Sunday, 10 December 2017

The First Ecosocialist International Is Announced in Venezuela



Written by Quincy Saul and first published at Telesur

The “Combined Strategy and Plan of Action,” a document of twenty pages, was collectively constructed in groups, then read and approved by consensus in assembly. This remarkable accord represents an unprecedented alliance of revolutionary subjects – indigenous, afro-descendant, ecologist, anti-colonial, Marxist, Bolivarian and beyond. 

The plan of action is not uniform, but unified: It ranges from the most immediate and intimate to the most far-reaching and universal. From saving seeds to the transformation of labor unions; from natural birth to solar communism; and from confronting coal mines in South America to decolonizing Palestine and Puerto Rico, it is a 500 year plan for peace on earth.

This plan makes few demands or denunciations. Based on the premise that “only the people can save the people,” it is a plan for the peoples of the world to take their destiny into our own hands.

How is it organized? The First Ecosocialist International has no central committee. It reads in the preamble to the plan of action: “Neither is the First Ecosocialist International a single organization with a seal, or with the omnipresent danger of becoming a bureaucracy. It is simply a common program of struggle, with moments of encounter and exchange, which anyone may join by committing themselves to fulfilling one or more of the various actions agreed upon in order to relieve our Mother Earth.”

How can we join the First Ecosocialist International? At the end of the plan of action, it reads: “we believe along with Jose Marti that “the best way to say is to do.” The best way to be part of the First Ecosocialist International is to commit yourself to fulfilling one or more of the actions in this collective strategy and plan of action. In this way, your collectives, organizations, and movements will be “part of the First Ecosocialist International.” No individual or group is the First Ecosocialist International alone; it is only when we are.”

The International was organized from below by its own participants. But it was neither unnoticed nor unsupported by the Venezuelan government. Indeed this was the Bolivarian process at its finest; with local communities and grassroots movements in the lead, backed up with support from a revolutionary state – from local militias to government ministries.

The plan of action was approved and the Ecosocialist International constituted on the evening of November third in Agua Negra, and early the next morning the international delegates traveled back to Caracas for a press conference. There, at the La Casa de las Primeras Letras (the first public school in South America) they were greeted by representatives from the Ministry of Women, the Ministry of Ecosocialism, and the National Constituent Assembly. It was no accident that the two ministries which supported this grassroots initiative were those of women and ecosocialism.

Julio Escalona, a member of the National Constituent Assembly, connected the dots between patriarchy and capitalism: “Aggression against nature is aggression against women. We must establish fraternity between human beings and nature.”

Ramon Velasquez, minister of ecosocialism, said that “today begins a breakthrough with the old model of conservation of the land,” and indicated that the Venezuelan government would interpret the program of action of the First Ecosocialist International as orders. (A week later, at COP23 in Bonn, he announced the formation of the International, indicating that solutions to climate change would be found not in elite conference room but in “an ecosocialist movement which is rising up on a global scale.”)

In a time when a media war has much of the world convinced that the elected Bolivarian government in Venezuela is a dictatorship, the contact of international delegates from around the world with grassroots communities in Venezuela paints a different picture. Renowned activist and former Black Panther leader Dhoruba bin Wahad said in an interview with the ministry of women: “I'm impressed by the welcome of the people of Veroes in the state of Yaracuy, for their attention, their humility and their beauty, with whom we stayed for several days discussing the problems which affect our Mother Earth. 

I'm very proud to belong to the First Ecosocialist International, and I hope we can continue with this social movement... We concluded that we must build an international movement, made up of progressive governments, activists and ordinary people, to save the planet from the devastation of the imperialist capitalist system which destroys the environment.”

Bin Wahad was joined by another former Black Panther leader, Charlotte O'Neal, who has lived and worked in Tanzania for the past forty years with the United African Alliance Community Center. In the weeks previous to the convocation of the International, O'Neal and her community made a music video “inspired by the convocation of Ecosocialist activists who met last year up in the hills of Monte Carmelo.” In an interview with the ministry of women, O'Neal reported: “This was a historic gathering. We all had an objective; to do everything possible to preserve life on this planet. We must teach our children to protect Mother Earth.”

Another delegate, Wahu Kaara, expressed her gratitude to the Venezuelan revolutionary process for being a beacon of hope for the world: “We send greetings and great recognition to the people of Venezuela, for having invited us to such an important organization... The spirit of protecting Mother Earth is very strong here in Venezuela. Commander and comrade Chavez had the vision and the commitment of unity, of a world for everyone. Even though I am from Kenya, from Africa, I am Chavista! Viva Venezuela!”

As the saying goes, bad news travels fast and good news travels slow. This may be especially the case for Venezuela, where an ongoing media embargo works around the clock to ensure that only bad news gets out of the country.

But the good news of the foundation of the First Ecosocialist International – on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution no less – promises to reach the rest of the world. A “route of struggle,” outlined in the plan of action, maps out a commitment to organize regional convergences in 2018, and to convoke pan-African and pan-Asian congresses in years ahead.

The “salvation of the human species,” as outlined in the Plan of the Homeland, may be an audacious goal. But the plan of the planet, which goes even further, still departs from humble beginnings: The preamble reads, “we recognize that we are only a small part of a spiral of spirals, which has the profound intention to expand and include others, until all of us are rewoven with Mother Earth; to restore harmony within ourselves, between us, and between all the other sister beings of nature.”

The land of Guaicaipuro and Andresote, of Maria Lionza and Manuela Saenz, of Simon Bolivar and Hugo Chavez, has done it again. “If life is important to you,” as Wahu Kaara concluded, “unite yourselves with this movement.”

