19 September, 2009 – Climate and Capitalism
Ecoclub reviews The Global Fight for Climate Justice
The Global Fight for Climate Justice
Edited by Ian Angus
284 pages, Publisher: Resistance Books, London, UK
(reviewed in ecoclub.com)
‘From the standpoint of a higher economic form of society, private ownership of the globe by single individuals will appear quite as absurd as private ownership of one man by another. Even a whole society, a nation, or even all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the globe. They are only its possessors, its beneficiaries, and they must hand it down to succeeding generations in an improved condition’ — Karl Marx
This stimulating book features a potent mix of 46 essays, talks and declarations new, recent and old, from famous politicians and lesser-known activists alike, tackling the issue of Climate Change and Climate Justice, not from the usual, apolitical, mainstream environmentalist angle, but from a left/ecosocialist viewpoint, one which considers global warming an issue of systemic ‘oppression, exploitation & injustice.’
The main conclusion of all articles is that ecological sustainability is incompatible with the current capitalist world model and that it will take much more than tinkering with the model to achieve it. Even if you do not agree with all the arguments and some of the ideologically-charged conclusions you will still find this collection useful in helping you re-evaluate some no-tears, environmentalism-lite solutions.
The discussion is argumentative and partisan, rather than academic or ‘objective’, as the authors are anything but ‘ivory tower theorists.’ Among them, Hugo Blanco, 1960s leader of the indigenous peasant movement in Peru, John Bellamy Foster (editor of the Monthly Review and author of the seminal ‘Marx’s Ecology’), Joel Kovel (politician, writer & founder of the Ecosocialist International Network), Kevin Smith (author of the Carbon Neutral Myth – also see his article in ECOCLUB, Issue 92), Evo Morales (president of Bolivia) and Fidel Castro (no introduction required).
The articles have been selected and expertly edited by Ian Angus, Editor of the Climate & Capitalism journal, who has also written and translated many of the articles in this compilation. The interesting foreword is by Derek Wall, former principal speaker of the Green Party of England and Wales.
The chapter names are self-explanatory: Climate Emergency, Starving the Poor, False Explanations-False Solutions, The Green Capitalism Fantasy, Privatizing the Atmosphere, Voices from the Global South, Building a Climate Emergency Movement, Ecosocialist Responses to Capitalist Ecocide.
Most provocative articles include Fidel Castro’s ‘Tomorrow Will be Too Late’ containing his statement at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit; a 2008 Oxfam Report ‘Climate Wrongs & Human Rights’; ‘Magic Bullets: The Ethanol Scam and Carbon Capture & Storage’; ‘The Myth of the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ by Ian Angus, who refutes the ’sacred’ Garrett Hardin neo-liberal parable that privatization of communally-managed lands, forests and resources, actually ‘conserves’ them; ‘The Failures of Green Economics’ by Joel Kovel who criticises the Kyoto process’ Clean Development Mechanism (‘to the extent that the project succeeds, so does it fail, for the new wealth which has been created remains like capital everywhere, constantly seeking investment outlets and placing yet more burdens on ecosystems.’) and major environmental NGO’s (‘Capital is more than happy to enlist mainstream enviros as partners in the management of nature.
Big environmental groups offer capital a threefold convenience: as legitimation, reminding the world that the system works; as control over popular dissent, a kind of sponge that sucks up and contains the ecological anxiety in the general population; and as rationalization, a useful governor to introduce some control and protect the system from its own worst tendencies, while ensuring the orderly flow of profits’).
The ‘Sustainable Capitalism?’ article by David Travis, points out that ‘part of the appeal of personal responsibility and moralising is precisely that it is individualistic: it enables the criticism of vast groups of people without specificity, it allows for the appearance of concern, outrage and various forms of progressive posturing, while at the same avoiding change and the tremendous ill will of interests aligned against it.’ (Does the word ‘stakeholder’ ring a bell?).
Terry Townsend (p. 113) points out that ‘in 2003 alone, US big business spent more than US$54.5 billion on advertising to convince people to consume more and more goods and services. This compares to the US government’s total education budget of US$76 billion in 2003.’ Larry Lohmann demolishes Carbon Trading with just 6 Arguments, while Hugo Blanco offers a distinct southern perspective, the indigenous movements viewpoint on environmental justice from Peru.
As Fidel Castro succinctly points out in his address (reproduced in the book) to the 1996 World Food Summit, ‘If 35,000 people – half of them children – are starving to death every day, why is it that in the developed countries olive groves are being torn down, cattle herds are being sacrificed and large amounts of money are being paid so that the land is kept unproductive?’
One could add many more inconsistencies of the current system: at the same time that trillions of dollars are allocated to military budgets and security, the greatest insecurity is created by the way the current system is treating the planet, humanity and all other life forms, giving rise to hopelessness, violence and extremism.
The collection of essays and diatribes is informative and – deliberately – didactic. Most readers will be pleased to note some criticism (and self-criticism) on the (equally appalling) environmental record of the ‘really-existing’ bureaucratic socialist regimes of the 20th century. Ian Angus (p.216) notes that ‘…it is also true that during the 20th century socialists forgot or ignored that [ecological] tradition, supporting (and in some cases implementing) approaches to economic growth and development that were grossly harmful to the environment. Daniel Tanuro (p.240) of the Fourth International believes that ‘The countries of ‘really existing socialism’ also bear a heavy responsibility: renouncing the world revolution, they aped productivism and copied capitalist technologies.’
Capitalism is portrayed throughout the book, as a uniform, irrational, ecological boogie that destroys everything in its path in the quest for profit, while ‘green capitalism’ , ’social entrepreneurship’, ‘corporate social responsibility’ also get short shrift. As David Travis remarks (p.98) ‘Like it or not, capitalism is about extraction and profit, and when it comes to change, the sustainability movement has to decide to either shit or get off the pot.’. Therefore, there is a sense that the ability of this ‘evil’ boogie to adapt and evolve may be (once more?) underestimated by the left.
In fact, as Evo Morales has said (mentioned in the book) ‘Everything, absolutely everything, can be bought and sold and under capitalism. And even ‘climate change’ itself has become a business’… We also read little about local & regional eco alternatives that would not require the ‘final overthrow or the second coming’ of world socialism. One hopes that in a second edition one could also find a more detailed discussion by major economic sector (tourism for example is not at all discussed) and country/geographical region.
The 289-page book includes many end-note references at the and of each article, and a short selection of books , website and blogs for further reading.
For more details and to order an autographed copy from the author click here