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ecosocialism

The Sydney “Green Bans” Show How We Can Transform Our Cities

By Kurt Iveson - Jacobin, July 10, 2021

In the 1970s, trade unions in Sydney began imposing “green bans” on property developments that were going to cause social and ecological harm. The movement should be an inspiration for challenges to the power of big business everywhere.

Fifty years ago, in June 1971, the New South Wales branch of the Builders Labourers Federation (NSWBLF) voted to ban construction of a luxury housing development in the Sydney harborside suburb of Hunters Hill. Their bulldozer-driving comrades in the Federated Engine Drivers and Firemen’s Association followed suit. The goal was to protect Kelly’s Bush, one of the last undeveloped areas of bushland on Sydney Harbour.

Over time, the tactic they used came to be known as a “green ban,” distinguishing it from a more conventional “black ban.” While trade unions imposed the latter in disputes over wages and conditions, green bans blocked construction on projects that were environmentally or socially destructive, or that threatened sites with heritage value.

The Kelly’s Bush green ban resulted from an unlikely alliance. Hunters Hill was a wealthy suburb, and most residents had little to do with the workers’ movement. Earlier that month, however, the Battlers for Kelly’s Bush — a resident action group — held a meeting of over six hundred people. It called on the unions to protect the bushland.

The NSWBLF was militant, proudly working-class, and maligned by respectable opinion. It was led by socialists and communists. Yet the union found common cause with the middle-class Battlers for Kelly’s Bush.

NSWBLF secretary Jack Mundey explained the union’s decision in a 1973 interview:

What is the good of fighting to improve wages and conditions if we are going to choke to death in polluted and planless cities? We are fighting for a shorter working week. If we get it, we still have to live in these cities. So “quality of life” should not just become a cliché. It should become a meaningful thing, and the workers should be concerned about every aspect of life — not just their working conditions.

Developer AVJennings attempted to circumvent the green ban by using nonunion labor. The NSWBLF hit back. Union members employed at another Jennings site sent a telegram to the developer’s head office: “If you attempt to build on Kelly’s Bush, even if there is the loss of one tree, this half-completed building will remain so forever, as a monument to Kelly’s Bush.”

The NSWBLF executive backed up their members’ threat. In August, AVJennings shelved their development plans. Kelly’s Bush remains untouched to this day.

Read the rest here.

Green Left Show #14: Why nuclear is NOT a climate solution

What Might an Ecosocialist Society Look Like?

By David Klein - System Change not Climate Change, June 27, 2021

Why can’t the problems that ecosocialism would solve also be remedied within the current global capitalist system?

Before describing possible features of a future ecosocialism, it is worthwhile to consider why such a system is even needed. Why can’t the problems that ecosocialism would solve also be remedied within the current global capitalist system? Part I of this essay addresses that question by summarizing recent scientific reports on the state of the climate and extent of the ecological crisis; reviewing available methods and technologies that could be used to address the climate and ecological crises; and briefly describing capitalism’s structural inability to provide solutions at the scale of the crises. Part II then takes up the subject of the title, ecosocialism, along with strategies to move in that direction. 

Part I: Context and Background

The threat to life on Earth posed by the climate and ecological crises can hardly be overstated. A 2019 Nature article warned that up to a million species of plants and animals are on the verge of extinction, and a United Nations study the same year identified global warming as a major driver of wildlife decline. Much of the devastation to date was catalogued in the 2020 WWF Living Planet report, which recorded a 68 percent decline in the population of vertebrates around the world, in just the past five decades. More succinctly, scientists report that Earth is experiencing a sixth mass extinction. (The previous mass extinction, 66 million years ago, ended the dinosaurs).

The scale of the environmental crisis is unprecedented in human history. At stake are human civilization and billions of lives. An article last year in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences predicted that for every additional 1̊C rise beyond the 2019 global average, a billion people will be forced to abandon their locations or endure insufferable heat. The paper warns that under a scenario of increasing emissions, areas now home to a third of the world’s population could experience the same temperatures as the hottest parts of the Sahara within 50 years. 

