You are here

ecosocialism

Raj Patel on How to Break Away from Capitalism

By Chris Winters - Yes! Magazine, October 23, 2017

Capitalism has been the world’s dominant economic system for more than 700 years. And as it brings the planet to new crises, author Raj Patel believes it’s important to imagine what might replace it.

But reform won’t happen unless we understand capitalism’s appeal and historical rise, says Patel, a food justice activist and professor at the University of Texas at Austin. It’s remarkably resilient and can be traced to a process he calls “cheapness.”

Together with Binghamton University professor Jason W. Moore, he has written The History of the World in Seven Cheap Things (University of California Press, 2017), which aims to put it all together for us. The seven “things” of the title aren’t physical objects as much as they are a hidden social, ecological and economic infrastructure: nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives. The point being that cheapness is a process of responding to economic crises by devaluing each of those forces so that capitalism can continue to concentrate wealth in the hands of the already-wealthy. In that sense, “cheap nature” refers to the way in which land and its resources are systematically given away to businesses for exploitation, “cheap work” refers to slavery and other anti-worker tactics that keep wages low, and so on.

Capitalism values cheapness above all else. And through this lens, Patel and Moore explore the evolution of capitalism from its roots in the late medieval period with the collapse of feudalism in Western Europe caused by climate change and the Black Death to—now.

Raj Patel spoke with YES! Magazine senior editor Chris Winters in Seattle. This interview has been edited and condensed.

Let’s Own Everything Together

By Jacob Stringer - P2P Foundation, October 24, 2017

Digging Free of Poverty

By Thea Riofrancos - Jacobin, August 15, 2017

100% renewables: ‘wishful thinking’ or an imperative goal?

By David Schwartzman - Insurge Intelligence, October 24, 2017

In this essay, I was provoked to respond to Stan Cox’s widely-shared article “100 Percent Wishful Thinking: The Green-Energy Cornucopia”, in which he argues that a transition to 100% renewable energy is neither technically feasible, nor desirable.

It is my contention, in contrast, that a 100 percent global renewable energy transition is, indeed, technically possible in a short time frame (20 to 30 years) with a capacity to supply the same level or even more energy to civilization, than the present infrastructure dominated by fossil fuels.

However, this outcome is unlikely in our present economic context:

Insight 1: This renewable energy transition is not likely to bear fruition within the constraints of market capitalism as we know it. Further, a process forward for global demilitarization is a necessary condition to prevent climate catastrophe with its requirement of near future decarbonization of energy supplies.

Axiom 1: Not only is the Pentagon is the world’s single, biggest insitutional consumer of fossil fuels, but global military expenditures now approach $2 trillion per year.

Cox denies the feasibility of a 100% renewable energy transition, basing his views on very problematic critiques focusing largely on the technical aspects of the Jacobson group studies. Those studies led by Mark Jacobson of Stanford University recently provoked controversy when their work received peer-reviewed criticisms from a scientific paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — the same esteemed forum which published Jacobson’s original work.

I agree with Cox in his skepticism with regard to the achievability of a robust global 100% renewable transition unfolding in the next few decades — but only if fossil capital and its military protectors continue to have a powerful role in determining climate and energy policy especially in the U.S.

The Military Industrial (Fossil Fuel Nuclear State Terror and Surveillance) Complex (“MIC” for short) is the main obstacle to making this rapid shift to 100% renewable energy possible. As I have long argued in my papers, and most recently in Schwartzman (2016), the MIC’s perpetual wars driven by a neo-imperial agenda, fuelling the vicious cycle of conflict between state terror and its non-state terrorist antagonists, is perhaps the most fundamental obstacle to constructive action on climate change.

Hence, a path towards the dissolution of the MIC is essential for the world to have any remaining chance to keep warming below the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal by 2100, coupled with bringing down the atmospheric carbon dioxide level below 350 ppm.

A Global Green New Deal is such a path (Schwartzman, 2011), as argued by Felix FitzRoy in his outstanding contribution to this symposium “How the renewable energy transition could usher in an economic revolution”.

It’s Time for Disaster Communism

By Rahula Janowski - The Indypendent, October 13, 2017

The fires here are still uncontained. Over 8,000 people have already lost everything and while I pray that no one else loses their home or is harmed in the fires, that looks unlikely. Where are all these people supposed to go? There is no affordable housing here in the Bay area.

It’s time for some disaster communism, disaster socialism, some disaster anarchism. We know the speculators are drooling and champing at the bit right now. There are so many ways for them to make a profit from a tragedy. If we move forward in an individualist way, in a capitalist way, each family’s loss and struggle will be theirs alone. It will be horrific. It will not end well for anyone except those for whom things always end well, those who can use money to wipe their butts but never have a dime to spare.

