to prevent climate-catastrophe deserves the name 'Apollo-Earth'

There is a mission brewing and building, a mission that needs all hands that are ready: To bring the 'un-named movement' - the 'for-life' story of our time - to a tipping point.

This needs to happen faster than the rate at which our planet is approaching fatal climatic tipping points (fatal, that is, to us - always remember that it isn't strictly speaking 'the planet' that needs saving, only the animals, including ourselves, who live on it). The climate nemesis we face is now quite predictable: it is a 'white' swan event: But it could still be forestalled, with determination. If that forestalling is to be successfully accomplished, if together we are to choose to save ourselves and our descendants, then we need to see a radical shift in humanity's collective response to the rapidly growing threat of breakdown of our environmental life-support systems.

This will only happen if the forces of negativity, idiocy and oppression are outweighed by the force for rebellion, for sanity and for good in the epic struggle which will define our century.


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