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ecosocialism

Sustaining the Unsustainable: Why Renewable Energy Companies Are Not Climate Warriors

By Sean Sweeney - New Labor Forum, August 27, 2021

In the fight to address climate change, renewable energy companies are often assumed to be Jedi Knights. Valiantly struggling to save the planet, wind and solar interests are thought to be locked in mortal combat with large fossil fuel corporations that continue to mine, drill, and blast through the earth’s fragile ecosystems, dragging us all into a grim and sweaty dystopia.

In the United States and elsewhere, solar panels glitter on rooftops and in fields; turbines tower majestically over rural landscapes. The fact that, globally, the renewables sector continues to break records in terms of annual deployment levels is, for many, a source of considerable comfort. Acting like informational Xanax to ease widespread climate anxiety, news headlines reassure us that the costs of wind and solar power continue to fall, and therefore wind and solar is (or soon will be) “competitive” with energy from coal and gas. The transition to clean energy is, therefore, unstoppable.

By Any Means Necessary

Of course, wind and solar companies are not charities. They are, in a phrase, profit driven. They want to attract investment capital; they seek to build market share, and they all want to pay out dividends to shareholders. In this respect, renewable energy (and “clean tech”) companies are not fundamentally different from fossil fuel companies.

. . . [W]ind and solar companies are not charities. . . . In this respect, [they] are not fundamentally different from fossil fuel companies.

But so what? North-based environmental groups frequently point out that we have just a handful of years to start to make major reductions in emissions. Therefore, this is not a time, they insist, to split hairs or to make the perfect the enemy of the good. If electricity generation is the leading single source of CO2 pollution, then surely the more electrons generated by renewable sources of energy will mean fewer electrons being generated by fossil fuels. What more needs to be said?

But there are several reasons why, in their current role, renewable energy companies could be more part of the problem than they are part of the solution—which, if true, means a lot more has to be said. As we will see, they are beginning to squander their “social license” by being party to a “race to the bottom” dynamic that risks turning workers and many ordinary people against action on climate change. Equally serious, large wind and solar interests’ “me first” behavior is propping up a policy architecture that is sucking in large amounts of public money to make their private operations profitable.

They are sustaining a model of energy transition that has already shown itself to be incapable of meeting climate targets.[1] In so doing, these companies have not just gone over to the political dark side, they helped design it.

No Hope for Earth without Indigenous Liberation: ‘The Red Deal: Indigenous Action to Save Our Earth’

By Simon Butler - Climate and Capitalism, August 24, 2021

As heat and severe weather records are broken again and again, it should be clear by now that there is no limit for capital. There will be no scientific warning or dire catastrophe that leads to a political breakthrough. No huge wildfire, terrible drought or great flood will make governments and corporations change course. To carry on as they are means extinction. And yet they still carry on: more fossil fuels and fewer trees, more pollution and fewer species.

Recognition that there is no way out of this crisis without far-reaching, social upheaval animates the proposals put forward in The Red Deal: Indigenous Action to Save Our Earth. The short book was authored by activists from The Red Nation, a coalition devoted to Indigenous liberation and made up of Native and non-native revolutionaries based mainly in North America.

The authors make clear that they believe the campaign to halt climate change and repair ecological destruction is bound up with the fate of the world’s Indigenous peoples. They say bluntly that “there is no hope for restoring the planet’s fragile and dying ecosystems without Indigenous liberation” and that “it’s decolonization or extinction.”

A Just Transition Now or Climate Disaster is Inevitable

Where We Mine: Resource Politics in Latin America

Thea Riofrancos interviewed by Annabelle Dawson - Green European Journal, August 12, 2021

As the drive to expand renewable energy capacity speeds up, there is a rush for lithium and other materials around the world. What will the expansion of rare earth mining in Latin America mean for the indigenous communities and workers who have historically borne the harms of extractivism? Thea Riofrancos, author of Resource Radicals (Duke University Press, 2020), explains how the energy transition in the Global North risks being anything but just without structural changes to supply chains and the governance of extractive industries.

