On fire this time

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By JOHN BELLAMY FOSTER*

Today, we have to create a new, more revolutionary moral equivalent of war; one that is directed not at raising an army to conquer the Earth, but aimed at mobilizing the population to save the Earth as a place of human habitation

Today we are witnessing what appears to be the beginning of an ecological revolution, a historic moment unlike any other humanity has experienced.[I]. As Naomi Klein suggests in her new book On Fire (“On Fire”), not only is the planet burning, but a revolutionary climate movement has arisen, and is now on fire in response.[ii]. At the end of this text follows a brief chronology of last year [2018], highlighting climate actions in Europe and North America – although it should be noted that the whole world, objectively (and subjectively as well), is on fire this time[iii]:

The huge number of protests against climate change last year was due, in some measure, to the October 2018 report of the “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” (in English, IPCC), an agency belonging to the United Nations. This document predicted that net carbon dioxide emissions should peak in 2020, be reduced by forty-five percent by 2030, and reduced to zero by 2050, in order to give the world a reasonable chance of avoiding catastrophic 1,5 degree Celsius increase in global average temperature[iv]. In the last year, an incalculable number of people realized that, to escape the precipice, it is necessary to initiate a socioeconomic change compatible with the crisis of the “Earth System” that is challenging humanity. This resulted in the following: the slogan “System Change, not Climate Change”, adopted as the name of the most important ecosocialist movement in the United States, has become the mantra of climate movement activists around the world.[v].

The meteoric rise of Greta Thunberg and the student climate strike movement, the Sunrise Movement, Extinction rebellion and the Green New Deal, all this in a short period of time, added to the current protests and strikes of millions of activists for climate change – most of them young people – has meant a massive transformation in the environmental struggle in the advanced capitalist states. Practically overnight, the objectives of the struggle changed their contours, the generic climate change giving way to the wings of the movement that are mainly oriented towards ecosocialism and the theme of radical climate justice.[vi]. So far, the “climate action” movement has been mostly reformist. His program merely tried to "nudge" the business world, pushing it in the direction of greater "climate awareness". In fact, the great climate march in New York in the year 2014, which was attended by four hundred thousand people and was organized by the “People's Climate Movement” [People's Climate Movement], headed for 34th Street and 11th Avenue – a non-destination compared to the United Nations building where the big climate negotiators were meeting. As a result, it was more of a parade than a protest.[vii].

On the other hand, organizations like Extinction rebellion, Sunrise Movement e Alliance for Climate Justice are known for their direct action style. These new movements are younger, bolder, more diverse and present themselves as more revolutionary.[viii]. In the current struggle for the planet, there is a growing recognition that the social and ecological relations of production must be transformed, and that only a transformation that is revolutionary in magnitude and speed could pull humanity out of the trap that capitalism has imposed on it. As Greta Thunberg stated at the United Nations Climate Change Conference on December 15, 2018: “If the solutions within this system are so impossible to find, then maybe we should change the system itself”[ix].

Green New Deal: Reform or Revolution?

What has made the fight against climate change a seemingly relentless force in recent years is the Green New Deal (“New Green Deal”), that is, a program that proposes to unite the fight to stop climate change with the fight for economic and social justice, focusing on the effects on workers and on the most exposed communities. However, the New Deal Green was not originally a radical transformation strategy, but rather a moderate reformist proposal. The term emerged in 2007, in a meeting between Colin Hines, former head of Greenpeace's International Economics Unit, and Larry Elliott, the newspaper's economics editor. The Guardian. In the face of growing economic and environmental problems, Colin Hines suggested a dose of green Keynesian spending, labeling it Green New Deal, in reference to New Deal that Franklin Roosevelt applied in the United States at the time of the Great Depression. So Elliott, Hines and others, including the British businessman Jeremy Leggett, instituted in the United Kingdom, some time later that same year, the Green New Deal Group[X].

The idea spread quickly in environmental policy circles. Thomas Friedman, columnist for the New York Times favorable to corporations, began to promote the term in the United States, at about the same time that he formulated a new capitalist strategy, with an eco-modernist character[xi]. Barack Obama presented a similar idea in his 2008 campaign. However, after the 2010 midterm elections he abandoned this terminology, along with the substance that was left of it.[xii] . In September 2009, the UN Environment Program issued a report entitled Global Green New Deal, which consisted of a sustainable growth plan[xiii]. In the same month, the European Green Foundation published A Green New deal for Europe, a Green Capitalist and Keynesian strategy, now known as New Deal European Green[xiv].

All these proposals – framed under the mantle of a New Deal Green – were top-down political creations that combined green Keynesianism, ecomodernism and technocratic business planning, only marginally embodying concerns about promoting employment and eradicating poverty in the midst of slightly green capitalism. reformist. In this sense, the first proposals of the Green New Deal had more in common with the first New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt (from 1933 to 1935), commercial in nature and very favorable to business, than with the second New Deal (from 1935 to 1940), the result of a generalized rebellion of the working class, in the second half of the 1930s[xv].

