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Why Lawns Must Die

By staff - Our Changing Climate, June 18, 2021

The lawn began in Europe as an elite status symbol that was tended and mowed by peasants freshly forced into wage labor through the enclosure of the commons. The turfgrass lawn was then exported to colonial America where it was used as a tool to terraform indigenous land. And in the post-WWII suburban boom, the lawn soon became a symbol of white conformity. The turfgrass lawn though has a huge environmental impact. It's the biggest crop in the United States by area and requires a massive amount of fossil fuels, fertilizer, and chemicals to upkeep. Even if you don't want to tend to your lawn, some towns require you, with the threat of jail time to mow the grass. Ultimately, the grass lawn is a tool of capitalist settler colonialism that is exacerbating climate change and the climate crisis.

Ecosocialism versus degrowth: a false dilemma

By Giacomo D’Alisa - Undisciplined Environments, February 9, 2021

Ecosocialists and degrowthers need to map the many overlaps of their views to improve the effectiveness of their shared struggle for an ecologically-sound and socially-fair world free from patriarchal, racial and colonial legacy.

In a recent article Michael Lowy ponders if the ecological left has to embrace the ecosocialist or the degrowth ‘flag’; a concern that is not totally new. Lowy is a French-Brazilian Marxist scholar and a prominent ecosocialist. Together with Joel Kovel, an American social scientist and psychiatrist, in 2001 he wrote An ecosocialist manifesto, a foundational document for several political organizations worldwide. Thus, entering into a discussion with Lowy is not a simple academic whim, but a demand that many politically-engaged people of the ecological left are wondering about.

Recently, members of an ecosocialist group within Catalonia en Comù, part of Unida Podemos (itself part of the centre-left coalition governing Spain), invited me to debate about the end of the economic growth paradigm. This hints that ecosocialists are interested in degrowth vision and proposals. On the other hand, during talks, speeches and discussions I have participated in, I also have noted that ecosocialist projects intrigue and inspire many degrowthers. Indeed, people on both sides feel they are sister movements. The following reflection is a first and humble contribution to making the two come closer.

In the above-quoted article, Lowy supports an alliance between ecosocialists and degrowthers, and I cannot but agree with this conclusion. However, before justifying this strategic endeavour, he feels the necessity to argue why degrowth falls short as a political vision. He narrows down his critical assessment to three issues. First, Lowy maintains, degrowth as a concept is inadequate to express clearly an alternative programme. Second, degrowthers and their discourses are not explicitly anti-capitalist. Finally, for him, degrowthers are not able to distinguish between those activities that need to be reduced and those that can keep flourishing.

Concerning the first critique, Lowy maintains that the word: “degrowth” is not convincing; it does not convey the progressive and emancipatory project of societal transformation that it is needed; this remark echoes with an old and unsolved debate for many. A discussion that Lowy should know, as well as those that have followed the last decade of degrowth debate. Sophisticated criticism has mobilized the American cognitive linguist and philosopher George Lakoff’s study about framing. Kate Rowarth, for example, suggested to degrowthers to learn from Lakoff that no one can win a political struggle or election if they keep using their opponent’s frame; and degrowth has in itself its antagonic vision: growth. Ecological economists supported the same argument in a more articulated way, suggesting that for this reason, degrowth backfires.

On the contrary, my intellectual companion Giorgos Kallis, back in 2015, gave nine clear reasons why degrowth is a compelling word. I want to complement them with one more. Looking at the search trends in Google (figure below), after ten years, degrowth keeps drawing higher levels of attention worldwide than ecosocialism. Perhaps ecosocialism can result clearer at a glance. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the populace will be immediately convinced. Indeed, the ecosocialist concept also has similar and possibly worse problems of framing, given the post-Soviet aversion to “socialism”, but this cannot mean we should abandon the term. The recent upsurge of popularity in the US of “democratic socialism” suggests that the negative association of a term can be overcome.

Ecosocialism: A Brief Description

By Mike Shaughnessy - London Green Left Blog, January 27, 2021

This is a write up of a talk I gave to my local Green Party meeting in Haringey, north London, a little while back, on ecosocialism. 

Ecosocialism is a green political philosophy - it is an ecocentric and democratic socialism, not to be confused with social democracy, at least in the longer run.

It is not like twentieth century socialisms, it is more like nineteenth century socialisms and owes a fair amount to anarchist theory. Twentieth century socialisms had, if anything, an even more dismal record than capitalism on ecology.

Ecosocialism is anti-capitalist, and sees the capitalist system as the effective cause of the ecological crisis.

