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Going Slowly to 100% Renewables … by 2025?

By Dan Fischer - Peace News, April 5, 2020

It has been 55 years since the social ecologist Murray Bookchin argued that “wind, water, and solar power” (hereafter, WWS) could “amply meet the needs of a decentralized society” and eventually replace all fossil, nuclear, and bioenergy sources. The alternative, he warned, would be a future of “radioactive wastes,” “lethal air pollution,” “rising atmospheric temperatures,” “more destructive storm patterns,” and “rising sea levels.” Having declined to tear down its smokestacks, society has entered Bookchin’s dreaded scenario and, according to today’s scientists, accelerates toward “hothouse Earth,” “doomsday,” and even an “annihilation of all life.”

The urgency for reaching 100% WWS can’t be overstated. Leading climate scientists report that “tipping points could be exceeded even between 1 and 2°C of warming,” and today’s level is already at 1.2° and rapidly climbing. Moreover, society has pushed Earth past four other “planetary boundaries.” While all energy sources have an impact, small-scale WWS sources are by far the cleanest option available, and they also doesn’t involve nuclear power’s existential weapons proliferation risks.

It’s no wonder, therefore, that many Green New Deal supporters call for 100% WWS by 2030 or sooner. Activists in the United States and the United Kingdom are calling for zero emissions nationally by 2025, a stringent deadline that requires a very rapid phase-out of fossil and bioenergies and that necessarily excludes the lengthy construction of new nuclear power facilities and large-scale hydroelectric dams. The journalist Hazel Healy has even written about achieving zero emissions worldwide by 2025. To be sure, these targets are mind-bogglingly ambitious compared to, say, Joe Biden’s mid-century target. But if anything, 2025 is already pushing our luck from a climate and ecological perspective.

Wondering about the potential for rapidly reaching 100% renewable energy, I reached out to two of the most optimistic and two of the most pessimistic scholars on the technologies. Based on these conversations, I offer the following suggestion. Achieving 100% WWS within five to ten years, if it can be done at all, would likely require slowing down the industrialized world. It would mean abandoning what Michelle Boulous Walker calls today’s “culture of haste” and “relentless demand to decide, respond and act.” Instead of a frantic construction of hydrogen-powered airplanes and concrete-intensive high-speed rail, it would mean making most production local and most travel leisurely-paced. It would mean switching from full-time jobs to part-time crafts and hobbies, from patenting technology to sharing it, and from GDP to something like the Indigenous Environmental Network’s proposed “Index for Living Well.” While it’s common to read of “roadmaps” to WWS, we would probably get to the destination sooner with maps of biking trails and bus routes.

Disaster Environmentalism 3: What to Do

By Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, December 5, 2019

The gap in disaster environmentalist thinking, the absence of any kind of sense of how society changes, or could be changed, explains its’ exponents political tactics, in my view.

Non-violent direct action (NVDA), which has become a hallmark of XR, is seen as a way of pushing the existing political system to change. For disaster environmentalism, it’s a last ditch attempt: if this fails, only collapse – whatever that means – awaits, and social renewal can only be achieved through “deep adaptation”.

This is underpinned by misunderstandings and half-thought-out ideas about how society changes, in my view.

The danger of co-optation

Read writes that XR wants and needs “to transform the whole existing system […] within years, not decades. Such transformation will mean that many economic interests get challenged, or indeed ended”. This “attempt to rapidly change the entire economic, social and political system” will be far more difficult than the task of previous movements; “the vested interests opposing us are vast, as are the ideologies that have to be overcome or transformed.” And what he describes as his “key point”:

Women and black people could be accommodated into the existing system; in this way the task of the Suffragettes and of the Civil Rights Movement, while hard, was doable. But what we want – need – is to transform the whole existing system, not merely to allow excluded people access to it.

This shows a breathtaking lack of understanding about how the political representatives of capitalism work to co-opt, subvert and control social movements.

To state the completely obvious, while the specific demands of the Suffragettes, for women’s right to vote, has been won, countless aspects of the repression of women have been reproduced by capitalism in new, more sophisticated forms. Women’s legal rights to abortion is currently under threat in a series of countries.

As for the Civil Rights Movement in the USA, the gains it won in terms of voting rights for black Americans have been under vicious attack from that time to this. Gerrymandering, ID requirements, laws depriving former prisoners of the vote, and more blatant measures are used across the USA to stop black people from voting. Rights are won in struggle, defended and extended in struggle, and can be lost in struggle.

