“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.

Deep sea drilling: The spirit of Mururoa?

pigs 4 deep sea oil

By Bronwen Beechey, Fightback (Auckland).

In June 1973, the NZ Labour government sent two Navy frigates to the Pacific atoll of Mururoa to formally protest against France’s testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere. The Spirit of Peace, the Fri and the Vega, also sailed to Mururoa to observe the tests. Photographs of French sailors boarding the Vega and assaulting its skipper were published around the word. In November of that year, France announced that it would conduct all further nuclear testing underground.

Forty years after that partial victory, the Vega sailed to an area 185km from Raglan to protest at deep sea oil drilling in NZ waters. The US oil giant Anadarko had been granted a permit for exploratory drilling in waters up to 1600 metres deep, with an untested drilling ship. The Vega was part of the Oil Free Seas flotilla, which was also protesting the “Anadarko amendment” rushed through parliament last May, which prohibits protesting at sea within 500 metres of an oil rig or drill ship illegal. While five of the six vessels of the Oil Free Seas flotilla stayed outside the 500-metre limit, the Vega remained on the drilling site for seven days. No action to move the Vega was taken.

In support of the flotilla, thousands gathered at West Coast beaches with banners expressing opposition to deep sea drilling. In a November poll run by the NZ Herald, a paper with a generally conservative readership, 2803 opposed deep sea drilling compared to 1305 in favour. In a TVNZ online poll conducted in response to the Oil Free Seas protest, 80% supported the flotilla’s actions. But in contrast with the protests at Mururoa, the Oil Free Seas flotilla did not have the support of the Labour Party. Leader David Cunliffe declared that Labour was “not opposed in principle” to offshore oil drilling.

The Oil Free Seas protest flotilla left the drilling area on November 26, at the same time as Greenpeace filed papers at the High Court requesting a judicial review of Anadarko’s permit to drill, on the grounds that the company had not released its Emergency Response Plan, or spill modelling showing the possible impact of an oil spill, to NZ’s Environmental Protection Authority. Anadarko only provided a summary version of its discharge management plan and contingency plans to the EPA.

The High Court challenge was dismissed on the basis that under the recent Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf Act, the Environmental Protection Authority is responsible for assessing the environmental impacts of drilling before issuing a marine consent. But the environmental assessment excludes consideration of detailed plans for responding to an oil spill – that responsibility rests with Maritime NZ.  Justice Alan Mackenzie found the EPA had applied the new law correctly, as its role was “limited to assessing whether the application contains information about the required matters”, and its decision was “essentially administrative”.

Shortly before Christmas, 1800 pages of documents supporting Anadarko’s drilling applications were released under the Official Information Act in response to a request lodged in November by Greenpeace. Among them was Anadarko’s contingency plan in the event of an uncontrollable spill. In this “worst case scenario” where a blowout could not be contained and the drillship would have to be evacuated, it would take at least 35 days to cap the well, as equipment for a capping stack would have to be sourced from Peterhead, Scotland (a service centre for the North Sea oil fields), flown to Singapore for assembly, and then shipped to New Zealand. In the meantime, oil would be spilling into the Tasman Sea at the rate of 12,000 barrels a day. (In a spill model released by Greenpeace last year, the estimate was 10,000 barrels a day. That model was described by Prime Minister John Key as “scaremongering” and by Petroleum Exploration and Production Association CEO David Robinson as “science fiction”.) The contingency plan was approved by Maritime NZ.

The oil spill from the cargo ship Rena, which ran aground in the Bay of Plenty in 2011, was the equivalent of 2500 barrels. An inquiry following that disaster, which caused widespread death of wildlife and seriously affected the fishing and tourist industries in the area, found that Maritime NZ’s response was inadequate, largely due to lack of funding, lack of skills and experience and lack of suitable equipment.

Government and industry spokespeople have been quick to claim that a spill of the magnitude projected in the documents would be extremely unlikely. But we have seen the results of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in which vast quantities of oil poured into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days before the spill was capped. (Anadarko, as a quarter share investor in the well, was found jointly liable and recently agreed to pay BP $5.5 billion as part of the legal settlement). The Deepwater Horizon was drilling in 1500 metres of water, shallower than the proposed drilling site off NZ. The catastrophic effects of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill are still taking their toll on wildlife and residents in the area.

