Saturday, 23 September 2017

The Future Will Be Ecosocialist – Because Without Ecosocialism There Will Be No Future

Written by Jovel Kovel and first published at Ecosocialist Horizons

Socialism was originally seen as victory in a struggle for justice. The proletarians, concluded the Communist Manifesto, “have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. WORKING MEN[sic] OF ALL COUNTRIES UNITE!”

All this remains true. Working women and men continue to suffer exploitation, in the workplace and throughout a society ruled by capitalism’s money-power. Structural unemployment, along with increasing divisions of wealth and poverty, the curse of indebtedness and the militarism of the capitalist state–all this, and more, continues to afflict the people. Now as in 1848, workers need a revolutionary socialist transformation. They need to unite, and to again quote the Manifesto, achieve “an association in which the free development of each is the condition of the free development of all.”

But the world we have to win is profoundly changed from the world of 1848. It is a world not simply to be won, but also to be saved from a terrible affliction. A day of reckoning has arrived far beyond anything humanity has ever experienced, though it has been building for centuries, indeed, from the beginnings of humanity’s time on earth. For we are the animal who became human by producing. Production is about the transforming of nature—the real physical world that is our legacy and matrix—into the objects we use for our lives. Transforming nature means changing nature; and changes may be harmful as well as beneficial as they build up over historical time. 

Today, the harm wrought by human production has reached intolerable proportions. Our generation has inherited a world both transformed and deformed, to a degree that raises the question of whether humanity can continue to produce the means of its own survival. We see this taking shape in the menaces of climate change, massive species extinctions, pollution on a scale never before encountered, and more—all signs that humanity has so de-stabilized nature and our relation to it as to raise the real question of whether Homo sapiens, a species that has triumphed over nature to build the mighty civilization that now rules over the earth, has also prepared the ground for its own extinction.

The ecological crisis and capital accumulation

De-stabilization of the natural foundation of society is the supreme question for our age, and because collective survival is at stake, the greatest challenge ever faced by humanity. Because it involves relationships between ourselves and nature, and because the study of relationships between living creatures and their natural environment is named ecology, we can say that what we are going through is an ecological crisis. But whether its meaning is properly understood is another story.

Unhappily, despite a vast amount of scientific investigation into the individual disasters that manifest the ecological crisis, there is very little awareness of its causes and real character, or even that it is an ecological crisis, between humanity as part of nature and nature itself. Instead, the dominant opinion, from all points of the political compass from left to right, sees this crisis under the heading of “environmentalism,” which is to say, as something between ourselves and the external things of nature.

Environmental problems appear as a great set of discrete troubles, itemized like a huge shopping list. The movement that attempts to deal with “the environment” also becomes listed among other worthy causes, like jobs, health care, and the rights of sexual minorities. Environmental problems are accordingly dealt with by regulations, legislation, and policy changes under the watchful eye of a host of NGOs dealing with one aspect of the disruption in nature or another. These petition large bureaucracies like the UN carbon regulation system or the EPA. Typically environmentalism seeks technical fixes or personal lifestyle changes, such as recycling and buying “green” products.

There is nothing wrong with environmentalism, except that it completely ignores the root of the ecological crisis by focusing on external symptoms and not the underlying disease. This is as effective in mending the ecological crisis as treating cancer with aspirin for the pain and baths for the discomfort. In other words, the prevailing approach fails to recognize that what is happening is the sign of a profound disorder. 

Environmentalism cannot ask what can be wrong with a society that so ravages the earth, but simply attempts to tidy up the mess in a piecemeal and fundamentally doomed fashion. Of course, each and every ecological threat must be vigorously met on its own terms. But we need to see the whole of things as well. We cannot put nature on a list, even at the head of a list. Nature is the entirety of the universe.

We are a part of nature, and our society reflects whether we are at home in nature or estranged from it. Failure to understand this on the deepest level and to make necessary changes in our relationship to nature puts everything at risk, including, most poignantly, the lives of our children and grandchildren and all future generations.

If the choices embedded in our society lead to ruin and death, then the obligation is to remake society from the ground up in the service of life. And if this be read as a demand for revolution, so be it! But a revolution of what kind?

Look at the society that rules the earth and its guiding inner dynamic, the production of capital. However capitalism may be dressed up as the society of democracy, free markets, or progress, its first and foremost priority is economic Growth, the eternal expansion of the economic product across society, converted into monetary units. The best word for this compulsion is accumulation. 

The accumulation of capital is the supreme value of capitalists, and all elements of capitalist society—from control over resources, to labor relations, to fiscal and tax policy, to culture and propaganda, to the workings of academia, to war and imperialism, and to be sure, policy towards the natural world–converge to gratify this hunger. Any diminution or even slowing of the rate of accumulation, is perceived as a deep threat provoking the most ruthless, violent, countermeasures to restore order.

As Marx vividly wrote in Capital: “Accumulate! Accumulate! That is Moses and the Prophets.” In other words, he saw a religious impulse at work—Satanic in form, no doubt—driving the capitalist system to convert the entire earth, its oceans and atmosphere, everything under the sun, into commodities, to be sold on the market, the profits converted to capital.

