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Tagged ‘Ecology‘

FLASHBACK | The Last Twenty Years of Social Liquidation

libcom.org

August 27, 2013

by Miguel Amorós

“In the society of the spectacle protest is a form of leisure and the tragic pathos of the class struggle must recede before hilarity, relaxation and festival, genuine forms of the neo-contestatory spirit which has found in pot and pan-banging, whistles, and costume parades its most suitable means of expression and in software, blogs and cell-phones its best weapons.”

The last twenty years of social liquidation - Miguel Amorós

In this 2006 lecture, Miguel Amorós depicts the previous twenty years as a period of radical changes for the emancipatory project, beginning with “the disappearance of the workers milieu” in the 1980s and the simultaneous rise of a new youth movement which, because it “started from zero” as a result of its lack of historical memory, was in part drawn to violence (“immediate confrontation”), and in part to the practice of “neo-contestatory”, “festive” forms of simulated struggle (“In the society of the spectacle protest is a form of leisure”), only to be “absorbed by the dynamic of survival in a hostile environment” as “the fifth wheel of the electoral bandwagon of social democracy”.

Concerning the Degeneration of Revolutionary Ideals after the End of the Working Class in the West

“The present period is one of those when everything that seems normally to constitute a reason for living dwindles away, when one must, on pain of sinking into confusion or apathy, call everything into question again.”1

On July 19, 1936 the Spanish proletariat responded to Franco’s coup d’état by unleashing a social revolution. On February 23, 1981 another coup d’état took place, one that met with the most absolute indifference of the proletarians, who hardly bothered to change the station on their radios or TVs. This contrast of attitudes reflects the fact that the proletariat was in 1936 the principal social factor in politics, while in 1981 it was not even an auxiliary factor for the interests of others. If the coup of 1936 was directed against the proletariat, the coup of 1981 was a settling of accounts between different factions of power. Not even in the most alarmist analyses was the workers’ predilection for struggle taken into consideration for the simple reason that it was minimal. The perpetrators of the coup d’état ignored the proletariat because it was no more than a secondary figure of political rhetoric, one that was historically finished.

FLASHBACK | Communique from COP

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December 12, 2011
by Quincy Saul

This pockmarked daybreak
Dawn gripped by night,
This is not that much-awaited light
For which friends set out filled with hope

– Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Many arrived in Durban with high hopes. They hoped that the sheer urgency of climate change, especially in Africa, would persuade world leaders and their representatives to take the necessary action to avert global catastrophe. They hoped that dissent inside the meetings would pressure the big polluters to atone for their sins. And they hoped that civil society on the outside would mobilize to change the course of history. Such hopes will haunt us all in the years to come, as we come to grips with the collective atrocity that was COP17.

Essential Summer Reading | Managing Democracy, Managing Dissent

Democracy was once considered a dangerous new idea and a threat to ruling elites. It brought to mind fearful images of oppressed masses demanding social and political equality. Fast forward to today and democracy is a key method by which the inequality and injustices of capitalism are legitimated and popular consent engineered. Despite the fact that capitalism can tolerate neither equal access to decision-making or truly open dissent, and in fact prioritises profit-making above all social or environmental concerns, we are nonetheless persuaded to believe that capitalism is, or at least can be, democratic. Now a new book – published by Corporate Watch* – uncovers how this contradiction is sustained, and the anti-democratic rule of capitalism protected.

Under Empire, All Life is Imperiled

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One Year On

Counterpunch Weekend Edition May 24-26, 2013

by JAVIER SETHNESS CASTRO

“After the catastrophes that have happened, and in view of the catastrophes to come, it would be cynical to say that a plan for a better world is manifested in history and unites it.”

– Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics

Channeling Adorno, it would I think prove difficult today to characterize the prevailing world-situation as anything other than highly negative.  Such an interpretation is arguably seen most readily in reflection on environmental matters—specifically, the ever-worsening climate emergency, not to mention other worrying signs of the ecological devastation wrought by the capitalist system.

FLASHBACK | The Real Weapons of Mass Destruction: Methane, Propaganda & the Architects of Genocide | Part I

WKOG editor: The first segment (Part I-below) of this investigative report was published on January 17, 2011. On December 13, 2011, it was quietly reported that:

 Dramatic and unprecedented plumes of methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide – have been seen bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean by scientists undertaking an extensive survey of the region.

The scale and volume of the methane release has astonished the head of the Russian research team who has been surveying the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf off northern Russia for nearly 20 years.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Igor Semiletov of the International Arctic Research Centre at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, who led the 8th joint US-Russia cruise of the East Siberian Arctic seas, said that he has never before witnessed the scale and force of the methane being released from beneath the Arctic seabed.

“Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we’ve found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It’s amazing,” Dr Semiletov said….

“In a very small area, less than 10,000 square miles, we have counted more than 100 fountains, or torch-like structures, bubbling through the water column and injected directly into the atmosphere from the seabed,” Dr Semiletov said.

“We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale – I think on a scale not seen before. Some of the plumes were a kilometre or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere – the concentration was a hundred times higher than normal,” he said.

Dr Semiletov released his findings for the first time last week at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

Since this the quiet release of this report, the (essentially non-existent) media coverage on the destabilizing methane hydrates should be considered that of a heavily censored topic by corporate and foundation funded media.

+++

An investigative report.

By Cory Morningstar

January 17, 2011

Part I

World Marches to Methane Annihilation

 

“[T]he question is not will this methane be released, but when.” – Robert C. Hendricks, NASA, November 2007

 

The architects of death: The Real Weapons of Mass Destruction are the melting permafrost, the destabilizing methane hydrates and the corporations such as Halliburton, ChevronTexaco, BP, Shell, Exxon Mobil and the banking and investment industry who, hand in hand with the US Department of Energy and the US Department of Defense, have been planning and waiting to exploit methane hydrates for decades. Methane hydrates are considered the ultimate in climate wealth opportunity because the control of these hydrocarbons could literally shift the balance of global power (US Department of Defense). It is clear that nothing has been done to prevent catastrophic climate change – and nothing will be done. Global emissions are set to continue skyrocketing. This article attempts to clearly articulate why, almost two decades after the first international climate change summit, the world governments have failed to protect us from dangerous atmospheric climate interference. As we are now living in a world that is beyond dangerous, society must be aware of, be able to critically analyze, and ultimately reject the new onslaught of misinformation that is being perpetuated by the corporate elite and the current power structures that support their agenda.WKOG editor: The first segment (Part I-below) of this investigative report was published on January 17, 2011. On December 13, 2011, it was quietly reported that:

 Dramatic and unprecedented plumes of methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide – have been seen bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean by scientists undertaking an extensive survey of the region.

The scale and volume of the methane release has astonished the head of the Russian research team who has been surveying the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf off northern Russia for nearly 20 years.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Igor Semiletov of the International Arctic Research Centre at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, who led the 8th joint US-Russia cruise of the East Siberian Arctic seas, said that he has never before witnessed the scale and force of the methane being released from beneath the Arctic seabed.

“Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we’ve found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It’s amazing,” Dr Semiletov said….

“In a very small area, less than 10,000 square miles, we have counted more than 100 fountains, or torch-like structures, bubbling through the water column and injected directly into the atmosphere from the seabed,” Dr Semiletov said.

“We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale – I think on a scale not seen before. Some of the plumes were a kilometre or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere – the concentration was a hundred times higher than normal,” he said.

Dr Semiletov released his findings for the first time last week at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

Since this the quiet release of this report, the (essentially non-existent) media coverage on the destabilizing methane hydrates should be considered that of a heavily censored topic by corporate and foundation funded media.

+++

An investigative report.

By Cory Morningstar

January 17, 2011

Part I

World Marches to Methane Annihilation

“[T]he question is not will this methane be released, but when.” – Robert C. Hendricks, NASA, November 2007

The architects of death: The Real Weapons of Mass Destruction are the melting permafrost, the destabilizing methane hydrates and the corporations such as Halliburton, ChevronTexaco, BP, Shell, Exxon Mobil and the banking and investment industry who, hand in hand with the US Department of Energy and the US Department of Defense, have been planning and waiting to exploit methane hydrates for decades. Methane hydrates are considered the ultimate in climate wealth opportunity because the control of these hydrocarbons could literally shift the balance of global power (US Department of Defense). It is clear that nothing has been done to prevent catastrophic climate change – and nothing will be done. Global emissions are set to continue skyrocketing. This article attempts to clearly articulate why, almost two decades after the first international climate change summit, the world governments have failed to protect us from dangerous atmospheric climate interference. As we are now living in a world that is beyond dangerous, society must be aware of, be able to critically analyze, and ultimately reject the new onslaught of misinformation that is being perpetuated by the corporate elite and the current power structures that support their agenda.WKOG editor: The first segment (Part I-below) of this investigative report was published on January 17, 2011. On December 13, 2011, it was quietly reported that:

 Dramatic and unprecedented plumes of methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide – have been seen bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean by scientists undertaking an extensive survey of the region.

The scale and volume of the methane release has astonished the head of the Russian research team who has been surveying the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf off northern Russia for nearly 20 years.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Igor Semiletov of the International Arctic Research Centre at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, who led the 8th joint US-Russia cruise of the East Siberian Arctic seas, said that he has never before witnessed the scale and force of the methane being released from beneath the Arctic seabed.

“Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we’ve found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It’s amazing,” Dr Semiletov said….

“In a very small area, less than 10,000 square miles, we have counted more than 100 fountains, or torch-like structures, bubbling through the water column and injected directly into the atmosphere from the seabed,” Dr Semiletov said.

“We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale – I think on a scale not seen before. Some of the plumes were a kilometre or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere – the concentration was a hundred times higher than normal,” he said.

Dr Semiletov released his findings for the first time last week at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

Since this the quiet release of this report, the (essentially non-existent) media coverage on the destabilizing methane hydrates should be considered that of a heavily censored topic by corporate and foundation funded media.

+++

An investigative report.