But this can be prevented. Opposition to offshore drilling led by Greenpeace and Maori chased Petrobas from NZ waters in 2012. And the campaign against deep sea oil drilling is set to continue. The National government has granted five more exploration permits to Anadarko and other big oil companies, including Shell, to drill for oil and natural gas off Northland, Taranaki, Canterbury and Otago. And, under draft regulations to accompany the EEZ Act, deep-sea drilling will become a “non-notified activity” – meaning that oil companies will be able to undertake deep-sea drilling without notifying the public that it intends to do so or giving the public a chance to scrutinise its plans. If this is adopted, it will have obvious implications for other dangerous activities such as fracking, and for proposed projects such as plans by Canadian company TAG to drill near Mt Taranaki, a site of great significance to Maori.

Already opposition is gearing up. On January 10, opponents to the TAG project held a noisy protest outside the company’s New Plymouth offices. A hikoi to Waitangi opposing drilling in Te Reinga Basin is planned for February. An Oil Free Summit held in Dunedin on the weekend of 11-12 January established a “rapid response team” of 260 vessels prepared to take to the waters around Otago to hinder Anadarko’s operations.
In the 1970s and 1980s, peace squadrons like this took to the waters to protest against visiting US nuclear warships. They inspired actions on-shore – including political campaigns for local councils to declare themselves nuclear-free, and industrial action by workers. When the USS Truxton sailed into Wellington harbour, seafarers on the Interislander ferries went on strike and wharfies walked off the job to join huge anti-nuclear protests. Even the cleaners at the US Embassy went on strike.

A similar mass movement to oppose investment in fossil fuels, call for investments in alternative fuel sources, and defend our democratic rights to protest and to be informed of proposed development, will be needed to counter the government’s drive for profit at the expense of safety and the environment.

The climate crisis

Philippines climate justice protest

Philippines climate justice protest

By Wei Sun (Fightback, Christchurch)

World production and consumption have been increasing rapidly in recent decades due to global ‘westernization’. While socially this can mean a higher standard of living for many in the developing world, the results are mostly negative on the local, national and global natural environment. For example, global transportation has increased the consumption of fossil energy, causing an increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which has in turn increased the warming of Earth’s climate.

Investors want returns on their investment, so capitalism requires growth; a drive towards increased production and expansion into other ‘markets’ necessitates increased use of energy and natural resources. Greenhouse gas emissions are treated as an externality, not factored in to a firms expenses.

Figure 1

Figure 1

This graph (figure 1) shows the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, measured in parts per million (PPM) Scientists now agree with 97% certainty that concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses are the cause for increasing temperatures. For about 900 years, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere remained relatively stable, but there is a rapid increase following the industrial revolution. CO2 in the atmosphere grew from approximately 270ppm to 390ppm between 1900 and 2000, a 44% increase. This trend appears to be increasing, with CO2 recently reaching 400ppm. This has massive negative effects beyond just warmer weather.

Figure 2

Figure 2

Looking at this graph (figure 2), we can see that the frequency of natural disasters such as drought, extreme temperatures, famine, flood, insect infestation, landslides, wild fires and wind storms had been relatively stable for centuries, but began increasing slowly from 1900 to 1960, and then started rising rapidly. Within only 40 years, from 1960 to 2000, the number of disasters per year went up from around 30 to 425, that is an increase of more than 14 times. Much of the increase in the number of events reported is probably due to significant improvements in information access and also due to population growth, but the number of floods and cyclones being reported is still rising compared to earthquakes, which could not be affected by the climate.

figure 3

Figure 3

According to a case study from the Himalayas in India, a glacier will advance in a healthy climate and retreat in response to a warmer climate. Before being affected by climate change, glacier length records were at maximum from around 1700 to 1825, and then began to decline. As we can see in the graph (figure 3) there is a massive retreat from approximately 1825 to 2000. Alarmingly, this trend seems to be continuing. According to the latest studies, the average glacier thickness loss is approximately 30% from 1976 to 2012.