Here we arrive at the obvious, straightforward, yet profound explanation of the ecological crisis and its life-threatening character. For though the universe itself may be infinite and have no boundaries, the corner of the universe inhabited by life is quite finite and thoroughly bounded: that, after all, is what ecology as a scientific study is about. So it follows that a system built on un-boundedness and endless growth is going to destroy the ecosystems upon which it depends for energy and other resources, and is also going to destroy the human ecosystems, or societies, that have emerged from nature to inhabit the earth.

That this brutally obvious truth is not widely accepted is partly the result of how hard it is to face up to a harsh reality, but chiefly the result of the titanic effort waged by capitalist ideology to deny its responsibility for the ruin of planet earth.

Seen in this light, capitalism is truly pathological; it may well be called a kind of metastasizing cancer: a disease that demands radical treatment, which in this context, means revolutionary change. And since socialism is—or should be–the movement toward the supersession of capitalism, the fact that the present ecological crisis is basically driven by the accumulation of capital puts socialism in a radically different position from that to which we have become accustomed. In this light we see the need to radicalize socialism and turn it to ecological ends alongside, indeed, as part of, the provision of justice to working people.

This means, however, that socialism itself must be transformed and produced anew. It can no longer be the reformist social democracy that has betrayed its promise by seeking to perfect instead of going beyond capitalism. Socialism today must be invigorated by the awareness that its goal is a post-capitalist society serving the well-being of humanity and nature alike. Most critically, because accumulation is the mainspring of capitalist society, the new socialism must respect the notion of limits and see production itself in ecological terms.

The test of a post-capitalist society is whether it can move from the generalized production of commodities to the production of flourishing, integral ecosystems. In doing so, socialism will become ecosocialism.

First ecosocialist lessons

Nobody is under the illusion that we are anywhere near these goals. But that does not mean that we lack a mapping of the route toward ecosocialism. Let me give an outline of this, and conclude this brief communication with a sense of how these can be applied to a case of the greatest urgency: overcoming the menace of climate change.

Ecosocialism is still socialism. What was stated at the beginning of this article remains. The basic principle of ecosocialism is that of socialism itself: freely associated labor. It is safe to say that application of this is the key to everything else. For ecosocialism, the restoration of nature does not begin with manipulating the external environment, but with the liberation of human beings and faith that women and men in full possession of their powers will use the appropriate technology and make the correct decisions as to how to organize their social relations and self governance in such a way that the integrity of nature is restored and preserved. The principle applies equally to the caring for nature and the provision of a good life for humanity. 

A common root is the fact that to the degree we are in possession of our creative powers, so also do we move beyond the addictive and false way of being indoctrinated into us from cradle to grave by capitalism and its ideology of consumerism. We break loose from the capitalist rat-race, of trying to fill our inner emptiness with commodities, a motif absolutely necessary to the reproduction of the ecological crisis. Instead, we recognize ourselves as natural creatures, and recognize nature itself, thus positioning ourselves for nature’s restoration.

This also applies to the so-called “population problem,” since freely associated human beings, women in particular, will have no trouble at all in regulating their numbers. In sum, we would say that ecosocialism is that form of society animated by freely associated labor and guided by an ethic of ecological integrity such as free human beings would freely choose.

We free ourselves in collective struggle, the meaning of which for ecosocialism is primarily “Commoning.” Commons refers to the original communism of “First Peoples”; and also to the absence of patriarchy and class society among them. The word denotes collectively owned units of production. From the other side, the rise of class society and patriarchy, all the way to the appearance of capitalism and right through to the present day, is a matter of “enclosing” the Commons, which includes separating people from control over their productive activity, thereby alienating them from nature and their own powers. Commoning can be as basic as making a community garden or day-care center. And it extends all the way to building intentional communities, organized democratically, and by extension, to a global society. 

We see ecosocialism from a twofold aspect, in terms of communities of resistance to capital and the capitalist state, and as communities of production outside of capitalist hierarchical relations between the owners of the means of production and the “wage slaves” who feed the capital-monster. Traditional labor organizing can come under this heading, insofar as it does not reproduce bureaucratic hierarchies; or, from another standpoint, to the degree that it builds authentic “unions” and “solidarity,” both terms drawn from the language of ecology as well as the history of class struggle.

The wave of “occupations” washing over the United States as this is being written is very much an example of Commoning along ecosocialist lines, however scattered and reformist many of their immediate demands may seem in this early stage of development. Though the term itself is not applied, the structure is ecosocialist , arising out of the fundamental human drive toward collective control over a Commonly held space, both in terms of resistance—as by disrupting the established governmental and corporate ways; and production—as in providing the means of one’s own subsistence while doing so.

Time and space are to be reclaimed through ecosocialist prefiguration. Keeping this term in mind is essential in navigating the great distance between where we are and what we need to become. Seizing a kind of Commons next to Wall Street is both symbolic of immediate demands for economic justice and prefigurative of liberated zones of ecosocialist production through freely associated labor. Our sustainable and worthwhile future will be a network of Commonal zones, beginning small but spreading and connecting across the artificial boundaries set up by class society and capital. 

Thus ecosocialism is transnational, global in scope, and above all, visionary; and each local moment of Commoning will contain the germ of this imagining. Prefiguration means the emerging of the vision necessary to imagine a world beyond the death-dealing society of capital. We need to see the coming-to-be of the new society in the scattered campgrounds of occupied zones within the capitalist order. Without vision, the people perish, as the saying goes. And with vision—and organizing to match—a new and better world can be won.

