Climate change as political murder

Morrison Trump

Australian PM Scott Morrison with Trump (AP: John Minchillo).

This piece by Derek Johnson was originally delivered on the Where’s My Jetpack podcast: jetpack.zoob.net

This piece will be printed in Fightback’s upcoming magazine issue on Climate Change and Ecosocialism. To subscribe with PayPal or credit card, click here.

A study by the United Nations has found climate change could drive 122 million more people into extreme poverty in the next 15 years, in part due to the impact it is already having on small-scale farmers. We now know that for decades, beginning in 1977, Exxon concealed its own findings that fossil fuels cause global warming, alter the climate and melt Arctic ice.

Hindsight is 20/20, but if not for Exxon’s cover up NASA and others could have brought proof and the importance of climate change to our governments to do something in the late 1970’s.

Talking about climate change can be nihilistically depressing because for the first time in our planet’s history, we are a species aware of its impending extinction. We are living through the sixth extinction. I’m going to get to the brass tacks and the suicidally depressing roots and propose an optimistic solution.

The U.S. presidential race is off the rails again. Politicians and the media are in panic mode, because of progressive candidates who might improve lives, not because Trump is a fascist who needs to be removed immediately and cannot serve a second term. As much as I like to see them all lose control, they are turning the screws on us.

Trump must go, but beyond that, I don’t care who the next president is and I don’t want anybody to be president. We need to stop having presidents. They don’t know what to do anymore and the schisms are showing. The economy is about to tank again like 2008 and the government and capitalists and their political class are flipping out in panic. This election scam is a symptom of systemic problems with Really Existing Capitalist Democracy or REC’D as Chomsky calls it.

The most pressing issue of our time—our own fucking possible extinction – is only mentioned because of Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at least, but overall the political class and MSM are ignoring the fire outside as California literally burns down. They all know deep down that capitalism has killed the habitability of this world.

They fucked up and killed us all. We all have to get used to struggle. We are in the struggle of our fucking lives now. It looks like things are going south quicker than we will ever have a revolution to overthrow this shit and save our species, but I hope not. The planet is going to survive, but it’s going to be uninhabitable for human life. This is beyond unacceptable.

Going slow about changing our economy and using oil is just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, while us radicals warn about the iceberg.  We have to get used to endless struggle. Even something like a Green New Deal is being violently resisted.

Demagogues right and left are going to try and convince people that its a Malthusian overpopulation problem. Malthusianism has long been debunked and technically we already live in a post-scarcity civilization, but scarcity is enforced by markets and the state.

The problems of “overpopulation” – habitat destruction, famine, drought – are the direct result of our economic system which needs false scarcity and planned obsolescence to function.

We have enough food, shelter, and medicine for every person on the planet, but resource/”wealth” distribution is dictated by a system with no ability for long term planning.

We live under a system that allows for-profit medicine/healthcare and – based on the statistic I can’t stop pointing out—America has not only enough money to feed the hungry and house every homeless person, but there are enough empty homes that every homeless person would get 6 houses each.

I agree that we need to stop focusing on neoliberalism as a new strain of capitalism, but see that it has actually given way to the return to a more raw and predatory capitalism – as it used to be and always was. I think, now, we are entering a new era of naked capitalism. We often have to ask ourselves when confronted by rulers who see the threat and choose to do nothing and hasten it.

Global warming is in progress and now irreversible. I don’t want to get into conspiracy theories, but it is a reasonable hypothesis that past a certain point, the ruling elite intentionally planned to do nothing, knowing it would get locked in and all the people would die.

This is looking to be by design. Not that the rich created climate change to kill us all, but rather they are adapting to it and exploiting it rather than doing something about it. Perhaps what we’re witnessing in global warming is an improvised planned genocide of many global south nations that will make prior genocides seem quite small in comparison.

Global warming denialists are Holocaust deniers in their own right and should be treated as such. I’m afraid that, rather than combat climate change the powers that be can enforce walling in countries, closing immigration/migration and starve out and kill people with the elements and act like they didn’t do it on purpose. It really looks like rather than doing anything, they are planning to just build walled- in cities and let the poor die.

They can cull the populations like never before. Under this unleashed raw capitalism, they get to wipe out the so-called “developing world” and surplus labor here and there. The weakest and poorest are intentionally being left to bear the worst brunt.

This may technically be genocide by proxy through economic policy if you will, but intentional inaction is ethically no different than intentional planning/action. It really looks like rather than doing anything, they are planning to just build walled in cities and let the poor die. This is essentially genocide.  This is no different than what Stalin did to Ukraine except on scale.

The proper term is democide.

This term was revived and redefined by the political scientist R. J. Rummel as “the murder of any person or people by their government, including genocide, politicide and mass murder”. For example, government-sponsored killings for political reasons would be considered democide under Rummel’s hypothesis.

Democide can also include deaths arising from “intentionally or knowingly reckless and depraved disregard for life”; this brings into account many deaths arising through various neglects and abuses, such as forced mass starvation.

Rummel explicitly excludes battle deaths in his definition. Capital punishment, actions taken against armed civilians during mob action or riot, and the deaths of non-combatants killed during attacks on military targets so long as the primary target is military, are not considered democide.

According to Rummel, democide surpassed war as the leading cause of non-natural death in the 20th century. Rummel estimated that there have been 262 million victims of democide in the last century. According to his figures, six times as many people have died from the actions of people working for governments than have died in battle.

This destroys Stephen Pinker’s thesis that less people are dying from war, conflict and violence because of strong states, thus justifying states and ultimately capitalism. His calculation only works if you ignore democide and structural violence.

In my opinion, I feel as if, in scorched Earth fashion, capitalists are literally making sure there is no alternative if they collapse the economic order or are overthrown. We may get eco-socialism or full communism—but in a Mad Max wasteland.

We need a fundamentally new society because the status quo can no longer hold. Martin Luther King said it best: we need a revolution in values.

We need a social revolution. Our task now is to hasten such a global socialist revolution, to forge an eco-socialism for an actually free and sustainable future. We may have to go down trying to build that better society or we are going to live in Mad Max. It’s “Communism or barbarism” as Rosa Luxemburg said, indeed.

 

Snapshots of the ecological crisis in Australasia

Dunedin Smoke

NZ’s South Island with and without bushfire smoke (pic from Alpine Guides).

By Ani White.
This article will be published in Fightback’s upcoming magazine issue on Climate Change and Ecosocialism. To subscribe through PayPal or credit card, click here.

New Years’ Day 2020, Ōtepoti/Dunedin (Aotearoa/New Zealand)
Ironically, my first real-life encounter with the Australian bushfires – not mediated by Facebook, Twitter, or a press article – is the smoke that drifts to Dunedin, Aotearoa/New Zealand. Ironic because despite being born in NZ, my current place of residence is Victoria, Australia – a region which was only directly affected after my NZ holiday began. NZ is over 3,000 kilometres from Australia – contrary to a common misconception, we are not near to each other – so the smoke reaching Dunedin in NZ’s far south is not insignificant.

Although the yellow tint over Dunedin is less severe than habitats and homes destroyed, or deaths, the directness of the experience affects me more. It’s the first time the bushfires make me tear up. The concept of climate grief names this experience. Two weeks later, on my return to Melbourne, its air quality is the worst in the world1, though my flat is out of the path of the fire itself.