Capitalism commodifies everything and puts a price on it, which is exchange value, and uses the earth as a resource for production and sink for the dumping of toxic waste from the production process, usually free of cost. Climate change is the most spectacular aspect of the ecological crisis, but not the only one. Capitalism releases toxic pollution, into the air, land and sea.

Capitalism is unable to solve the ecological crisis it has set going, because the logic of the system is to ‘grow or die’. Growth that is exponential and the earth is now close to its limit of being able to buffer the damage caused by this required infinite growth, on a finite planet.

I’m going to say something about the historical lineage of the philosophy, threads of which can be traced back for as long as human beings have formed communities, where some elements of ecosocialism can be found in the way people have lived in balance with nature. And today, many indigenous peoples around the world still practice some of these forms of social and economic management.

Karl Marx is somewhat of a controversial figure for ecosocialists, with some believing that he was essentially a ‘productivist.’ For myself, I believe that Marx’s work was of its time, and incomplete, but he certainly had a green side to him. Take this quote for example from the third volume of Capital:

From the standpoint of a higher economic form of society, private ownership of the globe by single individuals will appear quite as absurd as private ownership of one man by another. Even a whole society, a nation, or even all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the globe. They are only its possessors, its usufructuaries, and, like boni patres familias, they must hand it down to succeeding generations in an improved condition. (Marx 1894: 776). 

In South America ecosocialism has found its way into government. Venezuela, has a Department of Ecosocialism, although the ecosocialism pursued is not the purest in form. Bolivia runs forms of ecosocialism in government and has fought off many capitalist corporations plunder of the country’s natural resources, in mining and gas extraction on common land.

There is an English line too. The first stories to be told about Robin Hood, were of a man fighting against crown enclosures of common land. He has become famous for ‘robbing from the rich to give to the poor’, but in fact what he was doing, was fighting to stop the rich robbing from the poor.

Then there were the Diggers during the English civil war, who set up communes on common land and called for a ‘common treasury of the land.'

And William Morris, the nineteenth century socialist and craft movement champion. If you read his novel News from Nowhere, it describes an ecosocialist utopia.

In the modern age, ecosocialism emerged in the mid 1980s, in the west, in the United States, although you can argue quite convincingly that in the US it goes back to Murray Bookchin’s social ecology movement in the mid 1960s. And in the east, in India, where to a lesser extent ecosocialism emerged but more so in the philosophy of ecofeminism, which is a similar philosophy to ecosocialism. 

For example, ecosocialists agree with ecofeminists that the oppression of women in our society is part and parcel of the system's domination of nature, reproduction in particular. This is done by the capitalist system co-opting the prevailing patriarchal practices, to extract extra surplus value from the workers, in terms of unpaid domestic labour, without which the system could not function. 

And all for free to the system.

Examples of modern day ecosocialism, to an extent, can be found in the Kurdish area of northern Syria called Rojava and the Zapatistas in Chiapas the most southern state in Mexico.

So, what are the component parts of ecosocialism? There are many, but I’ve selected four of the main ones:

For a Sustainable Future: The Centrality of Public Goods

By Nancy Holmstrom - Socialist Register, Spring 2020

The most recent report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes it absolutely clear that ways of living in the twenty-first century must be premised on the existential threat to our survival posed by multiple ecological crises. Indeed it could all be over before the end of the century. If we do not radically suppress global CO2 emissions, global warming will rise to the point where it cannot be stopped. While not long ago the word ‘catastrophe’ seemed hyperbolic to many, today few could deny it is fitting. Melting glaciers, rising sea level, drought, fires, and flooding all over the world and the resulting migration are catastrophes for those who suffer them – and give us a taste of far worse catastrophes to come. Already the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are 150,000 excess deaths per year due to climate change, likely to double by 2030.

After the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center we heard the word ‘security’ incessantly, almost always invoked as intentional threats to our safety and well-being, which of course means they are threats by people, whether they be individuals, groups, or nations. Global warming, on the other hand, is a threat from nature that is an unintended result of human action – not what is usually intended by a ‘security’ threat, and it does not grip our imagination and fears in any way proportional to its severity. But it is not only intentional acts that can threaten our safety and well-being. Once threats to our security are conceived more broadly, consider the greater dangers from unclean air and water and contagious diseases, whatever the mix of intentional and unintentional acts that created the problem.

Download (PDF).

Blueprint for Europe's Just Transition: The Green New Deal for Europe (Edition II)

By various - The Green New Deal for Europe, December 2019

Europe today confronts three overlapping crises.

The first is an economic crisis, with rising levels of poverty, insecurity, and homelessness across the continent. The second is a climate and environmental crisis, with severe consequences for Europe’s front-line communities and even more perilous ones on the horizon. And the third is a crisis of democracy. Across the continent, people are disconnected from the locus of political decision-making not only in Brussels, but also in the communities where they reside.

