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Ireland’s Energy System: The Historical Case for Hope in Climate Action

By Sinéad Mercier - New Labor Forum, May 17, 2021

For thirty years, governments have been promising climate action. They seem incapable of undertaking the necessary major shifts in their energy systems required by the 2015 Paris Agreement. They also seem incapable of delivering on climate targets in a manner that both “leaves no one behind” and “reaches the furthest behind first,” as required by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, also agreed in 2015. In Ireland, we fall continually to the bottom of the rankings in climate action, with the current Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and Green Party coalition government failing to achieve a mere 16 percent target of renewable energy by 2020.[1]

There are lessons to be learned from the past. One hundred years ago, the two civil war parties—Fine Gael (then Cumann na nGaedheal) and Fianna Fáil—were united in their commitment to a state-owned energy system with an objective of universal access, public good, and public value. Irish state electricity generation started out in 1929 as being from almost 100 percent renewable sources.[2] The historical development of Ireland’s own energy system can be a model for a successful, fast paced national delivery program for a just transition and energy democracy. Ireland has previously made sweeping changes to the energy system, in a time of far greater difficulty, fewer resources, and almost intractable political fragility. The example is the establishment of the country’s—and the world’s—first state-owned national energy company, the Electricity Supply Board (ESB), and its roll-out of universal access to affordable electricity through the Rural Electrification Scheme (RES).

Administering Dreams

The Ireland of the 1920s presented unlikely circumstances for ambitious national projects of any kind. After three years of guerrilla warfare against the British Crown forces, a form of independence had been achieved by 1922. The young Irish Free State government of freedom fighters and idealists was to set out on its own with little source of economic development beyond the sale of cattle to Britain and with much of its populace in extreme poverty. In 1921, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed, giving independence to twenty six counties and leaving the six counties in the north east of Ireland under British rule. The signing of the Treaty caused a split in the founding Sinn Féin party between those opposing and supporting the Treaty. This sparked a bitter civil war from June 1922 to May 1923 that has marked Irish politics for a century. The pro-Treaty element formed Cumann na nGaedheal, today the centerright (Christian Democrat) party Fine Gael. A group of republicans led by Éamon de Valera broke away from Sinn Féin in 1926 and formed Fianna Fáil,[3] in protest at the Oath of Allegiance to the British Crown, which all members of Dáil Éireann (the Irish Parliament) were obliged to take. The Cumann na nGaedheal party was in office from 1922 to 1932. Laissez-faire economic and commercial orthodoxies of the 1920s, inherited from the British administration, and a reinstated civil service were largely the global order of the day.

One hundred years ago, the two civil war parties . . . were united in their commitment to a state-owned energy system with an objective of universal access, public good, and public value.

However, the young state took on a number of major interventions in the economy. Most notable were the Land Commission and the creation of Ireland’s state energy company, the ESB, and its primary power source, the Ardnacrusha Hydroelectric Power Station on the Shannon River—also known as the “Shannon Scheme.”[4] To deliver Ardnacrusha’s energy to the public, in 1927 the government established its first Irish state company, the ESB, through the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1927. This was to be the first national electricity service in the world, with full responsibility for the generation, transmission, distribution, and marketing o electricity.[5] From its beginnings, the aim of the ESB was not-for-profit, universal, and affordable access to electricity; “strong on technical expertise, with set targets and with the muscle, dynamism and freedom to achieve these targets.”[6] Attempts had been made to attract foreign investors, particularly from the United States, but “most of the big corporations objected to the government’s stipulation that unprofitable rural lines might have to be built without any guaranteed government subsidy.”[7] The Irish electricity industry had been in existence for forty years, yet the vast majority of the population had been left in darkness and drudgery. As a result of these failings, the fledgling Department of Industry and Commerce concluded that confining the ESB to mere distribution of the energy from the Shannon Scheme was likely to place the whole enterprise in “immediate jeopardy.”[8] The government therefore nationalized what was a piecemeal mess of three hundred expensive, “badly run,” inefficient private and local authority undertakings.[9]

Earth Minute: Biden-Harris Inauguration and Climate Action

By Theresa Church - Global Justice Ecology Project, January 20, 2021

Bloomberg has reported that the COVID relief bill passed last month included a provision to give companies tax breaks for capturing carbon. 

While this may sound positive, it was denounced by Indigenous Environmental Network, as it paves the way for ongoing fossil fuel burning. Rachel Smolker of Biofuelwatch points out most of the captured carbon is bought by oil companies that use it to help pump out oil hard to reach oil, thereby extending the life of old wells. 