The loss of mass from glaciers contributes to increasing sea levels, along with melting polar ice. Sea level increased approximately 20cm from 1880 to 2000. This puts low-lying countries at risk, particularly island nations. Oceanic acidity increases as the water warms, affecting the delicate balance of ocean dynamics, and putting ecosystems at high risk.

According to the Ministry for the Environment, the likely impacts of climate change on New Zealand include higher temperatures, though likely to be less than the global average, rising sea levels, changes in rainfall pattern (higher rainfall in the west and less in the east) and more frequent extreme weather events such as droughts (especially in the east) and floods.

Agricultural productivity is expected to increase in some areas although others will run the risk of drought and the further spread of pests; forests and vegetation may grow faster, but native ecosystems could be invaded by exotic species. It is likely that there would be costs associated with changing land-use activities to suit a new climate; undoubtedly the costs of this shift will be passed onto to consumers at the supermarket. People are likely to enjoy the benefits of warmer winters with fewer frosts, but hotter summers will bring increased risks of heat stress and subtropical diseases.

Drier conditions in some areas are likely to be coupled with the risk of more frequent extreme events such as floods, droughts and storms, rising sea levels will increase the risk of erosion and saltwater intrusion, increasing the need for coastal protection and glaciers are expected to retreat and change water flows in major South Island Rivers.

People are aware of the dangers ahead, which is why at the end of November thousands of people protested against deep sea oil drilling on beaches across Aotearoa. Deep sea oil drilling has additional problems as well. While it may be too late to stop the planet warming by up to two degrees, it’s not too late to prevent further warming. That can be done though social movements like those behind the Banners on Beaches protests. Social movements needs to align themselves with those who will be affected the most by climate change, who tend to be among the world’s most oppressed, people like Ioane Teitiota who recently attempted unsucessfully to become the first climate change refugee, or those affected by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. These movements can be most effective by targeting the structural causes of climate change, which lie in our economic system.

See also

Philippines’ Typhoon Haiyan crisis: For climate justice now! Fight, don’t be afraid! Makibaka! Huwag Matakot!

Statement by the Partido Lakas ng Masa (Party of the Labouring Masses, PLM). Reprinted from Links: International Journal of Socialist Renewal.

November 10, 2013 — Partido Lakas ng Masa — The people are still reeling from the impacts of possibly the biggest typhoon to strike the country. Death toll numbers are rising rapidly. There is massive devastation. Many are still trying to contact their relatives, friends and comrades, but communication systems are down, in the hardest hit areas. How should we, as socialists, respond to the crisis?

First, we have to support and take whatever measures are necessary to protect the people. This means all measures that bring the people immediate relief. In the hardest hit city of Tacloban, in South Eastern Visayas, the people are already taking what food and relief supplies that they need from the malls. The media reports this as looting and the break-down of law and order.

But we say: let our people live. This is not “looting”. People are taking food, where they can get it, in order to survive. If there is no timely and organised support system from government, people just have to do it themselves and they should organise themselves to do it more effectively. Even some grocery owners understand the need for this. According to one report of a man who broke into a grocery store, “The owner said we can take the food, but not the dried goods. Our situation is so dismal. We have deaths in our family. We need to save our lives. Even money has no use here now.” Where possible, PLM will assist them to organise to take over food supplies and necessary relief goods.

Then there’s the issue of the government response. Our experience has been that it has always been too slow and inadequate. Any efforts are undermined by corruption. The exposure of the organised plunder by the political elite and sections of government, of development funds or “pork barrel” funds meant for the people, is a testimony to this. This outraged the country and brought almost half a million people out in to the streets in a massive show of protest on August 26 this year. While one plunderer has been arrested, the president has not responded decisively to clean up the system.

The public funds plundered by the elite should have been used for preventative measures to support the people weather these disasters: for infrastructure, including better sea walls and communication infrastructure; for early warning systems; for well constructed and therefore safe public housing, to replace huts and shacks built out of dried leaves and cardboard; for health and education; for equipment and personnel for rapid emergency response, and the list is endless. But no, this was not the case, it was eaten up by the greed of the elite classes.