In contrast to early, corporate-friendly proposals, the radical version of the Green New Deal, which gained momentum in the United States last year, has its historical inspiration in the great rebellion from the bottom up, which resulted in the Second New Deal from Roosevelt. A key force in this metamorphosis was the “Alliance for Climate Justice” [Alliance for Climate Justice], which emerged in 2013 through the merger of several environmental justice organizations. This alliance currently brings together 68 organizations representing low-income and colored communities committed to the fight for environmental justice and a just transition.[xvi].

The critical concept of “just transition” has its origins in the 1980s: it was first heralded by Tony Mazzochi, an eco-socialist leader (of the Petroleum, Chemicals and Atomic Energy Workers Union), and then embraced by the United Steel Workers (national union of metallurgists), and pointed to the construction of a radical movement for labor and environmental justice[xvii]. This “just transition” concept is now recognized as a central tenet of the struggle for a “New Deal Verde do Povo”, and aims to bridge the gap between economic and ecological struggles, beyond climate protection itself.

It was during Jill Stein's Green Party presidential campaigns in 2012 and 2016 that the New Deal Green was transformed for the first time into a grassroots strategy – or, in the terms of the movement Science for the People , on a "New Deal People's Green" (People's Green New Deal)[xviii]. O New Deal of the Green Party had four pillars: (1) a declaration of economic rights, including the right to employment, labor rights, the right to health care (“medicare for all”) and free university education financed by the federal government; (2) a “Green Transition”, which would promote investment in small green businesses, research and employment; (3) real financial reform, which would include mortgage and student debt relief, democratization of monetary policy, regulation of financial derivatives, an end to financial funds and government bailouts of banks, and (4) participatory democracy, which revoke the legal personality of corporations, incorporate a bill of rights for voters, repeal the Patriot Act Bush and cut military spending by fifty percent[xx].

There is no doubt about the radical (and anti-imperialist) nature of the Green Party's original program. The halving of military spending was key to this program plan to increase federal spending in other areas. At the heart of this program was therefore an attack on the economic, financial and military structure of the US Empire, at the same time that its economic proposals would provide twenty million new green jobs.[xx]. Ironically, the “Green Transition” was the weakest component of the Green New Deal. However, the great innovation introduced was in linking environmental change with an equally necessary social change.

But it was only in November 2018 that the idea of ​​a New Deal Green broke through Congress, becoming a new factor in US politics, based on the project presented by Congresswoman Alejandra Ocasio-Cortez. She had been actively involved in the Native American protest over the North Dakota pipeline and had campaigned in New York's 14th District, representing the Bronx and part of Queens, and being associated with the movement to end fossil fuel investment, driven by the Movement Sunrise ["Sunrise"][xxx]. Ocasio-Cortez joined the sit-in of this movement in the office of Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and that was the starting point for the New Deal Verde, presented to Congress by Ocasio-Cortez and Markey.

The Ocasio-Cortez campaign was heavily inspired by Sanders' campaign for president in 2016, and therefore assumed an ecosocialist character.[xxiii].

The Resolution of New Deal Verde, a fourteen-page document presented by Ocasio-Cortez and Markey in February 2019, extends responsibility for the climate emergency to the United States, associating it with “related crises”, such as: decrease in life expectancy, wage stagnation, declining mobility across social classes, rising inequality, racial division in wealth, and gender pay gap. O New Deal Verde proposes the reduction to zero of net greenhouse gas emissions, through a “just transition”, creating “millions of jobs, promoting justice, equity, and reparation for the historical oppression suffered by indigenous peoples, communities of color, immigrants, de-industrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the homeless, the disabled and the youth” (which the document refers to as “vulnerable and border communities”).

The Resolution proposes a “national mobilization of resources for ten years”, with the objective of achieving “XNUMX% energy through clean, renewable and zero emission sources”. Together with the opposition to the activity of “national and international monopolies”, it is proposed: to encourage family farming, to create a zero emission vehicular infrastructure; invest in a public transport network and high-speed rail; encourage international exchange of climate-related technology; create partnerships with trade unions and cooperatives; provide labor guarantees, training and higher education to the active population; provide the population with universal medical care; and protect public lands and waters[xxiii].

Unlike the New Deal of the Green Party, the project of Ocasio-Cortez and Markey (of the Democratic Party) is not directly opposed to finance capital or US military spending and therefore the expansion of Empire. Its character is limited, as it stimulates economic development with some redistributive measures for marginalized communities, also combating climate change through a “just transition”. Despite its limitations, it can be said to have a “progressive” character, because, if it were fully realized, it would require a major transformation of capitalism in the United States, which would include the expropriation of the fossil fuel industry.

O New Deal Bernie Sanders' Green, summarized in a thirty-four page document, goes further[xxv]. It proposes 2030% renewable energy for electricity and transportation by 2050, and complete decarbonization by 16,3 (equivalent to a XNUMX% reduction in US carbon emissions). The Sanders Bill dedicates $XNUMX trillion to public investment to end fossil fuels, declares a climate emergency, envisions a just transition for workers and marginalized communities, bans extraction offshore: fracking and mountaintop coal mining. It allocates $200 billion to a Green Climate Fund for poor countries to reduce emissions by thirty-six percent by 2030.