Summing up the findings of some 150 scientific studies, a 2021 paper authored by 17 scientists warned that the “scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its life forms –- including humanity –- is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp even for well-informed experts.” Adding further urgency, 101 Nobel laureates released an open letter in April 2021 in which they wrote, “We are seized by the great moral issue of our time: the climate crisis and commensurate destruction of nature.” The laureates called for a worldwide fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty

Global heating is driven by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and yet emissions continue at high levels despite the chorus of promises by “climate leaders” in governments. In 2020 global emissions decreased by a meager 5.8 percent due to Covid-19 lockdowns, but they were already on the rebound by the end of the year. For the current year, 2021, the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts the second largest annual increase in history of greenhouse gas emissions, as global economies recover from the Covid-19 recession. In May 2021 a record-breaking monthly average concentration of 419 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 was measured in Mauna Loa, Hawaii, breaking the previous May 2020 record of 417 ppm. 

The drivers of ecocide, more generally, include not only climate change, but also habitat destruction, toxic dumping, plastic pollution in the oceans, radiation poisoning, and other customary byproducts of the global capitalist economy. All of this destruction continues unabated despite the flood of warnings from scientists, lobbying by environmental activists, and even warnings from institutions deeply rooted in the capitalist economy. 

Consider, for example, that in May 2021 the IEA released an unprecedented call to the world to rapidly reach zero emissions in its report, Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector. Widespread news coverage and expressions of optimism followed. Yet from February to the end of April 2021, the Biden administration approved nearly 1200 drilling permits on federal lands, along with more than 200 offshore permits, and defended in court the ConocoPhillips Willow project in Alaska, which is expected to emit 260 million metric tons of CO2 during the next 30 years, the equivalent of 66 coal-fired plants. And Biden is far from alone among world leaders in his support of fossil fuel expansions.

The Red Deal: Indigenous Action to Save our Earth

By Susan Rosenthal - The Bullet, June 23, 2021

Indigenous people have been fighting to survive for centuries. Recently, their struggles have become more militant, more global, and less isolated, aligning with other anti-racist and anti-colonial movements, and leading the environmental movement.

The growing challenge that Indigenous people pose to capitalist rule can be measured by the increasing use of military force to suppress their rebellions and by the targeted murders of Indigenous activists.

In Canada, the portion of Indigenous people incarcerated in federal facilities rose from under 18 per cent in 2001 to over 30 per cent in 2020. Indigenous women are just 4 per cent of the Canadian population, yet form an astonishing 42 per cent of all female prisoners in federal custody.

Imprisoning an adult in Canada costs about $10,000 per month, a minuscule sum compared with the profits that flow from exploiting Indigenous lands. Speaking for all capitalists, the president of Brazil remarked, “Where there is Indigenous land, there is wealth underneath it.”

10 reasons why climate activists should not support nuclear

By Simon Butler - Climate and Capitalism, June 23, 2021

In a recent Guardian article, Jacobin magazine’s founding editor Bhaskar Sunkara declared that “If we want to fight the climate crisis, we must embrace nuclear power.” He praised nuclear as a clean and reliable and suggested that opponents of nuclear power are either gripped by “paranoia … rooted in cold war associations” or are relying on “outdated information.”

I disagree entirely. Here are 10 reasons why nuclear power is still no solution for climate change.

1. Nuclear is dangerous. Building many new nuclear power plants around the globe means a higher risk of unpredictable Fukushima-type accidents. We know more extreme weather events are locked in due to climate change, adding to the danger as time passes.

What if a nuclear power plant had been in the path of Australia’s huge bushfires in 2020? What nuclear power plant could withstand super typhoons like the one that flattened Tacloban City in the Philippines in 2013? What if a nuclear plant was submerged by unexpectedly massive floods, like those in Mozambique for the past three years in a row?

Planning for a hotter future means switching to safer, resilient technologies. Building more nuclear power plants in this context is reckless.

2. Nuclear wastes water. Nuclear power is an incredibly water-guzzling energy source compared with renewables like solar and wind. We know climate change-induced droughts and floods will make existing freshwater shortages a lot worse. So it’s a bad idea to waste so much water on more nuclear.

Uranium mining can also make nearby groundwater unusable forever. Half of the world’s uranium mines use a process called in-situ leaching. This involves fracking ore deposits then pumping down a cocktail of acids mixed with groundwater to dissolve the uranium for easier extraction. This contaminates aquifers with radioactive elements. There are no examples of successful groundwater restoration.

Transformation is Not a Metaphor

By Jevgeniy Bluwstein - Political Georgraphy Institute, June 17, 2021

In this intervention I highlight an element that has been overlooked in this important debate about “progressive environmental futures” (Robbins, 2019, p. 1) – the dismantling of fossil capitalism. More still, I argue that some perspectives in this forum may even distract our attention from a more direct engagement with this – in my view – most urgent question of our time. Ultimately, I suggest that by not engaging this question head on, debates about “transformation” risk rendering it a metaphor.