These crises are products of Europe’s political decisions, and they are closely bound together. The promotion of extractive growth has driven environmental breakdown, and the devotion to budget austerity — over and above the democratic needs expressed in communities across Europe — has constrained our capacity to respond to it.

A radically new approach is necessary to reverse this destructive trend — and to deliver environmental justice in Europe and around the world. We call this approach the Green New Deal for Europe, and the following report is a comprehensive policy pack-age charting a course through Europe’s just transition.

Read the report (PDF).

Free, Fair, and Alive: The Insurgent Power of the Commons: Excerpt

By David Bollier, Silke Helfrich - Free Fair and Alive, September 5, 2019

Introduction

This book is dedicated to overcoming an epidemic of fear with a surge of reality-based hope. As long as we allow ourselves to be imprisoned by our fears, we will never find the solutions we need to help us build a new world. Of course, we have plenty of good reasons to be fearful — the loss of our jobs, authoritarian rule, corporate abuses, racial and ethnic hatred. Looming above all else is the warming of the Earth’s climate, an existential threat to civilization itself. We watch with amazement as space probes detect water on Mars while authorities struggle to find drinking water for people on Earth. Technologies may soon let people edit the genes of their unborn children like text on a computer, yet the means for taking care for the sick, old, and homeless remain elusive.

Fear and despair are fueled by our sense of powerlessness, the sense that we as individuals cannot possibly alter the current trajectories of history. But our powerlessness has a lot to do with how we conceive of our plight — as individuals, alone and separate. Fear, and our understandable search for individual safety, are crippling our search for collective, systemic solutions — the only solutions that will truly work. We need to reframe our dilemma as What can we do together? How can we do this outside of conventional institutions that are failing us?

The good news is that countless seeds of collective transformation are already sprouting. Green shoots of hope can be seen in the agroecology farms of Cuba and community forests of India, in community Wi-Fi systems in Catalonia and neighborhood nursing teams in the Netherlands. They are emerging in dozens of alternative local currencies, new types of web platforms for cooperation, and campaigns to reclaim cities for ordinary people. The beauty of such initiatives is that they meet needs in direct, empowering ways. People are stepping up to invent new systems that function outside of the capitalist mindset, for mutual benefit, with respect for the Earth, and with a commitment to the long term.

In 2009, a frustrated group of friends in Helsinki were watching another international climate change summit fail. They wondered what they could do themselves to change the economy. The result, after much planning, was a neighborhood “credit exchange” in which participants agree to exchange services with each other, from language translations and swimming lessons to gardening and editing. Give an hour of your expertise to a neighbor; get an hour of someone else’s talents. The Helsinki Timebank, as it was later called, has grown into a robust parallel economy of more than 3,000 members. With exchanges of tens of thousands of hours of services, it has become a socially convivial alternative to the market economy, and part of a large international network of timebanks.

Energy commons: from energy transition to climate justice

By Cécile Blanchet - ROARMag, June 19, 2019

In 2019, only oil lobbyists and shabby orange politicians persist in denying the influence of human activities on the Earth’s climate. Scientific evidence is piling up and we know that we must change our ways. The concept of energy transition has become mainstream.

However, governments have remained remarkably motionless. They are so inactive that kids have started school strikes and demand climate justice in front of the United Nations’ Conference of Parties. They are so immobile that citizen groups actually sue their governments for their lack of climate action. And when governments attempt to do something, it is so unjust that people take to the streets even during the coldest months of the year, screaming, filled with rage and frustration.

Our leaders have forgotten that the poorer half of our societies should not have to clean up the mess produced by the richest half. That it should not be our kids cleaning up our mess.

Doing It Ourselves

Facing a lack of political will, an interesting and vivid grassroots movement has taken shape to reclaim our energy systems. From households to city politics, and even at the European level, there has been an unprecedented involvement from the public into energy and electricity matters. For example, in the shape of energy cooperatives.

According to the European Federation of renewable energy cooperatives, RESCOOP, there are at present some 1,250 energy communities in which a million people throughout Europe are involved. Through the RESCOOP federation, these groups actively lobby at a European level to bend the legislation towards promoting and supporting energy cooperatives.

This model of energy cooperativism originated in Germany in the late 1990s and was enabled by a set of disruptive laws supporting the production of renewable energy. This bill kick-started the German energy transition (dubbed “Energiewende”), which has become a landmark and is being widely copied.

The two main pillars were defined in the Feed-In Act of 2000: the priority of renewable sources to the grid and feed-in tariffs (fixed prices paid for renewable energy).

