Tag: Environment

A Sound Ecological Policy Cannot Be Achieved Within a Capitalist Framework

Christian Stache interviews Victor Wallis about resistance in the German Hambach Forest, class politics, technology, progress and an ecological-economic conversion.
This interview by Christian Stache of Victor Wallis was Translated with permission from the October 6 2018 issue of the Berlin-based daily newspaper junge Welt (young World), which bears no responsibility for the English-language text.

Christian Stache: Recently, a huge socio-ecological conflict escalated in the Hambach Forest in Germany. Have you heard about it in the US?

Victor Wallis: It was not widely covered in the corporate media, but there was very good coverage on the independent Democracy Now! program, whose host, Amy Goodman, spent a week in and around Bonn during the recent international conference, and visited some of the occupiers in their tree-houses. Singer/songwriter David Rovics has just now posted a tribute, in narrative and song, to the forest-protectors and to the journalist Steffen Meyn who died tragically while attempting to cover their story.

CS: How do you characterize the struggle? Are there decisive similarities with, for example, the battles against oil pipelines in North America?

VW: It is a classic case of confrontation between a big corporation and people trying to save a priceless ecosystem. There is a definite parallel with the clashes in North America, including especially the more recent battle over the Dakota Access Pipeline, in which government forces intervened decisively on the side of the corporation.

CS: You recently published Red-Green Revolution (Political Animal Press 2018) which has a special focus on ecosocialist politics. Can you explain what makes politics ecosocialist? How does it differ from the ecological politics, for example, of the Green Parties, the United Nations or the big environmental NGOs like Greenpeace?

VW: Ecosocialist politics is based on recognizing that a sound ecological policy cannot be achieved within a capitalist framework. In order to restore (to the extent possible) the health of the ecosphere, it is necessary that economic decisions be no longer based on the capitalist goals of maximizing profit and accumulating wealth. They should instead be based on the common interest of humanity, which is bound up with the health of the natural environment.

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Petroleum Junkies of the World, Unite!

by Craig Collins

I’m a fossil fuel junkie. I drive a car and use electricity. My computer, TV, telephone, refrigerator, stove, lights, water, and sewage all run on carbon-based energy. [1] All of the materials used to build my house and furniture were made with hydrocarbons. The wood, sheetrock, cement, metals, glass, wiring, pvc pipes, and other plastics were all manufactured with carboniferous energy. My high-energy lifestyle mainlines fossil fuels.

The petroleum coursing through the veins of our global economy allows me to do miraculous things. If I have the money, I can hop on a plane and be scuba diving in the Caribbean in a matter of hours. I can pick up a phone and talk to people anywhere in the world. I can buy coffee shipped from Kenya, tea from India, mangos from Mexico, rice from Thailand, and bananas from Ecuador anytime I want for a few dollars. I never have to do the backbreaking work of growing my own fruits, grains, and vegetables or raising my own livestock. I can light and heat my home, cook my food, do my laundry, and take a hot shower without ever having to collect and chop wood, haul buckets of water, or even start a fire. My family can toss their luggage into the car and journey hundreds of miles in a few hours for the cost of a tank of gas. Even with a host of servants and slaves the great kings of old could not have imagined doing many of the amazing things I can with do with the energy of fossil fuels. Power like this is addicting.

It may sound odd, but I didn’t realize I was addicted to petroleum until I was about 30. Like most Americans, I was born into a lifestyle of cheap energy and took it for granted. Growing up in the latter half of the 20th century, cars and electricity were just part of daily life. Nobody thought of it as addiction; it was progress. Every new electronic device and labor saving appliance was a testament to the miracle of modern science and technology. The future was usually portrayed as a technological utopia where all our wants and needs would be met by some new scientific wonder. Remember The Jetsons?

I felt fortunate and proud to live in America because it was the most modern country in the world. It never occurred to me that our prosperity had anything to do with our dependence on oil; in school we were told our affluence was the product of free enterprise, liberty, and democracy. I knew that every country in the world aspired to be as modern as the United States. Poor countries were trying to copy our success and our enemies behind “the iron curtain” claimed they would soon out-modernize us. Growing up, I felt sorry for people who still lived without the conveniences of modern life.

