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revolutionary ecology

A “Green New Deal”?: The Eco-syndicalist Alternative

By Tom Wetzel - Ideas and Action, April 15, 2019

Capitalist dynamics are at the very heart of the current crisis that humanity faces over global warming.

When we talk of “global warming,” we’re talking about the rapid — and on-going — rise in the average world-wide surface and ocean temperature. Thus far a rise of 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1880. According to an ongoing temperature analysis conducted by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, two-thirds of this temperature increase has occurred since 1975. A one-degree rise in temperature might seem like no big deal. As the NASA scientists point out, however, “A one-degree global change is significant because it takes a vast amount of heat to warm all the oceans, atmosphere, and land by that much.”

We know that carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels is at the heart of the problem. For many centuries the proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere ranged between 200 and 300 parts per million. By the 1950s the growth of industrial capitalism since the 1800s had pushed this to the top of this range — 310 parts per million. Since then the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen very rapidly — to more than 410 parts per million by 2018. This is the result of the vast rise in the burning of fossil fuels in the era since World War 2 — coal, petroleum, natural gas.

The problem is rooted in the very structure of capitalism itself. Cost-shifting is an essential feature of the capitalist mode of production. An electric power company burns coal to generate electricity because the price per kilowatt hour from coal-fired electricity has long been cheaper than alternatives. But the emissions from burning coal travel downwind and cause damage to the respiratory systems of thousands of people — including preventable deaths to people with respiratory ailments. This is in addition to the powerful contribution to global warming from the carbon dioxide emissions. But the power firm doesn’t have to pay money for these human costs. If the firm had to pay fees that would be equivalent to the human cost in death, respiratory damage and contribution to global warming and its effects, burning coal would not be profitable for the power company.

Firms also externalize costs onto workers, such as the health effects of stress or chemical exposures. The “free market” pundit or hack economist might deny that companies externalize costs onto workers. They might say that wages and benefits paid to workers for each hour of work measure the cost of labor. But the human cost of work can be increased without an increase in the compensation paid to workers. If a company speeds up the pace of work, if people are working harder, if they are more tightly controlled by supervisors, paced by machines or software, this increases the cost in human terms.

Toxic chemicals used in manufacturing, in agriculture and other industries pose a threat to both the workers and to people who live in nearby areas. Usually working class people live in neighborhoods near polluting industries, and often these are communities of color. This is another form of capitalist cost-shifting.

State regulation of pesticides or air pollution often ends up acting as a “cover” for the profit-making firms. Despite the existence of pollutants generated by leaky oil refineries and pollutants emitted by other industries in industrial areas in California — such as the “cancer alley” of oil refineries in the Contra Costa County area  or the similar refinery zone in Wilmington — the government agencies set up to deal with air pollution in the Bay Area and Los Angeles County protected polluters for years by focusing almost exclusively on pollution generated  by vehicle exhaust. In this way the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District have been an example of “regulatory capture” by corporate capital.

Power firms that generate vast amounts of carbon dioxide emissions — and firms that make profits from building fossil-fuel burning cars and trucks or from the sale of gasoline and diesel and jet fuel — have not had to pay any fees or penalties for the growing build up of the carbon dioxide layer in the atmosphere. The global warming crisis thus has its explanation in cost shifting and the search for short-term profits and ever growing markets — features that are at the heart of the capitalist system.

If global capitalism continues with “business as usual”, the warming will have major impacts — killer heat waves, more ocean heat pumping energy into hurricanes and cyclones, rising ocean levels from melting of ice in the polar regions and melting of glaciers, destruction of corals in the oceans, and a greater danger to the survival of many species of living things.

Labour and the ecological crisis: The eco-modernist dilemma in western Marxism(s) (1970s-2000s)

By Stefania Barca - Geoforum, January 2019

The article offers an intellectual critique of Marxist political ecology as developed in western Europe between the 1970s and 2000s, focusing on the labour/ecology nexus. My critique is based on the intersection of two levels of analysis: 1) the historical evolution of labour environmentalism, focusing on what I will call the eco-modernist dilemma of labour; 2) the meaning of class politics in relation to the politics of the environment, with a special focus on the production/reproduction dialectic.

