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Pipelines, Pandemics and Capital’s Death Cult: A Green Syndicalist View

By Jeff Shantz - LibCom, March 29, 2021

We can see this within any industry, within any capitalist enterprise. It is perhaps most clearly apparent, in an unadorned fashion, in extractives industries like mining, logging, or oil, where the consumption of nature (as resources) for profit leaves ecosystems ruined, where workers are forced to labor in dangerous, often deadly, conditions, and where it is all is carried out through direct dispossession, invasion, and occupation of Indigenous lands and through processes of mass killing, even genocide. And when it is all done, little remains except the traces of profit that have been extracted and taken elsewhere.

These intersections have come to the forefront with particular clarity under conditions of the Covid-19 pandemic. The death cult of capital on full display in all its variety of ways.

Lithium, Batteries and Climate Change: The transition to green energy does not have to be powered by destructive and poisonous mineral extraction

By Jonathan Neale - Climate and Capitalism, February 11, 2021

I have spent the last year working on a book called Fight the Fire: Green New Deals and Global Climate Jobs. Most of it is about both the politics and the engineering of any possible transition that can avert catastrophic climate breakdown. One thing I had to think about long and hard was lithium and car batteries.

I often hear people say that we can’t cover the world with electric vehicles, because there simply is not enough lithium for batteries. In any case, they add, lithium production is toxic, and the only supplies are in the Global South. Moreover, so the story goes, there are not enough rare earth metals for wind turbines and all the other hardware we will need for renewable energy.

People often smile after they say those things, which is hard for me to understand, because it means eight billion people will go to hell.

So I went and found out about lithium batteries and the uses of rare earth. What I found out is that the transition will be possible, but neither the politics nor the engineering is simple. This article explains why. I start by describing the situation simply, and then add in some of the complexity.

Lithium is a metal used in almost all electric vehicle batteries today. About half of global production of lithium currently goes to electric vehicles. And in future we will need to increase the production of electric vehicles from hundreds or thousands to hundreds of millions. That will require vast amounts of lithium.

There are three ways to mine lithium. It can be extracted from rock. It can be extracted from the brine that is left over when sea water passes through a desalination plant. Or it can be extracted from those brine deposits which are particularly rich in lithium. These brine deposits are the common way of mining lithium currently, because it is by far the cheapest. Most of the known deposits of lithium rich brine are in the arid highlands where Bolivia, Chile and Argentina come together.

Lithium mining is well established in Chile and Argentina. In both countries the local indigenous people have organized against the mining, but so far been unable to stop it. The mining is toxic, because large amounts of acid are used in the processing. But the mining also uses large amounts of water in places that already has little enough moisture. The result is that ancestral homelands become unlivable.

Bolivia may have even richer deposits of lithium than Argentina and Chile, but mining has not begun there. The Bolivian government had been led by the indigenous socialist Evo Morales from 2006 to 2019. Morales had been propelled to power by a mass movement committed to taking back control of Bolivia’s water, gas and oil resources from multinational corporations. Morales was unable to nationalize the corporations, but he did insist on the government getting a much larger share of the oil and gas revenue.[1]

His government planned to go even further with lithium. Morales wanted to mine the lithium in Bolivia, but he wanted to build factories alongside the mines to make batteries. In a world increasingly hungry for batteries, that could have turned Bolivia into an industrial nation, not just a place to exploit resources.

The Morales government, however, was unable to raise the necessary investment funds. Global capital, Tesla, the big banks and the World Bank had no intention of supporting such a project. And if they had, they would not have done so in conjunction with a socialist like Morales. Then, in 2019, a coup led by Bolivian capitalists, and supported by the United States, removed Morales. Widespread popular unrest forced a new election in October. Morales’ party, the Movement for Socialism won, though Morales himself was out of the running. It is unclear what will happen to the lithium.

That’s one level of complexity. The local indigenous people did not want the lithium mined. The socialist government did not want extractavism, but they did want industrial development.

Those are not the only choices.

