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Should Unions Strike for a Just Transition?

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, October 10, 2017

After more than a decade of tenacious union lobbying of government negotiators, the words “a just transition of the workforce” was written into the preamble of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

But now what? Encouraged by Paris, unions around the world have committed fresh energy towards giving Just Transition some practical significance, otherwise it will remain little more than a moral appeal for fairness in a corporate-dominated world economy where both morality and fairness are increasingly scarce.

This Bulletin features an article by TUED coordinator Sean Sweeney on the recent commitment made by unions in South Africa to strike for a “just transition.” However, the goal of the threatened strike is to halt the plan of the national utility (Eskom) to close 5 coal-fired power stations, a move that threatens 40,000 jobs.  Titled “When Stopping Coal Plant Closures Makes Environmental Sense” the article, which first appeared in the Fall 2017 edition of New Labor Forum, urges environmentalists not to support the closures, but to join with unions in opposing Eskom’s proposed actions.  Supporting the closures, argues Sweeney is “a poisoned chalice,”  that “will separate the environmental movement from the unions with whom it should be allied. And whatever environmental gains the 5 closures might produce at the margins in terms of avoided emissions and pollution levels will be more than offset by the impact of ‘jobs versus environment’ political fragmentation. This is why the Eskom closures should be opposed, but opposed in a way that might lay the political foundations for a more fundamental energy transition.”

Since the article was written, Eskom’s war with the private renewable energy companies has continued, with the utility pushing back against high-cost of power purchase agreements for wind and solar power. TUED union NUMSA and also the new South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) have called for a socially owned renewables sector in order to allow for a just energy transition from the present coal-dominated power system to one that can take advantage of South Africa’s abundant supplies of wind and sunshine.

Review: No Is Not Enough

By Samir Dathi - Red Pepper, October 6, 2017

Naomi Klein’s new books always provoke plenty of excitement on the left. For starters, they always seem to augur new waves of popular struggle. The Canadian journalist’s debut No Logo, an exposé of corporate super-branding, went to print with prophetic timing just months after the 1999 Seattle protest kicked off the alter-globalisation movement. Her 2007 follow up The Shock Doctrine, on how elites use crises to push through neoliberal policy, pre-empted the credit crunch. And This Changes Everything, on the clash between free-market fundamentalism and climate justice, was published during the tense build-up to the COP21 climate talks. Each book in this anti-neoliberal trilogy became a left-wing manifesto of sorts, making sense of pivotal moments in the movements and capturing the prevailing dissident mood.

Klein’s latest book No Is Not Enough, on the rise of Trumpism, comes at another pivotal (perhaps epochal) moment. But unlike her previous books, each of which took years to write, she wrote No Is Not Enough in a few months. This rapid turnaround was for a couple of reasons. First, due to necessity – Trump’s shock win required urgent analysis. And second, because this time she hasn’t sought to break new ground – for Klein, Trump embodies the worst excesses of the neoliberal phenomena she already covered in her first three books. She writes: ‘Trump is not a rupture at all, but rather the culmination – the logical end point – of a great many dangerous stories our culture has been telling for a very long time.’ So No Is Not Enough mainly revisits and ties together threads from her earlier canon. Much of the book is taken up describing Trump the ultimate super-brand, Trump the doctor of shock therapy, and Trump the climate vandal – as well as, of course, Trump the sexist and racist.

Clearly there are continuities between mainstay neoliberalism and Trump’s regime, and Klein provides plenty of material making the link. I do think her framing is somewhat misleading, however. Far from Trump being the apotheosis of neoliberalism, his rise is a morbid symptom of neoliberalism’s deep, intractable crisis beginning in 2008. Its nostra are increasingly ineffective. People across the political spectrum now talk of its foreseeable demise.

If the left doesn’t get its act together, the danger is that the rise of Trumpism threatens to turn into something qualitatively different – fascism. Klein acknowledges the risk. For example, in chapter 5 she says: ‘White supremacist and fascist movements – though they may always burn in the background – are far more likely to turn into wildfires during periods of sustained economic hardship and national decline.’ And: ‘We are allowing conditions eerily similar to those in the 1930s to be re‑created today.’

But these passages are relatively cursory and leave the impression that the encroachment of fascism is somewhat abstract, rather than a process presently unfolding in the movement around Trump and beyond. What’s going on around the world right now is not business as usual.