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Report from the Marseille European Forum 10-11 November 2017



This is an edited extract from a report written by Jane Susanna Ennis. 

Friday 10 November, afternoon Plenary

Pierre Laurent and Olivier Dartigolles of the PCF, spoke of solidarity with migrants and refugees, and said that there could be a whole new era for progressive forces (the Left, socialists and ecologists). Laurent referred to the need to construct a radically new Left in Europe, as there are many threats to democracy, for instance the rise of populism and also said that the Social Forum should be a yearly event, a space for uniting progressive forces in Europe.

Marco Revelli, an Italian comrade from L’Altra Europa con Tsipras, spoke about the Sicilian regional elections, which resulted in a win for the Right, and about the general rise of Neo-Fascism in Italy. The Five Star Movement (M5S) was never a left-wing movement!! There is even a risk that the left might end up as a minority in the European Parliament. The rights of people in the lower echelons of society are those which are most threatened. This comrade too referred to the danger posed by populists. 

Another French comrade said that to some extent we are still fighting Fascism…..we are certainly fighting the rise of neo-Fascism, while  a Danish comrade (Mads B. Petersen) referred to the constant efforts by employers in his country to undermine trade unions.

Brexit and Free Movement

The speakers referred to the increase in hate crimes, the first hate crimes were perpetrated literally 24 hours after the referendum result was announced. There are serious implications for the Northern Ireland Peace Process, and all our Freedom of Movement as EU citizens is at risk. The LEAVE campaign was based on racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia.

Andrew Burgin (Another Europe is Possible, the Alliance for Free Movement) spoke of the necessity for the European Forum in view of the crisis in European politics, and where Brexit fits into this. The problems include Trump and the rise of the Far Right. The social base of the Brexit vote had an element of opposition to globalisation – it was basically a Tory, white, nationalist vote, although there was an element of working-class resentment. It has hardly been a success for the Left! Since the referendum, there has been a 90% drop in nurses and agricultural workers coming from the EU, and we need to discuss the rights of EU nationals in the UK. We need to campaign for a United Socialist States of Europe.

The next speaker was Felicity Dowling. She pointed out that the British working class has suffered a big drop in wages and an increase in precariousness and Zero Hours Contracts. The housing crisis has worsened due to the fact that young people can no longer claim Housing Benefit; young women still don’t get equal pay and local authority services have been cut to the bone.

The UK is a financial capital, not a manufacturing society anymore; the City of London is based on financial dealing, the rest of the economy has been globalised.  The American model of low wages and fewer workers’ rights has been introduced, rather than the EU social model, and we need a campaign to make people realise that the EU isn’t their enemy. She finally made the point that those who voted REMAIN didn’t advocate staying on economic grounds, but OPPOSED LEAVING ON POLITICAL GROUNDS.

The next speaker was Francis Molloy (Sinn Fein). He pointed out that Europe (the EU that is) is a friend of Northern Ireland, and that Sinn Fein is a party of the Left, standing for a United Ireland and an equal, but reserves the right to be critical of Europe. Brexit, in the view of Sinn Fein, is a disaster, but could represent an opportunity for Irish Unity, as people in UIster would vote for a United Ireland in order to stay in the EU.

If Brexit goes ahead, and Northern Ireland doesn’t get special status, they will lose all the current protections and civil rights guaranteed by membership of the EU. The re-introduction of borders would be most unwelcome.

One Europe peace and freedom

Some of the discussion was about ‘social dumping;’ and it was suggested that the Poles and the Ukrainians are the most hostile to the idea of accepting refugees.

A Greek comrade said that Greek society in in principle sensitive to the protection of immigrants, in spite of attempts to blockade the Balkan corridor – Greece would continue to protect migrants and refugees, and also the LGBT community. Greek citizenship is now being offered to the grandchildren of Holocaust victims.

A French comrade suggested that there is almost a war against migrants, and that solidarity with them is being criminalised. There is massive police violence against migrants in France, especially in working-class districts, and criminal proceedings have only ever been taken against one officer who killed a young refugee (he received a suspended sentence). The comrade delivered a stirring polemic against racism.

There was also a talk by a Belgian comrade from the Movement for International Solidarity.

Saturday 11 November

Morning session:  Labour and social rights in Europe

A French comrade started the session with a critique of Zero Hours Contracts and precariousness (casualization), which is a particular problem in the UK …….. outlined the dangers of ZHCs for workers. Reference was also made to the Jobs Act in Italy .

A Belgian comrade indicated that there are three layers of negotiation between management and unions. In Belgium young people who leave school and don’t immediately find employment are entitled to unemployment benefit.

Then there was a talk by Gabrielle Zimmer of DIE LINKE in Germany. She said that the EU needs a social dimension; we need to consider not only people’s working lives (including job security) but also their personal and cultural needs – we need to introduce social rights for EU citizens. She stressed the need for health insurance, and noted the rise of homeless people in major cities, such as Cologne, where there have even been fights between German and Romanian homeless.

She stressed the need for the Left to unite, it is vital for us not to quarrel among ourselves.

A Polish comrade spoke on the subject of inequality, which he said was one of the main causes of the current crisis in Europe. He also referred to the fact that many jobs are vanishing because of automation and to wage inequalities between countries in Europe – some of this fuels the rise of the Far Right. The length of the working week (and working day) was also discussed.

The next speaker was Johann Peter Andersen of the Norwegian RED PARTY. Norway is not a member of the EU, but is a member of the EEA. In Norway, the forces against membership were on the Left.

He referred to the problem of ‘social dumping’. The Red Party believed that workers from Eastern Europe (Poland, etc.), should be employed for Norwegian wages, not be used to undercut wages.