To ensure a just transition for workers, Sanders proposes “up to a five-year salary guarantee, placement and relocation assistance, housing assistance for all displaced persons, medical assistance, a pension based on previous salary, and paid training, which may include four-year higher education. The cost of medical care would be covered by the medicare for all. The principles of environmental justice would be respected in order to protect indigenous communities, with an estimated allocation of US$1,12 billion for programs to access and extend tribal lands. In addition, the government would reserve forty-one billion dollars to help convert large operations involving the feeding of large confined animals into “ecologically regenerative practices”, while providing incentives for family farms.

Funding would come from several sources: (1) “increased taxes on the income of investors and corporate owners who profit from polluting fuels”; (2) “elimination of fossil fuel industry subsidies”; (3) “income generation from energy produced by regional authorities”; (4) “cuts in military spending aimed at safeguarding the world's oil supply; (5) “collection of additional tax revenues as a result of increased employment; and (6) “new taxes for the richest”[xxiv].

O New Deal Sanders distinguishes himself from the Ocasio-Cortez project by: (1) setting a timetable for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions; (2) directly confronting large “fossil capital” companies; (3) design a just transition for working class and marginalized communities; (4) specify the creation of twenty million new jobs; (4) prohibit drilling offshore, fracking and coal mining; (5) address the role of the military in safeguarding the fossil fuel economy; (6) allocate $16,3 trillion from the federal budget over ten years to fund this program; and (7) raise taxes on polluting companies[xxv]. Despite all this promise, Sanders' program is still far from the Green Party's proposal to halve the Empire's military spending.

Unlike the proposals of the Democrats, the strategy of the New Deal People's Green (People's Green New Deal) constitutes what socialist theory calls revolutionary reforms, that is, reforms that propose a radical transformation of economic, political and ecological power, and that point to a transition from capitalism to socialism. The changes proposed by ecosocialists are a real threat to the power of capital, deeper even than that represented by the second New Deal. The complete divestment of fossil fuels, including reserves, constitutes a type of abolitionism whose greatest analogy, with regard to its macro-structural effects, can be found in the abolition of slavery in the United States in 1860.[xxviii]. To stop climate change, it is necessary to put an end to the fossil fuel industry (its financial structure, related industries and infrastructure), which implies a confrontation with holders of power and wealth. For the ecosocialist, true change will only be possible with a profound social and ecological transformation. In this sense, in 2016, the Inter-American Development Bank revealed that energy companies would lose about twenty-eight trillion dollars if the use of fossil fuels were reduced to zero[xxviii].

A truly ecological change threatens the entire current political-economic order, as capital has known from the beginning. Energy companies, writes Naomi Klein, “will have to give up trillions of dollars of their reserves, which they now count as their assets”[xxix]. And for that to happen, it will be necessary to mobilize the entire population, promoting class struggle on an immense scale, in order to introduce in a few short years a gigantic transformation in the use of productive energy.

It is clear that all proposals from the New Deal Verde are far from facing the magnitude of the task demanded by the current planetary emergency. However, the development of this struggle can trigger a revolutionary struggle. Yet there are persistent contradictions even within the radical strategies of the New Deal Green, related to the emphasis on economic growth and capital accumulation. The constraints imposed by the need to stabilize the climate are severe, requiring changes in the underlying structure of production. However, all current proposals from the New Deal Green largely avoid any mention of direct resource conservation or cutbacks in general consumption – let alone emergency measures such as rationing as an equitable, non-price-related means to reallocate society's scarce resources (a measure quite popular in the United States). in World War II)[xxx]. None of the proposals consider the total level of waste incorporated in the current accumulation system, and how this can be turned into an ecological advantage. Instead, all plans are based on the notion of promoting rapid exponential economic growth or capital accumulation - despite the fact that this would exacerbate the planetary emergency, and despite the fact that the true successes of the second New Deal had far less to do with growth than with economic and social redistribution. As Naomi Klein warns, a Green New Deal will fail to protect the planet and a just transition if it follows the path of “climate Keynesianism”[xxxii].

The “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” (IPCC) and mitigation strategies

None of this is to deny that a tectonic shift appears to be underway. The radical strategies of New Deal Greens that are now being championed threaten to destroy, in relation to what can and should be done to combat climate change, the science-based public policy process, which has been led by the IPCC and which has so far obstructed all social perspectives of left. In sharp contrast to its careful scientific treatment of the causes and consequences of climate change, relatively free of political intervention, the IPCC's approach to the social actions needed to mitigate the climate emergency has been largely dictated by current hegemonic economic policy. Until now, mitigation strategies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions around the world have been heavily impacted by the almost total dominance of capitalist accumulation relations, as well as the hegemony of neoclassical economics. The guidelines incorporated into these mitigation scenarios strongly constrain the changing parameters under consideration, and they do so through devices such as: integrated assessment models (IAMs, which are large computer models that integrate energy and energy markets) land with greenhouse gas projections) and shared socio-economic pathways (SSPs, which consist of five different traditional business pathways, based on largely technological frameworks, with substantial economic growth and without climate policies being formally incorporated into these models).