Annabelle Dawson: Your work explores the politics of resource extraction in Latin America, from oil in Ecuador to lithium in Chile. How do you define resource politics or extractivism?

Thea Riofrancos: Resource politics refers to any social or political activity – whether conflict, collaboration, political economy or social mobilisation – that’s attributed to the extraction of resources, and in some cases to stop resource extraction. Scholarship tends to see resource politics as primarily related to elites like state officials and corporate actors. This is pivotal, for example, to the concept of the resource curse, which holds that dependency on resource rents leads to authoritarianism. However, this focus overlooks a range of resource politics such as social movements that oppose extractive projects or demand better regulation and indigenous rights.

Extractivism is a little thornier to define. My research has explored how in Latin America social movements, activists and even some bureaucrats in the case of Ecuador began to use this term to diagnose the problems that they associated with resource extraction. This happened in the context of the 2000 to 2014 commodity boom – a period of intense investment in resource sectors driven by the industrialisation of emerging economies like China – and the Left’s return to power across Latin America during the “Pink Tide”. Activists, left-wing intellectuals and some government officials began to see extractivism as an interlocking system of social and environmental harm, political repression, and corporate and foreign capital domination. So, the concept originates from political activity rather than scholarship [read more about extractivism in Latin America].

We tend to associate resource extraction with notoriously dirty commodities like coal, oil, and certain metals. How are green technologies implicated in all of this?

The transition to renewable energies is often thought of as switching one energy source for another: fossil fuels for renewables. That’s part of it, but this transition fits into a much bigger energy and socio-economic system. You can’t just swap energy sources without rebuilding the infrastructures and technologies required to harness, generate, and transmit that energy. All this has a large material footprint and requires materials such as lithium, cobalt, nickel and rare earth metals [read more about the central role and impact of these rare metals]. More traditional extractive sectors like copper are also very important for decarbonisation.

One very bad outcome would be if the harms related to fossil fuel capitalism were reproduced in new renewable energy systems, subjecting particular communities to the harms of resource extraction in the name of fighting climate change. We need a new energy system quickly – especially in the Global North given the historic emissions of the US and Europe. But in this rush, there’s a real risk of reproducing inequalities and environmental damage. This is especially so with some mining sectors where a boom in the raw materials for green technologies like wind turbines, electric vehicles and solar panels is predicted.

The End of Growth? The Capitalist Economy & Ecological Crisis

By Conor Payne and Chris Stewart - Socialist Alternative, August 11, 2021

Many ecologists, activists and academics argue that an obsession with economic growth is the cause of our current ecological crisis and a commitment to “degrowing” the economy is the solution.

Too often, however, this discussion lacks a sufficient class or anti-capitalist content and workers are blamed for our supposedly destructive “consumption patterns”. Instead, socialists should be clear that the cause of the climate crisis is the capitalist system and its incessant drive to accumulate profits, and that the only way to solve the crisis is to struggle for a socialist world where human need, including a sustainable relation to nature, comes before private greed.

Capitalism’s “boom and bust” cycle

Under capitalism, the driving force of the economy is the pursuit of profit. The competition between companies and even different capitalist powers for markets and resources means that this drive for profit is relentless and expansive. Therefore, capitalism also involves a continuous quest for economic growth.

At the same time, these companies will seek to “externalize” the cost of their activities, to leave them to be paid by someone else. The capitalist firm doesn’t care on what basis it grows; whether its products are useful or cause harm, or if its activities are environmentally sustainable.

Capitalism is a system of contradictions. The capitalists get their profits by exploiting workers, as well as the resources extracted from nature in the labor process. The constant need to accumulate more profits means capitalism extracts more and more resources in increasingly destructive ways, ultimately leading to the depletion of soils, minerals, forests, the life in our oceans etc — which undermines the system’s own sources of wealth.

Capitalism is increasingly coming up against the ecological barrier to its unrestrained development, as seen in mounting natural disasters, the recent shutdown of the power system in Texas, and a global pandemic, all at least partly attributable to humanity’s increasing incursions into nature.

COP26: What Do Unions Want?