Unfortunately, we have no reason to believe that the government and the system will deliver and meet the needs of the people this time round either. The self-interest of the elite, and their control of the government and the system that is designed to perpetuate their interests, through the plunder of the people’s assets and resources, renders the entire set-up futile in the face of a disaster on this scale.

Then there are our international “allies”, such as the United States government, who have sent us their best wishes. But these “allies”, so-called, are also responsible for the situation faced by our people. These typhoons are part of the climate crisis phenomenon faced by the world today. Super Typhoon Haiyan (referred to as Yolanda in the Philippines) was one of the most intense tropical cyclones at landfall on record when it struck the Philippines on November 7. Its maximum sustained winds at landfall were pegged at 195 mph with gusts above 220 mph. Some meteorologists even proclaimed it to be the strongest tropical cyclone at landfall in recorded history. Haiyan’s strength and the duration of its category 5 intensity — the storm remained at peak category 5 intensity for an incredible 48 straight hours.

The still-increasing greenhouse gas emissions responsible for the climate crisis are disproportionately emitted by the rich and developed countries, from the US, Europe to Australia. For centuries, these rich, developed countries have polluted and plundered our societies, emitting too much greenhouse gases to satisfy their greed for profit. They have built countless destructive projects all over the world, like polluting factories, coal-fired power plants, nuclear power plants and mega dams. They have also pushed for policies allowing extractive industries to practice wasteful and irresponsible extraction of the Earth’s minerals. They continue to wage environmentally destructive wars and equip war industries, for corporate profits. All of this has fast tracked the devastation of the Earth’s ecological system and brought about unprecedented changes in the planet’s climate.

But these are the same rich countries whose political elite are ignoring climate change and the climate crisis. Australia has recently elected a government that denies the very existence of climate change and has refused to send even a junior minister to the climate conference in Warsaw, Poland. The question of climate justice –- for the rich countries to bear the burden of taking the necessary measures for stopping it and to pay reparations and compensate those in poorer countries who are suffering the consequences of it -– is not entertained even in a token way.

The way the rich countries demand debt payments from us, we now demand the payment of their “climate debts”, for climate justice and for them to take every necessary measure to cut back their greenhouse gas emission in the shortest time possible.

These rich “friends and allies”, so-called, have preached to us about our courage and resilience. But as many here have pointed out, resilience is not just taking all the blows with a smiling face. Resilience is fighting back. To be truly resilient we need to organise, to fight back and to take matters in to our own hands, from the relief efforts on the ground to national government and to challenging and putting an end to the capitalist system. This is the only way to ensure that we are truly resilient.

Makibaka, huwag matakot! Fight, don’t be afraid!

Email us at partidolakasngmasa@gmail.com if you can assist in anyway. Donations to those affected can be made via paypal on the Transform Asia website or donations can be sent to:

Transform Asia Gender and Labor Institute
Account No. 304-2-304004562
Swift Code: MBTCPHMM
Metrobank, Anonas Branch Aurora Blvd., Project 4
Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines
Email: transform.asia1@gmail.com
Mobile/cell ph no. +63(0)9088877702]

Bid for recognition of first official climate change refugee

Inhabitants of Kiritimati coral atoll building a stone seawall in their struggle against rising seas

Inhabitants of Kiritimati coral atoll building a stone seawall in their struggle against rising seas

Ioane Teitiota is currently appealing a High Court decision that refused him refugee status on the basis of climate change predictions. Teitiota came to New Zealand from the Pacific island of Kiribati in 2007 on a work visa that has recently expired. He has three children in New Zealand and argues that returning to Kiribati would endanger his family;

“There’s no future for us when we go back to Kiribati,” he told the appeal tribunal, adding that a return would pose a risk to his children’s health. “Fresh water is a basic human right … the Kiribati government is unable, and perhaps unwilling, to guarantee these things because it’s completely beyond their control”.

His lawyer Michael Kitt told the New Zealand Herald that the case had the potential to set an international precedent, not only for Kiribati’s 100,000 residents but for all populations threatened by climate change. According to the London-based Environmental Justice Foundation, around 26 million people worldwide have had to migrate due to the effects of climate change. It predicts that this figure could go up to 150 million by 2050.