The result of these deliberately conservative models, which rule out all alternatives to the dominant economic model, is the proliferation of unrealistic assessments of what can be done and what needs to be done.[xxxi]. In general, the mitigation scenarios incorporated into the IPCC: (1) implicitly assume the need to perpetuate the current political-economic hegemony; (2) downplay changes in social relations in favor of technocratic change, much of which is based on technologies that don't exist or are unfeasible; (3) emphasize supply-side factors—mainly technology and price-related factors—rather than demand-side factors, or else direct reductions in ecological consumption in order to reduce emissions; (5) rely on so-called negative emissions (capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and, in some way, sequestering it), in order to allow the emission targets to be exceeded; (6) leave the mass of the population out of the calculation, assuming that change will be managed by managerial elites, and with minimal public participation; and (7) postulate slow responses, leaving out the (really necessary) possibility of an ecological revolution[xxxii].

Therefore, while the scale of climate change and its socio-ecological impacts are well captured by IPCC models and projections, the scale of social change required to meet this challenge is systematically downgraded in the hundreds of mitigation models used by the IPCC. These, instead, resort to magic solutions that would result from market price interventions (such as carbon trading) and the employment of futuristic technology, including inventions that are not feasible at the required scale and that rely on negative emissions.[xxxv]. Such models point to catastrophic results, for which the only foreseen defenses are the so-called market efficiency and a non-existent and / or irrational baroque technology, since these approaches would supposedly allow society to continue with its current productive model, in its greatest thus, most models of climate mitigation incorporate bioenergy with carbon capture and storage technology (BECCS), which promotes the growth of plants (mainly trees) on a large scale to be burned for energy production , at the same time that it captures the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere and somehow sequesters or stores it, as occurs in geological and oceanic sequestration. If implemented, this would require an amount of land equal to one or two Indias, as well as – despite the scarcity of water in the world – an amount of fresh water approaching that which is currently used by world agriculture.[xxxiv]. The avid promotion of these purely mechanistic approaches is no accident either. It is deeply rooted in the way these reports are constructed, and in the underlying capitalist order they serve. In the words of Kevin Anderson, principal climatologist at the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research in the UK: 1,5 to 2°C commitment calls for cuts in emissions for rich nations by more than ten percent a year, far beyond rates normally considered possible under the current economic system. IAMs play an important and dangerous role when they present themselves as a means of remedying this impasse. Behind a veneer of objectivity, the use of these huge computational models has professionalized the analysis of climate change mitigation, replacing confusing and contextual policy with non-contextual mathematical formalism. Within these professional boundaries, AMIs synthesize simple climate models, based on beliefs about how finance works and technological change that rest, in turn, on an [orthodox] economic interpretation of human behavior”. use models based on free market axioms. The algorithms incorporated in these models assume marginal changes close to economic equilibrium, and strongly depend on small variations in demand, possible in turn due to marginal changes in prices. The Paris Climate Agreement, on the other hand, sets a mitigation challenge that is far removed from the equilibrium of today's market economy, demanding immediate and radical changes in all facets of society.[xxxiv].Anderson points out that the reality is that the current modeling and projections of climate scenarios provided by the IPCC, and incorporated into national plans, are based on assumptions extracted from the general equilibrium analysis of neoclassical economics, building notions of gradualist changes, based on the profit system requirements. The stipulations of these mitigation scenarios are meaningless in the context of the current climate emergency, and they are dangerous as they inhibit the necessary actions (just think that a non-existent technology is seen as the lifeline). Of the numerous models considered by the IPCC in its 2018 report, all require carbon dioxide reduction (CDR) or so-called negative emissions – mainly through technological means, but also through reforestation[xxxviii]. The truth is that the entire mitigation approach within the scope of the IPCC, explains Anderson, has been an “accelerated failure”, leading a process radically contrary to its projections, with the result that “annual CO2 emissions have increased by about seventy percent cent since 1990”. As the effects of such emissions are cumulative and non-linear, with all types of Feedback positive, the effects of the emission mitigation policy raised the level of the challenge: the prediction of a moderate change in the economic system was converted into a revolutionary revision of the system. This is not an ideological position; emerges directly from a scientific and mathematical interpretation of the Paris Climate Agreement[xxxviii]. In acknowledging the accelerating climate emergency, the IPCC, in its 2018 report, departed from its previous reports, lightly encouraging the development of approaches to climate change mitigation that include demand considerations. This means finding ways to reduce consumption, usually through increased efficiency (although it generally underestimates the well-known Jevons Paradox, according to which increased efficiency under capitalism leads to increased accumulation and consumption).[xxxix]. Several mitigation scenarios have been introduced demonstrating that demand-side interventions are the fastest way to deal with climate change – and even, in one model, suggesting that the sub-1,5°C target can be achieved with just a little surplus and not relying on so-called negative emission technologies, but relying on improved agricultural and forestry practices (considered a non-technological way of reducing carbon dioxide)[xl].
Furthermore, these results are achieved within the extremely restrictive assumptions of the IPCC mitigation models, which formally incorporate (via IAMs and SSPs) rapid and significant economic growth, formally excluding all climate policy interventions. Therefore, it has been suggested by some radical critics such as Jason Hickel and Giorgos Kallis that a demand-side socio-political approach that emphasizes abundance and redistributive policies while limiting profits and growth (which today primarily benefit 0,01 .XNUMX%), is demonstrably far superior in terms of mitigation, and constitutes the only realistic solution[xi].