By Cory Morningstar

January 17, 2011

Part I

World Marches to Methane Annihilation

 

“[T]he question is not will this methane be released, but when.” – Robert C. Hendricks, NASA, November 2007

 

The architects of death: The Real Weapons of Mass Destruction are the melting permafrost, the destabilizing methane hydrates and the corporations such as Halliburton, ChevronTexaco, BP, Shell, Exxon Mobil and the banking and investment industry who, hand in hand with the US Department of Energy and the US Department of Defense, have been planning and waiting to exploit methane hydrates for decades. Methane hydrates are considered the ultimate in climate wealth opportunity because the control of these hydrocarbons could literally shift the balance of global power (US Department of Defense). It is clear that nothing has been done to prevent catastrophic climate change – and nothing will be done. Global emissions are set to continue skyrocketing. This article attempts to clearly articulate why, almost two decades after the first international climate change summit, the world governments have failed to protect us from dangerous atmospheric climate interference. As we are now living in a world that is beyond dangerous, society must be aware of, be able to critically analyze, and ultimately reject the new onslaught of misinformation that is being perpetuated by the corporate elite and the current power structures that support their agenda.

The British Bee Keepers Association Defense of the Pesticide Industry

The British Bee Keepers Association Defense of the Pesticide Industry

BBKA_LOGO_23.02

bbka-bayer

MP’s Support Ban of Neonics, but BBKA Shows Abject Failure

Simple Bees

April 5, 2013

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee today published the two volume report of its investigation into Pollinators and Pesticides.  The report focussed on the so-called neonicotinoid group of insecticides and the conclusions are clear. The report recommends that that the government department responsible (Defra):

Flashback: The Idols of Environmentalism | The Ecology of Work

Do environmentalists conspire against their own interests?

Environmentalism can’t succeed until it confronts the destructive nature of modern work—and supplants it

Parts one and two of a two-part series.

by Curtis White

Orion | Published in the March/April 2007 issue of Orion magazine

Art by Robert and Shana Parkeharrison

ENVIRONMENTAL DESTRUCTION proceeds apace in spite of all the warnings, the good science, the 501(c)3 organizations with their memberships in the millions, the poll results, and the martyrs perched high in the branches of sequoias or shot dead in the Amazon. This is so not because of a power, a strength out there that we must resist. It is because we are weak and fearful. Only a weak and fearful society could invest so much desperate energy in protecting activities that are the equivalent of suicide.

For instance, trading carbon emission credits and creating markets in greenhouse gases as a means of controlling global warming is not a way of saying we’re so confident in the strength of the free market system that we can even trust it to fix the problems it creates. No, it’s a way of saying that we are so frightened by the prospect of stepping outside of the market system on which we depend for our national wealth, our jobs, and our sense of normalcy that we will let the logic of that system try to correct its own excesses even when we know we’re just kidding ourselves. This delusional strategy is embedded in the Kyoto agreement, which is little more than a complex scheme to create a giant international market in pollution. Even Kyoto, of which we speak longingly—“Oh, if only we would join it!”—is not an answer to our problem but a capitulation to it, so concerned is it to protect what it calls “economic growth and development.” Kyoto is just a form of whistling past the graveyard. And it is not just international corporations who do this whistling; we all have our own little stake in the world capitalism has made and so we all do the whistling.

The problem for even the best-intentioned environmental activism is that it imagines that it can confront a problem external to itself. Confront the bulldozers. Confront the chainsaws. Confront Monsanto. Fight the power. What the environmental movement is not very good at is acknowledging that something in the very fabric of our daily life is deeply anti-nature as well as anti-human. It inhabits not just bad-guy CEOs at Monsanto and Weyerhaeuser but nearly every working American, environmentalists included.

It is true that there are CEO-types, few in number, who are indifferent to everything except money, who are cruel and greedy, and so the North Atlantic gets stripped of cod and any number of other species taken incidentally in what is the factory trawler’s wet version of a scorched-earth policy. Or some junk bond maven buys up a section of old-growth redwoods and “harvests” it without hesitation when his fund is in sudden need of “liquidity.” Nevertheless, all that we perceive to be the destructiveness of corporate culture in relation to nature is not the consequence of its power, or its capacity for dominating nature (“taming,” as it was once put, as if what we were dealing with was the lion act at the circus). Believing in powerful corporate evildoers as the primary source of our problems forces us to think in cartoons.

Besides, corporations are really powerless to be anything other than what they are. I suspect that, far from being perverse merchants of greed hellbent on destruction, these corporate entities are as bewildered as we are. Capitalism—especially in its corporate incarnation—has a logos, a way of reasoning. Capitalism is in the position of the notorious scorpion who persuades the fox to ferry him across a river, arguing that he won’t sting the fox because it wouldn’t be in his interest to do so, since he’d drown along with the fox. But when in spite of this logic he stings the fox anyway, all he can offer in explanation is “I did it because it is in my nature.” In the same way, it’s not as if businessmen perversely seek to destroy their own world. They have vacation homes in the Rockies or New England and enjoy walks in the forest, too. They simply have other priorities which are to them a duty.

THE IDEA THAT WE HAVE powerful corporate villains to thank for the sorry state of the natural world is what Francis Bacon called an “idol of the tribe.” According to Bacon, an idol is a truth based on insufficient evidence but maintained by constant affirmation within the tribe of believers. In spite of this insufficiency, idols do not fall easily or often. Tribes are capable of exerting will based on principles, but they are capable only with the greatest difficulty of willing the destruction of their own principles. It’s as if they feel that it is better to stagger from frustration to frustration than to return honestly to the question, does what we believe actually make sense? The idea of fallen idols always suggests tragic disillusionment, but this is in fact a good thing. If they don’t fall, there is no hope for discovering the real problems and the best and truest response to them. All environmentalists understand that the global crisis we are experiencing requires urgent action, but not everyone understands that if our activism is driven by idols we can exhaust ourselves with effort while having very little effect on the crisis. Most frighteningly, it is even possible that our efforts can sustain the crisis. The question the environmental tribe must ask is, do our mistaken assumptions actually cause us to conspire against our own interests?

The belief that corporate power is the unique source of our problems is not the only idol we are subject to. There is an idol even in the language we use to account for our problems. Our primary dependence on the scientific language of “environment,” “ecology,” “diversity,” “habitat,” and “ecosystem” is a way of acknowledging the superiority of the very kind of rationality that serves not only the Sierra Club but corporate capitalism as well. For instance:

“You can pump this many tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere without disturbing the major climatic systems.”

“This much contiguous habitat is necessary to sustain a population allowing for a survivable gene pool for this species.”

“We’ll keep a list, a running tally of endangered species (as we’ll call these animals), and we’ll monitor their numbers, and when that number hits a specified threshold we’ll say they are ‘healthy,’ or we’ll say they are ‘extinct.’ All this is to be done by bureaucratic fiat.”

I am not speaking here of all the notorious problems associated with proving scientifically the significance of environmental destruction. My concern is with the wisdom of using as our primary weapon the rhetoric and logic of the very entities we suspect of causing our problems in the first place. Perhaps we support legalistic responses to problems, with all their technoscientific descriptors, out of a sense that this is the best we can do for the moment. But the danger is always that eventually we come to believe this language and its mindset ourselves. This mindset is generally called “quantitative reasoning,” and it is second nature to Anglo-Americans. Corporate execs are perfectly comfortable with it, and corporate philanthropists give their dough to environmental organizations that speak it. Unfortunately, it also has the consequence of turning environmentalists into quislings, collaborators, and virtuous practitioners of a cost-benefit logic figured in songbirds.

It is because we have accepted this rationalist logos as the only legitimate means of debate that we are willing to think that what we need is a balance between the requirements of human economies and the “needs” of the natural world. It’s as if we were negotiating a trade agreement with the animals and trees unlucky enough to have to share space with us. What do you need? we ask them. What are your minimum requirements? We need to know the minimum because we’re not likely to leave you more than that. We’re going to consume any “excess.” And then it occurs to us to add, unless of course you taste good. There is always room for an animal that tastes good.

We use our most basic vocabulary, words like “ecosystem,” with a complete innocence, as if we couldn’t imagine that there might be something perilous in it. What if such language were actually the announcement of the defeat of what we claim to want? That’s the worm at the heart of the rose of the “ecologist.” It is something that environmentalism has never come to terms with because the very advocates for environmental health are most comfortable with the logic of science, never mind what else that logic may be doing for the military and industry. Would people and foundations be as willing to send contributions to The Nature Conservancy or the Sierra Club if the leading logic of the organization were not “ecosystems” but “respect for life” or “reverence for creation”? Such notions are, for many of us, compromised by associations with the Catholic Church and evangelicalism, and they don’t loosen the purse strings of philanthropy. “Let’s keep a nice, clean scientific edge between us and religion,” we protest. In the end, environmental science criticizes not only corporate destructiveness but (as it has always done) more spiritual notions of nature as well.

Environmentalism seems to conclude that the best thing it can do for nature is make a case for it, as if it were always making a summative argument before a jury with the backing of the best science. Good children of the Enlightenment, we keep expecting Reason to prevail (and in a perverse and destructive way, it does prevail). It is the language of “system” (nature as a kind of complicated machine) that allows most of us to feel comfortable with working for or giving money to environmental organizations. We even seem to think that the natural system should work in consort with our economic system. Why, we argue, that rainforest might contain the cure for cancer. By which we also mean that it could provide profitable products for the pharmaceutical industry and local economies. (God help the doomed indigenous culture once the West decides that it has an economy that needs assistance.) Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth may have distressing things to say about global warming, but subconsciously it is an extended apology for scientific rationality, the free market, and our utterly corrupted democracy. Gore doesn’t have to defend these things directly; he merely has to pretend that nothing else exists. Even the awe of Immanuel Kant’s famous “starry skies above” is lost to modern environmentalism, so obsessed is it with what data, graphs, and a good PowerPoint presentation can show.