Focusing on the work of four Marxist intellectuals whose ideas resonated with various social movements across the Left spectrum (labour, environmentalism, feminism and degrowth), the article shows how the current entrenchment of labour within the politics of eco-modernization hides a number of internal fractures and alternative visions of ecology that need to be spelled out in order to open the terrain for a rethinking of ecological politics in class terms today.

Read the text (PDF).

How Radical Municipalism can go Beyond the Local

By the Symbiosis Research Collective - The Ecologist, June 8, 2018

Throughout this series, we’ve argued that the best way to address today’s ecological, social, and political crises is to get people together where they live and work to provide resources that people need – eventually building up an alternative political and economic system that can replace the present, failing system. We need to build a democratic, just, and ecological world in the shell of the old.

In the previous installment, we argued that organising on the level of the neighborhood, town, and city is the most strategic approach to this today.

The rise of loneliness worldwide, the centrality of real estate speculation for global economic growth, and the breakdown of many large-scale factories that helped to bring workers together mean that we have to rethink the ways we demand change.

We can build community and force elites to listen to our demands at the same time. Radical municipalism is a project to take direct democratic control over the places where we live.

When we talk to people about this strategy, the same kinds of questions often come up. In this article, we highlight three common criticisms. Each one of them revolves around the complaint that radical municipalism is too local: it can’t deal with the ‘big stuff’.

Reordering The Anthropocene

By Matt Hern and Am Johal - Red Pepper, May 21, 2018

Capitalism is nothing if not a sophisticated ordering operation of a given population: a secular religion with a theological belief in markets and their myriad disciplinary methods. Capital’s ability to constantly create and re-create itself wipes away the trauma and memory of disaster. Tradition under capitalism is constantly being reinvented to suit new languages of accumulation and dispossession, and accumulation by dispossession. In our view, conversations around oil, global warming, and crisis are potentially very dangerous when they are defined by capital and the state because, ultimately, they reveal a particular faith: a faith in a capitalist paradigm of beautiful destruction. From the perspective of capital, global warming is seen as an opportunity that should be faithfully exploited.

Walter Benjamin often described capitalism as religion. In a 1921 essay, he wrote that “Capitalism is entirely without precedent, in that it is a religion which offers not the reform of existence but its complete destruction. It is the expansion of despair, until despair becomes a religious state of the world in the hope that this will lead to salvation.” It’s difficult not to think of such an apocalyptic vision of capitalism as simultaneously one of religion and destruction, and how this idea reveals the antagonistic relationship between capital and the other-than-human world. We’re intrigued by the idea of change as a kind of tradition. Wrapped in the history of modernity, beyond the desire for newness, is the reflex of progress that holds so much of history in contempt. Any history that doesn’t fit with capitalist narratives is cast as an obstruction, a blockage to the flow of the new, to be discarded and forgotten.

Presenting capitalism and development as the only possible form of progressive social ordering is a move toward closure in thinking about change. Today, what is being presented, at least in the narrow frame of the Global North, is that there is no modernity other than a capitalist one. Theorizing an ecological future requires a rupture between capitalism and modernity. The challenge is to construct new ideas of change while reimagining what we talk about when we talk about tradition, especially when we (and we mean that in the general “we,” but more pressingly in the particular—i.e., the two of us) carry so many contradictory, confusing, and often revanchist traditions with us.

Women and Climate Change Impacts and Action in Canada: Feminist, Indigenous, and Intersectional Perspectives

Written and researched by Lewis Williams with Amber Fletcher, Cindy Hanson, Jackie Neapole and Marion Pollack - Work and Climate Change Report - February 2018

Climate change is unequivocally occurring across the globe, impacting the conditions, experiences, and livelihoods of communities in multiple ways.2 Between 1948 and 2007 temperatures in Canada increased at a rate approximately twice the global average.3 Accelerated rates of global warming and dramatically increased temperatures are expected to occur in parts of Canada well into the future.4 Yet, Canada remains one of the world’s biggest per capita carbon polluters5 and is falling far short of meeting climate mitigation goals under the Paris Agreement, an international agreement for meeting climate change mitigation and adaptation targets.

Emerging research on the gendered impacts of climate change in Canada demonstrates how climate change is exacerbating inequalities between women and men. Women’s lower incomes relative to men, their gendered roles and social statuses, and the ways in which these interact with changing environments and related policies and programs affect women’s experiences of climate change. Despite these inequities, gender considerations are remarkably absent in climate plans and policies across the country.