Environmentalists often wonder how to convey a crisis that you don’t experience directly. Yet now in Australasia and elsewhere, we are beginning to experience the ecological crisis directly. Even with this shift from abstract to concrete, the denial from key players remains, whether conservative denial of the basic facts of anthropogenic global warming, or liberal denial about the scale of changes needed.

***

October 28th 2019, Narrm/Melbourne (so-called Australia)
A ragtag collection of socialists, anarchists, indigenous protectors, and liberal environmentalists blockade the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.

For me, it’s all very reminiscent of NZ’s weapons conference blockades. In both cases the crowd is narrower than the mass marches, and more militant, yet notably intergenerational. In both cases the tactic is to directly stop industry actors even if only for a day, to take direct action, not just symbolic action. And in both cases, police repression is brutal. Although the tactics are portrayed in the press as violent, they are fundamentally the tactics of non-violent civil disobedience – putting your body on the line. The weapons conference actions recently led to the cancellation of the conference in NZ, after a number of years moving between venues and cities in a futile attempt to escape protest actions.

My first hour is spent at the front line, the main entrance. Our arms locked together, cops pressing from behind, knees into backs. The horses arrive, always a terrifying moment of intimidation, and we chant ‘get those animals off those horses.’ The first arrest targets Jerome Small, a prominent socialist who is on the megaphone. A number of cops descend on him, knocking him to the pavement, and we cry ‘shame.’

An organiser requests bodies for another entrance. This is part of the difficulty of these blockades – the coordination to cover multiple entrances without spreading yourself too thin. About ten of us head to this smaller entrance. This site is quieter, though cops visit us a couple of times, monitoring us rather than trying to break the picket. We film them and they film us. During that time the police crackdown at the main entrance intensifies, with multiple arrests and at least one limb broken. Unfortunately I miss the participation of my own union, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), despite wearing an NTEU shirt myself.

Later, a photograph of one cop shows him pulling the OK symbol, recently adopted by far right trolls.

***

September 20th 2019, Narrm/Melbourne (Australia)
The biggest Climate Strike yet. An estimated 100,000 attend in Melbourne.2 More than 3.5% of the population attend the demonstrations in Aotearoa New Zealand. 3

My union endorses the strike. A colleague’s tutorial overlaps with the strike, so it’s cut short. In my classes, the majority of students are engaged with the climate movement, despite being generally uninvolved in party politics.

The NTEU contingent joins the student contingent joins the main march, at state parliament. At that point I move to the pavement to watch, and film, the tens of thousands streaming past, a stream not stopping for well over half an hour. My favourite sign says ‘Aliens will be so disappointed we chose capitalism over existence.’

***

August 26th 2019, Narrm/Melbourne Victoria (Australia)
SBS Australia reports the following:

A tree with smoke billowing out of it was discovered just after daybreak on Monday nearby the site of a mass protest demonstration to save sacred Djab Wurrung trees located in Victoria’s western districts.

Traditional Owners who have been camped out in an attempt to stop a controversial upgrade to the state’s Western Highway between Ararat and Buangor said they were left feeling “gutted” by the act of vandalism…

The Western Highway development along a 12.5km stretch of land could potentially see nearly 1000 trees bulldozed.

The suspected attack comes in the wake of a mass gathering at the Djab Wurrung Embassy in the past week, as supporters of the land and trees brace for an imminent eviction so that construction of the bypass can begin.4

The Djab Wurrung Tent Embassy, set up to protect ancestor trees from a highway expansion, is around 2 hours’ drive from my flat. I’ve visited twice, when the organisers sent out Red Alerts concerning potential police encroachment. When the arson at Djab Wurrung is perpetrated, the 2019 Australian bushfire season has not begun, but the Amazon fires are ongoing. Across the world, indigenous people are canaries in the coal mine, standing at the front lines of the fight to protect nature from colonial capitalism.

***

Even for those of us with a low opinion of right-wing politicians, the brazenness of Australian PM Scott Morrison’s non-reaction to the bushfires is shocking. Although much has been made of his family holiday, surely more significant is the initial refusal to allocate funding to volunteer firefighters. Surely, even for a man who once held a lump of coal up in parliament saying “don’t be scared”, this is an obvious national emergency. Surely even if you treat this as purely a natural disaster, disconnecting it from the context of increasingly dry land and rising temperatures, it’s good optics to at least pretend you take it seriously.

On December 29, months into the crisis, Morrison finally allocates some payments for New South Wales volunteer firefighters. Yet this is restricted to those who are self-employed or work for small or medium-sized businesses.5 Unemployed volunteers are still threatened with losing benefits, as they are no longer available for paid work.

The New South Wales bushfire is the largest fire front in Australia’s history.6 The Australian bushfires are bigger than the Amazon fires or the California fires. And yet they are met with sheer complacency and negligence, bordering on mockery.

Morrison is confirming our worst fears: that much of the ruling class have decided to simply let the world burn, let the poor die, and retreat to their bunkers (a number of them located in the South Island of NZ7). Morrison is now very unpopular, but if he loses out as a result of a reshuffle, the Liberals will likely continue his policies. Australia has recently charged through 3 leaders in 4 years, a political Hydra.

Although NZ’s Labour government is not quite as overtly atrocious as Australia’s, their response is still grossly inadequate. The recent Zero Carbon Act was heralded for achieving bipartisan success. For all the hashing out of various details on paper, the fact that emitters will face no consequences for failing to meet targets makes the whole thing basically toothless. The reality is that reducing emissions means confronting entrenched powers such as NZ’s agriculture industry. Bipartisanship and ecological justice cannot be reconciled. We’re left with outright denial at worst, and symbolic commitments at best.

I still hold to the position, not new but articulated recently by Extinction Rebellion, that only a mass social movement can force the necessary institutional changes – let alone replace destructive institutions entirely. Yet as the movement grows, institutions remain as yet unchanged, and the world literally burns around us.

1Smoke haze makes Melbourne’s air quality world’s worst, for a time, The Age https://tinyurl.com/ukk3b8z

2‘This crisis, it affects everyone’: Organisers say 100,000 at Melbourne’s climate strike, The Age https://tinyurl.com/y2zptemn

3Tens of thousands of New Zealand children kick off new climate strikes, Reuters https://tinyurl.com/w3ykfzl

4Ancestor tree on fire in suspected arson attack outside Djab Wurrung embassy, SBS Australia https://tinyurl.com/y5zl4v8e

5Scott Morrison announces compensation payments for New South Wales volunteer firefighters, ABC News https://tinyurl.com/vkbemue

6NSW Bushfires: Largest fire front in Australia’s history, Nine News Australia https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvUDFCwSF9M

7The Super Rich of Silicon Valley Have a Doomsday Escape Plan, Bloomberg https://tinyurl.com/yaa4jzdy

Eco-villages, transition towns and gardens cities

eco city

Source: BBC.

Tāne Feary is an eco-activist who lives on Waiheke Island, Tāmaki Makarau / Auckland.

This article will be published in Fightback’s upcoming magazine issue on Urban Revolution and the Right to the City. To subscribe to Fightback’s magazine, click here.

This article introduces the Transition Towns movement and looks at eco-villages, exploring some possibilities for the future. The focus is on cities, and our increasingly urban existence.

Transition

The Transition Towns concept originated in Totnes, UK. Since the first project in 2006, Transition Initiatives have spread to multiple countries and countless regions around the world: Oamaru, Grey Lynn, Sydney, United States and the list goes on. These projects can be carried out on a small or large scale, and include villages, regions, islands, towns or cities.