The particularity of this framework is that it has enabled small players to enter the game. Citizen cooperatives and households have especially benefited, because a fixed price for each kilowatt hour (KWH) could be sold back to the grid, which gave them more space to invest in new technologies.

From the late 1990s onwards, the number of cooperatives in Germany has grown exponentially, reaching 900 in 2019, representing the majority of energy cooperatives in Europe. It is a model that comes with many advantages. Let’s virtually visit one of these cooperatives together.

Public Finance for the Future We Want (Lavinia Steinfort and Satoko Kishimoto)

By Lavinia Steinfort and Satoko Kishimoto (editors) - Transnational Institute, June 2019

Do you wish to see regenerative, equitable and democratic economies, built with collective power? We believe it is not only necessary but also very possible.Today’s economic system, fueled by an extractivist logic and prone to crises, has reignited and enflamed old monsters of racism, misogyny and other forms of fear and hate. Economic alternatives are needed now more than ever.

This book is about financial alternatives, drawn from real-world examples. It highlights the kinds of models that could become the new normal, building the basis for a democratically organized and life-sustaining future.Before the 2008 global financial crisis, the mantra was ‘there is no alter-native’ to the extractive economic model that has fostered excessive inequality and ecological destruction. Post-crisis, big banks were rescued and the blame misdirected to public spending.

This justified evermore harsh austerity measures, reinforcing the story that the public sector must rely on private finance to solve these ‘collaterals’.More than 10 years later, we know that private finance has not only failed to address these problems, it has intensified them. Civil society needs to unite behind systemic solutions before another financial bubble bursts.

Read the report (PDF).

Manifesto for a new popular internationalism in Europe

By various - ReCommonsEurope, May 26, 2019

In the last ten years, popular anger has expressed itself without interruption against discriminatory and anti-democratic policies in favour of the rich and big companies - policies implemented by national governments and often coordinated by the European Union (EU). It has taken the form of initiatives by trade unions, but also by new movements such as ‘15M’ in Spain (also called in other countries the movement of the ‘Indignados’), the occupation of the squares in Greece and the huge demonstrations in Portugal in 2011, the movements against the “Loi Travail” (Labour law) in France and against the Water Tax in Ireland in 2016, the great demonstrations for autonomy and against political repression in Catalonia in 2017. Feminist struggles gave rise to the historic demonstrations in Poland (« Czarny Protest » against the anti-abortion law in 2017), Italy (« Non Una di Meno » movement since 2016), Spain (feminist general strike of 5 million people on the 8th March 2018), as well as a victory over the political influence of the Catholic Church in Ireland with the legalisation of abortion by referendum in May 2018, and are at last succeeding in imposing their centrality in all social struggles.

The year 2018 also saw the emergence of new social movements against the dominant economic and political order, with the movement against the « slavery law » (neoliberal reform of labour laws) in Hungary, the demonstration and development of the « Indivisible » antiracist movement in Germany, the Yellow Vests movement in France and French-speaking Belgium against unjust fiscal policies and the lack of democracy in political institutions. Nor should we forget the climate demonstrations, driven mainly by young people who have gone on strike in many countries, including Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium, France and Great Britain. All these social movements, and others, have challenged the austerity measures and authoritarianism of the policies being implemented in Europe, by posing directly or indirectly the question of a radical alternative social project to capitalism, productivism, ecological devastation, racism and patriarchy. This Manifesto sees itself as an integral part these movements and shares their objectives: the struggle against all forms of domination, for universal rights, for equality and for a democracy to be invented – a democracy which would not stop at the gates of companies and the threshold of working-class areas, and which would necessarily be radically opposed to the logic of a capitalist system (whether the latter claims to be ‘protectionist’, and so against ‘foreigners’, or ‘liberal’) which is destroying social rights and the environment.

Read the report (PDF).

‘Cosmo-localization’: can thinking globally and producing locally really save our planet?

By Fernanda Marin - Oui Share, November 28, 2018

Fablabs, makerspaces, emerging global knowledge commons… These are but some of the outcomes of a growing movement that champions globally-sourced designs for local economic activity. Its core idea is simple: local ownership of the means to produce basic manufactures and services can change our economic paradigm, making our cities self-sufficient and help the planet.

Sharon Ede, urbanist and activist based in Australia has recently launched AUDAcities, a catalyst for relocalising production in cities. She shared her insights on the opportunities of making cities regenerative and more sustainable as well as the limits of cosmo-localization.

Technology, as we all know, is not neutral. Making the transition to self-sufficient cities needs a cultural shift, not just a technological one. So, how do we design open-source tools that foster a change in behaviours and are inclusive?

Technology will go where cultural, social and economic values direct it. A cultural shift will include open source tools, and the kinds of processes we need to create those – but a cultural shift will require much more.

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