Climate change is largely the result of the tightly interwoven forces of colonialism, patriarchy, and neoliberal forms of development.9 These conditions are constraining women’s knowledge, expertise, and unique agencies in addressing what is probably the most defining issue of our age. Yet women, including Indigenous women, have significant roles to play in the articulation of feminist and Indigenous worldviews, and aligned climate action strategies.

Read the Report (PDF).

Digging Free of Poverty

By Thea Riofrancos - Jacobin, August 15, 2017

On March 8, 2012, a few hundred marchers set out from Pangui, Ecuador, a town in the southeastern Amazon, near the construction site of the massive, open-pit Mirador Mine. Just days earlier, a consortium of Chinese state-owned companies had signed a contract to exploit the mine’s copper reserves, the first agreement of its kind in the country’s history.

The demonstrators zigzagged through the southern Andes, where more mines are planned throughout the highland wetlands, which supply water to rural farmers and urban consumers. Reinforcements from the northern Amazon joined the march along the way, intentionally traversing the route of crude oil that has for decades flowed through notoriously faulty pipelines. After a seven-hundred-kilometer trek, on foot and in unwieldy caravans, the two-week long March for Water, Life, and the Dignity of Peoples reached its end in Quito, where the state coffers, voters, and armed forces form the complex of economic incentives, democratic legitimacy, and military repression that activists contend keeps the country’s extractive model in motion.

In their words and imagery, marchers proposed an alternative model: a post-extractive vision in which the polity was not a machine that ran on fossil fuels but a plural collectivity of cultures and ecosystems.

By the time they arrived in the capital city, their numbers had swelled to twenty-five thousand.

A Change of Heart—Revolutionary Ecology in a World of Climate Change

By Rob DiPerna - Wild California, June 22, 2017

“The earth is not dying, it is being killed, and the people responsible have names and addresses.”

— U. Utah Phillips

Combating global climate change and destabilization, and arresting the human-related causes of these are the greatest challenge of our time, perhaps the greatest challenge in human history. Global climate change and destabilization also bring home the fundamental conflicts between our industrial capitalist way of life and world view and the realities of ecological processes and the limits of the natural world.

As 2017 marks the 40-year anniversary of the inception of the Environmental Protection Information Center, we continue to see examples of how the basic underpinning of the world created by humans is in direct conflict with the world that created us, and how this conflict is leading us toward our own demise as a species as we continue to compromise the life support systems of our planet. Of course, none of this is new and the advent of global and bioregional climate change and destabilization once again has us searching for the root causes of what ails us as people and a societies.

May 24, 2017 marked the 27-year anniversary of the car-bombing of Earth First activists Judi Bari and Daryl Cherney on their road tour to promote Redwood Summer. This upcoming November 3, 2017, EPIC will posthumously award Judi Bari with the Semperviren’s Lifetime Achievement Award for her career of work for environmental and social justice.

How to Stop the Sixth Extinction: A Critical Assessment of E. O. Wilson’s Half-Earth

By Kamran Nayeri - Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism, May 14, 2017

“The only solution to the ‘Sixth Extinction’ is to increase the area of inviolable natural reserves to half the surface of the Earth or greater.  This expansion is favored by unplanned consequences of ongoing human population growth and movement and evolution of the economy now driven by the digital revolution. But it also requires a fundamental shift in moral reasoning concerning our relation to the living environment.” (Wilson, 2016, p.167)

Introduction

The anthropogenic Sixth Extinction is an existential threat to much of life on Earth, including the human species.  In this essay, I critically examine the renowned entomologist, naturalist, and conservationist E. O. Wilson’s proposal in his recent book, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life (2016), to stop and reverse it.  In section I, I will outline what is meant by biodiversity and why it matters, and provide the basic facts about the Sixth Extinction and its salient causes.  In section II, I will outline Wilson’s proposal identifying tensions in his arguments for its efficacy.  In particular, I will show the tension between Wilson’s love for the natural world and his knowledge of biology and ecology on one hand and his inadequate understanding of human history, in particular, the capitalist civilization, which results in wishful thinking.  The Half-Earth proposal is necessary but not sufficient for stopping and reversing the Sixth Extinction. Finally, I conclude with a brief outline of what I consider to be necessary in order to make Wilson’s proposal effective.