Postscript: An ecosocialism beyond climate change.

Nothing stands more for the horrors induced by capital-driven ecological crisis than the specter of climate change. There is no space here for detailing this menace, which, while not identical with the ecological crisis as a whole, suffices to sum up its deadly mechanisms and is full of lessons for how these are to be surmounted. Let me put the matter with extreme brevity to draw out some essentials and the important lessons to be derived from them.

We stand on a kind of crumbling precipice whose “geology” is given by growing atmospheric CO2 loaded by our capitalist-industrial, accumulation-compelled system. The precipice is both a matter of harm already done, and, if successful action is not taken, far worse harm to come from positive feedback loops that will effectively exceed human capacity to contain them, dooming us, perhaps by the end of the century, perhaps sooner, to downfall via catastrophic climate events, rising seas, and associated nightmares like famine and pandemic diseases.

Two configurations are now assembling to do battle over the fate of this future. One is that of capital and the capitalist state: the ancien regime. It is addicted to growth, rapacious for resources, and seeks to finagle its way out of the crisis by an utterly bankrupt system of commodifying nature and trading pollution credits; that is, it seeks more paths of accumulation while continuing its resource extraction, and the future be damned.

The other is ecosocialist in concept and prefigurative in structure. It sets forth from multiple points of resistance, notably combining North and South by bringing together a coalition of ecosocialists, radical climate activists and specialists in renewable energy; these are increasingly working with indigenous folk whose lives are directly threatened by enclosures and ever-more violent methods of hydrocarbon extraction from places as varied as the Gulf of Mexico (deep offshore drilling), Northern Alberta (tar sands extraction), the Niger Delta and Peruvian Ecuadorian rainforests (rapacious oil-drilling), West Virginia (mountaintop removal for coal), and rural New York and Pennsylvania (hydrofracking for natural gas). 

The list is quite partial, but the scope is global and inherently ecosocialist, by involving Commoning, global resistance, and prefigurative efforts to think the unthinkable: a world actually beyond hydrocarbon-based industrialization, that is, one where the future is really envisioned and the visionary is made real as a mode of production liberated from the compulsion to accumulate and loyal to the ecocentric respect for limit.

The best science tells us that this is the only path of survivability. But the best science cannot be implemented within existing capitalism. It will take freely associated labor, motivated by an ecocentric ethic and organized on a vast scale, to effect these changes—in terms of resistance to the given carbon system and forcing through its alternative; and also in terms of actually building the alternative, a kind of Solar/Wind-based energy economy, including the effort to actually bring down the level of atmospheric CO2 from 395ppm to 345ppm.

Unthinkable, right? Wrong: it is only unthinkable to minds chained to the ruinous and suicidal capital system. Quite possible though fantastically challenging, otherwise—especially if we consider that such a path, once free from bondage to accumulation, will be able to solve the problems of structural unemployment that haunt capitalist society. Imagine the creative possibilities inherent in an ecosocialist energy pathway. Then think, and choose whether to stay with the present system, or to step forth into a renewed world.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

The Tories are Ruining this Country but they Just Don’t Care

How did Britain get into this mess? We are the laughing stock of Europe, and no doubt many other places around the world. A country once renowned for its stability, pragmatism, tolerance and distaste of extremist politics, now represents something like the polar opposite.

The latest instalment of this national embarrassment is Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson’s public disagreement with other government ministers, including the prime minister, over arrangements for our exiting from the European Union (EU) and is classic farce. But, as I say, this is just the latest comedy sketch in a long running show, so where did it all begin?

The Tory Party has been riven with infighting over things European since at least the late 1980s, and as former leader and prime minister, David Cameron, famously warned his party when in opposition, they should stop ‘banging on about Europe.’ They did a bit, but for a price.

Cameron had to promise the Tory Euro-sceptics a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, to keep the peace in the Tory Party. He got lucky in some ways when he became prime minister in 2010. His government had no overall majority, so he had to rely on the pro EU Lib Dems to govern. This was his excuse to the Tory Euro-sceptics for not trying to hold a referendum in that Parliament.

But he had to promise one for early in the next Parliament after 2015, if the Tories won a majority. My bet is that Cameron didn’t think he would get a majority, and so would not have to follow through on the referendum pledge. But he got unlucky, and the Tories did indeed get a small majority at the 2015 general election.

To buy a bit more time Cameron said he would first try to re-negotiate our terms of membership of the EU, and then put this to a vote. He didn’t get any meaningful concessions though, which no one really expected him to, and so we had the referendum in 2017. Cameron supported the Remain campaign, but the public voted the other way.

Let us not forget, there was no great groundswell for a referendum on EU membership, but UKIP were picking up votes, mainly from Tory voters, and Tory MPs, particularly the Euro-sceptics worried about this, and they saw their chance of forcing Cameron’s hand. The banging on about Europe was back with a vengeance.

I have never been a fan of referendums, which reduce often complex issues down to a binary choice, and where the rival campaigns generally boil down to the lowest common denominator. Such was the case last year with the EU membership one.