Teitota’s application for refugee status was originally denied by immigration authorities arguing that he could not be considered a refugee because no one in his homeland was threatening his life if he returned. Kitt countered by arguing that the environment in Kiribati was effectively a threat to Teitiota and his children who will have to return with him if he is deported.

Rising ocean levels on Kiribati are contaminating drinking water and killing crops, as well as flooding homes.

The threat is real- the government has even gone so far as buying a large area of land in Fiji to relocate the entire population. “We would hope not to put everyone on one piece of land, but if it became absolutely necessary, yes, we could do it,” President Anote Tong told the Associated Press last year when his cabinet endorsed the plan.

Kitt told Australian media that the Pacific regions developed countries had a responsibility to help people displaced by climate change. “Australia and New Zealand are contributors to climate change because we have higher than average carbon dioxide emissions, it’s because of this problem that sea levels are rising.”

The right of migrant workers to free movement is essential not only for climate justice, but for social justice in the Pacific and worldwide.

A decision on Teitiota’s case is expected after we go to press. A follow up to this article will appear in our November issue.

See also:

The dangers of deep sea oil drilling

Anadarko New Zealand corporate affairs manager Alan Seay

Anadarko New Zealand corporate affairs manager Alan Seay

Byron Clark, Fightback.

Last month the government announced that nearly 434,000 square kilometres of land and ocean floor in New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone would be opened up for oil and gas exploration. The areas in include onshore areas in Taranaki, the East Coast and West Coast, and five offshore areas – Northland, Taranaki, the Pegasus-East Coast Basin, the Great South-Canterbury Basin, and the New Caledonia Basin northwest of New Zealand. This is in addition to many other areas already being explored.

“While exploration won’t necessarily be undertaken in all the blocks on offer, it’s important to find out what’s there and use the information to develop New Zealand’s untapped resource wealth,” said Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges, launching the 2014 block offer process, an annual permitting round allocating petroleum exploration permits.

The government is consulting with Iwi and local authorities but the ability of the general population to have an input on drilling permits has been restricted. Under an upcoming law change[i], drilling permits will be handled by the new Environmental Protection Agency, but are be “non-notified”, meaning members of the public would not get to have a say.

This change was introduced to the Marine Legislation Bill by way of a Supplementary Order Paper; meaning like so many controversial bills passed by this government it was not subject to a parliamentary select committee, where the public could make submissions. This follows the legislation dubbed the ‘Anadarko Amendment’ by environmental groups, named after the Texas based oil company that plans to start drilling in New Zealand waters sometime in the next five years. The amendment criminalises protesting at sea, which arguably played a role in Brazilian firm Petrobras abandoning plans to drill in New Zealand waters back in 2010.

Submissions on the Marine Legislation Bill, prior to the addition of supplementary order paper, were not without concern either. The Environment and Conservation Organisations of NZ, an alliance comprising fifty-five environmental groups, believes the legislation doesn’t go far enough in implementing international agreements around pollution.

New Zealand has not ratified the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage, which was adopted to ensure that adequate, prompt, and effective compensation is available to persons who suffer damage caused by spills of oil. Or the International Convention Relating to Intervention on the High Seas in Cases of Oil Pollution Casualties which affirms the right of states to “take such measures on the high seas as may be necessary to prevent, mitigate or eliminate grave and imminent danger to their coastline or related interests from pollution or threat of pollution of the sea by oil”.

While local laws and other conventions that New Zealand has signed contain measures for environmental protection, this information certainly raises questions about the risks of deep sea oil drilling. Some of the possible drilling areas are deeper than the location of the site of the 2010 BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which saw the equivalent of 4.9 million barrels of oil polluting the ocean.

Technology to cap an oil well has improved since 2010, but Radio New Zealand reported back in June that the equipment needed to cap an oil rig in New Zealand waters in the event of a spill would have to be shipped from the UK, taking approximately two weeks. Frank Macskasy writing on the Daily Blog calculated that would be enough time for 788,500 barrels of oil to spill into the ocean. To put that number in perspective, imagine sixty-five Olympic sized swimming pools filled with crude oil.