They believe that we can all co-operate in the struggle to reduce working hours. The Norwegian public sector unions are campaigning for a 6-hour working day, as are those in Sweden.

A Young Communist from France spoke of a huge movement in France, particularly among young people, against the neo-liberal project – he said that Macron was a 19th century liberal rooted in the past. There should be a joint programme with Youth Organisations and the Trade Union movement to combat neo-liberalism……we are now feeling the adverse effects of neo-liberal policies throughout Europe, and we need to find points of convergence.

The next speaker was from Finland, and was the first to mention the question of Animal Rights. The call to activate civil society was repeated.

The contribution by Julie Ward, MEP, was in my opinion one of the best contributions to the debate. One of the things she is most passionate about is the role of the arts in society, and the fact that everyone should have access to the arts, including being able to participate.

She talked about the fact that so many jobs are unfulfilling, demeaning and pointless….we should campaign to make work safe and fulfilling for people. She also referred to the damaging cuts to libraries and social services, these roles should not be filled by volunteers but by trained professionals, and paid accordingly.

There should be a balance between work, family and leisure, and Lifelong Learning should be available to everyone. The fact that public services, the NHS and the welfare state meant that people are looked after ‘From Cradle to Grave’ is a GOOD THING – it is not good to demonised the disabled, She referred to the UN damning report about the treatment of the disabled and disadvantaged in the UK.

Afternoon Session

Towards a sustainable development model

The first speaker was from TRANSFORM! Europe, a European Left Think-Tank. She outlined some proposals for the ecological transformation of Europe, including developing the use of renewables, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and the investigation of agri-business practices. The current industrial model should be completely transformed; we need to reduce our dependence on cars, and we need to protect Nature and the Earth. It is acknowledged that the ecological transformation would be very costly, especially for countries which rely very heavily on fossil fuel.

The question of economic sustainability must also be addressed.

We next heard from Heinz Bierbaum from DIE LINKE.  He spoke of the need to develop a Europe 2020 strategy to unite industrial policy and the social and ecological transformation of society – this requires investment in public infrastructure.
The European Trade Union Confederation proposes a programme of investment in public infrastructure, social housing and education. We should be producing goods that fulfil social and ecological needs – some trade unions have been working on transferring military goods into social goods.  We need industrial democracy, the participation of workers in corporate policy.

The speaker from the Parti Communiste Francais was the first to elaborate upon the threat of insecticides to wildlife, especially bees, and threats to food supply – the example of contaminated eggs. There should be stricter international food quality regulation. The general topic of Climate Change was raised, with reference to the increase in Climate Refugees, and the future of the Arctic. The riches of the earth should be confiscated from the multi-nationals.

Fiona Edwards from the British Labour Party also made the link between Climate Change and poverty, and pointed out that Western Europe is still not doing enough to cut carbon emissions – perhaps not surprisingly, right-wing governments are especially remiss in this area. She said that Jeremy Corbyn has plans to end austerity and create ‘green jobs’. The era of fossil fuels must come to an end.

A comrade from the French organisation ENSEMBLE also took up the question of a social Europe, and the need for the integration of economic, social and cultural policy. The subject of the Mafia was also raised!! Water and waste treatment are very lucrative for the Mafia , and the Camorra makes more money through  trafficking waste than through drugs.

Mike Davies of the Alliance for Green Socialism introduced the subject of Zero Growth or de-growth (décroissance). Economic growth is not actually a good thing, but a disaster, there can be no such such thing as Green Growth, and the idea of de-growth or Zero Growth should be more actively.

Unfortunately, the pressures of time didn’t allow him to develop this point in detail, so he came under criticism from other speakers for advocating a sort of ‘deep ecology’ in an unscientific manner…….a pity, because it could have been a valid point if there had been more time to develop it. Someone pointed out that Ecology is a SCIENCE.  I have found a partial definition here – as it says, ‘degrowth’ is not the same as ‘downsizing’.

A speaker from the PCF referred to the inadequacy of ‘greenwashing’. Environmental issues should be included on all political programmes.  She introduced the idea of ‘negative VAT’, taxing anything that could be detrimental to society. The root of the problem is CAPITAL….not just accumulated wealth, which could be used to improve people’s lives instead of using it AGAINST people and the environment. We need to develop public services, and the common good must come first. Environmental and social issues need to be reworked and fully integrated.

Final Session

Where do we go from here, should there be a standing forum, and in which case, what form should it take? A young Austrian comrade said that Europe (the EU) should be a force for peace).

Panel Discussion

All speakers were in agreement as to what the next forum should discuss – social questions, ecological questions, economic questions; campaigning against economic power and exploitation.

Gregor Gysi, from the European Left, spoke of the need for the Left to be united, and for us to campaign in solidarity for a democratic, ecologically responsible EU. Environmental reform must go hand in hand with social justice. We need to be wary of the ghost of Fascism.

It was concluded that

We therefore undertake to organise a second European Forum of leftist, green and progressive forces, to be held in 2018. To achieve this we will establish a technical working group, comprising representatives of the diverse forces participating in these two days, which, in consultation with the organisations present here, will propose the format of the second edition. The goal is for the next Forum to continue the work that we have initiated this year, going into more depth and achieving broader participation.

Jane Susanna Ennis is a member of Camden Green Party and a Green Left supporter

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Next Year is the Bookies Favourite for a UK General Election



With the UK Tory government mired in chaos over its approach to Brexit, it comes as hardly a surprise that the odds offered by the bookmakers for which year the next general election will take place in 2018, is the uniform favourite. This despite the Fixed Term Parliament Act, which in law, says the election should be in 2022. I think this reflects the widespread opinion that this law is not worth the paper it is written on. It was completely ignored by the prime minister, Theresa May, earlier this year when she successfully called an early general election.