The fact Cameron even contemplated such a high risk strategy with the country’s well-being is a measure of the grip the issue of Europe has in the Tory Party. Indeed the EU has been a matter of internal Tory Party management since John Major became their leader in 1990. Everything that has been played out in British politics since we got a Tory government in 2010 has been dominated by the anti-EU tantrums of the Tory Party right.

Our current hapless Tory prime minister, Theresa May, can’t cope with the issue either. She voted to Remain, then following Cameron’s inevitable resignation, she won the leadership as her rivals ran around stabbing each other in the back. May played virtually no part in the referendum campaign, which tells us that she thought we would vote to remain, but didn’t want to spoil her future chances of the leadership, by being too vocal about it.

Boris Johnson showed no sign of wanting to leave the EU, as even his father and sister have said, before the referendum campaign was called. He probably thought we would vote to remain but he positioned himself for a future tilt at the leadership of his party. This is demonstrated by him having no plan in place whatsoever for what would happen after Brexit. It was pure political opportunism.

The backdrop to this shambles is of a country with the lowest GDP growth in the EU and G20, a devaluation of our currency, inflation up, wages stagnating, national debt almost doubled to a historic high of nearly £2 trillion, personal debt at a record high, public services cut, a spike in xenophobic hate crimes and our international reputation damaged. In response the Tories are fiddling while Rome burns. 

So there we have it. Tory obsession with a niche political issue, and personal political ambition, has led us to this sorry path we find ourselves on today. The Tories don’t give a fuck about this country, all they care about is themselves. Incompetent, yes, traitors even? 

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Grassroots Coalition Grows Against Social Cleansing in London – Stop Haringey Development Vehicle

Written by Gordon Peters

As previously reported on this blog, Haringey Council in north London is planning to go ahead with a £2 billion redevelopment of its public housing stock, gentrifying neighbourhoods and pricing local people out of living in the area. But a grassroots campaign against Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) has been building.

The coalition of people, groups and political parties across the borough for social housing and against social cleansing, and now includes leaseholders in the west of the borough who are being compulsorily purchased to make way for the corporate-led demolition and re-development. This coalition includes the local Labour Party, local Green Party, local Lib Dems and tenants and residents associations and community groups, and trades unions.

Haringey council is controlled by the Labour Party. Haringey which has the largest constituency parties of the Labour Party anywhere in England is now a test bed on where politicians stand on the need for decent social housing and against social cleansing. Labour Cabinet members even are, at least in one case I know, starting to dissociate themselves completely from the HDV.

Both of Haringey’s Labour MPs, David Lammy in Tottenham and Catherine West in Hornsey and Wood Green, oppose the development.

Partly because we found out from a Freedom of Information request, that there has been a secret ‘shadow’ inner cabinet process of meetings with Lendlease, the preferred developer, from before the point of them being agreed as preferred bidder for the contract on HDV. This included the member recently appointed to be on the putative HDV Board, Cllr. Elin Weston who is now the lead member for children and families.

I crowd funded £25,000 to pay for legal fees for a Judicial Hearing which will be held in the High Court - Royal Courts of Justice on The Strand - on 25 and 26 October, where there will be a presence outside from 9:30 on 25th.

This could lead to a landmark decision on how Councils, through their Cabinets, make decisions on property deals with big developers altering the whole nature of communities, at the expense of the less well-off and poor, as has been happening across London and mainly by Labour councils. Issues in front of the court include lack of basic democracy, consultation, equalities impact, commercial secrecy and fair process.

There is a march and demonstration in Haringey this Saturday, 23 September, against HDV. Folks from elsewhere in London will be attending too (e.g. Cressingham Gardens, Lambeth in south London, who are campaigning against a similar development in their borough and who have also been in Judicial Review). 

The march starts at Tottenham Green, at 12 noon and onto Ducketts Common (site of the massive defeat of the NF by the community in the late 70s) down Green Lanes - one of the last roads that hasn’t been totally taken over by corporate franchises - and finishes at 2pm at the Manor House tube end of Finsbury Park. Sian Berry, Green Party London Assembly Member, has agreed to speak at demo/end of the march.

There is also a benefit gig with Potent Whisper and others at The Beehive pub in Tottenham from 7pm on Saturday evening. The film Dispossession, The Great Social Housing Swindle is being shown at the Haringey Independent Cinema in West Green this Thursday evening.

Immediately at risk are 1300 homes on Northumberland Park estate, Tottenham, behind them are hundreds and hundreds more on multiple estates, this is people's homes, this is the reality of London in 2017.

A good presence on the demonstration this coming Saturday will be really important to keep up the momentum that is building, especially given what is now happening in the local Labour Party. Support this campaign against this cruel social cleansing operation which is threatening to spread to many other parts of London.

Useful links:

Gordon Peters is a member of Haringey Green Party and a Green Left supporter

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Hurricane Irma shows the Power of Nature and the Feebleness of Humanity

There is no doubt that the human species has had a profound affect on the natural world. Deforestation, pollution of air, land and sea, other species extinctions (or near extinctions), ozone layer depletion and rising global temperatures. Not a record to be proud of.

All of which have been accelerated since the industrial revolution. Indeed the industrial revolution would have been impossible without fossil fuels providing the extra energy and the economic growth that came with it. Now we are starting to see the ecological consequences our behaviour.