For me, the most forceful part of No Is Not Enough is in chapter 4, ‘The climate clock strikes midnight’, where Klein reprises her arguments from This Changes Everything. The reason conservatives deny climate change, she argues, is that they realise climate action necessitates collective struggle that would bring down the entire neoliberal system. The huge public investment, job creation, regulation, higher taxes and so on required to save the climate are simply not compatible with the current phase of capitalism.

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.

Climate Change Brings Socialism and Science Together

By Eve Ottenberg - Truthout, September 26, 2017

Thanks to climate change, science and socialism have become entwined in ways previously unimaginable. Science brings the news that, unless we act swiftly to control climate change, we will inhabit a dying planet. Socialism traces the causes of this catastrophe to the destructive and chaotic growth model of capitalism and advocates for a different system. Meanwhile, sensing the source of danger to their profits, corporate and government reactionaries fuel disinformation campaigns to discredit science and confuse the public. This has been going on for years, with disastrous results.

Ian Angus' new book, A Redder Shade of Green, (red for socialist revolution, green for ecological revolution) is about the prospect of ecosocialism in the face of capitalist ecocide. Angus has written previously about the "Anthropocene," a name for our era that emphasizes the centrality of human-influenced climate change. He does not accuse humanity as a whole of environmental destruction, but only a small sliver of humanity -- the capitalist class, which has left a gigantic, planet-sized carbon footprint. Angus repeatedly stresses that billions of people have a negligible impact on climate change and that the overpopulation argument -- which blames humanity as a whole for climate change -- has been used to distract and undermine an effective, ecosocialist movement. The US military has a hugely destructive impact on the environment. So does ExxonMobil. The many citizens of Bangladesh, reeling from climate-change-exacerbated flooding, do not.

So, what about the many environmentalists who believe a primary cause of climate change is that there are too many people on earth? Angus tries to persuade them otherwise. He observes that in the 1960s and 1970s, overpopulation was used to explain environmental degradation as well as poverty in the global south, thus providing a solution to two problems at once in a way that does not question capitalism. It took the likes of Rachel Carson, Murray Bookchin and Barry Commoner to initiate an environmentalism rooted in radical social critique, he writes, adding, "Their analysis was rejected by the traditional conservationists, the wealthy organizations and individuals whose primary concern was protecting the wilderness areas for rich tourists and hunters." Indeed, it was the Sierra Club that financed Ehrlich's The Population Bomb, a book heavily promoted by "liberal Democrats who correctly saw it as an alternative to the radical views of Carson, Commoner and Bookchin." Angus adds that Ehrlich's book "became a huge best-seller, and it played a central role in derailing radical environmentalism." The population bombers faded away, but now they are back, shifting the environmental threat focus from corporations to people.

"The populationists' error," Angus writes, "is that they assume there is no alternative" to capitalism. They assume more people means more food means more modern agriculture, which is hugely ecologically destructive. But, Angus argues, there are other agricultural models; moreover, working with the food supply we already have, there are other ways to do things. "Existing food production is in fact more than enough to feed many more people." Without current waste, it could feed billions more.

Angus observes that "too many people" is in fact "code for too many poor people, too many foreigners, and too many people of color." According to Commoner: "pollution begins in corporate boardrooms, not family bedrooms."

Socialism has not always been ecologically conscious, and for much of the 20th century it wasn't, with disastrous results. "The socialism practiced by the countries of the Socialist Camp replicated the development model of capitalism," said Cuban official Oswaldo Martinez in 2009, who, Angus reports, considered this competition, a la USSR, China and East European socialist countries, a mistake. A Redder Shade of Green is a very serious attempt to bury that past once and for all, and to ground socialism in scientific environmentalism. This, fortunately, has been socialism's direction for several decades. Not so for capitalism. "Pouring crap into the environment is a fundamental feature of capitalism, and it isn't going to stop so long as capitalism survives," Angus writes.

Memo to Jacobin: Ecomodernism is not ecosocialism

By Ian Angus - Climate and Capitalism, September 25, 2017

This summer, the left-wing magazine Jacobin published a special issue on climate change. The lead article declares that “climate change … has to be at the center of how we mobilize and organize going forward. From now on, every issue is a climate issue.”

That’s excellent news: a magazine that calls itself “a leading voice of the American left, offering socialist perspectives on politics, economics, and culture,” ought to be a leader in the fight against capitalism’s deadly assault on the earth’s life-support systems.