A great virtue of the rise of radical or popular strategies of New Deal Green, therefore, is that they open the field of what is possible according to real need, raising the question of transformative change as the only basis of human civilizational survival: freedom from need[xliii]. Here it is important to recognize that an ecological and social revolution under current historical conditions is likely to go through two stages, which we can call ecodemocratic e ecosocialist[xiii]. The self-mobilization of the population will initially assume an ecodemocratic form, emphasizing the construction of energy alternatives combined with a just transition, but in a context generally lacking any systematic criticism of production or consumption. At the end of the process, however, the pressure of climate change and the struggle for social and ecological justice, stimulated by the mobilization of diverse communities, may lead to a more comprehensive eco-revolutionary vision, penetrating under the veil of received ideology.

Yet the fact remains that the attempt to build a New Deal Radical green in a world still dominated by monopoly finance capital will be constantly threatened by the tendency to revert to Green Keynesianism, where the promise of unlimited jobs, rapid economic growth and increased consumption militates against any solution to the planetary ecological crisis. As Klein observes in On Fire,

"Any Green New Deal credible needs a concrete plan to ensure that the wages of all the good green jobs it creates are not immediately dumped into high-consumption lifestyles that inadvertently end up increasing emissions – a scenario where everyone has a good job and a lot of money. disposable income and everything is spent on disposable waste (...) What we need are transitions that recognize the rigid limits of extraction and, simultaneously, create new opportunities for people to improve the quality of life and derive pleasure outside the endless cycle of consumption”[xiv].

The path to ecological and social freedom requires abandoning a mode of production rooted in the exploitation of human labor and the expropriation of nature and peoples, leading to increasingly frequent and serious economic and ecological crises. The overaccumulation of capital under the regime of financial monopoly capital has made waste at all levels essential to the preservation of the system, creating a society in which what is rational for capital is irrational for the people of the world and the earth.[xlv]. This has led to the wasting of human lives on unnecessary labor spent on producing useless commodities, necessitating the waste of the world's natural material resources. On the other hand, the extent of this prodigious waste of human production and wealth, and of the Earth itself, is a measure of the enormous potential that exists today to expand human freedom and meet individual and collective needs, while ensuring a sustainable environment.[xlv].

In the current climate crisis, it is the imperialist countries at the center of the system that have produced most of the carbon dioxide emissions now concentrated in the environment. It is these nations that still have the highest emissions per capita. Furthermore, these same states monopolize the wealth and technology needed to drastically reduce global carbon emissions. It is therefore essential that rich nations take on a greater burden of stabilizing the world's climate by reducing their carbon dioxide emissions at a rate of ten percent or more per year.[xlv]. It is the acknowledgment of this responsibility by rich nations, along with the underlying global need, that has led to the sudden rise of transformative movements such as the Extinction rebellion.

In the longer term, however, the main impetus for world ecological transformation will come from the Global South, where the planetary crisis is having its most severe effects – at the top of an already imperialist world system and amidst a widening gulf between rich and wealthy countries. poor. It is on the periphery of the capitalist world that the legacy of the revolution is strongest – and where the deepest conceptions of how to bring about this necessary change persist. This is especially evident in countries like Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia, which have tried to revolutionize their societies despite the harsh attacks of the world imperialist system, and despite their historical dependence (in the cases of Venezuela and Bolivia) on energy extraction – itself, imposed by the hegemonic structures of the global economy. In general, we can expect the Global South to be the site of the fastest growing environmental proletariat, resulting from the degradation of the material conditions of the population in equally ecological and economic ways.[xlviii].

China's role in all of this remains crucial and contradictory. It is one of the most polluted and resource-hungry countries in the world, while its carbon emissions are so great that they in themselves constitute a problem on a global scale. However, China has done more than any other country so far to develop alternative energy technologies aimed at creating what is officially called an ecological civilization. Surprisingly, it remains largely self-sufficient in food due to its agricultural system, where land is socially owned and agricultural production depends mainly on smallholders with remnants of collective-community responsibility. What is clear is the present and future choices of the Chinese state, and even more so of the Chinese people, regarding the creation of an ecological civilization. likely to be instrumental in determining Earth's long-term fate[xlix].