Of course, there are many, usually completely unqualified to make such pronouncements, who deny man’s part in climate change. I expect they will be out in force when they see this post. But the science is clear, and the evidence gets stronger all of the time, that the climatic changes that are occurring, and they are occurring, is related to human activity. Namely, burning fossil fuels, which produces carbon, one of the main greenhouse gases which causes the planet to warm.

Our capitalist economic system, is remarkably adaptive, in that it can seemingly monetise almost anything, and climate change and its ability to cause ‘natural’ disasters is no different. Naomi Klein details this at length in her book The Shock Doctrine, written in 2007, and subtitled The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Disasters allow an opportunity to make money, which is all that really counts in capitalism.

What the system cannot do though, is resolve the problem of climate change. All kinds of techno-fixes will be put forward, because they are likely to make money, but this is merely greenwash. The central logic of the system, grow or die, the pursuit of infinite economic growth, will not allow a solution to be found.

We are in the hurricane season now, and this year has produced some spectacular and destructive storms already. The ones that attract the most attention are of course, those which make landfall in the USA. Harvey and Irma fit the bill perfectly.

But there is an avoidance of discussion of the causes of such powerful storms, which is attributed to ‘natural causes’. Which they are, but the strength of these hurricanes is increased by warmer sea water, something like 1C warmer in the Gulf of Mexico over the last 40 years, which is sucked up into the storm. To reinforce this avoidance of the discussion of causes, as the Green MP, Caroline Lucas found, mentioning this inconvenient truth, provokes attacks from right wing politicians and their friends in the mainstream media.

The idea that we can tame nature or just ignore it altogether is running out of road though, with each hurricane, flood or drought that occurs. In the UK, we are lucky to not experience many strong hurricanes, but each winter sees more and more flooding and I expect this year will be no different. More money goes on flood defences, but the floods keep happening. We can’t hold back nature indefinitely, we need to address the causes, but you will see little action in this direction.

Twentieth century socialism was not immune from the delusion of humanity being able to control nature either. Leon Trotsky famously declared that the ‘socialist superman’ would move mountains and redirect rivers all to the benefit of his socialist utopia. But the USSR had probably an even worse record than capitalist nations in degrading the environment, and of course failed to bring nature to heel.

But our problem now is solely with capitalism, and the experience of the British so called entrepreneur Richard Branston, is an example in microcosm. I say so called because the extent these days of his entrepreneurship is taking government contracts to run previously publicly run services, like railways. He owns an airline and also has plans for space aeroplanes to be run commercially, which will make climate change even worse. Ironically, he likes to think of himself as 'green'.

Branston owns the Caribbean island of Necker, which bore the full brunt of Hurricane Irma, and all the great tycoon could do was cower in his basement as the storm raged across the island.

Nature cannot be tamed, we have to work with it, everything we do needs to be ecocentric, carefully designed to compliment nature. But there is just no money to be made that way under our current economic system, so it will not happen. Ecosocialism is the only way to go. System Change, Not Climate Change.    

Saturday, 16 September 2017

100 Percent Wishful Thinking: the Green-Energy Cornucopia

Written by Stan Cox and Paul Cox and first published at Counterpunch

At the People’s Climate March back last spring, all along that vast river of people, the atmosphere was electric. But electricity was also the focus of too many of the signs and banners. Yes, here and there were solid “System Change, Not Climate Change” – themed signs and banners. But the bulk of slogans on display asserted or implied that ending the climate emergency and avoiding climatic catastrophes like those that would occur a few months later—hurricanes Harvey and Irma and the mega-wildfires in the U.S. West—will be a simple matter of getting Donald Trump out of office and converting to 100-percent renewable energy.

The sunshiny placards and cheery banners promising an energy cornucopia were inspired by academic studies published in the past few years purporting to show how America and the world could meet 100 percent of future energy demand with solar, wind, and other “green” generation. The biggest attention-getters have been a pair of reports published in 2015 by a team led by Mark Jacobson of Stanford University, but there have been many others.

A growing body of research has debunked overblown claims of a green-energy bonanza. Nevertheless,  Al Gore, Bill McKibben (who recently expressed hope that Harvey’s attack on the petroleum industry in Texas will send a “wakeup call” for a 100-percent renewable energy surge), and other luminaries in the mainstream climate movement have been invigorated by reports like Jacobson’s and have embraced the 100-percent dream.

And that vision is merging with a broader, even more spurious claim that has become especially popular in the Trump era: the private sector, we are told, has now taken the lead on climate, and market forces will inevitably achieve the 100-percent renewable dream and solve the climate crisis on their own. In this dream, anything’s possible; Jacobson even believes that tens of thousands of wind turbines installed offshore could tame hurricanes like Katrina, Harvey, and Irma.

The 100-percent dream has become dogma among liberals and mainstream climate activists. Serious energy scholars who publish analyses that expose the idea’s serious weaknesses risk being condemned as stooges of the petroleum industry or even as climate deniers. Jacobson has even suggested that he might take legal action against NOAA scientist Christopher Clack and twenty coauthors whose critical evaluation of his work was published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in June.

Jacobson’s team and others cling to the idea of 100-percent conversion because they (rightly) want to eliminate fossil and nuclear energy, and how the world breaks foresee that any future supply gap left by a shortfall in renewable generation is going to be filled by those dirty sources. That is indeed stated or implied by many of the opposing analyses, including the Clack study.