Building eco-socialism: A review of Max Ajl’s A People’s Green New Deal

By David Camfield - Tempest, July 22, 2021

There’s nothing more important today than the politics of climate change. How societies respond to global heating will increasingly shape all political life.

A People’s Green New Deal by Max Ajl, an associated researcher with the Tunisian Observatory for Food Sovereignty and the Environment and a postdoctoral fellow with the Rural Sociology Group at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, gives us some insightful analysis of different political approaches to global heating (a term I prefer since it packs more punch than global warming) and many good ideas about how society should be changed to respond to capitalism’s ecological crisis. However, the book is much less helpful for thinking about the political strategy we need to make these changes.

Although some hard right-wing politicians are still intoxicated by the climate change denial nonsense that organizations funded by fossil capital have been spewing for years, smarter ruling-class strategists are planning for what Ajl calls “Green Social Control.” This “aims to preserve the essence of capitalism while shifting to a greener model in order to sidestep the worse consequences of the climate crisis.”

The European Commission’s announced measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union are an example of this approach. It’s what Joe Biden had in mind when he appointed John Kerry as a Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. It’s also the vision of the Climate Finance Leadership Initiative, a group of finance capitalists headed by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. It’s a vision that Ajl skewers.

Fighting fossil fascism for an eco-communist future

By The Zetkin Collective and Kai Heron - ROAR Mag, July 15, 2021

The West Coast of North America is, once again, on fire. Last month, Phoenix, Arizona, recorded temperatures of 46 degrees Celcius five days in a row. A new record. Every afternoon, the surface temperature of concrete and tarmac climbed to 82 degrees Celsius — hot enough to cause third-degree burns. In California and Texas, where temperatures were marginally lower, energy grid operators feared a prolonged heat wave would wreak havoc on energy infrastructure, forcing a repeat of last years’ rolling blackouts. For many dependent on air conditioning to stay cool in the sweltering heat, this would cause health complications or even death.

North America’s ongoing heatwave follows months of dry weather across the West Coast that have established the conditions for a summer of unprecedented water shortages, crop failures and wildfires. California and Arizona’s wildfire season started unusually early. One of Arizona’s first fires roared for four days, incinerating 27 square miles of countryside and forcing the evacuation of two townships. As this interview is prepared for publication, more than 60 wildfires are raging across the West Coast, some two times the size of Portland. As has become commonplace in the US, state officials are sending prisoners in to tackle the flames, paying them as little as $1.50 an hour.

Already this year Pakistan and Northern India have been wracked by temperatures reaching 52 degrees Celsius. While the small town of Lytton, 124 miles outside Vancouver, hit 49.6 degrees Celsius, the highest temperature ever recorded in Canada. Meanwhile, Brazil has suffered under its worst drought in 100 years, sending food prices spiraling upwards. At these extremes, life as normal is suspended. People die. Ecosystems collapse. And out of the disarray, reactionary social forces make their move.

Through a toxic combination of long-established anti-immigrant and racializing tropes and a regressive denialist climate agenda, far-right parties and social movements are exercising increased influence across Europe and the Americas. The Zetkin Collective’s White Skin, Black Fuel: The Danger of Fossil Fascism charts the rise of these movements and ideas and, with an eye to the horizon, forecasts the emergence of “fossil fascism.”

Zetkin Collective member Andreas Malm’s most recent individually authored works How to Blow up a Pipeline and Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency, were rapidly-written conjunctural analyses of our intersecting ecological, epidemiological and political predicaments. Both books sought to drive a red-and-green wedge into conversations about capitalism’s breathless trajectory towards ecological collapse and the limits of prevailing strategies among elements of the capitalist core’s climate movements.

While none of the urgency of these works is lost in White Skin, Black Fuel, it drops into the background as a richly detailed analysis of the interrelations of racial capitalism, fossil fuel extraction, nationalism and climate breakdown takes precedence. The book is an example of engaged scholarly research at its best. A clarion call to movements and a forceful reminder of the reactionary forces that are stacked against us as we fight to realize an eco-communist future.