Beyond the limits of nature: a social-ecological view of growth and degrowth

By Eleanor Finley - Entitle Blog, February 7, 2017

In this second article of the series “Ecology after capitalism“, Finley revisits the concept of growth from the libertarian socialist perspective of social ecology. She draws on Bookchin’s work to interrogate the limits of a degrowth conception of ‘growth’ and argues that we might find more opportunities for social and political transformation in social ecology’s analysis of post-scarcity and growth as ecological development. 

For more than two centuries, a critical narrative has emerged problematizing economic development, consumption, and growth. While its terms and definitions have shifted over time, the underlying logic remains the same: human society is growing too fast, faster than the limits of nature can accommodate.

In order to avoid global catastrophe by destroying the environment on which we depend, human beings must dramatically reduce the quantity of our own energetic and material consumption. Since the 2008 global financial collapse, a revised form of this analysis called degrowth has gained momentum among European environmental activists and Left academics.

In contrast to their predecessors who rejected the ‘industrial society’,  degrowth advocates blame capitalism as the engine of current ecological crisis. Joining a chorus of eco-socialists and radical ecologists, degrowth advocates argue that a planet of finite resources simply cannot sustain a social system based upon an axiom of production and consumption for its own sake.

In Can there be a socialist degrowth? ecological economist Giorgios Kallis argues that a tension is present between socialism and the apparent need for degrowth, arguing that a socialist society may not necessarily be post-growth, and thus ecologically sustainable. Such a conclusion rightly suggests that degrowth calls for the transcendence of traditional socialist concerns of labor, production, and technological advance. Yet, it does not yet account for how a socialist society may pursue growth along qualitatively different lines to produce a comfortable, materially abundant, and technologically sophisticated society.

Rebel Cities, Urban Resistance and Capitalism: a Conversation with David Harvey

By Vincent Emanuele - CounterPunch, February 1, 2017

Emanuele: You begin your book Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution, by describing your experience in Paris during the 1970s: “Tall building-giants, highways, soulless public housing and monopolized commodification on the streets threatening to engulf the old-Paris… Paris from the 1960s on was plainly in the midst of an existential crisis.” In 1967, Henry Lefebvre wrote his seminal essay “On the Right to the City.” Can you talk about this period and the impetus for writing Rebel Cities? 

Harvey: Worldwide, the 1960s is often looked at, historically, as a period of urban crisis. In the United States, for example, the 1960s was a time when many central cities went up in flames. There were riots and near revolutions in cities like Los Angeles, Detroit and of course after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968 — over 120 American cities were inflicted with minor and massive social unrest and rebellious action. I mention this in the United States, because what was in-effect happening was that the city was being modernized. It was being modernized around the automobile; it was being modernized around the suburbs. Now, the Old City, or what had been the political, economic and cultural center of city throughout the 1940s and 50s, was now being left behind. Remember, these trends were taking place throughout the advanced capitalist world. So it wasn’t just in the United States. There were serious problems in Britain and France where an older way of life was being dismantled — a way a life that I don’t think anyone should be nostalgic about, but this old way of life was being pushed away and replaced by a new way of life based on commercialization, property, property speculation, building highways, the automobile, suburbanization, and with all these changes we saw increased inequality and social unrest.

Depending on where you were at the time, these were strictly class-inequalities, or they were class-inequalities focused on specific minority groups. For example, obviously in the United States it was the African American community based in the inner cities who had very little in terms of employment opportunities or resources. So, the 1960s was referred to as an urban crisis. If you go back and look at all the commissions from the 1960s that were inquiring what to do about the urban crisis, there were government programs being implemented from Britain to France, and also in the Untied States. Similarly, they were all trying to address this ‘urban crisis.’

I found this a fascinating topic to study and a traumatic experience to live through. You know, these countries that were becoming more and more affluent were leaving people behind who were being secluded in urbanized-ghettos and treated as non-existent human beings. The crisis of the 1960s was a crucial one, and one I think Lefebvre understood quite well. He believed that people in urban areas should have a voice to decide what those areas should look like, and what kind of urbanization process should take place. At the same time, those who resisted wished to roll back the wave of property speculation that was beginning to engulf urban areas throughout the industrialized capitalist countries.

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