The ecological revolution faces the enmity of the entire capitalist system. At the very least, it means going against the logic of capital. In its full development, it means transcending the system. Under these conditions, the reactionary response of the capitalist class supported by its rearguard on the extreme right will be regressive, destructive and unrestrained. This can already be seen in the numerous attempts by the Donald Trump administration to remove the very possibility of making the necessary changes to combat climate change (apparently to burn the ships of the world), starting with its withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord and its acceleration in extraction of fossil fuels. Ecological barbarism or ecofascism are palpable threats in the current global political context and are part of the reality that any mass ecological revolt will need to face.[l]. Under these circumstances, only a genuine and non-reformist revolutionary struggle will be able to move forward.

An era of transformational change

It is common in the social science literature, representing the reigning liberal ideology, to see society as simply constituted by the actions of the individuals that compose it. Other, more critical thinkers sometimes present the opposite view that individuals are the product of the general social structure. A third generic model sees individuals affecting society and society affecting individuals in a kind of back-and-forth movement, seen as a synthesis of structure and agency.[li].

In contrast to all these traditional, mostly liberal approaches, which leave little room for genuine social transformation, Marxist theory, with its historical-dialectical approach, is based on what the critical-realist philosopher Roy Bhaskar has called the “transformational model of social activity”. According to him, individuals are born and socialized historically in a certain society (mode of production), which establishes the initial parameters of their existence[liiii]. However, these productive conditions and relationships change unpredictably and contingently during the course of their lives, leading to unintended consequences, contradictions and crises. Trapped in historical situations that are not of their choosing, human beings, acting spontaneously and through organized social movements, reflecting class and other individual and collective identities, seek to alter existing structures of reproduction and social transformation, giving rise to historical moments critical issues consisting of radical ruptures and revolutions and new emerging realities. As Karl Marx wrote: “Men make their own history, but they don't make it as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances found, given and transmitted from the past”[iii].

This transformational model of social activity supports a theory of human self-emancipation in history. Existing social relations become fetters on overall human development, but they also give rise to fundamental contradictions in the process of labor and production – or what Marx called the social metabolism of humanity and nature, leading to a period of crisis and transformation, threatening the revolutionary overthrow of social relations of production or of class, property, and power relations[book]. Today we are presented with these severe contradictions in the metabolism of nature and society, as well as in the social relations of production, but in a way for which there is no true historical precedent.

In the Anthropocene, the planetary ecological emergency overlaps with capital overaccumulation and intensified imperialist expropriation, creating an economic and ecological crisis that looms over our era.[lv]. It is the overaccumulation of capital that accelerates the global ecological crisis, propelling capital to find new ways to stimulate consumption to keep profits flowing. The result is a planetary state of Armageddon, threatening not only socioeconomic stability but also the survival of human civilization and the human species itself. For Klein, the main explanation is simple: noting that “Marx wrote about the 'irrepairable rift of capitalism' with 'the natural laws of life itself,'” she goes on to emphasize that “many on the left have argued that an economic system built on the Capital's voracious appetite, left to itself, would overwhelm the natural systems on which life depends.[lv]. And this is exactly what has happened in the period since World War II, through the great acceleration of economic activity, excessive consumption by the rich, and the resulting ecological destruction.

Capitalist society has long glorified the domination of nature. William James, the great pragmatist philosopher, referred in 1906 to the "moral equivalent of war". Though rarely mentioned, James' moral equivalent was a war against earth, in which he proposed “to maintain for a certain number of years a part of the enlisted army against nature"[lviii]. Today, we have to reverse this and create a new, more revolutionary moral equivalent of war; one that is directed not at raising an army to conquer the Earth, but aimed at mobilizing the population to save the Earth as a place of human habitation. This can only be achieved through a struggle for ecological sustainability and substantive equality, and aimed at resurrecting the global commons. In the words of Greta Thunberg, speaking to the United Nations on September 23, 2019: “Right here, right now, is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.” The world is on fire this time.

*John Bellamy Foster is professor of sociology at the University of Oregon (USA) and editor of Monthly Review.

Translation: Fabio Pimentel by Maria da Silva

Originally published in the magazine Monthly Review.(https://monthlyreview.org/2019/11/01/on-fire-this-time/)

Notes

 

[I] Here, the revolution is seen as a complex historical process, encompassing many actors and phases, a process that is sometimes incipient, sometimes developed, and which contains a fundamental challenge to the State and the property, production and class structure of society. It can involve actors whose intentions are not revolutionary, but who are objectively part of the development of a revolutionary situation. For a historical example, cf. George Lefebvre, The Coming of the French Revolution (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1947). On the very concept of ecological revolution, cf. John Bellamy Foster, The Ecological Revolution (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2009), pp. 11–35.

[ii] Naomi Klein, On Fire: The (Burning) Case for Green New Deal (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2019).

[iii]  James Baldwin The Fire Next Time [The Fire Next Time] (New York: Dial, 1963).

