Disaster Environmentalism

The People and Nature blog has just published three really thought proving articles.

The first ‘Disaster environmentalism looking the future in the face’ takes a critical look at recent writing by Rupert Read, Jem Bendell and others that argues that civilisational collapse as a result of climate change is inevitable and for approaches to dealing with collapse that require ‘deep adaptation’.

The second ‘Disaster environmentalism: roads to a post-growth economy’ is a contribution to the debate on Degrowth.   It argues that ‘“Economic growth”, as manifested by global capitalism, is completely unsustainable. “Green growth”, or “socialist growth”, are no substitutes. Our challenge to the economic system must open the way for a society based on human happiness and fulfillment, values completely at odds with – and distorted and defaced by – the rich-country consumerist ideology that helps to justify ever-expanding material production’.

The final post ‘Disaster environmentalism: what to do’ explores the political implications of the positions outlined in the first two posts and takes a sharp look at the politics and practice of social change.

Taken together the three posts are an important contribution to debate in the climate movement and recommended reading for climate activists.

Typhoon Ondoy Aftermath

Typhoon Ondoy Aftermath CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A Planet to Win

Pete Cannell reviews a new book from Verso – ‘A planet to win: why we need a green new deal’.

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A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal

Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, Daniel Aldana Cohen and Thea Riofrancos

Verso 2019

A You Gov Blue poll of US voters in March 2019 found that 59% supported the idea of a Green New Deal.  ‘A Planet to Win – Why We Need a Green New Deal’ is a highly readable explanation of what the Green New Deal represents and the challenges that have to be overcome to implement it.  The book focuses on what needs to be done in the US over the next decade (a small quibble – some references to the UK are not entirely accurate) but it’s highly recommended for a UK audience.  Not least because the authors are absolutely clear about the necessity for system change.  They share the view expressed by Naomi Klein in the introduction that ‘The promise of the Green New Deal is that climate crisis is an opportunity to build a better world’.

The authors believe that radical change is essential and that such change ‘only happens when millions of people are organizing, striking and marching, shaping politics and the economy from below’.  They argue that the transition to a sustainable economy has to be driven by mass action, contesting power and ending social inequality.  They are also clear-eyed about the challenges that we face in building such a movement.  They situate the Green New Deal in the context of more than 40 years of neo-liberalism when living standards for many Americans have been at best stagnant and during which inequality has grown.  Moreover, they take on the issues of power in society.  Understanding that big business will be as vicious in defence of the status quo as they have been in attacking the US Labour Movement.  They argue that there are two essential tasks.  Breaking down the divide between the labour and climate movements and at the same time rebuilding the strength, vitality and combativity of the former.  Most of the book is devoted to providing arguments that will convince trade unionists of the necessity for action and more generally to win the movement to an understanding that collective action rather than individual sacrifice is what is required in the face of an existential crisis.

UK readers may be less familiar with the original New Deal.  The Great Depression had a devastating impact on the US economy with many millions thrown out of work.  The New Deal was a programme of public works, reforms and regulations that aimed to put people back to work.  It was implemented on a mass scale. “Workers hired under the Works Progress Administration constructed 651,000 miles of highway … 125,000 public buildings including 41,300 schools, and 469 airports.  They built 8,000 parks and 18,000 playgrounds and athletics fields.”  And it was popular.  The authors of ‘A Planet to Win’ understand that the New Deal was designed to save capitalism not to bury it.  However, they make use of it to illustrate how rapid action on a massive scale is possible.  The history of the New Deal also informs their emphasis on job creation and job guarantees that extend far beyond workers in the carbon based industries.  Indeed they stress that it was about social reproduction as well as production and argue that in the 21stcentury jobs in care, health and education are critical to a just transition.