Odds for a 2018 election are: Sky Bet 9/4, Ladbrokes 15/8, Coral 15/8, Betfair 19/10, William Hill 7/4, Boyle Sports 5/4, and Paddy Power even money. All short odds, but if are looking to have a flutter, Sky Bet is the most generous, or the least convinced that the election will be next year, to put it another way. Interestingly, the bookies are not offering any odds on which particular month next year will see a general election being held.

Minority UK governments have managed to cling on for years, Callaghan’s Labour government from 1976 to 1979, with the aid of the Lib/Lab pact and Cameron’s Tory government from 2010 to 2015 in coalition with the Lib Dems. The current Tory government only has a majority in Parliament cutesy of their ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement with Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), whereby they guarantee to support the government on their budget and any votes of confidence. DUP support has now been thrown into doubt though, over the government’s post-Brexit proposals for keeping an open border between Northern Ireland and Eire.

The government finds itself in this parlous state, because Theresa May decided that calling the early general election this year, would increase her small majority inherited from her predecessor, David Cameron. With her hard Brexit approach and with the main opposition party in disarray, it looked a sure bet. It didn’t work out that way though, with the worse Tory election campaign I can remember and a surprisingly good one from the Labour Party.

My hunch is the British public were not inclined to give May such a free hand in deciding our future, and despite some reservations about Labour, wanted a hung Parliament. That was the result we got. 

The government’s rank incompetence has been on full public display this week. First the prime minister thought she was going to get agreement with the European Union (EU) to move on from preliminary matters, to negotiating our future relationship with the organisation, once we leave.

In a farcical scene, May was dragged out of discussions with Jean Claude Juncker,  President of the European Commission, to take a phone call from DUP leader, Arlene Foster, threatening to bring down her government, if she went ahead with plans to resolve the Irish border problem, by moving the border into the Irish Sea. Plans for a deal had to be shelved. 

It is incredible that the proposals were not run by the DUP first, or not fully explained in private, to avoid such a public humiliation.

Then we had David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, being brought before a committee of MPs to answer why he had not complied with a Parliamentary vote requiring him to release the government’s impact assessments on what will happen when we leave the EU. His excuse was that, despite what he had said before, the government didn’t actually have any such assessments.

Next up came the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, appearing in front of a separate committee, where he disclosed that nearly a year and a half after the vote to leave the EU, the cabinet had yet to have a full discussion on what should be the government’s preferred “end state position” for the UK after Brexit. What on earth else can they have been talking about?

But it is not just the incompetence, the governing party is so split over the Brexit issue, together with not having a majority in Parliament, that they are completely paralysed. Nothing can be done by primary legislation (votes in Parliament) because the government is not confident of winning support from MPs.

They are trying to do some things by secondary legislation, which can be decided by ministers without approval by Parliament. The British constitution being as vague as it is, can be manipulated to allow ministers to do quite a lot and the government is trying abuse this as much as possible, but it is still limited. Can you name any new laws that have been passed since the general election? I don’t think there has been any, and I don’t expect anything substantial to be done in the near future.

We really can’t carry on like this, we need a government with a clear idea of what it wants to do, and a mandate from the people supportive of it. The only route to this is to call a general election early in the new year, and let the voters decide if any party deserves a mandate.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

A Flexible Brexit or No Brexit at all for the UK?



The UK seems to be getting closer to some agreement with the European Union (EU) that will convince our erstwhile partners in Europe, that enough progress has been made on the preliminary issues, so that we can move onto talking about a future trade deal. The three issues that the EU has said must be resolved first, arrangements for EU/UK nationals residing in the EU/UK and payment of Britain’s outstanding financial commitments appear to be agreed, but the Irish border problem remains.

This issue was also close to being the subject of agreement, before the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) objected to the suggested arrangement, whereby Northern Ireland would in effect stay in the European Single Market, albeit called something else, which allows for ‘no regularity divergence’ from single market rules.

As we discussed last week on this blog, the DUP fears that having separate arrangements for Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK, will usher in the prospect of a united Ireland with Eire. But it could be that the arrangement will not be different to at least some parts of the UK. If in principle one part of the UK can in effect stay in the single market, then why not others? Political leaders in Scotland, Wales and London have all been quick to point this out, and it could lead to a deal which is acceptable to all parts of the country, those in, and those out of the single market.

The minority Tory government, of course is dependent on the DUP for a governing majority, and I expect the DUP threatened the prime minister, Theresa May, with blocking the deal on our exit from the EU. But May perhaps could do without the DUP, for just one Parliamentary vote on our withdrawal terms from the EU?

Say the Scottish National Party, were offered the same terms as Northern Ireland, staying in the single market and customers union, or ‘no regularity divergence’ from these rules? Might they support the government in the vote in these circumstances, and make the ten DUP MPs votes irrelevant to the Brexit Bill’s passage through Parliament?

The DUP though may have gone further and threatened to end the confidence and supply deal which sustains the Tory government in power. This would inevitably lead to a general election, and the possibility of the whole Brexit process being reversed. My bet is that the DUP back down, but get some concessions. We really can’t be having the tail wagging the dog like this.

An opinion poll from Survation, this week shows a 16 point lead (50% to 34%) in favour of a second referendum on EU membership, by far the largest margin recorded. Survation did get this year’s general election forecast pretty accurately, one of the few polls that did.

It also found that Labour has an 8 point lead (45% to 37%) over the Tories, and Labour seems to be warming to the idea of a second referendum on EU membership.