In short, there would be nothing inappropriate or undesirable were we to understand our relation to nature in spiritual terms or poetic terms or, with Emerson and Thoreau, in good old American transcendental terms, but there is no broadly shared language in which to do this. So we are forced to resort to what is in fact a lower common denominator: the languages of science and bureaucracy. These languages have broad legitimacy in our culture, a legitimacy they possess largely because of the thoroughness with which they discredited Christian religious discourse in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But many babies went out with the bath water of Christian dogma and superstition. One of those was morality. Even now, science can’t say why we ought not to harm the environment except to say that we shouldn’t be self-destructive. Another of these lost spiritual children was our very relation as human beings to the mystery of Being as such. As the philosopher G. W. Leibniz famously wondered, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” For St. Thomas Aquinas, this was the fundamental religious question. In the place of a relation to the world that was founded on this mystery, we have a relation that is objective and data driven. We no longer have a forest; we have “board feet.” We no longer have a landscape, a world that is our own; we have “valuable natural resources.” Even avowed Christians have been slow to recall this spiritualized relationship to the world. For example, only recently have American evangelicals begun thinking of the environment in terms of what they call “creation care.” We don’t have to be born again to agree with evangelicals that one of the most powerful arguments missing from the environmentalist’s case is reverence for what simply is. One of the heroes of Goethe’s Faust was a character called Care (Sorge), who showed to Faust the unscrupulousness of his actions and led him to salvation. Environmentalism has made a Faustian pact with quantitative reasoning; science has given it power but it cannot provide deliverance. If environmentalism truly wishes, as it claims, to want to “save” something—the planet, a species, itself—it needs to rediscover a common language of Care.

THE LESSONS OF OUR IDOLS come to this: you cannot defeat something that you imagine to be an external threat to you when it is in fact internal to you, when its life is your life. And even if it were external to you, you cannot defeat an enemy by thinking in the terms it chooses, and by doing only those things that not only don’t harm it but with which it is perfectly comfortable. The truth is, our idols are actually a great convenience to us. It is convenient that we can imagine a power beyond us because that means we don’t have to spend much time examining our own lives. And it is very convenient that we can hand the hard work of resistance over to scientists, our designated national problem solvers.

We cannot march forth, confront, and definitively defeat the Monsantos of the world, especially not with science (which, it should go without saying, Monsanto has plenty of). We can, however, look at ourselves and see all of the ways that we conspire against what we imagine to be our own most urgent interests. Perhaps the most powerful way in which we conspire against ourselves is the simple fact that we have jobs. We are willingly part of a world designed for the convenience of what Shakespeare called “the visible God”: money. When I say we have jobs, I mean that we find in them our home, our sense of being grounded in the world, grounded in a vast social and economic order. It is a spectacularly complex, even breathtaking, order, and it has two enormous and related problems. First, it seems to be largely responsible for the destruction of the natural world. Second, it has the strong tendency to reduce the human beings inhabiting it to two functions, working and consuming. It tends to hollow us out. It creates a hole in our sense of ourselves and of this country, and it leaves us with few alternatives but to try to fill that hole with money and the things money buys. We are not free to dismiss money because we fear that we’d disappear, we’d be nothing at all without it. Money is, in the words of Buddhist writer David Loy, “the flight from emptiness that makes life empty.”

Needless to say, many people with environmental sympathies will easily agree with what I’ve just said and imagine that in fact they do what they can to resist work and consumption, to resist the world as arranged for the convenience of money. But here again I suspect we are kidding ourselves. Rather than taking the risk of challenging the roles money and work play in all of our lives by actually taking the responsibility for reordering our lives, the most prominent strategy of environmentalists seems to be to “give back” to nature through the bequests, the annuities, the Working Assets credit cards and long distance telephone schemes, and the socially responsible mutual funds advertised in Sierra and proliferating across the environmental movement. Such giving may make us feel better, but it will never be enough. Face it, we all have a bit of the robber baron turned philanthropist in us. We’re willing to be generous in order to “save the world” but not before we’ve insured our own survival in the reigning system. It’s not even clear that this philanthropy is a pure expression of generosity since the bequest and annuity programs are carefully measured to provide attractive tax benefits and appealing rates of return.

Even when we are trying to aid the environment, we are not willing as individuals to leave the system that we know in our heart of hearts is the cause of our problems. We are even further from knowing how to take the collective risk of leaving this system entirely and ordering our societies differently. We are not ready. Not yet, at least.

http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/233

The Ecology of Work

Environmentalism can’t succeed until it confronts the destructive nature of modern work—and supplants it

by Curtis White

Orion | Published in the May/June 2007 issue of Orion magazine

Art by Teun Hocks

ENVIRONMENTALISTS SEE THE ASPHALTING of the country as a sin against the world of nature, but we should also see in it a kind of damage that has been done to humans, for what precedes environmental degradation is the debasement of the human world. I would go so far as to say that there is no solution for environmental destruction that isn’t first a healing of the damage that has been done to the human community. As I argued in the first part of this essay, the damage to the human world has been done through work, through our jobs, and through the world of money.

We are not the creators of our own world; we merely perform functions in a system into which we were born. The most destructive aspect of our jobs is that in them we are mere “functionaries,” to borrow Josef Pieper’s term. Just as important, we have a function outside of work: consumption. Money in hand, we go into the market to buy the goods we no longer know how to make (we don’t even know how to grow and preserve our own food) and services we no longer know how to perform (frame a house? might as well ask us to design a spaceship).

Challenging our place in this system as mere isolated functions (whether as workers or consumers) is a daunting task, especially for environmentalists, who tend to think that human problems are the concern of somebody else (labor unions, the ACLU, Amnesty International, Habitat for Humanity, etc.). We’re about the “Earth first.” My argument is simply that the threats to humans and the threats to the environment are not even two parts of the same problem. They are the same problem. For environmentalism, confronting corporations and creating indignant scientific reports about pollution is the easy stuff. But these activities are inadequate to the real problems, as any honest observer of the last thirty years of environmental activism would have to concede. The “last great places” cannot be preserved. We can no more preserve them than we can keep the glaciers from melting away. Responding to environmental destruction requires not only the overcoming of corporate evildoers but “self-overcoming,” a transformation in the way we live. A more adequate response to our true problems requires that we cease to be a society that believes that wealth is the accumulation of money (no matter how much of it we’re planning on “giving back” to nature), and begin to be a society that understands that “there is no wealth but life,” as John Ruskin put it. That is the full dimension and the full difficulty of our problem.

Unfortunately, on these shores the suggestion that there is something fundamentally destructive in work, money, and capitalism leads quickly to emotional denials. This is so even among self-described environmentalists, card-carrying members of the Sierra Club and The Nature Conservancy. So we try to persuade ourselves that capitalism can become green. I don’t believe that capitalism can become green, simply because the imperatives of environmentalism are not part of its way of reasoning. Capitalism can think profit but it can’t think nature. It’s not in its nature to think nature. What is part of its nature is marketing (“We’re organic! Buy us!”), even while its actions—industrial livestock practices that masquerade as Earth-friendly, for instance—are really only about market share, dividends, and stock value.

Capitalism as a system of ever-accelerating production and consumption is, as we environmentalists continually insist, not sustainable. That is, it is a system intent on its own death. Yet the capitalist will stoically look destruction in the face before he will stop what he’s doing, especially if he believes that it is somebody else whose destruction is in question. Unlike most of the people living under him, the capitalist is a great risk-taker largely because he believes that his wealth insulates him from the consequences of risks gone bad. Ever the optimistic gambler with other people’s money, the capitalist is willing to wager that, while there may be costs to pay, he won’t have to pay them. Animals, plants, impoverished people near and far may have to pay, but he bets that he won’t. If called upon to defend his actions, he will of course argue that he has a constitutionally protected right to property and the pursuit of his own happiness. This is his “freedom.” At that point, we have the unfortunate habit of shutting up when we ought to reply, “Yes, but yours is a freedom without conscience.”

Being willing to say such things about capitalism does not mean that one has a special access to the Truth, but it also doesn’t mean that one is a mere ideologue, or that most dismissible of things, a communist. It merely requires honesty about what looks us right in the face. It requires intellectual conscience.

For instance, as a matter of conscience we should be willing to say that the so-called greening of corporate America is not as much about the desire to protect nature as it is about the desire to protect capitalism itself. Environmentalists are, on the whole, educated and successful people, many of whom have prospered within corporate capitalism. They’re not against it. They simply seek to establish a balance between the needs of the economy (as they blandly put it) and the needs of the natural world. For both capitalism and environmentalism, there is a hard division between land set aside for nature and land devoted to production. Environmentalists consider the preservation of a forest a victory, but part of the point of that victory is (usually) that humans can’t live in this forest. Private interests have been bought out. The forest is now “set aside.” We could draw a national map that showed those spaces that we imagine conform to a fantasy of natural innocence (wilderness, forests, preserves, parks) and those spaces given over to the principles of extraction, exploitation, and profit. The boundary lines within this map are regularly drawn and redrawn by the government in some of our most bitter political fights. (“Mineral extraction! Why, that’s a national wildlife area!” “Snail darter! Why, that’s economic development!”) But regardless of which political party is drawing this map, we humans are left right where we have always been, at the mercy of the boss, behaving like functionaries, and participating in the very economic activities that will continue to eat up the natural world. For all its sense of moral urgency, environmentalism too has abandoned humans to the inequalities, the exploitation, and the boredom of the market, while it tries to maintain the world of nature as a place of innocence where a candy wrapper on the ground is a blasphemy. It’s a place to go for a weekend hike before returning to the unrelenting ugliness, hostility, sterility, and spiritual bankruptcy that is the suburb, the strip mall, the office building, and the freeway (our “national automobile slum,” as James Howard Kunstler puts it). Ideally, the map of natural preservation and the map of economic activity would be one map.

II

HERE’S A BALD ASSERTION FOR WHICH I have no proof scientific or otherwise: a human society would never willingly harm nature. This is a way of saying that violence is not a part of human nature. This of course contradicts the opinion commonly held by Christianity and science alike that humans are by nature violent. This fatalism has the effect of making us accept wars, the victimization of the vulnerable, and the rapacious destruction of the natural world as tragic but inevitable. But what this fatalism about our “nature” ignores is the fact that the violence with which environmentalists are most concerned is not the aberrant violence of the individual human but the violence of organizations. In particular, the violence that we know as environmental destruction is possible only because of a complex economic, administrative, and social machinery through which people are separated from responsibility for their misdeeds. We say, “I was only doing my job” at the paper mill, the industrial incinerator, the logging camp, the coal-fired power plant, on the farm, on the stock exchange, or simply in front of the PC in the corporate carrel. The division of labor not only has the consequence of making labor maximally productive, it also hides from workers the real consequences of their work.