Unfortunately, if the special issue is any indication, Jacobin is heading in the wrong direction. Although the term eco-socialism appears from time to time (always with a hyphen, which may indicate some uneasiness with the combination) there is nothing in this issue resembling an ecosocialist analysis or program. There’s not a word about stopping coal or tar sands mining, and no mention of shutting down the world’s biggest polluter, the US military. Instead we are offered paeans to technology in articles that advocate nuclear power, geoengineering, new power grids, electric cars and the like.

But despite their technophilia, the authors display little understanding of the technologies they support. Take, for example, the piece by Christian Parenti. He has written elsewhere that the U S government can resolve the climate crisis without system change by supporting clean technologies, so “realistic climate politics are reformist politics.” This article says much the same, that “state action and the public sector” can solve climate change by implementing carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). He tells us that removing CO2 from the atmosphere is “fairly simple,” because it has been done in submarines for years, and because Icelandic scientists recently developed a safe method of injecting CO2 into underground basalt, where it becomes a limestone-like solid within two years.

That sounds impressive, but is it credible?

After the Storms: Defeating Trumpism, Rebuilding America

By Gar Alperovitz and Ted Howard - Common Dreams, September 20, 2017

A political system haunted by racial violence and terror. An economy delivering great wealth for the few amid stagnation and indebtedness for the many. A rising millennial generation with deteriorating prospects increasingly willing to put their bodies on the line for something better. A climate catastrophe already beginning to unfold on the flooded streets of our largest cities. With the profoundly troubling events in Charlottesville—and before that in Ferguson, Berkeley, Baltimore, and elsewhere—the ghosts of America’s past have come crowding in. And the ghosts of our future made landfall with Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Like all such ghosts, these demand a response. We must now produce one that is both deeply moral and capable of getting at the heart of our difficulties. We must overcome the nightmares of fear, hatred, and isolation that have seized our politics with a strategy that can deliver solutions commensurate with the scale of the problems we face.

Three challenges stand out against a backdrop of crisis and malaise. The first is the need to confront squarely, and on an ongoing basis, America’s deep history of racism that has led to armed white supremacists marching openly in the streets and a Neo-Nazi sympathizer sitting in the White House. The second is the imperative to get off the defensive and, coming together, put forward a much more powerful, transformative alternative to Trumpism—real, practicable solutions to the deep economic and ecological problems we are facing as a nation, building from the bottom up, as all serious movements must. The third calls for a political strategy capable of uniting a broad coalition around a shared agenda for building power, mobilizing the potential mass movement for fundamental transformation that is in the making if we develop the tools and alliances to bring about lasting change.

Our first commitment, as Cornel West has urged, has to be moral and political. We must mount an all-out attack on racism, racist leadership, and the so-called “alt-right”—including those who currently lead the country. America is not the only nation in the world in which the populist right has captured state power. Hungary and Poland each have right-wing authoritarian governments. Narendra Modi, India’s Hindu nationalist prime minister, once incited a massacre, while Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu have each presided over one. But the presidency of the United States is unique in the extraordinary political, economic, and military resources it commands. It’s time to face up to the fact that racism has been central not incidental to this power, with deep roots extending all the way back to the origins of the nation.

After Harvey and Irma: Mitigation, Adaptation and Suffering

By Tim DeChristopher and Suren Moodliar - Counterpunch, September 20, 2017

In this conversation, the Climate Disobedience Center’s Tim DeChristopher looks at how the progressive movement’s strategies need to change in now that climate change’s real impacts are more obvious to the American public. He addresses the focus on carbon mitigation (policies for reduction in greenhouse gas emissions) in light of the now very evident need for climate adaptation (adjusting how we live to deal with the changes that come with a warming planet), and the resulting suffering (the human, material, and environmental costs of warming).

Adaptation and Human Rights

Suren: Recently you challenged our community organizations and environmental movements to stop acting as if we’re able to forestall climate change and that all we must do is reduce carbon emissions.[1] What’s your general take on this mindset?

Tim:  Yeah. Well, that’s definitely been the focus of the climate movement for a long time, has been mitigating climate change, and there has been increasing discussion in some sort of policy circles about the need to also adapt and deal with impacts that will likely be inevitable at this point. One of the great contributions to the climate discourse that I think John Holdren, Obama’s science advisor, made was emphasizing this point that there are three responses to climate change, mitigation, adaptation and suffering, and that it’ll be some combination of those three that will make our full response to it, and the less mitigation we do, the more of the others we will do.[2]

At this point in 2017, we’ve gone far enough down that road that we know that there’s going to be a significant amount of adaptation and suffering that will need to happen, because we’ve fallen short in a lot of ways on the mitigation front. Of course there’s still a lot of mitigation that needs to be done to impact the degree of that suffering that will occur, but by and large I think our movements and our organizations haven’t been able to find a way to talk about adaptation without drawing away from the continued urgency of maintaining those mitigation efforts. There’s often a sense within the leadership of these movements that the talk about adaptation distracts from the need for mitigation. A common sentiment that I hear is, “If we tell people that it’s too late to avoid major impacts, then everybody’ll just give up and not do any mitigation efforts anymore.”