For one thing, there are other, more expensive ways of mining lithium. It can be mined from hard rock in China or the United States. More important, batteries do not have to be made out of lithium. Cars had used batteries for almost a century before Sony developed a commercial lithium-ion battery in 1991. Engineers in many universities are experimenting with a range of other materials for building batteries. But even without looking to the future, it would be possible to build batteries in the ways they used to be built. Indeed, in January 2020, the US Geological Service listed the metals that could be substituted for lithium in battery anodes as calcium, magnesium, mercury and zinc.[2]

The reason all manufacturers currently use lithium is that it provides a lighter battery that lasts longer. That gives the car greater range without recharging, and it make possible a much lighter car. In other words, lithium batteries are cheaper.

President Biden’s Executive Orders and Keystone XL cancellation: what impact on Canada?

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 1, 2021

Incoming U.S. President Biden exceeded expectations with the climate change initiatives announced in week 1 of his term, and many have important repercussions for Canada. The most obvious came on Day 1, January 20, with an Executive Order cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline and taking the U.S. back into the Paris Agreement. Also of potential impact for the Canadian clean tech and auto industries – the Buy American policies outlined in Executive Order on Ensuring the Future Is Made in All of America by All of America’s Workers (Jan. 25). On January 27 ( “Climate Day ”), the Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at home and abroad (explained in this Fact Sheet ) announced a further series of initiatives, including a pause on oil and gas leases on federal lands, a goal to convert the federal government’s vehicle fleet to electric vehicles, and initiatives towards environmental justice and science-based policies. Essential to the “whole of government” approach, the Executive Order establishes the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy to coordinate policies, and a National Climate Task Force composed of leaders from across 21 federal agencies and departments. It also establishes the Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization, “to be co-chaired by the National Climate Advisor and the Director of the National Economic Council, and directs federal agencies to coordinate investments and other efforts to assist coal, oil and natural gas, and power plant communities.”

The New York Times summarized the Jan. 27 Orders as “a sweeping series of executive actions …. while casting the moves as much about job creation as the climate crisis.” A sampling of resulting summaries and reactions: ‘We Need to Be Bold,’ Biden Says, Taking the First Steps in a Major Shift in Climate Policy” in Inside Climate News (Jan. 28); “Fossils ‘stunned’, ‘aghast’ after Biden pauses new oil and gas leases” in The Energy Mix (Feb. 1); “Biden’s “all of government” plan for climate, explained” in Vox (updated Jan. 27) ; “Biden’s Pause of New Federal Oil and Gas Leases May Not Reduce Production, but It Signals a Reckoning With Fossil Fuels” (Jan. 27) ; “Biden is canceling fossil fuel subsidies. But he can’t end them all” (Grist, Jan. 28); “Activists See Biden’s Day One Focus on Environmental Justice as a Critical Campaign Promise Kept” and “Climate Groups Begin Vying for Power in the Biden Era as Pressure for Unity Fades” (Jan 21) in The Intercept , which outlines the key policy differences between the BlueGreen Alliance (which includes the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of Teachers, and the United Steelworkers in the U.S.) and the Climate Justice Alliance, a national coalition of environmental justice groups.

The Rural Climate Dialogues: A Community-Driven Roadmap for Climate Action in Rural Minnesota

By Tara Ritter - Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy, November 17, 2020

Rural America has a central role to play in meeting the climate crisis and rural residents have innovative ideas about how to do it. Rural America encompasses 97% of the land area in the United States and is home to nearly all the nation’s energy production, including wind and solar farms, oil drilling and power plants. The nation’s vast agricultural and forested land, which are essential natural resources in responding to climate change, are managed by the 19% of the population that lives in rural America. It seems obvious that rural Americans should be deeply involved in developing climate policy; yet, rural perspectives and ideas are too often not part of the discussion.

There are real challenges in engaging rural communities on climate policy, including longstanding political obstacles that run deeper than views on climate change. The divide between rural and urban is not just geographic, but also cultural and political, and here in Minnesota the gap is widening. Urban and rural Minnesotans have grown apart in many ways — age, income, educational attainment, race and culture. Ignoring these differences, or trying to ram through them, has thus far delayed action on climate change.