People outside of such social and economic organizations might hunt in nature, fish, gather, harvest, use nature to their own ends in countless ways, but they would never knowingly destroy it, not because they are by nature good and benevolent, but because destruction is not necessary, it’s a lot of hard work, and it’s self-evidently self-defeating. For example, the near extinction of the buffalo was not driven by the thought “Well, if I shoot one I might as well shoot them all,” or game sport gone mad, or sheer maliciousness toward the animal. Ultimately, it was driven by the market for buffalo hides in that far-off place that was never once home to a buffalo, New York City. The extermination of the buffalo was driven by the same logic that drives the clearcutting of forests and the construction of high-pollution coal-fired power plants today: entrepreneurial freedom, the desire for profit, and “jobs for working people.”

If all this is so, it is only possible to conclude from our behavior for the last two hundred years that ours is not a human society; that it is a society outside of the human in some terrible sense. And, in fact, it was one of the earliest insights of Karl Marx that the kind of work provided by capitalism was alienating. That is, it made us something other than what we are. It dehumanized us. And so, in our no-longer-human state, it became perfectly natural for us to destroy nature (which should sound to you just as perverse as the situation really is). Alienation in work means that instead of knowing something about a lot of things concerned with human fundamentals like food, housing, clothing, and the wise and creative use of our free time, we know one small thing. One task in an ocean of possible tasks.

Aldous Huxley provided a very different and a very human account of work in The Perennial Philosophy. He called it “right livelihood” (a concept he borrowed from Buddhism). For Huxley, work should serve other people, provide learning experiences that deepen the worker, and do as little harm as possible. (You will note that there is nothing in this description about a competitive compensation and benefits package.) But what percentage of American jobs conforms to this description? Five percent? Even in the new “creative” information economy where the claim could be made that computer designers and software technicians are constantly learning, is it a learning that deepens? That serves others broadly? And what of the mindless, deadening work of data processors and telemarketers—our modern, miserable Bartlebys and Cratchits—locked in their cubicles from San Jose to Bangalore? Our culture’s assumption that there is virtue in work flatters us into thinking that we’re doing something noble (“supporting our families,” “putting food on the table,” “making sacrifices”) when we are really only allowing ourselves to be treated like automatons. We all have our place, our “job,” and it is an ever less human place. We are diligent, disciplined, and responsible, but because of these virtues we are also thoughtless.

TO END THE REIGN OF WORK as something for “functionaries,” and to end the destruction that results from that fractured form of work, we have two options. First, we can simply wait for the catastrophic failure of global capitalism as a functioning economic system. Books on peak oil, sinking water tables, and the impending doom of global warming are abundant and convincing. Huge human populations, especially in the East and Africa, are at risk of mass starvation, civil war, and the disastrous loss of human habitat due to rising ocean levels and desertification. Capitalism will have no choice but to retreat from responsibility for these crises even though they are part of the true costs of doing business.

Unfortunately, simply waiting for catastrophe doesn’t ensure that anything good will follow from it, as Darfur has illustrated. It’s true that there will be opportunities to create locally based and sustainable communities, but it’s also true that fascism, barbarism, and regression are possible. So a second option is in order. We can start providing for a different world of work now, before the catastrophe. We need to insist on work that is not destructive, that deepens the worker, that encourages her creativity. Such a transformation requires a willingness to take a collective risk, a kind of risk very different from capitalist risk taking. The kind of risk I’m suggesting is no small matter. It means leaving a culture based on the idea of success as the accumulation of wealth-as-money. In its place we need a culture that understands success as life. For John Ruskin, humans should make “good and beautiful things” because those things will re-create us as good and beautiful in their turn. To make cheap and ugly and destructive things will kill us, as indeed we are being killed through poverty, through war, through the cheapening of our public and private lives, and through the destruction of the natural world. Of course, many will argue that leaving capitalism behind is not “realistic.” “Oh, certainly,” we’re assured, “there are inequalities in capitalism, but on the whole it provides for everyone’s prosperity, it provides the greatest good for the greatest number. Why, you’ll kill the goose that lays the golden egg! Look, if there’s a patch of forest somewhere you want to save, fine, I’ll write a check. But this sort of talk is dangerous and un-American.” What we need to recognize is that the real realism for capitalism is in the consequences of its activities. As even Al Gore understands, we are living now in the early stages of an era of consequences: catastrophic climate change, species extinction, and human population collapse. It is not naïve or unrealistic to say that we ought to change; it is only tragic if we don’t.

But let’s be honest. For the moment, not even the pleasantly affluent people who regularly support the major environmental organizations (people like me) want to hear about how bad capitalism is or to think seriously about abandoning it as an organizing principle. Most of us want to believe that our quarrel is just with rogue corporations, a few “bad apples” as President Bush likes to say, and not with capitalism as such. But thinking this is simply a form of lying. We deny what we can plainly see because to acknowledge it would require the fundamental reshaping of our entire way of living, and that is (not unreasonably) frightening for most people. Nevertheless, our loyalty to capitalism makes us fools. Worse than that, we know we’re being fooled, and yet we lack the ability not to be fooled. Not for nothing did the philosopher Paul Ricoeur once observe that capitalism is “a failure that cannot be defeated.”

III

I AM INEVITABLY ASKED AT THIS POINT in my argument just what exactly it is that I am proposing that people do. What would I put in capitalism’s place? In reply, I am always tempted to quote Voltaire’s response to the complaint that he had nothing to put in the place of the Christianity he criticized. “What!” he said, “A ferocious beast has sucked the blood of my family; I tell you to get rid of that beast, and you ask me, what shall we put in its place!” Unlike Voltaire, I would also suggest that what has the best chance of defeating the “beast” is spirit. In accepting science as our primary weapon against environmental destruction, we have also had to accept science’s contempt for religion and the spiritual. This is the unfortunate legacy of science’s two-century-old confrontation with what it has always called “religious dogma and superstition.” But this attitude is myopic; it is science at its most stupid. Environmentalism should stop depending solely on its alliance with science for its sense of itself. It should look to create a common language of care (a reverence for and a commitment to the astonishing fact of Being) through which it could begin to create alternative principles by which we might live. As Leo Tolstoy wrote in his famous essay “My Religion,” faith is not about obedience to church dogma, and it is not about “submission to established authority.” A people’s religion is “the principle by which they live.”

The establishment of those principles by which we might live would begin with three questions. First, what does it mean to be a human being? Second, what is my relation to other human beings? And third, what is my relation to Being as such, the ongoing miracle that there is something rather than nothing? If the answer to these questions is that the purpose of being human is “the pursuit of happiness” (understood as success, which is understood as the accumulation of money); and if our relation to others is a relation to mere things (with nothing to offer but their labor); and if our relation to the world is only to “resources” (that we should exploit for profit); then we should be very comfortable with the world we have. If it goes to perdition at least we can say that we acted in good faith. But if, on the other hand, we answer that there should be a greater sense of self-worth in being a human, more justice in our relation to others, and more reverence for Being, then we must either live in bad faith with capitalism or begin describing a future whose fundamental values and whose daily activities are radically different from what we currently endure. The risk I propose is simply a return to our nobility. We should refuse to be mere functions of a system that we cannot in good conscience defend. And we should insist on a recognition of the mystery, the miracle, and the dignity of things, from frogs to forests, simply because they are.

Such a “religion” would entail a refusal to play through to the bloody end the social and economic roles into which we happen to have been born. What lies beyond the environmental movement is not only the overcoming of capitalism but self-overcoming. We take some justifiable pride in the idea that we are environmentalists, but even that identity must be transcended. A “beyond environmentalism” movement would be a sort of Party of Life. It would be a commitment to thriving, and a commitment to what is best in us. Does this mean that, for the time being, we stop working under the banner of environmentalism to oppose corporations when they are destructive? Of course not. But it is important to know that there is a problem more fundamental than a perverse “power” standing opposed to us (in villainous black caps with “Monsanto” on the brim). That deeper problem is our own integration into an order of work that makes us inhuman and thus tolerant of what is nothing less than demonic, the destruction of our own world.

THE PRINCIPLE BY WHICH THE WEST has lived for the last two centuries has been “It’s okay to use violence if you can gain something by it.” Violence against the poor, violence against the vulnerable, violence against those who possess something you want, and violence against the natural world. That is capitalism as a religious principle. What is beyond environmentalism, what is our Party of Life, is actually a return to our oldest spiritual convictions: a reverence for creation and a shared commitment to the idea that religion is finally about understanding how to live in faithful relation to what has been given to us in creation. In the end, our problem is that the busy, destructive work of functionaries has taken the place of a thoughtful, spiritual understanding about how to live. Our problem is not that we are ignoring what science has to tell us about environmental destruction. Our problem is that we are spiritually impoverished. Bankrupt, if you will.

Spiritual rebirth will mean the rediscovery of true human work. Much of this work will not be new but recovered from our own rich traditions. It will be useful knowledge that we will have to remember. Fishing as a family and community tradition, not the business of factory trawlers. Agriculture as a local and seasonal activity, not a carbon-based scheme of synthetic production and international shipping. Home- and community-building as common skills and not merely the contracted specialization of construction companies and urban planners. Even “intellectual workers” (professors and scholars) have something to relearn: their own honored place in the middle of the community and not in isolated, jargon-ridden professional enclaves.

Such knowledge was once the heart of our lives, and not that long ago. Before 1945, survival meant that most families would have all of these skills to some degree. These families were certainly materially poorer and perhaps more naïve, but they were richer in human relations, less bored, less depressed, less isolated, less addicted to food and drugs, physically healthier, and they had the rich human pleasure of knowing how to make things. It’s clear that we haven’t forgotten these skills and their pleasures entirely, but their presence for us is strange and a little unreal. What used to be life is now “fine living”: an array of expensive hobbies for the affluent that are taught through magazines, cable and PBS programs, and local guilds dedicated to gardening, basket weaving, cooking, home remodeling, quilting, and woodworking. Although we rarely recognize it in this way, through these “hobbies” we express a desire for a world that is now lost to us.