We need to be entering into this nuanced territory where it’s not all of one or all of the other, but more of a both-end, and holding attention between not just two points but three points, you know, of the policies for mitigation, the policies for adaptation, but also the social and personal and spiritual response of learning how to deal with the suffering that I think will be unprecedented and a huge challenge for our society, dealing with that suffering in a way that doesn’t abandon our humanity, that doesn’t pit us against one another, that doesn’t bring out the worst in us. That’s a whole new front that needs to be explored and engaged, as we maintain the work that needs to happen in terms of mitigation and in terms of adaptation.

[We need] the policies for mitigation, for adaptation, but also for the social and personal and spiritual response [to] the suffering that I think will be unprecedented… dealing with that in a way that doesn’t abandon our humanity, that doesn’t pit us against one another, and that doesn’t bring out the worst in us.

I think the urgent point there that needs to be remembered is even if our movements are not leading the public discourse around adaptation and how we adapt to this in a way that’s in line with our shared values, someone is. There are powerful people in our power structure that recognize how far along we are, and after the failures of Copenhagen at the end of 2009, when it became clear that we were not going to stop climate change at a manageable level, and that places like Bangladesh would likely go underwater, there were clearly some conversations that were happening about what would become of the people in places like Bangladesh if they go underwater, where there’s 80 million people that live less than 10 meters above sea level in Bangladesh.

We weren’t having that conversation publicly, but in the years after Copenhagen, India began building a border fence almost the entire way around Bangladesh, a 1,790-mile, partially-electrified fence. Somewhere, at some level of the power structure, the decision was made that, “Our adaptation policy is that we’re going to keep the most impacted and vulnerable people right where they’re at,” and that happened at a time when our secretary of state, who certainly at least had some say in a major geopolitical move like that by a close ally of ours, with India, was Hillary Clinton, and there was no accountability around her greenlighting a genocidal adaptation policy to climate change, because we as a movement weren’t really spearheading and leading that conversation about what humane and just adaptation to the climate crisis would look like.

Should the left build an alternative energy commons?

By Patricia S. Mann - Climate and Capitalism, September 12, 2017

What could ignite a massive grassroots struggle to replace our fossil fueled capitalist system with a sustainable and just postcapitalist system? According to Marx and Engels historical materialist analysis in The German Ideology, a radical theory, and the revolutionary practices it supports must originate in the historical and material conditions of daily life, and specifically in the lived contradictions of daily life.[1] Such an analysis in the 19th Century supported their theory of a revolutionary proletariat and workplace struggles seeking to seize control of existing means of production.

However, a 21st Century application of historical materialist methodology supports a new theory of mass struggle, grounded in some very different lived contradictions in the daily lives of 21st Century fossil fuel users and abusers. As well as in new technologies capable of addressing these lived contradictions.

Contemporary Marxist theorists readily acknowledge some 21st C developments in capitalism. Sam Gindin suggests that contemporary capitalism rests on three legs: neoliberalism, financialization, globalization.[2] I would simply add that contemporary capitalism can only be comprehended if we recognize that it rests uneasily on a fourth leg, as well, catastrophic, fossil fuel-based climate change.

A Marx-inspired anticapitalist Left acknowledges climate change as the preeminent contradiction of capitalism today. (Capitalism will end, in either a catastrophic climactic 6th extinction, or in our last minute achievement of a sustainable post-capitalist society.) This Marx-inspired Left also embraces new technologies enabling a grass-roots politics of microproduction and sharing of renewable energy.

This microproduction and sharing of renewable energy should become the foundational dynamic of a global struggle for a post-capitalist commons, a sustainable energy-based post-capitalist commons.

Emphasizing the many sources of cheap renewable energy – not just sun and wind, but also hydro, geothermal heat, biomass, ocean waves and tides – Jeremy Rifkin maintains that with minimal capital investments in individual homes and local buildings, current technology could enable millions of people globally to become microproducers of renewable energy at “near zero marginal cost.”[3] Moreover, it will be a simple matter for microproducers of renewable energy to connect with others over an energy internet, creating local, regional, ultimately global networks of energy producers and consumers, sharing sustainable energy produced at minimal cost within the networks of energy producers and consumers.