The Shadow International Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner, appearing on the BBC’s Sunday Politics said:

“The only way in which in my view you could possibly contemplate a second referendum was if you had the threshold that I believe should have been there in the first place of a two thirds majority, but that I stress is not Labour Party policy.”

It looks like the government is now aiming for the softest, most flexible of Brexit’s, having finally realised that all of the bluster of the last year is a waste of time. The EU has us over a barrel, if you want talk about trade deals, the preliminary issues have to be agreed first. It is a massive cave in by the British government, but it was always likely to be the case. All the bravado of Boris Johnson’s ‘go whistle’ for the money etc, ends in this humiliating climb down.

The government seems to have settled on trying to replicate our membership of the EU, by ‘regulatory alignment’ but call it leaving the EU. It may also apply to the whole UK. Whether the hard leavers in the Tory Party, including many MPs and ministers, will wear this, is something only time will tell. They may fear a Corbyn led Labour government more than a watered down Brexit. 

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Discussion: For Saving the Earth We Need to Tell the Whole Truth: An Ecosocialist's Response to Richard Smith



Written by Saral Sarkar

Below is a response to an article by Richard Smith. Whilst I don't always agree with Saral Sarkar’s interpretation of ecosocialism in some ways, especially his views on population, this piece is a contribution to the ongoing development of ecosocialist thinking.

In his article,(1) Richard calls upon his readers to "change the conversation". He asks, "What are your thoughts?" He says, if we don't "come up with a viable alternative, our goose is cooked." I fully agree. So I join the conversation, in order to improve it.

Let me first say I appreciate Richard's article very much. It is very useful, indeed necessary, to also present one's cause in a short article – for those who are interested but, for whatever reason, cannot read a whole book. Richard has ably presented the eco-socialist case against both capitalism and "green" capitalism.

But the alternative Richard has come up with is deficient in one very important respect, namely in respect of viability. Allow me to present here my comradely criticisms. It will be short.

Is only Capitalism the Problem?

(1) Richard writes, "Capitalism, not population is the main driver of planetary ecological collapse … .". It sounds like an echo of statements from old-Marxist-socialism. It is not serious. Is Richard telling us that, while we are fighting a long-drawn-out battle against capitalism in order to overcome it, we can allow population to continuously grow without risking any further destruction of the environment? Should we then think that a world population of ten billion by 2050 would not be any problem?

I would agree if Richard would say that capitalism is, because of its growth compulsion, one of the main drivers of ecological collapse. But anybody who has learnt even a little about ecology knows that in any particular eco-region, exponential growth of any one species leads to collapse of its ecological balance. If we now think of the planet Earth as one whole eco-region and consider all the scientific reports on rapid bio-diversity loss and rapid dwindling of the numbers of larger animals, then we cannot but correlate these facts with the exponential growth of our own species, homo sapiens sapiens, the latter being the cause of the former two.

No doubt, capitalism – together with the development of technologies, especially agricultural and medical technologies – has largely enabled the huge growth of human numbers in the last two hundred years. But human population growth has been occurring even in pre-capitalist and pre-medieval eras, albeit at a slower rate. Parallel to this, also environmental destruction has been occurring and growing in these eras.

It is not good to tell our readers only half the truth. The whole truth is succinctly stated in the equation:

                                                        I = P  x  T  x  A

Where I stands for ecological impact (we can also call it ecological destruction), P for population, T for Technology and A for affluence. All these three factors are highly variable. Let me here also quote Paul Ehrlich, one of my teachers in political ecology. Addressing leftists, he once wrote, "Whatever [be] your cause, it is a lost cause unless we control population [growth]". Note the phrase "whatever your cause". 

Ehrlich meant to say, and I too think so, the cause may be environmental protection, saving the earth, protecting biodiversity, overcoming poverty and unemployment, women's liberation, preventing racist and ethnic conflicts and cleansings, preventing huge unwelcome migration flows, preventing crime, fighting modern-day slavery, bringing peace in the world, creating a socialist world order etc. etc. etc., in all cases stopping population growth is a very important factor. Sure, that will in no case be enough. But that is an essential part of the solutions.

Note that in the equation cited above, there is no mention of capitalism. Instead, we find there the two factors technology and affluence. We can call (and we generally do call) the product of T x A (production of affluence by means of industrial technologies) industrialism, of which there has until now been two main varieties: the capitalist one and the planned socialist one (of the soviet type). 

Nothing will be gained for saving the ecological balance of the Earth if only capitalism is replaced with socialism, and ruling socialists then try to increase production at a higher rate, which they must do under the pressure of a growing population which, moreover, develops higher ambitions and aspirations, and demands all the good things that middle class Americans enjoy.

(2) Modern-day old-socialists do not deny the existence of an ecological problem. They have also developed several pseudo-solutions such as "clean" and "renewable" energies and materials, efficiency revolution, decoupling of GDP growth from resource use etc.

Good that Richard rejects the idea that green capitalism can save us. But why can't it? 

"Because", he writes, "companies can’t commit economic suicide to save the humans. There’s just no solution to our crisis within the framework of any conceivable capitalism." 

This is good, but not enough. Because there are old-socialists (I know many in Germany) who believe that it is only individual capitalists/companies and the system capitalism that are preventing a rapid transition to 100 percent clean renewable energies and 100 percent recycling of all materials. 

Thanks to these possibilities, they believe, old-socialist type of industrialism, and even economic and population growth, can be reconciled with the requirements of sustainability. I don't think that is possible, and I have also earlier elaborately explained why.(2) Said briefly, "renewable energies" are neither clean nor renewable, and 100 percent recycling is impossible because the Entropy Law also applies to matter. What Richard thinks is not clear from this article of his. It is necessary to make his thoughts on this point clear.