My argument is not, I assure you, a longing look back to the wonderful world of pre-war rural America. But it is to say that in the course of the last century of global capital triumphant we have been further isolated from what Ruskin called “valuable human things.” In exchange, we have been offered only the cold comfort of the television and computer monitor, and the GPS device that can locate you but only at the cost of being located in a place that is not worth knowing and certainly not worth caring about.

The turn away from this ugly, destructive, and unequal world is not something that can be accomplished by boycotting corporations when they’re bad or through the powerful work of the most concerned scientists. It will not be delivered with glossy brochures by the President’s Council on Sustainable Development, and it will certainly not be sold to you by Martha Stewart. A return to the valuable human things of the beautiful and the useful will only be accomplished, if it is ever to be accomplished, by the humans among us.

Curtis White’s essays have appeared in Harper’s magazine, the Village Voice, and In These Times. His most recent book is The Spirit of Disobedience. He teaches at Illinois State University.

Teun Hocks lives and works in Holland. He is represented by the P.P.O.W. Gallery in New York City, and has exhibited internationally over the last twenty years.

http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/267

Beyond “Green Capitalism” | Victor Wallis

A disdain for the natural environment has characterized capitalism from the beginning. As Marx noted, capital abuses the soil as much as it exploits the worker.1 The makings of ecological breakdown are thus inherent in capitalism. No serious observer now denies the severity of the environmental crisis, but it is still not widely recognized as a capitalist crisis, that is, as a crisis arising from and perpetuated by the rule of capital, and hence incapable of resolution within the capitalist framework.

It is useful to remind ourselves that, although Marx situated capitalism’s crisis tendencies initially in the business cycle (specifically, in its downward phase), he recognized at the same time that those tendencies could manifest themselves under other forms—the first of these being the drive to global expansion.2 Such manifestations are not inherently cyclical; they are permanent trends. They can be sporadically offset, but for as long as capitalism prevails, they cannot be reversed. They encompass: (1) increased concentration of economic power; (2) increased polarization between rich and poor, both within and across national boundaries; (3) a permanent readiness for military engagement in support of these drives; and (4) of special concern to us here, the uninterrupted debasement or depletion of vital natural resources.

The economic recession of 2008, widely recognized as the most severe since the post-1929 Depression, has been variously interpreted on the left in terms of whether or not capital can overcome it by, in effect, restoring the restraints—some of them socially progressive—that it had accepted (in the United States) in the 1930s. To the extent that such remediation is viewed as possible, the crisis is seen as undermining only the neoliberal agenda and not capitalism, as such.3 In that case, we would witness a perhaps cyclical return to a period of greater governmental regulation (including greater responsiveness to limited working-class demands).

But what is not at all cyclical—and what most sharply distinguishes the present crisis from that of the 1930s—is the backdrop of aggravated environmental devastation. The reign of capital has now been thrown into disarray not only by financial chaos, but also by the shrinkage and disruption of the natural infrastructure which serves not only the survival needs of the human species but also the particular requirements of the capitalist ruling class. The immediate grounds for ruling-class concern arise along several major axes: (a) rising raw material and energy costs; (b) losses from catastrophic climate events; and (c) mass dislocation, popular disaffection, and eventual social upheaval.

It is this set of preoccupations that drives the political agenda of “green capitalism.” While there are obvious points of convergence between different green agendas, it eventually becomes clear that any full merger between an agenda that is insistently capitalist and one that accentuates the green dimension is impossible. Nonetheless, immediate pro-ecology steps are urgently needed, irrespective of their sponsorship. The resulting dilemma is one that the left must face without delay, as an integral step in developing whatever more radical strategy might be possible for the longer term.

The “Green Capitalist” Agenda4

At a conceptual level, it is clear that “green capitalism” seeks to bind together two antagonistic notions. To be green means to prioritize the health of the ecosphere, with all that this entails in terms of curbing greenhouse gases and preserving biodiversity. To promote capitalism, by contrast, is to foster growth and accumulation, treating both the workforce and the natural environment as mere inputs.

Capital is no stranger to contradiction, however. Just as it seeks to balance market-expansion with wage-restraint, so it must seek to balance perpetual growth with preservation of the basic conditions for survival. Despite the ultimate incompatibility of these two goals, therefore, capital must to some extent pursue both at once. Although green capitalism is an oxymoron, it is therefore nonetheless a policy-objective. Its proponents thus find themselves in an ongoing two-front struggle against, on the one hand, capital’s more short-sighted advocates and, on the other, the demand for a far-reaching ecologically grounded conversion of production and consumption.

The green capitalist vision is sometimes associated with small enterprises that can directly implement green criteria by, for example, using renewable energy sources, avoiding toxic chemicals, repairing or recycling used products, and minimizing reliance on long-distance shipment for either supplies or sales. But the scope of such practices is likely to be severely limited by market pressures. The aspect of local self-sufficiency is most widely seen in the food-services sector, especially in farmers’ markets, which have experienced a notable resurgence in recent years in industrialized countries. This corresponds more to what Marx called “simple commodity production,” however, than to capitalist enterprise. Agribusiness allows residual space for it, but at the same time undercuts it through economies of scale facilitated by technologies of food processing and storage; political clout, resulting in subsidies; and reliance on a typically migrant workforce that receives less than a living wage. Because of the resulting cost differences (as well as inconveniences of access), patronage of farmers’ markets is likely to remain primarily a political choice until much more is done to offset the artificial competitive edge enjoyed by the food-industrial complex.

Focusing now on the dominant corporate sector, we find the green capitalist agenda expressed partly by the enterprises themselves, partly by industry associations, and partly by government.5 For the corporations themselves, “green” practice takes essentially three forms: (1) energy-saving and other cost-cutting measures, which are advantageous to them in any case; (2) compliance with whatever regulations may be enforced by a government in which they normally have a large voice; and (3) most importantly, public relations (PR). The industry associations further amplify the PR aspect, playing an especially vital role on the global stage, where they strive to establish the common assumptions underlying international agreements. They have worked extensively to influence the United Nations Development Program, and they also carry out large-scale lobbying campaigns to set negotiating parameters for the periodic Earth Summits (Rio de Janeiro 1992, Kyoto 1997, Johannesburg 2002, Copenhagen 2009). The Business Council for Sustainable Development thus came into being in the run-up to the Rio conference, declaring in its charter that “economic growth provides the conditions in which protection of the environment can best be achieved.”

Under its influence, the monitoring of global environmental measures was entrusted to the World Bank, which in the ensuing decade paradoxically invested more than fifteen times as much in fossil-fuel projects as in renewable energy.6 The Kyoto conference advanced similar criteria five years later by enshrining emissions trading as the primary strategy for battling global warming. This practice, under the rubric of “cap and trade,” has become the centerpiece of governmental proposals in the United States. It posits an incentive-based approach to corporate policy, under which enterprises participate in a market in pollution credits. Because of the political clout of the corporations, however, the initial cost of these credits may be reduced to zero. At the same time, the most severe industrial offenders are allowed to “offset” their damages elsewhere (e.g., by funding reforestation programs) rather than directly curtailing them.

Cutting across all corporate insertions into the environmental debate is the assumption that the basic instruments for responding to ecological crisis are technology and the market. The technological fixation has been a constant of capitalist development. Initially focused on maximizing labor productivity, it is continuously replenished by ever more miraculous applications, especially in the spheres of communication and of genetic engineering. The unending proliferation of innovations—a hallmark of late capitalism7—lends credence, in public perception, to the idea that there is no challenge that technology cannot overcome. The unstated premise behind such claims is that the selection of any technology will continue to reflect corporate interests, which in turn reflect the goals implicit in market competition, i.e., profit-maximization, growth, and accumulation. While green technologies—e.g., renewable energy sources—may attract a degree of corporate attention (thanks mainly to social/political pressure), nothing short of a change in the basic locus of economic decision-making will stop certain corporations from continuing to pursue established (non-green) lines of production. Insofar as they must nonetheless try to present themselves in green clothing, they will not hesitate to misrepresent the questions at stake and to invoke technological “solutions” that have little chance of being successfully implemented.

A revealing and economically important illustration of this dynamic is the advocacy of so-called “clean coal.” To begin with, much of the coal industry’s PR emphasis is placed on the removal of specific impurities (such as sulfur and particulates) from coal-burning emissions, overlooking the biggest problem: the combustion process itself, and the resultant rise in atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide. When this unavoidable “bottom line” can no longer be ignored, the industry, not wishing to be restrained even by such modest disincentives as a carbon tax, will assert, as did CEO Steven Leer of Arch Coal Inc., that “the enabling technology for stabilizing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere is carbon capture and sequestration. There is not another option.”8 Carbon capture and sequestration, however, is an unproven technology, with problems not unlike those associated with any toxic byproduct that has to be disposed of in very large quantities. While it is possible to isolate carbon dioxide emissions and to pump them into out-of-the-way sites (whether underground or perhaps even under the ocean), the potential blowback from such undertakings, once they exceed a certain threshold, is uncertain, incalculable, and possibly catastrophic.9

The desirability of shifting to certain inexhaustible or renewable energy sources is obvious. What is not so widely recognized, however, is that these sources too have their costs—in terms of installation, collection, maintenance, and transmission—and that therefore none of them, despite whatever abundance may characterize their occurrence in nature, can offer unlimited accessibility for energy supply.10 Some of the alternative sources, such as hydrogen and biomass, themselves require significant if not prohibitive energy inputs.