Far from changing course, the Biden Administration is expected to roll out plans for climate action that include false solutions widely debunked by U.S. and international climate justice communities—from burning trees for electricity to using forests and oceans as carbon sinks. The purpose of these schemes? Continue business as usual.

Real, just climate action must address the roots of the climate crisis and transform the system that drives it, not subsidize and enable the very same people causing catastrophic climate change to pursue enhanced profits under a green veneer.

For the Earth Minute and the Sojourner Truth show, this is Anne Petermann from Global Justice Ecology Project.

The Biden Climate Plan: Part 2: An Arena of Struggle

By Jeremey Brecher - Labor Network for Sustinability, December 8, 2020

The climate plan released by Joe Biden in August presents a wide-ranging program for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The previous commentary, “The Biden Climate Plan: What it Proposes–Part 1” summarizes that plan. This commentary identifies the points of conflict on climate policy and related social policies that are likely to emerge within a Biden administration. It concludes by assessing how advocates of a Green New Deal can take advantage of the Biden program to fight for a climate-safe, worker-friendly, socially-just outcome. To read this commentary, please visit: this page.

The Biden Climate Plan: Part 1: What It Proposes

By Jeremey Brecher - Labor Network for Sustinability, December 1, 2020

This commentary by Jeremy Brecher analyzes Joe Biden’s “Plan for Climate Change and Environmental Justice” released in August. The following commentary, “The Biden Climate Plan: Part 2: An Arena of Struggle,” will consider the struggles that are likely to emerge over what parts of the plan can and should be implemented. To read this commentary, please visit: this page.

No shortcuts to an ecosocialist future

By Fred Fuentes - Green Left, October 16, 2020

Faced with a global triple crisis ‒ health, economic and climate ‒ it is no wonder most people believe the world is heading in the wrong direction. But who people blame for this situation and their responses have varied.

Socialists believe the capitalist system is at the heart of these crises and that the solution lies in replacing it with a democratic socialist society.

The challenge we face

Under capitalism, corporations will always seek to defend their narrow interests. They do so by, among other things, funding political parties, opposition movements, media outlets and institutions that serve their agenda.

But, while the capitalist class is united in its defence of capitalism ‒ even at the cost of the Earth ‒ different sections of the capitalist class have varying interests and views on how to best protect them.

United States Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump would appear to be the candidate par excellence for corporations. Yet more billionaires are backing his opponent, Democratic candidate Joe Biden.

Unsurprisingly, CEOs in the energy/natural resource sector are overwhelmingly behind Trump’s climate denialism.

But when it comes to finance (Wall Street), technology (Silicon Valley) and the media, Biden is the preferred candidate. Many of these same sectors have also been involved in promoting climate institutes, campaign groups and even protests, such as last year's Climate Strike.

This does not make these capitalists allies in the fight against climate change, racism and sexism. They just sense that taking such a stance is the best way to protect, and in some cases even raise, their profit margins.

Why does this matter then? Because to achieve our aims, we need to know exactly who we are up against.

Green New Deal: top-down or bottom-up?

By Sergio Belda and Victoria Pellicer - Science for the People, Summer 2020

From different parts of the world, we are being called upon to embrace a brand new green deal as an unassailable solution to the climate crisis. The appeal is coming from powerful actors: transnational entities, governments and political leaders (not only those with a progressive orientation),1 major newspaper headlines,2 successful financiers and leaders of large corporations,3 and intellectuals of international standing4 are calling for a great deal that will guarantee us a future that is not only green and sustainable, but truly enjoyable.

With this deal, the solutions to the problems of sustainability that we are suffering from are within our reach, right around the corner. Everyone agrees on the imagined green future we want and how to achieve it. We have the recipe, the technology, and the capacity. We just need the will, the drive, and sufficient investment.5