Transition Towns are set up to address two challenges: peak oil and climate change. Modern Industrial capitalism uses vast amounts of fossil fuels; oil is the lifeblood of the modern industrial economy. Peak oil is not new. But it is not an issue that gets a lot of attention. NZ had oil shocks in the 70s, when we had carless days; but we are not prepared for a future of carless cities.

What would happen if the oil stopped flowing? No food in supermarkets, no cars, no flights. No gas to cook dinner. Power? Shops? Airports? Petrol stations? What else?

Transition Towns has been working on the local scale. But work is also being done on a larger scale – for example, Sweden has declared it will be a fossil fuel-free nation. Fossil fuel-free cities are also being discussed. The Transition Towns concept may not have translated to places like China, but other approaches are being tried.

Eco-cities

Ecological civilization is a term that is not new, but is now getting backing at senior levels. Growth is no longer the only mantra in China. Eco-cities are also being developed in China, such as Tianjin Eco-city.

Peak oil is an issue for cities. Smog is an issue. Food security is an issue. Most cities import a lot of food. Clean water is a must. Extracting fossil fuels can be very destructive, and then there is the issue of waste. Put simply, cities face a lot of challenges. Some cities have been in decline. Detroit is not unique.

More extraction. More burning of fossil fuels. More mines. More Standing Rocks, more vulnerable island nations. More of the same will yield more of the same results. What does a different approach look like? Transition Towns explores what a transition away from fossil fuels looks like. Permaculture is another concept that offers answers. Permaculture is a term that was devised and developed by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. (See the website link at the bottom of the article to learn more about permaculture in NZ). Permaculture doesn’t need to be a rural activity. Urban farming is a modern form of permaculture.

In New Zealand, a village was designed with transition values in mind. Will it work? This particular village in the South Island has so far fallen into debt and has been highly problematic. Many of the commune projects from the “back to the land” phase some people went through in NZ no longer exist. Many people in NZ, however, maintain connections to the land. Community gardens are thriving in NZ. Setting them up is easy, but keeping them going requires another set of skills. “Back to the land” was followed by back to the city. People shift to the cities to find jobs. This is not unique to NZ.

Perhaps what was lacking most in many of these recent and not so recent experiments was community. Many people don’t have farming backgrounds. Other skills were also lacking. That explains some of the mistakes made when people attempted to set up communities in the countryside. Isolation was also an issue. This can be avoided by placing farms in cities. Golf courses could be put to other uses. Lawns or grass verges can be replaced with productive gardens. Placing food production closer to dense populations reduces travel time. Gardens in schools is another way permaculture can be applied in cities. Roof top gardens, vertical gardens… a design rethink opens up vast possibilities. Wellington City has a small productive urban farm placed right next door to its hospital.

Cities are growing. Emissions are growing. More people, more cars. More smog, more pollution. Some blame people, population, migration. I don’t see immigration as a problem. The struggle for a just transition away from fossil fuels includes the struggle against borders which lock people into appalling conditions – increasingly, as a result of climate change. As climate change worsens, migration will increase. If we are to live in cities in large numbers, we need to learn to live well. Cities need to create less waste and generate more energy. Tomorrows cities don’t have to use vast amounts of resources and fill up endless landfills, exploiting and despoiling. Cities don’t have to be coal powered. The eco-city approach offers ways to reduce energy use and create more closed systems inside the cities. When this happens, the city is not a drain on the countryside or a health hazard for its residents.

Food security

In New Zealand, a lot of food is imported and exported. New Zealand traditionally had a lot of farms and exported a lot of dairy products. It still does. This is being done by irrigation and intensive farming. Factory farming.

The current mantra is: The more stock the better. Large volumes, large profits. The downside is large volumes of effluent. Of course, our cities also produce large volumes of effluent. On the small scale, composting is a solution when it comes to food waste. Large scale solutions also need to exist, since large scale problems exist. The conservative government of New Zealand has been trying to push a model that is focused on short term profits: cut down forests, export logs. Blow up mountains, export coal. Pollute rivers, export milk powder. Then there is the motorway mania. Air quality suffers, water quality suffers, and over time – quality of life too.

Some cities are starting to address the issue of food security. Urban farming and community gardening is taking off. Old vacant parking lots of unused land can be put to new uses. Detroit, the poster city for urban decline, is also the poster city for urban farming. Mass migration to the countryside is not on the cards. Urban renewal is a more realistic response to challenges facing urban populations. Eco-villages don’t have to be located far from population clusters. What would an eco-village in the heart of a city look like? Closer to home lessons can also be learned from Christchurch Garden City. A city with a thriving grassroots spirit; a city with a future.

An ecocentric approach as opposed to a capitalistic development model is one that explores permaculture land management and design, Eco-city urbanism and expands on the Transition Towns concept. Can cities have fresh air? Quiet spaces, clean water and clean air? What kind of city do you want to live in?

For more information:

http://transitionnetwork.org/

http://www.transitiontowns.org.nz/

https://permaculture.org.nz

 

 

Change Everything: “We can no longer act like each of our struggles are single causes” (video + text)

Text of a speech originally delivered by Kassie Hartendorp at Oil Free Wellington‘s Change Everything flotilla & rally, December 13th 2015.

Tēnā koutou, talofa lava, malo e leilei, kia orana, bula vinaka, aloha!

Tēnā koutou ki te whenua, ki te moana, ki te hunga mate, ki te tipuna.

Ko Ngāti Raukawa te iwi, nō Te Whanganui-a-tara ahau. Ko Kassie tōku ingoa.

Tēnā koutou katoa.

I acknowledge our land, our waters, our ancestors, our passed. Kia ora to the organisers, fellow speakers and to all of you here today. A special shout out to those on the water – you are more coordinated than I and I appreciate it!

My name is Kassie Hartendorp, and I am speaking here on behalf of Fightback, a group that is based on ecosocialism and socialist feminism. Like others here, I want to speak past the talks in Paris, past surface level solutions to a deeprooted crisis.

If there’s one thing socialists love to hate – besides bosses and landlords, it’s conspiracy theories. But it is not a conspiracy to say that the wealthiest 1% have control over the resources and production that has accelerated climate destruction. It is not a conspiracy to say that the demands of profit are currently centred over the needs of people, and of the world around us. It is not a conspiracy to say that the richest Western powers have made decisions that have benefited their position, and destroyed areas they deemed as unworthy. The poorest, remotest and least resourced people of the world have been the first to be affected by these decisions – and narratives around racism and colonialism secure the structural demise of indigenous communities, people of colour and superexploited areas of the world. These aren’t conspiracies, they are just the everyday truths of our existence.

We can no longer pretend that the impacts of capitalism and colonisation are benefiting or even neutral to our planet. We have a system that is based on limitless growth, of unceasing accumulation with the destruction of natural resources and communities being the consequence of this. There have been many arguments made by ecosocialists and activists worldwide that a healthier planet cannot go hand in hand with the logic of the market and endless private profit.

We can no longer act like each of our struggles are single causes, existing in a world of their own. Our fights for social justice, the rights of women, sexuality and gender minorities, beneficiaries and low paid workers are all interconnected with the need for systemic and sustainable change.

We can no longer place all our faith into individually merely recycling more and driving less. These small changes aid us on our way, but they cannot measure up to the structural damage being caused by mass producers and players – which will continue to undo our everyday work.