Biomass (burning biological materials as fuel) also threatens to reduce the land-area available for growing food. Hydrogen, for its part, carries the danger of leakage and of rising to the stratosphere, where it could destroy the ozone layer. Tapping geothermal energy can, in certain regions, risk provoking seismic disturbances; in addition, there may be high costs associated with the depth of requisite drilling, and the emerging heat may be dissipated in various ways. Wind energy, despite its clear positive potential, is limited by materials and space requirements, as well as by the irregularity of its source in many locations. Tidal power is more continuous than wind energy, but in addition to the high installation cost of its requisite barrages or underwater turbines, it poses—as do wind turbines—certain dangers for resident or migrant wildlife. Solar energy, finally, is extraordinarily promising in direct localized applications, but for power generation on a large scale, it would risk impinging on space required for other purposes. As for solar collectors situated in otherwise unused desert regions, their dust-free maintenance in such sites would require the long-distance trans-shipment of vast quantities of water.

All these technologies, with the partial exception of biomass, avoid adding to the net concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The same might perhaps be said of nuclear power, provided that, as the more up-to-date versions promise, it does not entail further large-scale mining and refinement of fissionable material. Nuclear power has other problematic implications, however, beyond its daunting startup costs in both time and money. Even if we were to suppose—as is further claimed—that the problem of waste has been minimized via repeated re-use (until there is hardly any radioactive material left) and that the dangers of a Chernobyl-type disaster or of vulnerability to military attack have been addressed by engineering improvements,11 there still remains the fact that nuclear power is linked to the potential for making bombs, and no disarmament process is underway. The imperialist governments will therefore not allow nuclear power to be distributed on a scale sufficient to match the potential global demand for it. The longer-term ecological and political desideratum would not be to undo such restrictions, but rather to impose them on the imperialist powers themselves, as part of a full-scale conversion process.

The upshot of all these considerations is that the question of how to supply the world’s currently growing energy demand without continuing recourse to carbon dioxide-producing fossil fuels—coal, oil, and natural gas—has not yet been solved. In view of the problems associated with all the alternative energy sources, a radical and comprehensive reconsideration of the demand side of this equation would seem to be called for. This is the essence of the socialist response: while encouraging the use of various safe-energy alternatives, it can accept the fact that these alternatives are ultimately limited in their total power-generating capacity, and therefore that the world’s aggregate energy consumption will actually have to be reduced. Once this is understood, one can then focus on the interrelated issues of how to identify and prioritize real needs, and how to correspondingly reorganize society in such a way as to assure everyone’s well-being. This is beyond the purview of capitalist thought, whatever its level of awareness of the environmental danger.

The Politics of Reduced Energy Consumption

The ecological movement, as it has so far developed, has not yet been able to mount a socially persuasive agenda for reducing energy consumption on a large scale. Broadly speaking, critique of the capitalist growth model has advanced along two paths, which, although complementary in their ultimate thrust, have tended to clash politically. On the one hand has been the tradition identifiable with the “small is beautiful” slogan, associated with localism, ruralism, and (in varying degrees) rejection of “industrial society.” This tradition understands the danger of growth but tends to link it with the general condition of modernity, including modern technology, population increase, and urbanization.12 On the other hand is the socialist tradition, which, drawing on Marx, sees growth not in terms of human evolution as such, but rather in terms of the specific drives unleashed by capital. In its political expression, however, this tradition has been associated with revolutionary regimes arising in countries of widespread poverty, where the top priority appeared to be a form of “socialist growth.” As a result of this association—buttressed by real or ascribed failings of the regimes in question—critics of growth tended also to become critics of socialism, which they saw as sharing the major negative traits of capitalism. Conversely, those who felt the urgency of emerging from poverty rejected the anti-growth posture, viewing it as an ideological expression of sectors whose needs were already satisfied, and who would unfairly deny similar satisfaction to others.

A theoretical resolution to this antagonism already exists. It is implicit in Marx’s dual focus on nature and humans as sources/creators of wealth and as objects of capitalist depredation. The link has been discussed in depth by, among others, writers such as Paul Burkett, John Bellamy Foster, Joel Kovel, and Richard Levins. Foster’s book Marx’s Ecology, in particular, refutes the productivist stereotype of Marx’s thinking, and Levins has presented a concise yet wide-ranging refutation of developmentalist assumptions, informed by a blend of dialectical thought, biological expertise, and farming experience.13 Reading this literature, one can see implicit in the Marxist critique of capital a call for undoing high-tech agriculture, restoring biodiversity, drastically reducing the volume of long-distance trade, and generally bringing technology under social or community control. These are the same goals enunciated by zero-growth activists (who stress lifestyle choices and local actions over challenges to state power), but the realization of those goals is, for Marxists, clearly linked with class struggle. The basis for this link is simply that without successful class struggle the major vectors determining trade patterns and technological development will continue to be those of the capitalist market.

There is thus a clear theoretical symbiosis between ecological thinking and the anti-capitalist critique. Two major strands of radical activism are thereby poised to function as one, in the sense that the ecological movement, in seeking to override market dictates, is at its core anti-capitalist, while the critique of capitalism is, in its rejection of the growth/accumulation imperative, inherently ecological.14 The resultant socialist ecology or ecological socialism constitutes a full-blown alternative to the dominant ideology. Its political potential, moreover, should be greatly enhanced by the 2008 financial collapse, which showed the hollowness of capitalist “prosperity.” Yet there remain huge obstacles to popular recognition of the link between ecology and socialism, and hence to popular support for an agenda of collectively planned, society-wide reduction in energy use. What are these obstacles, and how can they be overcome?

Although the growth imperative at the macro level is specific to capitalism, it is not without some grounding in longer-standing human traits. Indeed, this is what makes possible the very idea of seeing growth as an inherent human pursuit. Like all such generalizations, it has a strand of accuracy, which is then amplified to the point of blotting out the truth of the whole. It is legitimate to say that there is a natural human striving for improvement and even for perfection. This is evident in various forms of artistic expression throughout the ages, as it is also in the care of artisans—whether individually or as a team—to make the best possible product. The goal of growth intersects with such striving in a qualified way. A healthy plant, animal, or human must grow to full stature. One can even say something similar of a community, which, unless it reaches a certain threshold of size and productive capacity, cannot expect to provide the range of services and diversions required in order to offer a satisfying life to each of its members.

But in any such unit of growth, one must distinguish optimum from maximum. Optimum growth for any living entity is part of what constitutes fulfillment of its potential. Anything above optimum, however, is pathological: the organism, whether an individual or a community, suffers disequilibrium either among its component parts or between itself and its environment (or both).

Capital’s growth-impulse is inscribed in its credo of accumulation. Its objective limits are determined, in the short run, by saturation of the market and, in the long run, by exhaustion of resources. When its productive potential is stymied, it turns to financial speculation, which only increases the gulf between the capitalist class and the rest of the species. Because of imperialist relations, deprivation is particularly vast, widespread, and seemingly intractable in countries of the global South. This has the ironic effect of creating a constituency which, although desirous of revolutionary redistribution, may at the same time be receptive to calls for growth as a kind of compensatory entitlement, as its members seek to overcome the huge gap between their own consumption-levels and those prevalent within the imperial metropolis.

Insofar as the world’s poor—and/or those who purport to speak for them on the global stage—retain this longing to ape the extravagant U.S.-advertised lifestyle, the U.S. leadership will continue to invoke the poor countries’ demands as a pretext for rejecting its own ecological responsibility. The government of the United States, on the one hand, and the governments of countries such as China and India, on the other, will remain locked together in a dance of death, in which each partner invokes the other’s intransigence to justify its own. The impact of progressive ecological steps taken in other countries will be severely limited, and most of the world’s peoples will be reduced to the status of spectators, if not victims, of the ongoing environmental breakdown. This is the prospect that loomed over the Summit in Copenhagen.

An alternative to this bleak scenario, if there is to be one, will depend primarily on the impact of popular movements around the world. There are promising steps in this direction, from both the South and the North, although the idea of a policy link to socialism—let alone of a politically powerful organization to articulate and embody such a link—remains elusive. The incipient efforts deserve our attention, as does the question of how to surmount the conceptual impasse that frustrates international negotiations.

In Search of a Mass Movement for Ecological Socialism

The most massive expressions of radical environmental awareness have arisen among the peasants and indigenous peoples of the global South. For these populations, the capitalist/productivist plunder of the environment—in the form of deforestation, reckless or deliberate pollution, sea-level rise from global warming, and misuse of fresh water (flooding by dams or depletion of aquifers)—is a direct assault on their homes and livelihoods.15 Their sense of outrage and desperation is beyond measure. It is, moreover, a community sentiment on the part of people who are being stripped of everything, and whose plight leads them to consciously reject the entire agenda of the invasive force. One would have to return to the early days of capitalism to find a comparable unanimity of antagonism to the agencies of exploitation.

Yet, while the anger and its justification are not unprecedented, the basis for the current movement distinguishes itself from that of earlier resistance in at least two ways, one of which makes it weaker, but the other of which could give it greater strength. The weakening factor has to do with dispensability. Through all its phases, capital has sought limitless supplies of its necessary inputs, including human labor power—for which its early recourse to open slavery has given way in more recent times to the large-scale abuse of migrant laborers and, in some countries, also of prisoners. Alongside this element of continuity, however, has come, with labor-saving technological advances, a markedly increased propensity on the part of capital to view certain populations as altogether expendable. Insofar as these populations exist on the margins of capitalist production, they lack economic leverage and their demands—much less their sufferings—therefore carry no political weight. So far as capital is concerned, these populations can thus be consigned with impunity to sickness, dispersion, or death.

Where then lies the potential strength of this constituency? These people do indeed hold one card which was not available to their exploited counterparts of an earlier age. Their direct tie to the long-term sustainability of the land, at a time when such sustainability is everywhere undermined, gives them in fact a strategic placement that contrasts diametrically with the supposed superfluity to which they have been relegated by capital. Their own “parochial” needs embody the collective need of the entire human species—not to mention other endangered life-forms—to stop the relentless destruction of the ecosphere. Ironically, therefore, although such peoples are among the world’s poorest, not just by capitalist standards (personal possessions), but also in terms of access to the means of mass communication, they have been thrust into a vanguard position, on a par with that of Cuba,16 in the global ecosocialist movement.

