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ecosocialism

How do we get there? Some thoughts on ecosocialist tactics & strategy

By Diana O’Dwyer - Rupture, February 2, 2022

Whatever your views on blowing up pipelines, Andreas Malm[1] has sparked a vital debate on the left of the environmental movement about tactics and strategy. The strategic problem he addresses is how should we organise to avert catastrophic climate change and which tactics will be most effective in achieving that? 

According to Malm, overthrowing capitalism in time to halt climate change is impossible[2] and he therefore advocates building an environmental movement capable of putting so much pressure on capitalist states that they are forced to act, even against their own class interests. It’s not spelled out fully in his work but he seems to think socialism can develop later out of this process.[3]

The immediate concern right now, however, is to deal with climate change before it destroys any basis for a decent quality of life, under socialism or any other system. 

This type of argument, that there isn’t enough time to build socialism and so we must focus on more pressing issues first, has dogged left politics for centuries. Ireland’s version - that ‘labour must wait’ - prioritised national independence over socialist change. Given the endless variety of ills thrown up by capitalism, many immediately deserving causes will inevitably challenge for precedence. If national independence isn’t pressing enough then surely the survival of our species is?

The problem with this argument is two-fold. 

Stop Buying Stuff (a case study on a successful reuse program)

Unions and Climate Change: Toward Global Public Goods

Net Zero versus Real Zero and the Future of the Planet

By David Klein - System Change Not Climate Change, January 13, 2022

“Net Zero” is the wrong goal. Here’s why we need to change the conversation and push for “Real Zero” instead.

A clarion call for “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions has been embraced by nearly everyone — environmentalists, politicians, corporations, and nations. More than 130 countries, including the world’s biggest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, have established, or are developing, net-zero emissions targets. Adding to that, at least a fifth of the world’s largest corporations, representing some $14 trillion in sales, have announced net-zero emissions targets by midcentury. Even airline companies, collectively responsible for five percent of global warming, have publicized net-zero policies. These include United Airlines, American Airlines, Jet Blue, Delta, as well as other major U.S. and international airline companies.

At first glance, the idea seems eminently reasonable: Offset greenhouse gas emissions by removing equal quantities of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, to be permanently sequestered in soils, plants, oceans, and possibly artificial carbon capture and storage systems. In that way the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases is stabilized. But is net-zero really a sufficient response to the climate crisis?

A closer look at the dynamics of the climate system, including the way the carbon cycle works, reveals that “net zero” can be only a temporary, transitory step, if we are to restrain the worst consequences. Global emissions must be rapidly reduced to a level as close to zero ­— “near zero” as opposed to “net-zero” — as possible. Net-zero and near zero are not the same, even though some well-informed environmentalists conflate the two. 

Existing so-called net-zero policies are making things worse, not better. Despite a plethora of exposés (see for example here, here, and here), net-zero promises are still rife with fraud. Many net-zero pledges are just public relations ploys that enable corporations to continue emitting high volumes of greenhouse gases while “owning” undervalued carbon-absorbing forests or mangroves elsewhere in the world. And in some cases, those offsets burn down or are destroyed in other ways.

We Will Build the Future: A Plan to Save the Planet

By various - Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, January 10, 2022

The most scandalous fact of the current period is that 2.37 billion people are struggling to eat. Most of them are in developing countries, but many are in advanced industrial states. Governments in developed countries say that there is not enough money to abolish hunger or any of the other afflictions of the modern era, whether it be illiteracy, ill health, or homelessness. However, during the pandemic, the central banks of these countries conjured up $16 trillion to protect the wavering capitalist system. Resources were readily available to save firms, but not to save hungry people: that is the moral compass of our times.

In this period, the research institutes of the capitalist states have set up new entities and published a slew of reports offering supposed remedies to ‘save capitalism’. Among these new institutions are the Council for Inclusive Capitalism (whose partners include the Bank of England and the Vatican) and the B Corporation Movement. The World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Financial Times have made the case for a ‘great reset’ to make capitalism ‘more inclusive’. ‘The pandemic represents a rare but narrow window of opportunity to reflect, reimagine, and reset our world’, says WEF Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab. Those who have brought us to the threshold of extinction and annihilation claim that they know how to fix our world. As expected, their ‘inclusive capitalism’ offers no clear programme, nothing beyond empty rhetoric.

Meanwhile, in mid-2021, twenty-six research institutes from around the world began to meet and discuss the production of a draft programme to address the current crisis. Under the leadership of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America – Peoples’ Trade Treaty (ALBA-TCP), our meetings produced a document called A Plan to Save the Planet. That plan is published in this dossier. It is intended for discussion and debate.