We need change. We need change that meaningfully acknowledges the kaitiakitanga and mana of tangata whenua in Aotearoa, as well as indigenous people of the world. We need widespread decolonisation that unlearns the language of our colonisers and tears down the systems that have overwritten our ancestors’ knowledges. I am hopeful and romantic that we could have prevented environmental catastrophes earlier, had those knowledges not been destroyed. We need practical action around the idea of interconnectedness. Of us to our environment of us to one another. We need bold challenges to the machines of capitalism – brave actions towards harmful companies and defiant stands against complacent governments. As a well resourced country, we need solidarity with those who are in danger of their communities being uprooted, flooded and displaced.

Our power doesn’t come from talks in closed meetings, among the elite. It doesn’t come from spineless world leaders, biased corporate interests, or parties that propose to ‘green’ capitalism. It comes from a groundswell of collective desire for a world outside of the narrow confines of capitalism. It comes from feet planted firmly on the ground, buckled into boats, refusing to move, on behalf of our unborn grandchildren. It smells like the leaves of Tāne-mahuta, and feels like the waves of Tangaroa. It sees us as a connected Te Moana-nui-a-kiwa, of likeminded islands that must nurture and protect each other. Our power comes from manaakitanga and tino rangatiratanga. We cannot undo what has been done, but we have the power to change what happens next – and that power is in all of you, in all of us together.

He taura whiri kotahi mai anō te kopunga tai no i te pu au
From the source to the mouth of the sea all things are joined together as one

Film Review: This Changes Everything

this changes everything trailer

Submitted to Fightback by Maria Ramos.

Although the seriousness of global warming and climate change has been made clear through the work of scientists and environmental advocates, it’s sometimes difficult to present this message in a way that resonates with the general public. As long as modern practices of pollution and resource extraction continue unchecked, ecological harm will almost certainly get worse. The documentary film This Changes Everything aims to alert viewers to the environmental hazards inherent in our economic system and ways of going about addressing the problem.

Based upon Naomi Klein’s 2014 book of the same name, the film was directed by her husband, Avi Lewis. Instead of focusing upon one or two specific effects of corporate disregard for our natural surroundings – say, a decline in polar bear populations or increased illnesses caused by polluted water – Klein and Lewis indict our entire neoliberal capitalist system as a whole. An ethos of viewing the earth as something to be ruthlessly exploited has caused unsustainable growth and ecological degradation. Most of the negative consequences hit hardest in poor communities, whose residents lack the financial resources and political clout to protect their rights through normal channels.

Even though certain pollution-reducing initiatives and public policy goals have been spearheaded by the wealthy and elite, the filmmakers show how these efforts have either been illusory from the start or have been derailed. The cap-and-trade system in particular is rife with abuse, often amounting to little more than the rich trading emissions among themselves with no overall reductions in greenhouse gas pollution. Corporate titans often parrot lines about green energy and clean business practices, but the reality is that any gains thereby achieved are often negated by the wholesale expansions of production in a quest for market share and profits.

This Changes Everything shows the stories of assorted individuals and communities around the world who have been adversely affected by the activities of big enterprises. This allows the documentary to explore the human side of climate change, which is often neglected in other similar works that focus their attention on lakes, rivers and animals. Unfortunately, the broad scope of the film combined with its running time of only 90 minutes mean that the final results feel a bit scatter-shot and disjointed. It’s difficult for the viewer to parse how the various stories relate to each other and to the overall theme of the movie.

Instead of just concerning itself with the damage caused by multinational businesses, This Changes Everything shows us how to fight back against these soulless entities. Through grassroots campaigns directed by the very people whose livelihoods or homes are threatened, depredations against Mother Nature can be halted. People in India have physically blocked the construction of fossil-fuel-burning plants while ranchers in Montana are defending themselves and their homes against a polluting oil company. Meanwhile, municipalities in Germany are purchasing their electric grids back from private companies. Because large national and international bodies are likely to be co-opted or have their missions subtly shift and morph over time, it is these small-scale, locally directed, authentic movements that are most promising.

According to a report from Direct Energy, more than 30 gigatonnes of CO2 were released from the combustion of fossil fuels in 2010, up from less than 15 gigatonnes in 1970. Clearly we must halt and reverse this trend if we would leave succeeding generations a healthy, comfortable planet to live upon.

This Changes Everything and other documentaries are important in order to drum up support among ordinary people for combating dangers that could make the Earth uninhabitable or at least a poor place to live. While the scientific case for the reality of climate change is incredibly strong, we need public outreach and entertainment as a way of delivering the news in a way that the average person can easily access. After all, climate change deniers spend a lot of money spreading their version of the facts, so it’s only fair that we raise our voices against them in whatever media are available.

See also

CHCH Fightback Reading Group #6: The Limits of Utopia

limits of utopia

This week our reading is a piece by fantasy author and marxian socialist China Miéville – “The Limits of Utopia.”

If you prefer listening to reading, the piece is based on this speech.

The piece discusses on the one hand, the need for utopian thinking in an era of ecological devastation – but also the dangers of environmentalism that can empower those who profit from the exploitation of the planet’s resources. Miéville’s language is a bit verbose, but in a creative rather than technical way so hopefully people will enjoy some of the more bombastic passages.

“The stench and blare of poisoned cities, lugubrious underground bunkers, ash landscapes… Worseness is the bad conscience of betterness, dystopias rebukes integral to the utopian tradition. We hanker and warn, our best dreams and our worst standing together against our waking.

Fuck this up, and it’s a desiccated, flooded, cold, hot, dead Earth. Get it right? There are lifetimes-worth of pre-dreams of New Edens, from le Guin and Piercy and innumerable others, going right back, visions of what, nearly two millennia ago, the Church Father Lactantius, in The Divine Institutes, called the ‘Renewed World’.”

We thought this reading would be beneficial in as it’s a couple days before the People’s Climate Parade in Christchurch which Fightback is supporting. The need for anti-capitalist analysis of the climate crisis is essential, especially while the vast majority of Enviro orgs rush to court the middle ground – and are unwilling to challenge the structural causes of ecological degradation.

-Koha appreciated
-Food provided
-All welcome
-Reading beforehand encouraged but not required

6:30pm, Thursday 26th November
59 Gloucester Street, Workers Educational Association, Christchurch
[Facebook event]

Change Everything: Climate Justice Post-Paris (Oil Free Wellington)

demo-jan-2014

By Michelle Ducat, Oil Free Wellington.

To be published in Fightback’s upcoming Climate Crisis magazine issue.

Oil Free Wellington started in late 2012 when the government announced it has granted Texas-based oil giant Anadarko a permit to prospect for oil off Wellington’s coast in the Pegasus Basin. Anadarko had a 25% working interest in BP’s Deep Water Horizon rig, which exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, killing eleven and causing huge environmental devastation. Since then, we have campaigned in Wellington to draw attention to the Block Offer process and granting of licenses to Anadarko, Statoil and Chevron. We have held marches, public talks and film screenings, run email, letter and social media campaigns, dropped banners, and protested on the water, at times using direct action to directly resist the expansion of fossil fuel extraction. Increasingly, we have made climate change and climate justice central to our demands.

Many of OFW’s initial members came from a climate justice group that formed after the Camp for Climate Action Aotearoa in 2009, inspired by similar camps in Europe. Climate Camp was held towards the end of the Copenhagen climate talks, and was explicit in its criticism of the whole ‘COP’(Conference of Parties- the UN climate talks) process: if governments wouldn’t address the systemic causes of climate change – the economic system that put profits over the planet – it was up to the people to create the solutions and movement to get that system change. This required acknowledging that those who are most vulnerable to the threat of climate change are those who have contributed least to it. The camp culminated in a day of action targeting the stock exchange. The stock exchange represented the root causes of climate change – and how carbon trading allowed businesses to benefit from climate change. Ten people were arrested for blockading the building.