Visible expressions of this leadership role have so far been sporadic, beginning with direct, on-site confrontations—especially dramatic in recent years in Latin America and India—but progressing to the world stage via international conferences of indigenous peoples,17 interventions at the United Nations,18 and participation in the annual gatherings of the World Social Forum (WSF). From such platforms, they have been able to remind a worldwide audience how arbitrary has been the whole historical development underlying commonly held assumptions about the way our species should live. Their most recent WSF declaration (from Belém in 2009) characteristically includes statements like the following:

Modern capitalism was initiated centuries ago and imposed in America with the invasion of October 12, 1492. This gave way to global plundering and invented theories of “races” to justify American ethnocide, the incursion in Africa for its slave trade, and the plundering of other continents.…

[W]hat is in crisis is capitalism, Euro-centrism, with its model of Uni-National State, cultural homogeneity, western positive rights, developmentalism and the commodification of life.…

We belong to Mother Earth. We are not her owners, plunderers, nor are we her vendors, and today we arrive at a crossroads: imperialist capitalism has shown [itself] to be dangerous not only due to its domination, exploitation and structural violence but also because it kills Mother Earth and leads us to planetary suicide, which is neither “useful” nor “necessary.”19

This perspective is clearly one that speaks for a bigger constituency than that of its immediate exponents. Indigenous peoples, numbering approximately 300 million worldwide, constitute no more than 5 percent of the total human population. From a sociological standpoint, they are simply an ethno-linguistic category, distinguished above all by their immemorial roots in a particular locality. But, in terms of their collective message in an epoch of environmental breakdown, they express, more completely than any other demographic group, the common survival interest of humanity as a whole.

Our theoretical challenge is to define an arena of negotiation, and eventually a political strategy for reconciliation, between the global perspective of the indigenous peoples and the ongoing, though in part disputable, needs of the much larger population—in its majority, the international working class of the twenty-first century—that has been drawn into a mode of life far removed from the one that the indigenous are striving to preserve.20

From our earlier discussion, it is clear that total energy-consumption must be drastically reduced. To this end, indigenous communities can offer inspiration in several respects. They tend to be exemplary in their reverence for the natural world, also in their material self-sufficiency, their rejection of individual property-rights, their egalitarianism, and their sense of mutual accountability.

But how can these virtues, embodied in defiantly autonomous communities, with a way of life in many cases defined by low population density, be acquired on a massive scale by the other 95 percent of the world’s people—the majority of whom inhabit large urban settlements in which they have become alienated from the natural world and acculturated to livelihoods characterized, at one end of the spectrum, by energy-intensive services and comfort and, at the other, by a desperate and competitive scramble to stay alive?

This question is, in essence, the present-day form taken by long-standing enigmas of revolutionary transformation. From the beginning of the capitalist epoch, the challenge has centered on attaining class-consciousness, a key component of which is the process whereby wage-workers come to recognize that their interests are better served by mutual cooperation than by competition (which, in terms of contending wage-claims, has always entailed a race to the bottom—whether with one’s immediate co-workers or with others in distant locations). The progression from a competitive to a cooperative or solidaristic mindset is a cultural shift. As such, it weakens or undercuts ingrained defenses and prejudices. On a limited scale, it prefigures the new constellation of attitudes associated with the socialist project.

Such an initial step in the process of transformation has been an experience common to most countries. It has typically been offset, however, and in many instances reversed, by the enormous economic impact of transnational corporations. Previously powerful labor movements have suffered dramatic declines in membership, and their surviving leaderships have often been forced to accept humiliating concessions, always under the threat of an even worse alternative. Their readiness to acquiesce was forged, in the U.S. case, during the post-Second World War period of labor’s direct partnership with global capital. Now, in their weakened position, U.S. labor leaders are less capable than ever of challenging capitalist priorities. Instead, often in defiance of programmatic demands of their membership, they give unconditional support to one of the country’s two capitalist governing parties.21

In the wake of this evolution, any revival of the latent working-class predisposition to solidarity will have to come, at least in part, on the basis of a whole new set of cultural influences. These can be drawn from a mix of sources. Looking again at the U.S. case (no doubt the most resistant to such change), one possible source of fresh perspectives may be the arrival of immigrant workers with experience of class struggle in their home countries.22 Another may be the impact of various social movements, including those of radical youth, from outside the workplace. But a very important additional source, sooner or later, will be an awareness of the environmental crisis: in particular, the understanding that it cannot be adequately addressed merely by a mass of individual responses.

At this point, the collective nature of the response put forward by indigenous communities could resonate within an otherwise disoriented and dispirited working class. Most especially, if the struggles of those communities were to become widely known, they could further energize the current revival of worker self-management initiatives. Already, the recent chain of bankruptcies in the United States, as well as that of 2002 in Argentina, has given workers new inducements to take over their factories.23 In Venezuela, a similar process has evolved in response to economic sabotage by capitalist opponents of the Bolivarian Revolution.24 The potential for ecologically informed redesign of production processes could generate added motivation for such initiatives: workers not only can see at first hand where materials and energy have been wasted; they also identify, as a matter of course, with the nearby population’s non-negotiable interest (and their own) in eliminating or neutralizing toxins.

Complementing such workplace-grounded developments are those that may occur in the neighborhoods. Again, the indigenous models would have to be made known through every possible channel. But the manifest breakdown in the supply of fresh produce to poor urban communities will create an opening for new (or in some sense much older) solutions. People could begin to ask themselves why common food items need to be shipped great distances, via countless intermediaries. The farmers’ markets are a first step in breaking out of this circle; a second step, already gaining traction in some places, is urban gardens. All such practices restore a level of direct interaction among people, promoting collective autonomy and undercutting the impact of commodification. The infrastructure required for the necessary cooperative arrangements will be conducive also to political education, which is integral to the overall process. Here again, the experience of indigenous peoples could be brought into play—perhaps even by direct contacts—to combine practical advice with wider inspiration.25

The larger picture here is one of a vast learning process. This is something that revolution has always entailed, but with distinct contours in each period. The present conjuncture is marked by a core paradox. Capitalism is superannuated. This is not just a wishful assertion that it “should have” been superseded; it is recognition of the verifiable fact that its accelerated resource depletion has far outpaced the regenerative capacities of the ecosphere. Under these conditions, the most advanced technological achievements of the capitalist era are, taken as a whole, outdated.26 They are not collectively sustainable over the long term. As a result, they are now forcefully challenged by a perspective that rejects them altogether.

Relatively few, on a world scale, would consciously choose “business as usual” (worst-case scenario for the Stern Review)27 over species-survival. But the vast majority of the non-indigenous 95 percent are caught up in structures—many of them internalized—that impede our efforts to build a new paradigm. Mere exhortation will not induce us to jettison these relics of a nefarious mode of production. As a species, we will have to liberate ourselves “strategically” from the associated habits, by focusing on scale and on degrees of urgency, framing equitable criteria for restricting or eliminating one or another practice—be it a given form of transport, a given item of long-distance trade, or a particular energy-intensive amenity of any kind.28

In carrying out this process, those who do not belong to indigenous communities will have much to learn from those who do. Indigenous communities are being threatened, however, and their members may be understandably reluctant to visit “alien” territory. But they may also begin to recognize that their own survival depends on whether a transformation takes place in that outside world. If they can contribute to such a revolution, they would thus be serving their own interest as well.

Breaking the Impasse on the World Stage

The emergence of indigenous peoples as an organized presence on the world stage presents an extraordinary opportunity to the rest of humanity. We have already noted the traits that have earned these peoples a leadership role in terms of ecological practice, and how those traits are linked to their rejection of the property regime that underlies capitalism’s growth impulse. Of equally great importance is the fact that neither the indigenous population as a whole, nor any community within it, constitutes a nation-state. To the contrary, such a formation would violate their very essence. Instead, the world’s indigenous peoples are spread out over many countries and regions. Only in exceptional cases have their interests attained even limited expression in any national government.29 They therefore act at the global level as a kind of transnational pressure group, advocating for their own interests but, in so doing, serving also as a moral force reminding international organizations of a shared responsibility for the preservation of life.

This new element in the global equation matches the ecological issue itself as a phenomenon transcending national boundaries. It gives us the possibility of rethinking the entire framework of representation that currently exists for addressing matters of worldwide concern. The frustration that has attended international negotiations over environmental policy is well known. National governments speak for the dominant interests in their respective countries; their stances on ecological issues are only as good as they have been pressured to be by each society’s working-class and progressive movements.30 Moreover, the aggregate global outcome tends routinely to reflect the position of the ecologically most retrograde of the major powers, which, given the parameters of capitalist competition, are likely—in part precisely because of their ecological negligence—to be the ones with the greatest commercial advantage and therefore the biggest impact. Given this dynamic, the ambitious ecological proposals that may be put forward by other governments will go nowhere.

It is within this arena of inter-government negotiations that the deadly standoff between the most profligate “developed” economy (the United States) and the most populous “developing” countries (China and India) is sustained. The dynamic at work here is reminiscent of the fear of “mutually assured destruction” that for decades sustained the nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union, in that in both cases the logic of competition tends to block any concessions. That earlier dance of death ended only with the disintegration of one of the two partners. The present race to environmental oblivion is unlikely to be restrained without a series of political collapses of comparable scope. When the Soviet Union disappeared, progressive forces in the United States were unprepared to impose the anticipated “peace dividend” (diversion of military expenditure to social reconstruction), because they failed to recognize that, for the forces driving U.S. global military projection, the alleged threat of an equivalent Soviet thrust had never been more than a pretext—for which some substitute would quickly be devised.

At the global level, discussion over how to respond to environmental dangers requires a new framework. The non-state contours of the worldwide indigenous movement offer a hint as to where to begin. In the environmental debate among states, those opposing the status quo proceed on the assumption that every national unit has equal entitlement (on a per-capita basis) to deplete the earth’s resources. This seems fair enough so long as we accept the nation-state as the basic agent of policy, with the implication that the particular earmarking of environmental costs within each nation-state is beyond the purview of international scrutiny. But this is precisely where the problem lies. Each national aggregate encompasses its own mix of necessary and wasteful expenditures—with the proportion of the latter tending to vary with a country’s economic and military power-position (as well as its acquired patterns of excess consumption).31 Certain types of resource use must be curbed wherever they occur; the fact that they are more prevalent in richer countries will itself reinforce the concern for seeking equity between richer and poorer regions.