We are all familiar with the images of this utopian green world. The solutions that it offers delight the senses and the imagination: green, infinite, super-automated fields where fashionable, organic products grow and later fill the unlimited supermarket shelves; a world free from animal slaughter thanks to 3D-printed meat in restaurants, produced in factories and even space stations;6 autonomous electric cars filling wide, smart highways,7 finally expelled from historic city centers, which are now fully dedicated to pedestrian walkways between global franchises offering sustainable menus for all pocketbooks;8 energy produced by majestic wind turbines, bringing new prosperity to the plains of Iowa, Texas and Nebraska and new productivity to the oceans;9 in cities, huge glass skyscrapers with smart apartments on beautiful green tapestries; in the countryside, exceptionally comfortable and spacious single-family homes that are fully sustainable thanks to their intelligent design;10 at all times, unlimited access via our mobile phones to every product and service imaginable, with the peace of mind that they are offered to us without producing any waste that is not subsequently recovered (or whose environmental impact has not been incorporated into the cost and compensated for); and always the personal peace of mind from the knowledge that we are able to monitor our health twenty-four hours a day with portable devices that will not only patiently watch over us, but will also open up a huge new market.11 Images, in short, that reveal the encounter between sustainability, technology, intelligence, new markets, and prosperity. Images that should make us see the new great green deal not as a threat to our current lifestyle, but as the way to save our way of life, our planet, our individual welfare, as well as our capitalist system.12

8 Unions Have a Plan for Climate Action—But It Doesn’t Mention Fighting the Fossil Fuel Industry

By Rachel M. Cohen - In These Times, August 26, 2019

On June 24, the BlueGreen Alliance — a national coalition which includes eight large labor unions and six influential environmental groups—released an eight-page document laying out its vision to curb climate change and reduce inequality. The report, dubbed Solidarity for Climate Action, marks a significant development in the world of environmental politics. It argues the needs of working people must be front-and-center as the U.S. responds to climate change, and rejects the ​“false choice” between economic security and a healthy planet.

While the report’s focus on public investment, good jobs and justice shares much in common with the federal Green New Deal resolution introduced in February, it also stands in tension with environmentalists who demand the U.S. work to transition more quickly away from oil, coal and natural gas. ​“We’d really like them to be stronger and more concise about what it means to move away from fossil fuels and transition to renewables,” said José Bravo, executive director of the Just Transition Alliance and speaking on behalf of the Climate Justice Alliance. Members of the BlueGreen Alliance say the ultimate goal should be to decarbonize the economy — to reduce CO2 emissions, but not necessarily end the fossil fuel industry itself, with its tens of thousands of high-paying jobs. Other climate groups say that won’t be enough, and humanity cannot afford to preserve industries that have caused so much environmental harm. This difference in vision will stand as one of the most fundamental political questions facing progressives in the next decade.

The report spells out a series of principles, including limiting warming to 1.5°C, expanding union jobs, modernizing infrastructure, bolstering environmental protections and rebuilding the nation’s manufacturing sector with green technologies. It also elevates the issue of equity, calling to ​“inject justice into our nation’s economy by ensuring that economic and environmental benefits of climate change solutions support the hardest hit workers and communities.” The BlueGreen Alliance emphasizes the disproportionate impact low-income workers and communities of color will face, and says those affected by the energy transition must receive ​“a just and viable transition” to new, high-quality union jobs.

(Read the rest here)

Plan, Mood, Battlefield - Reflections on the Green New Deal

By Thea Riofrancos - Viewpoint Magazine, May 16, 2019

Climate scientists are beginning to sound like radicals.

The 2018 IPCC report concluded that “unprecedented changes across all aspects of society” would be needed to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In its devastating report on the dire state of the planet’s ecosystems, the UN’s panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services likewise called for, in the words of its chairperson, “fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”

The first, and thus far only, U.S. policy initiative that addresses the severity of the crisis before us is the Green New Deal, introduced as a congressional joint resolution this past February. The resolution proposes, among other goals, decarbonizing the economy, investing in infrastructure, and creating dignified jobs for millions. And while this resolution is, from a planetary perspective, obviously limited by its domestic scale, transforming the U.S. along these lines would surely have global reverberations, for at least two reasons: the U.S. is a major impediment to global coöperation on climate, and political parties elsewhere in the world (e.g., the UK’s Labour Party and Spain’s Socialist Party) have already begun to adopt the Green New Deal as the frame for their own domestic policies.

After a few months of swirling discourse, we can begin to identify an emergent set of positions in the debate around the Green New Deal. The right-wing has resorted to classic red-baiting, decrying the nonbinding resolution as a “socialist monster,” a road to the serfdom of state planning, rationing, and compulsory veganism. The vanishing center is clinging tightly to its cozy attachment to a politics of triangulation: the Green New Deal is a childlike dream; serious adults know that the only option is to hew to the path of bipartisanship and incrementalism. The left, of course, knows that in the context of already-unfolding climate crisis, resurgent xenophobia, and the weakening hold on legitimacy of the neoliberal consensus, the real delusions are “market-driven” solutions and nostalgic paeans to American “norms and institutions.”