Here, I am inspired by the influential critique of decolonial scholarship by Tuck and Yang (2012), who insist that “decolonization is not a metaphor.” Tuck and Yang (2012) maintain that while the decolonization of academic and educational institutions through the recognition and integration of alternative knowledges is important, this is not the central objective of decolonization. Writing from a settler-colonial context, the authors suggest that “[u]ntil stolen land is relinquished, critical consciousness does not translate into action that disrupts settler colonialism” (Tuck & Yang, 2012, p. 19). In a settler-colonial context, decolonization thus must go beyond the usual critique of epistemology and beyond calls for decolonizing knowledge and methodologies. Above all, land has to be given back and colonial property relations dismantled.

Although Tuck and Yang's intervention is specific to a settler-colonial context, and thus should not be generalized, it resonates with broader critiques raised against recent trends in decolonial and ontopolitical scholarship. For instance, Chandler and Reid (2020, p. 494) are frustrated with the exuberant attention to the “coloniality of knowledge” at the expense of paying due attention to “the coloniality of real inequalities and injustices in the world.” Relatedly, the late David Graeber sees a lack of engagement with material questions of slavery, class, patriarchy, war, police, poverty, hunger and inequality in scholarship that privileges multiple ontologies of being and epistemologies of knowing (Graeber, 2015).

Drawing on these perspectives about the limits of critique, here, I draw a parallel between decolonization that requires land repatriation and not just the decolonization of knowledge production, and a vision of transformation that requires the rapid, ruptural dismantling of fossil capitalism and not just the transformation of our understanding of socio-ecological limits. In this vein, a vision of transformation that is not a metaphor needs to go beyond questions and critiques of limits, technology, labor and growth (however illuminating they may be), and to engage more directly with political strategy, organization and praxis in the here and now. After all, what matters is “which strategies can actually work to address the environmental and social crises the world faces” (Bliss, 2021, p. 1).

But isn't addressing environmental and social crises exactly what the debate in this forum is ultimately about? Yes and no. Yes, because a post-capitalist future is central to both, a degrowth and a socialist modernist vision, although in different ways. No, because this forum has not touched upon questions of political strategy, organization, and praxis for short-term dismantling of fossil capitalism, even though both camps agree that capitalism is the single biggest obstacle towards progressive environmental futures. Hoping that a future world of degrowth or socialist modernism will get us beyond fossil capitalism by, say 2050, is akin to placing our hopes in not-yet-available negative-emission technologies. Put differently, if net-zero emissions discourses risk leading to mitigation deterrence and becoming a spatiotemporal fix for fossil capitalism (Carton, 2019), can some visions of degrowth or socialist modernism similarly risk leading to transformation deterrence? If these visions do not build on political strategizing for actively dismantling fossil capitalism, I do not see why fossil capitalism cannot continue to fix its crises, to overcome its internal contradictions, and even to appropriate some degrowth or socialist demands.

At TUED Global Forum, Scottish TUC Calls for Public Energy in preparation for COP26 in Glasgow: STUC General Secretary Roz Foyer delivers call for “A People’s Transition to Net Zero”

By Staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, August 16, 2021

On August 11, TUED convened its latest Global Forum, to take up the question: "COP26: What Do Unions Want?"

The Forum saw contributions from COP26 host national center, the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), the UK Trades Union Congress (TUC), the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA), the UK’s Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), and Public Services International (PSI).

Nearly 150 participants joined the call, from 69 unions in 40 countries around the world.

The forum opened with remarks from Roz Foyer, General Secretary of the STUC. As the national trade union center for Scotland, with 40 affiliated unions as of 2020, the STUC represents over 540,000 trade unionists. Based in Glasgow, STUC will play host to trade unionists from around the world at COP26, in partnership with the UK’s TUC. (The recording of Foyer’s full contribution is available here.)

Foyer began by highlighting the STUC’s domestic campaigning priorities in Scotland in preparation for COP26, noting that these “chime in very closely with the TUED approach”:

We are first and foremost striving at the moment to build a genuine people’s recovery from the pandemic, and that people’s recovery that we are calling for is about calling for systematic changes to how our economy is organized, and really shifting the narrative around “private = good, public = bad.” And we’re also wanting to see our economy being rebuilt on a just transition. Everyone talks about a ‘just transition’ for workers, but we don’t believe that that just transition is being carried out by governments at this time. So we want to see a people’s recovery from the pandemic and a people’s transition to net zero.