It took me years to realize that our supercharged lifestyle depends on a vanishing supply of fossil fuels and cannot possibly be reproduced on a global scale. If the people of China lived like Americans there would be more cars in China than there are in the entire world today. [2] Their cars would need all of the oil the world produces plus fifteen million extra barrels a day. China would consume two-thirds of the world’s grain harvest; burn more coal than the entire world uses today; and use twice as much paper. [3] And this is just China. The Earth simply does not have enough land, water, and hydrocarbons for everyone to live the high-energy lifestyle of Americans. In fact, America’s coveted lifestyle is running on empty and on the verge of going bust, like the boomtowns that became ghost towns after the gold rush panned out.

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Catabolic Capitalism & Green Resistance

By: Craig Collins

In the first installment of this two-part article we examined the notion that any future without globalization must be an improvement.  But globalization and growth only constitute capitalism’s expansionist phase, powered by abundant fossil fuels.  As energy becomes scarce, boom turns to bust.  But profit-hungry capitalism doesn’t die; it morphs into its zombie-like, undead phase.

Growth-less capitalism turns catabolic.  The word catabolism is used in biology to refer to the condition whereby a living thing feeds on itself.  Thus, catabolic capitalism is a self-cannibalizing system whose insatiable hunger for profit can only be fed by consuming the society that sustains it.[1]  As it rampages down the road to ruin, this system gorges itself on one self-inflicted disaster after another.  Unless we bring it down, catabolic capitalism will leave its survivors rummaging through the toxic rubble left behind.

Capitalism is adept at exploiting human weaknesses, especially greed and fear.  During the period of rapid expansion, greed provides the most powerful incentive for investors, while fear comes in a distant second.  Investors are encouraged to take big risks and go into debt in the hope of scoring windfall profits.  Speculative bubbles grow rapidly as people try to make it rich on the next big deal.  But when boom turns to bust, fear takes the drivers seat.  In these troubled times, the most profitable ventures capitalize on insecurity, desperation and scarcity.

In the era of fossil fuel abundance, catabolic capitalists worked the dim back alleys of the growth economy.  But, as the productive sector atrophies and the financial sector seizes up, this parasitic sector emerges from the shadows and proliferates rapidly.  It thrives off anxiety and hoarding; corruption and crime; conflict and collapse.  Catabolic capitalism profits by confiscating and selling off the stranded assets of the bankrupt productive and public sectors; dodging or dismantling legalities and regulations while pocketing taxpayer subsidies; hoarding scarce resources and peddling arms to those fighting over them; and preying upon the utter desperation of people who can no longer find gainful employment elsewhere.

This looming catabolic future will transform the Green New Deals proposed by eco-optimists like Al Gore, Lester Brown and Jeremy Rifkin into ecotopian pipe dreams…unless we exorcise capitalism’s profit possession from the economy.[2]  Instead of investing society’s remaining resources into a sustainable recovery and renewal, catabolic capitalism will eat away at society like a cancerous tumor.  A malignant alliance of parasitic profiteers, resource cartels and weapons merchants will infect the body politic and poison any effort to prevent them from ransacking the economy and the Earth.  If society succumbs to their all-consuming thirst for profit, life will become a dismal affair for everyone but them.

However, at the risk of sounding over-optimistic, the approaching period of catabolic collapse presents some strategic opportunities to those who would like to rid the world of this system as soon as possible.  The end of growth seriously erodes the legitimacy of capitalism by undermining its capacity to meet the needs of everyday life. 

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Catabolic Capitalism: The Dark at the End of the Tunnel

By: Craig Collins

“Out of the frying pan, into the fire” is an apt description of our current place in history. No matter what you think of globalization, I believe we’ll soon discover that capitalism without it is much, much worse.

No one needs to convince establishment economists, politicians and pundits that the absence of globalization and growth spells trouble. They’ve pushed globalization as the Viagra of economic growth for years. But globalization has never been popular with everyone. Capitalism’s critics recognize that it generates tremendous wealth and power for a tiny fraction of the Earth’s seven billion people, makes room for some in the middle class, but keeps most of humanity destitute and desperate, while trashing the planet and jeopardizing human survival for generations to come.

On the Left, a loose alliance of ecology and labor activists, small farmers, indigenous peoples and human rights advocates has disrupted international economic summits for many years. They say malignant capitalism demolishes habitats and poisons ecosystems, wreaks havoc with the climate, destroys indigenous cultures, pushes farmers off their land and into slums and erodes wages by pitting desperate workers around the globe against one another. At annual World Social Forums, these social movements voice their opposition to globalization and growth and unite around the belief that “Another World Is Possible!” They work toward the day when neoliberal globalization is replaced by a more democratic, equitable, Earth-friendly society.