Many environmental groups had held high hopes for Copenhagen to create a binding ambitious agreement. The talks were chaotic and marred by the exclusion of civil society. There was a last minute deal brokered by just five of the countries – US, China, South Africa, Brazil and India – which recognised the scientific case for keeping temperatures to no more that 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, but made no binding commitments. Vulnerable nations were deeply disappointed that the 1.5 degree target was dropped, guaranteeing their disappearance as sea levels rise.

So, eight years later we find ourselves at the eve of another “last, best, chance” – COP 21 in Paris – where once again governments will try to get a legally binding agreement to “prevent dangerous interference with the climate system”. The science has become ever clearer – and the latest IPCC report in 2014 has introduced the concept of a climate budget: to keep a 66% chance of keeping warming under 2 degrees we can put maybe an additional 270 billions of tonnes of carbon in the atmosphere. We already emit 10 billion tonnes a year. This means we can only use between 1/5 and 1/3 of existing oil, gas and coal reserves.

Already, the latest iteration of the proposed Paris documents are pointing to a lack of ambition and a lack of focus on the root causes: the long term target and process are still up for negotiation; they barely mention fossil fuels – just mentioning an end to fossil fuel subsidies; there is no mention now of human rights, rights to Mother Earth, civil society, health, gender equity, a just transition for workers, and a Climate Justice tribunal; there is an acknowledgement of loss and damages by vulnerable nations – but with no mention of specific commitments.

And although the draft agreement suggests there could be reviews to make these more ambitious, the current tally of voluntary emissions reduction targets – the INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) guarantee a huge overshoot of the 2 degree target.

And it’s not only a lack of ambition that make the UN talks, or what some have dubbed the ‘Conference of Polluters’, a failure- it is the whole framework of market based mechanisms and carbon accounting it has adopted as ‘solutions. New markets are being created which do little to nothing to help prevent climate change, but do help Government’s appear to be doing something, and help create new profit.

The REDD+ scheme, born out of these negotiations, is basically a new industry where people can be paid for not chopping or burning down forests. In some cases, such as in Mexico and Brazil, indigenous peoples who make their livelihoods and also live off the resources in these forests, sustainably, are having their access to their lands cut off as these forests are affectively privatized for the new carbon economy. Not only this, but rich countries get to buy credits from this programme to allow them to keep emitting. And this is just one example of such a project, there are many; and while even many environmental NGOs accept these solutions, resistance to them is being led by indigenous groups, peasant farmers like the group La Via Campesina, and women of the global south.

Given vested interests in the current economic system, Paris will fail. But we can find power and solutions elsewhere and we believe that’s where we should put our collective energy.

In this context Oil Free Wellington has decided to organize two events to strengthen what has been working to address climate change: local grassroots resistance to fossil fuels and the growth of a climate justice approach that makes links across progressive movements. For instance local people have been successfully resisting fossil fuel expansion in the US – stopping hundreds of new coal-fired plants; in Canada – delaying pipeline construction; and in South America where indigenous peoples are resisting fossil fuel expansion into forests.

Specifically we want to deepen understanding of the structural causes of climate change and the big picture solutions; make stronger links between diverse groups; and build capacity for and commitment to direct action.

Change Everything will take place on the weekend of the 12th and 13th December, at the end of the Paris talks. The gathering on the Saturday will involve plenary sessions on capitalism, colonialism and the climate, as well as peoples’ solutions to climate change. The afternoon will involve participatory workshops exploring radical solutions in more depth. Registration will go live at the start of November.

On December 13th we take action. We will take to the water for Wellington’s largest ever on-water demonstration and practice blockade for resistance to fossil fuels this Summer. At this point no one knows for sure when the oil industry will show up this Summer but it is likely they will again, for surveying off Wellington’s coast.

We’ll have a large number of kayaks and paddleboards available for people to use and action on the land too.

Regardless of what is agreed to, it will be more important than ever that we empower each other to work for climate justice from the ground up. Let’s look elsewhere for power and action, let’s look within and across our communities and struggles.

If you have your own water-going vessel, be it a kayak, paddleboard, yacht, jetski, barge, speedboat or pirate raft, bring it along. Email us at oilfreewellington@gmail.com to let us know you can bring your own vessel. We’ll need other help on the day too so let us know if you want to help out. We have a Give a Little page to cover the costs of boat hire. https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/changeeverything.

We’re interested in forging new relationships and networks with others wanting to work towards climate justice with a critique of capitalism and false solutions, and in a way that empowers communities and builds resilience. Get in touch.

oilfreewellington.org.nz
[Change Everything Facebook event]

Urban Housing is an Ecosocialist Issue

urban green

Fightback is running a series of articles on the housing crisis in Aotearoa/NZ.

Daphne Lawless (Fightback Tamaki Makarau) argues that we need green, sustainable and affordable solutions to the housing problem. But that means more urbanisation, not less.

It’s obvious that there is a great shortage of quality, affordable housing in Aotearoa. Or to be more precise, there’s a shortage in those places where people want to live. There are regular stories about houses going on TradeMe for a few hundred dollars, in places like Balclutha or other isolated rural zones.

Rural houses are great for people who can support themselves in a rural lifestyle, like farm workers or independent writers or artists. But the facts of life in a modern economy are that most of the economic growth, and therefore new jobs and opportunities, will happen in the cities – Auckland in particular, but Wellington, Christchurch and Hamilton as well. Because Auckland is where I live and expect to raise my family, it’s that town which I will concentrate on in this article.

Explosive growth

Auckland’s explosive growth to near 1.5 million inhabitants is also exacerbated, not only by its milder climate compared to our other urban centres, but by immigration. New settlers in our country prefer to live near to people who share their culture, hence Auckland’s massively high levels of cultural diversity compared to the rest of the country. Whether Pasifika peoples in Mangere, Chinese in Botany or people from the Indian subcontinent in Sandringham, Auckland’s cultural mosaic gets more complicated and colourful all the time.

But Auckland’s expanding population needs somewhere to live. The latest survey shows that the median house price in Auckland has passed $670,000 – almost 15 times the median yearly income. Historically, that ratio has been stable at around 4. So a house in Auckland costs almost 4 times as much as it should.

The media blame this on “a shortage of new housing”, mainly blaming Auckland Council’s planning tools, like the Metropolitan Urban Limit – refusing to rezone rural areas bordering the city for new housing. But this is unfair, and pushes a political ideology which is both anti-worker, and anti-green.

One of the main problems of neoliberal capitalism is that, when wages are pushed down, workers can’t buy things and the economy slows. One of the solutions – in virtually every advanced country in the world – has been to semi-deliberately create a housing bubble. Loans for buying houses have become cheap and plentiful, pushing up prices. And when house prices go up, those who already own houses (the middle and upper classes) benefit. They can buy cars or go on holidays and “put it on the mortgage”.

But even capitalist economics understands what happens when you just pump more money into a market – prices go up overall. The longer the bubble goes on, the less hope for the people at the bottom of the “housing ladder”. A similar thing happens in the rental market with WINZ giving out Accomodation Supplement, a rent subsidy for those on low-to-average incomes. This money just goes to boost the landlord’s profits, and rents rise to match.