Disaster Environmentalism 2: Roads to a Post-Growth Economy

By Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, December 5, 2019

The disaster environmentalists’ hopes for the future rest not only on “deep adaptation”, but on acceptance that we need to live in a “post growth world”. Rupert Read writes:

It is crucial that we resist growthism, the very widespread drive to keep the economy ‘growing’. For (perpetual) growthism is a perpetual obstacle to collective sanity, to facing the reality of [ecological and social] limits. […] And green growthism is merely a subset of growthism.[1] […]

Society can not afford more growth, Read argues; progress towards understanding this is “glacially slow”. And so:

It still seems, tragically, far more likely that growth will end because of collapse than because of informed decision.

Yes and no, in my view. “Economic growth”, as manifested by global capitalism, is completely unsustainable. “Green growth”, or “socialist growth”, are no substitutes. Our challenge to the economic system must open the way for a society based on human happiness and fulfilment, values completely at odds with – and distorted and defaced by – the rich-country consumerist ideology that helps to justify ever-expanding material production. But, unlike Read, I believe that the way “growth” ends is still to play for.

In my view (not new, from a socialist), all this means challenging capitalism, along with the state and political structures that protect its interests. On that, the disaster environmentalists are agnostic. They talk up the need for systemic change, but combine this with tame, almost naïve, claims about how to challenge the system.

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).

A Just(ice) Transition is a Post-Extractive Transition: Centering the Extractive Frontier in Climate Justice

By Benjamin Hitchcock Auciello - War on Want and London Mining Network, September 2019

While the global majority disproportionately suffer the impacts of the climate crisis and the extractivist model, theGlobal North’s legacy of colonialism, the excess of the world’s wealthiest, and the power of large corporations are responsible for these interrelated crises.

The climate change mitigation commitments thus far made by countries in the Global North are wholly insufficient; not only in terms of emissions reductions, but in their failure to address the root causes of the crisis – systemic and intersecting inequalities and injustices. This failure to take inequality and injustice seriously can be seen in even the most ambitious models of climate mitigation.

This report sets out to explore the social and ecological implications of those models.

Read the report (PDF).

We Need a Green New Deal to Defeat Fascism and Reverse Inequality

By Robert Pollin interviewed by Jonas Elvander - Truthout, July 10, 2019

In the debate about what strategy to adopt to combat climate change, the Green New Deal has quickly become the new buzzword on the left. Is it an insufficient social-democratic response to the present crisis, or is it, in fact, the only realistic project we have to save the planet? Robert Pollin, distinguished professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, is a leading proponent of a green future and he shared his vision of the Green New Deal in the interview below, which appeared originally in Swedish in the left paper Flamman.

Jonas Elvander: You are one of the most well-known scientific spokespersons for a so-called “Green New Deal.” Can you explain what that means?

Robert Pollin: In my view, the core features of the Green New Deal are quite simple. They consist of a worldwide program to invest between 2-3 percent of global GDP every year to dramatically raise energy efficiency standards and equally dramatically expand lean renewable energy supplies.

Here is why this is the core of the Green New Deal. Last October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a new report emphasizing the imperative of limiting the rise in the global mean temperature as of 2100 by 1.50C [1.5 degrees Celsius] only, as opposed to 2.00C. The IPCC now concludes that limiting the global mean temperature increase to 1.50C will require global net CO2 [carbon dioxide] emissions to fall by about 45 percent as of 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050. These new figures from the IPCC provide a clear and urgent framework for considering alternative approaches for fighting climate change.

To make real progress on climate stabilization, the single most critical project at hand is straightforward: to cut the consumption of oil, coal and natural gas dramatically and without delay, and to eliminate the use of fossil fuels altogether by 2050. The reason this is the single most critical issue at hand is because producing and consuming energy from fossil fuels is responsible for generating about 70 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from burning coal, oil and natural gas alone produce about 66 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, while another 2 percent is caused mainly by methane leakages during extraction.

At the same time, people do still need and want to consume energy to light, heat and cool buildings; to power cars, buses, trains and airplanes; and to operate computers and industrial machinery, among other uses. It is pointless to pretend this isn’t so — that is, to insist that everyone embraces permanent austerity. As such, to make progress toward climate stabilization requires a viable alternative to the existing fossil-fuel dominant infrastructure for meeting the world’s energy needs. Energy consumption and economic activity more generally therefore need to be absolutely decoupled from the consumption of fossil fuels. That is, the consumption of fossil fuels will need to fall steadily and dramatically in absolute terms, hitting net zero consumption by 2050, even while people will still be able to consume energy resources to meet their various demands.