Perhaps the best thing about this book is its relentless focus on the politics of climate action and the need for climate justice.  It rejects strategies that ignore the need to address social inequality and simply rely on technical fixes.  It argues that we need systemic change.  The technology exists, what’s needed is the political will to push change through in a short period of time.  Here the book is at its’ weakest.  I think this reflects a more general weakness of the socialist left.  Recognising the need for radical democracy and rebuilding collective organisation and the collective power of the working class is necessary.  The book is good on this.  Recognising that big business and the giant energy corporations have to be brought to book is also critical and again the authors are clear about this.  What’s less clearly articulated is the role of the state in relation to capital.  The US Green New Deal is radical and takes on board race and gender in a way that the original New Deal did not.  In considering options for sustainability it recognises the impact on the global of additional demand for natural resources but it as primarily a national strategy.  It has little to say on the military industrial complex.  The US military has a huge carbon footprint.  If the Pentagon were a country it would be number 55 in the world for carbon emissions.  But even more critical to a strategy for system change the giant military corporations dominate the industrial economy, exert a stranglehold on research and development and monopolise skills and knowledge essential for transition.  Just like the energy companies their hold must be broken.

Quite rightly the authors of ‘A planet to win’ are critical of those who would like to cherry pick some elements of the Green New Deal while trying to maintain the status quo. They argue that the real fantasy is that half measures, preserving business as usual, can work.  An effective strategy implies a radical Green New Deal.

Whether we like it or not the global climate crisis is coincident with a global crisis of organisation on the left.  The nature of both crises is deeply influenced by the last four decades of neo-liberalism.   The urgency of the climate crisis presents unique challenges and opportunities. So for example, in the US, at the same time as public policy is set on a path of rapidly increasing fossil fuel production, the movement for a Green New Deal is growing rapidly.  For the first time in decades ‘socialism’ is back on the agenda.  This book is a valuable contribution to the first faltering steps to build out of the marginalisation of the left.   A different kind of economy is not only necessary it is possible.

This article was first posted on http://www.rs21.org.uk

 

 

 

‘Climate jobs, just transition and building a movement with social justice at its heart’

A report from Pete Cannell on a recent ScotE3 workshop.

Back in June I facilitated a ScotE3 workshop on the Monday evening of the Extinction Rebellion Holyrood Rebel Camp.  The workshop was titled ‘Climate jobs, just transition and building a movement with social justice at its heart’.

Around 30 of us squashed together under a gazebo on a bright but chilly summer’s evening.  There was an excellent discussion looking critically at what we mean by Just Transition and how we can make social justice more than just a distant aspiration.  The rest of this post is an attempt to capture some of the content of the workshop.

I framed the discussion by explaining the origins of ScotE3 as a collective of rank and file trade unionists and climate activists in Scotland looking to develop the movement for a just transition.   I explained that while ‘just transition’ is a contested term, ScotE3 has taken inspiration from several sources; initially from the campaign for a million climate jobs, from the grassroots campaigns in working class and indigenous communities in the US and from the Lucas plan campaigners; more recently from the BiFab workers, the school student strikes and the urgency injected by XR.  We see climate jobs, social justice and grass roots democracy as the key to just transition and also as central to building the social movement we require to avoid catastrophic climate change.

In the group we discussed the difference between ‘climate jobs’ and ‘green jobs’. Climate jobs are jobs that lead directly to cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.  So for example, workers building and maintaining offshore wind farms replace power stations that burn coal, oil or gas; bus drivers reduce the amount of oil burnt in cars.

We also discussed what is meant by just transition.  It can be a slippery concept because governments, unions and climate activists all use it.  I argued that its value comes from the way it has been used by working class climate rebels who have made it much more than just a vague aspiration. So to be useful just transition and social justice need to inform the demands we make, the priorities we organise for and the nature of the social movement we build.  It is about protecting the individuals and communities whose livelihoods currently depend on the carbon economy.   But it’s not just a conservative demand; it’s also about ensuring that the new sustainable economy is egalitarian, democratic and reflects the diversity of Scotland in the twenty first century.

Thanks to all the participants in the workshop for their contributions and questions.

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Image – Pete Cannell Flickr CC0