Pricking the bubble

The housing bubble is therefore just another way of transferring wealth from the property-less to the property-owners. But even our bosses are getting nervous that we could end up in a situation like the United States or Ireland, where after the bubble burst, entire neighbourhoods became vacant after their mortgages were foreclosed on. Hence, the Reserve Bank has recently cut the availability of loans for new home-owners (once again punishing the needy so as to safeguard the gains of the greedy).

So what’s a pro-worker, pro-environment solution to the housing crisis? A bursting housing bubble might bring prices down, but would also cause massive economic recession. The right-wing media and the National Government want us to think that the answer is building new housing zones on the fringes of the urban area at “affordable prices”.

Let’s go through all the ways that this kind of urban sprawl is ecological and economic bad news:

  • New fringe suburbs encroach onto fertile farming land. Some of Auckland’s best volcanic soils (such as the market gardens in Avondale) have long since been built over. Pushing development towards Pukekohe would put the food sustainability of the region under severe pressure.
  • New developments require brand new services such as telephone, stormwater and electricity to be built, at a high cost.
  • In New Zealand, new housing areas are generally built without any thought as to public transport – and generally nowhere near workplaces. Not only does this require that everyone who lives there has to own a car, but they have to commute for stupid distances across our already-clogged motorway network, turning expensive fossil fuels into air pollution as they do so.

The National Government’s “special housing areas”, such as Hobsonville Point, Flat Bush or Hingaia, are nowhere near the recently upgraded electric train services, and will all need new bus or ferry services to make it possible to live there without a car. This isn’t solving the housing crisis – just opening it up to developers to profit from.

Up, not out

The alternative – as many insightful commenters on Auckland’s housing issues have identified, for example, the Generation Zero pressure group – is for Auckland to grow up, not out. That is, new affordable, high-density (flat or apartment) housing should be build in and around the Central City and central suburbs. Amazingly enough, it’s only been legal to build apartments in the Auckland CBD since 1995, and since then its population has grown to 25,000 – and, with a large population of students and creative types, it’s generally a lower-income and more culturally diverse population than the ultra-rich inner ‘burbs like Remuera or Herne Bay.

The rich absolutely hate this idea. The working-class population of central Auckland were systematically moved out between the 1950s and 1970s, when “slums” like Freemans Bay and Newton were gutted to build the Central Motorway junction, and surrounding suburbs like Ponsonby or Grey Lynn were gentrified.

The old working-men’s cottages of Auckland’s central fringe suburbs can now fetch more than $1 million. The last thing that their privileged current owners want is for the price to be brought down by affordable apartments being built round the corner – or indeed, for working-class (or non-white) people to live in their area at all. They’d much prefer working people out of sight and out of mind, in the far-flung fringes. Which is of course precisely what happened to the inhabitants of “old” Ponsonby – Mangere or Otara were settled by refugees from “slum clearances” and motorway madness around the CBD.

Housing and transport are both aspects of the same question, as is access to public services. Auckland’s liberal mayor Len Brown, elected by the working-class outer suburbs over the screams of the Parnell and Newmarket ruling classes, has staked his credibility on the Central Rail Link, an underground railway through the CBD which would greatly increase the efficiency of public transport. Auckland’s inner-suburb privileged class, though, see this as part and parcel of intensified housing, and their representatives on Council have tried to sabotage it at every turn. Making urban life in Auckland more accessible, affordable and vibrant is the last thing that the ultra-exclusive, financially-segregated communities of the city fringe want.

Anti-urbanism

Studying the facts, it becomes clear that to improve quality of life in Auckland, to reduce social equalities and make life richer and more affordable for working people, the affordable as well as the green solution is centralisation and intensification combined with much better public transport. However, many who see themselves on the liberal side or even the Left of politics wouldn’t agree.

When I interviewed MANA co-vice-president John Minto in this paper a couple of years ago, when he was running for Mayor of Auckland, he had this to say:

“They’re replacing existing state housing with 8-story slums in the town centre. We’ve seen this happen overseas – they’ll be rubbish-quality… Families need wide spaces to grow up in – they’re not growing to grow up on the sixth floor of an apartment building.”

There is absolutely no reason why – excluding the greed of developers and the ignorance of planners – high-density living should become a “slum” nightmare like an English “estate” or a French “cité”. All that is required is people-centred and eco-friendly planning. Attention to green space, sustainable transport links, and integration to the broader culture of the city can prevent affordable housing becoming a shunned slum.

Large apartment buildings can even be more environmentally friendly than a traditional, draughty, uninsulated Kiwi single-dweller property – especially in, as has happened in Chicago and other places, they become self-sufficient in energy by installing solar panels on their roofs. The biggest barrier to children being raised in the Auckland CBD is the lack of schools – which could be fixed by a people-centred education policy.

Detroit

While John is motivated by concern for the poor, other anti-intensificationists have less savoury motivations. “Big cities” are something, for these people, which happen in other countries. Auckland, to them, is something like a cancer or a parasite on the country, and should never have been allowed to grow to its giant sprawling size (and certainly not with such ethnic diversity!)

Some of them even suggest deliberately letting it run down and become uninhabitable, provoking a Detroit-style exodus to the other centres or the regions. This kind of ruralist or small town mythology makes one remember Karl Marx’s comment about the “idiocy of rural life” – by which he did not mean stupidity, but self-absorbed parochialism.

Ecosocialism concentrates on quality of life as well as income for working people. “Agglomeration benefits” – the economic, cultural and environmental benefits of concentrating and enhancing the central areas of large cities – are very real. Although some will always prefer a suburban big back-yard lifestyle, the cultural benefits of living in a teeming, vibrant, culturally rich community should be open to all working people of Aotearoa/New Zealand. This is the future that the “Remuera brigade” (you’d say Thorndon or Fendalton in other cities, I suppose) hate and fear.

When they “cleared” Freeman’s Bay and Newton in the 1960s, they told the working-class and Pasifika residents that they’d never miss their old “slums” in their brand new houses in far-away Mangere and Otara. We can see how that turned out – economic apartheid, auto-dependent isolation, and a downward spiralling local economy leading to crime. It’s time to put an end to economic apartheid, and bring working people back into the centre of our urban life and culture – where they belong. The only way we can all fit sustainably is by growing our cities upwards.

A national hui on the state housing crisis will be held in Auckland on February the 21st.
Register at statehousinghui@gmail.com
[
Facebook event]

Thousands march against climate change

Flood Wall Street

Flood Wall Street

Article by Bronwen Beechey (Fightback/MANA Owairaka).

The largest demonstration to date against climate change was held in New York City on September 21.

The march was part of a global day of action held before a United Nations climate change summit in New York on September 23. Among the estimated 400,000 who attended were indigenous people from the US, Canada and Latin America, students, unions and representatives of communities affected by fracking.

The marchers stopped for a moment of silence to honour those who have already died around the world as a result of catastrophes linked to global warming. The entire crowd then erupted in a tremendous roar to literally sound the alarm, accompanied by the 26 marching bands that took part blaring their instruments. It was directed at the heads of state and governments that have repeatedly failed to address the problem.

The march was initiated by 350.org and other groups on the activist wing of the environmental movement, but as the momentum grew, more conservative groups like the Sierra Club endorsed the march.  The march was also built extensively through social media activist groups such as Avaaz and NZ’s Action Station.

