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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.

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.

Living Well is the Best Revolution

By Seth Sandronsky - Progressive Populist, September 15, 2017

Review of - CREATING AN ECOLOGICAL SOCIETY Toward a Revolutionary Transformation by Fred Magdoff and Chris Williams, Monthly Review Press, 2017

A book for a future society of buen vivir, or living well, with nature and other people? Yes.

How to achieve sustainability with humanity and the planet? Start with context and vision to transcend the status quo of bio-sphere destruction.

Reform is a part of the revolutionary process, according to the authors. It is not an either-or binary.

The vision thing matters when it comes to the false consciousness of blaming other people for the system’s baked-in flaws. Dividing the working class to weaken it is elites’ go-to tactic.

We see that now. Look no further than President Trump directing whites’ class resentment against Mexicans and Muslims.

Memo to the Democratic Party. Move progressively or empower neo-fascism, a product of neoliberalism.

In Magdoff and Williams’ view, “systemic environmental and social problems are caused by and are intrinsic to capitalism.” To this end, they review the science and history of horticultural societies and climactic changes.

Ideas matter. “If we can’t even imagine a different way of interacting with one another,” write Magdoff and Williams, “the economy, and the resources we use and depend upon, then the struggle for a just and ecologically sound world recedes into utopian fantasy.”

How? In the final of the book’s four parts, the authors see nascent revolutionary stirrings such as Black Lives and the Standing Rock resistance against the Dakota Access pipeline as a revolutionary way forward.

De-personalizing social relations in an era of identity politics run amuck is on our to-do list of how to get to a more ecologically balanced way of living and working. About 40% of the book unpacks the causes and outcomes of our socio-economic order.

Magdoff and Williams contribute to a growing body of eco-socialist books. Two of note are The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth (2010) and Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System (2016).

To buttress the case that post-capitalist alternatives are possible, the authors share examples from nature and history to help us to grasp competition and division are peculiar to capitalism. The authors’ command of the science of ecology is not limited to Marx’s concept of capitalism causing a rift in the human metabolism with the earth.

The book’s second part explores the obstacles to creating an eco-society. The authors examine the ideas underpinning the rule of capital over people, e.g., that oppression and exploitation along the color, ethnic and gender lines are hard-wired into human nature.

The authors’ voice is measured. They lay out the facts of the eco-crisis and potential cures, minus cant and jargon.

This is no mean feat, given the current bleakness and darkness of the present moment. If anything, Magdoff and Williams understate ruling elites’ capacity to co-opt and oppress systemic resistance.

They write: “Ultimately, we need to create a movement large and formidable enough to challenge the entire power structure of capitalism, one that is capable of winning the army and large portions of the population that up to that point had been passive, ambivalent, or even antagonistic.” Such a herculean task merits extended attention and discussion, to which Creating an Ecological Society contributes.

Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System

By Elaine Graham-Leigh - Counter Fire, August 24, 2017

In August 2016, the International Geological Congress voted formally to recognise that the world has entered a new geological era, the Anthropocene. The effect of human activity on the planet has now become as significant as that of the comet that wiped out the dinosaurs and ended the Cretaceous era. In recognising this, it is important not to fall into a view of human effects on the Earth that idealises a separation between human society and a reified ‘Nature’.

Human societies are part of, not separate from, the natural world, and have always affected it in different ways. Some of these, such as the creation of enriched terra praetasoil in the Amazon, have been largely beneficial; others, such as deforestation in Iron Age Britain, less so. Either way, their effects even before industrialisation have often been considerable. The importance of the Anthropocene is thus not that it shows a collective failure to tread sufficiently lightly upon the Earth, but rather that capitalism so extends the effects of human activity on the environment that previous quantitative shifts have become a qualitative change.

Angus shows how capitalism has created the ability to affect the world far more profoundly and far more destructively than any previous human system, and that this destructiveness is an integral, structural aspect. That climate change is capitalism’s fault is not universally acknowledged by environmentalists. Angus provides a useful reminder of the existence of groups like the Breakthrough Institute, who argue that market forces and private-sector dynamism are the answer to, rather than the cause of, the climate crisis.

He also deals concisely and devastatingly with the view that capitalism’s need not just for growth but for ever-increasing growth is just an ‘obsession’ or an ‘addiction.’ The ideology of growth, he explains, is there to justify the need for continued accumulation; it is not the cause of it. It is fair to say, however, that for eco-socialists, the conclusion that capitalism is the problem, and a systemic response the only answer, would be an unsurprising one. The importance of Angus’ argument is that it goes beyond the simple recognition of capitalism’s unique destructiveness to interrogate the precise factors which lie behind the shift into the Anthropocene.

The root of the climate crisis is capitalism, not demographics

By Michael Friedman - Monthly Review, August 15, 2017

Growing concerns about climate change and other environmental trends have set off the next round of old Malthusian diagnoses and solutions.

Is Capitalism in Crisis? Latest Trends of a System Run Amok

By C.J. Polychroniou - Truthout, August 4, 2017

Having survived the financial meltdown of 2008, corporate capitalism and the financial masters of the universe have made a triumphant return to their "business as usual" approach: They are now savoring a new era of wealth, even as the rest of the population continues to struggle with income stagnation, job insecurity and unemployment.