Oil is New Zealand’s fourth largest export (after dairy, meat and wool). Currently oil production last year was the lowest since 2008, though the general trend is toward increased production. “If you look at the figures over the last decade there’s been exponential growth” Simon Bridges told The New Zealand Herald last month.

Offshore drilling has become an increasingly attractive source of oil as onshore wells start to run low and the price reaches the point where the extra expenditure required can be justified. Declining  conventional oil production means the world is seeing increasing exploration of deep sea reserves, as well as practices such as hydraulic fracturing, an incredibly resource intense method of extracting oil from rocks.

‘Peak oil’ is a term that has entered the public consciousness in the last decade, though it is often misunderstood as meaning the point at which the world’s oil reserves run out. What it actually refers to is point where oil production peaks, and begins to decline.  Eventually, market forces would mean oil use is eclipsed by other forms of energy.

Of course, free markets don’t really exist outside of economics text books. Global public subsidies for fossil fuels were $523 billion in 2011 (compared to $88 billion for renewable energy). According to the World Wildlife Fund the New Zealand government is subsidising the oil and gas industry to the tune of $46 million per year (subsidies have doubled since National came to power).

Even if subsidies were to end, the market does not move fast enough for the climate. Earlier this year the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million, making at least a two degree increase in average global temperature a likelihood by end of the century. Last summer New Zealand had its worst drought in seventy years, followed by the warmest winter since record keeping began in 1909.

Climate change happens much slower than an oil spill, but will ultimately be more destructive. In the long term, the much touted economic gains from opening up New Zealand waters for oil drilling will pale in comparison to the costs of adapting to a warmer climate. But free market capitalism has never been a suitable system for long term economic planning. In the absence of a transition to a planned economy, capitalism, which has shown itself to be incredibly resilient, will likely survive climate change, but the world’s poor –those least responsible for it- will disproportionately suffer the consequences.

A transition needs to be made to a carbon neutral economy; the process that takes is a discussion beyond the scope of this article, but immediate goals would be the end of fossil fuel subsidies, and the divestment of funds supporting fossil fuels. The latter is a key campaign plank of 350 Aotearoa who are “calling on the NZ Super Fund, our KiwiSaver providers, banks, churches, the Government and more to divest our money from the fossil fuel industry”. The campaign has already had some success with church organisations. The Super Fund has over $440 million invested in fossil fuels.

350 Aotearoa asserts that “democracy in New Zealand is under threat,” and the sight of activists being arrested in the Taranaki basin would seem to demonstrate this.  However for hapu such as te Whanau a Apanui, whose direct relationship to the land and water is undermined by oil-drilling, capitalism has never been democratic. We must struggle not only against environmental destruction, but for community ownership and planning.

[i] As we go to press the bill has not yet passed into law, although it is expected to.

Wellington water crisis: Drought risk driven by capitalism


Cartoon contributed to Fightback by Cat Kane

by Ian Anderson

In mid-March 2013, Wellington City Council announced a water crisis. Nigel Wilson, chair of the region’s committee in charge of water supply, stated that Wellington, Porirua and the Hutt Valley had only 20 days of water left. From March 16th, the city announced a ban on outdoor water use by residents, with a $20,000 fine for violating – commercial users faced no restrictions.

This follows a regular pattern whereby the council focuses on curbing residential water usage, whether through attempts at residential metering or outright ban in this case. By implication, the council blames residents for any water shortages.

“Non-commercial” and domestic usage
The council generally estimates “non-commercial” usage at around 350 litres per person per day, around half of usage overall. However, “non-commercial” usage includes Council usage, theft, and leaks. Leaks are unaccounted in bulk purchases; in fact around 20% of water in Wellington is unaccounted, compared to a national average of about 10-15%.

Accurate estimates for domestic consumption can be found not in the council figures, but in the nationwide Quality of Life reports. Most recently, the Quality of Life Report ’07 found Wellington domestic consumption between 2001 and 2007 to be on average 170 litres per person per day, on par with other cities. This is less than half of the Wellington City Council’s estimates for “non-commercial” use.