But the two sides also share other basic assumptions. They both seek to satisfy all future demand for energy solely through industrial production, technological improvements, efficiency, and markets, without any strict regulatory limits on the total quantity of energy consumed in production and consumption. The 100-percenters believe such a scenario is achievable while their critics conclude that it is not, but they agree on the ultimate goal: a permanent high-energy economy.

That part of the dogma, not the “100-percent” part, is the problem. America does need to convert to fully renewable energy as quickly as possible. The “100-percent renewable for 100 percent of demand” goal is the problem. Scenarios that make that promise, along with the studies that dissect them, lead me to conclude that, at least in affluent countries, it would be better instead to transform society so that it operates on far less end-use energy while assuring sufficiency for all. That would bring a 100%-renewable energy system within closer reach and avoid the outrageous technological feats and gambles required by high-energy dogma. It would also have the advantage of being possible.

Waking up from the dream

The pursuit of the 100-percent dream didn’t start with the 2015 Jacobson et al. papers, and critiques of it didn’t start with Clack et al. For example, there was a 2015 paper by Peter Loftus and colleagues that critically examined 17 “decarbonization scenarios.” Then earlier this year, a study by a group of Australian researchers led by B.P. Heard rated the feasibility of 24 published studies that describe 100-percent renewable scenarios.

The Heard group concluded that among the research papers they evaluated (which included several with Jacobson as lead author), none “provides convincing evidence that these basic feasibility criteria can be met.” They found a wide range of technical flaws in the proposed systems. Most scenarios assumed unprecedented and deeply unrealistic improvements in energy efficiency (in terms of kilowatt hours consumed per dollar’s worth of output). Because the chief renewable technologies, wind and solar, fluctuate continuously in their output and regularly drop to zero output, they must be backed up with large supplies of “base load” electricity if all demand is to be met without interruption; no studies managed this without ecologically destructive levels of biomass burning or wildly unrealistic estimates of hydroelectric output.

Scenarios did not account for the overcapacity and redundancy that will be needed if a high-energy economy is to function in an increasingly unpredictable global climate. (This year, the people of Texas, Florida, and the West in particular can attest to the deep impacts of that unpredictability.) Studies did not account for the expected four- to five-fold expansion of the power transmission infrastructure that will be required to accommodate renewable energy. And they did not address the difficulties of maintaining voltage and frequency of alternating current within extremely tight limits (a necessity in technologically dependent societies) when a large share of the supply is from wind and solar. This all adds up, writes the Heard team, to a systemic “fragility” that will render futile all attempts to deliver the promised output of electricity when it is needed.

The Loftus group found several of the same weaknesses in the studies they examined. But they singled out scenarios in papers by Jacobson and Delucchi, the World Wildlife Fund, and Worldwatch. Those scenarios had in common two assumptions that Loftus and colleagues regarded as out of the realm of reality: efficiency improving at as much as 3 to 4 times the historic rate, and buildup of renewable generation capacity at many times the rate at which today’s total electric generation capacity was built up in past decades. They concluded that it would be “premature and highly risky to ‘bet the planet’” on the achievement of scenarios like those.

Unrepealable limits

In their PNAS publication, the one that prompted Jacobson to hint at a lawsuit, Clack et al. critically examined two papers from 2015, one of which was a widely hailed “roadmap” for plentiful, 100-percent renewable energy in all 50 United States. In addition to “modeling errors,” much of the Clack critique is aimed at the Jacobson group’s assumed ubiquitous deployment of technologies that either don’t yet exist or are only lightly tested and can’t be scaled up to the huge scales envisioned. They include underground thermal energy storage for virtually every building in the country, a full air transportation system run entirely on hydrogen(!), wind farms covering 6 percent of the entire land surface of the 48 contiguous states, an outrageous and unrealistic increase in ecologically harmful hydroelectric power, and a buildout of electricity generation capacity that hurtles along at 14 times the average rate of capacity expansion in the past half-century.

But even if it were physically possible to achieve all of those scaleups, and even if Congress found a way to repeal and replace Murphy’s Law, the full-blown 100-percent dream could not be realized. In a series of papers published since 2010 (e.g., a 2016 paper in Energy Policy), Patrick Moriarty and Damon Honnery of Monash University in Australia have identified several crucial factors that will limit the total global output of renewable electricity. For example, renewable technologies exploit the windiest or sunniest locations first, and, as they expand, they move into less and less productive territory. There, their construction and operation will require as much energy input as before, but their output will be lower.

Furthermore, because of inherently intermittent generation, much of the electric power from wind and solar will have to be stored using batteries, hydrogen, compressed air, pumped water, or other means. It will then have to be reconverted to electricity and transmitted from often remote regions to places where people and businesses are concentrated. The result is a severe shrinkage of the net energy available to society, because much energy is expended or lost during both conversion and transmission. Finally, all production of wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and especially hydroelectric energy has an ecological impact on the landscapes where it occurs. So if we are to halt our degradation and destruction of the Earth’s natural ecosystems, it will be necessary to declare large areas off-limits to the energy sector.