[iv] IPCC, 1,5ºC global warming (Geneva: IPCC, 2018). Nicholas Stern, “We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero or face more flooding,” Guardian, October 7, 2018; «Transcript: Greta Thunberg's Speech to UN Climate Action Summit,” NPR, September 23, 2019. It is generally considered that the world must stay below 2ºC to avoid a point of no return with regard to human relations with the planet. But more and more science is pointing to 1,5°C as the desirable mark. Currently, most IPCC-recognized climate mitigation schemes allow for a temporary excess of the 1,5ºC threshold (or the 2ºC threshold) with negative emissions and then remove carbon from the atmosphere before the worst effects occur. But this increasingly recognized strategy is worse than Russian roulette in terms of statistical odds.

[v] http://systemchangenotclimatechange.org . Cf. also Martin Empson (ed.), System Change Not Climate Change (London: Markers, 2019).

[vi] On the distinction between climate action and climate justice, see Klein, On Fire27-28.

[vii] The climatic march was followed a few days later by the action of Flood Wall Street, in which demonstrators engaged in civil disobedience but lacked strength of numbers.

[viii] Small, On Fire, 27-28.

[ix] Thunberg, No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference, 16.

[X] US Green Party timeline Green New Deal, available at http://gp.org; Policy Group Green New Deal (London: New Economics Foundation, 2008); Larry Elliott,” Climate Change Cannot Be Bargained With" Guardian, October 29, 2007.

[xi] Thomas Friedman, “A Garden Warning,” New York Times, January 19, 2007.

[xii] See Alexander C. Kaufman, “What's the 'Green New Deal'?", grist, June 30, 2018.

[xiii] UNEP, Global Green New Deal (Geneva: UNEP, 2009).

[xiv] Green European Foundation, Global Green New Deal (Geneva: UNEP, 2009).

[xv] David Milton, The Politics of US Labor (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1982).

[xvi] Climate Justice Alliance, »History of the Climate Justice Alliance«.

[xvii] John Bellamy Foster, » Ecosocialism and a Just Transition", MR Online, June 22, 2019; Climate Justice Alliance, “Just Transition: A Framework for Change".

[xviii] The organization Science for the People (“Science for the People”) has been a leading advocate of a “People’s Green New Deal”, embodying a just transition for frontline workers and communities, rather than trying to embed the Green New Deal in its corporate form previous . Cf. Science for the People, »People's Green New Deal».

[xx] Jill Stein, " "Solutions for a Country in Trouble: The Four Pillars of the Green New Deall ”, green pages, September 25, 2012.

[xx] Green Party: "We can build a better tomorrow today, it's time for a new green deal".

[xxx] Tessa Stuart, “Sunrise Movement, the Force Behind the Green New Deal Ramps Up Plans for 2020,” Rolling Stone, May 1, 2019. The founding activists of the Sunrise Movement joined the movement to divest from fossil fuels, particularly in universities, which in December 2018 claimed to have achieved the sum of US$ 8 trillion in divestments. However, activists realized that the next step was to try to attack the state itself and change the system through a New Deal Green. Klein, On Fire, 22.

[xxiii] The Green Party has explicitly moved in the direction of ecosocialism and sponsored an ecosocialism conference in Chicago on September 28, 2019. See Anita Ríos, “Green Party Gears Up for Ecosocialism Conference". Black Schedule Report, September 10, 2019.

[xxiii] Resolution 109, "Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to Create a Green New Deal".

[xxv] Sanders is all alone among the top Democratic candidates in the 2020 election in promoting a true New Deal Green. The “Blueprint for an Environmental Justice and Clean Energy Revolution” (Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice), by Joe Biden, presented in June 2019, completely avoids the IPCC's insistence that carbon dioxide emissions must be reduced by almost 50% by 2030 to remain below 1,5°C, and simply promises to promote policies that will achieve net zero emissions by 2050, proposing to spend $1,7 trillion on tackling climate change over ten years. Elizabeth Warren signed the Resolution of the New Deal Green, but in its “Clean Energy Plan” (Clean Energy Plan), presented in September 2019, goes further than saying that it supports a ten-year mobilization to 2030 with the goal of achieving zero net greenhouse gas emissions “as soon as possible”. “She proposes an investment of $3 trillion over ten years. His plan excludes any mention of a just transition for frontline workers or communities.

[xxiv] Sanders, "The Green New Deal".

[xxv] Although the Resolution of New Deal Green presented by Ocasio-Cortez and Markey does not address how it would be financed, the emphasis is on the creation of public banks, green quantitative easing and deficit financing under current low capacity utilization, a view supported by modern monetary theory. Deliberately diverts funding through corporate taxes. Ellen Brown, » The Secret to Funding a Green New Deal» truthdig, March 19, 2019.

[xxviii] Historian David Blight, quoted in Ta-Nehisi Coates, »Slavery Made America», Atlantic, June 24, 2014.

[xxviii] Ben Caldecott et al., Stranded Assets: The Climate Risk Challenge (Washington DC: Inter-American Development Bank, 2016): X.

[xxix] Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the climate (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014), 31-63.

[xxx] Small, This Changes Everything, 115-16.