One of the groups in the US that initiated the march, and was a central organising force, was System Change Not Climate Change (SCNCC). A coalition of socialist groups and individual radicals,  SCNCC targets capitalism as the cause of climate change and advocate socialism as the only long-term solution.. The role played by SCNCC in organising the march and its acceptance as part of the broader environmental movement marks an important step forward. The impact of the recession, the Occupy movement that targeted the wealthy “1%” and implicitly capitalism itself, and the obvious role of big corporations as destroyers of the environment, has made many realise that capitalism is to blame.

According to US socialist Barry Shepherd, writing for Green Left Weekly : “This was a truly grass-roots march, not a top-down affair. The march organisers from different environmental groups encouraged everyone to bring their own banners and literature, and raise their own concerns. The result was that all aspects of the problem of climate change were expressed.”

The day after the march, around 1000 people took part in a sit-in in Wall Street that was explicitly anti-capitalist. The action was called “Flood Wall Street”, referring to the flooding of the area that happened following Hurricane Sandy last year.  Around 100 people, including one dressed in a polar bear suit and three in wheelchairs, were arrested after blockading the street for eight hours.

Solidarity actions also took place in other cities in the US, and around the world, with an estimated 40,000 in London and 30,000 in Melbourne. In Auckland, several hundred people turned out despite miserable weather and the disappointment of the previous day’s election result.

Unsurprisingly, the UN summit produced little in the way of any action on climate change. However, the numbers protesting shows that more and more ordinary people are prepared to act, and that many are recognising that stopping climate change will mean changing the system.

“No socialism on a dead planet”: Ecosocialism, an overview

Piha banners on beaches action against deep-sea oil drilling.

Piha banners on beaches action against deep-sea oil drilling.

By Bronwen Beechey – from notes made for a talk to the Fightback Capitalism: Not Our Future conference, Wellington, NZ, June 2014

Why ecosocialism? For most socialists the reasons are pretty obvious. To quote Alexandre Costa, a Marxist and Professor of Atmospheric Science in Brazil:

“We insist that seeking answers to the central question of the ecological crisis in general (and in particular the climate crisis) is crucial to the struggle of the working classes and the poor in the 21st century. After all, the fight to avoid a catastrophic outcome to this crisis engendered by capitalism is the fight to safeguard the material conditions for survival with dignity of humankind. … Socialism is not possible on a scorched Earth.”

However, not all socialists are convinced by this, and it would be fair to say that many environmental activists are suspicious of socialism, with some justification. It has become obvious to many that neo-liberal capitalism and environmental destruction go hand in hand. But the mainstream environmental movement, and most Green parties, including NZ’s, are only challenging the worst aspects of capitalism, believing that some form of “greening” capitalism is possible. Ecosocialism has developed as an alternative to the mainstream environmental movement’s emphasis on “greenwashing”, middle-class consumer activism and acceptance of the profit motive.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. While we bicker, the global environment is in crisis. In the last few weeks, it has been reported that according to two independent studies by climate scientists, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is losing twice as much ice now as the last time it was surveyed, and its collapse may now be irreversible. It would cause a sea level rise of three metres. This is a climate tipping point – a critical point in the Earth’s system that when crossed, will mean the climate can spiral out of control, beyond the point of no return. This doesn’t mean it is all over. It does mean we have irreversibly and dangerously changed the climate, and that we, and future generations, will live with the consequences.

Marx and Engels: green before it was cool

Ecosocialism is not so much a “revision” of Marxist theory as a reinstatement of elements that have previously been downplayed or ignored. In the words of British ecosocialist Derek Wall, “unlike 20th century interpretations of socialism, ecosocialism places Marx at the centre of its analysis.”

While Karl Marx and his collaborator Frederick Engels are famous for their analysis of capitalism and call for social revolution, they are far less known for their ecological thinking, which held that capitalism inevitably tears apart the natural conditions that sustain life.

This can be seen from Engels’ early concern with river pollution and his analysis in The Condition of the English Working Class of how industrial pollution harmed workers, right through to Marx’s writings at the end of his life where he plunged into the study of indigenous societies.

Marx’s two most important ecological insights were “the treadmill of production” and “the metabolic rift”. The treadmill of production refers to capital’s impulse to unlimited expansion, its relentless drive to increase profits, regardless of the ecosphere’s natural limits.

In nature, there is no such thing as waste. Nature is a circular system where everything is recycled. This is the opposite of capitalism’s linear, treadmill economy, which overloads natural systems with ever-growing amounts of waste products: waste gases into the sky, waste pollutants into water, and waste chemicals and toxins into the soil.

The metabolic rift refers to Marx’s theory that capitalist production for profit creates a sharp break in what Marx called the metabolism — the crucial interdependency of nature and human society. Marx arrived at this conclusion from his research into how industrial agriculture tended to reduce fertility, depriving the soil and the workers of nourishment and sustenance.

But Marx also understood the concept of the metabolic rift on a global scale, as colonies in the global South had their natural resources and soil fertility plundered to support Western capitalist development — an imperialist project that continues today.

Healing this rift and building a truly sustainable society was a central goal in Marx’s vision of a democratic socialist future. In the third volume of Capital he said:

“Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the Earth. They are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations as boni patres familias [good heads of the household].”

Engels, in The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man, said that capitalism helped destroy the natural world because “in relation to nature, as to society, the present mode of production is predominantly concerned only about the immediate, the most tangible result”.

Another important concept of Marx’s was that of democratic property rights, the commons. Communities, including indigenous and peasant farmers, have collectively regulated resources including land, forests and fisheries for thousands of years. Under capitalism. these resources were seized for private ownership and exploited for profit, resulting in waste and destruction.

Derek Wall has written extensively about how the concept of “the commons” provides the basis for an alternative, ecological economy that is democratic, resource-efficient, decentralised and sustainable. He says:

“To me, ecosocialism is about defending, extending and deepening commons. Cyberspace is to a large extent commons. The wiki principle is commons. Collective, creative solutions are possible. While commons work at a community level, with the web we can nest commons and use wiki principles to democratically plan regional, national and international economies.”

The movement and the problem today

However, it is with good reason that French Marxist Michael Lowy has said the “ecological question … poses the major challenge to a renewal of Marxist thought”. Typically, Marxists in the 20th century, even of the anti-Stalinist variety, held to a “productivist” vision of change, whereby increasing the level of the productive forces inherited from capitalism was considered the path to social progress. Technology was wrongly assumed to be class-neutral, rather than historically and socially determined.

This history makes the concept of ecosocialism doubly important. Canadian ecosocialist Ian Angus has said that “ecosocialism begins with a critique of its two parents, ecology and Marxism.” It seeks to combine the best insights of ecology, which says human actions can undermine the basis of life, with Marxism’s critique of capitalism — a system based on the dual exploitation of labour and nature.

Published in 1962, Rachel Carson’sSilent Spring is often hailed as the inspiration for the contemporary ecology and environmental movement. Carson’s work demonstrated that synthetic pesticides widely used in agriculture could cause cancer and that their agricultural use was a threat to wildlife, particularly to birds. Years after Carson’s death in 1964, the use of DDT and other pesticides was banned in the US. The first Earth Day was held in the US in 1970. Since then, governments and international bodies have been forced to place environmental issues on their agendas.

In New Zealand, the modern environmental movement started in the late 1960’s with the campaign to save Lake Manapouri, and continued with successful campaigns against nuclear power and visits by nuclear warships, preventing logging of native forests, and halting the growing of genetically engineered food crops. More recently, there have been campaigns against proposals to open up national parks to mining exploration and against deep sea oil. The New Zealand environmental movement was responsible for the formation of the Values Party, one of the first political parties to campaign on around environmental issues, and later the Green Party.