Rifkin argues that these new technologies of renewable energy production, in combination with technologies of internet communication create the basis for a paradigm shift. Our contemporary system of capital-intensive, centralized, profit-generating fossil fuel energy production and distribution can be replaced by networks of individual microproducers and sharers of renewable energy. Rifkin’s analysis highlights democratizing, collaborative features of a decentralized, peer-to-peer, laterally scaled, renewable energy network of microproducers and consumers, supportive of a post-capitalist commons.

However, without a mass movement, without a Marx-inspired anticapitalist politics, seeking to develop a renewable energy commons off-the-capitalist-grid, these new technologies of renewable energy, and the internet grids for sharing it, will simply be absorbed by capitalism, commercially enclosed by capitalist energy grids. Transforming capitalism rather than displacing it.

Without a replacement strategy and a mass struggle to create and maintain an alternative grid, there is every reason to think the new technologies of green energy microproduction will simply contribute to a new form of what Jason Moore has called “cheap energy,” providing capitalism with a much-needed new source of surplus value.[4] And subsumed within a profit and growth based dynamics of global capitalism, these new technologies will not enable us to avoid catastrophic climate change. – Bechtel, typically the first in line for government subsidized corporate investments, has already made a huge investment in solar energy in the Mojave Dessert.[5]

There is no time to be lost. Capitalist commercial enclosure of this new sustainable energy commons will be rapid, at some not so distant point in time.

Kate Raworth on 'Doughnut Economics'

Kate Raworth interviewed by Adam Simpson - The Next System Project, August 23, 2017

The Economy of an Ecological Society Will Be at the Service of Humanity

By Mark Karlin - Truthout, August 20, 2017

Is a world possible based on equitable needs, empathy and sustainable economics? Two authors believe so -- and that it would require the end of capitalism: Fred Magdoff and Chris Williams, who co-wrote Creating an Ecological Society. In this Truthout interview, Magdoff -- a professor emeritus of plant and soil science at the University of Vermont -- shares his vision of how we could move toward such a world. 

Mark Karlin: In summary, what would an ecological society look like to you?

Fred Magdoff: We know an incredible amount about how to use ecologically sound ways to produce what we need for a good life. Although we will learn even more as time goes on, we already know such things as how to grow high yields of food and how to create healthy soils using ecologically sound practices (without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers) and how to produce cleaner energy using renewable sources and how to store energy from intermittent sources such as wind and solar. We know how to build appropriate and flexible-use structures (making for easy repurposing), how to better recycle human wastes uncontaminated with industrial pollutants back to farmland and to raise farm animals humanely, how to harvest ocean fish sustainably and how to use aquifers sustainably.

Under capitalism, people are at the service of the economy, as workers and consumers of goods and services. In contrast, the economy of an ecological society will be at the service of humanity and its needs, which of course includes a biodiverse and clean environment with fully functioning natural flows and cycles. Instead of [being based on] the profit motive, decisions made about production and consumption of material goods will place emphasis on having positive effects on humans and the health of the broader environment.

The details of an ecological society will have to be worked out by the people as they are engaged in the struggle and the transition to a new society. But my vision is one in which people live in harmony with each other and the rest of the natural world. It is one of substantive equality and profound democracy, in which the people together decide what is needed for a good life and then ensure that everyone has access to these needs -- quality housing, food, clothing, health care, public transportation, sanitation facilities, clean water, clean air and so on. And we can't leave out access to varied educational, cultural and recreational possibilities, which, combined with meeting material needs, allow all people to fulfill their human potential, wherever their interests lead them. Workers will control the farms, factories, distribution centers, hospitals, etc. and, together with the surrounding communities, will decide what to produce and how to produce it, utilizing ecologically sound methods of interacting with the rest of the natural world.

It will be critical to operate in ways that maintain an egalitarian and democratic society. Transparency and openness need to be maintained. There are a variety of methods to help make that happen, such as simple processes for recall of unsatisfactory persons in positions of authority and regular rotation of positions within economic units and within social structures, such as community, regional and multi-regional councils. Continuing efforts will take place in schools and society at large to encourage pro-social traits needed in a cooperative society -- cooperation, reciprocity, sharing, empathy, treating all people equally and fairly (no favoritism) -- and to work to minimize the expression of traits emphasized and rewarded by capitalism (especially, greed, selfishness and individualism) and to eliminate the deep scourges of racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination and oppression.

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