Climate change offers an opportunity to engage differently with rural communities in a way that focuses on solutions rather than assigning blame. Instead of trying to “sell” climate policy to rural communities, we must engage organizations and leaders rooted in rural areas in the development stage to identify solutions that work for them. As important, we need community-level engagement tools designed to overcome our current toxic political environment and map out rural-appropriate responses to climate change that feed up into policy and concrete action.

Since 2014, IATP, in partnership with the Jefferson Center, has hosted Rural Climate Dialogues (RCDs) in five Minnesota counties. This method of civic engagement emphasizes listening and empathy building; focuses on each community’s distinct hopes, challenges and sense of place; and ultimately creates locally driven climate action plans. This report will discuss the context in which we have done this work, provide an overview of each community’s recommendations and actions, and share what we have learned.

Read the text (PDF).

Exiting the False "Jobs Versus Environment" Dilemma

By Lorenzo Feltrin - ROAR Magazine, November 16, 2020

The workerist environmentalism of Italy’s Porto Marghera group connects the workplace and the community in the struggle against capitalist “noxiousness.”

Amidst the renewed rise of obscene inequalities, a wave of protests is sweeping through Italy, from south to north. On the one hand, the pandemic has engendered an upsurge in workplace disputes to defend health and in mobilizations to protect the income of workers affected by COVID-19-related restrictions. On the other hand, however, we have also witnessed successful interventions coordinated by the right and infused with a bewildering array of conspiracy theories in response to such measures.

Different from the slogan that emerged at a mass demonstration in Naples on October 23, 2020 — “If you lock us down, pay up!” — the right-wing discourse does not ask for more collective and egalitarian forms of prevention. It demands instead that “the economy” be allowed to run smoothly. Nonetheless, the right-wing side of dissent appears to attract a significant working-class presence, as many workers — rightly concerned about the impact of months-long lockdowns on their livelihoods — find an answer in negating the gravity of the pandemic and of the environmental crisis more generally.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Marxist commentators have underlined how the health crisis cannot be separated from the economic system that shapes our lives. This does not just concern inadequate healthcare systems: the very spillover of the novel coronavirus from non-human animals to humans was caused by the capitalist imperative to appropriate natural “resources” to safeguard the profit margins that drive the economy forward.

In a way, the pandemic is a global manifestation of the “jobs versus environment dilemma” and the related “job blackmail,” a situation in which workers are faced with a choice between defending their health and environment or keeping their jobs. There is no easy way out of this dilemma. However, the reflections developed some 50 years ago by a workerist collective mainly composed of workers employed in the highly toxic industrial complex of Porto Marghera in Venice, Italy could still provide a source of inspiration.

Glasgow Agreement, A Plan of Our Own

By the Glasgow Agreement - Common Dreams, November 16, 2020

Rather than plans dictated from the top—which have proven not only to be unfair and destructive, but not even reach the necessary emissions cuts—we will build a plan of our own, from below.

We are once again at a crossroads. The COP-26 in Glasgow has been postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but the climate collapse may already be upon us, with warning signs coming simultaneously from all around the world: the forest fires in California, in the Amazon and Pantanal, the floods in Bangladesh and Afghanistan, the collapse in Greenland’s ice shelves. These are now weekly events. They are the most visible symptoms of an ill-fated system.

Institutions, ministries, sections, departments, treaties, protocols and agreements have been created and signed, but greenhouse gas emissions' records kept on being shattered, as a consequence of the systematic failure to address the root causes of the problem from a systemic perspective. The demand from the climate justice movement to join the dots between overlapping crises (environmental degradation, social injustice, racial oppression, gender injustice, inequalities) which have been going for decades now, keeps being ignored.

Achieving a just and egalitarian world, which respects planetary limits, and therefore guarantees a safe climate system, implies addressing intrinsic elements such as colonialism, labour, imbalance of power, participation, or the search for benefits for a few at the cost of the majority, just to mention a few aspects. Patches and empty speeches will still not work; there will always be an economic or financial justification to legitimize the polluters who have caused the problem.