Read the text (PDF).

Ecosocialism and Degrowth: a Reply

By Simon Butler - Climate and Capitalism, January 6, 2022

David Schwartzman makes some very good points about the ecological benefits of ending militarism. I was also pleased to read his arguments about the strong potential for 100% renewable energy to meet global energy needs, although I cannot judge if his specific calculations about global per-capita energy are correct.

I’m not a degrowther per se. I think the fundamental problem is capital accumulation, of which capitalist growth is a product, but there are some questionable aspects to Schwartzman’s critique.

First, there is a claim about political strategy: that degrowth will appeal only to “the professional class” (I suppose this means middle class/petty bourgeois/intellectuals etc) in the North and would alienate the “global working class.”

That’s a strange formulation because it seems obvious that it’s not the “global” working class that Schwartzman and similar critics are worried about convincing, but the working class in the North who, they fear, will be repelled by a message that emphasises sharing resources with people elsewhere. The degrowth answer to this is that living standards for working people in the North can still improve even if economic growth is halted, as long as there is significant wealth redistribution.

I suspect that hostility to degrowth ideas among some ecosocialists in the North is linked to glossing over the sharp inequalities that divide “the global working class.” Any worthwhile ecosocialist strategy must address the North’s unequal access to the South’s mineral resources & soil nutrients. We in the North cannot hope to form international alliances with mass movements in the South if we neglect to do this. It’s imperialism that so destructively distorts the economies (and political cultures) of the South and the North, producing glaring inequalities and reproducing the ecological rift on a global level.

After Glasgow COP26: Build the Global Movement

By Alan Thornett - London Green Left Blog, January 5, 2022

What happened in Glasgow – and where do we go from here? 

Many on the radical left have concluded that Glasgow was an unmitigated disaster. That COP is dead. That the 1.5°C maximum temperature target is dead. That any gains made in Glasgow are greenwash. That it is time to stop focussing on the COP process and chart our own independent course. It is even argued that putting demands on the COP process (or indeed other capitalist institutions) is wrong in principle because it makes us complicit with their crimes and failures. 

I don’t agree with any of this. It’s certainly true that Glasgow failed to stop catastrophic climate change – and by a huge margin. It is also true the pace of the crisis is still increasing with fires, floods, droughts and hurricanes becoming ever more destructive, and that the Nationally Determined Contributions (NCDs), pledged in Glasgow, would produce a temperature rise of not 1.5°C but of 2.4°C – which would trigger feedback processes that would take the climate crisis out of control. 

To withdraw from the COP process, however, would be a big mistake. Although we all have a responsibility for our own ecological impact, only governments have the ability to make the major structural changes necessary to get rid of fossil energy in the timescale available. Nor can we build the mass movement necessary to force them to do so if we ignore the main global forum in which they can be engaged – and which is the main driver of global public consciousness on the issue. 

A Critique of Degrowth: An ecosocialist perspective in the context of a global Green New Deal

By David Schwartzman - Climate and Capitalism, January 5, 2022

Ecosocialist responses to “degrowth” analysis and proposals have ranged from full support to total rejection. The author of the following critical commentary is an emeritus professor of biology at Howard University, and co-author of The Earth is Not for Sale (World Scientific, 2019). We encourage respectful responses in the comments, and hope to publish other views in future.

The positive contributions of the degrowth proponents should be recognized, in particular, their rethinking of economic growth under capitalism, critiquing its measure, the GNP/GDP, as well as pointing to capitalism’s unsustainable use of natural resources, in particular fossil fuels in its production of commodities for profit generation regardless of their impact on the health of people and the environment. Further, they wisely critique eco-modernists who claim that simply substituting the right technology into the present political economy of capitalism will be sufficient to meet human and nature’s needs.

But the degrowth solutions offered are highly flawed and their brand is not likely to be welcomed by the global working class, even as it attracts sections of the professional class.[1] Degrowth proponents commonly fail to unpack the qualitative aspects of economic growth, lumping all in one basket; i.e., sustainable/addressing essential needs of humans and nature versus unsustainable, leaving the majority of humanity in poverty or worse. Degrowthers point to the relatively privileged status of workers in the global North compared to those in the global South as a big part of the problem, instead of recognizing that the transnational working class will not only benefit from growth of sectors that meet its needs in both the global North and South but must be the leading force to defeat fossil capital.[1, 2, 3]

A common claim in the degrowth discourse is that “perpetual growth on a finite planet leads inexorably to environmental calamity.”[4] This assertion fails to deconstruct the qualitative aspects of growth, what is growing, what should degrow, under what energy regime? While of course there are obvious limits to the growth of the global physical infrastructure, why can’t knowledge and culture continue to grow for a long time into the future in a globally sustainable and just physical and political economy?