In this interview Kai Heron speaks to Zetkin Collective members Andreas Malm, Laudy van den Heuvel and Ståle Holgersen about the Collective’s writing process, climate denial and resistance to fossil fascism.

Death or Renewal: Is the Climate Crisis the Final Crisis?

By Wayne Price - Anarkismo, July 13, 2021

Classical socialists, both anarchists and Marxists, have written of the eventual end of capitalism--either through a popular revolution creating a new society or through the self-destruction of capitalism. Global warming raises the question of whether humanity is now facing such a possible total crisis, of choosing between socialism or social ruin.

Recently a friend sent me an article by Simon Lewis, a professor of global change science at the University College of London. Its title (Lewis 2021) was, “Canada is a warning: more and more of the world will soon be too hot for humans” and its subtitle was, “Without an immediate global effort to combat the climate emergency, the Earth’s uninhabitable areas will keep growing.

This led me to think of the apocalyptic warnings of the socialist tradition, the most well-known, perhaps, being Rosa Luxemberg’s “socialism or barbarism.” In 1878, Friedrich Engels wrote that the bourgeoisie was “a class under whose leadership society is racing to ruin…If the whole of modern society is not to perish, a revolution in the mode of production and distribution must take place, a revolution which will put an end to all class distinctions.” (Engels 1954; 217-8) Capitalism’s “own productive forces…are driving the whole of bourgeois society towards ruin or revolution.” (228)

Marx began his 1848 Communist Manifesto by claiming, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles…that each time ended, either in a revolutionary re-constitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.” (2013; 60-61) So, there is an historic choice between “revolutionary re-constitution” or “common ruin.” (This raising of two possible outcomes seems to be contradicted by the Manifesto’s later statement—about the capitalist class, “Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.” [73] I will not discuss whether Marx was a determinist, and, if so, of what kind.)

This was also an anarchist concept, integrating the problems of capitalism and its state. In 1898, Peter Kropotkin concluded The State--Its Historic Role, "Death--or renewal! Either the State for ever, crushing individual and local life, taking over in all fields of human activity, bringing with it all its wars and domestic struggles for power...which only replace one tyrant by another, and inevitably at the end of the development there is--death! Or the destruction of States, and new life starting again in thousands of centers on the principle of the lively initiative of the individual and groups and that of free agreement. The choice lies with you!” (1987; 60)

Power, Workers, and the Fight for Climate Justice

By Tara Olivetree (Ehrcke) - Midnight Sun, July 12, 2021

Power

Who has more power than Shell Oil? This is one of the first questions a climate activist should ask themselves, because without finding an answer, we can’t win.

The power of the fossil fuel industry is massive. Fossil fuel companies are worth at least $18 trillion in stock equity, which represents about a quarter of total global stock markets. These vast resources and their outsized share of the world economy allow the industry to continually assert their interests, no matter the destruction this entails. They do so through any means available, of which there are many.

The notorious work of Exxon in first understanding, and then deeply misrepresenting, the science on climate change is one example. After generously funding its own climate research, and being told explicitly in 1977 that global warming due to the burning of fossil fuels was likely to lead to a two- to three-degree increase in global temperatures, Exxon embarked on an industry-wide quest to promote doubt in the science. This lengthy “fake news” campaign cost millions of dollars, and arguably set back the climate movement by decades.

However, the power of the fossil fuel industry goes well beyond the manipulation of global public thought. From the time of the industrial revolution in the 19th century, the history of modern capitalism has been replete with wars fought over fossil fuels. These have served to maintain strategic interests and, just as importantly, the profits of fossil fuel companies. A map of twentieth-century imperial conquest would show the disproportionate number of wars waged in the Middle East, where the world’s largest and cheapest oil deposits lie. As Alan Greenspan, a former chair of the US Federal Reserve, stated about one of these wars: “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.”

How, then, do we go about exerting equivalent force, in order to dismantle the fossil fuel industry within the limited timeline outlined by scientists, while at the same time building an equitable, habitable, and just society?

There are a number of competing answers to this question. 

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