Moriarty and Honnery show that given all of these factors, expansion of renewable energy will hit a brick wall, a point at which as much energy is required to install and operate electric facilities as they will end up generating in their operating lifetimes. But even before that point is reached, it will have become pointless to expand generation capacity that has lower and lower net output. They conclude that as a result, future renewable output “could be far below present energy use.”

What are we hoping  for?

A generally overlooked but crucial point about high-energy, 100-percent renewable proposals is that they seek to meet future demand patterns in a way that would leave in place today’s great distortions in access to energy and other resources. The American economy would carry on uninterrupted with its overproduction, overconsumption, and inequality, while billions of people in poorer regions and countries would not get the access to energy that’s required for a minimally good quality of life.

The 100-percent scenarios themselves, as well as the critiques of them, hold one especially valuable lesson. Unintentionally, they show in stark terms why rich countries need to start planning to live in the renewable but lower-energy world envisioned by Moriarty and Honnery rather than the high-energy world that the mainstream 100-percent scenarios envision. The world that the latter scenarios would create, one focused on maintaining current profligate consumption levels, would not be a green and pleasant one. Herculean quantities of physical and mental labor power will have been expended, boundless physical resources (including vast tonnages of fossil fuels) will have been consumed, and countless entire ecosystems across the Earth’s surface will have been sacrificed to generate more electricity. All of that would make for a pretty grim world. With society having zeroed in singlemindedly on acquiring enough energy to keep driving, flying, and overproducing as much as we want, there’s no reason to expect that other problems, including enormous distortions in economic and political power and quality of life, along with racial and ethnic oppression, would have been solved.

Some in the climate movement believe in the 100-percent dogma and the dream it holds out: that the (affluent) American way of life can keep running forward in time and outward in space without breaking stride. There are others who know that to be an impossibly rosy vision but urge the movement to limit public discussion to such green dreams anyway, because talking about a regulated, low-energy economy would crush hope and enthusiasm at the grassroots.

The debate about hope ignores the relevant question: what are we hoping for? If our hope is to deploy solar and wind capacity that maintains indefinitely the current throughput of energy in the world’s affluent societies, then, yes, the situation is hopeless. But there can be other hopes that, although they’re looking dim for now, are at least within reach: that greenhouse warming can be limited sufficiently to allow communities around the world who are currently impoverished and oppressed to improve their lives; that access to food, water, shelter, safety, culture, nature, and other necessities becomes sufficient for all; or that exploitation and oppression of humans and nature be brought to an end.

There’s always hope, as long as we don’t confuse dreams with reality.

Stan Cox and Paul Cox are the authors of “How the World Breaks: Life in Catastrophe’s Path, From the Caribbean to Siberia,” coming in July from The New Press. Write them at

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Enough is Enough - Give All Public Sector Workers a Decent Pay Rise Now

Rumours have been circulating ever since the Tory government lost its Parliamentary majority at this year’s general election, that the government is to re-think the 1% cap on pay rises for public sector workers. Today came news that the cap will be lifted from 2018-19 onwards for most public sector workers, with the exception of the police who will get a 2% rise and prison officers who will get a 1.7% rise. The Prison Officers Association, who represent those working in prisons, say 1.7% (inflation is at 2.9%) is not enough and will ballot for strike action. 

The government’s divide and rule strategy cannot be allowed to succeed when all public sector workers have suffered huge pay cuts since the Tories got into power in 2010, and introduced their unfair pay cap. The Unison general secretary, Dave Prentis, is quoted in The Guardian as saying:

“In the first six years of Conservative rule, public sector pay rose by just 4.4% yet the cost of living soared by 22%, and to rub salt into those wounds, the pay of top bosses rose by a third in one year alone.”

The public sector unions support ending the pay cap, including those that represent health workers, teachers, civil servants and local government workers. Calls are being made to coordinate industrial action across the public sector, which threatens to bring the country to a standstill. Len McCluskey, the general secretary of UNITE said coordinated action from public sector workers was “very likely and very much on the cards”. He even said that unions might break the law on 50% turn out for strike ballots, introduced earlier this year by the government, which further tightens laws allowing industrial action.

If the 1% cap does remain in place, then the value of median public sector earnings will fall a further 3.9% behind inflation (CPI measurement, 6.9% on the old RPI measurement). Average earning across the economy as a whole are expected to rise by 8.5% meaning public sector pay will fall even further behind private sector comparators.

In addition, where I work, since 2010 pension contribution rates have increased and you need to work an extra five years to get the full value of your pension. On average these increases in pension contributions have reduced take home pay by around a further £1,000 per year.

To make matters even worse, there has been no incremental pay progression on pay scales. I have worked in the same job now for over four years, and I am still at the bottom of the pay scale. If someone on my grade were to start tomorrow, they would be on exactly the same pay as me, which doesn’t seem fair at all. It also means that those lucky enough to be higher on a pay scale than me, get paid more for doing the exact same work, with no prospect of this gap ever closing. This is all despite promises from management that the issue will be addressed since 2014.

We know that the Tory government has an ideological dislike of the public sector, and have privatised many services over the years, usually to the detriment of the services provided, where making a fast buck is the only thing that matters. The public service ethos, is at best, viewed as some sort of quaint relic of the past. But the fact remains, that public sector workers do try to do their best for the public that they serve, under extra pressure from spending cuts imposed by the government on providing these essential services.