Energy efficiency entails using less energy to achieve the same, or even higher, levels of energy services from the adoption of improved technologies and practices. Examples include insulating buildings much more effectively to stabilize indoor temperatures; driving more fuel-efficient cars or, better yet, relying increasingly on well-functioning public transportation systems; and reducing the amount of energy that is wasted both through generating and transmitting electricity and through operating industrial machinery. Expanding energy efficiency investments support rising living standards because raising energy efficiency standards, by definition, saves money for energy consumers. Raising energy efficiency levels will generate “rebound effects” — i.e. energy consumption increases resulting from lower energy costs. But such rebound effects are likely to be modest within the current context of a global project focused on reducing CO2 emissions and stabilizing the climate.

As for renewable energy, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimated in 2018 that, in all regions of the world, average costs of generating electricity … are now roughly at parity with fossil fuels. This is without even factoring in the environmental costs of burning oil, coal and natural gas. Solar energy costs remain somewhat higher on average. But, according to IRENA, as a global average, solar photovoltaic costs have fallen by over 70 percent between 2010 and 2017. Average solar photovoltaic costs are likely to also fall to parity with fossil fuels as an electricity source within five years.

Through investing about 3 percent of global GDP per year in energy efficiency and clean renewable energy sources, it becomes realistic to drive down global CO2 emissions by roughly 50 percent relative to today within 10 years while also supporting rising living standards and expanding job opportunities. CO2 emissions could be eliminated altogether in 30 years through continuing this clean energy investment project at even a somewhat more modest rate of about 2 percent of global GDP per year. It is critical to recognize that, within this framework, a more rapid economic growth rate will also accelerate the rate at which clean energy supplants fossil fuels, since higher levels of GDP will correspondingly mean a large total amount of investment funds are channeled into clean energy projects.

“Batshit jobs” - no-one should have to destroy the planet to make a living

By Bue Rübner Hansen - Open Democracy, June 11, 2019

For too long, we have related to climate change mainly as consumers and voters. We have been responsibilised as meat eaters and airplane travellers, we have been urged to vote for the party with the most green agenda, but we have never been addressed as workers. This fits well with the general idea that consumers and voters have power and responsibility, while workers… well, they just have to get on with their work.

However, this pattern is starting to change. First future workers started striking at their schools, now they are calling adults to join a worldwide strike for the climate. The Green New Deal has risen to prominence with its promises of a world of sustainable jobs, and a new report argues that a carbon-neutral economy requires a massive shortening of the work week. Yet there is little discussion about the work that destroys the planet, in a variety of different locations from tar sands and coal mines, over agro-industrial landscapes to downtown skyscrapers and airports, on cargo and cruise ships. Sometimes we hear of coal miners protesting pit closures, or unions demanding subsidies for steel and auto industries, but we rarely hear of the guys pushing oil stocks at Wall St., the engineers designing the next pipeline, advertising agencies pimping mass consumption, or the professors teaching the next generation of petroleum geologists. Some workers could leave their jobs fairly easily, and others are deeply dependent on the next paycheck. These workers have an interest in habitable environments, but are caught in a maddening contradiction, asked by their employers to destroy the conditions of life in order to make a living. We are habituated to think of this as normal, even rational, but it’s time to say openly that it is madness, and to start from there. No one has the right to do such work, and no-one should have to do it.

Techno-fixes and government action might come, but we would be foolish to rely on it being sufficient and timely, or even happening at all. The clock is ticking; climate emergency and species extinction are already in process, and so far every solution imagined by engineers and technocrats has been incapable of even slowing the countdown, and green growth remains a pipe dream. In this situation of urgency, we may thus ask: How can people within and outside destructive industries develop a common interest in abolishing the work that destroys the planet?

When “Green” Doesn’t “Grow”: Facing Up to the Failures of Profit-Driven Climate Policy

By staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, December 14, 2018

For Discussion Purposes[1].