The Covid crisis and the climate crisis have both brought into sharp focus the fact that the private sector and big business have proven themselves as being totally unable to meet the economic and social challenges that economies across the world now face. I think the writing was already on the wall when ordinary people through their governments were forced to bail out the banks during the financial crisis of 2010. And the latest incarnation of this are the various government rescue plans that we’ve seen across the world during covid, which, however necessary to save jobs in the short term, have really been largely focused on bailing out the bosses and the private sector.

So as we look forward to the vital need to decarbonize and achieve net zero through a Just Transition, it’s quite unthinkable that this could be achieved without massive government intervention, and without the efficiency and accountability that can only be delivered by direct, public sector delivery.

Turning to preparations for COP26, Foyer emphasized that the STUC’s approach is to use COP26 as a campaigning and leveraging opportunity, and as a means to build awareness and working class power, and make demands to government which are rooted in the real material needs of working people in Scotland. Towards that end, STUC has identified three campaign priorities which they will focus on in the months leading up to COP26.

Working less is both necessary and desirable from an environmental perspective.

By Kyle Lewis and Will Stronge - The Ecologist, June 8, 2021

With climate breakdown already at our doorstep, the pressing need to change course from capitalist models of growth has spawned new disciplines and approaches within the field of economics. 

One such approach is referred to as degrowth - a genre of research and activism that has been active for many decades, originally inspired by the political ecology of the French-Austrian  philosopher André Gorz. 

Conviviality

Those who advocate for degrowth define its approach as being- first and foremost- a critique of growth. Economic growth is unsustainable per se, because it is inseparable and cannot be ‘absolutely decoupled’ from greenhouse gas emissions and other negative environmental impacts.

In contrast to accounts that stress the need for ‘green growth’ or ‘socialist growth’, degrowth advocates demand the dethroning of growth as a goal in general and in its place want a political economy focused on using fewer natural resources in order to organise life and work. 

Rather than advancing an economic model destined for austerity, scarcity and recession - which are the socio-economic consequences usually associated with ‘flat’ or ‘non-growing economies’, degrowth and postgrowth advocates argue in favour of economic metrics and objectives that advance alternative modes of living, based on principles of sharing, conviviality, care and the common good. 

Breaking Things at Work: An Interview with Gavin Mueller

Gavin Mueller interviewed by Harry Holmes - Viewpoint Magazine, May 27, 2021

[Bright Green] Culture editor Harry Holmes interviews Gavin Mueller, author of the newly released Breaking Things at Work from Verso Books. Gavin Mueller is a lecturer in New Media and Digital Culture at the University of Amsterdam and a member of the editorial collective of Viewpoint Magazine.

So first, for those who won’t have read it yet, can you tell us a bit about the book?

The book is essentially thinking about technology from the perspective of labour struggle. The left was in this accelerationist moment for a few years where there was an idea that technologies, particularly those tied to automation in the workplace, were leading to a ‘post-work’ or ‘post-capitalist’ future based on their own course of development. I was troubled by this discourse, which set me off on the research that led to this book.

From my perspective, and what I argue in the book, is that actually quite a lot of these technologies are not leading to a ‘post-work’ future. They are certainly not leading to a ‘post-capitalist’ future. Instead, they are actually weapons that make it difficult for workers to struggle, to establish autonomy at work, and to move the economy in a more egalitarian direction.

I wrote this book to show there is a different way of thinking about technology, one that I argue is more closely aligned to the political self-activity of workers. It also suggests that for those who care about more egalitarian futures we must start politicising technology and having a critical approach to it, rather than assuming it’s developing in a progressive way on its own.

In actually existing struggles both in our contemporary moment and in history, a critical perspective on technology has been there all along. This is why I start the story with the Luddites, who are famous, in quite a pejorative way, for opposing technology. I think there is quite a lot we can understand once we learn their history a little better and relate it to our present condition.

How much is this Luddite approach a strategic one about being able to be in solidarity with workers currently at the sharp end of technology’s impact, for example in an Amazon warehouse, or do you see it as part of a wider approach to technology in general? Is it an opposition to technology per se or a more qualified position based on current workplace struggles?