Unless the government changes its tune, public sector workers will be more than justified in coordinating a massive withdrawal of their labour. It would demonstrate to the government, and to the public at large, just how vital the work they do is. One day without us, might be the slogan, or maybe one week without us will have a more forceful effect. Enough is enough, treat public sector workers with respect, and give us a long overdue decent wage rise, now.     

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Review of Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil capitalism and the crisis of the Earth system by Ian Angus

Written by Allan Todd

The term ‘Anthropocene’ refers to the start of a new geological epoch which, according to most leading Earth System scientists, has now replaced the Holocene. It means geological strata deposits will now be, for the first time, massively dominated by those of recent human origin - especially the release of carbon and other greenhouse gases as a consequence of increased burning of fossil fuels - as opposed to those due to natural changes.

Most scientists see the real start of the Anthropocene as beginning after the ‘Great 
Acceleration’ in fossil fuel use from 1950 onwards.

During the 1990s, research projects on the Earth System, and on the nature of past climate changes, revealed that some past climate changes often came rapidly, after certain key ‘tipping points’ had been passed. This evidence of past ‘ecological volatility’ has allowed scientists to establish that, in the geological past, relatively small changes/stimuli have driven great - and sometimes abrupt - qualitative changes in the very delicately-balanced Earth System.

In 2007, a study began to identify which of Earth’s processes are most important to maintaining climate stability. The first results, published in 2009, dealt with the relatively-stable climate history of the Holocene epoch, during which humans developed agriculture. 

Nine ecological processes - or ‘Planetary Boundaries’ - were identified as having maintained the safe operating space for humanity over the past 12,000 years.

The conclusion was that for 3 of these planetary boundaries - climate change, biochemical flows (especially nitrogen pollution), and biodiversity loss - Earth was already in the danger zone, and for 3 others was nearly there. In 2015, further research showed that the danger zone for land-system change had also been passed.

Some Earth System scientists argue that the emergence of the Anthropocene epoch is down to the activities of the entire human species. Others - like Ian Angus - place the blame on the particular economic system which has come to dominate global economic and political developments since 1945.  

Those who take the latter view argue that the vast majority of these negative changes result from capitalism itself - and especially post-1950 capitalism which has been driven by what they term ‘Fossil Capitalism’’. Certainly, the changes in Earth System trends since 1950 produce remarkably similar-shaped graphs to the main socio-economic trends during the period 1950-2010:

Ecosocialists in particular see the Anthropocene not just as a biophysical phenomenon, but also as a socio-ecological phenomenon. In particular, it is associated with capitalism’s drive for profit and accumulation - even if that profit comes from unsustainable growth. However, whilst global capitalism tries to expand infinitely, the Earth is not infinite.

From the beginnings of industrial capitalism 200 years ago, it was clear to contemporary observers such as Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and William Morris that capitalism had anti-ecological characteristics. However, the rift in the Earth’s carbon cycle was considerably widened by the invention of the internal combustion engine and then the aeroplane at the turn of the 19th Century. and 20th. Century - because this led in turn to a rapidly-growing market for petroleum.

Both US oil and chemical corporations were given a huge boost after 1945 via the Marshall Plan for European reconstruction. The Standard Oil Company, the biggest US oil company, benefitted most of all. This, and the discovery and exploitation of massive sources of cheap crude oil in the Middle East triggered off what became known as ‘The Golden Age’ from 1950 to 1973.

It was this which made the Great Acceleration possible: between 1976 and 1973, the world consumed more commercial energy than had been used in the entire period from 1800 to 1945.  History since 1950, as far as the Earth System perspective is concerned, has largely been an account of the expansion of fossil capitalism into every aspect of life and every part of the globe.

The gross inequalities arising from global neoliberal capitalism are not just economic - they also relate to unequal exposure to the dangers of climate change and its resulting extreme weather events. Globally, 99% of weather disaster casualties are in developing countries, and 75% of them are women. The Global South suffers far more than the Global North, and within the South, the very poorest countries are hit hardest.

Even within the North, the same climate-change inequalities hold true - as was shown by the impacts and aftermaths of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, or Hurricane Sandy in 2012. No billionaires numbered among the casualties in the North, no corporate owners or executives in the South have to witness their children dying from malnutrition.

The first signs of serious climate-change impacts can be seen in the increasing numbers of people displaced by droughts, water-shortages, desertification and starvation. Incredibly, these mass displacements - and the much worse effects of climate change still to come - have led the US in particular to identify global warming as a ‘threat to Western security’!

In 2003, the Pentagon commissioned a study relating to abrupt climate change - the conclusion was that wealthy nations such as the US would need to build ‘virtual fortresses’ to avoid consequences such as skirmishes, battles and even wars over increasingly scare resources such as energy supplies, water and food. In particular, borders would need to be militarily defended against ‘unwanted starving immigrants’ from poorer countries seeking places of greater safety.  That is the stark scenario of the environmental apartheid which is already emerging.

This book, by Ian Angus, was published last year, and is an essential read for all concerned about climate change - and especially so for all ecosocialists.

Allan Todd is member of Allerdale & Copeland Green Party and a Supporter of Green Left & the Ecosocialist Network