Is Bottom-up Democracy of Any Use in the Transition Period?

(3) Richard writes, "Rational planning requires bottom-up democracy." I do not understand the connection between the two, planning and democracy. At the most, one could say that for better planning for the villages, the planning commission should also listen to the villagers. But at the national level? 

Should, e.g., the inhabitants of each and every 500 souls village in the Ganges basin codetermine in a bottom up democratic planning process how the waters of the said river and its tributaries should be distributed among ca. 500 million inhabitants of the basin? If that were ever to be attempted, the result would be chaos, not planning. Moreover, how do you ensure that the villagers are capable of understanding the national interest and overcoming their particular interests? Such phrases are only illusions.

In his 6th thesis, Richard sketches a rosy, idealistic picture of a future eco-socialist society and its citizens. That may be attractive for him, me and other eco-socialists. But this future lies in distant future. First we would need a long transition period of contracting economies, and that would cause a lot of pain to millions of people spoilt by consumerism or promises of a consumerist future. 

We shall have to convince such people, and that would be an altogether difficult job. We should tell them the truth, namely that austerity is necessary for saving the earth. We can promise them only one thing, namely that all the pains and burdens as well as the benefits of austerity will be equitably distributed among all.

What to Do About Jobs?

(4) Richard writes: "Needless to say, retrenching and closing down such industries would mean job losses, millions of jobs from here to China. Yet if we don’t shut down those unsustainable industries, we’re doomed." And then he puts the question "What to do?" We can be sure that all people who wholly depend on a paid job for their livelihood, whom we must also win over, will confront us with this jobs question. Let me finish my contribution to this conversation with an answer to this question.

There is not much use talking to ourselves, the already converted. We need to start work, immediately and all over the world, especially in those countries where poverty and unemployment is very high. We know that, generally, these countries are also those where population growth is very high. People from the rich countries cannot simply tell their people, sorry, we have to close down many factories and we cannot further invest in industrializing your countries. 

But the former can tell the latter that they can help them in controlling population growth. The latter will understand easily that it is an immediately effective way to reduce poverty and unemployment. A massive educative campaign will of course be necessary in addition to concrete monetary and technical help.

In the rich countries, contrary to what Richard perhaps thinks, it will not be possible to provide new equivalent jobs to replace those jobs we need to abolish. For such countries, reducing working hours and job-sharing in the short term, and, in the long term, ostracizing automation and labour-saving technologies, and using labour-intensive methods of production instead, are together the only solution. 

That is already known. Another thing that would be needed is to negate free trade and international competition. However, it must also be said openly that high wages and salaries cannot be earned under such circumstances.

We eco-socialist activists must begin the work with a massive world-wide political campaign in favour of such ideas and policies.

Notes and References

1. Smith, Richard (2017) " Climate Crisis and Managed Deindustrialization: Debating Alternatives to Ecological Collapse."
and

2. My views expressed in this article have been elaborately presented in my book:
Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism? – A Critical Analysis of Humanity's Fundamental Choices (1999). London: Zed Books,and in various articles published in my blog-site


Saturday, 2 December 2017

Climate Summit’s Solution to Global Warming: More Talking



Written by Pete Dolack and first published at Counterpunch

The world’s governments got together in Germany over the past two weeks to discuss global warming, and as a result, they, well, talked. And issued some nice press releases.

Discussing an existential threat to the environment, and all who are dependent on it, certainly is better than not discussing it. Agreeing to do something about it is also good, as is reiterating that something will be done.

None of the above, however, should be confused with implementing, and mandating, measures that would reverse global warming and begin to deal concretely with the wrenching changes necessary to avoid flooded cities, a climate going out of control, mass species die-offs and the other rather serious problems that have only begun to manifest themselves in an already warming world.

The 23rd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), or COP23, wrapped up on November 17 in Bonn. Fiji was actually the presiding country, but the conference was held in Bonn because Fiji was not seen as able to accommodate the 25,000 people expected to attend. The formal hosting by Fiji, as a small Pacific island country, was symbolic of a wish to highlight the problems of low-lying countries, but that this was merely symbolic was perhaps most fitting of all.

These conferences have been held yearly since the UNFCCC was adopted in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit. Two years ago, at COP21 in Paris, the world’s governments negotiated the Paris Accord, committing to specific targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Although capping global warming at 2 degrees Celsius (as measured from the 19th century as the Industrial Revolution took off around the world) has been considered the outer limit of “safe” warming, a goal of halting global warming at 1.5 degrees was adopted at Paris. The catch here is that the goals adopted are far from the strength necessary to achieve the 2-degree goals, much less 1.5 degrees.

Before we explore that contradiction, let’s take a brief look at the self-congratulatory statements issued at the Bonn conference’s conclusion.

Agreement that summit participants like to talk


“In Bonn, the support for climate action from countries, regions, cities, civil society, the private sector and ordinary men and women was clearly on display. Together, we have done the job we came here to do, which is to advance the implementation guidelines of the Paris Agreement and prepare for more ambitious action in the Talanoa Dialogue of 2018.”

The German Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety provided this message:

“One key outcome of the conference is the Talanoa Dialogue. Talanoa is a Fiji term for a conversation in which the people involved share ideas and resolve problems. As the sum total of the current climate targets under the Paris Agreement is not yet sufficient for limiting global warming to well below two degrees Celsius, agreement was reached in Paris that the international community would have to raise the level of ambition over time. The Talanoa Dialogue is the trial run for this ambition mechanism.”