But on the left, too, there are criticisms, and outright rejections, of the Green New Deal (see here, here, here, and here). There is the charge that the Green New Deal, like the old New Deal, amounts to the state, qua executive committee of the bourgeoisie, rescuing capitalism from the planetary crisis it has created. In this rendering, rather than empowering “frontline and vulnerable” communities, as the resolution claims, the policy framework will amount to a corporate welfare windfall of investment opportunities lubricated with tax breaks and subsidies; public-private partnerships; infrastructure outlays that will stimulate real estate development; and, a jobs guarantee that will stimulate consumption—a win-win for the state and capital, but, by leaving the underlying, growth-addicted, model of accumulation untouched, a loss for the planet and the communities most vulnerable to climate crisis and eco-apartheid. There’s another twist. As sometimes the same analyses point out, this win-win-lose-lose scenario is itself based on a false understanding of contemporary capitalism. In a world of secular stagnation—declining profit rates, speculative bubbles, financialization, rentier-like behavior, and accumulation-by-upward-redistribution—the vampire-like quality of capital has never been more apparent. The notion that capital might, with a little inducement, suddenly overcome these tendencies and invest in productive activities is its own nostalgic fantasy.

Capitalists fear the Green New Deal...and for good reason

By Kai Heron - ROAR, May 8, 2019

What’s green on the outside and red on the inside? A watermelon. And, if you believe conservative pundits, the Green New Deal (GND). Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, the former Deputy Assistant to Donald Trump, Sebastian Gorka, announced that the GND is “green on the outside” and “deep, deep communist [red] on the inside.”

What came next was an absurd piece of red-baiting: “They want to take away your pickup truck, they want to rebuild your home, they want to take away your hamburgers. This is what Stalin dreamed about but never achieved. You are on the frontlines of the war against communism coming back to America under the guise of Democratic Centralism, which is just the PC term for communism.” We should be so lucky.

Gorka’s formulations may be more bombastic than most but he is hardly alone. Writing for Public Seminar, Jake Davis explains that “looking at the recently proposed Green New Deal (GND), Representative Ocasio-Cortez’s solution to climate change, it becomes painfully obvious that the end state is not environmental protection; its [sic] socialism.” Or, as Kimberly Guilfoyle wrote in The Hill, “what is most shocking about the Green New Deal is a number of socialist wish-list items that have nothing to do with climate change. Don’t want to work but still want to live a cushy lifestyle? No problem.” Or, as Jarrett Stepman wrote for the Foundation for Economic Education, the GND is “not very democratic but it is socialistic — an American version of a Soviet-style five-year plan focus[ed] on command-and-control economic solutions that have proven to fail the world over.” Or, finally, as Jason Pye put it succinctly in Real Clear Markets, “The Green New Deal is Communist Manifesto, 21st Century.” Again, we should be so lucky.

Of course, red-baiting is not a new phenomenon on the right. In 1933, Herbert Hoover accused Roosevelt’s New Deal of using the 1929 depression “as an excuse for imposing socialism under new euphemistic phrases.” In 2012, Obama was branded a Marxist-Leninist for suggesting that the top 1 percent of income earners could perhaps pay slightly higher taxes. And in February 2019, Fox News accused Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of “socialism and communism” because she committed to paying her staff a living wage.

Despite this trope’s frequency, there is something new and important about its use in recent assaults on the GND. What we are witnessing is capital’s first line of defense against the fact that environmentalism is increasingly becoming — but in fact always has been — a space of class struggle. What the capitalist class has yet to realize, however, is that the GND might be the least of their worries.

Toward Climate-Catalyzed Social Transformation?

By Diana Stuart and Ryan Gunderson - ROARMag, May 3, 2019

In the past weeks, Extinction Rebellion has continued to make news headlines with acts of protest in London, Boston, New York and other cities across the globe. In London, thousands of activists blocked roads and bridges and over 1,000 were arrested. These actions are a part of Extinction Rebellion’s ongoing strategy to disrupt the economy and pressure governments to meet their demands to address climate change.

In addition, the youth movement Fridays for Future continues to hold school strikes with an estimated 1.6 million participants across the globe on March 15. In the United States, the Sunrise Movement has just launched a tour to promote the Green New Deal, a possibly transformative resolution that targets both inequality and greenhouse gas emissions.

These movements are unprecedented, growing, and are unlikely to go away any time soon. In addition, meeting the demands of these movements would require significant social and economic changes through a radical political program.

Given the momentum of these movements, are we on the verge of a possible climate-catalyzed social transformation? And if so, what strategies for transformation will be most effective?

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