What if we took a different route?

What if we expropriated every housing unit in San Francisco that is currently unoccupied for all but two vacation weeks a year and housed people whose homes in from Santa Rosa were incinerated? What if every illegal Airbnb unit was handed over to displaced families? What if law enforcement came under immense public pressure to ignore property laws and refused to evict squatters?

The 600-foot Millennial Tower in San Francisco has made headlines as it slowly sinks and leans by the centimeter against the skyline. The minuscule tilt has sent wealthy condo owners dialing their attorneys. But maybe, for those displaced, life in a leaning tower will be better than a shelter, a chance to experience a little lopsided luxury for a while?  

What if we socialized our housing or, at a minimum, all our unoccupied housing?

The possibilities are endless and it’s time. It’s time to shift gears. I mean, it’s been time. If the bankers, developers, landlords, the capitalists who have done so much harm already can see this crisis as an opportunity, maybe we should too — a chance to build a new world from the ashes of the old.

Time for Disaster Socialism

By Nato Green - San Francisco Examiner, October 15, 2017

The fires are not contained. The bodies haven’t been found. It’s time to talk about politics …

During and in the immediate aftermath of tragedies, we are told it’s not the time for politics. As a nation, we love the spectacle of what author Teju Cole called “the white-savior industrial complex,” in which justice is replaced by a “big emotional experience that validates privilege.” While we take a respite from breathing this week, let’s try justice instead.

On the West Coast, our historically unprecedented drought was followed by historically unprecedented fires. The South and the Caribbean are being ravaged by historically unprecedented hurricanes. It’s either God’s wrath for squandering a perfectly good planet, or our own squandering a perfectly good planet — and it’s becoming uninhabitable.

Try as they might, politicians did not summon fires, storms or earthquakes. However, our craven politics certainly increased the likelihood that these calamities would occur and be horrendous. Politics ensured the inadequacy of the disaster response and, we may confidently anticipate, utter neglect of the effort necessary to rebuild and restore people and lands so traumatized or to mitigate further disasters.

Scientists told us this was coming, and we didn’t listen, because driving was too fun and the beef too delicious. We know what happens next. It’s what Naomi Klein called “disaster capitalism.” Corporations made fortunes ignoring the risks and now will make another fortune on the back end. Capitalism is a protection racket. While we heal and grieve, savvy businessmen seek to use our collective anguish to further privatize and profit and deregulate in the name of recovery. After Hurricane Katrina, for example, the Louisiana legislature handed the public school system to the charter school industry, with predictably wretched results for students.

The market can’t be allowed to lead the response to the fires, because the market is the problem. We knew that impending climate change meant these related cataclysms. Gov. Jerry Brown didn’t want to ban oil drilling or fracking. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that half of the increase in forest fires is from climate change. Yet, just last year, Gov. Brown vetoed SB 1463, a bipartisan bill to improve inspection of power lines and address higher risk of wildfires because of neglected power lines next to dead trees. Reports have suggested that PG&E power lines were the probable spark of the fires, which spread so ferociously because California is getting hotter and drier.

Fixing, regulating and preventing are a known and ongoing cost, whereas betting against worst-case scenarios is lucrative business for a quarterly return.

In Santa Rosa, more than 2,800 homes have been destroyed in a region with insufficient affordable housing; the city was trying to figure out how to build another 5,000 units. In one rental listing in Santa Rosa, the landlord hiked the rent more than 30 percent immediately after the fire started. Left to its own devices, will the market build the housing needed by the people affected? Or will it build for rich future residents and let those who lost everything fend for themselves?

We need a People’s Fire Recovery Plan, a “disaster socialism” to answer disaster capitalism. The people and land affected by the fires need to get whatever help they need, regardless of cost. The crisis is an occasion to demand what we needed last week — aggressive regulatory oversight to protect public health and safety, adequate funding of public services for first, second and third responders, physical and mental health care. Burning down a lot of real estate means there’s plenty of space to rebuild affordable housing and public transit. We need urban planning that prepares for more ecological adversity.

The old Industrial Workers of the World union song “Solidarity Forever” had a fitting lyric: “We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old.” In 2017 California, we are learning the hard way that the Wobblies meant literal ashes. Get ready for the birthing.

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.

The Meaning of Work in a Sustainable Society

By John Bellamy Foster - Monthly Review, September 2017

Fie upon this quiet life. I want work.

William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part I, Act II, Scene IV

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?

Pages