Prepared for: COP24, Katowice, Poland; December 3-14, 2018

An Ecosocialist Path to Limiting Global Temperature Rise to 1.5°C

By Richard Smith - System Change not Climate Change, November 26, 2018

I. The IPCC Report “Global Warming of 1.5°C” and the imperative to immediately suppress fossil fuel production

The much-awaited report from the U.N.’s top climate science panel describes the enormous gap between where we are and where we need to be to prevent dangerous levels of global warming. The 2015 Paris climate accord committed industrial nations to reduce their emissions sufficiently to keep global temperatures within a 2°C rise over pre-industrial levels. In the final accord, highly vulnerable island nations and faith communities represented at the UN pressed the authors to include the 1.5°C limit as an aspirational target in the final draft of the accord with 2°C as the backup target.

Soaring GHG emissions over the past five years, rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations, ice-cap retreats, intensified storms, summer forest fires reaching even above the Arctic circle, and die-offs of the world’s coral reefs have all raised concerns about what even a little bit more warming would bring. Parts of the planet including the Arctic and many inland areas, have already warmed beyond 1.5°C. California is on fire most of the year. The worst hurricanes are twice as severe (more precipitation, slower passage, greater wind speeds) as they used to be. This is just a short start. Climate breakdown occurring much more quickly than expected is one reason why climate scientists now think that the goal just five years ago of limiting warming to 2°C  “increasingly seems disastrous in this context.”[2] The Paris pledges were never sufficient even to keep warming below 3°C let alone 2°C. Few of the signatories have even managed to meet the low bars they set for themselves and he world’s largest countries including China, the U.S., and Canada have us on track to a 4-5°C warming. As CO2 concentrations continue growing, preventing runaway warming is going to require ever deeper, truly draconian cuts in emissions, which will mean greater economic disruption. IPCC estimates already show us needing to achieve a near vertical drop in emissions in the early 2020s. Every day we delay getting off of fossil fuels increases the probability that we won’t be able to save ourselves.

The 2018 IPCC special report painted a stark portrait of how quickly the planet is heating up and called on governments to take immediate steps to suppress emissions:

If emissions continue at current rate, atmosphere will warm by as much as 2.7° Fahrenheit, or 1.5° Celsius, above preindustrial levels by between 2030 and 2052. Further, warming is more extreme further inland of large water bodies. [To keep temperatures from rising beyond 1.5° degrees] anthropogenic CO2 emissions [must] decline by about 45% worldwide from 2010 levels by 2030 . . . [This] would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems. . . . These systems transitions are unprecedented in terms of scale . . . and imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors, a wide portfolio of mitigation options and a significant upswing in those options.[3]

Preventing ecological collapse requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that “has no documented historic precedent.”[4] What would this take? Myles Allen, Oxford University climate scientist and an author of the report said, “It’s telling us we need to reverse emissions trends and turn the world economy on a dime.” To prevent 2.7 degrees of warming greenhouse emission must be reduced by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, and by 100 percent by 2050. Use of coal as an electricity source would have to drop from 40 percent today to 1-7 percent by 2050.[5] Drew Shindell of Duke University, another author of the report said: “It would be an enormous challenge to keep warming below a threshold” of 1.5 degrees . . . What might that look like? In part, it would include things such as no more gas-powered vehicles, a phaseout of coal-fired power plants and airplanes running on biofuels,” he said. “It’s a drastic change,” he said. “These are huge, huge shifts . . . This would really be an unprecedented rate and magnitude of change.”[6] In response to the report, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres warned world leaders to “Do what the science demands before it’s too late.[7]

Productivism, endless growth and accumulation for accumulation’s sake must be reversed

By various - Counterview, November 23, 2018

Final statement of  the international civil society meet Thematic Social Forum on Mining and Extractivist Economy, held at Johannesburg, November 12-15, 2018, in which representatives* from Indian voluntary organizations also participated:

We, the participants of the Thematic Social Forum on Mining and Extractivist Economy, are gathered in Johannesburg, South Africa to consolidate a broad movement of resistance, to build common struggles for solidarity, to guarantee the integrity of nature and to ensure a better world for present and future generations.

We come from mining-affected communities, trade unions, people’s organizations, the women’s movement, LGBTI people, faith-based groups, indigenous peoples, workers, small scale farmers, fisherfolk, youth, support groups and academics from 60 countries, including from 28 African countries, as well as from the Americas, Asia Pacific and Europe.

We celebrate our diversity, recognising our different perspectives and the alternatives that we offer, but understanding that we are bound together by our desire for a future free from the destructive effects of extractivism.

Extractivism is a destructive model based on the exploitation of so-called “natural resources” and people of which mining is a prime case.

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