The environmental movement that grew in the late 1960s was part of the radicalisation of young people that included challenged many aspects of capitalism – war, racism, sexism and so on. Many of these activists became part of a growing socialist movement, and these young ecosocialists struggled against the regressive ideas which sometimes emerge in ecological thought.

For example, many of the writings that helped spur the early environmental movement, such as The Limits to Growth and the Population Bomb, saw population growth, particularly in underdeveloped countries, as the cause of environmental destruction. This argument has been around since Thomas Malthus published An Essay on the Principles of Population in 1798 and is one of the fundamental points of difference between ecosocialism and other forms of environmentalism. Barry Commoner’s 1971 book, The Closing Circle, was a left-wing rebuttal of populationist arguments, arguing that capitalist technologies, rather than population pressures, were responsible for environmental degradation.

In 1979, Australian Marxist Alan Roberts published The Self-Managing Environment, which suggested that consumerism was fuelled by people’s unfulfilled needs. Derek Wall, in an interview in 2011, credits this book as being his first introduction to ecosocialist ideas. A key development in the 1980s was the creation of the journal Capitalism, Nature, Socialism with the first issue in 1988, and still published today.

The 1990s saw two socialist feminists, Mary Mellor and Ariel Salleh,address environmental issues within an eco-socialist and feminist framework. Both posited a materialist form of ecofeminism which showed how women’s unpaid reproductive and domestic labour was an essential part of maintaining capitalism, rather than idealist versions of ecofeminism which projected an essentialist view of women as being “closer to nature” due to their role as childbearers.

From the 1990s onward, ecosocialists engaged enthusiastically with the growing anti-globalisation movements of the global South, which later spread to the metropolitan centres of the North with mass protests at meetings of the World Trade Organisation, World Bank and IMF. These protests combined ecological awareness and social justice, focusing particularly on the effect of globalisation on the poor and workers.

In 2001, Joel Kovel, a social scientist, psychiatrist and former candidate for the US Green Party Presidential nomination in 2000, and Michael Löwy, an anthropologist and member of the Trotskyist Fourth International, released An ecosocialist manifesto, which has been adopted by some organisationsand suggests possible routes for the growth of eco-socialist consciousness.

The manifesto states:

“We believe that the present capitalist system cannot regulate, much less overcome, the crises it has set going. It cannot solve the ecological crisis because to do so requires setting limits upon accumulation—an unacceptable option for a system predicated upon the rule: Grow or Die!”

In 2007, the Ecosocialist International Network was founded in Paris. The meeting attracted more than 60 activists from Europe, Latin America, the US, Canada, the UK and Australia. A committee was set up by the Paris conference to draft an ecosocialist declaration, which was signed by more than 400 individuals and organisations from around the world . It was distributed as part of the official launching of the Ecosocialist International Network at the World Social Forum in Belem, Brazil, in 2009.

The Belem Declaration, which issued from this conference, stated:

“Ecosocialism is grounded in a transformed economy founded on the non-monetary values of social justice and ecological balance. It criticizes both capitalist ‘market ecology’ and productivist socialism, which ignored the earth’s equilibrium and limits. It redefines the path and goal of socialism within an ecological and democratic framework.”

Here in NZ, ecosocialism was first adopted by Socialist Worker New Zealand. In 2009, the SW-NZ central committee collectively signed the Belem Declaration, and set up the Ecosocialism Aotearoa facebook group. In 2010, an issue of SW’s UNITY journal was dedicated to the theme of Ecosocialism, and in 2011 the organisation began the work of establishing a local Ecosocialist Network, just before it dissolved itself in 2012.

SW/NZ member Peter de Waal came up with the concept of the “PERIL syndrome”. PERIL here stands for five integrated crises that capitalism faces at the current time: crises of profitability, ecology, resources, imperialism, and legitimacy.

This combination of crises suggests that the global capitalist order is now fragile in a way it has not been since the Second World War. Some theorists – like the New Zealand socialist Grant Morgan or the Russian-American Dmitry Orlov – have gone as far as to argue that global capitalism is doomed to collapse within a few decades.

However, ecosocialism doesn’t necessarily hold to this apocalyptic scenario. Whether globalised capitalism is sustainable – and what social order or orders might replace it – is a question which has an objective as well as a subjective factor. The crises mean that the global order must change and compensate – but the balance of class forces will determine exactly how that comes about. Building a fightback against capitalism is vital to ensure that the 99% don’t end up paying for the destruction caused by the 1%.

Actually existing ecosocialism

I want to finish by looking at the countries where ecosocialism is being put into practice – Bolivia, Venezuela and Cuba.

Following the election of Evo Morales to the presidency of Bolivia in 2005, a new constitution was drafted and adopted in 2009. It was the first constitution in the world to include environmental and socialist principles . In 2010, the government of Bolivia hosted the World People’s Conference on Climate Change in the city of Cochabamba. It was attended by around 30,000 people from 6 continents.

In December 2010, the Bolivian parliament passed the Law on the Rights of Mother Earth, in which Mother Earth (or Pachamama, in indigenous Andean cultures) is defined as “…the dynamic living system formed by the indivisible community of all life systems and living beings whom are interrelated, interdependent, and complementary, which share a common destiny”; adding that “Mother Earth is considered sacred in the worldview of Indigenous peoples and nations. It is the first piece of legislation in which the Earth is given a legal identity.

Speaking at the December 2009 Copenhagen climate summit, the late Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, said: “If the climate were one of the biggest capitalist banks, the rich governments would have saved it.” Under the leadership of Chavez, the Venezuelan government took a number of important environmental steps, including the provision at no cost of energy-efficient light bulbs to all households, and using oil revenue to massively expand the rail system in Caracas. Another important green initiative was Misión Arbol, which in 2007 aimed to collect in five years 30 tons of seeds, plant 100 million plants, and reforest 150,000 hectares of land. When I went to Venezuela in 2011 as part of a solidarity tour, we visited a large organic city farm in the centre of Caracas that is situated on the former carpark of the Hilton Hotel.

In April this year, Chavez’s successor as president, Nicolas Maduro, announced additional funding of Bs40m (around $A6.75m) for Mission Arbol to continue its work, and a new education program, named amed the “Hugo Chavez National School of Eco-socialist Leaders”, will teach volunteers how to better care for the environment.

In the Worldwide Fund for Nature’s 2007 report, Cuba was the only country listed as having an ecologically sustainable economy. Cuba was faced with a crisis in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union deprived it of its oil supplies. According to Cuban permaculturist Roberto Perez, “We needed to live as best as possible with less energy and resources. We learned to do a lot of things with almost nothing.”

Food production was transformed to a low-input and environmentally friendly system which included organic farming, urban agriculture and permaculture. Industries that were not energy efficient were dismantled; workers in those industries were moved to other sectors or paid their previous salary to study. In parts of the country energy was produced from bagasse, the biomass left after the processing of sugar cane. Even after the Venezuelan revolution provided Cuba with reasonably priced oil, the commitment to a sustainable energy policy continues.

I am not claiming that things are perfect in those countries. But if these small countries, still suffering from the effects of colonialism and exploitation, can achieve these things, imagine what could be achieved in the so-called advanced countries if the same commitment by governments existed. What these countries have in common is a system that puts people and planet before profit.