To say that institutions have not delivered on the struggle against climate change may be the biggest understatement in human history. Emissions have not only not decreased in the necessary level to stop us reaching the point of no return, they have not decreased at all. Since the beginning of climate negotiations, emissions from fossil fuels have only dropped in the years of 2008 and in 2020. Neither happened because of climate action or institutional agreements, but due to capitalist and health crises.

Agroecology to Combat the Climate Crisis

A Great Victory Has Been Won over Fossil Capital

By Ulf Jarnefjord - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, October 28, 2020

On Monday, September 28, 2020, Sweden’s largest oil refinery, Preem, decided to withdraw its application for an expansion of its refinery in Lysekil on the Swedish west coast.

After massive protests from the climate and environmental movement for several years, Preem announced that they had withdrawn their application to expand the oil refinery in Lysekil. This is a great benefit for the climate, for democracy, for the environmental movement, and for everyone’s future. The message is that activism pays off.

It would have been completely irresponsible to further expand fossil fuels when we are in a climate emergency, and time is running out quickly for the small carbon budget that remains. We have just 7 years to limit emissions in line with the 1.5-degree target.

In the days before the announcement, Greenpeace had blocked the port of Lysekil with its ship Rainbow Warrior, to prevent an oil tanker from entering the port and unloading its cargo. Climate activists from Greenpeace also climbed and chained themselves to the cranes at the crude oil terminal.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg has Tweeted that Preem’s decision to suspend the expansion of the oil refinery in Lysekil is a “huge victory for the climate and the environmental movement,” since otherwise it would have been impossible to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The youth organization Fridays For Future emphasizes that it is not time to pay tribute to the oil giant: “This decision is not because Preem has suddenly acquired a moral compass. Preem is still an oil company and we should not allow them to use this decision as a way to paint themselves green and appear responsible. We will ensure that this becomes a turning point for the fossil fuel industry in Sweden and serves as an example when Preem starts planning new environmental crimes.”

If we are to succeed in reducing emissions and meet our commitments in accordance with the Paris Agreement as quickly as necessary, there is also no choice between “better” and “worse” fossil fuels. We must invest all our resources in completely dismantling the entire fossil fuel economy, quickly. It is not possible to consider heavy oil as a useful residual product when we know that the oil must remain in the ground.

Transition Time?: Energy Attitudes in Southern Saskatchewan

By Andrea Olive, Emily Eaton, Randy Besco, Nathan Olmstead, and Catherine Moez - Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Fall 2020

If you woke up in southern Saskatchewan today, chances are it is windy, and the sun is shining. Regina and Saskatoon are among the sunniest cities in all of Canada, and southern Saskatchewan has some of the highest solar photovoltaic potential in North America (Government of Canada nd). It also has some of the highest wind energy potential on the continent (Saskwind nd). Yet there is little solar or wind energy production occurring in the province — indeed, at present, wind contributes 5% and solar contributes less than 3% of energy consumed. Instead, Saskatchewan is known as an oil and gas economy with a dependence on coal for electricity and a deep opposition to carbon pricing. While high oil prices and a shale oil revolution initially led to a “Saskaboom,” the tides have quickly turned. With the collapse in oil prices in 2014 and the COVID-19 crisis of 2019-2020, boom has turned to bust, and oil and gas communities are hurting.

The problems with a steady reliance on fossil fuels are twofold: economic and environmental. For starters, an oil and gas economy is a volatile economy. As COVID disruptions revealed, any shock to the system can devastate the industry. When demand fell — as airlines cancelled flights and people lived under lock-down — oil prices tumbled to $3.50 USD a barrel in April. Pumps across Saskatchewan went idle. Similar slumps were felt during the 2008 global recession and the 2014 global drop in oil prices. When government revenues are closely tied to oil and gas production the fear of the next bust is always — and rightfully — around the corner.

The environmental externalities of fossil fuels are also ever present. Greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels like oil, gas, and coal are the leading cause of climate change, including unpredictable weather patterns, such as extreme heat, droughts, and flooding. In 2017, Saskatchewan’s emissions were 75% higher than they were in 1990. Today, the province’s emissions per capita are the highest in Canada and among the highest in the world (UCS 2018).

Read the text (PDF).

Decommissioning California Refineries and Beyond Workshop

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