And the United Nations itself, on its UNFCCC web site dedicated to COP23, had this to say:

“The ‘Talanoa Dialogue’, inspired by the Pacific concept of constructive discussion, debate and story-telling, will set the stage in Poland in 2018 for the revising upwards of national climate action plans needed to put the world on track to meet pre-2020 ambition and the long-term goals of the two-year old Paris Agreement. … With so many climate action pledges and initiatives, a further strong message from all sides at COP23 was the growing need to coordinate efforts across policy, planning and investment to ensure that every cent invested and every minute of work contributed results in a much greater impact and boosts ambition under the national climate plans.”

Again, discussion is better than no discussion, and at least no country other than the United States came to Bonn to push coal, isolating the Trump administration further as the U.S. is now the only country that intends to stay outside the Paris Accords. And let us acknowledge that a baby step forward is far better than a giant leap backward, as the Trump gang wishes to attempt.

The main takeaway of COP23 is that people will get together and talk some more. The “2018 Talanoa Dialogue” is said by the United Nations to be “an inclusive and participatory process that allows countries, as well as non-state actors, to share stories and showcase best practices in order to urgently raise ambition — including pre-2020 action — in nationally determined contributions.” Beyond that, there was a bit of money committed — the German government pledged €110 million to an insurance fund, an adoption fund was replenished with US$93 million of new pledges, and the World Health Organisation said it would commence a “special initiative” to help island countries that has a goal to “triple the levels of international financial support to climate and health in Small Island Developing States.”

It you feel less than overwhelmed by the above, it would seem a reasonable reaction.

The world’s biggest advertising conclave?

A commentator for the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle certainly was less than overwhelmed, referring to the event as a “massive advertising offensive.” The commentary published by Deutsche Welle, a most sober mainstream news organization not known for flamboyance, summarized the COP23 outcome this way:

“The negotiations in Bonn sound more like agenda points run through by a working group of midlevel importance than the work of the largest multination conference ever held in Germany. Two years after the international climate accord was signed in Paris, the task at hand in Bonn was to establish just who was required to do what in the fight against climate change and how their contributions could be measured. Binding agreements were not on the agenda. … It would also be in poor taste to ask about the carbon footprint left by the conference — especially as most of the electricity used to run Bonn’s charging stations is derived from the region’s lignite coal power plants. Such a query would only upset the mood of those inhabiting this taxpayer-funded parallel universe.”

Ouch! At least the host Germans, and most others in attendance, wanted to do the right thing even if words and actions are yet to synchronize. The public-policy magazine Pacific Standard pulled no punches in reporting the embarrassing antics of the United States delegation in Bonn. The article opened with this passage:

“The United States delegation held a side event at the COP23 climate talks in Bonn on Monday, an affair run by fossil-fuel and nuclear-industry boosters that reprised the same tune heard at the G7 and G20 summits this summer: According to the U.S., using clean coal and nuclear energy is the only way to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement.”

The Pacific Standard report went on to say:

“At the U.S. panel, Barry Worthington, executive director of the U.S. Energy Association, claimed that clean coal is needed to reach many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including universal access to energy, zero hunger, and zero poverty. … Worthington also drew on the Trump administration’s demagogic notion of an ongoing ‘war on coal,’ charging that international development banks have an ‘anti-fossil bias’ that blocks investments for financing coal plants in poor countries, potentially at the expense of public safety. The U.S. side event also included pitches for liquid natural gas exports from the U.S. to developing countries as a bridge fuel to help power the shift to renewable energy, as well as for small-scale modular nuclear reactors that can serve a similar purpose.”

Clean coal and safe nuclear energy? Still oxymorons. Although fairness compels an acknowledgement that the concepts of “clean coal” and “safe nuclear energy” were championed by the Obama administration, which in fact was nearly as enthusiastic as the Bush II/Cheney administration in throwing bottomless sums of money at nuclear power companies.

At least the Obama administration was willing to promote renewable energy as part of its ill-advised “all of the above” energy program and did believe that breathable air and drinkable water are good ideas, even if not willing to disrupt corporate business as usual to achieve those ideas, or so much as hint that resource consumption far beyond the Earth’s capacity might necessitate consuming less. The Trump gang can’t be bothered to do even that. Searches for any statement on COP23 on the official White House web site turns up not a word. One can find statements about favorable editorials in Murdoch newspapers but nothing on the climate summit.

Do you get half credit if the bridge collapses when walkers are halfway across?

This about brings us to the point where the latest dire reports of catastrophe that would result from a failure to tackle climate warming is appropriate. We’ll get to that momentarily, but first it would be useful to reiterate just what was committed two years ago, none of which have been updated or improved upon despite cheery press releases.

National global-warming commitments made in time for the 2015 Paris Climate Summit included these goals:

+ The United States pledged at the time to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent in 2025, relative to 2005 levels; instituted new national regulations on power-plant emissions; and announced a state-level cap-and-trade system whereby states, rather than enterprises, will trade pollution permits.

+ China intended to reach a peak in its greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030; intended to inaugurate a cap-and-trade system in 2017; and pledged to have 50 percent of its new buildings meet “green” standards by 2020.

+ The European Union’s goal was a 40 percent cut in emissions in 2030, relative to 1990. The centerpiece of EU efforts is a failed cap-and-trade system that will not be reformed until 2021.

+ Brazil said it would cut emissions by 37 percent in 2025, relative to 2005, and intended to achieve a 43 percent reduction by 2030. Brazil said it would generate 20 percent of its electricity from non-hydropower renewables by 2030 and pledged to restore 30 million acres (120,000 square kilometers) of forests.