This travesty was made possible in large part by the massive US government bailout plan that essentially rescued major banks and financial institutions from bankruptcy with taxpayer money (the total commitment on the part of the government to the bank bailout plan was over $16 trillion). In the meantime, corporate capitalism has continued running recklessly to the precipice with regard to the environment, as profits take precedence not only over people but over the sustainability of the planet itself.

Capitalism has always been a highly irrational socioeconomic system, but the constant drive for accumulation has especially run amok in the age of high finance, privatization and globalization.

Today, the question that should haunt progressive-minded and radical scholars and activists alike is whether capitalism itself is in crisis, given that the latest trends in the system are working perfectly well for global corporations and the rich, producing new levels of wealth and increasing inequality. For insights into the above questions, I interviewed David M. Kotz, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and author of The Rise and Fall of Neoliberal Capitalism (Harvard University Press, 2015).

Your Personal Consumption Choices Can’t Save the Planet: We Have to Confront Capitalism

By Kate Aronoff - In These Times, July 18, 2017

New York Magazine’s latest 7,000-word cover story about climate change freaked a lot of people out. Like the reality of climate change itself, the story is depressing. Author David Wallace-Wells—collating several academic papers and interviews with climate scientists—meticulously lays out the possibility of melting ice caps releasing literal plagues, our air becoming unbreathable and geopolitics devolving into endless war. 

The response among climate wonks took a few different forms. Climate writer and meteorologist Eric Holthaus pointed out a series of factual errors in the piece on Twitter, and The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer detailed several points where Wallace-Wells’ narrative diverges from accepted science. Scientists like Michael Mann argued on Facebook that the article leaned too heavily on doomsday scenarios, barraging readers with scenes that Wallace-Wells himself states are unlikely to come to pass. “The evidence that climate change is a serious challenge that we must tackle now is very clear,” Mann wrote in a Washington Post response to the story. “There is no need to overstate it, particularly when it feeds a paralyzing narrative of doom and hopelessness.”

The debate about the article has also orbited around the question of whether fear is an effective motivating factor in getting people to try to change things, which—however you feel about the piece—clearly needs to happen. Environmental scientist Jon Foley said no, and called Wallace-Wells’ storytelling “deeply irresponsible.” David Roberts at Vox counters that fear shouldn’t be avoided: “It may be that there are social dynamics that require some fear and paralysis before a collective breakthrough. At the very least, it seems excessive to draw a pat ‘fear never works’ conclusion.”

Less discussed in the aftershock of New York Magazine story has been exactly what kind of response fear provokes, whether in individual people or the institutions they belong to. 

Like almost everything else, our reactions to fear—climate-based or otherwise—have been conditioned by 40-plus years of neoliberalism. Shortly after September 11, 2001, George W. Bush advised a reeling U.S. public to “get down to Disney World.” As the recession loomed, he told us to keep shopping. That proposed solutions to the climate crisis have taken a similar tone isn’t surprising. For years, mainstream climate activism centered around changing lightbulbs and riding more bikes. Shop green, in other words, and the earth will follow.

That’s started to shift, thanks to movements like Occupy Wall Street and hard-fought battles by indigenous activists, joined by a younger and more militant generation of environmentalists. Pushes to stop the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, and to divest from the banks that finance them and the companies that build them, have injected environmentalism with an anti-corporate spirit, predicated on collective action.

Ian Angus interview: How can we save the planet?

Ian Angus interview - Climate and Capitalism, July 18, 2017

On July 7-9, I was in London (UK) to speak at the Marxism Festival, an annual conference organized by the Socialist Workers Party. I have some political differences with the SWP, but I was impressed by the enthusiasm and commitment of the 2500 participants, and by the number of sessions that were devoted to environmental and scientific questions. 

I was the featured speaker at two sessions, one on Facing the Anthropocene, and one launching my new book, A Redder Shade of Green. Both sessions were recorded: I will post links when they are available. After my second talk, I was interviewed by Dave Sewell for the SWP’s weekly newspaper Socialist Worker.


HOW CAN WE SAVE THE PLANET AND STOP CATASTROPHIC CLIMATE CHANGE?

The environmental conditions that have sustained human civilisation throughout its history are collapsing, capitalism is to blame and only socialism has the solution. That’s the warning sounded by Ian Angus, author and editor of Climate and Capitalism website. He told Socialist Worker,

“The planet is going to change substantially. Big parts of it will be uninhabitable by the end of this century if we don’t do something now. It’s very likely that in this century ocean levels will rise by at least a meter or two, maybe more. That would mean the Thames is going to overflow and flood much of inner London. Many cities are right next to oceans. They will be flooded—not tomorrow but within our children’s lifetime or our grandchildren’s lifetime.

“In some parts of the world it’s going to be too hot to work. Many of these are places where a lot of our food comes from, so we’ll have to deal with problems with food production too.”

Ian has played an important role in popularising the concept of the “Anthropocene” on the left. Many geologists argue that the relatively stable environment conditions in place since the Ice Ages ended are giving way to something much more chaotic.

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