By conflating various uses and misuses under “non-commercial,” this manipulation of statistics gives the misleading impression that residents consume over half of Wellington’s water. Proportionally, industrial users such as Preston’s Meatworks are the biggest users. [Read more…]

Bush fires and climate change

Grant BrookesBush fire

The bush fires ravaging Australia this summer could turn out to be the worst on record.
Public reaction on both sides of the Tasman has been full of humanitarian concern for the victims. Meanwhile, our leaders plough on with policies which will spread more disasters like these globally – including here in Aotearoa.

The fires have been sparked by record-breaking temperatures. “The current heatwave – in terms of its duration, its intensity and its extent – is unprecedented,” said David Jones from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. Temperatures at Sydney’s Observatory Hill have hit 45.8 oC – shattering the 1939 record by half a degree. In the South Australian town of Oodnadatta, it has been so hot that petrol evaporated at the pump, making it impossible for people to refill their cars.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she felt “overwhelmed by the bravery and stoicism that people are showing in such difficult circumstances” and promised disaster relief payments for the victims, even acknowledging that “as a result of climate change, we are going to see more extreme weather events”.  But she added only, “We live in a country that is hot and dry… so we live with this risk”.
There was no mention of climate policy. Under her government, Australia remains the highest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.

The story of the fires does not just concern Australia, however. The disasters also came less than two months after our own prime minister, John Key, announced that New Zealand would be pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change from the end of 2012.  [Read more…]

Pacific migration: Climate change and the reserve army of labour

Ian Anderson

Climate change hits different regions in different ways. An area scattered with low-lying atolls, the Pacific is particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise. Environmental migration must be a key consideration for socialists in this region.

Nations such as Tuvalu and Kiribati are already affected. Coastal erosion in Tuvalu, a nation comprised of atolls and reef islands, has already forced huge resettlement. Tuvalu has the second-lowest maximum elevation of any country, and it’s estimated that a sea-level rise of 20-40 centimetres could make it uninhabitable. By 2007, 3,000 Tuvaluans had resettled, most of them settling in Auckland. Kiribati is also vulnerable to sea-level rise and extreme weather events; less than a week before the Kyoto Protocol was signed, a “king tide” devastated coastal communities.

Global warming: Responsibility and consequences
Radical labour organiser Utah Phillips is quoted as saying, “The Earth isn’t dying, it’s being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses.” In this case the responsibility lies with the big polluters of imperialist nations, including Australia and New Zealand. With the exception of Nauru, which is subject to heavy phosphate mining by Australia, smaller Pacific nations emit far less carbon per capita than Australia and New Zealand.

While imperialist nations produce the bulk of emissions, the smaller nations of the Pacific will bear the brunt of anthropogenic climate change. As seen in Tuvalu and Kiribati, low-lying islands will be hit particularly hard. Along with sea level rise, climate change means health conditions such as heat exhaustion; depletion of fish stocks; and crop failure, in a region where many still live off the land. Oxfam Australia predicts up to 8 million climate refugees from the Pacific Islands, and 75 million climate refugees in the wider Asia-Pacific, over the next 40 years. [Read more…]

Does New Zealand need a population policy for the benefit of the environment?

This talk was originally given by Byron Clark at Marxism 2010, as part of a debate with John Robinson, a former academic who has researched and written on rising population.

A Few people here may be familiar with the enviornmental sociologist Allen Schnaiberg, Schnaiberg is the co-author of The Treadmill of Production: Injustice and Unsustainability in the Global Economy and a number of other works, tomorrow [June 6th] is the one year anniversary of his death and I would like to acknowledge the contributions he made to radical theory about society and the environment. Schnaiberg coined the term ‘populationism’ to describe the various movements aiming for a reduction in population, and wrote in his 1980 book ‘The Environment from Surplus to Scarcity’ that populationism is a social ideology that attributes social ills to the number of humans. While agreeing that there is of course a limit to the number of people the planet can hold, modern populationism and its historical precedents, says Schnaiberg are regressive, reactionary, and at times racist.

I’m going to talk about how the environmental destruction we are witnessing today, notably climate change, is not something we can attribute to ‘to many humans’ but something we can attribute to our social and economic system. Because of this, New Zealand does not need a population policy to benefit the environment, but can, with the right type of social change, sustain a much larger population.

[Read more…]