[xxxii]  Small, On Fire, 261.

[xxxi] Kevin Anderson,Debating the Bedrock of Climate-Change Mitigation Scenarios", Nature, September 16, 2019; Zeke Hausfather, »Explainer: How 'Shared Socioeconomic Pathways' Explore Future Climate Change", Carbon Brief, April 19, 2018.

[xxxii] These shortcomings are built directly into SSPs and even AMIs. Cf. Oliver Fricko et al., “The Marker Quantification of the Shared Socioeconomic Pathway 2: A Middle-of-the-Road Scenario for the 21st Century", Global Environmental Change 42 (2017): 251–67. For a general critical assessment, see Jason Hickel and Giorgos Kallis: “Is Green Growth Possible?”, New Political Economy, April 17, 2019.

[xxxv] Kevin Anderson and Glen Peters, “The Trouble with Negative Emissions”, Science 354, no. 6309 (2016): 182–83; Advisory Board of Sciences of the European Academies, Negative Emission Technologies: What Role in Meeting Paris Agreement Targets, EASAC Policy Report 35 (Halle, Germany: German National Academy of Sciences, 2018).

[xxxiv] Cf. John Bellamy Foster, “Making War on the Planet,” Monthly Review 70, no. 4 (September 2018): 4-6.

[xxxiv] Anderson «Discussing the basis of climate change mitigation scenarios».

[xxxviii] IPCC, 1,5°C global warming, 16, 96.

[xxxviii] Anderson, "Debating the Bedrock of Climate-Change Mitigation Scenarios".

[xxxix]  Cf. John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark and Richard York, The Ecological Rift (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010), p. 169-182.,

[xl] IPCC, Global Warming of 1,5ºC, 15–16, 97; Jason Hickel, » The Hope at the Heart of the Apocalyptic Climate Change Report", Foreign Policy, October 18, 2018. See also Arnulf Grubler, « A Low Energy Demand Scenario for Meeting the 1.5ºC Target and Sustainable Development Goals Without Negative Emission Technologies », Nature Energy 3, no. 6 (2018): 512-27; Joeri Rogelj et al., “Scenarios Towards Limiting Global Mean Temperature Increase Below 1.5ºC”, Nature Climate Change 8 (2018): 325–32; Christopher Bertram et al. » “Targeted Policies Can Compensate Most of the Increased Sustainability Risks in 1.5ºC Mitigation Scenarios", Environmental Research Letters 13, no. 6 (2018).

[xi] Hickel and Kallis, “Is Green Growth Possible?”

[xliii] D. Bernal, The Freedom of Necessity (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1949).

[xiii] John Bellamy Foster, “Ecology,” in The Marx Revival, ed. Marcelo Musto (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 193.

[xiv]  Klein, On Fire, 264.

[xlv] Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy, Monopoly Capital (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1966).

[xlv] John Bellamy Foster, “The Ecology of Marxian Political Economy,” Monthly Review 63, no. 4 (September 2011): 1–16; Fred Magdoff and John Bellamy Foster, What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2011), 123–44; William Morris, News from Nowhere and Selected Writings and Designs (London: Penguin, 1962): 121–22.

[xlv] Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows, “Beyond 'Dangerous' Climate Change: Emission Scenarios for a New World,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 369 (2011): 20–44.

[xlviii] For a discussion of the current ecological situation in the Global South and its relationship to imperialism, see John Bellamy Foster, Hannah Holleman and Brett Clark, “Imperialism in the Anthropocene”, Monthly Review 71, no. 3 (July–August 2019): 70–88. On the concept of the environmental proletariat, see Bellamy Foster, Clark and York, The Ecological Rift440-41.

[xlix] The subject of the relationship between China and ecology is complex. See John B. Cobb (in conversation with Andre Vltchek), China and Ecological Civilization (Jakarta: Badak Merah, 2019); David Schwartzman, “China and the prospects for a global ecological civilization”, climate and capitalism, September 17, 2019; Lau Kin Chi, »A subaltern perspective on China's ecological crisis«, Monthly Review 70, no. 5 (October 2018): 45–57. On the concept of ecological civilization and its relation to China, see John Bellamy Foster, “The Earth-System Crisis and Ecological Civilization”, International Critical Thought 7, no. 4 (2017): 439–58.

[l] Naomi Klein,Only a Green New Deal Can Douse the Fires of Ecofascism,” Intercept, September 16, 2019.

[li] Roy Bhaskar, Reclaiming Reality (London: Routledge, 2011), 74–76.

[liiii]  Bhaskar, Reclaiming Reality, 76–77, 92–94.

[iii] Karl Marx, Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852; New York: International Publishers, 1963): 15.

[book]  Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1 (London: Penguin, 1976), 283.

[lv] See Ian Angus, Facing the Anthropocene (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2016), 175–91.

[lv]  Klein, On Fire, 90–91; Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 3 (London: Penguin, 1981), 949..

[lviii] William James,Proposing the Moral Equivalent of War” (speech, Stanford University, 1906), available in Lapham's Quarterly online.

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