Since globalization is so damaging, most activists assume that any future without it is bound to be an improvement. But now, it appears that this assumption may be wrong. In fact, for all of its depredations, future generations may someday look back on capitalism’s growth phase as the halcyon days of industrial civilization, a naïve time before anyone realized that the worst was yet to come.

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Capsule Introduction to Capitalism and Socialism

by Victor Wallis

A short introduction to key terms in political theory by the author of Red-Green Revolution: The Politics and Technology of Ecosocialism

A capitalist society is one in which the major decisions about what is produced (and how, and how much, and for whom) are made by the capital-owning class and/or its representatives. Capital differs from earlier forms of wealth in that it is liquid, i.e., it can be bought and sold on the market. Capitalist wealth includes machinery (what Marx called “means of production,” or capital in the narrow sense), but it also includes land and financial instruments (money, stocks & bonds, etc.).

Most of this wealth is concentrated in large corporations or financial institutions, whose goal is to maximize their own profits. To do this, they must sell as much as possible and pay out as little as possible. Sales are maximized by responding not simply to needs but rather to market-demand (i.e., needs or wants backed by purchasing power). Market-demand is in turn shaped partly by public policy (e.g., if there’s no mass transit, more people will have to buy cars) and partly by a whole culture of advertising and public relations. At the same time, costs are minimized by paying workers as little as possible (including moving production to low-wage areas) and by skimping on such matters as waste-disposal and workplace safety & health.

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Featured Author: Victor Wallis

Victor Wallis is a professor of Liberal Arts at the Berklee College of Music. Wallis was for twenty years the managing editor of Socialism and Democracy and has been writing on ecological issues since the early 1990s. His writings have appeared in journals such as Monthly Review and New Political Science, and have been translated into thirteen languages.

His new book Red-Green Revolution: The Politics and Technology of Ecosocialism is available now from Political Animal Press.

“Finally, we have the definitive work on ecosocialism with Red-Green Revolution. Victor Wallis brings his brilliant editorial skills to writing a highly readable, compelling, and essential book, a must read for everyone who cares about the fate of the earth in this era of capitalist implosion with socialism no longer a possible alternative, but rather a requirement for survival.”

Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, author of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States

Red-Green Revolution is an impassioned and informed confrontation with the planetary emergency brought about by accelerated ecological devastation in the last half-century.

In clear and accessible language, Wallis argues that sound ecological policy requires a socialist framework, based on democratic participation and drawing on the historical lessons of earlier efforts.

Wallis presents a relentless critique of the capitalist system that has put the human species into a race against time to salvage and restore what it can of the environmental conditions necessary for a healthy existence. He then looks to how we might turn things around, reconsidering the institutions, technologies, and social relationships that will determine our shared future, and discussing how a better framework can evolve through the convergence of popular struggles, as these have emerged under conditions of crisis.

This is an important book, both for its incisive account of how we got into the mess in which we find ourselves, and for its bold vision of how we might still go forward.

Articles by Victor Wallis on Political Animal Magazine:

The US Left: A Short Introduction

On the Precipice

Capsule Introduction to Capitalism and Socialism

Wholesale Crimes

A Sound Ecological Policy Cannot Be Achieved Within a Capitalist Framework

On the Precipice

by Victor Wallis

Like many others (unless they are in a state of simple denial), I sometimes feel paralyzed by the enormity of the environmental challenge.

How to break through this?

We must begin with the certainties.

First is the science. Not every aspect of it, of course, but the basic contours. The most in-depth, up-to-date, and accessible account is Ian Angus’s 2016 Monthly Review Press book, Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System (see my review at Climate and Capitalism). When you read this book, you will see how in some respects the point of no return has already been reached. But even if full collapse is only a matter of time, many life-and-death choices will still confront us along the way – over what we may hope will be more than a single lifetime.

The second certainty is that we are being systematically lied to by the most powerful interests in this society. It is now known that the big oil companies, by their own research in the 1970s, confirmed what would later become common knowledge about the climate-impact of greenhouse gases, but they then undertook a deliberate campaign of obfuscation which continues to this day (see updates at kochvsclean.com).

The third certainty is an outcome of the second: hundreds of millions of people who should – and could – be waging the battle of and for their lives, are instead propelled by a structured inertia, part “practical” and part ideological, to continue with their daily routines – of heating or cooling, driving, flying, over-indulging in one or another addiction, and acquiescing in wars of domination – as though nothing had changed.

And yet things have changed!

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