My political and intellectual influences are these ‘from below’ histories and thinking about struggle from that perspective, as well as being very alive to when there are tensions within the workers’ movement between rank-and-file struggles and the leadership, whether trade union, political party, or intellectual. It’s important to know this history because we have to learn from it.

So I think that’s where I always start, but politics is a sophisticated thing, I don’t think that all politics is oriented on the shop floor. We have to mediate to different levels, but I want to keep that kernel of struggle in our perspective.

We are seeing a lot of encouraging and exciting things. I don’t consider myself that old, but things that have never happened in my life before are happening – like lots of people identifying as socialist. We see these impressive electoral challenges, but they don’t quite ever get over the finish line. One reason for this is the base is still quite depoliticised and fragmented.

My idea of how you solve that problem is really to recognise the ways in which people are already engaged in struggle, particularly people in these incredibly exploited positions. There’s always resistance. But that resistance doesn’t always get amplified, it doesn’t always get connected or articulated with other forms of resistance. To me, that’s something that has been missing from these left-wing political challenges.

Maybe launching out a lot of policy proposals can be very exciting and interesting, but it doesn’t seem to quite do what we’ve hoped it would do. One reason for this is it still has this top-down perspective of ‘we are going to help you out.’ A lot of people don’t relate to that, they don’t believe in it, or they don’t hear those messages because I don’t think we’ve done the work of really building a base that will then get attached to policies and start actually informing policies. So that’s one reason I really orient the politics of the book in these struggles, because it is important to do at this moment.

My belief is we need to meet people where they are, which for most people is in the everyday struggles they have at work and in their wider life. Technology is a huge part of that, and often something many people already have already a critical approach to. They don’t like the way it is, they want things to be changed. They don’t want to hear a science fiction story about the robots allowing them to stay at home all day. I don’t think that will resonate. So that is a big motivation for the book. It’s an intellectual perspective I have, but I do think there is political value in it as well.

Labour on the farm

By Chris Smaje - Small Farm Future, May 26, 2021

The first draft of A Small Farm Future had a chapter called ‘Labour on the farm’ which didn’t make the final version. I needed to cut the length, and although there were parts of this chapter I was quite attached to, I felt I hadn’t nailed the issues as well as I’d like, so it was easy to spike. Some passages found their way into other parts of the book, but I’d been hoping to make good on the issue in this blog cycle with parts of the deleted chapter and my own more polished thoughts. Trouble is, I still don’t feel I’ve nailed this issue sufficiently. So instead I offer this post as a placeholder for a more distant day when I hope I can offer something more up to scratch.

What I’ll do here instead is provide a few brief thoughts on the topic prompted by a deeper dive I took recently into Francesca Bray’s fascinating book The Rice Economies (University of California Press, 1986) – an old book, but a very good one. Then I’m hoping I can come back in the future with something a bit more expansive.

A key organizing theme in Bray’s book is her contention that wheat in western countries and dryland cereal crops in general offer economies of scale in production that don’t exist in the case of the wet rice cultivation that dominates much of the populous regions of East, South and Southeast Asia. The combination of relatively scarce labour and relatively abundant land in the west (albeit that the latter was too often a function of colonial dispossession) created a dynamic of labour substitution and mechanization geared to increasing the per worker productivity of farming as an economic sector that’s come to be seen as exemplary of agricultural ‘progress’. In the wet rice regions, on the other hand, relatively abundant labour and relatively scarce land created a dynamic of agricultural development where the focus was using more (skilled) labour to increase the per acre productivity of the land.

From this point of departure, Bray unfurls an enormously detailed and sophisticated discussion of poverty, development, mechanization, landownership, credit, state formation, agrarian organization and much else besides which I hope to draw and elaborate from in future posts. But for now I’ll restrict myself to a couple of main points.

In certain situations of economic growth and capitalist development, there can be a compelling logic to agricultural labour substitution of the western kind. People quit the toilsome agrarian life for better paid jobs in industry or services, helping fuel an accumulation of capital and resources that redounds to the net benefit of all.

This is a pretty idealized vision of how capitalism works in practice, but it has a sufficient grain of historical truth to it in western societies to colour notions of a more labour-intensive agricultural future with a sense of regress and misplaced romanticism. Nevertheless, it matters where the accumulated capital and resources go. If labour substitution helps generate extra income that doesn’t find its way back to labourers, then to them there is no benefit. And this is basically what’s happening in the present phase of the global economy.

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