But the global community will now have to promote such equity not only between regions, but also within them. Such an externally driven reorientation will of course be fiercely resisted, initially with the argument that it violates sovereignty. National sovereignty, however, is properly understood not to supersede basic human rights, which are what is ultimately at stake in the environmental debate. The irrelevance of national boundaries to the spread of environmental devastation is well known, but the corresponding political conclusions have yet to be widely drawn. This is a clear case where the whole world has a legitimate interest in the measures that may or may not be taken—whether by government or by the private sector—within any given country. Although the formal means to implement this interest are at present very weak, the political potential of such universally formulated criteria has been amply demonstrated in connection with historic struggles against racism (e.g., the United States in the 1960s and South Africa in the 1980s).

In the sphere of environmental policy, the worldwide debate about emissions needs to undergo a radical shift, from a national to a sectoral focus.32 The first sector to be challenged will of course be the military. For each of the sectors addressed, however, the key issue to be resolved, through informed, society-wide debate, is: How much of the activity in that sector—and hence, of the resources it consumes—is directed, not at the satisfaction of human need, but rather at pursuits reflecting the priorities of capital and its ruling class?

It would be illusory to expect such a process to yield a universally accepted set of criteria that could be quickly applied. Like all revolutionary processes, its realization will be beset by obstacles and contingencies. But the challenge of identifying and eliminating social waste could prove to be a powerful unifying force for the vast majority, as human beings seek simultaneously to restore the environment and assure the satisfaction of their own needs. The process also readily lends itself to defining short-term targets—particular categories of energy waste—while nonetheless enabling activists to bring out the full scope of the longer-term task.

Notes

  1. ? Speaking respectively of “large-scale industry” and “industrially pursued large-scale agriculture,” Marx wrote, “the former lays waste and ruins labour-power and thus the natural power of man, whereas the latter does the same to the natural power of the soil.” Capital, vol. 3, tr. David Fernbach (London: Penguin Books, 1991), 950.
  2. ? Communist Manifesto, section I.
  3. ? Rick Wolff, “Economic Crisis from a Socialist Perspective,” Socialism and Democracy, no. 50 (July 2009), 3.
  4. ? This section is drawn from my report written for the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (www.rosalux.de), entitled “The ‘Green Capitalist’ Agenda in the United States: Theory, Structure, Alternatives,” published in English in Stephan Kaufmann & Tadzio Müller, Grüner Kapitalismus: Krise, Klimawandel und kein Ende des Wachstums (Berlin: Karl Dietz Verlag, 2009) and to be posted on the foundation’s Web site.
  5. ? For a more extensive treatment, see Victor Wallis, “Capitalist and Socialist Responses to the Ecological Crisis,” Monthly Review 60, no. 6 (November 2008).
  6. ? Kenny Bruno and Joshua Karliner, earthsummit.biz: The Corporate Takeover of Sustainable Development (Oakland, CA: Food First Books, 2002), 30.
  7. ? Ernest Mandel, Late Capitalism (London: New Left Books, 1975), 192.
  8. ? Alvin Powell, “Mining Exec: Coal Vital to Energy Mix,” Harvard University Gazette, February 9, 2009.
  9. ? For an introductory overview of this technology, see Craig Rubens, “Carbon Capture & Sequestration,” earth2tech, January 2008, http://earth2tech.com/2008/01/07/faq-carbon-capture-sequestration/CCS. Apart from its unpredictable dangers (including suffocation by massive carbon dioxide inhalation in the event of a sudden accidental release), such still undeveloped technology is very costly and energy-intensive. For detailed study and discussion, based on the Dutch experience, see Philip Vergragt, CCS in the Netherlands (Boston: Tellus Institute, 2008).
  10. ? The summary that follows is based, in part, on Tom Blees, Prescription for the Planet: The Painless Remedy for Our Energy and Environmental Crises (self-published, www.booksurge.com, 2008), 63-86, and, for solar power, on calculations presented in Gregory Meyerson and Michael Joseph Roberto, “Obama’s New New Deal and the Irreversible Crisis,” Socialism and Democracy, no. 50 (July 2009), 64n. Blees’s critical summary is useful irrespective of whether or not one shares his view that what must therefore be pursued is an updated version of nuclear power.
  11. ? Blees’s Prescription for the Planet argues that the new Integral Fast Reactors (IFRs) have solved the technical problems of safety and waste associated with earlier generations of nuclear power plants. Even in the absence of severe mishaps, however, the underlying risk of accumulated radiation effects on workers and, through them, on the wider population, remains. See John W. Gofman and Arthur R. Tamplin, Poisoned Power: The Case Against Nuclear Power Plants Before and After Three Mile Island (1979), http://www.ratical.org/radiation/CNR/PP/.
  12. ? An influential expression of this tradition is Herman E. Daly and Jonathan B. Cobb, Jr., For the Common Good, 2nd ed. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994); see also Clive Ponting. A New Green History of the World (New York: Penguin Books, 2007).
  13. ? John Bellamy Foster, Marx’s Ecology (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000); Yrjö Haila and Richard Levins, Humanity and Nature (London: Pluto Press, 1992), chapter 5 (“Agricultural Ecology”).
  14. ? Victor Wallis, “Toward Ecological Socialism,” Capitalism Nature Socialism 12, no. 1 (March 2001), 132-33; see also Michael Löwy, “Eco-Socialism and Democratic Planning,” Socialist Register 2007 (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2006).
  15. ? Numerous cases from Latin America are analyzed in Nacla Report on the Americas 42, no. 5 (Sept.-Oct. 2009) and in Gerardo Rénique, ed., “Latin America: The New Neoliberalism and Popular Mobilization,” in Socialism and Democracy, no. 51 (November 2009). See also the Joseph Berlinger’s 2009 documentary film on the struggle in Ecuador, Crude: The Real Price of Oil (http://www.crudefilm.com/).
  16. ? Cuba’s special significance as an ecological model, including its shift to 80 percent organic agriculture with large-scale urban gardening, is well brought out in the 2006 documentary film, The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil (http://www.powerofcommunity.org/cm/index.php).
  17. ? See, for example, materials on the 4th Continental Summit of Indigenous Peoples (May 2009) in Puno, Peru, which drew 6500 delegates from 22 countries (http://cumbrecontinentalindigena.wordpress.com/).
  18. ? UN interventions culminated in 2007 with the General Assembly’s overwhelming ratification of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/en/declaration.html), which includes in its Preamble a clause, “Recognizing that respect for indigenous knowledge, cultures and traditional practices contributes to sustainable and equitable development and proper management of the environment.”
  19. ? http://www.indigenousportal.com/News/Declaration-of-Indigenous-Peoples-at-the-World-Social-Forum-Bel%C3%A9m-Amazon-Brazil.html.
  20. ? In many countries experiencing large-scale urban migration, one cannot draw a sharp distinction between indigenous and non-indigenous populations. People who have left their original territories may preserve much of their culture, as in the city of El Alto, Bolivia (see Adolfo Gilly, “Bolivia: A 21st-Century Revolution,” Socialism and Democracy, no. 39, November 2005). The global figure of 300 million indigenous could, in this respect, be viewed as an underestimate. In addition, the communication boundaries between indigenous and non-indigenous may sometimes be more porous than this apparent dichotomy suggests.
  21. ? See Kim Moody, Workers in a Lean World (London: Verso, 1997).
  22. ? For a suggestive example of such impact, see Héctor Perla Jr., “Grassroots Mobilization against US Military Intervention in El Salvador,” Socialism and Democracy, no. 48 (November 2008).
  23. ? On Argentina, see Laura Meyer and María Chaves, “Winds of Freedom: An Argentine Factory under Workers’ Control,” Socialism and Democracy, no. 51 (November 2009). On the United States, see Immanuel Ness and Stacy Warner Maddern, “Worker Direct Action Grows In Wake of Financial Meltdown,” Dollars & Sense, no. 284 (Sept.-Oct. 2009), and also Michael Moore’s documentary film, Capitalism: A Love Story (2009).
  24. ? A useful general analysis is Iain Bruce, The Real Venezuela (London: Pluto Press, 2008), esp. ch. 4.
  25. ? Although I here emphasize what indigenous peoples can teach us, the theoretical dialogue will need to go in both directions, inasmuch as certain spokespersons for the indigenous (e.g., Ward Churchill) and for a “subsistence” approach (e.g., Maria Mies) have popularized a severe misreading of Marx, ascribing to him the very notion of value—as excluding nature—that Marx had identified as a major fault of capital (which confuses value with real wealth). For a critique of such misreadings, see John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark, “The Paradox of Wealth: Capitalism and Ecological Destruction,” Monthly Review 61, no. 6 (November 2009), 7-10.
  26. ? For detailed discussion, see Victor Wallis, “Socialism and Technology: A Sectoral Overview,” Capitalism Nature Socialism 17, no. 2 (June 2006).
  27. ? The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review (Cambridge University Press, 2006), a British government report prepared under the direction of Nicholas Stern, is perhaps the most comprehensive formulation of the “green capitalist” perspective. For a critique, see the Introduction by John Bellamy Foster et al. to Monthly Review 60, no. 3 (July-August 2008), 3-6.
  28. ? For a fuller exposition of this point, see my essay, “Vision and Strategy: Questioning the Subsistence Perspective,” Capitalism Nature Socialism 17, no. 4 (December 2006).
  29. ? Where they do attain such representation, as in Bolivia with Evo Morales, the government is inescapably subjected to conflicting pressures (in particular, over the exploitation of energy resources), as a result of which tensions arise between it and its indigenous base.
  30. ? This does not mean that working-class movements necessarily have progressive positions on ecological issues; what it does mean is that only when they do have progressive positions do the latter carry significant weight.
  31. ? For an initial attempt at itemizing categories of wasteful expenditure, see Wallis, “Toward Ecological Socialism,” 135-37.
  32. ? I noted such a desideratum in an earlier article—“‘Progress’ or Progress? Defining a Socialist Technology,” Socialism and Democracy, no. 27 (2000), 56—but at that time the political forces that might be able to embody its approach were not known to me.

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