Green Unionism against Precarity

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, January 1, 2022

Editor's Note: all but one or two of the links in this article link to multiple articles, located on the IWW Environmental Union Caucus site, categorized by topic. Therefore, it is to the reader's interest to explore all of the articles brought forth by each link, at their convenience (and that body of information is ever evolving over time).

An edited version of this article appears in New Politics 72.

In a real sense, under capitalism, all workers are "precarious", meaning that they can be downsized, replaced, deskilled, outsourced, etc. It's simply a matter of degrees.

The ultimate peak in precarity is "gig work" (which has actually always existed; the names simply keep changing, but the concept is the same).

Unions represent a check against precarity, though this occurs on a graduated scale. The stronger the union, the less the workers' precarity.

Union strength manifests in various ways: it can result from a well organized, international, militant democratic union (ideal, but rare, with few real world examples, such as ILWU, and the IWW, of course), though more often than not it's a result of concentration of elite craft workers in skilled trades unions, which represents a strong guard against precarity, but only for workers in the union, in which case, solidarity is limited.

Other checks against precarity include high demand for skilled craft workers in rare supply, High demand for hard to replace workers (such as workers that required skilled credentials, such as teachers or transport workers), or tight labor markets (which exist in our semi-post COVID-19 world, due to a combination of factors spelled out in the Vox article).

This is nothing more than class struggle 101, as expertly phrased by Karl Marx, et. al.

There are new forms of precarity emerging due to climate catastrophe (brought on by capitalism). Workers find themselves facing new health and safety hazards and/or threats to their working environment.

COP26 to CON26: how we need to be at DEFCON level 1 to save our people and planet

By Dave Sherry - Scottish Left Review, January 2022

Climate Jobs: Building a workforce for the climate was written and published by the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group (CACCTU) to coincide with COP26. It is a response to the urgency of the climate crisis and lays out the type and scale of the transition needed to match it. It is essential reading for every trade unionist and climate activist.

It provides a detailed, in-depth update of the earlier work produced by CACCTU, One Million Climate Jobs (2014), showing that there are many more than a million, well paid, skilled jobs that could be created if we get serious and urgently tackle the climate emergency. Packed with ideas, examples, and accompanying technical resources, it outlines the type of workforce needed and argues that to deliver it we need to break from the failed reliance on the market and instead invest in a huge expansion of public sector jobs across all sectors – from transport, energy and food to homes, education and more.

The pamphlet argues this will require a National Climate Service, which can organise, plan and train workers as well as deliver the jobs so urgently needed, amounting to a radical transformation which will improve our lives, ensuring among other things we have warm, affordable homes, a fully integrated public transport system and most importantly a safe climate and ecology now and in the future.

World leaders, NGOs, pressure groups and corporates jetted into Glasgow for COP26. Like previous summits, it saw major corporations vie with each other in the dark arts of greenwashing, having paid millions to sponsor the event itself. COP1 met in Berlin in 1995. Since then, the process has seen a quarter-century of failure with the environmental crisis becoming rapidly and terrifyingly worse.

Failure has much to do with the fact that the COP process has never been short of corporate influence. Glasgow had 11 major sponsors, including the energy giants Hitachi, National Grid, Scottish Power and SSE. Other sponsors included Microsoft, Sky media and NatWest. Boris Johnson, Jeff Bezos, Joe Biden, Barack Obama and India’s Narendra Modi arrived in town with the world’s media touting Glasgow as the ‘last chance saloon’. But Glasgow proved to be CON26. In the run-up activists around the world were already claiming it would be the most elitist, least democratic COP ever, with the politicians of the rich countries dominating the agenda and excluding representatives of the people bearing the brunt of the crisis. And, so it proved.

Now that the circus has left town every day that passes rams home its failure and the growing existential threat we face. 2021 was a year of unprecedented climate crisis marked by terrifying floods, wildfires, hurricanes and droughts. Tipping points, like the collapse of the Gulf Stream and the Greenland ice sheet, are in danger of being crossed. Meanwhile, the Amazon rainforest now emits more carbon dioxide than it absorbs, making it a source of, rather than a sink for, greenhouse gas emissions.

The crisis is spiralling out of control because capitalism’s inherent inequalities of class, race and gender block any prospect of climate justice. Estimates of who’ll be displaced by climate change vary dramatically. The most cited figure is that by 2050 there will be 200m climate refugees fleeing harvest failures, droughts and floods. No wonder the UN Climate Report flashed up Code Red for humanity, warning that the worst scenarios can only be avoided by immediate government action.

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