+ Canada committed to cutting output of greenhouse gases by 30 percent in 2030, relative to 2005, but this includes international “offsets” and failed to address the Alberta tar sands. On a provincial level, Ontario and QuĂ©bec will participate in a cap-and-trade system.

+ Japan intended to reduce emissions by 26 percent in 2030, relative to 2013 (the equivalent to 18 percent below 1990 levels by 2030), reductions that would include international “offsets” and “credits” for forest management.

+ India pledged to reduce the intensity of its emissions 33 to 35 percent in 2030, relative to 2005, and to produce 40 percent of its electricity from non-fossil fuel sources by that year. This goal, however, is a commitment to only slow the rate of emissions rather than cut them.

+ Australia committed to a 26 to 28 percent cut in emissions, relative to 2005, reductions to be achieved in part through land-use changes and forestation. But the coalition government in power then and now repealed the Clean Energy Future Plan, seen as a step backward.

Of the above countries and regions, only India is rated by Climate Action Tracker, a consortium of three research organizations, as compatible with a goal of capping global warming at 2 degrees. Every other one has been found to be insufficient, with the United States joining Chile, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Ukraine as “critically insufficient,” the worst category.

Should all the pledges made at the Paris Summit actually be met, the increase in global temperatures will be about 2.7 degrees, according to Climate Action Tracker. The group calculates that fulfillment of the national pledges would result in an increase in the global temperature of 2.2 to 3.4 degrees C. (with a median of 2.7) by 2100, with further increases beyond that. In other words, global warming would advance at a slower pace that it would have otherwise should all commitments be fulfilled. But there are no enforcement mechanisms to force compliance with these goals; peer pressure is expected to be sufficient.

This is reminiscent of a Group of 7 Summit a few months earlier, in June 2015, when the G7 governments said they would phase out fossil fuels by 2100, a case not of closing the barn door after the horse has left but rather declaring an intention to consider closing the barn door after waiting for the horse to disappear over the horizon.

In case you needed still more evidence …

OK, we’ve reached the point where we should summarize the latest scientific reports. In just the past few weeks:

+ A report published in Lancet reported that the health of millions of people across the world is already being significantly harmed by climate change, thanks in part to increased risk of infections diseases. This risk, the Lancetreport declared, qualifies as “the major threat of the 21st century.”

+ As carbon dioxide increases, accelerating global warming, scientists fear that Arctic melting will trigger a massive release of methane, a gas more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide in ability to causing atmospheric warming.

+ It is a virtual certainty that human activity is responsible for all global warming since 1950, according to the Climate Science Special Report, a report prepared by hundreds of U.S. scientists. Humans are likely responsible for 93 to 123 percent of Earth’s net global warming, the report said, meaning that Earth might have cooled slightly in the period absent human activity.

+ Hundreds of millions of people would face displacement due to their their home cities becoming flooded as a result of rising sea levels triggered by global warming of 3 degrees, which would be reached if current trends continue. Alexandria, Miami, Osaka, Rio de Janeiro and Shanghai are among the many cities to be drastically affected.

+ Extreme rains of at least 20 inches from a single storm are six times more likely than they were in the 1990s, and will become another three times more likely by 2090.

Those represent just some of the most recent research. Earlier studies have found that humanity may have already committed itself to a sea level rise of at least six meters from the greenhouse gases already thrown into the atmosphere and that several more decades of global warming would occur even if all greenhouse-gas production ceased today because the oceans will release much of the heat they have absorbed from the atmosphere.

You can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet

The bottom line is that business can’t continue as usual. That means wrenching changes to the economy in a system, capitalism, that offers no alternative employment to those whose jobs would be eliminated. Conservatives see that seriously tackling global warming would trigger significant disruption, so their solution is to deny global warming, policies unfortunately being carried out by the Trump administration. Liberals acknowledge the severity of the problem, but advocate renewable energy and techno-fixes requiring technologies that unfortunately are yet to exist in order to claim that any dip in the economy would be no more than a statistical blip. That’s not realistic, either.

Already, the demand for resources to support present-day consumption is equal to 1.7 Earths. That indeed is not sustainable. And although renewable energy obviously should be developed, with fossil fuels phased out as soon as practical, those changes will only get us part of the way, before mentioning that manufacturing the parts for wind and solar energy have their own environmental concerns. Renewable energy is not a shortcut to reversing global warming. Alas, there is no alternative but for the global North to consume much less.

Illusions that “green capitalism” will save us must be abandoned. Capitalism requires constant growth (infinite growth is impossible on a finite planet) and discourages corporate responsibility because enterprises can offload their responsibilities onto society. Thus every incentive is for more production. Maximizing profit and environmentalism are broadly in conflict; the occasional time when they might be in harmony are rare exceptions and temporary. This is because the managers of corporations are answerable to private owners and shareholders, not to society. Profit maximization trumps all else under capitalism and thereby holds back ecological reform — this is reflected in the “maximization of shareholder value” that is elevated to a holy cause and even a legal requirement.

Consumerism and over-consumption are not products of a particular culture nor the result of personal characteristics — they are a natural consequence of capitalism and built into a system that can’t function without growth. Problems like global warming and other aspects of the world environmental crisis can only be solved on a global level through democratic control of the economy, not by individual consumer choices or by national governments.

There can’t be infinite growth on a finite planet, and even if humanity begins to strip-mine the Moon and the asteroid belt, that would merely postpone the reckoning because the solar system is finite, too (assuming that off-world industrialism could be made financial viable). What the planet needs is action, not only words, and the later that action is put off the more painful will be any attempted cure. Environmental crisis can no longer be disentangled from economic crisis.